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Archive for August, 2016

TAMESIDE URGES WORLD EXPO 2025 BID

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Whether or not you agree with the recent decision by the people of the UK to leave the European Union one thing is for sure, that it is beholden on us all to extract the maximum possible opportunity for the UK from what happens next. Our great country has led the way in trade and growth for many years and large parts of the globe are looking for us to continue to lead from outside the EU.

Theresa May has been clear that BREXIT means BREXIT but also, on the steps of Downing Street, that the whole nation is going to be involved in the opportunity and the response. As a region renowned for innovation, trade and manufacturing Greater Manchester should be at the heart of a new vision for British growth.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), made up of the 10 Greater Manchester Council Leaders, have jointly set out a bold intention for Greater Manchester to bid to be the host city region of the 2025 Universal Exposition, or Expo 2025 for short. Expo is a truly global event that showcases education, shares innovation, promotes progress and fosters cooperation. Countries and companies from across the world are invited to participate. The proposed site of the Expo is Ashton Moss, to the east of the conurbation in my home borough of Tameside.

Without hesitation, and as GMCA’s lead for Investment, I give my full backing to Greater Manchester’s bid, and I hope that the Government will do the same. To host an event of this scale requires a track record of delivery and clear evidence of effective partnerships between the public and private sectors, alongside real community involvement. Here in Greater Manchester we have those key ingredients in abundance.

I cannot overemphasise what an incredible opportunity this would be for Greater Manchester. I’m sure that most of us remember the Commonwealth Games coming to Manchester in 2002, an event that brought £600 million of investment, created 20,000 jobs and left us with community assets like the Velodrome, National Squash Centre and the Manchester Aquatics Centre. The economic return and potential legacy of an event like Expo 2025 will make this look like small fry. The previous Expo in Milan was visited by over 22 million people over six months, generating an economic return of almost £7 billion. There is no bigger event that a city can host.

The lasting legacy of new infrastructure and housing, to name just two, makes Expo the greatest engine of economic growth we could wish for – and an opportunity for us to lead the way in promoting Greater Manchester and the UK internationally in the post-Brexit era where new trade links will be essential.

Almost as importantly, Expos in the past have been where we’ve seen the first glimpse of innovations and technologies that shaped and will continue to shape our lives. Things like the telephone (Philadelphia, 1876), escalators (Paris, 1900), electric cars (Osaka, 1970) and IMAX cinemas (Spokane, 1974) were first seen at Expos across the decades. With Greater Manchester’s proud industrial heritage and its modern advancements in areas like graphene, who knows what technologies of the future we could get our first glimpse of at Expo 2025. Innovations that I believe will spark a revolution in international trade, particularly in the digital, technology and advanced manufacturing industries.

And what will a successful Expo bid give the people of Greater Manchester? Even at this early stage, we know that it will lead to investment and publicity for Greater Manchester on a scale that would be unimaginable under any other circumstances. That means massive economic growth. That means apprenticeships, training and jobs for a generation of residents. That means setting up world-class infrastructure, not just roads, rail and utilities, but hotels, houses and leisure parks as well. It would show everybody else what we already know that Greater Manchester is an area that the world should stand up and take notice of. But the benefits don’t stop at the boundaries of Greater Manchester. Expo 2025 will be at the heart of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and will have a positive impact across the north from Liverpool in the west, through Leeds and Sheffield, to Hull in the east.

This will not be a short process. The deadline for formal bids has been set at autumn 2017, with the final decision being made a year later. The first step is for us to become the host area for the UK bid. I encourage the Government to consider seriously Greater Manchester as the host city for the UKs bid for Expo 2025. Look at our track record, look at our ambition. Gives us the opportunity and we will deliver.

GCSE Success Continues in Tameside

Friday, August 26th, 2016

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Tameside Council has always treated education as one of its highest priorities. Our ambition has always been to give our young people the best possible start in life, no matter where they come from or what they want to do in their future. To that end, we made the decision to invest over £250 million in education in Tameside. From rebuilding and refurbishing our secondary schools, to sharing best practice and expertise through organisations like the A+ Trust, our intention was to give our pupils and teacher the best possible environment in which they could excel and achieve.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to say that Tameside secondary schools have seen their third consecutive year of improvement in the GCSE results published yesterday. While the current figures should be treated as provisional, they nevertheless indicate a 2% point increase in the proportion of Tameside pupils achieving five good GCSEs (grades A*-C) including English and Maths compared to the 2015 results. When combined with last year’s increase in GCSE performances – which put Tameside a couple of points ahead of the national average – the trend is of a significant and sustained improvement from an already strong position.

