It’s a pleasure for me to address Council today, a pleasure and a privilege. Unlike our Parliamentary colleagues, we are not prorogued!
For many of us watching on at Westminster, the spectacle of stretching and distorting parliamentary rules and procedures to achieve No Deal is a fascinating and deeply worrying time.
The former Chancellor Philip Hammond has stated that the Conservative Party has been infiltrated in a bid to turn the Party into “an extreme right-wing faction” with former Tory MP, Nick Boles also stating that Boris Johnson’s new Cabinet is proof that the Conservative Party has “been fully taken over by the hard right”.
Alongside these comments, Conservative MPs who have now had the whip removed, include Party stalwarts like Ken Clarke, Oliver Letwin, and Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames.
It seems that the current leadership under Boris Johnson will stop at nothing to maintain its existence with total contempt for every convention and tradition which has historically held this country together.
We have now seen lies to the Monarchy, attacks against the judiciary and a PM who chooses to rule by decree without parliamentary mandate threatening and undermining parliamentary democracy at every opportunity.
The planned No Deal Brexit could likely see the end of the Union the final fragmentation of the United Kingdom.
What many observers in this room will find most astonishing is that the Conservative Party, the Party of Disraeli, Balfour and Eden the oldest political party in the world, and purportedly the ‘Natural Party of Government’ is propagating these attacks on hallowed British institutions. All the while, the real brains behind Boris is not even a Conservative Party member Dominic Cummings, the architect of Johnson’s personal survival strategy!
It is not surprising that many commentators are claiming that the Conservative Party as we know it, is dead.
But whilst the drama of Whitehall continues, and the Tory leadership twists and turns putting its own survival above the needs of the country, but here in Salford we must carry on with the day-to-day running of services that people need and our collective endeavours to realise a Fairer and Better Salford!
We have recently received news on the Chancellor’s 2019 Spending Round and its implications for the next financial year. At first glance, it seems good news something I guess we’d expect from the incumbent government in the run up to a potential General Election.
It seems likely that Salford will receive more this year than had been anticipated. I say likely, because we still have not been given the formula by which the extra money will be distributed.
We know that the ‘Fair Funding Review’ for Local Government has been delayed for another year, following moves on the part of government and hard fought debates within the Local Government Association (LGA) to diminished the role of deprivation / poverty and associated need within the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) methodology in favour of ‘rurality’ which would inevitably benefit the already-wealthy Tory shires.
For now common sense seems to have prevailed but the implications of this for Local Government’s ‘Fair Funding Review’ are still uncertain.
We also know that government funding formulas are designed to benefit wealthy areas at the expense of poor with 80% of £7bn worth of funding for housing and housing infrastructure being spent in the South of England over the last few years. We know that where appeals are made, Tory Chancellors will reach out to do back-room deals with Tory authorities like Surrey who in 2017 received a whole 1.66% of the entire £2 billion made available nationally for Social Care in the now infamous ‘sweetheart deal’. So we know that if possible, safe-Labour Salford will once again be ignored by the Chancellor given half the chance as this city always has been!
In order to realise the Chancellor’s spending announcements for Local Government, the Treasury has once again assumed an overall 4% increase in Council Tax including the 2% increase on the Adult Social Care precept whilst also assuming that Local Council’s Council Tax bases have risen by 2% over the past financial year rather than providing the much needed resources through the Revenue Support Grant Since 2016, Treasury ‘assumptions’ on Council Tax increase have led to 36.3% Council Tax raises for local residents in Salford.
The Tories, who claim to be the party of low tax, are in fact passing the burden of taxation down the ladder.
To replace low levels of income tax and corporation tax, we instead see assumed increases on flat taxes like Council Tax and VAT. These are regressive taxes which hit poor residents and small businesses the hardest. We also know that the Treasury has not done its sums in calculating if the new money is affordable or sustainable.
The Office for Budgetary Responsibility, the government’s own fiscal watchdog established by George Osbourne, has described the announcements as ‘very strange’, lacking in the fiscal forecasting and modelling required for it to do its job of monitoring the books. It is an un-hypothecated increase in spending which is only guaranteed for a year; arguably, it is nothing more than a pre-General Election splurge of the reserves left in the bank by Philip Hammond’s tenure. And once it is gone? Who knows what the potential consequence of this are!
Unlike Labour, this money is seemingly not to be invested in key infrastructure, in decarbonisation or in long-term projects beneficial to the Treasury.
It is simply to be spent, preferably in such a way as to buy short-term support enough for another Tory term.
Meanwhile, 9 years of Tory austerity has crippled this country. Violent crime has been steadily rising. Homelessness has spiralled out of control.
Millions are using foodbanks, including nurses and teachers. Hospitals are overcrowded and overflowing and the low-pay low-skilled jobs market created by the Tory Recovery does not provide the stable, decent terms of employment many millions need to safely get by. In Salford alone, nearly 3,000 children (at the last count) were given emergency food vouchers over the holidays to stave off hunger.
