The central challenge facing Tameside Council is the additional £38 million of local cuts being imposed by Eric Pickles from Whitehall.
This is a staggering increase on the millions that have gone before, meaning that by 2017, over a half of Tameside Council’s income will have been cut. In real money, that’s £142 million in total and it is a massive reduction in spending by any standards.
So managing local services isn’t going to be easy – but I fully expect our Labour Councillors will do as much as they can to protect jobs and services while making the shrinking budget handed down by the the Tory-led Government fit the increasing needs of the borough.
Our local politicians have the daunting task of continuing to grow our economy while protecting the most vulnerable citizens. More than 1,000 people have tried out the budget simulator on the Council’s website, and now appreciate how hard it can be to juggle all the different priorities we’d like to see continue.
At times, though, putting our heads in the sand and complaining may seem an attractive option. That is not the Tameside way and my Labour colleagues on the Council have made it clear they remain determined to tackle these financial difficulties head on.
Setting out a position of despair isn’t very common in politics, but credit goes to the Leader of the Council, Cllr Kieran Quinn and his colleagues for telling it how it really is.
And in launching their ’15 for 15′ (15 initiatives Tameside’s Labour Council will deliver in 2015), the hope is that these pledges will offer opportunities, hope, economic growth and a better Tameside.
First, Kieran made a youth jobs pledge – building on what the party nationally has pledged – that every young person who is unemployed or not in training will be guaranteed six months of paid employment. He also made a jobs pledge to our local veterans, which means that they will be guaranteed six months of work, skills training and transition support.
On business, there are three pledges. The Council will establish the Tameside Enterprise Scheme, which will support small businesses that invest in Tameside and mentor local young people. There will also be a town centre loyalty scheme that rewards shoppers that head to local businesses. Finally, Tameside will be providing the cheapest long stay parking in Greater Manchester, which will encourage people to get out and about and head into town.
The Council will smarten up our public areas. £1 million will go into tidying up town centres, using local businesses to smarten-up street furniture including bins, benches and bollards. An additional £1 million will go into repairing potholes. Finally, they will be rolling out the bin swap and replacing street lights with more effective and environmentally friendly LED lighting.
There are further pledges aimed at bringing people back into the community and tackling the cost of living crisis.
There will be affordable homes reserved for Tameside people, a pledge to help older people feel safe in their homes, and free travel for the long term unemployed for a period after they have got back into work. And there will also be fair credit and fair pay, a response to unfair payday lenders alongside the Council’s support for the Living Wage.
As importantly, the Council will prioritise further support for young people, with free swimming events for the under 16s, a full programme of activity days in the school holidays, and a Youth Council, to bring young people closer to the democratic process.
Councillor Quinn made fifteen pledges for 2015. They form a comprehensive programme of action to make Tameside a better place. Most importantly they recognise that whatever the financial backdrop, our local Councils can still make a big difference if they have the right priorities.
This article first appeared in this week’s edition of the Tameside Reporter.