All Change for Buses

In recent weeks there have been two significant announcements which will have a major impact on bus services in the future.

Firstly, at a Greater Manchester level, it was announced that the decision that is recommended to the Mayor is for a ‘franchised’ bus system in Greater Manchester. This decision, to be made formally by the Mayor at a later date, is being taken after about two years of consultation on the subject, alongside a campaign by some bus operators to oppose the proposals.

Essentially Greater Manchester would be the first area outside of Greater London to have a franchised bus network. What this means is:

  • Bus routes and prices would be brought under the control of Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
  • Private bus companies would be invited to run these routes under a franchise agreement.
  • The arrangements could lead to improvements in the service – e.g. more electric buses, integrated ticketing across bus/tram/train etc.
  • The new arrangements would happen in three phases, starting in 2023 with most services which operate in Bury part of the second tranche starting in 2024.
  • This will cost a lot of money to introduce, about £134 million – with about £50 million coming from local council tax payers including what looks like an increased Mayor’s precept in future years.

As with all of these major proposals a lot of work will need to be put into the detail. At present Greater Manchester has a mixture of commercial services that bus companies run at a profit (e.g. the 135 up Bury Old Road/A56), and then subsidised buses (e.g. the buses to North Manchester or up to Simister). It will be interesting to see what the proposals for a franchised model will be.

The second announcement was from Government, with its National Bus Strategy, which outlines how the Government expects transport authorities throughout England to improve bus services. Interestingly the Government is very clear that it expects most areas to use a ‘partnership’ model with bus companies, rather than the ‘franchise’ model which is looks set to be used in Greater Manchester.

The Government will only give money to local transport authorities if they meet its new criteria. They say that they expect to see more bus lanes and similar measures on major bus routes.

More information on the Greater Manchester proposals here.

More information on the Government’s National Bus Strategy here.

Reporting Back: Budget Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Combined Authority Budgets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Lepori is our candidate for Greater Manchester Mayor

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

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

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

His priorities are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highways England chooses flyover for Simister Island

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

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

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

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

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

More information from Highways England here.

Our Fight to Raise Carer’s Allowance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now they are worried.

Liberal Democrats will stand up for carers

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

We must do far more to support our wonderful carers.

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

Join our Campaign for an increased Carers Allowance

Reporting Back: Bury Full Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No child should have to go hungry

In our modern society, so child should have to go hungry. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the travesty of child food poverty. At last, it feels like this is something everyone is talking about – everyone, it seems, except the government. 

Last week, Liberal Democrat Education Minister for Wales, Kirsty Williams, guaranteed free school meal provision during school holidays until at least Easter 2021.

Click to watch Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP

We’ve been calling on the government to ake free school meals available for every child in poverty in England, including during school holidays and lockdowns. It is the right thing to do. But this week, Conservative MPs voted down an extension of free school meal provision for school holidays. 

We’re not giving up.

We stand with major supermarkets, charities, Marcus Rashford and the British public, to speak with one voice and say, no child should have to go hungry, on any day of the year. 

Will you join our call to put pressure on the government to extend free school meals and ensure that children living in poverty anywhere in the UK do not go hungry?

Join our campaign and sign petition.

Reporting Back: Bury Council Cabinet meeting

Bury Council’s Cabinet met at the end of July. Councillor Michael Powell reports back:


Covid-19 Recovery Planning
Planning work is now under way to support the recovery from Covid-19 in Bury, aimed at supporting Bury’s residents, the economy and businesses during this rapidly changing situation. It will also enable reforms to be made to the delivery of public services across the Borough, including with key health and care partners, and for the Council to make sustained changes to how it operates internally. The recovery work will also include the financial recovery required for the Council and Bury One Commissioning Organisation given the very significant impacts that the pandemic has had on the financial position of the Council, as with all other Local Authorities and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups. The Cabinet approved the proposals for a 10 point plan for immediate recovery over the next six months as laid out here:

Bury Council’s Financial Position

The council’s budget overspent by £5.003m representing 3.60% of the annual budget. Included in the overspend is a higher than planned contribution to the pooled fund that was agreed in March 2020 and the application of £3.650m in reserves. The Council is forecasting an overspend of £7.524m. This was noted as not unexpected given the pressures faced by COVID-19 and reflects the monitoring that has been reported to MHCLG and Greater Manchester on the in-year position. A medium term strategy has been developed to steer the Council through the next five financial years.



Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan
A report has been produced to show the development of the GM Clean Air Plan, which sets out a proposal for public consultation in light of COVID-19 implications, and highlights that the implementation of a GM Clean Air Zone is delayed until 2022 by two years. The plan would mean that several types of vehicles such as buses, coaches, HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles would need to adapt to ensure they meet with emission standards. The Council have called for vehicle replacement funds to be granted by the Government to enable vehicles to adapt to meet these standards, which including a bus retrofitting programme.

Highways Investment Strategy
The investment of £10 million for highway maintenance for the period 2020/21 to 2022/23 was approved by the Cabinet. The following roads in Prestwich were included in the maintenance scheme:
– Heywood Road (Hampden Road to Park View Road)
– Sandgate Road (Mount Road to M60 Bridge)
– Glebelands Road (Heywood Road to Langley Road)
– Hillcrest Road (Full Length)
– Harlech Avenue (Full Length)
– Park Road (Sheepfoot Lane to Castle Hill Road)

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!