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Reporting Back: Budget Council

Bury Council met on Wednesday 24 February 2021 to set the Council Budget for the coming year, including the rates of Council Tax. Here is a summary of what happened:

Headlines
The proposals from the majority Labour Group of councillors were adopted. This includes:
5% increase in Council Tax (actually 4.94%) from 1 April 2021. For a Band D property the Council Tax will be £2001 per year (this ranges from Band A £1334 to Band H £4002)
1.5% increase in Council House rents
– To balance the books, the Council is proposing to make around £20 million of cuts/savings over the next two years (mostly to adult social care), but also to spend £26 million of its reserves (taking the reserves level down to a very low level (just £11 million after two years)).
– The budget assumes that the Longfield Suite and the Elizabethan Suite will close (but there was a change of mind in Ramsbottom and the Civic Suite there will stay open).
Street lights will be dimmed between midnight and 6am.
£17 million will be spent next year on Radcliffe Regeneration. Regeneration in other towns is moving more slowly, so the investment in Prestwich next year is just £75,000.

Some good news in the proposals was that the Council will ‘more towards’ Social Care staff being paid a living wage (but that won’t be achieved immediately). Lunches for children entitled to Free School Meals will be provided over this summer holiday.

What did the Liberal Democrats do?
Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the above budget. There are some good things, and obviously the Council is having to do its best in difficult circumstances, but we couldn’t not support many of the proposals.

We made alternative proposals, which were sadly voted down, to:
Bring Forwards the Prestwich Regeneration, accelerating this process but £3 million a year.
Put Recovery First – by investing in young people’s jobs and training with a massive increase in apprentices, helping out with children’s mental health in schools and with outdoor leisure and footpaths.
No Idling Zones outside Schools – provide money to enforce no-idling zones outside all schools to tackle air pollution that particularly affects children.
Common Sense Ideas – fixing the CCTV that doesn’t work in Prestwich Town Centre, more money across Bury to tackle rat runs, speeding traffic and potholes.
Sadly these proposals were voted down by Labour Councillors and will not be happening this year.

You can listen to Liberal Democrat Councillors Michael Powell and Cristina Tegolo talking about this proposals here (3 hours 2 minutes in!)

Let us know if you want more information. The full papers for the meeting are here.

Reporting Back – Planning Committee February 2021

On 16 February 2021 was the monthly meeting of Bury Planning Control Committee. This is the meeting made up of the 11 Councillors who represent the various wards of the borough of Bury. The committee determines planning applications for certain major developments and others where objections have been received. 

Bury Planning Control Committee met remotely and the meeting was live streamed. Councillor Cristina Tegolo reports back:

Shortly before the Planning Control Committee meeting one of the applications was deferred and during the meeting none of the submitted applications were refused. I commented on the following applications:

Application for Greenhill County Primary School, Greenhill Road, Bury. Ref: 66303/Full 

The application proposed the erection of 2.0 metres high (on the front) and 2.4 metres high (on the sides and rear of the site) security fencing and gates around the perimeter of the school.

We had no speakers registered for this application but the Acting Head Teacher contacted the case officer to confirm a series of break ins and damage at the school. Most recently this includes a break in at the pre-school on the night of the 3rd February 2021 and broken windows at the school on the weekend of the 6th/7th February 2021. These have been reported to the police and crime numbers generated for both instances. The need for the fencing, in order to increase security at the school following these events was considered to comply with UDP Policy CF2 – Education Land and Buildings. I proposed to add an additional condition to have a landscape proposal to screen the 2mt high fence on the front of the site. My proposal was approved and the application was granted.

Application for Former Radcliffe High School, Abden Street, Radcliffe.Ref: 66307/Full

The site has laid dormant and unused and the proposed works would enable the preparation of the site for a future development, the proposal will excavate the old foundations of the school, unlocking the site for future housings. The development would be carried out as a phased programme. 

