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Archive for February, 2017

Tameside Hospital & Care Together

Friday, February 24th, 2017

It is no secret that our National Health Service is currently facing a period of real challenge – arguably the greatest it has ever faced. The twin pressures of an ageing population and chronic under investment since 2010 are colliding to create a crisis that if not tackled effectively could make the NHS as we know it unsustainable.

What we need is a plan for the future. What we don’t need is unhelpful and inaccurate speculation. Sadly that is what occurred the other week when the Health Service Journal (HSJ) incorrectly reported that the A&E department at Tameside Hospital has been earmarked for downgrade or even closure.

I was pleased to see that Tameside Hospital quickly ended the speculation by issuing a clear statement last week that the report in the HSJ was not accurate.

So let’s be absolutely clear; the A&E department at Tameside Hospital has not been earmarked for downgrade or closure. As the hospital said in their statement, the Healthier Together review of hospitals across Greater Manchester (which reported in 2015), made a commitment to invest in and improve all of Greater Manchester’s A&E departments, including here in Tameside. And that is what is happening. That’s not downgrading or closing, it’s about as far away from downgrading or closing as you can get.

The real story here in Tameside and Glossop is Care Together, our plan for the future of our health and care services. 2017 will be a big year for our Care Together programme as we continue to turn our plans into reality for local people. In a nutshell, the job of Care Together is to enable local people to make lifestyle choices that mean a trip to the doctor or hospital is something they rarely have to make. It is through self-care at home and local services based in the community that we can increase healthy life expectancy and make our health and care system financially sustainable in a period of funding cuts and an ageing population. But alongside this we will also ensure that where people do need to visit the doctor or the hospital, including A&E, they will get the best possible high quality service.

At the end of last year, we secured £23 million in Transformation Funding from the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership – a major endorsement and statement of confidence in our plans in Tameside and Glossop. And earlier this month Tameside Hospital achieved an overall score of ‘Good’ following an inspection by the Care Quality Commission. They’ve had their difficulties in recent years, but the team and staff at the hospital have performed absolutely first class improvement work. So I believe we can move forward with our plans with confidence and purpose.

Oh, and by the way, if the speculation had been true, and there were plans to downgrade or close Tameside’s A&E department then I and Tameside Council would have been at the forefront, fighting tooth and nail, to keep Tameside’s A&E open.

Loanshark crackdown benefits local savers

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

1 in 4 families have fewer than £95 in savings

Among this week’s headlines was the stark figure that one in four families in the UK have fewer than £95 in savings. When £95 would barely cover some of the most basic car repairs, a boiler breakdown or the latest gadget for a child’s birthday, the fact that 25% of British households have so little in savings should be a cause of grave concern for the Government.

Clearly the solution to this is the investment in infrastructure and better paid jobs, which I’ve consistently called for, that would drive economic growth, and also the ending of public sector pay restraint which has meant that wage growth has been outstripped by rising prices for many years now. Unfortunately for my Council colleagues and I, these are matters that are currently out of our hands. However, where we can make a difference as the local authority we do.

For example, last week we heard news that our local Credit Union, Cash Box has recruited 50 new members since December via an initiative that gave a cash incentive for new joiners using money confiscated from illegal money lenders. A partnership between Tameside Council, Cashbox and the England Illegal Money Lending Team had recovered £1250 from loan sharks and used this to award a £25 savings boost for each of the first 50 new members who made at least two monthly payments in to their account.

Cashbox is our local credit union

This scheme follows our ‘Generation Savers’ pledge last year to encourage a culture of saving amongst our residents from an early age. The pledge provided a £10 bonus for 11 year olds who opened an account on their transition from primary to secondary school. There has been good interest and uptake in this, but we are clear that we need to improve further in order to truly embed the culture of saving that we desire for Tameside.

It is hoped that the new members who joined as part of these two initiatives will continue to be regular savers and will have money set aside, that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, for any future emergencies.

In addition to being a safe place to deposit your savings (and the opportunity to earn a dividend on them which, owing to record low interest rates, can be better than savings rates offered by banks) Credit Unions also act as a responsible lender, offering loan products to those who haven’t quite saved enough for any eventualities. Borrowers can take out a loan knowing that the provider is a fair and legal lender, and also that the interest being paid is reinvested back in to members and the community given that the Credit Union is a mutual organisation.

