Good morning, and welcome to our first Full Council of 2018. 2017 has been a challenging year for many of us and as this is the first Full Council of the New Year it has encouraged me to reflect!
In Britain we saw Terrorist attacks in both London and Manchester. In Manchester, we shockingly witnessed the aftermath of a suicide bomber targeting the largely teenager fan-base of artist Ariana Grande at her concert in the City Centre, taking 22 lives and leaving around 120 people injured.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the friends and families of those that have lost loved ones and those that have suffered injuries. However, these despicable acts failed in their intent to divide the people and communities of this country. In Manchester, we were witness to the countless selfless acts of members of the public, taxi drivers and our public services outside the Ariana Grande concert as they all pulled together, showing solidarity in taking care of the victims and those attending the concert on the 22nd May 2017.
We saw survivors housed by members of the public, taxis queuing up to give free rides and firemen and police officers braving the site of the bombing to help retrieve the injured. For what was a terrible, tragic affair, there could have been little more demonstration of life-affirming actions than seeing the bravery of those individuals faced with such suffering.
The whole world looked on Manchester in respect and admiration in the weeks following the attacks, and I would like to salute all survivors, volunteers and all members of the emergency services crew who were present on that fateful night.
We also saw the tragedy of Grenfell, in which 71 people – many of them children – lost their lives due to the fire safety of the building being compromised by an un-safe cladding ‘system’. The fallout from this horrific tragedy is still yet to be determined from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt.
Within Greater Manchester I have been asked to chair the Greater Manchester’s High-Rise Taskforce, fully participating with the Inquiry and Review, whilst formulate a response, working with the Fire & Rescue Service and Housing Providers from all of the 10 districts on how best to ensure the safety of all our high-rise tower blocks.
In the City of Salford, we were able to announce agreement from Full Council to borrow up to £25 million in August 2017 for the immediate replacement and re-installation of safe cladding, …and I am pleased to say that following extensive negotiations with contractors work has begun to make every resident of Salford’s tower blocks safe. I would like to thank members of the council and ward Councillors for their support and co-operation in allowing Members of the Mayoral Team and Officers of the Council to move as quick as possible to ensure the safety of our residents.
The safety of our residents has always been our primary concern! I am still in discussions with the newly named Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government over financial liability, for what appears to be an industrial failure of cladding systems national, …and I still firmly hold the opinion that it was a failure in national building regulations and associated legislation and practices, which allowed these materials to make it to UK markets in the first place.
The people of Salford should not have to bear the burden of the replacement of these materials, …paying for the mistakes of consecutive governments who hollowed out, decentralised and privatized regulatory processes, contributing to the environment in which the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) was able to be so widely used, should not be a cost that people of Salford are forced to pay!
And, on the 8th June 2017 we also had a snap General Election. Many pollsters predicted significant losses for Labour..., with many Labour activists also wavering in their optimism, but the snap General Election was a gamble which Prime Minister Theresa May was clearly willing to take! But what happened instead was remarkable, and unprecedented in British politics. Within the space of 3 weeks of campaigning, Labour gained over 20 points in approval ratings up-and-down the country, slashing the Tory majority to 12 and quickly overtaking them thereafter. Personally I believe, if the election had lasted another week, we would have a Labour government right now. As it stands, Theresa May and the Tories teeter on their wafer-thin majority, bolstered by paid for opportunistic support of the DUP.
But the public debate has shifted! The pro-austerity, neoliberal orthodoxy which has been current in British politics for decades has been shifted and politicians are facing increasing demands for intervention, whether that is in housing, the railways, the industrial strategy or indeed construction. This is a shift made all the more significant in the wake of the collapse of Carillion, one of our countries most significant construction and PFI partners; employing 20,000 people in the UK, holding 450 contracts with the UK government, with 30,000 small firms in their supply-chain. …engaged in strategic infrastructural projects the length and breadth of the country.
Putting aside the government’s clear disregard for procedure in continuing to sign contracts with a company repeatedly issuing profit warnings, …the collapse of Carillion is emblematic of so many issues with modern Britain and government policy. There is the colossal wastefulness of many PFI contracts, driven now only by an ideological belief that the free market must be involved in every area of life regardless of the associated transaction costs, evidence or the consequences. This is often bolstered by a shocking culture of grotesque executive pay and bonuses, …with workers, uncertain about their futures, asked to keep working through the liquidation of their company whilst bosses take home huge pay-checks of hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
And there are often revolving-doors between politics and the executives of ‘key’, strategic companies in the UK... continually awarded contracts that they fail to fulfil, taking all the profits whilst the public bears the risk. With cost estimates at Hinkley Point skyrocketing to over £50bn and HS2 estimated at £56bn, surely the collapse of Carillion marks the end of rampant contractualism and the dogma of private sector efficiency that as for too long characterised public sector infrastructure projects. But with the current government’s track record, can we really expect them to learn any lessons?
