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Local Government Finance Settlement leaves £3 Billion funding gap

Last week the Government published its annual ‘Local Government Spending Allocations.

Councillor Tim Pickstone, Liberal Democrat Group leader on Bury Council said:
“Councils still face a funding gap of more than £3 billion this year. The money councils have to provide local services is running out fast and there is huge uncertainty about how they will pay for them into the next decade and beyond.

“If we truly value our local services then we have to be prepared to pay for them. Fully funding councils rather than smaller “one off” bits of extra funding is the only way they will be able to keep providing the services which make a difference to people’s lives, such as caring for older and disabled people, protecting children, building homes, maintaining our parks, fixing roads and collecting bins.

“Investing in local government services will also help reduce pressure on other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS, and save money for the public purse.”

Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP added:
“This settlement does nothing to address the growing inequalities across our country. The highly regressive council tax system means that, as the Conservative Government continue to underfund local government, subsequent council tax rises hit poorer communities the hardest.

“There must be a reform of council tax to prevent the places with the highest demand for services for vulnerable people, struggling the most to fund it.

“Liberal Democrats demand better than the sticking plaster that has been presented. The Government are once again kicking the can down the road, instead of setting out a long-term financial package that provides security for our local services.”

Reporting Back: Bury’s School Standards

Just before Christmas Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Tim Pickstone caught up with Bury’s recently appointed Assistant Director of Education and Inclusion, Paul Delbridge-Smith, who took up post with Bury Council in August.

One of Paul’s first priorities was to get an accurate picture how Bury’s schools are doing and how well they are performing in educating children in the Borough, as well as to look at the role of governors in securing good quality schools.

The overall picture is extremely concerning given the recent declines in school performance and standards, in Ofsted judgements, and in the rankings of Bury local authority when compared to other local authorities across GM, the North West and nationally. However, it is important to stress that behind these headline figures are some excellent and successful schools, including many close to me here in Prestwich, and also the hard work and commitment of all our teachers, teaching assistants and support staff.

The headlines are: 
– In 2007, Bury was doing OK. It was ranked 45th best out of 148 local authorities in England in headline results (5 A*-C GCSE including English and maths)

– By 2017, Bury was doing badly. I is ranked 141st worst out of 162 local authorities in England in headline results – that is the 21st worst out of 23 local authorities in the North West.

– Bury is the worst local authority in the country for permanently excluding children (ie in 2017 we permanently excluded more children than anywhere else, as a proportion of children).

– Bury is bottom of the table in Greater Manchester for the % of good or better schools (10th out of 10) according to

Moving Forwards
The very good news is that the new Assistant Director and his team have a clarity and clear vision for rapidly improving and transforming Bury education and its schools and academies. Some of their aims and priorities include:

– getting Bury back into the top 10% in the country (for education quality and standards, through securing exceptional educational provision and leadership
– ensuring children make continued accelerated progress in their day to day learning, growth and development.
– raising aspirations and ambitions for Bury children, young people and families, particularly the disadvantaged, most able, children from black and ethnic minority communities, and those with special educational needs.
– tackling poor performance through investing in school governance,
– tackling poor behaviours in the education system by ensuring high standards and expectations in school attendance, inclusion, and support services
– tackling inequalities and disadvantage for all children
– ZERO permanent exclusions through providing inclusive settings, inclusive schools and inclusive communities where every child in Bury can stay in a Bury school and be well supported
– ZERO out of borough placements – keeping children safely placed in Bury schools and settings.
– ZERO NEET (not in education, employment or training) – so securing the life chances of all young people as they move successfully into adulthood.

We would fully endorse the plans. As we understand the road to this might not be easy. As Bury’s schools come up for inspection by OFSTED in the coming years some schools that are currently rated as ‘outstanding’ may well (on their current performance) be downgraded.

The ’shape’ of our schools is likely to change with more schools becoming ‘Academies’ (or joining existing schools who are academies), or more working together between schools in different areas, through forming management partnerships, federations or cooperative trusts.

