Chair & Members of the Council,
I would like to start by reflecting on the sad passing of two colleagues, with whom many of us in this chamber were very familiar.
Firstly, I would like to pay my respects to the memory of Andy Cheetham, who sadly passed away in hospital following a tragic road accident. Andy was a hugely popular figure as a local Councillor a community-minded and community spirited man, he devoted his life to this city and its residents. Andy had a lovely nature and was well respected for his depth of knowledge, commanding your attention when he spoke with great insight and knowledge on a great many issues. I personally had many a conversation discussing the finer points of Local Government financing with Andy. His untimely passing will be a great loss to the City and all who knew him.
I would also like to pay respects to the memory of Councillor John Ferguson, a huge figure in the life of Salford Labour Party and a close personal friend of mine. John was completely committed to the Labour movement. He worked tirelessly on many committees, keeping the administrative machinery of our party afloat. As a lifelong Trade Unionist, he devoted his life to improving working conditions for ordinary people and spent his last few years working as Lead Member for Workforce and Industrial Relations in the Council.
Though he worked tirelessly, John never took credit for his work himself. Selfless and committed, John’s loss has been felt deeply within the ranks of our Local Labour Group, and amongst his residents in Pendlebury.
I would also like to reflect on the services to our fallen servicemen and women held over Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day. War is a terrible thing and it is vital that we commemorate the fallen each year so as never to repeat the darkness of our two world wars again.
The pals battalions sent from places like Salford in World War I believed they were fighting ‘the war to end all wars’. Their generation, following the conflict, vowed ‘never again’ though sadly this dream would not be fully realised. By remembering the fallen, we honour their sacrifice and their struggle to gain peace between nations and hope for our future. Unfortunately the disrespectful behaviour of one individual at the Eccles Remembrance Parade shocked us all and this type of behaviour cannot be tolerated in our City. I would like to thank the public and the Police for the way in which the situation was handled, which thankfully did not deter from us remembering those that gave their lives to protect our country.
Today’s Council is taking place amidst a General Election, an election in which the stakes are incredibly high for our country. Britain is in a state of perilous decline. Our infrastructure is failing our cities are paralyzed with traffic, our young people priced out of homes, our hospitals failing, our buildings poor quality and dangerous, our prisons full to brim and our local councils teetering on the edge of financial ruin.
The World Economic Forum has ranked Britain towards the bottom of the table on infrastructure of the G7 nations and globally we rank only 24th (falling even further from 19th in 2006). This is the outcome of nearly a decade of austerity. It is the outcome of the hollowing out of the state and local government pursued relentlessly since the government of Margaret Thatcher, the outcome of the pernicious ideology of neoliberalism which has infected every level of our government from Councils through to the Civil Service.
We also enter this election on the back of unprecedented electoral bribery, as millions is being poured into Tory marginals by government. Thanks to sterling investigative work from Manchester Evening News Jen Williams, the naked politicking at play with public money has been exposed through the allocations of government’s £3.6bn ‘Left behind towns’ fund. Although the well-to-do Lib Dem/Tory marginal of Cheadle has received a substantial allocation, no such allocation has been made for the Town of Stockport of which it is a part. And there has certainly been no extra money for safe Labour Salford, despite many of our high-streets suffering!
And as we’re only too familiar with in this Chamber Local Government funding has been dominated by: transitional grant funding for a chosen few, sweetheart deals on social care a iniquitous rowing back of central government grant and dodgy methodologies. As I have shown many times before in this Council chamber these funds are being manipulated for clear electoral gain.
Over the weekend, as the Chair of the High-Rise Taskforce I spent my Saturday with our fire fighters, emergency services and partners in Bolton following the fire, which started on Friday night in student accommodation (The Cube).
I’d like to thank Greater Manchester’s Fire Fighters, Officers, the Emergency Services, Bolton University and Bolton Council for their immediate response to ensuring the safety and welfare of the students. All students registered at The Cube were found within 24 hours, with two individuals being treated at the scene by paramedics. I’d also especially like to thank Kate & Jude, student ambassadors, who showed such selfless bravery knocking on all students doors to ensure they evacuated the building. Also, the outpouring of support and generosity by members of the public since the event has been remarkable.
The Cube was inspected by our Fire and Rescue Service in 2017 following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower and it was established that the building did not have Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) cladding. GMFRS subsequently requested the fire risk assessment be reviewed and the materials used in the external wall system identified and assessed. This assessment was shared with GMFRS and in 2018, subsequent work was undertaken to both buildings by the building owners.
Following the fire at The Cube, an investigation will now take place to determine the cause of the fire and consider the materials used within the external wall construction and what if any role these materials played in the development and spread of fire. This investigation will be complex and take some time.
It’s been nearly 2.5 years since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, which claimed 72 people’s lives injured more than 70 people leaving families and friends without loved ones.
With the Independent Review of Building Regulations and the Fire Safety Order rendering the current regulatory system “not fit for purpose” and national government agreeing the recommendations in principal but consulting further on Building a Safer Future it seems clear to me that the national industrial crisis the UK is facing with regards to the cladding systems isn’t receiving the urgency from government it deserves.
