Reporting Back: Full Council

Bury’s final ‘Full Council’ of the year took place at the end of November. This is the meeting, normally six times a year, where all 51 Bury Councillors meet to undertake some of the important functions of the authority.

Gambling Policy
Every few years local authorities have to publish a ‘Gambling Policy’, which was agreed by councillors. Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Pickstone asked the Cabinet member what consideration or changes to the policy had been made in the light of recent reports about the number of children and young people who were involved in gambling at worrying levels. The response was that there had been input on this area at the consultation stage and that this is an important issue for us to take forwards.

Risk Register Annual Report
The Council has to present an annual report of it’s ‘Risk Register’ which sets out how it is managing risk going forwards. We have previously raised concerns about the fact that almost the very high number of risks which are marked as serious – particularly the ability of the Council to deliver financial savings. Liberal Democrat councillors asked what the Council is doing to plan around the risk of a ‘no-deal Brexit’, and the impact this might have on things like staff who work in the health and care sectors – the response was that this was being done at a Greater Manchester level.

Questions
Liberal Democrat councillors always ask the maximum number of questions at Council meetings and this was no exception. At this meeting our questions included: police and fire call-outs around bonfire night, plastic recycling, World AIDS Day, Council use of bailiffs, process for resident parking schemes and amount of fly-tipping reports. For the full questions and answers see here.

Motions
Council meetings consider one motion per political party. The Lib Dem motion was on ensuring future council houses are built to a high standard. We also supporter the motions from other political parties on police funding and ‘planning gain’ monies.

The full papers for the meeting are here.

Building homes ‘Fit for the Future’

At the most recent full meeting of Bury Council, the Liberal Democrat group of councillors were successful in getting the whole Council to sign up to a principle of building future homes which are ‘fit for the future’.

Recently the Government has announced a relaxation of the restrictions on Councils which will hopefully mean that Bury can soon finance building new homes, including new Council Houses, something that has not happened in any numbers for many decades.

For us this is a really important opportunity to make sure that people have homes that they can afford and are right for people. These homes will be in use in 100 years so we need to get things right.

Our proposal committed the Council to putting into practice important ideas that will ‘future proof homes’, for example:
– Low carbon energy efficiency homes, with solar panels, underfloor heating, and high quality insulation, doors and windows – both reducing carbon emissions and future fuel costs for residents;
– Clean air, with electric charging potential ‘designed-in’ and sustainable street trees on new roads as a norm.
– Active lives built in, with high quality cycling provision and ‘child-friendly’ low speed or shared space a standard for new residential roads.

The proposal received all-Party support and is now Council policy. A report and update on the issue will be prepared for the Council’s Cabinet on the issue in the next ‘municipal’ year.

The full text of the motion is here.

Reporting Back: Council Finances

Last week was the meeting of Bury Council’s Cabinet, and earlier this week the meeting of the Council’s Audit Committee. Both meetings considered the mid-year financial report for the Council which raise some very concerning issues. Councillor Tim Pickstone was at the Cabinet, Councillor Steve Wright was at the Audit Committee:

Both meetings heard that the Council is currently estimating a roughly £3.5 million overspend for the current financial year, which would take the Council’s usable reserves down to just £2.5 million.

At both meetings we raised concerns about the significantly more worry size of overspending that is behind this figure:

  • The Council is expecting to overspend by £7.8 million on ‘demand pressures’ – mostly additional children with special needs and older people’s increasing care needs, both of which obviously need to be covered.
  • The Council is overspending by £11.3 million on savings it has failed to achieve. These are savings that have previously agreed by Councillors, but not delivered. Mostly this is failures to achieve savings in the Council’s Communities and Wellbeing directorate (£9 million) on issues such as older people’s care, leisure services and the council’s civic suites. It also includes a failure to deliver £1.2 million of savings on waste collection which the report says could be achieved by charging residents for garden waste.
  • There is then a shortage of income for the Council of £2.9 million – anything from less than expected rental income or less than expected parking income.

