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Archive for June, 2016

SWIFT and Free Internet for Tameside

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

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When I unveiled the council’s 16 pledges for 2016 in February, I said that one of our aims was to put Tameside in the best position to benefit from the technology and businesses of the future. One of the most important things we need to do to achieve this is make sure that the physical infrastructure and technology is in place to support the people and businesses that want to step into this brave new world.

That’s why I’m happy to report that by the autumn our plan to roll out Wi-Fi to all nine of our town centres will be complete.  The Smart Wireless Internet for Tameside – or SWIFT network for short – will provide free, fast and easy internet access to residents and businesses in the hearts of our towns. It will be one of the most extensive, comprehensive public Wi-Fi networks in the UK outside of our major cities.

The SWIFT network will also allow our partners and local businesses to work with us to get the maximum benefit out of it in a way that would never have been possible before. To give you just a few examples; many of our colleges and health providers are exploring ways to link up the SWIFT network to their own Wi-Fi networks, offering seamless access to students, staff and patients. Purple Wi-Fi will be using the network to assist us in delivering our “Every Child a Coder” pledge, giving our children the skills they need to succeed in the high-technology economy. The fibre that the SWIFT network will be run on will also connect up to the renovated Ashton Old Baths, providing connectivity to the businesses based there.

006We expect the SWIFT network to release large dividends in future jobs and business opportunities. Much of the infrastructure required is already in place from projects such as the Metrolink extension. The major work will be in setting up the access points for the network, but even here we have found a solution which ties seamlessly into other projects. The access points for the SWIFT network will be mounted in the posts of the LED street lights we are rolling out across the borough, which will themselves cut running costs and reduce Tameside’s carbon footprint.

This is a low-cost, low-risk investment in the technology of the future. It will release huge economic and social benefits by giving any businesses and residents who wants to access the internet in our town centres the ability to do so free of charge. Most of all, it’s a big step on the road to building a Tameside ready for the economy of the 21st century.

EU Referendum result

Friday, June 24th, 2016

The polls have closed, the votes have been counted and the people have spoken.

It’s no secret that I have supported Remain throughout this referendum campaign. However, I am also a passionate believer in democracy, and because of that I respect the fact that that a majority of the country, and indeed a majority of Tameside, chose to Leave.

We do not yet know what form our departure from the European Union will take, when it will occur or even who will be holding the office of Prime Minister during the process. That is why it is important now more than ever for Tameside to pull together and focus on handling the local consequences of Brexit, as well as continuing to provide the vital services that our residents depend on.

While we have a responsibility to ensure that the day-to-day operations of the council keep running smoothly, we also need to pay attention to the hard lessons of this referendum. I firmly believe that the result was as much a rejection of the Westminster elite as it was a rejection of the European Union. All holders of political office across the land now have an obligation to work to create a new way of doing things. We need to transform our democracy so it works for all our communities and all parts of our country. We can’t continue with a system where areas like Tameside carry the burden for decisions made in London. That’s why devolution is so important to the future of not just Tameside and Greater Manchester but to the whole country.

I have always said that there are within Tameside the skills, the resources and willingness to achieve things that are truly special. Nothing that has happened in the last 24 hours has changed my opinion on that one bit. The weeks and months ahead are likely to be some of the most tumultuous and unpredictable in our history, but we are still here, we will endure, and we will keep making a difference for Tameside.

Celebrate Our Armed Forces This Weekend

Friday, June 24th, 2016

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Tameside will salute our armed forces personnel, past and present, this weekend as we come together to celebrate Armed Forces Day. Since it was created in 2006, Armed Forces Day (or Veterans Day as it was formerly known) gives us an opportunity to show our support for all the men and women who make up our armed forces community; ranging from currently serving troops to armed forces charities to families, veterans and cadets.

Although Armed Forces Day is set for Saturday 25th June, technically the celebrations began on Monday, when the Armed Forces Day flag for raised for six days on buildings and famous landmarks across the country. In Tameside the flag flies proudly over Victoria Park in Denton, which is where Saturday’s main festivities will take place.

