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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was meant to the important meeting where the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework was to have been agreed, but this was withdrawn from the agenda.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.

Reporting Back: Greater Manchester Scrutiny

Last week the regular meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Corporate Issues Scrutiny Committee was able to meet with the Mayor of Greater Manchester to scrutinise his work to date around the Covid response. The Committee is made up of Councillors from throughout Greater Manchester and Bury’s rep this year is our local councillor Tim Pickstone. Tim reports:

This meeting focussed on two main issues:

Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority Budget Issues
The Committee received an update on budget issues for the Waste Disposal Authority for the current year, and also looking forwards to financial challenges around waste disposal in years to come.

The main challenge this year has been the impact of Covid on how much rubbish we produce.

(these figures are in ‘000s)

Essentially, lockdown, together with schools being closed and working from home has meant a significant increase in the amount of waste that we put in our bins at home, particularly residual (grey bins) and co-mingled (blue bins). Interestingly despite all the ‘internet shopping’ deliveries people seem to have been having, the amount of cardboard we recycle is down this year.

The result on the Waste Disposal Authority is overspending this year and will need to take around £20 million from its reserves to balance the books.

Looking forwards to 2021-22 onwards, the Waste Disposal Authority will need around £160-£170 million each year in total from the nine Councils that make up the WDA. There are risks around Brexit, particularly if this changes the ‘market’ for recycled materials (ie if it is more difficult for us to export recycled materials abroad). In addition the Government is currently consulting on potential major policy changes which might mean the way our bins are collected is changed (ie perhaps more bins, perhaps more frequently). If this happened it would have major financial consequences on waste disposal costs. Hopefully Government would cover these costs, but never quite seems to be what happens in reality.

Greater Manchester Mayor, Covid Response
The Mayor outlined some of the challenges experienced at a Greater Manchester level through Covid, and the current development of a ‘Living with Covid’ plan to guide the work of Greater Manchester over coming months.

He explained that other policy areas are being progressed:consultation on the clear air zone, minimum licensing standards, GMSF now being taken through the ten Councils.

He said that we would be aware of the disagreements discussions with the Government over recent weeks. A lot of the things that were being demanded by Greater Manchester when we were put into Tier 3 have now been delivered for the whole country in the second lockdown.

£60 million (£20 per head) is being received from Government and discussions are taking place to work out how best to spend this money, including thinking about sectors of the economy which are really missing out from other support.

Peak pressure 

We discussed how it looked as though there might be a decrease and levelling off in Covid cases in Greater Manchester, but it will be a challenging month ahead. There are discussions with Government on mass testing.

Members asked questions on:
– homelessness
– the music economy in Greater Manchester
– transport (particularly whether the current tram pricing structure worked for people who worked from home some days a week)
– support for the airport and travel industries.

I asked a question about town centres, which had been a key policy area for the Mayor before Covid, and how he expected this policy to change given the massive challenges that many town centres were facing with small businesses leaving the high street.

The papers for the meeting are here:
https://democracy.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=216&MId=4042&Ver=4

You can watch a video of the meeting here:
https://teams.microsoft.com/l/meetup-join/19%3ameeting_YTEyODAzMjEtMGNlMC00MzdhLTk1NTAtMGRhZTkzZTQ3YWU4%40thread.v2/0?context=%7b%22Tid%22%3a%22e8d8036a-b5f9-4f3f-9d36-d7cd740299bb%22%2c%22Oid%22%3a%22967f3f39-e2ff-4b86-aaa2-4791ec3951ce%22%2c%22IsBroadcastMeeting%22%3atrue%7d

GMSF – Wrong Plan, Wrong Time

Greater Manchester’s ten Local Councils have published the new version of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. 

This is the plan to build 180,000 new houses in Greater Manchester over the next 17 years. 

In Bury, there are plans to build on four major ‘green belt’ sites. Three of these are for housing: at Walshaw, around Elton Reservoir and in Prestwich 1,550 houses to the north of Heaton Park near Simister and Bowlee. The fourth is a massive ’employment’ site, the ‘Northern Gateway’ on green belt land stretching from Whitefield to Middleton north of the M62. You can read the proposals in detail here.