At the level of the individual schools, the majority have improved on last year’s figures. However, some of our schools have also delivered huge improvements that deserve to be singled out for particular praise. Copley Academy, Hyde Community College, and West Hill School have all seen GCSE performance increase by 10% or more over last year’s figures.

These improvements in GCSEs across the broad are the best possible validation of our ambitions for education, and we have no intention of stopping there. If we can improve 3 years in row there’s no reason why we can’t improve 4, 5 or 6 years in row, going higher and further every time.

However, none of this would have been possible without our teachers and support staff, the people who, day in and day out, have put in the hard work to help our children realise their full potential. Despite the economic and financial challenges we face, their collective efforts mean that a 16-year old who leave a Tameside high school this summer will have a start to their adult life as good as or even better than 16-year olds from more affluent areas of the country.

If that isn’t worth a celebration then I don’t know what is. My sincerest congratulations to everybody who helped make it happen.

Linking Up The North

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

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For those concerned about the transport infrastructure of the North there was more good news recently as the government, in partnership with Highways England and Transport for the North, released the results of their Trans-Pennine Tunnel Study. The study, commissioned in late 2015, was set up to examine the case for improving the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester.

What they’ve produced is nothing less than the blueprint for the most ambitious road-building scheme in the North since the construction of the motorways. The report shortlists three corridors in which a Manchester-Sheffield tunnel could be built under the Peak District National Park. The first “corridor” begins between the A627(M) in Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne and ends at Junction 37 of the M1 near Barnsley. The second corridor would connect the M60 close to the M67 to the M1 north of Sheffield by tunnelling under the A628 Woodhead Pass. The final corridor would start between junctions 24 and 25 of the M60 close to Denton and end near Junction 35 of the M1 by the Meadowhall Shopping Centre. With predicted lengths of between 10 or 18 miles depending on the exact route taken, the final proposal could very well end up being longer than Norway’s Laerdal Tunnel, which at 15.2 miles is the current longest road tunnel in the world.

More important than the length is the economic benefits the route will provide to the North. It has long been known that the poor connectivity between the great cities of the North is economically damaging for the individual cities and economically damaging for the North as a whole. The proposed Manchester-Sheffield tunnel is expected to cut travel times by up to 30 minutes for both passenger and freight traffic. An underground route also protects the unique wildlife and habitats of the Peak District National Park, and will not suffer from delays and closures due to poor weather in the way that affects many of the existing roads going over the Pennines. Done properly, this could be the catalyst for increased investment in the North through improved access to jobs, suppliers, accommodation (both private and business) and warehousing.

A final report at the end of the year will assess the cost estimates and the strategic and economic cases for each tunnel corridor, after which a final decision on the route will be made. Many in the North, most notably our very own Johnathan Reynolds, have been arguing for this level of investment for years, and the responsibility now falls to us to hold the government to keeping its promises. That might sound pessimistic, but after the debacle over the electrification of the Trans-Pennine rail last year it is right that we remain alert to any actual or potential signs of backtracking. I’d also like to see a final proposal that makes a serious attempt to incorporate solutions for other long-standing infrastructure issues in Tameside, most notably the traffic blackspot between Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle. Finally, while the Manchester-Sheffield tunnel is part of the solution to transport infrastructure in the North, it is not the whole solution. We must not be so distracted by the lure of grand infrastructure projects that we lose track of the more mundane investments in road, rail and other transport that will also release significant economic benefits. The answer isn’t a, b or c, it’s “All of the above”.

I’ve said many times in the past that we cannot hope to have a Champions League economy while we’re burdened with Sunday League infrastructure. It is my hope, and my expectation, that this report is the first step on the road to unleashing the true potential of the North.

Britain’s Olympic Success Shows the Power of Investment

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

374EB3EA00000578-0-image-m-83_1471394263779There is nothing in the world that can bring a country together like sport. After a summer in which the only constant seems to have been national argument and division, how refreshing was it to come together to celebrate the British men and women who return back from Brazil with a record haul of 67 medals? We ended up in 2nd place, with more gold medals than China. If Greater Manchester was a country we’d be joint 17th with Spain in the final standings. No matter which way you look at it, the achievements of our athletes has been nothing short of incredible.

