Council Budgets set next month

Next month (February 2020) both Bury Council and also all the joint authorities that cover Greater Manchester will be setting their budgets for 2020-21.

In Bury, the Council (like all local authorities) will continue to need to save very significant amounts of money. Nobody knows what the Government’s plans are beyond 2020-21, but the current estimate is that Bury Council faces a challenge of c £31 million over the next 5 years. This estimate assumes that Council Tax goes up by 2% a year.

Bury Council has an unusually low level of ‘reserves’, so using reserves to fund year-to-year service is not possible.

The Council will set its budget on 26 February 2020. Councils are ‘capped’ by Government on how much they can rise Council Tax (without a referendum). This is just below 2%, though once again the Government is allowing a further 2% ‘Social Care Precept’ rise, so effectively this is just under 4%. Even if Bury does rise Council Tax by this amount there still needs to be savings of nearly £9 million in 2020-21. We don’t yet know what proposals will be brought forwards by the ruling (Labour) group on how to meet this gap.

Many of our services are provided at a Greater Manchester level:

Police – remarkably the Government hasn’t event told police forces what their level of grant will be from 1 April. There is the Government promise of extra police officers, but it seems like police forces like GMP will be made to put up Council tax locally make the budget balance. The Government sets a maximum rise that is allowed, something like £10 a year for a band D house.

Fire – fire faces significant budgetary pressures. In the current year the budget has balance by using reserves to prop up spending. It could be that this continues in 2020-21 but ultimately this is not sustainable.

Transport and Mayor – the biggest areas of change we are likely to see at a Greater Manchester level in 2020-21 are around the Mayor’s own council tax and particularly around transport.

The Mayor introduced free bus travel for 16-18 year olds last year. If this is going to continue then he will need to put up his own Mayoral Council tax significantly to pay for it.

The other very major piece of spending that won’t have an impact on our bills this year, but very much will in the future is the prospect of bus re-regulation. The cost of this in the first five years in Greater Manchester is early £140 million and about £23 million of that would need to come from putting up Council Tax more that it would have been over the next five years.

More information as we get it and any questions please ask. Please let us know your views on Council finances (comment below, or email Councillor Tim Pickstone).

Reporting Back: Cabinet

This week was the regular meeting of the Council’s Cabinet. This is made up of the ruling (Labour) group cabinet members. A representative of the two largest opposition parties is invited to attend but not vote. Councillor Steve Wright reports:

Radcliffe Strategic Regeneration Framework
The Cabinet received an update on the Radcliffe Strategic Regeneration Framework. This is a continuation of the £500,000 approved in 2018 much has already been spent. The council will now be consulting stakeholders and and develop the Strategic Regeneration Framework, and then take it to public consultation.

Bury, Town of Culture 2020
Bury has been chosen to be Greater Manchester’s ‘Town of Culture’ for 2020. There are various events planned across the Borough in a roughly six months festival linked to the town’s association with Victoria Wood. The project has a starting budget of £150,000 made up of £60,000 from the Victoria Wood Foundation, Greater Manchester Combined Authority £50,000 and Bury £40,000. The council will be looking for to have many and various events in different areas and will be looking for offers from local groups.

Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone
The Cabinet received an update on the proposed Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone – the plan to charge lorries, buses, vans and taxis (that do not meet stringent emission standards) a daily fee to drive in Greater Manchester.

Further implementation of this has been delayed until after the local and Greater Manchester mayoral elections in May this year (readers will remember a similar delay to the next proposals of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework………). They are hoping to get funding for Automatic Number Plate Recognition and that this might help with enforcement of ‘ no idling zones, e.g. outside of schools). The cabinet were reminded of the Liberal Democrat motion on no idling outside the boroughs schools and that there has been little or no action on it in past two years. The cabinet agreed that this plan should be pushed forward.