Our view is that GMSF is simply the wrong plan. It builds on our precious green belt land. 9% of Bury’s green belt will be lost forever (across Greater Manchester only 3.25% is lost). It risks being out of date before it starts using housing need growth projections that date to before Brexit, and before Covid.

We DO need more homes in the borough, particularly more affordable homes, but these should be built on brownfield land and through regenerating our town centres, but not at the expense of losing our precious green spaces. 

Covid-19 has shown us that we need our open spaces more than ever.

We don’t think it is right that Greater Manchester councils are proposing to consult with the public in the middle of a pandemic – over Christmas…. At a time when people are rightly focussed on Covid-19 and its massive impact on our lives, it is a disgrace to even call this a consultation.

All ten councils in Greater Manchester must approve the plan. Bury Council gets its vote on 25 November 2020. Please tell us what you think about the proposals and what points we should be saying at this important meeting.

Tell us what you think about the GMSF proposals.

GMSF – Wrong Plan at the Wrong Time

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is the wrong plan, at the wrong time, say Liberal Democrats across Greater Manchester. 

As the whole region comes to terms with being in Tier 3 Covid Alert, Bury and the other Greater Manchester Councils have chosen today, of all days, to publish the latest proposals for housing land.

Wrong Plan 
GMSF is the wrong plan because it builds on our precious green belt land. Despite massive public opposition, Greater Manchester Councils seem determined to build on green belt land.

Bury’s Liberal Democrat Councillors recognise that we will need more homes in the Borough, and we want to build the high quality, affordable and energy efficient homes that people need, but not at the expense of losing our precious green spaces. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, residents have been using our great outdoors for exercise and solace.  This experience this year tells us, we need our open spaces more than ever.

Our precious Green Belt land must be protected with development restricted to existing sites and brownfield land. 

GMSF’s housing need numbers are based on 2014 data.  The numbers are now off.  We are now in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic and soon we will face an uncertain future after Brexit; both will have a massive impact on our future economy and our housing need.  GMSF is out of date before it even written never mind published.

Wrong Time
Greater Manchester Councils are proposing to consult with the public in the middle of a pandemic – over Christmas….

In a democracy, people need to be able to meet, to discuss, and to campaign around the issues that affect them in their local areas.  This is the wrong time to conduct any consultation if it is to be meaningful and inclusive.  At a time when people are rightly focussed on Covid-19 and its massive impact on our lives, it is a disgrace to even call this a consultation.

GMSF is also already based on an outdated process.  The Government’s White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ sets out the new way that local plans will be drawn up and new ways that housing numbers will be calculated.

Councillor Michael Powell, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, said:  “I believe that this is the wrong plan presented at the wrong time.”  

“Building on Green Belt cannot be justified, especially when, with the economic downturn forecast on the coat tails of Covid-19 and Brexit, we will have more empty shops and offices and undeveloped sites in the town centre that could serve for housing. ” 

“Furthermore, people will just not be engaged with this final stage of consultation as they focus on keeping themselves and their families safe from disease and unemployment, as well as celebrating Christmas as best we can.

The Conservative Government’s Planning for the Future proposals will in any case make GMSF redundant as they require every Greater Manchester Council to produce an entirely new local plan within 30 months of the legislation being passed.  It is crazy to proceed with GMSF when the rules are so clearly about to change.”

Liberal Democrat Councillors across Greater Manchester will oppose the latest GMSF proposals when they are presented to their Councils. In Bury this is expected for 21 November 2020.

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.

Time to End Child Hunger

We’re campaigning to increase access to free school meals and give children from low-income families access to food vouchers when schools are closed too. 

Liberal Democrats are campaigning to increase access to free school meals and give children from low-income families access to food vouchers when schools are closed too.

What are we calling for?
We want the Government to commit to three steps which will make a world of difference to struggling families and help end child hunger:

  1. Extend eligibility for free school meals to every pupil in primary and secondary school, whose parents or guardians are in receipt of Universal Credit
  2. Food vouchers for every one of those pupils in every school holiday
  3. Food vouchers for every one of those pupils during any period of lockdown

Why is this needed?
The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the issue of child hunger. But this is not a new problem, and it will not go away when we finally beat this virus. We need the Government to commit to practical and long-term measures, to stop any child going hungry, on any day of the year.