The members of the Planning Committee were concerned about the access road and a condition to use the proposed entranced for emergency purpose only was added. I asked if we could have retained a high-quality tree highlighted as a tree to be removed, my suggestion was approved, and a further condition was added. The application was unanimously granted.

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Combined Authority Budgets

Earlier this week was the regular meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Corporate Issues and Reform Scrutiny, to look at the budgets for the various Greater Manchester combined/joint authorities for 2021-22. Prestwich councillor Tim Pickstone reports:

The various bodies which make up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (the Mayor, the Combined Authorities, and then the joint services like transport, fire, police and waste) all have separate budgets, but are now agreed at the same time though the Combined Authority.

Mayoral General Budget and Precept Proposals
There is no change proposed to the Mayoral General Precept for 2021/22 at £90.95 (Band D) comprising of £66.20 for functions previously covered by the Fire and Rescue Authority precept and £24.75 for other Mayoral General functions. This is unchanged from 2020/21;

There are no changes proposed to the crew and fire engine numbers for Greater Manchester Fire (previous proposals are now not being implemented.

Greater Manchester Transport Budgets
The funding for core GM transport services remains unchanged for 2021/22, this is a levy charged to all ten local councils paid out of our regular Council Tax.

There is a very high level of uncertainty about some aspects of transport budgets in the coming year. In particular this is around Metrolink, where there are currently very low passenger numbers (and therefore low ticket income) and significantly lower usage of buses. The Government has been providing grants to cover the losses on Metrolink and other costs, but there is no certainty if this funding will continue or whether it will be high enough. A decision has not yet been made on bus reform. If the Mayor decides to proceed with a Regulated bus network then there will be significant expenditure to make this happen and revisions will need to be made to the budget.

Our Pass – the free bus pass for 16-18 year old will continue into 2022 to enable it to be properly evaluated under more ‘normal’ circumstance.

Supported Bus Services will continue to be under significant pressure during 2021/22 due to a combination of inflationary pressures, lower income and the risk of further commercial services stopping. Paper E sets out the proposed waste budget for 2021/22 for the nine GM Districts Councils who are part of the GM waste contract. The report highlights the 2020/21 position being breakeven, taking account of a refund of levy of £20m to Districts approved by GMCA in July and September 2020.For 2021/22 the report recommends:

Greater Manchester Waste
The Waste Authority has made a refund of £20million to the nine districts that make up the authority (everyone except Wigan).

The waste budget for 2021/22 make a charge to the nine councils of£162.4m, which represents an average 2.9% decrease over 2020/21. This saving is a result of a cheaper contract with the private sector contractor who deals with the disposal of rubbish.

Greater Manchester Police
The Greater Manchester Police, Crime and Fire Panel approved an increase of £10 per year for a Band D property. This equates to the equivalent of 325 new police officers.

Capital Budgets
The Combined Authority has a very large capital programme (around £1/2 billion) the largest part of which comes from Government grants. The capital programme pays for:

  •  The Greater Manchester Transport Fund (‘GMTF’);
  • Metrolink extensions;
  • Metrolink Trafford Line extension;
  • Other Metrolink Schemes;
  • Transport Interchanges;
  •  Bus Priority;
  • Other capital projects and programmes including Transforming Cities, Active Travel, Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) Early Measures Investment Funding (EMIF) , Clean BusInitiatives, OLEV-EV-Taxi, , Smart Ticketing and Cycle City Ambition Grant (CCAG 2);
  • Transport Major Schemes;
  • Minor Works (including schemes funded by Integrated Transport Capital Block andGrowth Deal);
  • Capital Highways Maintenance, Traffic Signals and Full Fibre;
  • nvestments including Growing Places, Regional Growth Fund and Housing Investment Fund; and
  • Economic Development and Regeneration Schemes.

Hope this is useful. The papers for the meeting which contains all the detail are here. Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Simon Lepori is our candidate for Greater Manchester Mayor

Liberal Democrats in Greater Manchester have chosen Trafford resident, Simon Lepori, to be our candidate in in the Greater Manchester Mayor elections in May.