The day will begin at 11am, where a short service of remembrance at the Denton war memorial will be led by Father Alec Mitchell of St. Anne’s Church. From 1pm onwards the focus will be on Victoria Park itself, as visitors will be entertained by live music from the Dave Egerton Band, singer Jo Lancaster and the choirs of Tameside Harmonies and Do Your Thing. There will also be a variety of fun and family-friendly activities, including a climbing wall, archery, face-painting, balloon modelling and a range of other arts and crafts. Last but by no means least, the Tameside Spaceman, which wowed 100,000 people at last weekend’s Manchester Day parade, will make an appearance at some point during the afternoon.

This year’s Armed Forces Day will be particularly significant as this is a year where we will commemorate some of the hardest fought battles in British military history. I’ve already written in this blog about the Battle of Jutland, and at the start of July we will remember the Battle of the Somme, in which the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties on the first day alone, the single bloodiest day in British military history. To put that into grim perspective, that’s enough to fill the Etihad Stadium almost to capacity. It is in large part to the efforts of our armed forces personnel that such horror and bloodshed is now a warning from the past, as opposed to something that we fear lies in our future.

That’s why I’ve always said that, while big days like Armed Forces Day are important, what really shows that we care about our veterans is what we do for them on the other 364 days of the year. We provide a huge variety of services and support for current and former Armed Forces personnel and reservists, which can be found on our website here. Our Armed Forces Veterans club is also continuing to go from strength-to-strength. Together, we will make sure that Tameside continues to point the way when it comes to honouring our armed forces.

The Tameside Spaceman Lands in Manchester

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

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Last week Tameside Council came together with other organisations and residents of Greater Manchester to take part in the sixth annual Manchester Day parade. Inspired by the Thanksgiving Parades of New York, Manchester Day celebrates our history, our ingenuity, our communities and everything else that helps to make Manchester one of the world’s most iconic and recognisable cities.

It’s an idea that the city has taken to its heart, and since 2009 the Manchester Parade has only gotten bigger and better each year. All the Manchester Day parades are built around a particular theme. For 2016 the theme was “Eureka!”, a celebration of Manchester as a city at the forefront of discovery. Considering that Manchester is currently celebrating its year as the European City of Science, it was a theme that was especially fitting.

It’s estimated that up to 100,000 people watched a parade put on by charities, community groups, public bodies and companies. I’m sure that as they watched the parade, which was over a mile long and took an hour to pass any one point, they would have noticed Tameside’s contribution; a huge spaceman under the banner “Reach for the Stars”. It was a particularly appropriate piece as Saturday was also the day when Tim Peake returned to Earth from his six-month stay in the International Space Station.

But we didn’t join in the Manchester Day parade for the sake of it. The birth of the Tameside spaceman wouldn’t have been possible without a £17,000 grant from the Ministry of Defence’s covenant fund. The fund aims to support projects which bring together civilian and military communities to increase understanding between them. To this end, we brought together local armed services veterans, Scouts and Guides to work with our Cultural Services team to design, build and carry the Tameside spaceman for the parade. Stamping our presence in the heart of the city while at the same time building bridges between communities at home, I can’t think of a better example to show our ambitions for both Tameside and Greater Manchester.

If you want to find more pictures and information about Manchester Days, past and present, you can go to the official Manchester Day website here. If you missed the day and wanted to see the Tameside spaceman, we’ll be bringing it out again for the Armed Forces Day celebrations in Victoria Park, Denton on Saturday 25th June (1-4pm). And finally, I hope you’ll join me in thanking everybody who helped make Tameside’s contribution to Manchester Day a resounding success. Let’s keep working together to make it the first of many.

Putting the Public Back in Public Transport

Friday, June 17th, 2016

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As part of our drive to make Tameside a greener, more connected borough I take a particular interest in how we can make public transport as cheap and effective an option for residents as possible. That might seem like a strange thing to say in a car dominated country like the UK, but I think that the reasons speak for themselves. Public transport is better for the environment, connects people to work, enables young people to access education and training and tackles social isolation.

What’s more, it’s predicted that traffic levels will increase by up to 55% by 2040, a jump that may lead to gridlocked roads and increased difficulty for people accessing jobs and services if we don’t prepare for it now. Investing in and expanding public transport is one of the best ways to meet this future challenge head-on. Which is why it’s a real concern that bus use in the UK outside London has halved since the industry was deregulated in the 1980s, falling from 2 billion to 1 billion a year.

