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Address to Salford Council - 17th June 2020

Chair and Members of the Council, It’s a pleasure to see colleagues and friends via this new way of working we’ve all been embracing during this time.

Getting to grips with a very different way of working has certainly been challenging at times and whilst it can’t replace or replicate real human interactions I’d still like to pay my thanks an appreciation to those who’ve made this technological transition at this time possible.

I first wish to pay my respects to Eric Burgoyne who sadly passed away on the 16th March. Eric and his wife Val have been long standing members of the Labour Party in Salford, making an enormous contribution to the Labour Movement and the people of our City. Eric retired from the City Council in 2016 and served the City of Salford as Ceremonial Mayor in the Civic Year of 2011-2012.

I know Eric will be deeply missed by family, friends and many of us at the City Council.

Also, I know you will all join me in paying your respects and offering sincere condolences to Adam Kay’s family, friends and loved ones following his tragic death on 2nd June at Clifton Country Park. The loss of such a young life has affected us all and is deeply saddening.

In a world full of sorrow at this time I would also like to remember the 72 people who tragically lost their lives during the fire at Grenfell Tower, those injured and their family and friends at this time. My thoughts and prayers are with the all the families and friends who have lost loved ones at this time.

On Sunday, three years on from that horrific and tragic day, we lit up the Civic Centre in Swinton green in memory of all those who have tragically lost their lives and been injured and in solidarity with the families, friends, loved ones and the local community, committed to seeing justice and bringing some good from their tragic circumstances.

In Greater Manchester, and elsewhere in the UK, we know that residents of high-rise blocks continue to experience stress and sometimes great financial hardship as a result of the need to make their homes safe.

We owe it to them and to every resident of a high-rise block to continue to do everything we can to keep people safe in their homes and to work with central government to ensure they honour their word and that residents and leaseholders aren’t held financially liable for this industrial and regulatory crisis we’re facing whilst ensuring that works on non-compliant buildings are undertaken promptly and swiftly.

Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, which alerted the country to the dangers of different types of cladding systems, work has been underway to replace the cladding and implement a range of safety measures including council-funded sprinkler systems on the 9 tower blocks in Pendleton. A great deal of work has been taking place throughout the three years to protect the residents.

As you have been made aware by Councillor Merry, the proposed safety works for the tower blocks have finally received government approval following what has been a very detailed and complex technical, legal and commercial process.

I remain hugely disappointed by the government’s response throughout this process, which has led to a slower pace in the implementation of the programme of safety works.
Members of this Council will know only too well, as we called an urgent Full Council meeting to agree it that this City Council offered to loan £25 million to fund the works to remove and replace the non-compliant cladding early in the process but the government blocked us doing this because it was a PFI contract incidentally, it was a PFI contract signed-off by the government in 2013.

In addition to this, tight restrictions have been placed on the £600m government’s ACM remediation support funds, initially launched in May 2018 which has meant that the PFI contract did not ‘qualify’ for this support, which has only added to what already was a complicated situation.

Whilst I am relieved that replacement cladding can now formally proceed I would like to pay tribute to the residents who have had to live under these exceptionally frustrating and challenging circumstances over the past three years who would have thought that PFI, a financial instrument governments have so readily embraced as part of the supposed Private Sector Efficiency and New Public Management mantra would have caused such frustration and bewilderment in our City?

I sincerely hope that this news of government sign-off and the commencements of works on the tower blocks will provide some comfort to the residents moving forward.

Turning now to the coronavirus pandemic, from the bottom of my heart I would like to thank every resident of our City for the way you have all responded to such difficult and challenging times. It is the people of our City and our inherent concerns for their welfare, which represents the Spirit of Salford!

My thoughts and prayer remain with all those affected by this cruel virus, which has taken from us much loved friends, family members, loved ones and colleagues. I myself was struck by COVID-19 symptoms, which gave me time to reflect on the impact of this virus on so many across the country and indeed the world. There are so many sad stories!

Councillor Lewis told me about Hilda Churchill, who sadly passed away on the 28th March, just eight days before her 109th birthday. Born in 1911, the grandmother and matriarch of her family, survived two world wars and the Spanish flu but sadly passed away after contracting coronavirus.