Mayor of Bury 2020-21
The Cabinet agreed that Holyrood Ward Councillor Tim Pickstone be nominated as Mayor for 2020-21. Tim will be the first Lib Dem Mayor of Bury for 17 years. The Mayoral year starts with the annual ‘Mayor Making’ event late in May 2020.

Papers for the meeting are here, any questions please ask.


Reporting Back – Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Last month was the regular meeting of Bury Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Michael Powell reports back:


Performance in schools
Headteachers from a high-performing college, secondary school, nursery school and primary school academy trust gave presentations on how they’ve managed to establish and maintain high levels of attainment and process amongst their pupils. Amongst the points discussed were the importance of sharing ‘best practice’ between staff members, departments and also other schools, well as maintaining strong links with ‘feeder schools’ to ensure progress is maintained when children move up to Secondary school. Some of the headteachers also discussed the emphasis they’ve placed on staff wellbeing and development, including regular ‘drop-ins’ to offer support, as well as improving teaching and assessment through CPD (Continuing Professional Development).


Ombudsman Report
A report was presented summarising all the complaints dealt with over the past year by the LGO (Local Government Ombudsman) involving the Council’s different service providers, such as highways, adult care services, housing and education services. The total number of complaints and enquiries received in 2018/19 was 67, up from 44 from the previous 12 month period. Only 6 of these complaints were upheld and the Council were found to comply with the recommendations of the Ombudsman in all of these cases.

Finance Monitoring Report
A finance report for the last quart period (April-August 2019) was also presented. Four themed Budget Recovery Boards have also been established to oversee the implementation of savings plans, to develop further pipeline schemes, to monitor additional pressures arising in year, and to identify mitigations. The Council is currently projecting to overspend by £0.467m, which represents approximately 0.34% of the total net budget of £138.862m.

Papers for the meeting are here.

Reporting Back: Planning Committee and Cabinet Meeting

Earlier this month was the Nmonthly meeting of Bury’s Planning Control Committee. This is the meeting made up of the 11 Councillors. The committee determines planning applications for certain major developments and others where objections have been received. Councillor Cristina Tegoloreports: 

Prior to the Committee meeting, a site visit took place in respect of planning application 63992 and 64437.

The following application was notapproved:

Harrington House Estates Ltd, 79 Bury New Road, Whitefield App No. 64719
The application relates to a large red brick/slate end terraced property on the west side of Bury New Road in Whitefield, to the south of the Higher lane junction. The formerly a single house, it has recently undergone refurbishment and conversion to a 6 person House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). 

The proposed development involves: · Change of use of the existing 6 person HMO in to an 8 person HMO. The two additional bedrooms and kitchen/diner would be on the second floor, in the existing rooms within roof space.

The previous planning application for the change of use to an 8 person HMO was refused in July 2017 on the following grounds: “The lack of dedicated off-road parking provision is likely to lead to vehicles parking and carrying out manoeuvres on the highway to the serious detriment of the free flow of traffic and road safety. The proposal is therefore unacceptable and would be contrary to the NPPF and UDP Policies HT2/4 Car Parking and New Development and H2/4 Conversions and supplementary guidance document SPD13 Conversion of Buildings to Houses in Multiple Occupation.”

During the meeting residents raised objections that the traffic generated by the two additional residents would cause parking problems and be detrimental to highway safety. Several Councillors raised issued regarding parking and privacy. I pointed out that in the proposed 8 double bedrooms HMO layout there could be up to 16 people sharing two kitchens (one at ground floor and one on the second floor) with only one dining table (with 6 dining chairs) showing at ground floor level.

The following application received approval but we raised some concerns:

Land between 60 and Unit 6 Millett Street, Bury, App No. 63992
We discussed a proposed development to the west of Millett Street, in Bury, for the erection of 36 no. x 1-bedroom apartments, provided over 3 floors with the main entrance on the side elevation facing the associated car parking. 

The site itself comprises hardcore and tarmac surfacing, with areas of overgrown and unmaintained vegetation. To the rear of the site is a line of mature trees, beyond which is a steep embankment which drops down to the River Irwell and which is designated as a Wildlife Link and Corridor under UDP Policy EN6/4.