It wasn’t always like this. At the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, despite some excellent performances by the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave, Denise Lewis and Ben Ainsley; Britain finished a woeful 36th in the medal table, behind countries like Algeria, North Korea and Kazakhstan. Much of the blame for the debacle was put down to a lack of funding and investment in elite sport. Newspapers at the time contained stories about British athletes selling their kits to raise money, and Chris Boardman, who won a bronze medal in cycling, famously had to prepare for the humidity of Georgia by training in his London bathroom with the shower on.

The channelling of National Lottery funding into elite sports began the long, slow process of turning around the decline. In the Sydney games British athletes received £59 million of funding, which increased to £71 million in Athens, £235 million in Beijing and £264 million in London. The medal count duly increased as well, from 15 in Atlanta (36th), to 28 in Sydney (10th), 30 in Athens (10th), 47 in Beijing (4th) and 65 in London (3rd).

This is the lesson we should learn. Identifying and investing in our strengths, with clear goals and strategies of how to meet them, is the surest path to improvement and results. If it works for our Olympic athletes there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t work for our infrastructure, for our public services and for our economy.

It doesn’t have to happen at the national level either. Our £20 million investment in our leisure facilities is an example of how we can drive this locally. We’re not investing to win medals or awards (although I definitely won’t complain if we get them), it’s investing to help people change their lifestyles and improve their health and quality of life. The objectives may be different, but the path to getting there looks remarkably similar. All you need then is the political will to make it happen. That’s why I’m particularly disappointed by the government’s watering down of their much-hyped obesity strategy last week. We know that what you eat is as important for a healthy lifestyle as how much you exercise, but we do not have the power at a local government level to regulate and legislate against junk food and sugary drinks. As our athletes show what can achieved with investment and commitment, our government continues to lag behind on both counts.

Let’s start to change that, and make 2016 our national “Atlanta moment”. The momentTLR - Twitterstraps V33 where we realise that continuing on the path we’re on is letting our potential as a country go to waste. The moment where we decide that now is the time to arrest the decline, and back that up with real investment, real strategies and real leadership on healthy living and many other national issues. That would be as fitting an Olympic legacy as I could think of.

A Better Deal on Trains

Friday, August 19th, 2016

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What costs £95 in Germany, £37 in Italy, £56 in Spain, £234 in France and a whopping £358 in Britain? The answer is the monthly cost of a season ticket for a 30 mile train ride in those countries. By raw numbers and as a proportion of income, Britain is the most expensive place in Europe to take a train, and it’s only going to get worse after the announcement this week that railway fares were due to rise by another 1.9% next year.

It’s not like we get a better deal for the extra money we pay either. In the past month or so, a litany of incompetence at Southern Rail led to 350 trains being cancelled in one day, the resignation of a Minister, workers going out on strike and calls for the entire franchise to be withdrawn from the operator. No matter how you look at it, we’re paying way above the odds for a service that seems to be getting worse with every passing day.

I cannot emphasise enough how important having a fit-for-purpose railway system is for a healthy and growing economy. Affordable and effective public transport networks increase productivity, allow people to look for jobs in a wider area and act as catalysts for further public and private investment. Furthermore, every person who takes a train instead of going on the road in a car supports the environment and the economy by reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In the North, where we have several cities that are geographically close but hard to get between due to poor transport infrastructure, the case for looking again at public transport becomes even stronger. Every train that is delayed, or cancelled, or overcrowded, or too expensive is not just an inconvenience for passengers, it is a blow to the very heart of the economy we want to build in the North of England.

Is it really such a surprise that many believe that drastic action is now needed? Polls conducted at the start of this year showed that 78% of Labour voters, 60% of Lib Dems, 70% of UKIP and 42% of Conservatives were in favour of renationalising our railways. I challenge you to find a similar consensus on any hot-button issue in politics today. The government will argue that the public sector wouldn’t be able to take on the job, but across Europe publically-run companies such as Deutsche Bahn, Nederlanse Spoorwegan and Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français operate profitable and well-managed railway networks. Even here in Britain, the vast improvement in public transport in London has been down to a multi-billion pound investment programme funded by the government and carried out by publically- owned Transport for London.

