Dear Madam Chair, Council and Friends,
I would first like to say a few words in memory of Pat Ryan, a much loved Salford resident, passionate Labour Party member, dedicated community politician and much love friend.
Pat lived in Salford her whole life, teaching in Little Hulton schools for 34 years before finally retiring from her role as Head Teacher for Our Lady & Lancashire Martyrs Roman Catholic Primary School in 2006. She served as a councillor for Little Hulton for 10 years, campaigning particularly hard for the welfare of children, and championing the interests of her constituents.
Pat made a big impact on local politics in Salford. She will be missed greatly, and never forgotten!
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to those who have lost their lives in conflict.
Friday 11th marked the 99th anniversary of the ceasefire of the First World War, one of the greatest conflicts in the history of humanity. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the First World War ended and together at Swinton cenotaph, we had the opportunity to reflect and remember those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom. It was also an honour to be a part of this year’s Armistice Day with events across the city to again remember the sacrifices of our fallen heroes.
It’s great to see more-and-more residents every year paying their respects and remembering those we have lost.
Millions of young men lost their lives in that war, flung far afield into foreign lands from villages, towns and cities across Europe and the Common Wealth. Many millions more were displaced and killed in the conflict which spread across central Europe - men, women and children.
That ‘War to End All Wars’, as it was known, sadly did no such thing.
We would go on to fight a Second World War, and following from that many more conflicts around the world. But in remembering the dead we honour their sacrifice, and keep in our hearts the desire to avoid all unnecessary conflict in future, remembering that only peace ends war! In the words of soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon from March 1919,
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling-heads - those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.
With the greatest respects to the memories of those we have lost, we will never forget the price that has been paid for the lives we lead today.
In moving from remembering our past and thinking towards the future...
...for the past few months we have been in consultation with the public over our budget proposals for the New Year.
I’d like to thank all the 590 respondents who have made comments and suggestions, this is an increase from 80 in 2015 - and there are several key priorities which have emerged from the process. Residents in Salford feel a deep sense of community spirit and pride. They feel strong connections with their neighbours, and are deeply attached to the city in which they live.
They consider Salford a friendly place, with a rich heritage.
... but much of this will be no surprise to us as local politicians, where we interact with open, friendly and diverse communities on a day-to-day basis.
Our residents love our parks and green spaces. And as Salfordians they feel a strong sense of pride around Salford Quays, MediaCity and the Lowry, putting this city in the national spotlight and on the national stage. However, they also have many concerns...
Litter and the cleanliness of the city is high on the agenda.
The movement of black-bin collections to a 3 weekly system has caused some criticism, and clearly as a local authority we must better explain the financial and environmental benefits of our new system.
Under a policy of national austerity, with biting cuts from a government still determined to slash budgets, we can’t continue to pay top rates for landfill use when items are more cheaply recycled. We also need to make it clear that there are provisions such as larger bins for those with large families, or caring for several children. We understand the stress of adapting to a new system and we will work with people to help this transition through the recycling and reward scheme and information, advice and guidance.
But to be frank we are in an impossible situation because of Tory cuts, forced to choose which vital services we protect and those we cut. Our residents remain concerned about community safety, which still needs tackling in certain areas of our city. As well as these issues, fly-tipping is cited as a particular problem, blighting the communities of many of our city’s most vulnerable residents.
But one of the highest concerns for our residents is housing and the rising problem of homelessness.
Some of you may have seen my face in the MEN on Monday, as myself, Councillor Paul Longshaw and local MP Rebecca Long-Bailey joined the annual ‘count’ of rough sleepers within our city. What we discovered was devastating!
Walking through the cold at night is never a pleasant experience, but imagine if this was your whole life, trying to find somewhere to lay down in the freezing, cold, wet, winter. Throughout the night we came across five people which is actually lower than last year. A 19-year-old man found sleeping rough in a park had been there for three months and another man was slipping in and out of consciousness barely covered by a blanket.
However, just because we didn’t come across more people sleeping rough it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There were 27 people sleeping in the Narrowgate centre in Langworthy who we were not able to ‘officially’ count, as well as dozens more in church halls. The system for counting is flawed as we can only officially count the people we found sleeping rough on our streets.
Everyone in housing is telling us that rough sleeping is rising and we are seeing more and more people pushed into insecure living arrangements. Last year 1,600 people presented themselves to the council without a home. And in the first six months of this year we placed over 250 families in temporary accommodation because there was no other option.
That’s why this morning the council has supported the motion to endorse the new Homelessness Reduction Bill through Parliament brought by Bob Blackman MP, meaning that nobody will be refused a home because they are not considered a priority. The problem is getting worse as Government cuts have caused reductions to front-line services to help people, as well as ending all future funding for affordable social rented housing.