The scheme will provide 100% Affordable Housing to be delivered by a Registered Social Provider. 

We analysed the merits and I raised at the meeting the following points:

  • I fully appreciated that the scheme provides 100% affordable housing but I pointed out that in this block of apartments there are only one-bedroom flats and there isn’t a lift.
  • I also said that in a 3-storey apartment block without lift, people with long- and short-term mobility impairments, elderly couples that wish to downsize, parents with toddlers will be excluded or disadvantaged
  • I was happy to see that some EV charging stations have been included in the scheme. However, the scheme should also allow for infrastructure to be built so that more charging stations can be added in a near future

I also mentioned to the planning officer in charge of this application that this block of apartments is located near the river Irwell, which is designated as Wildlife Link, and its flat roof is, in my opinion, a great missed opportunity to create a green roof to support wildlife and create a thriving eco-friendly habitat.

More information and the full papers for the meeting are here.

Cabinet Meeting
The following week was the regular meeting of the Council’s Cabinet. This is made up of seven Cabinet members from the ruling Labour Group. The two largest group opposition leaders are invited to attend and speak but not vote. Councillor Tim Pickstonereports: 

Corporate Financial Monitoring Report 
The Council is currently predicting an overspend of just under £1/2 million for 2019-20, out of a total expenditure budget of £139 million. It is important to note that the budget only balances this year by the use if ‘balances’, and the amount of balances being used has been increased by £2.8 during the year. 

I asked about saving targets. There are significant levels of ‘unmet historic savings targets, e.g. waste collection, civic venues, leisure services etc that are not being delivered, and providing additional pressure on the Council. There are also savings that have been agreed to this year, that have already been ‘slipped’ into next year.

Childrens Centres Management Arrangements
The Council is proposing to move the management and running of five children’s centres (Woodbank, Broad Oak, Coronation Road, Radcliffe Hall and Butterstile) outside of the Council – e.g. to the voluntary sector or schools. This would save the Council about £136,000 a year. Two Children’s Centres would be maintained by the Council (Redvales and Ribble Drive). 

Radcliffe High School Bid
The Council has agreed to move forwards on a bid for a ‘Free School’ High School in Radcliffe, partnering up with STAR Academies as the sponsor. The site would be on Spring Lane where the old Radcliffe Riverside school was. The bid will now go forwards to Government and is subject to their funding. Obviously Radcliffe does need a high school, but I did ask about whether or not there was enough demand for secondary schools in the whole Borough for an additional school. 

The papers for the meeting are here

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Combined Authority Corporate Issues Scrutiny

There are three Scrutiny Committees to scrutinise the work of the Greater Manchester Mayor and other Combined Authority functions in Greater Manchester.

Prestwich councillor Tim Pickstone represents Bury on the Corporate Issues and Reform Scrutiny Committee, and is this years chair of the Committee. Tim reports from the last meeting:

Greater Manchester Plan
The main focus of our meeting was to review performance against the Greater Manchester Plan. This is the strategy document that sets out the objectives that the Mayor and Combined Authority want to achieve and what measures they will use to determine how successful they have been.

This meeting is one of two meetings a year where the Mayor is in attendance himself to report back this. He used the opportunity to highlight three things he felt he was achieving on in the 2.5 years since he has been elected:

Homelessness
In the 2017 election, the Mayor made eliminating street homelessness in Greater Manchester by 2020 his goal. Recently there has been the first fall for some years in the official figures for people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester. 300 people have been helped already in the ‘bed for all scheme’.

Young People
The Mayor highlighted take up of the new ‘Our Pass’ scheme, a £10 bus pass which means 16-18 year olds can travel for free on buses in Greater Manchester (not trams or trains). Apparently 32,000 young people have signed up for the pass so far (well over half). There is an estimate that 9-12 million journeys will have been made on the pass in the next year.