In the short term these overspends are mostly being covered by ‘one off’ items:

  • Using one-off grants from Government
  • Using up some of the Council’s reservers
  • Other one-off savings

Our worry is that this is not sustainable into the future. The massive problems that the Council has this year (demand pressures, failure to deliver savings and income shortfall) are not going to magically disappear over the next few months, and in February Councillors will have to, by law, set a balanced budget   for 2019-20 in which even more savings will be required.

At the Audit Committee it was revealed that one of the three commercial properties the Council has purchased outside of Bury using taxpayers money – the Prezzo in Lytham St Annes, has now closed as a restaurant, so the the Council is getting no income for this investment.

This is the second year running that the Council’s Labour administration has produced very worrying financial reports at this stage in the year. This is now getting very worrying given the low level of Council reserves.

The full report is here.

 

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Scrutiny Committee

Last week was the regular meeting of the Greater Manchester Corporate Issues and Reform Scrutiny Committee. Prestwich Councillor Tim Pickstone represents Bury on the Committee:

This months meeting focussed on three issues:

Kerslake Report Implementation
Following the Manchester Arena attack, an Independent Review of the events and aftermath of the attack was conducted by five independent members and chaired by Lord Kerslake. This led to the publication of a report making 50 recommendations. The Committee is receiving updates on the implementation of this Report.

Some of the recommendations need to be addressed nationally, and contact has been made with Government to progress change here. Other issues are the responsibility of specific services, and we heard specifically from the Fire Service about changes they were making learning from the attack. The implementation of the recommendations is being led by the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum, which brings together all the agencies that need to be involved in a major incident or disaster like the Arena bombings, to ensure that all agencies are working together.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority Budget Update
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority now brings together a large amount of public spending. This includes everything to do with police, fire, transport as well as the new work and new spending which is being done directly by the Mayor or the Combined Authority at a Greater Manchester level. The functions of the former Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority are being brought into the CA this year.

In total the revenue budget of all these functions combined together is around £900 million this year. The capital budget (spending on one off projects) is around £500 million this year.

I asked about two issues: firstly, the underspend this year on money from Government for cycling projects (£10 million this year and then £50 million a year fort he next three years) and how we make sure this money is spent on cycling and walking. Secondly I asked about the money being spent on the Mayor’s promise to end homelessness in Greater Manchester and the costs of the ‘bed for all’ scheme this winter (and how this can be sustained going forwards).

Greater Manchester Waste Procurement Update
The Committee also received an update on the procurement process for private delivery of waste disposal services. This item was held in private because it is confidential commercial information about the different companies that are bidding to provide this service to Greater Manchester (which also means I cannot report on the detail).

Two years ago Greater Manchester spent a lot of money buying itself out of the previous contract with to deliver waste services and is now re-tendering.I asked questions about the sustainability of what we are tendering for – particularly with the changes in waste going forwards that we are  hearing about with plastic waste.

Any questions please ask. The papers for the meeting are here.

Reporting Back: Answers to Questions

Just to report back on some of the questions that the Liberal Democrat team of Councillors on Bury Council asked at the last Full meeting. Please let us know if you have any comments or ideas for questions in the future.

Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
There had been significant concern in local councils across Greater Manchester that there had been a ‘downgrade’ in the status of the final decision on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework when it happens (presumably next year). Originally the GMSF would have to be voted on and agreed by all 10 local councils, including Bury, but there had been fears that the downgrade of status in the decision meant that the 10 Leaders (and Mayor) could make the decision on their own.
Councillor Tim Pickstone asked: “Could the Leader reaffirm previous commitments, that members of this Council will vote on final proposals of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework?

Answer: “It is our intention that Members will ultimately have to vote on the implications of the GMSF through the adoption of our Local Plan which sits under the GMSF and will act in accordance with it.”

Further clarification confirmed that Bury Council WILL get a vote on the final GMSF, which is very welcome.

Large Class Sizes
Councillor Steve Wright asked about the worrying number of secondary classes in Bury which are over 30. Last year, research from the Lib Dems found out that there had been a 265% increase in classes over 30 pupils in 2016/17 school year.
Question: “Could the Leader update members on the number of secondary school children in Bury who are taught in classes of more than 30 children, and how this compares to previous years?”

