Gorse Hill Labour

A regular blog and updates from Mike Cordingley, Councillor for Gorse Hill Ward in Trafford – Gtr Manchester.

Stretford Library move gets approval from Trafford’s leadership

In what seems to have been a very rushed process, the council’s Executive voted tonight for Stretford Library to vacate its home for the past 80 years to allow Trafford Music Service to take over the building. It’s just over a week since the report was first published to almost no fanfare.

Whilst the speed of the decision has taken the breath away, it has to be acknowledged that there has been a lot of public support expressed into a succession of Stretford Town Centre consultations for the library to form part of the eventual town centre revival. I think a lot of us saw the transfer as being into a bespoke hub, rather than a unit in the mall. However, importantly, and I think this accounts for much of the haste, the addition of the Music Service to the town centre has to be welcomed.

It’s the space allocated in the Mall that is most troubling. The units 37-38 that used to house Bonmarché just don’t provide sufficient space to provide the popular internet service, book shelves and children’s play area that make up a modern library, not to mention the Access Trafford service that’s so important in these difficult times. I raised this at the Executive meeting. I think the choice of Bonmarché has been simplified as the old Tesco’s units are too big, therefore it has to be a Bonmarché sized unit and that seems to have become the settled position.

My problem with this choice is that being in the Mall is likely to improve footfall – a good thing, but the computers will (hopefully) be more popular than the unit can cope with, and the library as a place to read will be overwhelmed. I argued that it may be necessary to separate functions over more than shop unit.

I’m certainly not won over by the argument that this is a temporary solution. The current time-frame is 2-5 years and I don’t believe children should lose out on Rhyme Time (edit I’ve been assured that Rhyme time will continue) and that vital nurtured skill of choosing books. We’re going to need more space. I hope the Executive were listening to me. We’ll see.

Further edit: Response from the Executive Member, Liz Patel

Can’t pretend I’m happy to leave this at this point but not likely to get any further in my remaining 6 weeks as councillor.

Putting Children back to first priority

I am really pleased that Andy Western – leader of Trafford Council has made the comments I’m sharing below.

It’s something I’ve been uncomfortable with since the outset of the first lockdown. I was never happy that schools were shut down. With hindsight, I can see we needed a pause to get on top of the virus. However, I was very supportive of Kate Green’s stance that children needed to be back at school at the earliest date. She took flack for that position.

It’s never been the loss of examinations that’s been my prime concern. With the right provision of lifelong learning, this can be addressed; and maybe even improved upon, as we’ve never been good at it. Now it’s imperative, perhaps at last we can dream of the universal provision we dreamt about when Labour created the ‘Open University’.

I agree with Andy that it’s the loss of socialisation skills and friendship forming that’s the real worry. We’re seeing an increased prevalence of mental health problems and worsening anti-social behaviour. I sense there’s a stronger element of pure anger contained within the motivations for that behaviour than I have seen before. I get that anger. I get angry at those who pontificate at parents for the reaction their children are demonstrating.

It’s something that we’re going to have to address and there’s an urgent need for the conversation to really get started. That conversation has primarily to be driven by the young people and we need to find new ways of getting the voice of those most at risk from problems we’ve created. The catchup plan needs to be owned by those children and it needs to continue to be owned by them as they move through their life. We owe it to them.

Happy New Year to you all

A few predictions for this time of year seems to be the tradition. I’m optimistic.

Covid

I think we’re going to have a difficult few weeks with covid but spring is going to look so much better for those who keep up their vaccination. It will never go away but we’ll find it far more manageable with minimal impact on daily lives. Just to reiterate though, January/February will be horrible.

Healthcare

As covid normalises, trade unions will take a hard look at the equality of health provision. In 2023 it will not be defensible for the lowest rates of vaccination to be amongst ethnic minorities and manual trades.