Hope this update is useful and please do not hesitate to ask if you have questions.

Reporting Back: Children and Young People Mental Health Services

Just before Christmas Councillor Tim Pickstone was able to meet with staff from both the Council and NHS Bury Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for an update on mental health services for children and young people (historically referred to as CAMHS – Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). This followed on from a written question at the last full meeting of Bury Council about current waiting times for CYP Mental Health services in Bury.

The ‘core’ CYP Mental Health service in Bury is provided by Pennine Care Foundation NHS Trust, under the name ‘Healthy Young Minds’. The good news is that here in Bury we are meeting the national targets for access to CYP Mental Health services, with a current waiting time for assessment and treatment of six weeks, with urgent 7 day priority appointments reserved if a child or young people need to be seen urgently.

There is also a national target for the proportion of the estimated children and young people with a mental health concern who are provided NHS funded care or support. The ‘estimate’ is that one in 10 children and young people will experience some sort of mental health concern, with a target that 32% are able to access timely support. This figure rises to 35% by 2020/21. In Bury we are expected to exceed this target by the end of the year which is good news. This may well be a challenge in the future as there may well be an increased ’estimated’ figure, which could rise higher than 1 in 10. It is also important to note that ‘access’ is defined as a minimum of two appointments for any individual – many campaigners nationally feel that this should be more.

In Bury the Council and the NHS working together also pay for other services that help children and young people with mental health services. This includes services provided locally by two charities – Early Break and First Point Family Support, as well as specific support around eating disorders and the Link Worker service which works with schools to assess children with particular needs and support the school in providing early intervention. The Council is also currently undertaking a major survey of children in the Borough to give us a good indication of children’s health needs including mental health.

I asked about how mental health services worked with schools. There is significant work going on here to make sure that schools will have a named NHS staff member (Link Worker) to work with on mental health issues and the Council has also taken on new staff to work around ‘inclusion’ in schools to help make sure all children are given the best opportunity to learn and progress.

I also asked about the rise in mental health concerns among young people and concerns that have been raised about the internet, social media, ‘over use’ of electronic devises and many other issues that might be contributing to a rise in mental health concerns. We discussed the role in schools (and parents) in helping inform children about these issues and in tackling problems where they arise.

Hope this is a useful summary of this important issues. Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.


Greater Manchester Transport Delivery Plan

Alongside the GMSF, Greater Manchester has also set out a draft ‘Transport Delivery Plan’ – for 2020-25 – which sets out what is planned in terms of transport infrastructure.

This is divided into:
Things that are actually going to happen in the next 5 years
In Bury the only significant thing is some extra double trams (the ones that had already been announced). The biggest thing in the rest of Greater Manchester is the Metrolink line to the Trafford Centre which is currently being built (trams at the northern end will terminate at Crumpsall).

Things that they plan to develop business cases for in the next five years, for early delivery
In Bury the main things are a new tram station and link road at Elton Reservoir (to serve the new houses that the GMSF proposes there) and ‘Improvements at Simister Island (no information at all about what this means at this stage.)

Things that they plan to develop options for the future on
In Bury this is mainly a new motorway junction at Birch services, with roads linking this north and south (presumably to serve the ‘Northern Gateway’ site of new houses and industrial development) and a Bury to Rochdale tram line!

It is right that the plan is ambitious, but without proper funding these are just lines on a map!

Please let us know what you think so we can feed into the discussions on this draft document. The full report is here.

GMSF Housing Proposals – Bury Liberal Democrat Statement

Today Greater Manchester’s Labour leaders are publishing the revised proposals for the ‘Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’ to provide 201,000 new homes in Greater Manchester over the next 20 years.

Councillor Tim Pickstone, Bury’s Liberal Democrat Group Leader said:

For Bury this plan is a disgrace. While other boroughs like Bolton have maintained all future housing growth in the town centre, Bury Council seems determined to bulldoze over whole swathes of countryside.