The answer was that in the 2017-18 school year, there was a further increase, to 65 classes across Bury, with more than 30 pupils in it. That was a total of 2104 pupils. The highest number was St Monicas (441 pupils) followed by Elton and Parrenthorn. (To be fair on these schools some of the classes were 31 pupils, including 10 classes at Monicas.)

Council Culture
Residents may remember the very serious issues 18 months ago around a child protection issue which led to the departure of the Council’s Chief Executive and Director of Children’s Services, and a major independent investigation. When receiving the report of the investigation, Councillors agreed on 20 July 2017 to undertake “an all-party piece of work, involving Officers and Members, with outside support as appropriate, to ensure that the Council has an appropriate culture of working at senior levels in the Authority, which reflects the highest standards for public office and public service.”
Councillor Tim Pickstone asked: “Could the Leader update members on this piece of work?
The answer: “The all-party piece of work on culture within the organisation of the Council has been scoped and a proposal obtained. The Chief Executive has reviewed the proposal and is of view that this work would be most valuable if deployed after a corporate review of the organisation planned for later this year. This will allow the work to be part of a wider improvement plan for the organisation as a whole.”
We will continue to pursue this issue…

Council Property outside of Bury
Finally Councillor Mary D’Albert asked for an update on the property which Bury Council has bought outside of Bury.
The properties which the Council has bought are:
Northern House, Fenay Bridge, Huddersfield – acquisition cost £2,300,000 (Capita offices)
43 to 45 Lever Street, Manchester – acquisition cost £2,560,000 (Bakerie restaurant)
18 to 20 St Anne’s Road West, Lytham St Anne’s – £1,010,000 (Prezzo resteranno)

 

Swinson secures govt commitment on parental pay transparency

Commenting on the Government announcement that it will consult on greater transparency on parental pay, Jo Swinson, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

“I am delighted that the Government will be consulting on putting my parental pay transparency bill into law.

“This is a simple regulatory change with great benefits for employers, employees and job applicants.

“It is a national scandal that each year in the UK 54,000 women lose their jobs because of maternity and pregnancy discrimination. Conservatives must listen and deliver real change.

“The Government is right to consult on this but it must take swift action in the interest of all working parents.”

Jo Swinson is pursuing a Private Member’s Bill, tabled on 6 June 2018, to require organisations with more than 250 employees to publish details of their parental leave and pay policy.

This latest campaign victory comes after Swinson secured support for her Bill from ten major employers last week. These were Accenture, Addleshaw Goddard, Deloitte, Direct Line Group, EY, KPMG, Linklaters, RBS, Santander and PwC.

The Government announced its consultation on 1 October: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-legislation-to-ensure-tips-and-gratuities-go-to-employees

Decision made to reduce IVF provision for Bury patients

From October 2018, any new applications to seek funding for IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) services will be capped to one funded cycle for Bury patients.

The decision to reduce provision in this area from the current offer of up to three funded cycles, to one, was made at the most recent meeting of the NHS Bury Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Governing Body, and follows a six week consultation period.

IVF is one of a number of areas where the CCG has explored potential savings to reduce the expected financial gap. Moving to one funded cycle of IVF will save the CCG up to £170,000 every year.

The consultation which ran from 6th August to 16th September aimed to capture views and feedback on plans to review Bury’s policy in relation to the provision of IVF services. More than 400 individuals shared their views through a survey. The opportunity to feed back views was promoted through the press and social media, online, in GP practices and through local networks, with requests to speak to any local groups welcomed.

The NHS say that having considered the responses received, no significant areas emerged that the CCG had not already considered. There was a strong theme to emerge around concerns the impact a reduction in provision could have on mental health and demand for mental health services.

This change in provision from October 2018 will relate to new referrals, and will not affect those couples that are already having an individual funding request referral considered, or have had funding agreed.

Calls for International Treaty on Plastics

A legally binding international treaty on plastics is the call from the Liberal Democrats following a major debate at their Party Conference. The treaty would encompass phased reductions in the production, consumption and trade of virgin feedstock.

It would also include a financial mechanism providing aid and capacity-building assistance to developing countries.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader in Bury, Councillor Tim Pickstone said:
“The problem with plastics is not only on our shores. It is a problem that impacts the environment, communities and wildlife across the globe. The Government therefore has a duty to lead from the front and start weaning the world off plastics. But instead of leadership on the environment, all this Conservative Government offers is empty words.”

