I'm Eamonn O'Brien, councillor for St Mary's ward in Prestwich, and it's an honour for me to become leader of Bury Council.
I was born here, educated here, and have lived here all my life. That's how I know that this is a great place in which to live, work and study, and I will do everything I can to ensure it continues to be so.
The coronavirus crisis has shown us just how important teamwork is, and I will be working with all our partners - in health and public services, with businesses, and with volunteers and community groups - to take on the challenges ahead and make Bury prosper and flourish.
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8 September 2021: Helping Bury residents out of poverty
Hello everyone, and I hope you managed to enjoy a summer break after such a long year of disruption. Sure as fate, the heatwave arrived just when the kids went back to school!
You may have read in the local press that the council has just officially become a Real Living Wage employer. This means that all those employed by the council will be paid at least £9.50 an hour, compared to the Government's standard of £8.72.
This is one of the many council decisions that I am most proud to have led on, and it's one that will directly benefit our borough's lowest paid key workers, especially those who work in social care, traditionally a low-paid occupation and predominately made up of women workers.
We all heard people saying they were heroes during the coronavirus pandemic. Well, now's the time to put our money where our mouth is and thank them properly. This will also help improve our social care services for the most vulnerable in the borough.
We hope other employers will follow our lead, and we've already had great support from local businesses who either already pay the Real Living Wage or will now do so. The more people in Bury who are paid the Real living wage, the stronger our recovery will be and the less deprivation will exist.
In short: it gives working people more money in their pocket, which is good for them and their families, and also good for the local economy as they have more money to spend. It really is a win-win situation.
Lifting society's lowest earners out of poverty is not something the council can do alone. One way that local people could be helped would be for the Government to scrap its plans to cut Universal Credit by £20. We'll be discussing this at the full council meeting on Thursday (9 September), but what I say is that there are more than 15,000 households on Universal Credit in Bury, many of them in work, and they need just as much financial help post-Covid as they did during the pandemic. You can watch the council meeting live from 7pm at Council Stream - Live stream.
The Government has also now announced how the nation can pay for decent social care. I am deeply disappointed that they have gone down the route of increasing National Insurance, which will have a disproportionate effect on poorer people, younger people and on hard-pressed local employers.
We also don't know how this will affect councils in the money we receive, or whether the burden will be passed on to council taxpayers in the form of higher bills or precepts.
It's all about priorities, and lifting the weight off those who are least able to bear it is top of ours.
27 July 2021 - Going for gold
Hello everyone, and a big shout out to Bury's Olympians currently competing for gold in Tokyo - Adam and Simon Yates plus James Guy.
Stop press: James Guy has just won gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay! Huge congratulations to him - he's done the borough proud.
It's strange to watch such a major sporting event without an audience to witness their achievements. It's in sharp contrast to the situation here, where lockdown has been lifted and England were cheered on by a capacity crowd in the Euro final.
The good news is that Covid infection rates here are finally going down. But is this due to the school holidays? More people being vaccinated? It's too early to say. The local rate is now 463 per 100,000 people - but remember last July, when Greater Manchester was placed into local lockdown? The rate then was just 16!
So it's obvious we're nowhere near out of the woods yet, especially as a number of new variants have cropped up since then. That's why I urge everyone to get their jabs at one of the many walk-in clinics in Bury (details here: Getting vaccinated and getting your second dose). Do it for your family and loved ones - but do it for yourself, even if it's only so you can go abroad on holiday!
You may have heard the terrible news at the weekend about a woman in East Street, Bury who died from severe burns. The police are working hard to find out what happened, and I urge everyone not to speculate in the meantime. If you have any information you should contact the police on 0161 856 7386. Our heartfelt sympathies go to her family and loved ones.
The full council meets tomorrow, and one of the topics for discussion will be the Places for Everyone masterplan for jobs, housing and the environment over the next 15 years.
I know as well as anyone the concern that this has generated, particularly among those opposed to any release of green belt land.
It's not just about housing. It's about jobs and investment to secure the future prosperity of our borough. It's about getting the infrastructure - transport, schools, doctors' surgeries - that we will need to complement any new housing. Even if every house in the plan is built, more than 53% of Bury's land will still be in the green belt, so it's not (as some would have it) concreting over the green belt.
Some people say we should simply produce a Bury local plan and ignore the Government's housing targets. What they might not tell you is that we have already tried this - twice. And, both times, our local plan was thrown out by the planning inspectors because they said we had not allowed for enough housing using the Government's population targets.
To anyone who says we can simply ignore those targets, I'd advise them to read this press article Welwyn Hatfield Times - Council 'bitterly disappointed' as planning inspector says borough needs 15,200 homes. In short, it appears that housing need does indeed trump the green belt.