Promoting and growing Credit Union membership therefore meets two objectives. Firstly it encourages our residents to put away some of their earnings for a rainy day, and secondly it provides an alternative to expensive payday lenders and loan sharks.

I therefore welcome this growth in membership and will support any initiatives that seek to grow the credit union further.

Inequality and the Generation Gap. More Than Meets the Eye?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Read any newspaper or magazine which focuses on economics and politics over the last few days and you will have almost certainly stumbled upon the idea of “intergenerational inequality”. The basic argument goes; for most of modern history in Britain every successive generation has enjoyed improved living standards compared to the generation that came before it. However, thanks to the economic crisis of the past decade there is a real chance that this will not hold true for the generation born between 1981-2000 (the so-called “millennials”). A basic tenant of our social contract and a fundamental aspiration for every parent, that our children should have a better life than we did, has been thrown into doubt in a way that is truly unprecedented.

Is that fear justified? I’d argue “Yes, up to a point”. It’s true that the figures don’t make for pretty reading. According to the Resolution Foundation, older millennials (around 30-35 years old) are the first workers to earn less than those born five years before them, and many of them entered work before the Great Recession. At the same time, it’s been reported recently that pensioner household incomes have overtaken those of working age equivalents for the first time.

Clearly something needs to be done, but the danger here is that we start seeing intergenerational inequality as a zero sum game, where making things better for young people can only be done by taking away from older people. Will, for example, will following the advice of some in abolishing the “triple lock” on pensions (where pension increase per year by the higher of the growth in average earnings, the Consumer Price Index or 2.5%) create good-quality, high-paid jobs for young people by itself? I’d argue not. Reducing inequality must come from lifting people up to the same level, not dragging them down.

I’d go further and say that treating entire generations like some vast amorphous block does nobody any favours. Take two young people born on the same day; one living in the countryside and another living in an inner city. Do they really have any similarities beyond the fact that they share a birthday? Do we miss any potential inequality in income and opportunity between these two because we’re more focused on how they’re doing compared to their parents? A few facts and figures can show what this means in practice. While some pensioners may be earning more than those in work, there are still 1.6 million pensioners (14% of the total pensioner population) living below the poverty line after housing costs. A higher income young person at age 20 has a greater income than a poorer member of their parent’s generation at any age.

We must resolve ourselves to fighting inequality wherever we see it, not setting up one generation against another. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways in which we can do this. Building more and better housing will benefit both young people looking to settle down and older people looking to move or downsize in retirement. Protecting pensions gives security not just to people on the verge of retirement age, but to young people who want to know that pensions will still be there for them decades from now. This is more than a dry debate about economics. If we accept that inequality both between and within generations is one of the gravest issues we face (and I believe it is) then how we deal with it says a lot about what kind of country we are.

I’ve had enough of the policies of scapegoating, divide-and-rule and “us versus them”. We need to be far more ambitious and far more progressive before we can even begin to put things right.

Hate Crime Awareness Week

Friday, February 10th, 2017

At the end of last week shocking footage emerged of a torrent of vile racist abuse being directed at a man travelling home from work on a Salford bus. The footage was widely shared on social media, thankfully leading to the perpetrator’s arrest and, in the process exposing much of what he said to attempt to justify his behaviour as utter nonsense (he had claimed that his 77 year old Grandfather had fought in World War II though, at 77, he would have been only 5 or 6 years old when the war ended in 1945). It’s disgusting crimes like this that demonstrate the importance of our support for Hate Crime Awareness Week.

Hate Crime Awareness Week is a national initiative that has been promoted locally in Greater Manchester by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Llloyd. It has been an annual event for the last five years and began on Monday this week. It has involved a range of events being held across the region including many, right here in Tameside.

Our roadshow at Stalybridge Tesco

Whilst the example I gave above was that of racist abuse, hate crimes are no less serious when committed against people on the basis of religion, gender, sexuality or disability. It’s for this reason that a range of different organisations were involved in the events that marked the week in Tameside. In addition to the Council roadshow which visited busy shopping and leisure locations around the Borough, LGBT group Out Loud created a piece of artwork to mark the week, disability advocacy group People First Tameside used digital storytelling to discuss their experiences and the Friends of Duke Street Music Project are composing a piece of music to communicate the issue of hate crime.