Transport
The Mayor highlighted the four aspects of a future Greater Manchester transport strategy developing:
– trams – with the opening of the Trafford Centre line next year. The Mayor identified Metrolink as the big ‘Greater Manchester transport success story’.
– buses – with the current consultation on bus re-regulation which MAY lead to re-regulation of buses in the future (though there is a significant cost to the taxpayer of this, currently estimated at £130 million)
– trains – a future aspiration to play more of a role in franchising rail services in Greater Manchester
– active travel – the aspiration to develop more walking and cycling travel routes.


Members of the Committee asked a number of questions to the Mayor, particularly focussed on the transport issue. I asked about why – if Metrolink was the success story (and bus ridership is going down), why we future focus was so much on buses, and not on further Metrolink? Councillors from Bury, Manchester and Trafford (including me) all complained about the existing congestion on the the tram lines coming into Manchester in peak times. Apparently there are more trams coming from next year, but much of this will be to cover the new Trafford Centre line.

Greater Manchester Full Fibre Network
The Committee received an update on the Greater Manchester Full Fibre proposals. This is an allocation of £23.7 million Greater Manchester has received from the Government to connect 1,300 public sector sites (buildings, traffic lights etc) with full fibre broadband, the aspiration of increasing the full-fibre coverage from 2% to 25% within three years.

The project is currently being tendered to private sector providers to deliver. One aspiration is that further private sector investment will extend the full fibre network to other sites in the Borough.

More information and the paperwork for the meeting is here. Any questions please ask!

Reporting Back: Council Cabinet – Prestwich regeneration and Sedgley Children’s Centre

Earlier in the month was the regular meeting of the Council’s Cabinet. This is the meeting consisting of the eight Labour Cabinet members. Opposition Group Leaders are invited but cannot vote. Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Tim Pickstone reports back: 

Prestwich Regeneration
Residents will be aware of the VERY longstanding discussions about regenerating the Longfield area in Prestwich ‘village’ centre. A couple of years ago the Council announced that it was working with a developer – MUSE Developments, but is now reporting that this company, although it is still interested in being involved, is not interested in being the ‘lead developer’.



The Cabinet agreed a report that the Council would proceed with looking at whether or not the Council itself could be the lead developer for the site. The first stage of this is for the Council to spend £1.2 million out of its ‘capital programme’ (essentially money that is either borrowed or selling assets) to undertake the detailed work to take this possibility to the next stage. 

Most of the £1.2 million will be spent on external consultants. It is in addition to the money that the Council spent to buy the building which Istanbul restaurant is in. The report makes clear that the Council would need to buy the lease for the shopping centre from its current owners to proceed (presumably more money). 

I raised two questions. The first was around ‘risk’. Essentially the Council is saying that it can do what private developers don’t feel they can do in developing the site. For everything to work a lot of things would need to fall into place at the same time, and if they don’t there is a risk that taxpayers money would be at risk. In particular the Council would need to find a scheme that included paying for new community facilities to replace the library, which is no easy task.

It was hinted at very strongly in the report that the Council saw no future for the existing Longfield Suite I asked them to confirm that they did indeed see no future for the suite, which they confirmed. They did say that they were committed to a new community facility as part of the scheme, but I will be amazed if this provides a space as large and flexible as the existing Longfield Suite.

Sedgley Children’s Centre
The Cabinet also agreed to hand over management of the Sedgley Children’s Centre (Bishops Road/Kings Road junctions) to the Jewell Foundation, a local Jewish charity. 

As part of the agreement, the charity will increase engagement between the local Jewish community and the council.

I asked about whether the existing services, which run from the Children’s Centre would continue (they will), and also if there would be an impact on the ‘spoke’ children’s centre run from the building next to Butterstile primary school (they will be unaffected by this change). It would seem that proposals are to come forwards shortly to move all Children’s Centres to being run by third party agencies.

Full news story on the Jewell Foundation transfer in the Bury Times.

Papers for the meeting are here. Any questions please ask!