I felt it was important to have Full Council today to give us all an opportunity to reflect on the lives that have been lost and to bring together the actions that the City Council and others have taken to support our communities.

The report in front of you outlines in detail the work that has been done since lockdown began on the 23rd March.

The Spirit of Salford Network and helpline was launched within days of the coronavirus lockdown to support vulnerable residents in our City. This saw volunteers, councillors, council employees and partner organisations such as Salford Community and Voluntary Services (CVS), working together to help to those that need it.

As of 12th June, the hotline has received 10,283 telephone calls, along with 1,357 requests for support from the website and the Network has delivered over 3000 food boxes. There are so many people and organisations I would like to thank for their time and compassion.

Organisations such as Connect Youth and Community Centre that swapped lunches for virtual arts, crafts and singing and phoned and sent cards to their members who live alone. Dancing with Dementia volunteers delivered cooked meals to group members and PPE and toiletries to care homes. Social adVentures volunteers have cooked 600 meals a week for NHS frontline staff, provided childcare for key workers, delivered food parcels and supported local families.

The Belt and Road Association (UK), which represents over 100 Greater Manchester-based Chinese companies, who donated 120,000 facemasks to Salford and our own Councillor Bellamy who has been using her catering skills to support residents by preparing 600 meals per week during this pandemic.

We have effectively created our own localised welfare system in this city, catering to those missed out by government’s shielded list.

It’s truly an astonishing feat and it’s been made possible through the hard work of our officers, local councillors, our health professionals, local businesses and with the enthusiasm and commitment of Salford’s residents and our voluntary sector.

Front line workers, volunteers, charity workers, people who look out for their neighbours, those ensuring regular bin collections are maintained, those who leave thank you notes for essential workers or do something for your community you are all heroes! In times of crisis like this it becomes clear how much society relies on things and people, which we often take for granted.

Never before in my lifetime has the national spotlight shone so much on the people who empty bins, look after the vulnerable, volunteer, work in supermarkets, transport goods and many more essential roles that hold society and our communities together.

Until a vaccine is available then testing, tracing and self-isolation in some cases will remain part of our lives as will social distancing and restricting contact for vulnerable people.

The Spirit of Salford is exactly what this great city is about.

But beyond our incredible local response, there is a rockier national picture. Britain has the highest per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world at 62.5 deaths per 100,000. Our lockdown has been an international joke undermined through a mixture of hypocrisy from our leaders and those around them, often unworkable and poorly communicated advice and guidance and seemingly an ideological disinterest in protecting the most vulnerable within our communities aptly highlighted by the government’s u-turn yesterday following Marcus Rashford’s successful public campaign on the summer food voucher which tragically highlighted that 200,000 children have skipped meals during the lockdown in England, Fare Share UK currently distribute 3 million meals per week to those in need and we currently have 1.3 million children in England registered for free school meals.

Our government decided to lockdown at least two weeks too late and at the time, seemingly committed to a policy of ‘herd immunity’ rather than managing our rate of infection. After horrendously bungled communications, an apparently absent Prime Minister and what seems like completely bungled advice – what remained of lockdown is disintegrating fast. Our response to this pandemic has been amongst the worst in the world and from the perspective of Local Government it already appears that the blame game in government has begun.

The Government commissioned a CQC investigation into why hospitals had discharged COVID patients early into lockdown, only to be reminded that their own guidance to hospitals instructed this exact policy. Ministers mysteriously wrote out to all Directors of Public Health last month, informing them that they are responsible for the roll-out of testing contact tracing and infection control schemes over which they are not given access to all the testing data routed through national laboratories, and limited say in implementation of this or any role in the process

Salford’s localised response to the pandemic has been phenomenal.

Before government launched their national portal for care home testing on the 11th May (49 days after lockdown), we were testing care staff and care home residents through our laboratory in Oldham and pop-up testing facility at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Early cases of COVID-19 were relatively high in Salford, with our first case being identified on the 15th March, before the government decided to lockdown the country and we believe many factors played into this. We know the virus has had a greater impact on BAME communities and we know there is a connection between infection rates and structural inequalities. But we also believe that our initially high cases were influenced by our prompt local testing and single GP service for our care homes.