It’s clear that something has to be done. That’s why I welcomed the Bus Services Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last month, which would allow devolved authorities with an elected mayor, such as Greater Manchester, to commission bus services for their own area. This isn’t exactly a new thing – London has been allowed to do it for decades – but it’s a positive step nonetheless. It also opens the door to more ambitious plans like smart ticketing systems, a true Oyster card for the North.

Unfortunately, like most government legislation these days, the Bus Services Bill has a sting in the tail. Devolved authorities will be specifically banned from setting up bus companies to run their own services. If publicly-owned bus companies were proven to be worse than their private sector counterparts then that would be fair enough, but the evidence from existing public bus companies (which will still be allowed to run) says otherwise. Reading Buses was Operator of the Year in 2015. Nottingham City Transport has the best passenger satisfaction rating of any provider. Lothian Buses, the largest public bus operator in the UK, returned a profit of £5.5 million to the public sector for reinvestment last year alone. Public bus companies can be successful, and they deserve to be allowed to compete on a level playing field. Anything else is putting ideology over what works.

In Tameside we will continue to work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester to secure the future of public transport in the borough. Work on the new Tameside Interchange (Ashton-under-Lyne), a modern transport hub that will link up both buses and trams, is scheduled to begin at the end of the year. We’re also continuing to explore the possibilities offered by expansion of the Metrolink, the electrification of the Manchester-Leeds railway, and bringing old railway routes back into use.

For our residents and for the environment, Tameside does clean. Tameside does green. Tameside does public transport.

A Sporting Tameside is a Healthy Tameside

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

For the rest of this month the eyes of Europe will be turned to France as the festival of football that is the UEFA European Championship kicked off on Friday. While I’ll certainly be watching events in Marseilles, Lens and St-Etienne, I would be remiss if I didn’t use the opportunity to talk about what sports are available for people in Tameside as well.

I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating. If exercise was a pill it would be a miracle UEFA_Euro_2016.svgcure. Weight problems? Exercise helps it. High blood pressure? Exercise helps it. Feeling down and lethargic? Exercise helps it. Those, off the top of my head, are just three everyday health issues that be combated with exercise. The actual list is far, far longer. But exercise, and exercise through sport especially, is not just beneficial for physical fitness. Regular participation in sport can also build important life skills, such as working as a team, learning, having fun, showing commitment and building memories.

Despite this, people in Tameside are still not getting enough exercise. It’s estimated that 33% of Tameside residents take less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week. It’s in our interest and the interests of our residents to make sure that figure goes up. Increasing it by just 1% would generate annual savings of £650,000 a year for reinvestment in public services. Individuals taking regular physical exercise will also potentially see their risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and cancer reduce by up to a half, and their risk of early death reduced by almost a third.

This is why I’ve reconfirmed our commitment to make sure that exercise in Tameside is affordable and accessible to anyone that wants to take part in it. To achieve this we will need help from our partners, most notably Active Tameside and the various sports club across Tameside. It’s a challenge, but a challenge that we’re more than up for.

To give just one example, at the start of this month Mossley Juniors, a grassroots football club for youngsters aged 7 to 17, were the proud recipients of a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest honour any voluntary group in the UK can receive. It’s an award that’s more than deserved for the hard work that the club’s volunteers have put in over a period of 30 years, and I hope you’ll join me in offering them the warmest of congratulations.

So don’t wait until tomossleyjuniorsmorrow if you live in Tameside and want to get more active. The council’s website has a comprehensive list of directory of sports and activities available in the borough here, and Active Tameside’s website here tells you everything you need to know about the membership options and activities that they provide. I mean it when I say that I want healthy people in a healthy borough, and I will do everything in my power to turn that into a reality.

The Next Step for Devolution

Friday, June 10th, 2016

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People who have followed my blog and public statements on the Northern Powerhouse know that my view since the Chancellor first announced it has been consistent. I think, if implemented properly, it will be nothing less than a revolution in the way we live, work and do business in Tameside and the North, providing a much-needed counterbalance to a London-dominated country and economy. However, I continue to have doubts about whether the government is willing to make the practical steps that are required for the North to reach its true potential.

