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Archive for January, 2015

Casserole Club

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

WHEN I was growing up it was by no means unusual for one of the neighbours to pop round with something they’d cooked. They might have made too much, they may have wanted us to try something new they’d tried, or they might just have cooked something specially for us. We’d do the same for them.

There was a lot of that kind of thing – people minding each other’s children or looking in on someone who was poorly. I know it continues because I know Tameside is a place where people have always looked out for each other. The council’s new initiative, Casserole Club, is an extension of that community spirit.

Casserole Club is a service which connects volunteer cooks with older neighbours who would appreciate a home-cooked meal and, by the way, the meal doesn’t have to be casserole. It can be anything.

For me this is a great idea which builds on the traditions of the past. As well as providing food for the elderly, and making sure they’re well nourished, it also supplies them with a friendly face, cutting down on isolation. At the same time it strengthens connections in communities and can create long-term friendships.

We’re looking for cooks, but more especially diners. If you’d like to receive a meal or know someone who would, please get in touch. Everyone taking part will be fully checked so there’s no need to worry about letting strangers into your home. Diners will also be asked what foods they like and dislike so that they don’t receive something they don’t want.

However you’d like to take part, just get in touch. You can ring 0161 339 2345 or visit www.casseroleclub.com E-mail casseroleclubtameside@cvat.org.uk

A Bold and Ambitious Plan for Growth

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

I’M stating the obvious when I say that we live in tough times. There seems to be no end to austerity, and whether we run a business or a household we all face major difficulties in balancing the books.

It’s the same for the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) which I chair. It’s the biggest local government pension scheme in the country. It has a long record of success, but it is no easy task to make sure it keeps growing to the benefit of its many members. If that is to continue we need vision and ambition, as well as a national economy that looks after the interests of the many rather than the few.

The challenges we face in offering a reliable, affordable scheme to employees and employers are many and varied. Increasing life expectancy is one, but the biggest is affordability – particularly if investment returns are to reduce deficits.

Here in Greater Manchester we have long recognised the need to keep members informed, to work closely with employers, and to be able to respond to any changes the future may bring. We are also acutely aware of the need to balance the short and long-terms needs of employers in a prudent way.
To this end, we are continually on the look-out for investment opportunities offer good commercial returns. Ideally they will support our area too. For example, our impressive flagship office development at 1 St Peter’s Square in Manchester’s city centre.

In response to the national housing crisis, GMPF has formed a partnership with the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. Five schemes have been developed so far, investing £25 million in the construction of 240 much-needed affordable homes. An additional £75 million will help stimulate further housing growth. This is just the start of a bolder ambition across Greater Manchester.

The Pension fund is also involved in the £800 million Airport City development where the target market is not city-centre occupiers, but companies which need rapid access to global and national markets. This plan has been positioned to complement, not compete with, current real estate assets such as Manchester city centre or Media City, Salford. This development will provide much needed jobs for Tameside residents as well as others.
However, we are always prepared to look farther afield; if opportunities present themselves we will do our best to make the most of them. To that end we have just announced a ground breaking agreement with the London Pensions Fund Authority to jointly invest up to £500 million in infrastructure projects. It makes perfect sense as Greater Manchester and Greater London are the two main regions driving growth in the UK.
Investments contribute to GMPF’s excellent long-term track record. This is central to helping maintain the solvency of the fund at an affordable cost to employers.

We are among the best resourced local government pension schemes but fully recognise the need to be vigilant. Austerity has resulted in fewer employee members but more pensioner members and employers. Add the difficult economic environment and it makes fund management much more complex.
Recent announcements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that local government funding cuts will continue until at least 2017 only add to the already substantial pressures. In an ideal world we would have the stability necessary to encourage and support pension saving.

GMPF’s years of success are reflected in its funding level and reputation. This year it won the large scheme of the year and best member communications awards from Professional Pensions magazine. However, we will always endeavour to do more.

Rest assured we will continue to take decisions from a long-term perspective to make sure this success is maintained for members, employers our region and the nation.

Let us build our way to growth

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Many of us have direct experience of friends and family that aspire to own their own home but fail at the first hurdle due to the spiralling cost. The alternative of social housing is in short supply due to lack of build and increasing waiting lists. Many residents opt for the private rented sector which can be both expensive and is inadequately regulated.

According to the latest census information, meeting housing demand in the UK will require the building of 245,000 new homes each year. This is 145,000 more than is currently being built per year. House building levels are now only slowly rising from the lowest level of activity since the 1920s.