Having a plan with the other GM authorities has already enabled us to offload 2,228 of our houses onto other districts. We would not have been able to do this by going it alone. We need a plan, otherwise developers will simply cherry pick the plum sites for housing, and there will be precious little we can do to stop them.
Tomorrow's council meeting (Wednesday 28 July) will be live streamed from 6pm, so why not tune in and listen to the arguments? Go to Council Stream - Live stream.
Finally, a big 'thank you' to the many litter-picking groups that do tremendous work across the borough. I'm pictured with some of the Prestwich councillors and local residents. If we all do a little bit, a lot can be collectively achieved. Details of how to take the Bury Litter Pledge are here: Take the Bury Street Care pledge.
2 July 2021 - Remembering the past, but planning for the future
Hello everyone, and it was both a pleasure and an honour to attend this year's Armed Forces Day at the weekend.
While social distancing restrictions meant a limit on numbers, there was no shortage of pride on parade as veterans and military representatives raised the flag opposite the town hall before marching to a commemorative event at Gallipoli Garden.
We are rightly proud of our military tradition in Bury, the historic home of the Fusiliers. Former and current serving members of our armed forces have made a tremendous contribution to our country, during times of conflict and in peacetime.
Nowhere is this more evident than the support they have given hard-pressed public sector workers during the Covid pandemic - and they are helping to carry out testing at local schools in Bury as we speak.
It is only right that armed forces personnel receive all the support that we can give them. I spoke to a number of veterans at the commemoration, listening to talk about the things we can do to help.
I'm pleased to announce that we are refreshing our Armed Forces Covenant which will give them 'protected status', and we'll be spelling out what that means in the coming weeks.
I'm pictured at the ceremony with Councillor Richard Gold, cabinet member for communities, and Councillor Gareth Staples-Jones, who was representing the reserve forces (he serves with the Queen's Own Yeomanry, B Squadron, (Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry) in Wigan.
While we rightly remember the past, we're also making great plans for the future in Bury.
With members of my cabinet, I will tonight hope to approve reports which will bring a new hotel to the former fire station, bring investment and jobs to this gateway - and brownfield - site in Bury.
We have also just submitted bids of £40 million to the Government's Levelling Up Fund - half to drive forward the regeneration of Radcliffe, and half to build a new flexi hall and wider improvements at Bury Market and the surrounding area.
We trust that the Government is as good as its word in wanting to see northern districts such as Bury thrive as much as our southern counterparts, and we look forward to our bids being approved in the autumn.
These investments will help us to flourish post-Covid, but let's not forget that we're still very much living with coronavirus. Our infection rates are still far too high, and we need to get on top of this.
So please - go for your vaccinations (both of them), and follow the guidelines around space, face, hands and fresh air. And get tested too, so we can crack down on any localised outbreaks quickly. All the information you need is on the council's Coronavirus web page.
16 June 2021: If I can do it, so can you!
Hello everyone, and the weekend gave me at least two reasons to be cheerful.
Firstly, I was delighted to volunteer at the Prestwich Walk-in Centre alongside all the magnificent people who are helping keep us safe by administering coronavirus vaccinations.
I want to say a huge 'thank you' to the volunteers as well as the clinical and support staff, who are still just as enthusiastic and helpful as when they started months ago. One man is a retired primary school teacher who has been asking the same questions of visitors nearly every day since January, but still puts people at their ease and was a real inspiration.
The second reason for feeling happy is that they gave me my first Pfizer jab while I was there! As someone in the younger age bracket who has only just been made eligible, I wanted to make sure I took the opportunity as soon as I could. With only a sore arm the next day, I can reassure anyone who is reluctant that it is safe and you will be doing a great service in getting yours.
Being vaccinated is vital in getting this virus under control, and new clinics - both walk-in and bookable - are being organised literally by the day to make it easier for people to get what could be life-saving protection.
Follow the council on Twitter - Bury Council and Facebook - Bury Council to get the very latest news on the clinics. And if you're unsure whether you're eligible for a jab, come on down and the staff there will advise you. Remember - we're looking for reasons to vaccinate you, not to turn you away.
In terms of the latest news from the Prime Minister, I'm as disappointed as everyone else that the final easing of lockdown measures has been delayed for another four weeks. But I also understand why, given the sharp increase in infection rates locally and nationally.
The rise shows how important the continuing 'Response' element of our 3 Rs plan for the year ahead is and will continue to be for some time. We must continue to get people vaccinated, encourage everyone to regularly test themselves and to self-isolate when necessary.
We are very much still here to provide support to businesses (see our Bury Means Business website for details of financial help).
And we're still here to help residents, who need assistance to self-isolate and get their food and medication - and financial help is available too: see Coronavirus support for residents.