We need to urgently widen testing regime beyond Grenfell-style cladding. especially given that testing on High Pressure Laminate (HPL) systems (The materials used on the Cube) only began in April this year. We need to urgently make progress with legislation needed to overhaul the high-rise fire safety system. We need to urgently halt and reverse the impacts of government austerity and cuts, which is currently forcing the Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service to cut £12.8m from its budget over the next 3 years. We need to end the cladding lottery and make sure a national hardship fund is made available for the removal and replacement of all types of non-compliant cladding systems We need to seriously consider the 18 metre height threshold for determining what constitutes a ‘high-rise’ building instituting a person-centric and risk-based approach to fire safety, that isn’t determined by the height of the building. It’s truly scandalous at the limited progress that has been made with regards to this national industrial crisis especially when Greater Manchester residents and leaseholders are facing life changing bills to remove and replace non-compliant cladding systems.
Whilst £3.6bn has been allocated by the government for the Left Behind Towns Fund to prime marginal seats for a General Election, Only a mere £600m has been spent by government for removal and replacement of ACM cladding in the nearly 2.5 years since tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. Dare I say we have a government that has got its priorities wrong!
But it is not just Grenfell. Winter has barely begun, and already the NHS is suffering its worst winter crisis since records began. Nearly a decade of systematic underfunding has driven the NHS near to collapse. Hospital wards are being described as ‘like Beirut’, with corridors lined with patients and chronic staff shortages after decades spent not training new doctors and nurses.
Homelessness is spiralling out of control, as hundreds across Greater Manchester have to be put up in hotels and B&Bs. Meanwhile, only a few weeks ago the National Audit Office announced that not a single one of the governments 200,000 new starter homes has been completed since their announcement in 2014. And as our towns and cities are paralyzed under the weight of cars and traffic, with government seemingly obsessed with ‘big ticket’ projects like HS2 ignoring the huge number of essential infrastructure improvements that Britain needs to get moving.
Britain is at a crossroads in this election, but Salford is fighting back. Just a few weeks ago we officially launched Derive with the first 20 truly affordable properties made social rent or affordable (rent capped at the Local Housing Allowance) at Charlestown. Hundreds more homes for affordable and social rents will be delivered by Derive over the coming years, delivering truly affordable accommodation for Salford residents who desperately need it. And I recently had the pleasure of announcing a further 101 Council Houses to be built in Pendlebury, Langworthy and Ordsall.
The Council’s example is also spurring on others.
It has been my pleasure recently to announce that new Social Rented properties are being built by both Salix and Great Places Housing associations. The pressure we have been putting on developers to deliver on our affordable housing aspirations are beginning to bear fruit. The only way out of the UK’s housing crisis is for Councils to build millions of homes, as governments did in the years following the Second World War. But government regulation and a lack of resources still prevents us from building at the scale we need. Conservative reforms to Planning Law mean that developers can wriggle out of providing affordable accommodation and nothing has been done to prevent the speculation on land which drives up land values.
We’ve truly regressed from the days of Labour’s Atlee government when the Town & Country Planning Act 1947 vested all development values in the state established a central land board and ensured that the purchase price for land was at existing use values.
But housing alone will not fix all of our problems. This country’s economic ‘recovery’ has been based on the profusion of low-paid, insecure jobs on part time contracts. Gone are the industries and skilled sectors which residents of cities like Salford once made livings from. The docks, the steel, the mines and the textile factories are now all gone thanks to Conservative governments who refused to plan and invest in our own domestic industry favouring financial services in the City of London.
On the brink of Brexit, Britain is more dependent on and exposed to the world market than ever before. Never have we been so isolated, vulnerable and reliant on others for our food, our manufactured goods and our energy thanks to the Conservatives abandonment of the industries which once made this country the ‘economic engine of the world’.
Yet it is only Labour who are offering a serious programme of investment in this nation’s infrastructure only Labour who are concerned with bringing our trains, our energy and a commitment to attracting productive high-tech industries to our shores. As we teeter on the brink of recession with ONS data showing growth flat-lining since July after contractions in April-June the current government offers nothing to British people who desperately need clear leadership.
At Salford Council, we do what we can despite total economic mismanagement. We have recently been recognised as the country’s first Living Wage city, signing up dozens of large employers to delivering a Real Living Wage. We continue to invest in our City’s growth building our business rates base, and creating opportunities for start ups and small businesses. And we continue to push ahead with the green agenda. Last Council, I referenced the Greater Manchester 2038 target for Carbon Neutrality which this Council is committed to with a total of £4m invested in Carbon reduction schemes. Our efforts have seen us declared by Friends of the Earth as the most climate-friendly council in the North West, and fifth most climate friendly council in the country.
But none of this will stave off disaster for millions of British residents none of it!... without serious change from government. Britain is at a crossroads, and for the good of our nation we need to take a different path.