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Archive for December, 2011

My Christmas message

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

As I’m sure we can all appreciate, 2011 has been particularly difficult for everyone, the Council, residents and businesses have all suffered. The massive savings the Council has been forced to make have been unbelievable. It doesn’t end there – unfortunately, more is to follow over the next few years.

The unprecedented levels of cuts to government funding that we face mean that this year we have lost £35million of budget with a further reduction of 31million next year. Overall the Council’s budget will be reduced by a further staggering £97 million by 2015. I am sure everyone would agree that these are mind-blowing figures in anyone’s book. That’s why the Council has set up the Big Conversation to enable everyone in the borough to give their views about the services they use and how those services could be delivered in the future.

As New Year approaches a look back at the last 12 months reminds us that it has been a challenging year. But I am proud of what we have achieved this year, despite the many and varied hurdles we have had to face and overcome, we have continued to deliver quality value for money services for our residents.

We have invested in our young people opening five fantastic and inspiring schools in 2011 with a further five on programme to open in January 2012. Our pupils’ GCSE results are at a record high and improving at the second fastest rate across Greater Manchester. At a time of record youth unemployment, we’ve created in partnership with the college and local businesses nearly 2,000 additional apprenticeships across the borough.

We continue to support our most vulnerable residents from young to old. Our fostering and adoption services were praised by external inspectors and Adult Social Care is helping over 20,000 of our older residents to live independently in their own homes. As a result, we have been able to deliver better outcomes for our residents at significantly reduced cost. Our Welfare Rights Team have used their expertise to ensure that 95% who come to us for help with mortgage repossessions remain in their own homes. In partnership with New Charter and Peak Valley Housing, we are building new affordable social housing.

We are helping our local businesses remain successful. We were one of the few councils in the country to successfully secure Regional Growth Fund to support our local economy and we are investing in our town centres to ensure their long term future and create new jobs. The Tameside Investment Partnership has spent £50 million using local firms to build and supply the new schools that have opened. We will see more services delivered in partnership and we will see new and innovative methods of delivery.

We continue to maintain and clean 756km of highway and empty 9 million bins a year. We achieved European “In Bloom” success, winning silver in the Entente Floral competition. Crime has fallen sharply, particularly burglary, and night time crime and disorder has fallen by a massive 73%.

We have seen well over 1,000 members of staff leave the authority and have had the budgets of many services seriously curtailed. But this has all been done without any major disruptions to the frontline services our residents and businesses rely on most.

Yet 2012 promises to be just as challenging! We will need to continue to work hard to address the financial situation we face but I am confident that by working together we can deliver as many if not more successes in 2012. We will have 5 more new schools to marvel at, more Pride winners to applaud, a new road to open and the completion of Stamford Park refurbishment.

This couldn’t have been done without the tireless help and support of our staff and partners and it’s these people who deserve the highest praise and thanks for all that has been achieved.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and see you in 2012

Give them some credit

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

At this time of year, everyone feels the pressure to make sure everything is in place for Christmas – we all want our families to be able to enjoy the tradition of presents, festive food and drink, a tree and decorations. But none of this comes cheap and – particularly in the current economic climate – it can put already stretched budgets under a lot of strain.

That’s why it didn’t surprise me when I listened to a recent report which highlighted the alarming increase in the use of short term money lenders – those that are supposed to bridge the gap until your next pay, but end up costing the earth!

I’ve heard people describe them as legal loan sharks and, with one report I read saying they charge interest rates of 1,700 % or more, it’s no surprise they’ve attracted that name tag. It’s little wonder some national politicians are calling for change, with one MP claiming that “Britain is being bled dry by the legal loan shark industry.”

But I’m not saying there is no place in our society for money lenders – they can be a crucial and very helpful tool for a large number of people; it’s the companies involved who concern me.

I would urge all our residents to contact Tameside’s credit unions if they are looking to secure a loan, rather than use the short term loan companies. A Credit Union is a profit sharing, democratically run financial co-operative which offers convenient savings and low interest loans to its members. The members own and manage their credit union themselves.

The government has commissioned some research into capping the costs of credit which is a step in the right direction so we will have to see where this takes us. But I would still advise anyone wishing to obtain a loan to click on the link below to find out more about local credit unions – they have to be a better option than taking out a loan you will never pay back!

http://www.tameside.gov.uk/creditunion

Pride in our youth

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

I heard a report recently that said today’s youth won’t have it as easy as we did when we were teenagers. That their standard of living, prospects and passageway into adult life has become more difficult as we all continue to suffer from financial meltdown.

That got me thinking about the opportunities our youth have available to them and what recognition they get for their achievements. I would say celebrating young people’s successes is crucial if we are to avoid what has been described as a scenario where our young start to lose faith in their abilities to make something with their lives.

So for me the recent Pride of Tameside Awards which took place at Dukinfield Town Hall were absolutely integral to this way of thinking.

Councillor Susan Quinn attended on behalf of the Council and she tells me that it was a fantastic evening with some inspirational stories which all centred on young people from our schools and colleges. During the evening, 14 awards were given out and guests were entertained by students from Ashton Sixth Form College, Copley High School and Droylsden Academy.