(Trade Unions generally will be playing a bigger direct role in 2023 – and we’ll all be better for it)


Big wish – That we see a new health facility in the Gorse Hill/Firswood Area

Stretford

I suspect the focus will shift to the Canalside area. We’ve only had one or two artist impressions of people relaxing on the side of the canal. We need to see how this area can be brought to life and importantly, how it relates to and complements the work on the Mall.

Manchester United

Man U will be putting some meat on the bones of their plans to modernise and enlarge the stadium. I really hope Trafford’s leadership is not bought off with promises of ‘jam tomorrow’. Residents around the stadium have seen it all before. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how Man U connects with its neighbours both here and greater Old Trafford; and Salford too. There’s a real opportunity to place residents to the front of negotiations before officers agree to the bulk of Man U’s demands.


Big wish: That Manchester United places itself hand in hand in collaboration with residents and local businesses to develop a masterplan that puts Man U as a catalyst for a neighbourhood enhanced by them rather than impaired.

Education

I’m biased, but I believe that it was a huge error removing Kate Green from Labour’s education portfolio. Strategic thinking on how we address the twin challenges of Brexit and Covid is vital; and far more important than parliamentary bluster. Personally, I think this is an area that Andy Burnham needs to seize. We vitally need a skilled up work force that can compete internationally. Covid has been hugely damaging to a generation and yet it’s the aspect of levelling up that gets the least attention. The impact on children in Lostock and Gorse Hill has been far greater than Hale and Timperley and it needs addressing.


Big Wish 1- that we start publicising 11+ pass rates of schools. We’ve always been too polite and discreet about this but it allows certain schools to push the boundary of coaching. You will only see progress if you expose how inherently unfair it is to certain schools and their pupils.

Big Wish 2 – that we make an irresistible demand for a huge investment in Further Education. It’s never been more important to make lifelong learning routinely available to all.

Transport

Active Travel is going to continue to be controversial but it’s also going to edge forwards. We can’t have Stretford’s motorway restored to how it was; and a bus lane doesn’t help Stretford, or buses particularly there. We’ve got to make crossing our roads much easier and less stressful.

Nevertheless we are expecting work to start this year on the Greatstone Road/Talbot Road junction. Much needed as it’s been far too grim for pedestrians trying to cross Greatstone Road without a phase for them to cross safely.

I have quite a few on my wish list in this area but it’s worth pointing out that they’re all predominately for pedestrians. We really should have prioritised walking before cycling and I say that as a cyclist. No one cycles before they can walk and we’ve made it so difficult to get around on foot, it’s no wonder we use cars for ridiculously short journeys.


Big wish 1: That Trafford takes a strategic decision to make all crossings provide improved priority to pedestrians. Too many force the pedestrian to stand at the kerb, getting sprayed by cars for too long.

Big wish 2: A Chester Road crossing close to Gorse Hill Park. It’s awful having to cross there without any infrastructure but parents and children have to do it daily. Long overdue.

Big wish 3: Pedestrian phase for Park Road / Derbyshire Lane – I think it’s now on the list but needs pressure from Trafford to maintain its place.

Big wish 4: Safe pedestrian crossing for Raglan Road to Davyhulme Road at Fiveways. Clearly, I live on Raglan Road so I haven’t prioritised this one. However, since I’m going and daily have to chance my life against traffic from all directions, I’m going to include it in this my last wish list as councillor.

Big wish 5: Humphrey Park Station Tunnel : Complicated ownership/responsibility but this is such a valuable and well used pedestrian route between Lostock and Humphrey Lane and yet it’s in disgraceful nick. It doesn’t have disabled access, it collects rain and muck and it’s poorly lit. It can’t be beyond the wit of Trafford and Northern Rail/Network Rail to come together and sort it.

Big wish 6: A Melville Crossing beg button that works when there’s moving traffic. Not much point in having a controlled crossing if it waits until there’s no traffic before working.