Across Greater Manchester only 4.1% of green belt land is lost, in Bury it is a shocking 12% and in Prestwich and Whitefield it is more like 40% lost. Village communities like Simister and Bowlee will be changed for ever, as will areas near Elton reservoir and Walshaw, with a ridiculous and unnecessary level of housebuilding in the green belt.

Nobody explains how an extra 9,500 houses worth of people will somehow fit on the Metrolink or down the A56. There are vague plans for a new motorway junction at Birch services, even through everyone knows that area of motorway is already full to capacity.

We do need new houses, almost certainly not 201,000, but we do need more houses that people can afford. But we also need countryside.

Bury Council’s Labour leadership has failed to listen to its own residents and gone back on the Mayor’s pledge for no net loss of green belt.

More information:
GMSF Overview
Transport Strategy Summary

Government’s Waste Strategy Doesn’t Go Far Enough

This week the Government published a consultation on Waste Strategy, which has been criticised for its lack of ambition.

The strategy aims to:
– Introduce a tax on single use plastic with less than 30% recycled content.
– Consider banning plastic packaging where there are alternatives.
– Legislate to allow government to specify a core set of materials to be collected by all local authorities and waste operators.
– Commit to a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans.
– Ensure all households get food waste collections.
– Try to build a stronger UK recycling market.

But critics are angry at the time it is taking the government to implement measures such as the deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. The rollout of such a system may not happen for another five years. With the Scottish government expected to introduce its deposit system by 2020, and the packaging producers – who would pay for the system – wanting it to be UK-wide, why does our government think it would take a further three years to get in line?

Liberal Democrats say:
We desperately need to tackle the mountain of plastic waste that is devastating our oceans. Liberal Democrats have therefore long championed deposit return schemes as a proven measure across the world for reducing waste.

The UK Government’s support for this scheme is welcome, but 2025 is a long way away when solutions to the damage being inflicted on our environment are so urgent.

That is why we have set the bar with an ambition to ban all single-use plastic within three years and the introduction of a levy on all producers and retailers that produce or use single-use plastics, including for single-use cups.

Reporting Back: Full Council

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

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

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

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

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

The full papers for the meeting are here.

GMSF Proposals Due in January

Greater Manchester Councils have confirmed that the next set of proposals for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) will be published in early January 2019 for an eight-week public consultation.

The bad news is that the Government seem to be expecting Councils to go for a higher number of homes than had recently expected which would mean the plan has to provide the space for over 200,000 new homes over the next 20 years – in additional to land for jobs and industry.

Prior to his election the Mayor of Greater Manchester had promised “No net loss of Green Belt”, but according to the Manchester Evening News this will NOT be the case in the proposals.

Liberal Democrats in Bury are 100% opposed to loss of green belt land. We do need more homes, but should always use the many ‘brownfield’ sites to do this.

Building homes ‘Fit for the Future’

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

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

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

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

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

The full text of the motion is here.

Government must not neglect young people with mental health illness

Responding to an official report published today revealing one in eight children and young people aged between 5 and 19 surveyed in England in 2017 had a mental disorder, former Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb said:

“These troubling figures reveal the true extent of mental health problems among children. The Conservative Government has a stark choice: either invest in services and give our children the best possible chance in life, or be responsible for the neglect of an entire generation of young people.

“Mental illness can blight the lives and futures of children without the right interventions, but today’s report by the Children’s Commissioner is a brutal reminder of how vulnerable young people too often hit a brick wall when trying to access support.

“As a Minister in the Coalition Government, I secured funding for this prevalence survey so that we could understand the full scale of children’s mental health problems and make sure that the right support is in place. The Tories have a moral duty to make good on that commitment.

“Ministers needs to think about spending money not just on crisis response but preventing people from getting to this point in the first place, particularly by reversing cuts they have imposed for early years. New waiting time standards will also be crucial to incentivise investment in services.”

The Science and Technology Select Committee, Chaired by Norman Lamb, recently published a report on early-years intervention which can be accessed here.

The Children’s Commissioner report can be read here.