These are the examples we should follow, not our failed privatised franchising system. As part of the devolution deals we have signed with the government Transport for the North is due to be given full legal status next year. When it is fully set up, this body will be responsible for budgets, tickets and bus services across the North. Surely then it’s not a giant leap for them to run our railway services as well, working with public and private sector partners as they see fit? These devolved responsibilities must be backed up by devolved funding as well, perhaps through taking forward Tony Lloyd’s suggested policy of allowing the estimated £1.1 billion of fuel duty revenue raised in Greater Manchester to be spent in Greater Manchester by Greater Manchester. Devolution, making decisions locally and reinvesting profits locally, may be the solution we need to create a railway system that will help turn the Northern Powerhouse from words on paper to a reality on the ground.

Fight for Worker’s Rights in the 21st Century

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

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For those who still believe that employers should offer a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work there were two pieces of good news this week. Down in London, workers for restaurant food delivery startup Deliveroo successfully protested against changes to the company’s payment policy that would lead to them being paid substantially less than the national minimum wage. At the same time, thousands of workers at Sports Direct are set to receive back pay totalling almost £1 million after the retailer, which is also facing an investigation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, admitted that they had broken the law by not paying their employees the national minimum wage.

It should be noted that neither of these companies are struggling financially. In the three years since its creation in 2013 Deliveroo’s value has reached over £700 million, and Sports Direct remain a fixture on almost every UK high street, bringing in a profit of £241.4 million last year.

Both companies, in their own ways, show how businesses and employers who should know better are trying to find ways to get out of their obligations to the people who work for them. Deliveroo insists that the people who work for them are not employees but “independent contractors” working through a tech platform that they provide. As such, despite these “independent” employees being forced to work set shifts and wear a branded uniform, they do not receive the most basic of rights, including sick pay and holiday allowances. Workers for Deliveroo have also been made to sign contracts that prevent them from taking grievances to any kind of employment tribunal.

In the case of Sports Direct, Parliament found that their practice of staffing their warehouses with agency workers on insecure, zero-hour contracts led to a laundry list of exploitation, including routine breaches of health and safety regulations, financially penalising and summarily dismissing workers for breaking minor rules (including complaining about their treatment and conditions), and making workers wait, unpaid, for mandatory security checks at the end of shifts, which brought their average earnings below the minimum wage (£6.50 an hour against the then-minimum rate of £6.70 an hour).

It is my hope that these two events will send a very clear message: paying employees at least what they are legally entitled to is not an optional extra, and treating employees with dignity and respect is not a nice to have. While the overwhelming majority of businesses have never needed reminding of this fact, we must always remain vigilant against those that seek to push the boundaries of what is legal and decent in the pursuit of profit over all.

But there is also a bigger picture at stake here. A hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution transformed our economy and society, generating enormous wealth and enormous hardship in equal measure. We didn’t respond by trying to turn back the clock, we responded with laws and regulations that kept the good, prevented the bad and reduced the inequalities between different levels of society. The march of technology is now changing the how we live and work inPorterlight-Bicycles-X-Deliveroo-Custom-London-Cargo-Bike-3-1024x575 a similar way to the Industrial Revolution, and the same principles must apply. As a country, we must embrace progress, but we cannot and should not allow it to be used to justify the stripping away of rights and benefits that workers fought for centuries to acquire. A future that does not carry everyone with it is no future at all.

Sign Up and Be a Tameside Energy Hero

Friday, August 12th, 2016

eonenergyI’ve said in the past that climate change is not only one of the biggest national challenges we face, but the biggest global challenge as well. While slowing down or even reversing the course of climate change is not something that a local authority can do by itself, that doesn’t mean we should give up even trying. We’re taking steps in Tameside to reduce our carbon footprint, and now I’m happy to say that as part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority we’ve now teamed up with utility company E.ON to launch the “Energy Heroes” scheme to improve energy efficiency of Tameside’s homes as well.

Over the next six months, residents of Greater Manchester who meet the qualifying criteria (details of which can be found here) can apply for energy-saving improvements to be made to their homes, including installing new boilers and loft/cavity wall insulation. The application process is free and there is no requirement for you to be an E.ON customer. Engineers from E.ON will arrange a survey of your house, after which they will discuss the options for improving or replacing your boiler and/or insulation. You could end up saving up to £215 a year on your energy bills when it’s all said and done, not to mention making your home more comfortable and easier to heat.