Simon has lived in Stretford, Greater Manchester with his partner for the past 15 years. He joined the Liberal Democrats in 2015. He stood for Trafford Council in 2016, 2018 and 2019. He stood for Parliament for the Wythenshawe & Sale East constituency at the 2019 general election.

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He worked in the health and social care sector for 17 years from 2002-2019 and returned to the NHS frontline during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. He now works for the Liberal Democrats.

His priorities are:

– building a healthcare system fit for the 21st century in Greater Manchester

– refocusing policing back into communities, with well funded youth services from local councils to help stem the tide and cycle of crime and disorder

– a transport system that works for Greater Manchester not against it

– a housing plan that puts people first, not developers.

“Let us rise up from the ashes of Covid & recession and rebuild Greater Manchester together”

Find out more here.
Simon is currently asking Greater Manchester’s residents for their views on policing – take this short survey here.

Highways England chooses flyover for Simister Island

Highways England have chosen the so-called “Northern Loop” option for improving Simister Island, which connects the M60, M62 and M66.

This means they propose to build a flyover and loop to create continuous lanes on the clockwise M60. The M60 between Prestwich and Whitefield will be widened to 10 lanes (plus more at the junctions), by converting the hard shoulder.

The scheme application will be made to the Planning Inspectorate, who will examine the application in public hearings and then make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport, who will decide whether or not the project will go ahead (target date for decision summer 2023).

Our view remains that this is not the right plan for our area and we will continue to oppose the plans through the planning hearings . The solution to congestion cannot always be to build bigger and wider roads:

  • Highways England admit in their own consultation that this scheme will not reduce air pollution.
  • The scheme will cost £340 million. Imagine how much that could achieve if it was spent on improving public transport and the local area.
  • Ten lane running between Prestwich and Whitefield is too much for this tightly packed residential area with houses (and four schools) so close to the motorway.

More information from Highways England here.

Last chance to have our say on Bus regulation

Greater Manchester is consulting on the future of the bus system.

Currently, the bus companies decide the routes, frequencies, fares and standards. There is no coordination and limited oversight.  Where bus companies decide not to run services and where necessary, the public sector pays to fill in the gaps. 

Franchising means bus services would be brought under local control. Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) would coordinate and invest in the bus network, while the bus operators would be contracted to run the services.  

Between October 2019 and January 2020, GMCA held a consultation on a proposed franchising scheme for the city-region’s buses. Over 8,500 of you gave us your views, with eight out of ten respondents who answered the relevant question supporting the proposed franchising scheme.

CONSULTATION DOCUMENT  (PDF VERSION)

In June, GMCA received the results of the consultation and decided, before a final decision could be made that the impact of Covid-19 on the bus market and proposed franchising scheme should be considered.

Covid-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty over how people will travel in future. So, TFGM has used four scenarios in a report which looks at potential future travel demand in Greater Manchester and what it could mean for GMCA’s proposals to change how buses are run. 

Under all scenarios, franchising is still the best option to achieve Greater Manchester’s long-term ambition for a fully integrated public transport system and GMCA still has funding available to pay for the transition to franchising. 

Under franchising, GMCA would be responsible for the bus network and that means it would have more of the financial responsibility and the risks. Depending on the impacts of Covid-19, GMCA might have to make difficult choices about the bus network in the future to manage these financial risks – such as providing further funding or making reductions to the network. 

But even under the other options available – such as entering into a partnership with bus operators or making no change to the bus market – there would still be difficult choices as GMCA would need to pay to fill more of the gaps in the commercial bus network. But GMCA would have to do this with no overall coordination and none of the other benefits of franchising.

Despite the additional financial risks, the net benefits of franchising for Greater Manchester are still likely to be higher and more deliverable than other options, such as a partnership with bus operators and so will provide value for money.

GMCA is consulting on the proposed franchising scheme in the light of the findings of the Covid-19 Impact Report.

Why proceed now?

