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Archive for January, 2012

A truly stunning facility

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

If Britain is to prosper in the 21st century it needs a well-educated and skilled workforce. To that end it is imperative that the nation invests in its young people. It is vital they have the skills to compete not only with our traditional trading partners, but also the emerging economies of Asia and South America.

That’s why I was delighted to attend the opening of the new Droylsden Academy campus on Manor Road. It’s a truly stunning place, which has all the state-of-the-art facilities necessary to give its pupils the best start in life and the skills needed to compete in a highly competitive global jobs market.

The Academy, which brings together Droylsden High School for Girls and Littlemoss High School for Boys, is built to an open-plan design. It caters for all aspects of the curriculum – arts, sciences and sport – and provides a welcoming and inspirational environment where it’s a pleasure to study and teach. There is plenty of light and air. The whole aspect is a million miles from the school buildings people of my age remember.

And this is only the start. Work will soon begin on phase two, which involves demolishing the old high-school building to allow the completion of the 3G all-weather sports pitches, playing fields and landscaped areas.

The project, launched as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, has cost £29 million, which I consider a modest sum given the dividends it will reap. Youngsters throughout Tameside and England are benefiting from BSF, but as a Droylsden councillor I take special pride in the knowledge that my town’s young people can now enjoy the very best educational facilities.

Before I was elected executive leader of Tameside Council in 2010, I held the economic development brief within the cabinet. As a result of that experience I am only too well aware of the challenges that our youngsters face as they set out in life.

Top-class facilities like Droylsden Academy will give them a tremendous advantage.

Local Government Finance Bill

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

The Local Government Finance Bill is due to be debated in Parliament this week.

The purpose of the bill – which is being introduced amid the massive savings local authorities are being forced to make by Government – is to encourage local economic growth, reduce the financial deficit and replace the current system of local government funding.

Taken at face value the bill aims to give councils more power over setting local levels of taxation, including business rates, which will then enable local decisions to be taken to help stimulate local business growth. 

The changes will also mean that what the council collects in local taxes it will keep to spend on services. 

It all sounds great until you look a little closer at the detail and the potential impact it could have on authorities such as ours. 

The move away from the current business rates system that sees all the money pooled nationally, and then shared out in an equitable way, means that areas such as Tameside, which has thousands of small to medium sized businesses, will potentially lose tens of millions of pounds. 

At the same time areas such as Westminster and London City, which have a plethora of large multi-national company headquarters, will be hundreds of millions of pounds better off.

The lion’s share of the council budget is spent on services for the elderly, vulnerable and the young.  How can it be fair that under these changes we would have even less to spend on supporting these people just because we don’t have the headquarters of Barclays Bank or HSBC in our borough?

Under the new arrangements just to maintain the current level of business rate income would mean we need to attract another 25 IKEAs into the borough.

Over the past two years we have had to face massive cuts to funding which, I would argue, have hit us disproportionately hard and hit the more deprived areas hardest.

Don’t get me wrong, providing local councils with tools to incentivise economic growth is a policy I wholeheartedly support. But the proposals being put forward are unfair and will not work in practice.

Only local authorities such as Westminster or even Trafford, with Trafford Park and the Trafford Centre, will benefit from this bill’s introduction so the gap between the more prosperous and less well-off will widen.

I am sure many will agree with me when I say that this is hardly a fair way of attempting to generate economic growth and prosperity for the country as a whole.

Give youth a chance

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Youth unemployment nationally is on the rise as the current economic climate including the massive savings we are all being asked to make continues to bite.

According to some shocking statistics I saw recently more than a million young people are now unemployed in the UK, that’s equivalent to the entire population of Birmingham.

I outlined recently that long periods out of work can leave permanent scarring and that over a quarter of a million young people have been unemployed for more than a year.

In many cases these individuals are more likely to become jobless later in life and earn lower wages. I’m sure I am not alone in believing that this is a major cause for concern and something we should all be worried about.