This housing shortage has led to large increases in the price of housing, excluding many young first time buyers from getting their first foot on the property ladders. It is particularly striking in the South East although the North West has not been immune from increasing property prices.

In 1997 it took an average family 3 years to save up for a proper deposit on a home, according to Shelter, today this can take 22 years. A key part of stimulating new house building will be to unlock capacity in small house builders.

25 years ago 2/3 of new homes were built by small builders, this has fallen to less than 1/3 today. The number of firms building between 1-500 units has also fallen from 12,000 to less than 3,000 over the same period. “Help to Build” scheme’s should attempt to address this through improving access to finance by guaranteeing a proportion of bank loans to small house builders.

In the medium term we need outline the policy options available in all areas to increase house building. These include:

– Releasing land for housing development and removing incentives by developers to hoard and speculate on land.
– Removing the barriers to investment (both public and private) in housing and related infrastructure. Giving councils such as mine more flexibility to borrow to invest will be helpful
– Investigating how a new generation of New Towns can be built and sustained, while protecting our cherished green spaces.
– How local authorities can be incentivised to cooperate in joint planning processes to build new housing. The Devolution deal between the Combined Authority and the Government is a clear example. The agreement includes creation of a £300 million Housing Investment Fund to accelerate the delivery of housing to provide up to 15,000 additional homes over 10 years. The spatial strategy being developed by all 10 Greater Manchester authorities will ensure that the housing needs of all areas are built into the planning process.
– How the windfall gains from planning permission can be fairly distributed among the local community.
The Council that I lead in Tameside is doing its bit to improve access to housing in the borough.
Despite being the 8th largest authority in Greater Manchester, we have achieved the 3rd highest level per head of New Homes Bonus.
– We have supported 50 first time buyers through our very own local “Lend a Hand” scheme in associated with Lloyds TSB.
– We have transferred or sold a number of sites to our local social housing provider, New Charter Housing Limited to provide affordable homes for rent for Tameside residents. The 9 sites will provide space for 330 houses and provide the council with an estimated £320,000 a year in council tax and £2 million in New Homes Bonus. We will escalate these schemes under the #15 for 15 pledges I outlined at Full Council before Christmas.

Our “Empty to Plenty” scheme has worked with registered social landlords to bring 78 empty homes back into use.

On a Greater Manchester level we have fallen far short of the estimated 10,000 homes per year needed to keep pace with demand, achieving just an average of 3000 builds per year.

If we are going to scale up the pace of building decent homes and communities we need to continue to broaden the base of our funding mix. One good example is the partnership with the Abu Dhabi United Group , The multi phased Manchester Life initiative, foresees investment of up to £1 billion over the next 10 years, with provision for further multiple investors. It will expand the residential market on the eastern fringe of Manchester, providing a platform for the delivery of more than 6,000 new homes.

Another mechanism to stimulate housing and community growth is to utilise funding from local government pension schemes, such as the one I Chair. Together with the London Pensions Fund Authority (LPFA) the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) has developed a joint allocation of up to £500m for infrastructure development. The 15 local authorities with the largest pension funds could provide up to £10 billion of pension funding to build mixed-tenure housing in areas of need. This could result in a more ambitious building programme, creating upto 300,000 new homes every year and a return to investors in excess of 6%.

I and my colleagues are determined to tackle this priority and create decent homes for all.

Don't Lose Your Voice

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

THE current year is full of anniversaries significant to the democratic process. It’s 800 years since King John signed Magna Carta, 370 years since Parliament defeated Charles I at the Battle of Naseby, and 150 since the US Civil War ended.

None of these events necessarily had much effect on the ordinary person at the time, but all placed limits on power or extended freedom.

Tuesday, 20 January, marked 750 years since the first English parliament met at Westminster. It was convened by a rebel baron called Simon de Montfort and represented every county and major town. That’s why the BBC declared it to be Democracy Day and joined with our current parliament to organise discussions about elections, decision-making and why interest in politics seems to have hit an all-time low.

When you consider how much people had to struggle to win the vote it is a pity they don’t use that right because it really does give them power over the decision-makers. All 57 members of Tameside Council only hold that rank thanks to the people who put a cross against our name every four years. None of us takes that support for granted and we’re all fully aware that it could be removed at any time.

Of course before you are able to vote, you have to be registered. Contrary to what some people may tell you it’s not a difficult process although it has changed. It used to be the case that one person in every household was responsible for registering everyone else at that address. Now, everyone has to register individually.

