Good morning Chair and Members of the Council, I would like to begin today with a series of tributes.
The first is to the fire-fighters and emergency personnel who helped to battle the Little Hulton fire from Thursday last week and the officers of the City Council that have been working with the emergency services and partners to ensure the safety of our residents. It is events such as this which remind us all of the essential role played by our public sector & emergency services and their day-to-day bravery and commitment to the residents of our city.
Secondly, I would like to pay tribute to my dear friend and colleague Councillor Peter Connor, his wife Mary and their family and friends at this time following the tragic loss of their grand-daughter (Emily Connor) who has sadly passed away. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this terrible time.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the 744 thousand British army personnel who gave their lives fighting in the Great War of 1914-18 as well as the 20 million more from all nations who perished throughout that dreadful war.
Many believed they were fighting in ‘the war to end all wars’ tragically, they were proven wrong, as barely 20 years later the world plunged again into a conflict that claimed 60 million souls worldwide.
On 11th November, we remember those who have given their lives in conflict, honour their sacrifice and endeavour to ensure their memory keeps us from further barbarity.
The misery, futility and terror inflicted by war is so overwhelming, so intense, that only through remembering the suffering of those that have fallen can we help to bring about a peaceful future.
In the words of the wartime poet Siegfried Sassoon
“Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’”
Through-out the early hours of Friday morning last week, I attended our now bi-monthly ‘Homelessness Count’ in Salford along with Councillor Tracy Kelly.
The count comes after Andy Burnham’s recent launch of Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s ‘Bed Every Night’ initiative for Rough Sleepers across Greater Manchester, guaranteeing a bed through-out the winter months (1st November – 31st March 2018) for those who need it providing a hot meal, breakfast, wash facilities and access to other support services. The scheme is also ‘supported’, meaning that resources are in place to help move participants on into permanent accommodation.
In Salford, 42 rough sleepers were accommodated under the Greater Manchester Bed Every Night scheme on the night of the count, with a further 20 accommodated through the City Council’s own Rough Sleepers Initiative.
However, even with our own initiative and Greater Manchester’s Bed Every Night initiative, the group I was part of still came across 12 people without a roof over their head and a place to call home in the City of Salford. I’m unable to provide Full Council the full figure at this point until it has been independently verified, however I can confirm that we counted more rough sleepers in City of Salford than we have on previous counts.
Many of the people we talked with were young people. Many of them claimed to be in work and one gentleman had been sleeping without a roof over his head and a place to call home for over 4 years.
This is indicative of a homelessness epidemic which is sweeping the nation, alongside a wave of austerity and the destruction of our social safety net. Increasing numbers of ‘ordinary people’, people with jobs and families, are finding themselves in this precarious position, without a roof over their heads and a place to call home!
Earlier last week, our government was lambasted by UN Rapporteur Professor Philip Alston for the damage austerity has done to our society. A shocking indictment of 21stCentury Britain, with 33% of children living in poverty, with Professor Alston describing it as: “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one”.
Visiting nine towns and cities across the UK, Professor Alston noted: "During my visit I have spoken with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends' couches because they are homeless and don't have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future,"
These are shocking accounts, but they tally entirely with our own research taken in Salford and the work of our Poverty Truth Commission.
In late October, we launched the second Salford Taskforce research paper, detailing the lived experience of ‘Hidden Young People’ in our city. Hidden Young People are young people not in employment, education or training, eligible for benefits, who for whatever reasons have stopped claiming.
They are not recorded in government statistics of those claiming unemployment benefits. They are not tracked by our benefits system. They are not eligible for funding for training provided by government schemes and to all extents and purposes they live outside the parameters of ‘the system’.
Our research found that hidden young people are primarily care leavers, or young people with learning difficulties. Often they claim that the punitive sanctions regimes imposed by the job centre humiliated them out of claiming their entitlements, and many prefer to live hand to mouth, working cash in hand jobs in the informal economy.
Some of them have turned to petty crime to make ends meet.
In Salford, we estimate that there are as many as 2,000 Hidden Young People young people who are being exposed to risks, insecurity, poverty and squalid living conditions when they should be receiving support.
Many have also been homeless.
Just imagine, a decade from now, when many of these teenagers have grown into adults imagine the damage that is being caused in these formative years, to their self-esteem, their confidence, their experience of work, their aspirations for the future.
As the social contract is broken through austerity’s pervasiveness, crime is increasing, especially violent crime, and a deep enmity is being built in many communities that are being disenfranchised.
At the heart of so much of this trauma is a lack of available and affordable housing.
The private market will not - and seemingly cannot - provide for the need of the people of this city.
That’s why here in Salford, we will be building our own council housing through our in-house company Derive. But we cannot do so at the scale needed to solve this problem.
Though it has relaxed the borrowing cap on the Housing Revenue Account, government still continue to incentivize Right to Buy making it impossible for Local Authorities to build at scale without risking their investments.
In a paper I commissioned through the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, it showed that since the introduction of Right to Buy in 1980, Greater Manchester has seen 92,612 purchased with approximately 40% of homes purchased under Right to Buy find their way into the Private Rented Sector. And with over 85,000 people sitting on our Housing Waiting Lists across Greater Manchester and around 13,000 social rented properties lost over the past 5 years the challenges to deliver truly affordable housing don’t get any easier!
Also, with Housing Associations still under incredible pressure from rent caps and lack of grant, the problem is set to worsen, and to add further insult to injury, the government are also still gerrymandering national funding for housing infrastructure, putting more and more funds into wealthy shires in the South of England and the City of London.