But as you would expect, here at Tameside we are not standing still. We have joined forces with key partners such as Tameside College to develop clear and practical steps to encourage young people into apprenticeships, to raise awareness and benefits among teachers and to increase job opportunities.

Our successful Apprentice 50/50 scheme offered a £1,000 incentive to employers taking on a Tameside-based apprentice and it has already reaped benefits with 52 young people given the chance of a career. That’s why we will be continuing with the scheme this year.

As I’ve already mentioned Tameside Council never stands still and is always looking forward at ways to improve. A good illustration of this is our attitude to pushing such schemes. The Government has set a target that nationally 15 per cent of 16 to 18 year olds should be involved in apprenticeships by 2015. The council is committed to having 25 per cent in the same timescale and it is something I am sure we will achieve if we continue to work closely with our partners.

On your bike crime!

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Thanks to the last Government’s investment in policing I’m glad to say that crime in Tameside has continued to fall despite the unprecedented cuts in the Police Service.

This has meant that last year there were 2,728 fewer people, businesses and families who were victims of crime across the borough.

Wherever there is a crime, there is a victim and a high social price to pay; it has a devastating effect on innocent individuals, it breeds mistrust and it undermines our communities.

That is why we all need to work together to eradicate the problem for everyone’s benefit. A good example of this was demonstrated this week when I took part in a photocall to hand over four mountain bikes to police in Droylsden for crime fighting; bikes paid for through partnership work with the local councillors, emergency services and community leaders.

I was pleased to hear the comment from Greater Manchester Police’s Chief Constable Peter Fahy that although there are no easy decisions on where the cuts will be made, protecting bobbies on the beat should be at the heart of the plans.

I completely agree that together with taking tough action on yobs and anti-social behaviour this has to be the way forward as we move towards working with Tameside’s communities to find local solutions through schemes like Homewatch.

While we will continue to work closely with and fully support the police wherever and whenever we can, we must concentrate more of our resources on working differently.

A great example of this is our integrated offender management initiative which has reduced re-offending rates by 60%; not through enforcement and policing but through providing housing, support for drug dependency and support into employment This kind of approach not only delivers less crime, it saves us money and transforms lives; it is projects like this which, I am sure, will continue to deliver ever decreasing crime stats across the borough.

Proud of our pension fund

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The government is looking to “target” £20 billion worth of investment from British funds such as our very own Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) to help pay for infrastructure schemes across the country.

The aim is for government and private investors to support both social and economic schemes over the next 10 years, with government providing £5 billion and another £5 billion to follow. The Treasury hope organisations such as ours will contribute the rest, using the money made up of employee contributions which are then invested to pay for their pensions.

Personally I think the government is not doing enough to reinvigorate the economy; cutting VAT and introducing a bank bonus tax to help the unemployed back to work are just a couple of proposals which would go a long way to getting our economy back on track.

As the chairman of the GMPF, I am pleased that the Fund has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with government, which is the first step towards this new way of working.

I say this because infrastructure is generally considered by many to be the backbone of a modern economy and, as such, is a major determinant of growth and productivity. And, for me, it is only through factors such as these that the country will finally get on the long road to recovery.

But it isn’t simply through a sense of altruistic nationalism that I say this, the deal could have real benefits to the borough and its residents and businesses.

Once work has started on the already agreed infrastructure projects we should see immediate short term benefits such as job creation and the potential for local suppliers to bid for contracts. A good example in our region is the M56 at Manchester Airport, linking the M56 at the airport to the A6 south of Stockport which is expected to improve access to not only the airport but also the Airport Enterprise Zone from the East, including Derbyshire.

Tameside and the rest of the region are already witnessing a steady increase in companies locating from other areas across the UK to take advantage of a strategic motorway network, strong supply chain and a keen skilled and semi-skilled workforce.

 So this initiative can only further enhance the future infrastructure of Tameside and the wider region, bolstering the local economy and that of the country in general.

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