The impact and effect of Covid-19 remains uncertain. Delaying a decision on franchising reduces the uncertainty about the impacts of Covid-19 and what partnerships operators may offer as time goes by.

But there are reasons why a decision about how buses should be run should be made sooner rather than later, as the challenges facing the bus market have not disappeared. Even before Covid-19, bus use was falling and the public sector was providing significant subsidy to operators through payments for subsidised services and concessionary fares. During the pandemic, operators have also received emergency funding from government.

If bus usage remains low in the future and central government stops or reduces its emergency funding, bus operators may reduce services or increase ticket prices. This may mean the public sector having to provide additional funding to keep essential services running, especially for key workers and the poor and vulnerable who depend on the bus network. Fewer bus routes or more expensive tickets could also mean more people driving, increasing congestion and pollution.

Take part in the consultation

Anyone can take part in the consultation. You do not have to live in Greater Manchester or be a regular bus user to have your say. You can answer as a member of the public or in an official capacity (e.g. as an elected representative, statutory consultee, business or other organisation). 

Please be aware that if you are answering in an official capacity, your response may be published. Decision-makers will have access to all responses during and following the close of the consultation period. References or quotes from responses from a member of the public will be done on an anonymised basis. 

Fill out the questionnaire.

Email your feedback to gmbusconsultation@ipsos-mori.com

Give your feedback by phone on 0161 244 1100 (you will be forwarded through to our independent research organisation Ipsos MORI to submit your response) 

Write/send a completed questionnaire to Freepost GM BUS CONSULTATION

GMSF becomes GMSF of the 9

Greater Manchester’s Council Leaders have voted to carry on with a version of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for just 9 boroughs, after Councillors in Stockport rejected the proposals.

The GMSF which proposed provision for 180,000 extra homes over the next 15 years was opposed by many people because of involved the destruction of so much green belt land, including large amounts of green belt across Bury. In Stockport, where Labour councillors do not have a majority, the plans were blocked by the towns 26 Liberal Democrat councillors alongside other opposition members.

The remaining nine Greater Manchester Council Leaders have agreed to draw up a Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for the nine boroughs only. The authorities will work on a revised version that removes proposed land allocations in Stockport and redistributes targets for building homes and creating jobs across nine boroughs instead of 10.

Public consultation is planned for June 2021. (You will note just after the local elections and the election of the Greater Manchester Mayor.)

Bury’s Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader Michael Powell said:
“As we have always said, GMSF was simply the wrong plan. It was wrong because it would have meant the wholesale destruction of so much of our precious green belt land.”

We clearly do to plan for new homes, especially the affordable homes that people so desperately need. We want to see a new approach which not only sees our future housing need built on our existing brownfield land and revitalising our town centres, but also sees the homes that people need and want in our communities, not the houses that developers want to build.

Greater Manchester needs a radical new plan. Our fear is that the GMSF9 will just be just more of the same.”

Our Fight to Raise Carer’s Allowance

Unpaid carers are doing a remarkable and important job in very difficult circumstances. They deserve our support. But many carers are facing extreme financial hardship.

900,000 full-time unpaid carers rely on Carer’s Allowance – but at just £67.25 a week, it’s just not nearly enough.

Carer’s Allowance is just £67 a week. It’s just not nearly enough.

It is the lowest benefit of its kind – another example of how carers are too often an afterthought for many politicians.

Many unpaid carers have been struggling for months, often relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and the people they care for.

We’ve got to do better
Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to immediately raise Carer’s Allowance by £1,000 a year, the same as the uplift in Universal Credit.

Carers face big challenges every single day; challenges that have been made even harder by coronavirus. A recent survey by Carers UK found that most are having to spend more time looking after loved ones during this pandemic.

Most haven’t been able to take a single break since it started. Most are simply exhausted.

And now they are worried.

Liberal Democrats will stand up for carers

Worried about their own mental health, worried about what will happen if they themselves fall ill – because there’s no one to take over – and worried about whether they can cope in a new lockdown.