This government stands on a record of failure on every major policy area. They have failed to lessen the national debt, now a staggering 88% of GDP. They have failed in delivering an economic recovery, with UK growth lagging behind all other European nations bar Greece. They have failed to create their high-pay economy: with record numbers of our citizens suffering in-work poverty, teachers applying for emergency funding for transport, children attending school without breakfast and nurses using food-banks. They have failed to fix our NHS, thrown into crisis by topdown reorganization and a malicious privatization agenda – leading to the biggest winter-crisis in living memory.
They have failed to tackle the housing crisis – with big developers building luxury apartments for sale to foreign investors whilst British residents can’t afford the rent – let alone to get on the property ladder. And now, in partial recognition of their failures, the government have supported Labour’s own reforms to mitigate the damage they have caused – recently backing Karen Buck (MP’s) Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill 2017-19 through parliament calling for more accountability from landlords on housing standards in light of nearly 3 million people living in sub-standard accommodation.
Thankfully, the collapse of Carillion hasn’t had a direct impact upon any major infrastructural projects that the City Council are involved with in Salford. But the wider ramifications for the construction industry and economy are of serious concern.
These developments are especially worrying in the context of further austerity and cuts to local government budgets. With cuts to Salford’s Revenue Support Grant (RSG) and rising budget pressures in Children Services and Adult Social Care we are forced to find almost a further £12 million this year. But it gets worse! With government reforms to the benefits system, over 4,000 people in Salford are currently affected by the introduction of Universal Credit.
Our housing providers report a huge impact on their tenants as a result of the change, with City West reporting as many as 91.3% of Universal Credit tenants in arrears. This compares with 42.3% of those not on Universal Credit in arrears. Furthermore, whilst the average for arrears amongst nonUniversal Credit tenants is £472, for those on Universal Credit it is £852. These trends are mirrored across our providers, with a clear correlation between the introduction of Universal Credit and increased used of collection orders. Once again, the local authority and our dwindling Discretionary Support Allowance is left to pick up the tab! All of this in the context of disappointing result from Local Government Settlement.
The 2017 announcements took money from us in the form of New Homes Bonus, giving back nothing in return other than the ability to add an extra 1% on our council tax, continuing to force us to tax people locally to pay for public services. This raises only £900k, nothing in relation to the budget pressures we are facing across Children Services and Adult Social Care. Further, it places the burden of costs often caused by the government’s callous welfare reforms onto an already overburdened and over-taxed local population. Meanwhile, central government employment was up 28,000 on the previous quarter at 3.021 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1999.
But despite these hardships, we have already seen successes in Salford. Our investment in New Bailey is already paying off, and we are rapidly filling the office space. This project will bring millions back into our coffers each and every year, a vital subsidy for our starved services. Chapel Street is booming, and Salford is rapidly becoming a go-to place for exciting, creative and artistic businesses.
In November we launched our report, Escape Velocity, alongside Respublica. The report, cited nationally by the press and industry experts, heralded the development of the Quays as an exemplary example of place-based investment, and as a site for further develop as a strategic economic asset for the UK. The paper also recommended MediaCityUK as a prime site for the relocation of Channel 4, should the government pursue its plans to move the broadcaster out of London! MediaCityUK itself continues to grow and expand – the second largest digital cluster in the UK, and the fastest growing site for digital start-ups - with over 7,000 jobs.
And last week saw the launch of MyCitySalford and the Digital Inclusion strategy, was the first of its kind in the UK. Through the scheme, we will connect those left behind by the pace of change in new technology - connecting them to the benefits of the digital age.
Feeding into our expansion of library provision, we will be investing £100,000 in new IT systems bringing internet access to all areas of the city. Internet access is increasingly important, and as Councillors in Salford - the 22nd most deprived Local Authority in the country - many of you will be aware of the struggles faced by residents who have difficulty accessing technology and the internet. It’s vitally important that with the gains of MediaCityUK, and our increasing prominence as a centre for digital technology, that the residents of Salford gain from the growth we have seen. And the launch itself gained national recognition!
I embrace 2018 as a year which will no doubt contain new problems, but also a year filled with possibility for our city. Our task is to ensure that the growth, the development and the profile of our city benefits the residents that live here - to bring the council and our work closer to the people of our city. I am confident we can continue to build on the good work we have started, and look forward to working with you all for a better and fairer Salford for all.