And though much fanfare is made of policies such as the Homelessness Prevention Grant, in practice this will only mean a meagre £71,000 for Salford a year. Though the intentions are positive, the reality is that we cannot help people unless there is more investment in services. We will push government hard for a better and fairer deal for people without a place to call home.
Particularly, what we need to end this homelessness epidemic is more housing, socially affordable housing at fair rents.
There has been a chronic market-failure in housing and we can’t keep looking to profit based solutions to solve the problem.
Many of you will have seen our headline story on building new low-cost rented homes via the Council.
This is a revolutionary scheme which would see council owned homes at living rents built in our city, distributed according to social need and placed outside the Right to Buy.
This will not solve the housing need requirements in the city, it will be one part of an overall solution. By showing our determination in hard financial times, it shows that we care. We will always push for a fairer and better housing solution for the people in our city. Right to Buy has had a disastrous impact on local authorities housing provision since it was implemented by the Thatcher government as those homes were never replaced which is the key point and public money evaporated out of the system.
It has made the provision of Social and Council housing out of reach to many councils across the country.
Labour supports and aims for a balanced housing market, for people getting a foot on the housing ladder to shared ownership, renting and housing co-operatives...
...but selling off public assets for next to nothing and not replacing those homes for others has helped cause the perfect storm especially when some of those new buyers couldn’t cope, have subsequently moved on or are now landlords living hundreds of miles away and often in other countries with little regard for their tenants and the communities.
As our ability to house vulnerable residents has decreased, the increasing numbers of homeless people on our streets has been clear to see by all.
That’s why we have to take a stand now!
But housing and homelessness are only two of the most visible symptoms of a deeper systemic malaise - poverty.
Child poverty in particular has seen a terrifying increase over the past few years… In some parts of our country, nearly half of children live in poverty. The number of children living in poverty increased by 200,000 last year alone, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts further rises of a staggering 50% by 2020.
Moves to lower the benefit cap may move as many as 40,000 children nationally below the breadline. In Salford we’re told that 433 families currently will be severely impacted by the benefit cap welfare reforms and the number of homeless children is expected to hit an 8 year high this Christmas. This is nothing to be proud of, especially at a time when many of us prepare for Christmas celebrations with friends and family!
The Tory ‘recovery’ is creating a nation of low-paid, low-skilled and insecurely employed workers who increasingly see benefit dependency and living on the breadline as the ‘norm’.
According to research recently published by the House of Commons Library, the number of people on relative low incomes ‘After Housing Costs’ (AHC) are taken into consideration was 13.5 million between 2014-15... that was up 300,000 on the previous year, and makes up 21% of the British public.
As this goes on, the Tories continue to massage the statistics. Unemployment figures are based on the numbers of people dropping out of the benefit system at the same time that punitive sanctions are being deployed to make claiming benefits harder and harder. This is playing politics with the lives of the British people.
The Tory economic model is failing. It is not providing the lives which British people expect or deserve. It drives inequality, social exclusion and isolation, and misery. Until the Tories are out of Number 10, there will be more suffering for the British people under this cruel regime.
But though we face many challenges ahead, as a council we are taking our local issues in stride. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is a great challenge, but provides us with fantastic opportunities. We have to make sure that the fantastic growth from Media-City and the Quays is continued, building the digital industries and companies of the future.
We have huge plans to build up our industrial and warehousing capacity, becoming a gateway to the Atlantic through the development of Port Salford.
We have to make sure that we make room for the thousands of new residents expected to join our Salford community over the next few years... hi-rises and apartments are flying up across the city, especially in and around the city’s historic core, and soon they will be populated with a multitude of new people. And we have to ensure that those fantastic, strong friendly communities we spoke about earlier do not disappear.
We need to make sure that the new homes are affordable for Salford residents who need them – we need to make sure that the benefits of our growth are for everyone, and not just a few. That means protecting our accessible green spaces, as we are doing with the Worsley Greenway. It means keeping our parks open, planting trees and improving our air quality.
And our job with the GMSF also means meeting our infrastructural requirements for transport and flood prevention.
This is Salford’s time, and our task now, is to ensure we all collaborate for an inclusive growth for all!
It’s been a hectic seven months since the election, but we have already achieved an awful lot.
There are far more plans in the pipeline as well, for a more socially inclusive, dynamic, growing Salford.
But the challenges we face are still mounting. As the systemic failure of the Tory economic model becomes clear. Rising inequality, rising in-work poverty, insecure employment, low-skilled jobs and rising homelessness. This is a terrifying prediction for the future which the Conservative Party will make reality if nothing is done to challenge their vision.
Together, United as the Labour Party we are the only force in British politics capable of challenging Tory rule, and fighting for the interests of ordinary working people. We will keep fighting, for a Better and Fairer Salford for All.