We must do far more to support our wonderful carers.

The Liberal Democrats will stand up for carers and lead the way to a more caring society as we emerge from this pandemic.

Join our Campaign for an increased Carers Allowance

Reporting Back: Bury Full Council

Last week was the regular ‘Full Council’ meeting for Bury Councillors, this was meant to the important meeting where the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework was to have been agreed, but this was withdrawn from the agenda. Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Michael Powell reports:

Bury Council only meets in full seven times a year, but this November meeting was to have been particularly special, as it was where Bury was to agree, or not agree, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). This plan, for another 180,000 houses across Greater Manchester in the next 17 years has to be agreed by all ten Councils before it can go out for consultation.

Bury Council’s Cabinet, which consists of just Labour councillors, agreed the plan unanimously earlier in the month but this had to be approved by full Council. In Stockport, where no party has an overall majority, things didn’t go ‘according to plan’ and their meeting was adjourned.

Bury has decided to delay considering the plans until the position in Stockport is clear. We find out if Stockport has managed to reach an agreement on Thursday, but it could also be adjourned again. At the moment there is no date for the proposals to come back to Bury Council.

Public Question Time
GMSF was the main topic of consideration for public question time. Residents in the Simister and Bowlee area did a particularly good job of getting questions in with a whole host of excellent questions on Heywood Old Road, Simister Lane traffic, air pollution and the ‘Northern Gateway’ industrial site.

The answers to questions have not yet been published, but we’ll share these as soon as we have them.

Business Items
Four important business items came to full Council and were agreed:
– a revised Council Constitution
– agreement that the ward boundaries review (there will be new ward boundaries for the 2022 local elections) will stick with 17 wards / 51 Councillors.
– a revised Corporate Plan
– a revised licensing policy.

Questions to the Leader
The only remaining item of business was questions. The Liberal Democrat Group, as always, asked the maximum number we are entitled to. We’ll report back on some of the detail in the future but the most interesting answers included:

Councillor Steve Wright asked about the A56 cycle lane (abandoned half finished):
Can the cabinet member for transport and infrastructure clarify why the decision was made to not complete the planned ‘pop-up’ cycle lane on the A56 and how much of the Government funding to enable active travel remains unspent? 

Answer:
There was an accumulation of factors that lead to the decision not to install the pop-up cycle lane element of this emergency active travel scheme. The Council considered the impacts on traffic as witnessed on site after some lining went down, had received concerns from bus operators about the stop designs in the cycle lane, had heard reports of similar measures being removed and under-utilised in other districts and recognised that there were challenges with Salford’s delivery/continuation of the pop-up cycle lane in the City centre – essentially leaving the pop-up as a cycle lane to nowhere. The public, however, will still benefit from a new length of unsegregated cycle lane near St Mary’s Park as well as two controlled toucan crossings.

The EATF Tranche 1 was a Greater Manchester allocation and, as such, money spent on measures is claimed back rather than given up-front. However, the Council is also seeking to introduce a Low Traffic Neighbourhood in the Brandlesholme area in line with the governments express expectations for “…local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.” to lead to a more pleasant environment that encourages people to walk and cycle.

Councillor Wright went on to ask if the dangerous section of cycle lane at the end of St Ann’s Road could be looked into (cars are being forced into the cycle lane because of right-turning traffic. There was no commitment to look at this.

Councillor Powell asked about school closures during Covid:
How many schools and school bubbles have had to close due to Covid-19 cases since schools reopened in September and how does this compare to the other authorities in Greater Manchester? 

Answer:
Just under 50% of all primary and secondary schools have reported one or more confirmed cases within their setting, involving either members of staff or pupils. Many of these schools have gone on to experience a number of confirmed cases, largely as a result of the prevalence of Covid-19 in the wider community.

In the majority of instances, this has required other staff members and/or pupils to self- isolate as a consequence of being a close contact of a confirmed case.

