Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Corporate Issues Scrutiny meeting about Fire Services

Last month was the regular meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) Corporate Issues and Reform Scrutiny Committee. This month the meeting largely focussed on issues around the Fire Service. 

Prestwich councillor Tim Pickstoneis one of Bury’s representatives on the Committee, and is also the Committee Chair this year. Tim reports: 

Greater Manchester Fire ‘Programme for Change’ Consultation Outcome 
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) is at the end of a long process of review which has been called the ‘Programme for Change’. 

The Committee received an update on the main issues coming out of the consultation that had been undertaken. Highlights were: 

– The comments from the public (including individuals, groups and organisations) and staff on the proposals were predominantly negative.
– The main issues amongst staff of GMFRS included the ridership numbers (proposals to reduce the numbers of fire fighters on somefire engines from 5 to 4) and increasing the role of the firefighter to include greater place based and partnership working. Operational firefighters also raised that they do not feel that they have the skills, training or expertise to deliver this work, as well as the potential conflict with operational duties – with there being a potentially detrimental impact on both operational incidents and training
– The main issue amongst the public was the reduction in overall number of fire engines in Greater Manchester, with repeat comments about not reducing below 48 (as quoted in the proposals) due to emerging risks of protracted moorland fires, high rise buildings, future developments and the threat of terrorism.

The Committee also heard from the Mayor’s Office, about the changes he was minded to make in response to the consultation. These included: 
– Retaining some specialist prevention staff, and allowing more time for fire prevention activities to be taken. 
– Looking for an alternative delivery model for the current cadets and volunteering programmes within GMFRS.
– Reducing the number of non-firefighter jobs that would be lost (113 to 60), and working across the Combined Authority to see if there were suitable jobs for people who were at risk. 
– No Fire Fighter redundancies until April 2020 – which means maintaining crewing levels of 5, 4 and 4 for fire stations that have three fire engines. 

There remains significant financial uncertainty for next year – a potential big pensions bill that nobody knows whether the Government will fund or not, and also whether or not the Mayor will want to propose an increase in the Fire element of Council Tax that we all pay. It may well be that some difficult decisions are going to have to be made when these processes are being considered early in 2020. 

HMICRFS Inspection of Greater Manchester Fire
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service (HMICRFS) undertakes inspections of fire and police services. This is a new merged inspection body, so the first time GMFRS have been inspected in this manner. 

The outcome of the inspection was:

“We are satisfied with some aspects of the performance of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. But there are several areas where the service needs to make improvements.

Greater Manchester FRS requires improvement in its effectiveness at keeping people safe. It requires improvement at:

  • preventing fires and other risks;
  • protecting the public through fire regulation; and
  • responding to national risks.But we judge it to be good at understanding risk and at responding to emergencies.The service requires improvement to the efficiency of its service, in particular at making best use of resources. But it is good at making its service affordable now and in future.The way the service looks after its people requires improvement, in particular:
  • promoting the right values and culture;
  • getting the right people with the right skills; and
  • managing performance and developing leaders.And we judged the way it ensures fairness and promotes diversity to be inadequate. Overall, we would like to see improvements in the year ahead.”

The Committee agreed to in-particular receive more detailed progress updates from GMFRS on the culture within the service and on equality and diversity issues.

Hope that is useful. 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.”

Reporting Back: Audit and Scrutiny Committees

Just to report back from two recent Council meetings. Last month the Council’s Audit Committee met.Councillor Steve Wrightreports: 

At the previous meeting in late July the committee should have been presented with the final Audited accounts. The Councils Auditors (Mazars) were unable to sign the accounts because of problems with valuations.At this meeting the Account would be signed off by Mazars and further explanation of the issues with them. The valuations were on Property Plant and Equipment although there wasn’t overall any discrepancies in the values the Auditors said

Significant difficulties during the auditDuring the course of the audit we encountered some significant difficulties with the accounts initially presented for audit, most notably in relation to the compliance with the Code, the capital accounting arrangements, and responses to audit. This meant there was extensive and unexpected effort required to obtain sufficient, appropriate audit evidence, including in respect of the following, which is indicative rather than exhaustive.

  1. Accounting for Property Plant & Equipment is one of the more technically difficult areas of the Council’s accounts. It is also one of the areas of highest value and therefore is identified by us as an area where there is a significant risk of material error. Our audit work identified a number of issues:
    • the fixed asset register did not initially reconcile to the ledger and accounts disclosures;
    • the instructions to the Council’s valuer were last issued in 2014/15 and were therefore out of date. There was no evidence of reviewor consideration of the work required in the intervening period;
    • there was a lack of clarity on the effective date of revaluations undertaken in year – the extant (though dated) instructions to the valuer and valuation certificates were based on 1 April 2018 but finance applied the valuations as at 31 March 2019;
    • the consequence of the confusion above the valuation date gave rise to an error in the depreciation charge for 2018/19, as well as the amounts charged through the capital reserves; With all these issues with the Audit the extra time and effort put in by Mazars it was estimated that the extra cost to the Council for the Audit would be £30000.

In Addition to the audited accounts the committee had a look at the quarterly financial monitoring report which didn’t look to bad with the outrun estimated at under one million pounds compared to two and a half the previous year. Which means that no over spend could be achievable this year. However the panel were shocked to hear that nearly two million pounds had been used from the CCG budget to top the figure up.

Councillor Michael Powellreports back from last month’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee: 

Corporate Core and HR
The ‘Corporate Core’ was established recently to bring together several existing areas of the Council into one team. This has seen a single HR team being established to deliver a 20% reduction in costs. A joint communications team has also been set up. 