These success were cast into stark relief by Matt Hancock’s publicity stunt in early May, after government decided on the 12th March to halt community testing and contact tracing with Hancock overestimating the number of tests by as many as 40,000 in order to hit his 100,000 per day target sending swabs over to the USA for testing because of lab capacity constraints and issuing home-testing kits whilst changing the language from “tested” to “having the capacity to test”

The spin was a signal of a desperate government clinging onto their reputation in the face of Cabinet sharks looking for an easy scapegoat.

Government communication with us – as a local authority – has been incredibly poor. Last month it was reported that government had quietly withdrawn its much-vaunted ‘Everyone In’ policy, following advice to Local Authorities to do ‘whatever it takes’ to house the homeless.

Without warning or redress, Civil Servants informed officers at the Combined Authority that we’d need to return to previous arrangements, whilst also heeding public health advice during the pandemic and that the money was wrapped up in the £3.2bn nationally rolled out to Councils at the start of the crisis, and that ‘Everyone In’ was not its own scheme that would be separately funded.

In Greater Manchester, we’d already spent over £6m of funding on procuring our own PPE, as national supplies had been entirely deficient from government stocks and presented a real risk to the sustainable supply of PPE within Greater Manchester

The financial picture for Councils across the country is stark. In Salford, COVID-19 has had a projected negative impact on our finances of £58 million and whilst we have received only £16m from government in emergency funding our projected extra costs include a £4.3m increase in demand for Adult Social Care; supporting care homes, providing PPE and covering increased staffing costs. It also includes £4.8m for Children’s Social Care: ensuring foster care placements and support.

The Council is projected to lose £13m in income from Business Rates, £10.7m from Council Tax collections, £5.1m from income from fees and charges and £10m from the Manchester Airport dividend and interest on loans. At the beginning of this crisis, government told us they would support us by every means necessary to tackle the budget pressures caused by our response.

Unfortunately, these promises have run dry and once again we’re having to lobby and campaign with limited success to ensure that government takes into account poverty and deprivation when allocating financial support.

But where government do inform us of policy changes things are not an awful lot better! On Schools, Local Authorities have been receiving policy-changes by press releases and regular updates especially in the run up to 1st June, with school guidance changing more than 40 times in just over one week.

Government proposals to send nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6i children back to school was completely out of kilter with reality and in the end, in Salford our compromise has been to send mainly year 6s back to class taking a risk assessed, safety first approach to school openings with around 75% of our students still isolating at home. Or at least, they should be spending as much time at home as possible!

But what’s to stop teenagers from ‘doing a Dominic’ and breaking lockdown, when our leaders and their advisors seem to be so cavalier with the rules themselves? The disgraceful spectacle of the Prime Minister’s chief Aide both breaking lockdown, was a spectacle I imagine few in Britain found edifying to behold. and Professor Neil Ferguson and Doctor Catherine Calderwood before him.

Combined with confusing and arbitrary rules, this has been a recipe for chaos.

The Conservatives have prioritised hiring a nanny over being allowed to spend time with your family and loved ones. And the national context is that the economic situation is getting much worse. Britain saw its GDP shrink by 20.4% in April alone – a catastrophic figure.

Government were recently forced to row back on their plans to introduce employer contributions into the furlough scheme, after small businesses threatened mass redundancies.

The UK economy, after decades of outsourcing productive industry, privatising the public sector and creating insecure, low-paid jobs is incredibly vulnerable to shock and we look to be the one of the worst hit economy in Europe. These are difficult times indeed for Salford and Britain we await further government announcements on funding which will be vital in determining the future for our local authority.

Meanwhile, we will continue to respond to the situation as it emerges with the same energy and vigour as we have throughout this crisis.

Salford Councillors, and residents, can and should be proud of the response this city has made in the face of the greatest peace-time crisis in living memory. We have performed excellently in challenging circumstances and I would like to thank all the staff, councillors, partners and residents who have helped make that possible.