Big wish 7: And this one really irritates. I wish we could lock Highways Agency, Trafford Council and TfGM in a room with a PC operating Street View to check every route from Junction 7 on the M60 for road signage to enable HGVs to find a sensible route to Trafford Park. I am sick to the back teeth of 30 ton HGVs getting lost in residential streets because there’s no signs once they’re off main route from junction 9 Parkway. I wouldn’t let them out of the room until they’d sorted it.

Gorse Hill Park, Fiveways, Humphrey Park, Melville

Amey

I think I dealt with this in my previous blog post. I don’t think we’re going to get from the seven year review the community engagement that we really need and was promised at outset. I do think it’s the only meaningful way we’ll achieve the focused service we need. There has been some improvement on occasions. I like the way that Stretford Litter Pickers has been able to work with Amey. I think that’s largely because Stretford Litter Pickers are more determined than most and all credit to them.

Parks

Too many parks have lost their swings. It’s vital we get investment. I worry so much about what covid has done to a generation of kids. At least give them park equipment to play on. We’ve locked them up for too long.

Liar Johnson is leaving the building

He’s going isn’t he? No one can survive their reputation being shredded the way that his has been over parties, expenses and his own arbitrary rules that he doesn’t pretend to stand by. The local elections will see him off and Labour will be cock-a-hoop.

Labour needs to be careful though. Johnson is the main reason Labour’s polling has improved. I am not sure Starmer’s inner circle are taking the right messages from this improvement in polling. I’m not sure it’s helpful to know what type of car they think Starmer is.

Lastly (and I mean it)

It’s always useful to list priorities. You’ve always come back at me to add a few more. I’ve always enjoyed that.

The fact that some of these priorities would have been listed when I first became a councillor I think says more about the way Council operates in its own bubble. Unless you have access to officers, you’re rarely going to make headway and that access has never been more at a premium than it is now.

However, I’ve only got about 10 more weeks as a councillor. So these will be someone else to pick up or not and that’s right. Generally, I am optimistic.

One of the things I think has really improved is community strength and identity. In Gorse Hill we’ve had the lantern parade and it was great. Stretford has been doing its advent windows for a few years now. I saw this week that Wigan had an annual fancy dress on Boxing Day. These locally based quirks are great and are a real hope that we can have neighbourhoods that are different and flourishing.

Amey and Trafford’s relationship is up for Review

The Amey One Trafford Partnership has been a feature of life in Trafford for the last six and a half years and we’re coming up to the 7 year review.

So whether you’re itching to get Amey out of your life, or happy to move forward together, councillor scrutiny of the contract has commenced.

7 year Review

The agreement was signed 7th May 2015 and the partnership is due to end on the 30th June 2030 for everything but the street lighting contract, which gets an extra 5 years until 2035.

There is a provision for the council to ask for an 8 year extension to 2038 if it so chooses, but to all intents and purposes the bulk of the contract is a 15 year agreement and we’re coming up to that half way point.

What gets to be reviewed?

The terms of the review are specified under clause 12 of the agreement. The terms have their roots in the original aims of the ‘Reshaping Trafford’ project set out at the onset of the tender in March 2015:

  • To deliver a minimum of 20% savings against the net budget from contract commencement.
  • To deliver further, future efficiency savings through continuous improvement and innovation in service provision through the contract life.
  • To have flexibility, recognising the challenging financial climate facing local authorities at the moment.
  • Protect jobs and maintain service standards in so far as practicable.

So this time last year under clause 12, the council must have begun the process to assess Amey’s performance against:

  • Achieving value for money in its services on behalf of the council
  • Preparing Service Plans
  • Satisfying the users of services
  • Satisfying the council
  • Providing a competitive service

And the council will have engaged in a dialogue in order to determine whether it wished to exercise rights to request a Seven year options proposal very much focused within the agreement on cost reduction, so that those options will consider in order of precedence:

  • Efficiency improvement
  • Income generation
  • Reconfiguration of service delivery
  • Adjustment of targets and performance
  • Adjustment to scope

At the end of the review

As you can see the Tory contract always envisaged service degradation at this point in the agreement. It has to be said that the Tories also envisaged that Amey might not wish to comply, or they may wish to make counter proposals that the council the council would find unacceptable. Both these outcomes are provided for in the agreement along with a protocol designed to bring both parties together but with the possibility of agreement termination as the ultimate recourse.