Reporting Back Strategic Commissioning Board

Earlier this month was the first meeting of Bury’s ‘Strategic Commissioning Board’. This is a completely new meeting which brings together Bury Council and NHS Bury in one decision making structure to make sure that the work that both organisations are doing in Bury is fully integrated. Significant steps have already been taken to achieve this, for example we now share a single Chief Executive and single Director of Finance, and there are more joint workings to follow.

The meeting is made up of the CCG (NHS Bury Clinical Commissioning Group) with 50% of the votes with the remaining 50% of the votes being the six Labour councillors who make up the Council’s Cabinet. The two opposition Leaders are invited to attend and contribute, but cannot vote (though the Conservatives didn’t turn up). Liberal Democrat Group Leader Tim Pickstone reports on the two main items which will be of interest: 

Health Needs in Bury
The Director of Public Health presented a paper summarising people’s health in Bury. Headlines included: 

– Historic increases in life expectancy are stalling
– People are generally living for moreyears in poorhealt

– The poorer people are, the shorter their lives and the more of those years are spent in ill health. There is a 15 year gap in healthy life-expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of Bury
– Bury’s rates of preventable mortality are significantly worse than England as a whole and among the worst compared to our statistical neighbours. Musculoskeletal conditions are the prime driver of poor health followed by depression and anxiety. These conditions often go hand in hand.
– Around 50% of the burden of disease is associated with smoking, excess alcohol consumption, poor diet and low levels of physical activity.

There are significant differences between different parts of Bury (e.g people expect to live 8 years longer in the better off areas of Bury, than in the worse off areas of Bury.

It was interesting to note that Bury is worsethan similar areas in:
– smoking rates
– diet (number of people who eat our ‘5 a day’ is significantly worse than in similar areas
– high body mass index (BMI)
– drug use
– physical exercise
(We were better than similar areas in terms of alcohol consumption). 

Bury is currently looking at developing a ‘Bury 2030’ plan about what we want to our priorities to be over the next decade, and the Board needs to identify which health priorities form part of that plan. 

I made the point that it was very disappointing that there had been no significant change in the last 15 years in the differences between the health of the poorer areas of Bury compared to the more well off areas of Bury, and that we should be critical of ourselves for failing to achieve this change. I also made the point that we need to identify a small number of priorities for making improvements in, to make a real difference to people’s health in Bury.

Urgent CareReview and Redesign 
The second important issue was an update on the review of ‘Urgent Care’ services in Bury. 

A review is tasing place with the following objectives: 
– Improve performance of 4 hour waits to reach 92% at Fairfield by March 2020 
– Reduce Non-Elective Admissions at Fairfield 
– Deliver £2.6m savings from current spend from Urgent Care Services 
by April 2020 
– Redesign to simplify access points to improve patient experience

The following services are being considered as part of the review: 
– Accident and Emergency at Fairfield 
–  Urgent Care Treatment Centre at Fairfield 
– Walk in Centres at Moorgate and Prestwich 
– GP Out of Hours Service (BARDOC) 
– GP Extended Access and GP Extended working Hours 
– GP in hours – availability of appointments 

This is a very sensitive topic. People will, no doubt, recall the public anger at the plans to close the walk-in centres a few years ago. I asked: 
– When the decisions would be made (December 2019)
– Whether the proposed model which was promised to replace walk-in centres ‘locality hubs with some element of walk-in access to GPs’ was still the aspiration, or if things had moved on from this promise (things have moved on from this promise).

Papers for the meeting are here. Any questions please ask! 

Tackling the Climate Crisis Together

Liberal Democrats have committed to ambitious plans for fight against our climate crisis.

Our planet is in crisis, balanced on a knife-edge at the point of no return. 

Due to man-made climate change, global temperatures are soaring, the polar ice caps are melting faster than ever before, and whole nations are already facing the existential crisis of rising sea levels and extreme weather. Whole species of animals are being wiped out month by month, and global famine is a very real threat.  