Appropriately, the week also coincided with Tameside Council’s launching of the ‘Safe Spaces’ initiative. Safe spaces are designated places around the Borough where people who feel threatened can express their identity without fear of discrimination or attack. They are also locations where hate crimes and incidents can be reported. Operated by local organisations and agencies, they are independent of the police so as to recognise that some victims may have concerns about going to the police, or lack the confidence to make a report themselves. Many of them are organisations that can offer support to hate crime victims in addition to approaching the police on their behalf. The full list of safe spaces is available online here www.tameside.gov.uk/hatecrime/reporting/locations.

Tameside is a diverse community, and it is from this diversity that we draw strength and are a more vibrant and successful place. Schemes that root out, expose and deal with, discrimination of any kind will always enjoy my full support. In the words of the late Jo Cox MP, we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

The Climate Change Struggle: A Little Ray of Sunshine?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I’ve written about climate change in this blog before, and it’s rarely been good news. After you’ve read about the serious rise in global temperatures now being inevitable, the government abolishing the Department for Climate Change and flooding right here in Tameside I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a bit hopeless.

That’s why I welcomed a bit of optimistic climate-related news last week. We know that the only way to reduce our global CO2 emissions is to make a serious move away from using fossil fuels to generate most of our electricity and power our vehicles. Up until now most people thought that it wouldn’t be economically possible. A new report from Imperial College, London and the Climate Tracker think-tank, rather aptly titled “Expect the Unexpected” instead offers the argument that growth in the electric vehicle and solar panel market could led to demand for fossils fuels peaking as early as 2020.

Let me give you an example to show how they reached that conclusion. When IBM released the first PC in 1981 it cost almost £8,000, and that was considered cheap. Around about the same time, Ken Olsen, the founder of computer company Digital Equipment Corporation, said “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home”. Fast forward thirty or so years, I’m writing this blog on a laptop that costs 40 times less and is easily thousands of times more powerful than that IBM PC. That laptop is also one of an estimated two billion computers that are used around the world, in everything from phones to cars to household appliances and goodness knows what else.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? When a new technology appears it’s almost always expensive and impractical, but it gets cheaper, more powerful and easier to use very quickly. As it was with computers, so it looks like it’s going to be with renewable energy. The cost of solar panels has fallen by 85% in the last seven years, while batteries for electric vehicles are 73% cheaper now than they were in 2008. If those costs keep going down people, businesses and countries might start using renewable energy not because if any particular feelings about climate change, but because it’ll actually be cheaper than fossil fuels.

Of course, it’s all very well saying that, but it looks like there are enough willing to take that prediction to the bank. Saudi Arabia, not exactly a country people think of when it comes to renewable energy, is looking to invest £40 billion in wind and solar power by 2030. China is planning for half of its increase in electricity generation over the next 4 years to come from £291 billion worth of renewable energy infrastructure. Almost all of Costa Rica’s electricity in 2016 was produced by renewable energy, compared to 5.7% in the UK over the same time.

Tameside is doing its bit as well. The Greater Manchester Pension Fund, administered in Droylsden and chaired by yours truly, has invested £150 million in the UK’s second largest onshore windfarm in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Closer to home we’re continuing to roll out LED lighting to all of Tameside’s streets, recycling bins to all our town centres and thousands of trees in every space we can find for them. We’ve also worked closely with our residents to increase recycling in the borough by over 50%, with more to come in the future.

So let’s not underestimate the challenges that we face by choosing to tackle climate change, but let’s not underestimate the opportunities either. Putting Tameside and Greater Manchester at the forefront of the struggle is not just the right thing for the planet; it may very well be the right thing for creating the jobs and the economy of the future as well.

Count them in

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Councillors Cooney, F Travis and I signing the letter of support.

Last week at the meeting of Full Council I had the pleasure of lending Tameside’s support to the important ‘Count Them In’ campaign being run by the Royal British Legion. The campaign calls for additional questions to be incorporated in the 2021 census that would help to identify members of the Armed Forces Community. The reasoning for this is simple. The more we know about the composition of our communities the better organisations like the Council can plan how best to use their resources.