All too often, families with children simply do not have enough to eat

Each year as the school holidays approach, many parents dread the fact they will have to find an extra £30-40 per week to buy meals for their children which are usually provided at school. With further local and national lockdowns rumoured, parents now also have to worry about how their child will access a free school meal if their school has to close.

There have been widespread reports that foodbank usage has soared during the pandemic and that all too often, families with children simply do not have enough to eat. But even before the pandemic, many parents would skip meals so they could afford to feed their children during the school holidays.

Who gets free school meals currently?
In England, every child in reception, year 1 (age 5-6) and year 2 (age 6-7) is entitled to a free school meal. However from year 3 onwards (age 7-8), eligibility is based on whether the child’s parents or guardians are in receipt of certain benefits.

With regard to Universal Credit, a child may only be eligible for a free school meal if their household income is less than £7,400 a year after tax (and excluding any benefits). We believe that threshold has been set too low and means that many children who are living in poverty are missing out on a free school meal altogether.

The Children’s Society estimated that more than a million children living in poverty in England are missing out on a free school meal – and in over half of these cases it is because they are not eligible for them.

What is the Government doing about this?
Following a fantastic campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford, the Government performed a u-turn and agreed to provide a ‘COVID Summer Food Fund’ – food vouchers during the school summer holiday, for children who are usually entitled to benefits related free school meals.

More than a million children living in poverty in England are missing out on a free school meal

While this was a welcome relief for many struggling families, it didn’t go nearly far enough. Many families who needed the vouchers missed out under the scheme, and the Government have made no commitment to extend this in future school holidays or if schools have to be closed during periods of lockdown.

What are the Liberal Democrats doing about this?
We are calling for a plan to tackle child hunger – both during the pandemic and afterwards.

We will be writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling for him to make funding available in the Spending Review this autumn, to extend Free School Meals to every child whose parents are in receipt of Universal Credit, and to provide vouchers to every child who usually gets a FSM during school holidays and lockdown.

We will be reaching out to charities and campaign groups to work with us on this and calling on MPs from other Party’s to support us too.

You can support our campaign and find out more here.

Answers to Questions: PPE, Walk-In Centre and Prestwich Regeneration

At the most recent full meeting of Bury Council, the Liberal Democrat team asked our maximum entitlement of questions as always. Here are some of the more interesting replies:

Councillor Michael Powell asked about PPE in schools:
Given new guidelines around the wearing of masks in Secondary schools, what is being done by the Council to ensure that schools have sufficient supples of PPE to provide for staff and students?

Answer: There is a reasonable expectation that pupils, being required to wear masks in shops and some other public spaces, will be in possession of masks that can then be used when in communal places in schools. It is however recognised that there will be instances where pupils do not have access to a mask and arrangements have been made through the Council’s Public Health Team, for all secondary schools o be provided with a supply of masks. 

Councillor Steve Wright asked about the Prestwich Walk-in Centre:
What level of use is currently being made of the site of the Prestwich Walk-In Centre and when will the Walk-In Centre reopen?

Answer:
The Prestwich Walk in Centre is currently the base for the Covid Management Service for the borough – an invaluable service during the pandemic in providing primary care services for COVID positive patients and making a contribution to reducing infection risk in other practices in the borough.

The COVID Management Service has been and continues to be a vital element of the Bury wide COVID strategy which includes the need to minimise open access points for patients in favour of a more managed triage and book service. The COVID management service has dealt with 2,504 referrals since the pandemic started. The service provides telephone triage and advice, face to face GP appointments and home visits where required.

Options on the continuation of the covid management service are currently in development and will take place in the context of the epidemiology of the pandemic.

While we are in the pandemic we are seeking to limit face to face contacts for healthcare services in favour of digitalised opportunities through, for example, Ask my GP, and in current circumstances of COVID 19 it is not intended the WIC will reopen soon.

Councillor Michael Powell asked about the regeneration of Prestwich Village:
Can the Leader provide an update on the progress made in recent months on the plans to regenerate Prestwich village centre?
Answer:

Over the last 6 months the Council has made significant progress with regard to bringing forward the pre-development phase of the regeneration of Prestwich Village. Progress includes engagement with the development market. We have developed a set of key values and principles we see as important in delivering the Prestwich scheme.

Over the next 6 months the Council are seeking to source a long-term partner who shares our views on the potential of the site and wants to work with the community to deliver a new centre which is attractive to all residents.