At the start of this month I was glad to see that the Centre for Cities appears to see things the same way. Since they were created in 2005 they have not only been one of the strongest champions of devolution in all its forms, but have also led the way in coming up with real ways of achieving it.

That’s why we should listen when they say that the government’s current focus on transport links as the key to unlocking the North’s potential risks missing the bigger picture. The Centre for Cities report points out that while there is a strong case for improving transport links between Northern cities – connections between many of them are less frequent and slower than a number of connections between London and its neighbours and similar regions in Europe – the key difference is how the individual cities themselves perform. The five more productive town and cities in the North – Manchester, Leeds, Warrington, Burnley and Liverpool – are light years behind their German and Dutch counterparts. The conclusion is simple; if we want to close the North-South divide we need to look at not just the transport links between cities (important though they may be) but the performance and productivity of the cities that are being linked together.

The Centre for Cities argue that this will require three things; addressing the skills gap in Northern cities, focusing on transport links within as well as between cities, and devolving responsibility for both of these to the city-region level. These can only be achieved via serious investment and a joined-up approach to devolution. What we have at the moment however, is £1.5 billion of cuts across the entire North of England and a devolution process that has given powers with one hand while wrenching powers away with the other. The debacle over forced academisation, thankfully now abandoned, was a perfect example of how this confused and fragmented approach has undermined confidence that the government will provide the money and powers to match their rhetoric on devolution.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another person who wants devolution to work more than me. I think we have the potential within Greater Manchester to put ourselves in the first rank of European and world cities, and make our residents lives richer, healthier and happier in the process. If we are not all pulling in the same direction, and doing our very best to make devolution the success it could be we risk letting the opportunity of a lifetime slip from our grasp. That would be nothing less than a tragedy. Not just for the North of England, but for the whole country.

Getting Tameside Growing

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

AllotmentsThis year our Council has made 16 pledges for 2016. As well as tackling the bread and butter issues like potholes, street lighting and street cleaning, we’ve set ourselves a number of more ambitious targets for our Borough.

Among the ambitious targets is a pledge to ‘Get Tameside Growing’. Now that isn’t a pledge to ‘grow’ the number of businesses in the Borough, or ‘grow’ the number of new homes built (although we will be working hard to do both of those too) – this is a pledge to get our Borough growing in the most literal sense, more people gardening and growing their own herbs, fruit and vegetables.

Why would a local council want to get involved in encouraging more people to be green fingered? And how could an organisation like ours improve participation anyway?

The benefits to communities and the Council are numerous. In the broad sense, the benefits to the environment of locally grown food include reducing food miles and the Borough’s Carbon footprint. The latter is something that we have already made great steps forward on with our super-efficient street lighting replacement programme and changes to the way we collect domestic refuse.

Taking part in gardening has a range of health benefits that could reduce pressure on stretched Council services too.growing

A recent report by the King’s fund looks in-depth at the health benefits of gardening and makes a series of recommendations about how access to gardening and gardens should be considered alongside mainstream government health policy. The report found how access to green open space and participation in growing has been found to reduce obesity, heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal problems. Gardening and growing has also been linked to higher self-rated mental health.

Outside of all the stats and research though, there is a sense of pride and satisfaction to be gained from growing your own food. And, whilst it may not be something that has been scientifically proven, it tastes better too.

To facilitate the growing of more food in Tameside the parks and green space department will be working with schools and community groups to see how they could make better use of their land. And for those who live in properties with little or no outside space, help will be on hand to show that this doesn’t have to be a barrier to growing your own either.

If you’d like more information on our ‘Get Tameside Growing’ pledge, this can be found here.

I can think of no better way of making the best use of the fantastic weather we’ve been having of late than to get out in the garden.

Tameside’s hidden army of helpers

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

volunteers weekThey number more than 21 million people, almost twice as many as the 5 largest employers in the world combined. They contribute over £23.9 billion to the UK economy every year, equivalent to over 1.5% of the country’s annual GDP. They’re deeply embedded in almost every part of our life, and there isn’t a city, town or village in the country that hasn’t benefitted from them. Who are they? They are volunteers, and it’s high time we started celebrating who they are and what they do.