It is events such as this, where we showcase the talents the borough’s youth bring to the table, which I want to see more of if we are to prevent our young falling into a mindset in which they have nothing to look forward to.

Now is the winter………..!!!

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Now the cold weather is starting to bite the decision to cut winter fuel payments to the elderly has really come to the fore.

With the current financial hardships we all now have to face up to, this decision comes as a hammer blow to the borough’s older residents.

That is why the council took the decision to pass a motion at last week’s Full Council meeting calling upon the government to reverse its decision and reinstate the allowance to its original level.

And it is why we also launched a petition, which we intend to roll out and forward on to government, seeking support for our proposal.

I and the council simply think it unfair that at a time when fuel prices are going up and our elderly are struggling to keep warm, the last thing they need is a cut to the financial support they are given to help them cope.

These changes will affect just under 48,000 of the borough’s elderly to the tune of just under £3 million.

The petition, launched by my fellow councillor, Denise Ward, was signed on the night and is expected to find its way around the borough asking for support among residents.

Once finished we intend to send the petition onto government in the hope they will change their mind.

Co-operation is the name of the game

Friday, December 9th, 2011

 

As I’ve outlined many times on previous occasions, in Tameside we pride ourselves on innovation and now more than ever this has to be a key word as we take the borough forward.

That’s why we are laying plans to adopt the principles of a Co-operative Council. We are mindful that local councils like Tameside face huge challenges, financial as well as others, in the years to come so councils across the country are investigating ways they can meet these financial challenges while still delivering the good-quality services residents and businesses expect.

It’s about giving people more involvement and control of the services they use and the place where they live by putting council resources into their hands. Meaningful partnerships and co-operation such as this has to be the foundation on which our public services will be run in the future.

The co-operative council is run along seven guiding principles, but in essence the driver is simply to deliver joined up and easily accessible services for those who use them. Location and transaction: one place to do it all, which will provide a visible value for money, who could disagree with that?!

Switched on to switch ons!

Friday, December 9th, 2011

 

We are in the midst of the Christmas lights switch ons in Tameside, so I’ve been reflecting on their importance, particularly when thinking about the current savings we are being forced to make.

There are people who will argue that they are a complete waste of money and council funds would be better spent on other projects, but I disagree.

Of course our funds are limited more than ever before, but, as a council which has been acknowledged for using taxpayers’ money wisely, we don’t have to treat the two as mutually exclusive.

This time of year should be a time when we celebrate and look forward to the festive holidays and I would argue that, this year more than most, that should be the case.

I attended the Droylsden lights switch on and thought it was absolutely brilliant. Every penny laid out on the occasion was money well spent in my opinion.

The faces in the crowd, especially among the town’s young told its own story and said to me that it was well worth it.

But it isn’t just the smiling faces that we should all support the switch ons for; they can bring a real cash benefit to the area’s local economy too.

As is the case with everything this council does, the Christmas lights switch ons are for the benefit of the borough’s residents and businesses. They may seem extravagant, but if they bring happiness to people and trade to the town’s businesses; that can’t be a bad thing surely?

I remain confident and upbeat!

Friday, December 9th, 2011

As we are all aware councils up and down the country have to make massive savings to cope with the shortfall in central government funding.

And with this in mind I delivered my annual keynote address to Full Council on Tuesday, in which I outlined where Tameside stands and what we will be doing in the future to tackle the issues the funding gap causes head on.

It was all about maintaining a fair future for the borough’s residents and businesses, despite the massive savings we are being asked to make.

It’s no secret that that over the next 12 months we’ll see many changes to the way our services are delivered. More will be delivered in partnership and we will see more innovation in our approach to delivery going forward.

This is the driving force behind our decision to launch the Big Conversation which I blogged about recently; which will give residents and service users the chance to have their say on our plans.

But my main message was that, despite the tough decisions that we will have to make, I remain confident and upbeat about the borough’s future.

The Council supports my leadership in wanting Tameside to be a fairer place for our residents and businesses and obviously the disadvantaged and vulnerable people that rely on our help and support.

We're all disappointed……….

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

I’m sure many of you will have been disappointed when the news broke of Marks and Spencer’s intention to leave the centre of Ashton.

Our links with M&S go back around 100 years to when the market hall was home to one of their famous penny bazaars. They are a prestige name occupying one of the most prominent sites in the town and we are proud to have them. When their Warrington Street store opened in 1968 it was seen as a major coup for Ashton.

It would be easy to become despondent, to throw our hands in the air and to start talking about the recessions, slumps and the death of the high street. To do that would be wrong. We need to see Marks’s decision as an opportunity rather than a mortal blow.

While I accept that we are living in difficult economic times, I am an optimist by nature and see a bright future for Ashton and, indeed, Tameside. The main thing is that we keep Marks and Spencer within the town and I’m glad to say they have announced that they want to stay. In fact, if their new project comes to fruition, 50 extra jobs would be created.

Tameside Council will be doing everything it can to help them although I have to make it clear that their new store is dependent on planning approval. That is a legal process and we await its outcome.

But I can assure you that this authority does everything it can to bring jobs and investment into the borough. I am confident that once Marks have left their current site, whenever that might be, a new anchor tenant will be very quickly be in place on Warrington Street. It is in our interest and that of the private landlord.

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