We will also be designing a hub building that meets the requirements of the public sector bodies in Prestwich. The hub building will incorporate the NHS Trust’s functions combining two GP practices, the library, adult learning centre, indoor community room (to replace the Longfield Suite that could house indoor market, leisure uses), new cycling hub and a Job Centre.

It is anticipated at the November Cabinet a Paper will be presented outlining the way forward for the regeneration of Prestwich.

GMSF – Wrong Plan at the Wrong Time

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is the wrong plan, at the wrong time, say Liberal Democrats across Greater Manchester.

Liberal Democrats in Bury and across Greater Manchester are calling for a halt to the Greater Manchester Strategic Framework, due to be published on 5 October 2020.

In Bury, there will be a full meeting of the Council to discuss these on Wednesday 21 October.

Wrong Plan 
Bury’s Liberal Democrat Councillors recognise that we will need more homes in the Borough, and we want to build the high quality, affordable and energy efficient homes that people need, but not at the expense of losing our precious green spaces. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, residents have been using our great outdoors for exercise and solace.  This experience this year tells us, we need our open spaces more than ever.

Our precious Green Belt land must be protected with development restricted to existing sites and brownfield land. 

GMSF’s housing need numbers are based on 2014 data.  The numbers are now off.  We are now in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic and soon we will face an uncertain future after Brexit; both will have a massive impact on our future economy and our housing need.  GMSF is out of date before it even written never mind published.

Wrong Time
Greater Manchester Councils are proposing to consult with the public over a seven-week period, which includes Christmas and is in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a democracy, people need to be able to meet, to discuss, and to campaign around the issues that affect them in their local areas.  Bury Liberal Democrats believe that this is the wrong time to conduct any consultation if it is to be meaningful and inclusive.  At a time when people are rightly focussed on Covid-19 and its massive impact on our lives, it is a disgrace to even call this a consultation.

GMSF is also already based on an outdated process.  The Government’s White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ sets out the new way that local plans will be drawn up and new ways that housing numbers will be calculated.

Councillor Michael Powell, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, said:  “I believe that this is the wrong plan presented at the wrong time.”  

“Building on Green Belt cannot be justified, especially when, with the economic downturn forecast on the coat tails of Covid-19 and Brexit, we will have more empty shops and offices and undeveloped sites in the town centre that could serve for housing.  The housing numbers are also off as later projections for housing need have been lower than those first published in 2014, and in any case less people will be able to afford to settle in a new home.” 

“Furthermore, people will just not be engaged with this final stage of consultation as they focus on keeping themselves and their families safe from disease and unemployment.  The Conservative Government’s Planning for the Future proposals will in any case make GMSF redundant as they require every Greater Manchester Council to produce an entirely new local plan within 30 months of the legislation being passed.  It is crazy to proceed with GMSF when the rules are so clearly about to change.”

Liberal Democrat Councillors will oppose the latest GMSF proposals when they are presented to the special meeting of Bury Council, to be held on Wednesday 21 October.

Reporting Back: Planning Committee

Earlier in the month was the monthly meeting of Bury’s 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. Councillor Cristina Tegolo reports:

Bury Planning Control Committee met remotely and the meeting was live streamed. A social-distanced site visit took place in respect of planning application 65569/Full.

At the Planning Control Committee meeting none of the submitted applications were refused but I commented on the following application:

Land at George Street, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 9WS. Application Ref: 65327/Full

We discussed an application for the redevelopment of the site for a mixed use comprising the erection of a synagogue and offices with associated parking, access and landscaping. 

The site had a previous consent for a mixed-use development of a synagogue and independent offices, access, car parking and landscaping which was granted in February 2017 (planning reference 60182) but this consent had lapsed.

In terms of siting, the proposed development would have a similar layout, set back into the site with a car park for 18 cars located in front from a newly created access which would be formed off George Street.

I expressed my concern about the siting of the proposed car park, for 18 cars, and asked for some assurances that there would be enough space in front to the main entrance doors to enter and exit the building safely. I also commented on the back elevation and I asked that a landscaping scheme should be put forward to soften the blank walls, at the street level of the rear elevation. 

My comments were taken on board. The planning department will seek for reassurances about the sighting of the carpark and the landscaping proposal will also address the rear elevation.

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