That’s why charities large and small across the country are celebrating National Volunteers Week from 1st-12th June. First held in 1984, it has grown into a long-standing and popular week within the voluntary sector. Last year charities and volunteer organisations held over 750 events, from award ceremonies to tea parties to barbeques. The end of National Volunteers Week this year also coincides with the national street party celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday, during which we will also be celebrating her lifetime of service to over 600 charities and organisations to which she acts as patron.

In Tameside we take the voluntary and charity sectors seriously. Our voluntary, community and faith groups are supported by Community Voluntary Action Tameside (CVAT) which works in partnership with Voluntary Action Oldham as Action Together. This organisation aims to give our charities access to the development services, information and networks they need to grow and thrive. CVAT’s website also contains a “Learning Zone” full of downloadable factsheets and a calendar of workshops and other events. You can also find information on some of the projects they run themselves, including Tameside 4 Good and Time Banking in Tameside.

The strength of volunteering locally has been recognised nationally too. This week four Tameside groups received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service: Droylsden Youth Centre, Mossley Juniors FC, Ryecroft Hall Community Association and Willow Wood Hospice.

But National Volunteer’s Week is about more than recognising the hard work of those who volunteer. It also aims to encourage people who don’t volunteer to do so by showcasing the opportunities on offer.

As the world gets more high-tech, so are charities and volunteers. Social media is already providing new ways to co-ordinate and organise activities, and the voluntary sector is beginning to offer short-term, flexible or remote placements to attract those who don’t have the time or energy to commit to a more conventional arrangement. That’s why the Volunteer’s Week website contains a mailing list and a comprehensive event map for the whole of the UK, allowing volunteers to publicise what they’re doing and giving everyone else an easy way to look up information about events happening in their local area.

So take part in National Volunteers Week, play a bigger part in your community, meet new people and learn new skills. If you’ve never tried volunteering and you think you want to dip your toes in the waters, there has never been a better time to do so.

We will remember them

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Somme2016-logosIn the long and bloody course of the First World War, it is generally agreed that no year was as significant or as horrific as 1916. It was a year that saw some of the largest battles of the entire war, both in terms of numbers involved and casualties inflicted.

On the last day of May we marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the war and the only time that the massed ranks of the British Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet met in open combat. In terms of ships and men lost the Germans would be considered the victors, they lost 11 vessels (including one capital ship) out of 99 compared to the 14 (including three battle cruisers) out of 151 lost by the British. One of the battleships, the HMS Invincible, was destroyed by a magazine explosion that claimed all except six of her crew. One of those survivors was Dukinfield man Gunner Harold Carrington who was blown clear off the ship, breaking two ribs and his right arm in the process. However, it was the Germans that fled the field of battle and never attempted to seriously challenge British naval dominance of the North Sea for the rest of the war.

This week in the centenary commemorations is also especially significant for Tameside as on June 4th 1916 one of our own, Arthur Herbert Procter, won a Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery” in coming to the aid of two wounded men, while under heavy enemy fire, near Ficheux in Northern France. Although originally born in Bootle, Arthur Procter trained as a priest after the war, serving as Vicar of St Stephen’s, Hyde from 1933-43 and Rector of St Mary’s, Droylsden from 1946-51.

Before he found his new vocation, Arthur Procter would also take part in the darkest day in the history of the British Army at the Somme on 1st July 2016. Procter survived the battle, although over 480,000 of his fellow countrymen were less fortunate. Writing to his parents after the battle, Private Tom Lees of White Hart Street, Hyde said the Manchester Pals Regiment had lost 500 men and that only nine from Hyde were left. Some of the casualties that we know of included Alfred Sellars of King Street, Dukinfield, a G Crowther of Princess Street, Ashton and Stalybridge’s Alfred Eric Hampson.

A century on, Tameside, Greater Manchester and the UK as a whole are hosting a series of events to commemorate the battles, honour the fallen on all sides and swear “Never again!”. This year and in all the years to come, we will remember them.

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