Conclusion

This process must be coming to its latter stages now and the call has been made for a cross party group to come together to look at the review. I don’t have any insight into where we’re at but probably wouldn’t be able to tell you if I did have.

Politically, whatever changes are made will be Labour changes.

It’s worth pointing out then that I’m convinced the ‘Reshaping Trafford’ project, more than anything, led to the demise of the Conservatives in Trafford. A 20% reduction in funding for the only services that we all use was the most comprehensive suicide note that any council has written ever. Whatever happens at this seven year review, it’ll still be a Conservative project but increasingly we in Labour will be held to be responsible for its day to day running. It’s in our interest to make the partnership more accountable to its users and that’s something actually enshrined in the agreement.

Clause 12:13 talks about whether or not “the Service Provider has to a material extent failed to satisfy the users of the Services in relation to the Service Provider‘s performance under this Agreement.”

Facebook photo of OT revolting Protest 2017 (Year 2 of Contract)

I think it’s fairly clear that ‘Love Old Trafford’ had their patience stretched by Amey and the council. Once the 7 year review is over, I don’t believe the distinction between Amey and the council will wash. It’ll be council services and we’ll to a much greater extent have to satisfy the users of the services.

That said, there’s real chance for Amey and senior councillors be more joined up and responsive to the public and their representatives. The prospect of another seven years of staying together just because they have to is too depressing to contemplate. This isn’t a marriage. The seven year review provides a chance to bring partnership back to the fore. I hope it goes well.

Our genuine Budget Dilemma shouldn’t mean we target residents who already have to put up with too much on a match day

Stop Press

Good News: The proposal to charge for visitors has been withdrawn

As it stands today the council is having to save or draw in income amounting to over £11 million. This is after increased council tax and use of reserves is factored in. So we’re under pressure and there’s some difficult decisions to make. So far the council has identified £5.5m savings and income proposals.

We won’t know the full position until the government announces the draft local government finance settlement in December but it’s a difficult situation. We’re currently scrutinising proposals for the budget based on what we know now.

As can be seen below nearly half the proposed savings are coming from the ‘Place Directorate’ and these are being looked at tonight.

Looking at the ‘Place’ savings, the majority is coming from savings in waste. It shows how important recycling is to the council. Contaminated waste really costs us and it’s vital to keep improving recycling rates to get that waste levy down.

An area I’m having problems with and I’m keen to focus in on is the £100,000 review of resident parking permits.

I’ve learned that it contains the introduction of charges for visitors permits. Currently Gorse Hill gets a small pack of free visitor permits. This works well but it’s now proposed to charge £25 for 12 visitor permits at the start of the season.

This proposal has now been withdrawn.

The Council has got this wrong I think. The whole point of the permit scheme is to allow residents close to the ground to have normal lives as far as possible. The council shouldn’t be trying to make money out of it. I’m convinced some will pay and others won’t. It’s common under the current scheme for visiting passes to get shared when it comes to weddings, funerals or building work. That sharing ethos is put at risk and I’m not sure they’ll get as big a take-up as they’re anticipating. So I’m very much trying to get them to rethink.

We do need to raise money though and I’ve included suggestions.

  • We could be bringing Sundays into line with other days and start charging on the car parks etc. Currently it’s free to park on a Sunday. Given we want to charge people to have visitors on a Sunday in Gorse Hill, I don’t think it stacks up.
  • I also think we’re massively undercharging for match day street vending. Our top rate is just over £3000 for a prime spot. When you compare that to how much operators have to pay for a weekend’s pitch at festivals there’s a huge discrepancy. You might pay £18,000 for a few days.