Two weeks ago, the Core Cities and Key Cities groups - representing over 30 urban areas across all of England - jointly published a report showing the distribution of billions in housing grant and infrastructure funding from Homes England over the next five years.
Government have adopted a methodology which calculates need based on the absolute difference between median house prices and median workplace-based household income figures.
This formula has led them to conclude that the Cotswolds and the Kentish Downs are areas of higher need than anywhere in Greater Manchester, Birmingham, the North of England or most of the Midlands within only four Local Authorities (Trafford, South Lakeland, Hambleton, Harrogate) eligible for 80% of the funding available. When the data was published alongside a map of the country, it became clear that this methodology skewed resources into rural areas into the South and South East.
Other government funding pots have come with similar methodologies - the recent Social Housing funds released by Homes England had eligibility criteria which again left the North of England high and dry, and only yesterday Helen Pidd in The Guardian reported that following analysis of the latest government figures released on Tuesday and four and a half years since the Northern Powerhouse agenda was set by the then Chancellor, George Osborne transport spending per person has gone up twice as much in London as in the North of England (London = £326 per person increase, North = less than half of this - £146.
This evidence does really start to question the government’s commitment to re-balancing the economy and the Northern Powerhouse. What this means is choosing to inflate asset price further in the South, rather than provide for the real housing need faced here.
So back in Salford, where we have a real housing crisis on our hands, the problem continues to grow.
Since 2001 there has been a 108% increase in the private rented sector in our city (11,521 to 23,962) and since 2008 there has been a 391% increase in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation (32 to 157). The average private rent for the City is now £756 per calendar month, completely unaffordable for many of our hard working residents.
Why is this a problem, you might ask?
As our first Taskforce paper Poverty in the Private Rented Sector showed, the Private Rented Sector increasingly conceals widespread squalor, poor conditions, high rents and poor practice from landlords. Large numbers of tenants in this sector live surrounded by mould, damp and cold.
Many suffer from landlords who do not respect their right to privacy, fail to fix facilities in good time, or treat their tenants with basic respect.
And often tenants live in fear of retaliatory eviction, unable to enforce their rights through civil courts.
Interviewees to our paper reported hoses for showers, walls so damp with mould they fell through and cold cramped conditions in which they were perennially ill. We are fighting back, where possible.
The City Council’s Private Sector Housing Team recently secured a fine of £55,000 tagainst a rogue landlord who had not supplied fire exits, amidst a barrage of other failings.
However government place an arbitrary restriction on the areas of the city in which we can enforce licensing of landlords, meaning that our powers in many areas of the city are limited.
For tenants in those areas, their only recourse is to private courts. So, no housing money for the North means fewer genuine alternatives for residents currently struggling in the private rental market.
But as we know, government’s cronyism does not stop there!
When transitional funding was announced for Local Authorities dealing with austerity, it was the Home Counties and Surrey which were the major beneficiaries. When the Adult Social Care grants were given, again it was Surrey county Council and their ‘sweetheart deal’ which took the lion’s share.
When government’s ‘Fair Funding Review’ announces the possibility of ‘negative RSG’ as another excuse to stuff cash into wealthy authorities like Westminster and Canterbury - the story is the same!
When you combine this with the constant fiddling of funding that has been shamelessly practiced by this government for nearly a decade, that is tens of millions of pounds of investment that has been taken from Salford and stuffed into some of the wealthiest areas of the country.
Despite all of this, your Labour authority in Salford has been fighting through, providing sound fiscal leadership in the face of an unprecedented squeeze on our resources. With another £16m of cuts to make from this year’s budget, times are still hard…
Growth is strong in Salford, driven by sustained capital investment in large part from the City Council.
In the past two years, we have gained over 900 businesses, 1,200 jobs and 3,753 new homes. We have leveraged in £707m in private investment, £192m in public investment and £78m of general inward investment totalling nearly £1bn of investment into Salford. In that short space of time.
And as a result of that growth, our tax base is growing. £13.5m added to our council tax base in two years, £2.7m added to our Business Rates base, £9.7m collected in Section 106 contributions and £13.4m in New Homes Bonus. Collectively, that’s an extra £39.5m in council coffers. This growth keeps us afloat in increasingly difficult times, and it would not have been possible without the brave spending decisions taken by previous Labour administrations of this council.
Labour has made long-term investments in the prosperity of the people of this city - and those investments now are cushioning some of the worst impacts of austerity. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour understands local government, and how to financially manage services.
Let us also not forget the dreadful response I received in response to my questions to government over the financing of our 5 Outstanding Local Authority Nurseries! Those nurseries are under threat, caused primarily due to government funding formula methodologies forcing us to spend 95% of our Direct Schools Grant on the private sector.
In writing to the Chancellor, I raised the issue that I still had not seen any evidence that Minister’s understood the distinction between Nursery Schools, and Local Authority Maintained Nurseries - as Flexibility Funding had been provided for one and not the other.
In response, I received a reply thanking me for my query regarding “NHS funding”, and assuring me that my ‘suggestions’ were being considered!
The level of contempt, arrogance and incompetency of this ruling government is atrocious and an appalling indictment of the Conservative Party in government.
An old party with a long history, currently disgracing itself on the world stage. For the people of Salford, and the rest of the country, we can only hope that this disastrous government is as of yet short-lived.
Salford needs a Labour government, and a Labour government fast before the decline set in tow by Conservative rule becomes irreversible.