At its highest point in late September/early October there were approximately 2,000 pupils absent representing 7% of the school age population. Through measures to more accurately identify close contacts, this number has reduced, but remains in the order of 1,000 pupils absent from school each week.

Since September, four schools have had to close to all pupils for a period of time, through a combination of confirmed cases and close contacts amongst staff, reducing staffing levels below sustainable levels.

The levels of absence are broadly in line with other GM authorities although the situation remains dynamic and subject to constant change.

You can read the papers for the meeting here.
You can watch the whole meeting here.

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Scrutiny

Last week the regular meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Corporate Issues Scrutiny Committee was able to meet with the Mayor of Greater Manchester to scrutinise his work to date around the Covid response. The Committee is made up of Councillors from throughout Greater Manchester and Bury’s rep this year is our local councillor Tim Pickstone. Tim reports:

This meeting focussed on two main issues:

Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority Budget Issues
The Committee received an update on budget issues for the Waste Disposal Authority for the current year, and also looking forwards to financial challenges around waste disposal in years to come.

The main challenge this year has been the impact of Covid on how much rubbish we produce.

(these figures are in ‘000s)

Essentially, lockdown, together with schools being closed and working from home has meant a significant increase in the amount of waste that we put in our bins at home, particularly residual (grey bins) and co-mingled (blue bins). Interestingly despite all the ‘internet shopping’ deliveries people seem to have been having, the amount of cardboard we recycle is down this year.

The result on the Waste Disposal Authority is overspending this year and will need to take around £20 million from its reserves to balance the books.

Looking forwards to 2021-22 onwards, the Waste Disposal Authority will need around £160-£170 million each year in total from the nine Councils that make up the WDA. There are risks around Brexit, particularly if this changes the ‘market’ for recycled materials (ie if it is more difficult for us to export recycled materials abroad). In addition the Government is currently consulting on potential major policy changes which might mean the way our bins are collected is changed (ie perhaps more bins, perhaps more frequently). If this happened it would have major financial consequences on waste disposal costs. Hopefully Government would cover these costs, but never quite seems to be what happens in reality.

Greater Manchester Mayor, Covid Response
The Mayor outlined some of the challenges experienced at a Greater Manchester level through Covid, and the current development of a ‘Living with Covid’ plan to guide the work of Greater Manchester over coming months.

He explained that other policy areas are being progressed:consultation on the clear air zone, minimum licensing standards, GMSF now being taken through the ten Councils.

He said that we would be aware of the disagreements discussions with the Government over recent weeks. A lot of the things that were being demanded by Greater Manchester when we were put into Tier 3 have now been delivered for the whole country in the second lockdown.

£60 million (£20 per head) is being received from Government and discussions are taking place to work out how best to spend this money, including thinking about sectors of the economy which are really missing out from other support.

Peak pressure 

We discussed how it looked as though there might be a decrease and levelling off in Covid cases in Greater Manchester, but it will be a challenging month ahead. There are discussions with Government on mass testing.

Members asked questions on:
– homelessness
– the music economy in Greater Manchester
– transport (particularly whether the current tram pricing structure worked for people who worked from home some days a week)
– support for the airport and travel industries.

I asked a question about town centres, which had been a key policy area for the Mayor before Covid, and how he expected this policy to change given the massive challenges that many town centres were facing with small businesses leaving the high street.

The papers for the meeting are here:
https://democracy.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=216&MId=4042&Ver=4

You can watch a video of the meeting here:
https://teams.microsoft.com/l/meetup-join/19%3ameeting_YTEyODAzMjEtMGNlMC00MzdhLTk1NTAtMGRhZTkzZTQ3YWU4%40thread.v2/0?context=%7b%22Tid%22%3a%22e8d8036a-b5f9-4f3f-9d36-d7cd740299bb%22%2c%22Oid%22%3a%22967f3f39-e2ff-4b86-aaa2-4791ec3951ce%22%2c%22IsBroadcastMeeting%22%3atrue%7d