This is shameful in the 21st Century, let alone in the 5th richest economy in the world. It is for precisely this reason that we’ve endorsed the GMB, UNISON and UNITE the Union motion earlier in this session of Council, calling for a fair funding settlement for Local Government workers who have seen the majority of pay points losing 22% of their value since 2009/10 paid for by government.
Unlike other areas of the public sector, Local Authority worker pay is not governed by national bargaining agreements with government it is paid for locally by Local Authorities themselves.
This has historically led to even more financial strain on local authorities who have to fund pay increases for staff year on year .financial strain on a sector which has been acutely hit by austerity losing 60p in every £1 of its core funding. And local authority pay bargaining is not the only area in which unfunded budget pressures rear their head for Local Authorities.
Regarding homelessness, the huge spike in demand for services coupled with increased statutory responsibilities through the Homelessness Reduction Act are putting more pressure on Council coffers at a time when budgets are being slashed. In 2010, only 7 individuals were counted as sleeping rough on the streets of our city. By 2017, that had increased to 49.
Thanks in part to the introduction of ‘A Bed Every Night’, in addition to the amazing work of our Housing Options officers, numbers of rough sleepers in Salford have reduced significantly to 26 – the highest reduction in GM. Salford has just been notified that £1,570,000 will be made available, primarily from the health colleagues, to support phase 2 of A Bed Every Night running to 30th June 2020. 110 beds will be available from October 1st 2019 a huge amount reflecting the success of this Council in supporting our homeless people. But finding emergency accommodation for the homeless is only one small part of the problem.
Without serious numbers of truly affordable housing, there is no hope of us solving the problem of homelessness once and for all. That’s why this Council has invested significantly in Derive, our wholly owned housing company to build truly affordable housing for the people of our city. Derive has taken on 20 properties at Charlestown already, with a further 6 at Duchy and hundreds more being planned for the near future. These are truly affordable properties for the people of this city, and we will be building them without the slightest bit of help from a government who do not care.
Housing is not the only area in which Salford Council must go its own way. Members will recall that at last Council, a ‘climate emergency’ was declared unanimously. As a result, the City Council has established a new board aiming to develop a carbon budget implementing a 2038 target for carbon neutrality in Salford.
This Council has a policy of not investing in fossil fuel companies; we have incorporated a policy in our treasury management strategy that all investments fully support the ethos of social responsibility.
Since 2016 the Council has invested over £1.5m in carbon reduction schemes, with a further £2.5m scheduled in 2020/21. None of this vital investment is accompanied by central government support once again, we must find the way locally!
The climate crisis is one of the gravest threats faced by human civilization today. It is a genuine, existential crisis for all of humanity. The international community has now given up on its initial target of 2 degrees of warming over the course of the next century, which is seen as unrealistic. We are now committed to between 2-3 degree warming targets in that time, temperature rises which will produce between two or five the amount of annual droughts, displace 275m people through sea level rises, with the additional loss of hundreds of thousands of species of animals.
On 20th September, between 12 noon and 12.30pm the Trade Unions will be taking part in a global day of action on Climate Change and calling for people from all over the world to walk out in support. Please join us on the Civic Centre Lawns, and let’s keep up the fight to have our planet still habitable for future generations.
Carbon reduction is not the only issue facing humanity in terms of the environment, we are also facing a huge challenge around biodiversity. This Council continues to be proactive in the face of a government that is not interested in the suffering of British people, the strains placed on public service provision by its policies and the damage done to our politics through shameless electioneering. Our capital investments over the years have guaranteed economic growth in Salford, where elsewhere in Greater Manchester we have seen stagnation.
Increasing our Council tax and local rates base is the only route left available to Local Authorities through this time of austerity, and the growth we have seen in this city has protected our residents from the worst impacts of brutal Tory austerity. And we continue to provide services for those who need them the most.
This Council has recently had the honour of being awarded the ‘Support to the Armed Forces Community’ award, accepted on our behalf by our Veterans champion Cllr. Barry Warner. In a previous speech I have informed the council of the introduction of a new dedicated housing role to support the city’s armed forces community. The new role is specifically targeted at providing bespoke housing support to members of the armed forces community that are homeless, at risk of homelessness or struggling to maintain their tenancy. The service is already proving to be an asset, and it was with great pride that the Council accepted the award in recognition of our work to provide veterans with a fair deal.
As the Westminster drama continues to unfold in London, in Salford we are still here putting the people of this city first. Whilst Westminster continues to provide Local government with nothing but problems, it is our job here in Salford to find the solutions to the issues which our residents face day by day.
We will continue to fight on, as a Labour Authority, to defend the interests of this city against the policies of a government that doesn’t know and doesn’t care.
We will continue to put the interest of our residents first, to build a better and fairer Salford for tomorrow.