We are calling for real international action to save our environment from the scourge of single-use plastics.

– Banning the use of non-recyclable single-use plastics that have affordable alternatives
– Implementing a deposit system for all container products.
– Requirement all packaging to include recyclability options.

Demand better on plastics – add your name to our open letter today.

Photo Credit: Christophe Launay/Race for Water 2015.

Inheritance tax overhaul part of radical Lib Dem plans to tackle wealth inequality

Inheritance tax overhaul part of radical Lib Dem plans to tackle wealth inequality
Liberal Democrats have today set out bold reforms designed to spread opportunity, power and wealth more fairly throughout society and to give everyone a stake in the UK’s economic success.

The party expects these reforms to raise an additional £15 billion per year, though this is likely to grow as the rate of wealth passed down increases in the coming years.

Liberal Democrat members will debate and vote on the proposals at the party’s Autumn Conference in Brighton next week.

Proposals include:
Overhauling inheritance tax – taxing recipients progressively on all large gifts received at the same rates as income from employment, above a generous tax-free lifetime allowance, instead of the current system of levying tax on the value of an estate left behind.
Taxing capital gains and dividends – equalising the tax treatment of wealth and work by taxing capital gains and dividends through the income tax system.
Reforming pension tax relief – introducing a flat rate of relief on pension contributions, thus rebalancing relief towards lower earners; and limiting the tax-free lump sum the wealthiest can withdraw from their pension pots.
Lifelong learning and a “Citizens Wealth Fund” – using the revenues from wealth taxation to invest in public services, fund an ambitious programme of lifelong learning to prepare workers for the future economy, and establish an independent Citizens Wealth Fund to invest on behalf of the country.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said:
“The bold proposals we have set out today represent a serious and informed response to this challenge. They follow closely on the work of the Resolution Foundation and the IPPR, which have reached similar conclusions on the policies needed to address Britain’s deep economic divides.

“While it is increasingly clear that taxes will have to rise if we are to afford the crucial public services and investment we all rely on, hard-pressed workers should not be the only ones paying up. It is time to put Britain’s wealth to work.”

According to the ONS, 44% of UK wealth is owned by 10% of households, whilst only 9% is owned by the poorest half of the population.

The spokesperson’s paper “Giving Everyone a Stake” can be found here.

NHS Bury consulting on reducing funding for IVF

NHS Bury are asking patients and the public to share their views on proposals to review Bury’s current policy in relation to commissioning In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) services.

The consultation will run for six weeks from Monday 6th August to Sunday 16th September 2018.

Within the consultation document the CCG describes the reasons why it is considering changing its policy on commissioning IVF services, and seeks feedback from local people, stakeholders and health care professionals on a range of options.

An important part of the survey is to offer the opportunity for people to highlight if they feel the CCG has failed to consider something significant before coming to a decision.

IVF is one of several techniques available to help people with fertility problems have a baby.

NHS Bury CCG is one of only four CCGs in the country that provides IVF fully in line with NICE guidelines, including offering up to three funded cycles.

Bury’s projected spend for IVF in 2018/19 is around £320,000. The majority of CCGs in England offer one funded cycle.

Feedback from the consultation period will help to inform the Governing Body to make a decision on the future provision of IVF in Bury at its meeting on 26th September 2018.  The Governing Body meets in public and will publish the outcome of the consultation on its website, through social media and via the press and media.

How to get involved:

An online survey is available HERE, also available via the CCG website homepage buryccg.nhs.uk and in paper format by calling 0161 253 7636.

Views can be sent to the CCG by letter or e-mail:

  • By letter to: NHS Bury Clinical Commissioning Group, Communications and Engagement Team (IVF consultation) Townside Primary Care Centre, 1 Knowsley Place, Knowsley Street, Bury, BL9 0SN
  • By e-mail: to buccg.communications@nhs.net

The Liberal Democrat Group on Bury Council has been asked to meet with the CCG to give our views as part of the consultation, so please let us know if there are points you would like us to make (c/o Councillor Tim Pickstone tim@burylibdems.net