Under Individual Electoral Registration you need to provide identifying information such as your date of birth and national insurance number, and your application will need to be verified before you are added to the register.

Anyone unable to supply this information can provide an alternative ID. You can get your name added at any time in the year and by doing so may make it easier to get credit. Most importantly it gives you a voice in our democracy.

Find more information about registering visit www.tameside.gov.uk/voting/registrationform

You only have to look at events across the world to see how much the right to vote is cherished. In many countries people put their lives in peril by taking part in the democratic process. That’s because they realise it gives them a say in the way decisions are made.

Voting is straightforward and simple in Britain. It’s a right we should cherish too. Don’t waste it. Make sure you’re registered.

Proud of Tameside

Monday, January 12th, 2015

I’M proud to live in Tameside. All right, the place still bears a few scars from its long industrial past but it scrubs up well. It’s surrounded by rugged countryside, has lots of parks and green spaces, and is populated by warm and welcoming people who are renowned for their community spirit.

There is so much to commend our borough, which is why I get so annoyed by the mess caused by a few inconsiderate people who would rather dump their rubbish than dispose of it properly.

Well I can’t tolerate mess. Whether it’s at my home or in the community, it gets on my nerves. It particularly annoys me that councillors and staff have had to deal with several cases of fly-tipping over Christmas.

This dumping is nothing short of an environmental crime but more than that, the actions of this selfish minority cost us an absolute fortune. Last year the council had to spend £300,400.00 clearing up 768 tonnes of litter and fly-tipping. At a time when we are having our funding slashed to the bone it is galling in the extreme to have to spend so much on anti-social activity which could be avoided so easily.

By 2017 our funding from central government will have been cut by more than a half. We have responded to this by getting our vastly reduced workforce to do things differently and more flexibly, so the last thing we need is to divert much-needed money to clearing up other people’s mess.

Tameside Council’s staff do their utmost to keep the borough looking smart. This passion was there for all to see in the recent “Call the Council” series on the BBC. Like me, many of them live in Tameside and take the same pride in keeping their community clean and tidy. Fly-tipping is an act of great disrespect toward them.

Whatever your views I’m sure we can all agree this is money that could be better spent. By my reckoning, if we had no dumping to deal with we could afford several social workers. If you asked me to pick between the two, well, I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Something needs to be done, so as part of my 15 pledges for 2015 I am preparing to launch the “a Big Clean-up campaign, showing both our pride and respect for our communities. As part of it, the council and its partners, such as community groups and our community heroes, will be making a concerted effort to improve the borough’s appearance.

In response to your priorities as outlined in our recent budget consultation, our limited resources will be reprioritised and I have set aside a £1million fund.

However, the Big Clean-up campaign will be about much more than clean and tidy streets. We will be celebrating and highlighting individuals that make a positive contribution to Tameside all that is good about our communities.

Keep an eye on this website over the coming weeks!

Diversity Week

Monday, January 12th, 2015

TAMESIDE is as “northern” as a place can be. Whether you take the Lancashire or the Cheshire side of the river we still have the accents, the food, the mills and the heritage. However you look at it, our northern credentials are impeccable.

Yet at the same time the borough is a cosmopolitan place peopled by a vibrant mix of residents from many diverse backgrounds and cultures. I, for one, am the son of an Irish immigrant and proud of my heritage.

After the war, as Britain, grappled with a labour shortage, Tameside accepted people from eastern Europe, Italy and Asia. Everybody has fitted in and made their mark on the place.

The fact is, one thing brings us all together no matter what our origins, culture or faith. We all share a passion for Tameside which, by and large, is a tolerant and harmonious community despite the occasional efforts of a tiny minority to stir up trouble.

I believe the diversity of its population is one of Tameside’s strengths. That’s why I’m glad that from Monday, 19 January, the borough will be holding its first diversity festival as part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week.

Hate crimes are where the victim is targeted because of an aspect of their identity. Police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland annually monitor five strands: disability; gender identity; race, ethnicity or nationality; religion, faith or belief; and sexual orientation.

Thankfully incidents are rare, but they do occur and can sometimes end in tragedy.

During the festival we will be encouraging local groups to get involved by doing all they can to celebrate diversity and bring different people together. You can get involved by:

Attending one of the many events.

Opening up your group to individuals or communities who would not normally attend your activities.

Taking part in our social media thunderclap at noon on Monday, January 19, using the hashtag #walkinmyshoes

It promises to be a great few days celebrating Tameside’s greatest strength – its people. For more information visit our website at www.tameside.gov.uk

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