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! 

Care Quality Commission Report critical of failing health services.

This week the Care Quality Commission published its annual ‘State of Care’ report. This report covers the financial year 2018-19. The report concludes that there are more inpatient services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism that were rated inadequate, and more child and adolescent mental health inpatient services rated inadequate.

Key comments include:

  • Some people are detained in mental health services when this might have been avoided if they had been helped sooner, and then find themselves spending too long in services that are not suitable for them.
  • Too many people with a learning disability or autism are in hospital because of a lack of local, intensive community services.
  • We have concerns about the quality of inpatient wards that should be providing longer-term and highly specialised care for people.
  • Waiting times for treatment in hospitals have continued to increase and, like many areas within the NHS, demand for elective and cancer treatments is growing, which risks making things worse.
  • In hospital emergency departments, performance has continued to get worse while attendances and admissions have continued to rise.

Jeremy Hughes, CEO at Alzheimer’s Society said: “Today’s report once again highlights the desperate situation people with dementia find themselves in as a result of our unjust social care system.  Published on the day that the Government has omitted any detailed plans for social care reform from the Queen’s Speech, questions need to be asked as to how the Prime Minister intends to fulfil his promise to ‘fix the social care crisis, once and for all.’  

“All we’ve had today, aside from promises, is a reiteration of the spending review announcement that councils could be allowed to increase their tax by 2% to fund social care. It’s not new money from the Government.”

Responding to the report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Vince Cable said:

“It is rare for a public body such as the Care Quality Commission to be so scathing of the effects of Government policy. Their honesty is to be congratulated.

“They highlight graphically the decline in standards for mental health and learning disability inpatient services. This means some of the most vulnerable are not receiving anything like the standards of care that they need.

“Staffing shortages, coupled with inadequate funding solutions has meant the strained care system is beginning to crack.

“Liberal Democrats have long argued that mental health in particular should be raised to parity with other forms of healthcare.

“Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech pays lip service to improvements in these services but it must be followed up with real resources.

Read a summary of the full report here (with links to download the full report).

Rise in Homeless Deaths, Scrap the Vagrancy Act

Liberal Democrats are renewing calls for the Vagrancy Act to be scrapped following the publication of new ONS statistics revealing a rise in the deaths of homeless people in 2018.

The ONS data shows that there were an estimated 726 deaths in 2018, an increase of over 20% on the previous year. In the North West alone region 103 homeless people are estimated to have died.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Tim Pickstone said:

“These figures are simply shocking. Clearly it takes more than a rough sleeping strategy document and the creation of a Minister for Homelessness to fix this epidemic. We should all be deeply ashamed that this is getting even worse.

“This out of sight, out of mind mentality needs to stop now. People are dying, and we need to take a more compassionate approach to ending this homelessness crisis. We must protect the most vulnerable people in our society, but instead the Conservatives are sitting on their hands.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran led a Private Members Bill earlier this year to scrap the Vagrancy Act: 

“We first need to scrap the cruel, Dickensian Vagrancy Act, which criminalises rough sleeping. The Conservatives are more than welcome to bring back my Bill that would repeal it in a heartbeat.

“The Liberal Democrats demand better. We would also build up to 100,000 social homes a year to provide the accommodation and support people need.”

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.

Liberal Democrat Announce Candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester

Liberal Democrats in Greater Manchester have announced their candidate for the election for Greater Manchester Mayor in May 2020.

Councillor Andy Kelly, who is the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Rochdale Council will take on Labour’s candidate, Andy Burnham.

Andy said: “The Tories are playing parlour games with people’s lives and Labour are betraying those they profess to represent I felt the need to step up to the plate.

Greater Manchester voters deserve better representation, we need someone who is not afraid to be frank about our future. That person is me.

This year the Liberal Democrats made huge gains in the local elections, with 700+ gains nationally – the party’s best local election results. Many of these gains were in the Greater Manchester region. Three weeks later we gained two members of European parliament in the North West as voters turned away from both Labour and the Conservatives.

I am keen to take Burnham on his three years of delivering nothing.”

Andy Kelly’s first pledge has been to scrap the GMSF: “We need to find REAL solutions to the housing crisis. To provide the right homes, in the right places; reversing Labour’s local obsession with socially cleansing our community.”

Answers to Questions: Police Issues

At the last full Council meeting of Bury Council, Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Wright asked a number of questions to the Greater Manchester Police representative: 

Community Policing Expenditure:
Could the Council’s member of the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel inform members what proportion of the Greater Manchester Police budget is spent on local community police teams?

We were quite shocked about how low the future is: 
The proportion of Greater Manchester Police budget that is spent on Neighbourhood Policing and Community Liaison is 11%.

Members will also be aware that in March the local approach to community policing changed with the introduction of a new Neighbourhood model. The model reverts back to a previous incarnation with 3 dedicated Inspectors taking responsibility for North, Central and South regions of the borough. This change combined with new shift patterns resulted in more Officers on the beat at any one time.

The new Policing precept announced for 2019/20 also resulted in 3 additional Police Officers for Bury who have now started and will further bolster the Officer numbers available.

Metrolink Incidents: 
Could the Council’s member of the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel inform members how many incidents have occurred which have required police attendance on the Metrolink in the current financial year and previous two financial years?

The answer is that there are a lot, and the level is increasing: Unfortunately, limitations of how the data is recorded means that we can’t provide a figure for 2017/18. The following data is a combination of Police data, Metrolink data and Transport for Greater Manchester Data.

In 2018/19 – There were 3481 incidents

Between April 2019 and 30th Jun 2019 there were 946 incidents, which is approximately 8% higher than the same point last year.

Members may be aware that security on the Metrolink is overseen by the Travelsafe Partnership which is jointly led by TfGM and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) with support from:

o Metrolink;
o Stagecoach;
o First Manchester;
o GoAhead NW; and
o British Transport Police.

Travelsafe has been in place since 2015 and commenced as a 3 year pilot. At the end of the pilot the Partnership went through a period of review and a complete change in leadership and moved away from the traditional ‘boots on the ground’ approach to more intelligence-driven tactics and prevention.

There is a TravelSafe Partnership Strategy in place for 2019-21 the following aims:

o Improve the perception of safety & security across public transport, offering reassurance to passengers;

o Manage instances of Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) occurring on the transport network; and

o Discourage fare evasion.

Also, Members will be glad to hear that the Travelsafe Partnership have funded 50 PCSOs to help manage security on the network and a further 8 Officer employed by the Network. There is also a proposal to move to 50 Police Officers with a broader Transport remit sometime in the future.

The additional investment combined with the intelligence-led planning will start to see more targeted work, bringing the number of recorded incidents down.