But investing in energy efficient housing has more benefits than cheaper energy bills and greater comfort. As a country, increasing our energy efficiency reduces our carbon footprint and the costs of generating, storing and transmitting electricity. It’s estimated that 40 million tonnes of carbon a year, 30% of Britain’s entire carbon footprint, are emitted from our 25 million homes.  Many of these homes, particularly those built 20 or more years ago, also have few of the insulation and energy-saving measures that we take for granted in more modern housing. This means that the greatest strides in improving energy efficiency can be made in our existing housing stock.

However, we will not get to where we need to be in terms of energy efficiency just by putting new boilers and insulation in older homes. We need to incorporate energy efficiency principles not just into future housebuilding policies, but into all of our national infrastructure priorities. This must feed into a long-term, sustainable focus on our green industries, giving them the certainty and political stability they need to grow and invest. It is my hope that the “Energy Heroes” scheme will be the first step towards achieving this.

If all this sounds ambitious, that’s because it has to be. Half measures and baby steps will do nothing to get us to where we need to be. We must at all costs avoid the fiascos of the previous government, which despite its claims to being the “greenest government ever” ended up scrapping, often even before they managed to get off the ground, policies like zero carbon homes, subsidies for wind and solar energy, the Green Investment Bank and incentives to buy low-carbon cars.

We need bold and decisive leadership and actions, and if the government cannot or will not provide it, then places like Tameside and Greater Manchester must stand ready to provide it themselves.

Taking Action Against the Costs of Poverty

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

I’ve said in the past that the levels of poverty we are seeing in the UK, a rich and developed country by any standard, is morally unacceptable and socially damaging. In a country that collectively earns £1.9 trillion a year (approximately £
29,000 each if averaged out among every man, woman and child living here) half a million citizens each year are still forced to visit food banks. Over 1 in 5 families with children are at least short of having the minimum income that people think is needed to participate in our society.

It goes without saying that those who suffer the most from this poverty are those who are directly affected by it. However, evidence is now emerging that the costs and consequences of poverty may have a far broader reach. The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report, produced by Heriot-Watt and Loughborough Universities, attempts for the first time to give us firm numbers on how poverty impacts the public purse.

The report concludes that poverty is directly responsible for almost £69 billion of public spending a year. By far the largest portion of this additional public spending is from healthcare, with estimates of the costs of treating health conditions associated with poverty running as high as £29 billion. To put it into perspective, that’s almost a quarter of the UK’s total annual spend on acute care and primary care. Other costs include £10 billion on schools providing initiatives such as free school meals and pupil premiums, £9 billion on policing to deal with higher incidences of crime in more deprived areas, £7.5 billion on children’s services and early year’s provision, £4.6 billion on adult social care and £4 billion on housing. A further £9 billion of costs can be attributed to knock-on effects of poverty such as higher unemployment and lower earnings later in life, including £4 billion in lost tax revenues and £5 billion in additional benefits such as job seeker’s allowances, employment and support allowance and pension credit.

There are two lessons that we should heed from this report. Firstly, taking real, effective action to tackle poverty would bring
not only huge social rewards, but huge economic rewards as well. Secondly, it highlights the false economy of austerity, as any money saved by cuts to services is dwarfed by the additional money spent dealing with both the immediate and knock-on effects of those very same cuts.

With a new government in place and economic uncertainty growing, now is the time fImage result for jrf povertyor a radical and different approach to eradicating poverty in the UK. We need concentrated effort from government, businesses and individuals. We need to realise that refusing to spend now in a way that will bring long-term economic and social benefits isn’t prudent financial management, but unforgivable short-sightedness. We need to reframe tackling poverty as a vital step to creating better public services and a better economy. If we wan
t to be a kinder, fairer and better country, we can and must do all of this, and do it now.

Solving the Real Housing Crisis

Friday, August 5th, 2016

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For many people in Britain, the dream of home ownership remains a key priority, a milestone on the road to adulthood and a goal that motivates millions to work and plan for a brighter future. Increasingly however, it is a dream under threat. When people think of the cost of housing in Britain, the typical image that usually springs to mind is of offshore companies buying empty properties valued in the tens of millions in some of the posher bits of London. While that’s undoubtedly a part of it, it obscures some of the deeper and more insidious problems, the real housing crisis, that people face when trying to keep a roof over their head in 21st century Britain.

That’s why the recent report on Britain’s housing market from the Resolution Foundation should be taken seriously. The report identifies three reasons for a decline in home ownership in the UK; rising prices caused largely (but not entirely) by a lack of homes being built, stagnant wages and a tightening of the easy credit and mortgages that helped to bridge the gap until now.