This is something that we can only tackle if we all work together, collaborating with every single nation across the globe. No one will be unaffected, but, just like with Brexit, the poorest in society will suffer first and suffer most deeply.

We need to take action now. The government needs to move much faster and be much more ambitious in the steps it is taking to prevent the largest global crisis the world has ever faced. And as President Trump unpicks environmental protections one by one, harming the whole world in the process, we need to take centre stage as a global leader on tackling man-made climate change.  

That’s why, at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, our members have backed radical action to cut carbon emissions by 75% in the next 10 years. 

The Liberal Democrats will:

  • Empower councils and give them the resources to reduce emissions and set up green projects in a way that makes sense in their own communities
  • Plant 60 million trees a year, every year, which is one tree for every person in the UK
  • Convert rail networks to ultra-low-emission technology (electric or hydrogen) by 2035
  • Ban non-recyclable single-use plastics within three years
  • and a whole lot more!

There’s no time for wringing our hands when it comes to the climate crisis. Our new policy lays out a credible plan for fast, effective action to beat global heating.

Find out more here.

Call for Conductors on Trams

At last week’s full meeting of Bury Council, the local Liberal Democrat group proposed a motion calling for Metrolink to trial the use of conductors on trams.

The motion was passed with unanimous support from all parties in the Council, which means the Council will now formally request the move from Transport for Greater Manchester

New Prestwich Councillor Michael Powell used his ‘maiden speech’ to propose the motion, pointing towards the hope that conductors on trams would help to alleviate two particular existing issues with the service – rise in anti-social behaviour and violence, and high levels of evasion. Last year, police were called to nearly 3,500 Metrolink incidents and Metrolink currently estimate that 1 in 8 journeys across the service are currently going unpaid.

Our view is that there is a simple solution for both of these problems- providing permanent on-board staff on all journeys across the network.

Around £10 million is current being lost each year from fare evasion. This would be enough to pay for about 300 conductors.

The Liberal Democrat proposal was supported by the whole of Bury Council at the meeting and the proposals will now go forward to Transport for Greater Manchester. 

Reporting Back: Planning Committee

Last week 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. 

Liberal Democrat Councillor Cristina Tegoloreports back:

Prior to the Committee meeting, a site visit took place in respect of planning application 63324, at the Moutheath Industrial Estate off George Street in Prestwich. 

At the meting this application received approval but we raised some concerns:

We discussed a proposed development to the south of George Street, in Prestwich, for the erection of 124 no. dwellings. 

An outline planning permission on the site had already received outline planning consent in February 2017 (for the demolition of the existing buildings and the redevelopment of the site for up to 160 dwellings and 2,959 square metres of employment floorspace). Therefore, the Planning Committee could only consider matters in relation to the layout, scale, appearance and landscaping of the proposed development. 

The applicant will be taking advantage of a national policy, Vacant Building Credit (VBC), which is intended to incentivise brownfield development, including the reuse or redevelopment of empty and redundant buildings. In short term, under the VBC policy, the floorspace of any existing vacant unit is used to offset the number of affordable housing that that the landowner has to provide when redeveloping a brownfield site.

The vacant units in the proposed development have a total floorspace of 5,365.5 square feet, which would reduce the on-site affordable housing to 18 units. 

We analysed the merits and I raised at the meeting the following points:

  • Highlighting that this “generic” development was not catering for the specific needs of the local community which contains a significant Orthodox Jewish population, the second largest in the UK.
  • Identifying those units that did not have an accessible WC at ground floor level and that didn’t allow for manoeuvring space for a wheelchair by the main entrance door.
  • Putting an investigative so that electric vehicle charging points would be included.
  • Clarifying that the proposed 2.1metre high close boarded timber acoustic fence, and any perimetral fence within the boundary, should be installed based on the final FFL of the proposed development, which will be finalised only when the level of Singleton Brook is confirmed.

More information and the full papers for the meeting are here.