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Archive for July, 2015

Think Big, Act Local – Anchor Institutions and the Civil Service

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

One thing we don’t do at Tameside Council is stand still; we’re always searching for new ways to improve life in the borough for residents and businesses. Sometimes we create the ideas ourselves, but other times we take good ideas from elsewhere and make them work for Tameside. It is in that spirit that a paper from the Netter Centre of Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania caught my eye this week. It explores the concept of using “anchor institutions” in an area to create employment and attract inward investment.

Broadly speaking, anchor institutions are large public sector or non-profit organisations that are firmly rooted within their local areas. Their size ensures that they have a powerful presence in the community through employing local people, purchasing from local suppliers and acting as a hub for culture, learning and innovation. The most common anchor institutions are universities, colleges and hospitals, although sports team, churches, utility companies and military bases also fit the definition.

But perhaps the most exciting thing to consider is how well anchor institutions would fit into our existing plans for the borough. Already 55.2% of our annual spend is with local businesses, up from 40.7% three years ago. When it is complete, Vision Tameside will make it easier to leverage the presence of Tameside Council and Tameside College to increase footfall and spending within the borough. Furthermore, we also intend to continue our commitment to work closely with our partner organisations in and around Tameside, including New Charter Housing, Active Tameside, NHS Tameside and Glossop, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and our many private sector employers to make Tameside a better place to live, work and invest in.

Looking in the bigger picture, given the recent progress with devolution and the fact that many anchor institutions are large public sector bodies, the argument for moving some of Whitehall’s departments out of London should be revisited. If the BBC can do it, then the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department of Transport (to use but two examples that might be considered) certainly can. Given the ease with which employees can work flexibly thanks to modern technology, and the lower costs of living and doing business in the North, only the hidebound London-centric views of Whitehall are stopping us having a serious conversation about how this could be done.

The past year has shown that British cities could soon be redefining what is possible in terms of building and maintaining a local economy. Our freedom to experiment and innovate at the local level has never been greater. If we truly intend to move forwards and meet the challenges ahead, we should make the very most of it.

Trouble Down the Track: The Future of Transport in Greater Manchester

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

It is fair to say that since it first opened to passengers on 6th April 1992 the Metrolink has become as much of a Manchester icon as City and United, Oasis and Coronation Street. It has grown to become the largest light rail network in the UK, covering almost 60 miles of tracks, serving 92 stops and taking on over 30 million passengers a year. From the centre of Manchester travellers can reach Altrincham and Ashton, Bury and East Didsbury, Eccles and Rochdale, MediaCityUK and Manchester Airport.

Unfortunately, if you want to travel from Ashton to Rochdale, Oldham to Stockport or Bury to Eccles, you’re still out of luck. Although Metrolink is undeniably effective in getting people in and out of Manchester city centre; road and, to a lesser degree, rail remain the only options when travelling between the suburbs and outskirts.

Fortunately, some of the work we need to do to move things forward is already taking place. In 2017 all eyes will be on Sheffield and Rotherham as they launch their prototype tram-train network. If successful, the tram-train model, which uses flexible vehicles that can run on both light tram tracks and rail networks, could provide a model to efficiently expand the Metrolink service and link it up with regional railway services. Properly implemented, a tram-train network will improve journey times and reduce congestion across all of Greater Manchester for a significantly reduced capital cost in infrastructure and rolling stock. Existing railway and Metrolink lines could be combined to link up into a “tramway M60”, a Circle Line for Greater Manchester, linking up Ashton, Stockport, Altrincham, Eccles, Rochdale and many more of Greater Manchester’s towns. It would also allow currently underutilised railway lines to play a full and valuable role in our transport solution.

Over the next few years I will be lobbying to ensure that these proposals are pursued as quickly and ambitiously as possible. This is a plan that deserves to succeed.

But if it is to succeed then it will require far more commitment to Northern transport investment than the Tories have displayed to date. The announced suspension of electrification works to the Transpennine railway line is nothing short of a slap in the face to the entire North of England. Almost as if to add insult to injury, the Secretary of State for Transport has also announced that yet more London-centric railway work will remain the top priority. The £14.5 billion of capital expenditure allocated to Crossrail alone is nine times more than what is earmarked for all the rail projects in the North West, North East and Yorkshire put together.

If the Tories are sincere about creating their “Northern Powerhouse” then serious investment in quicker and better railway connections between the great cities of the North is an absolutely indispensable step towards achieving it.

In partnership with Northern council leaders and MPs from all the political parties I strongly urge that electrification of the Transpennine line is recommenced and feasibility studies of a Metrolink Circle Line are undertaken as immediate priorities. These are not things that can be put on the back burner; we simply cannot be expected to have a Champions League economy if we are forced to continue with Sunday League transport infrastructure.

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