It’s not hard to see where we go from there, and the report confirms that home ownership rates have dropped not just in London, but across the entire country. In England, rates of home ownership peaked at 71% of the population in 2003 and have now dropped to 64%. That mirrors similar changes in Scotland (Peak of 69% in 2004 to 63% now), Wales (Peak of 75% in 2006 to 70% now) and Northern Ireland (Peak of 73% in 2006 to 63% now). The biggest fall in home ownership, however, has happened right here in Greater Manchester. From a peak of 72% in 2003 home ownership rates have plummeted to 58% today.

We need to understand this, and work with housing associations and the private sector to create a diverse and balanced housing market that provides for residents at all stages and walks of life. Devolved authorities and housing associations are well-placed to start making that vital change happen.

We must come together, combining our voices to make the government consider measures to encourage public sector house building, such as lifting caps on council borrowing for housing and associated infrastructure, allowing all of the money raised from homes sold under Right-to-Buy to be ploughed back into local housing stock, and encouraging and funding the commissioning of private developers by the public sector. However, these measures need to go beyond promoting home ownership and social rent into providing for those who rent privately as well. Over the last ten years, the private rented sector in Tameside has increased by over 45%, and it’s not going to get smaller any time soon. That’s why we’ve brought private landlords into our discussions as well, and we’ll continue to work with them to encourage good practice and make sure that private rented is a real and quality alternative for those who cannot or will not buy or rent socially.

There’s no time to waste. Following last month’s Brexit vote a number of construction companies, most notably Barratt Homes, have announced they are either slowing or considering slowing their pace of construction until the economic picture becomes clearer. At a time where we need to build 200,000 new homes a year just to keep up with demand that’s time we cannot afford to lose. For the sake of our young people and their children, let’s unleash the potential of both the public and private sectors to take on the one of the biggest challenges our country faces.

Modern Honours for a Modern Country

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

OBE_image.What does Samantha Cameron’s stylist, four Cabinet ministers, two chauffeurs and several businessmen and political advisors have in common? They’ve all been recommended by the former Prime Minister as worthy of receiving some of the highest honours in the land.

Now, I should start by saying that I don’t have an issue with an honours system as a principle. Our very own Chief Executive Steven Pleasant received an MBE at the start of the year for his work on the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers, and very well deserved it was too. That’s the kind of thing an honours system can and should recognise; public service that not only goes above and beyond “the day job”, but which exemplifies the kind of values that we as a country and society wish to emulate. From the volunteer who helps make their local area a better place, the sportsperson who wins glory for Britain on a global stage, the scientist who adds to our sum of knowledge, all should have a place.

That means there should be no place in the honours system for awards given or received for frivolous or political reasons. Samantha Cameron’s stylist may very well be a lovely women and good at her job, but does that really count as providing a public service worthy of national recognition? More worrying still is the inclusion on the honours list of two businessmen, Ian Taylor and Andrew Cook, who between them have donated more than two and a half million pounds to the Conservative Party.

These kinds of awards are the kind that undermines confidence in the entire honours system. Awards given for services that are purely party political. Awards given to politicians and officials whose only distinguishing achievements are serving enough time at their posts. Awards handed out by rich and powerful people in the South East of England to other rich and powerful people in the South East of England. The people that end up suffering most are those whose exceptional services to the entire nation made them genuinely deserving of their OBEs and knighthoods.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time questions have been asked about the honours system. From David Lloyd-George to Harold Wilson to David Cameron, Prime Ministers of all eras and political parties have been accused of bringing it into disrepute. The time has come to restore and reform the honours system to make it fit for the 21st century.

Something as simple as setting up an independent “Honours Commission”, a body free from political influence which would
hand out awards based on clear and transparent criteria, would go a long way towards restoring faith in the system. This isn’t a radical or extreme idea; it’s more or less exactly what the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee has suggested in the past. For my own part, I would like to see two other reforms as well. Firstly, the introduction of some kind of clawback mechanism to hold to account those whose past or future behaviour is unworthy of the honour they have been awarded. Secondly, some kind of regional weighing system that acknowledges the extraordinary work done by groups and individuals here in Tameside and in the other parts of the country that are often overlooked by the moneyed and connected South East.

Even the heir to the throne has said that he feels awards may be “handed out to the wrong people for the wrong reasons”. If we want an honours system that brings us together, recognising and acknowledging the very best that this country has to offer, we need to start heeding his advice.

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