Despite the next census being more 4 years away the Office for National Statistics and their devolved equivalents are already planning the questions that will be asked when it lands on residents’ doormats. We now have a once in a generation opportunity to influence what those are and it is important that we seize it.

Tameside has a track record of supporting armed forces veterans. We have the armed forces and veteran’s breakfast club every second Saturday at Portland Basin. We launched the veteran’s jobs pledge in 2015 which has so far assisted 9 ex-service personnel back to work. We have recognised the service of local fallen heroes Tony Downes and Andrew Breeze by naming the new Pension Fund building and Denton Link Road respectively in their honour. And finally we provide ongoing support and networking opportunities for veterans through the Tameside Armed Services Community group, TASC.

However, whilst this is a huge range of support services and arguably far more than neighbouring authorities do for their veterans, it still only reaches relatively few of the people that could find their support valuable. It is estimated that, within Tameside, there are more than 4000 members of the armed forces community, though TASC’s membership is just 300. There are therefore more than 3500 more armed forces veterans in the borough that the Council and other organisations who could offer help do not know about. Absurdly, following the 2011 census, we actually know more about the Borough’s Jedi population than we do about our armed forces population!

Under my leadership the Council will continue to support our armed forces community wherever possible, regardless of whether we have the census’ help in doing so. Though, should this campaign be successful, our job will be made much easier.

If you or an organisation you know could lend support to this campaign the details are here http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/campaign/count-them-in/.

A Shocking Lack of Priorities

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Regular readers of this blog will know that I take every opportunity to criticise the hypocrisy of the government’s ideological austerity. The kind of austerity that sees services and investment cut to the bone but always seems to make vast amounts of money available for pet projects. After some excellent work by our very own Angela Rayner we’ve recently been given a clear example of the damage this kind of thinking has done to our country’s education system.

Cast your minds back to March of last year, when the then-Cameron government announced plans to force all schools in England to become academies. I wasn’t alone at the time in thinking that the plans were ruinously expensive, massively impractical and unlikely to increase standards. In the face of opposition from Parliament and the teaching profession the government was forced to first shelve and then abandon the plans completely.

“What does that have to do with what’s happening now?” I hear you ask. At the time the policy was announced the Treasury allocated £500 million of funding to support the mass academisation process. Now that it’s not going ahead, the government has clawed back £384 million of that funding (The rest, according the Department for Education, had already been spent on “other education projects”, whatever that means).

Let me say that another way. The government was willing to spend £500 million on making every school in England an academy. When that project was dropped they could have chosen to redirect that freed-up money to other forms of investment in our schools. Investments like smaller class sizes, better equipment and materials, or training for teachers. Investments that, unlike academisation, have solid evidence behind them to show that they lead to improved standards. Instead, they chose to let the money disappear back into the bowels of the Treasury. Probably never to be seen again.

It would be somewhat justifiable if our education system was already swimming in funding. What’s actually happening at the moment is the worst crisis in teacher recruitment in living memory and a warning from the National Audit Office that we’re on course for a £3 billion cut in school spending by 2020. The Grammar School Head’s Association say that their schools may resort to asking parents for hundreds of pounds a year to plug the gaps in funding cuts, and Cheshire East Council have gone as far as to confirm that they are looking at moving to a four day school week to make ends meet.

Tameside’s share of that £384 million would have amounted to almost £70 for every pupil in our schools. We’re probably not going to see increases in funding from any other source either. While on paper the government’s latest reforms to school funding gives Tameside a little extra money, Angela’s work has shown that when you throw in inflation and the impact of further cuts that we know are coming down the pipeline it amounts to slapping a sticking plaster onto a gaping wound.

If you thumbed through a copy of the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy you’ll have seen that one of the longest chapters is on “Developing Skills”, or to quote it verbatim “ensuring that everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy”. The kind of education system that delivers that isn’t something that happens by itself. It needs strong and fair funding. It needs to be run by people who know what works and have the freedom to put their expertise into practice.

What it absolutely doesn’t need are Ministers in Whitehall letting ideology and bias dictate their funding and policy decisions. Britain’s future and our children’s education is too important to be turned into a political football.

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