‘Bury 2030’
Bury 2030 is the name given to the Council’s scheme to work towards the future of the borough over the next ten years. All members of the public will have the opportunity to contribute their ideas and priorities, whether these are for the whole borough, their town or even just their street. A school competition will also take place to ensure the thoughts of school children are taken into account.

Staff Volunteering Policy
A new policy has started up at Bury Council to allow all staff to be entitled to 3 days a year of volunteering during work time. Bury was previously one of only a few boroughs in the region that didn’t have such a scheme. A register will be used to ensure that local charities and organisations that wish to benefit or included on the scheme. 

Other issues
– The Council is updating the corporate risk register to help the Council to deal with the potential impact of Brexit

– A project manager has been put in charge of the Prestwich Village development plan, with a draft plan to cabinet hopefully being ready relatively soon.

– A cross-party working group has been set up to work towards future actions and plans for Bury Market.

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.

GMSF – Next Draft not till summer 2020…..

Greater Manchester’s Council leaders have announced that the next draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) will definitely be delayed to summer 2020.

Over 60,000 comments on the latest draft were received and the Council Leaders say that they will use the next six months to have ‘further engagement’ on the main issues. The comments received from the public on the previous draft will be published at the start of October.

Councils will approve the next draft in June 2020, no coincidence at all that this will be just after the council elections and elections for Greater Manchester Mayor which take place in May………..

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. 

Hands up if you voted for a £10 tram tax?

Council Leaders in Greater Manchester have voted to introduce a £10 a year charge for pensioners to travel for free on Metrolink and trains.

The charge will come into effect in 2020 and is expected to bring in in around £1.2 million, straight out of the pockets of Greater Manchester’s pensioners. This was supported by the nine Labour Council Leaders (including Bury’s), the Labour Mayor and the Conservative Leader of Bolton Council.

Bus travel will still be free, but for us this extra charge for pensioners at the worst possible time. Free TV licenses for the over 75s end next year, and many older people being hit by increasing fuel and Council Tax bills.

Sign our petition to scrap the new tax 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.”

Reporting Back: Cabinet Meeting

Last month was there regular meeting of Bury Council’s Cabinet. Opposition Leaders are allowed to attend the meeting but not vote. Councillor Cristina Tegoloreports: 

Corporate Finance Monitoring Report
The Leader and Cabinet Chair, submitted the Cabinet Financial monitoring report.  The report informs Members of the Council’s financial position for the period April 2019 to June 2019 and projects the estimated outturn at the end of 2019/20. The revenue budget projections highlight the fact that budget pressures exist in some key areas and it will be necessary to continue to maintain the high level of scrutiny, control and support around the Budget Recovery Boards and to further develop the savings pipeline.  The report projected an overspend at the end of the year of £0.996m.  

Greater Manchester Full Fibre Programme
The Leader of the Council submitted a report setting out details of the Greater Manchester Full Fibre programme. The report provided an overview of the capital funding available for GM of £23.8m. The funding will connect full fibre to over 1,300 GM Public sector sites.  These include Local Authority, GM Fire and Rescue, Health and Social Care partnerships (CCGs) sites across the region. 

The Cabinet agreed to an investment of £469k capital from Bury Council plus additional capital to fund a dedicated Project Manager post on a 2-year fixed term basis.

Revised Supplementary Planning Document 6 – Alteration and Extensions to Residential Planning 
The Leader of the Council submitted a report setting out details of the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) 6.  The document provides more detailed guidance to support Unitary Development Plan Policy H2/3 and sets out a range of requirements for alterations and extensions to residential properties.

The main thing we raised at the meeting were concerns about lack of provisions for electric vehicles. We invited the Cabinet to explain to Bury citizens, who are applying for amendments to their garages and driveways, who is eligible to apply for the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme and how to access it.
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/772404/evhs-guidance-for-customers-v-2.3.pdf

Our worry is that the changes should consider safety and include detail information for EV Homecharge. Bury citizens should take advantage of government grants to help fund the cost of a specially designed home charging point, which is safer than charging from the mains. I am not sure these issues have been addressed sufficiently.

Residents Parking Review
The cabinet has agreed the details of a new annual residents parking scheme:

  • Over 50% of the properties affected must be in favour of a scheme for it to be implemented.
  • A minimum of 10 properties must indicate support to initiate the Council to investigate a residents parking scheme request.
  • The costs and fees associated with all residents parking schemes are reviewed annually as part of the budget setting process with the objective of being cost neutral.
  • Each scheme will be reviewed every 5 years to ensure that they continue to be supported by the local community and demonstrate value for money.

Hopefully, the revised residents parking policy will provide a more comprehensive guidance that officers can follow.  Our worry is that costs and fees associated with residents parking scheme could raise considerably.

Purchase by the Council of 458 Bury New Road, Prestwich (Istambul Restaurant)
The Leader of the Council submitted a report setting out details of plans to purchase the freehold of a commercial property in Prestwich has emerged. Because of commercial information, part of the proposals were considered as an ‘exempt item’ which we cannot report back on. 

The property is located on the site where the Council is planning to develop the new Prestwich Village scheme.  The Cabinet agreed to utilise the fund established to create an ‘Investment Property   Acquisition Fund’. Our worry is that the purchase of this commercial property is not based on a regeneration strategy. Indeed, the Council hasn’t consulted with Prestwich residents yet and key stakeholders haven’t prepared a detailed proposal that justifies an expenditure of approx. £500K.

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