I’ll report back how I get on but I’m determined to get rid of the charges for visitors.

Can Covid be in the past whilst rates soar?

Answer: Possibly not, but it’s not our biggest problem right now

For a long time I have been keeping a close watch of hospital admissions in the north west and also deaths. Those figures have been gently coming down for a few months. So, I must admit I hadn’t for quite a while been following the number of cases in Trafford until a week or so ago, and it was quite a shock that they’d deteriorated so quickly.

I was participating in the Covid-19 public engagement board this morning. It’s a forum for getting out key messages to support controlling the pandemic in Trafford. The Chair had some strong words in his opening that Trafford was currently suffering its highest incidence of Covid cases and was sat at the top of Greater Manchester rankings with the situation worsening. He felt that the Government were treating the pandemic as over when clearly the figures said the opposite. That’s a dilemma for me as I would argue the emphasis now should switch to repairing the damage.

Covid rates Trafford to October 2021

Clearly the figures are striking and I can understand the consternation caused when generally we’ve never been worse than mid-table in our performance in combatting covid. That said, whilst the overall Trafford figure is high, what we appear to be seeing is a suburban surge throughout Greater Manchester particularly in the south of the conurbation. And we’re almost getting a doughnut effect. So what’s going on?

The current surge is very much focused on the age cohorts between 5 and 19 and secondly, the typical age cohort of those children’s parents. It’s those schools in the middle that have the greatest travelling around, which perhaps explains the doughnut ring effect. So lot’s of mixing, travelling and socialising.

This is not to diminish the impact of covid on these young people but we have good vaccination rates. At the same time I’m seeing so many indications of far more detrimental aspects of the 18 months of lockdown than the endemic nature of covid. This is why I’d switch the emphasis.

You might disagree with me but right now I’m more concerned with the levels of absenteeism in secondary schools across the country. That’s just one indicator but there’s many more and it’ll take years to understand the true costs of the decisions we’ve taken to combat covid but school attendance has certainly been affected.

Samuel Freedman is a educational analyst

I worry too about future levels of loneliness. That short period of adolescence into (wom)manhood between 14-18 is incredibly formative and vital and we’ve locked those young people up for long periods of lockdown, forbidden them from mixing.

People complain about the levels of anti-social behaviour but it’s remarkable to me that we’ve not seen more and worse. I worry that we’re storing up problems for years particularly when combined with damaged education delivery.

So it’s a difficult position we’re in. I do not want the Government to do more in respect of direct Covid support than they are doing. I think our job is to make the vaccine easily available. We never quite managed that in the north of the borough and there’s no longer going to be a huge return on giving easy access, but there’s booster delivery to focus on. We need to continue to provide support to care homes and those isolating. The Government should focus on providing financial more support to those who are ill or isolating but no more talk of lockdowns unless a future variant really turns this badly around.

The real thrust of our response should now be on supporting young people. We owe them restitution to enable them to build rewarding lives.

I just want to make this point. Covid has given rise to lots of wartime comparisons. My parents would have been adolescents at the start of the war. They went through a lot and lost friends and family but they came out of it proud and feeling enhanced by what they went through. This is not the same for the kids who have been through Covid. There is no wartime comparison.

My worry is that actually we’ve diminished the generations under 40, at times we’ve even blamed them, which I find incredible. I don’t expect them to ever look on lockdowns fondly or with any pride.

Lastly, I say this. Given the damage that Covid and the measures we’ve been forced into, if you’ve not been vaxxed and there’s no medical or age reason stopping you, then shame on you. I don’t particularly have a view on vaccine passports but be assured of this, any scepticism is purely practical and should in no way be interpreted as sympathy for those who choose not to be vaxxed. Jurgen Klopp is right that it should be viewed with the same contempt as drink driving.