It's been a long struggle, but we're nearly there, and we all need to do our bit to win this.
21 May 2021 - The 3 Rs to a bright future
Hello everyone. Now that the dust of the local elections has settled, the council's annual meeting today re-elected me as council leader.
It's an honour and a privilege to hold this post, and I promise you that I will do everything in my power to improve the borough in which I was born and brought up.
And there's a lot to do, as we emerge from a year of coronavirus lockdowns.
Yes, we're making great progress on getting people vaccinated: more than 100,000 Bury citizens have received their first dose, and 60,000 have returned for their second jab.
But keeping our people safe from illness is just one of the many tasks we have to ensure our borough flourishes in a post-Covid world.
To adapt an old mantra, I'd summarise the challenges as the 3 Rs - response, recovery, and regeneration.
About response: coronavirus hasn't gone away. In fact, cases of new variants are rising on our doorstep. We've got to keep up our fight against this potentially fatal illness: and we need to continue to follow the rules about social distancing and hand hygiene to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
It's still essential for us to carry out extensive testing, and make sure the pressure on our hospitals doesn't increase. Vulnerable citizens will still need looking after, whether in care homes or through our network of Community Hubs, and we must keep our children safe in schools.
And on recovery: we'll be refreshing our 10-point plan to boost the economy, which was originally drawn up before the pandemic. This will identify the key issues facing us, spell out what our priorities are, and identify the resources needed to fund them. This will be embedded in our Bury 2030 vision, securing our future for generations to come.
And finally, regeneration. We will shortly be submitting bids of £20 million to the Government's Levelling Up Fund, to continue the regeneration of Radcliffe and transform Bury town centre around our famous Bury Market. We'll also be consulting on the Ramsbottom town plan, bringing forward new housing on brownfield sites, and implementing a range of measures to improve the social care and wellbeing of our residents.
More detail about these measures will be discussed at next week's meeting of the cabinet, at which we will also launch our far-reaching and comprehensive Climate Action Strategy. This will need everyone in Bury - residents, businesses, organisations - to get on board if we are to achieve our ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2038, and making our borough (and the planet) a better place for our children and their children.
Together, we will recover and prosper.
23 March 2021 - Together we are stronger
Hello everyone, and I hope you are well on what is a momentous day - the first anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown.
Truly we have not seen a year like it. We must never forget that more than 500 Bury people have lost their lives to this virus, and our hearts go out to their families and friends.
A minute's silence will be held at mid-day when we can show our support for all those who have been bereaved, and remember all those we have lost. A video, reflecting on Covid-19 in Bury, will be available to watch here: YouTube - Reflecting on COVID 19 in Bury one year on....
We can also add our names to the Greater Manchester online book of remembrance, at GM Remembers.
Today, though, also gives us the opportunity to remember the tremendous way our community has come together to look after our most vulnerable, not least the hundreds of local residents who volunteered to work at our new community hubs. They, as well as the staff working for the NHS, for the council and care homes, deserve all our thanks for their heroic efforts.
And this gives me great hope for the future, for brighter days which are getting ever closer.
Thousands of people have watched our recent Bury Futures video streams which debated and explored the future of our borough to 2030 and beyond: with local, regional and national commentators discussing Bury health, enterprise and communities in Bury.
Each discussion was led by Bury-born national journalist Philip Collins, with contributions from Adam Lent, chief executive of the national think tank 'New Local', and Ramsbottom-born Professor Diane Coyle. They were joined by many local representatives including the Bury Voluntary and Community Faith Alliance, Jewel Foundation and Bury Community Support Network.
Each discussion had a particular theme - Local, Enterprise, Together, Strengths - but a common thread ran through each of them: times are tough, there are huge challenges for us all, but we need to stay ambitious for our future and make the most out of the opportunities that are out there.
How we do that is a big question. This last year of tackling Covid has shown the amazing contribution that public services can still make: however, a huge part of this has been underpinned by new and strengthened relationships across our communities, local businesses and residents.
Over the past year we have truly seen the power of society: public services working together to put people first, neighbours checking in on each other and building new friendships, and the renewed recognition of our "key workers", especially our health and care staff. The challenge will be keeping that spirit alive as we seek to build back better and tackle the raft of other issues that require our attention.
What we need now is the self-belief that we can do it. Let's do more to support what makes our borough great: our diverse and vibrant local communities, our amazing public services and the key workers that run them, and our local businesses who need our help to recover. These were the people who turned up as advocates for our borough at Bury Futures and who, day in and day out, make us proud of where we live. I know our future is positive because we can rely on them to be there, no matter what.
You can watch the Bury Future series in its entirety online by visiting Bury Futures.
As a council, we are putting significant resources behind this approach. At our cabinet meeting tomorrow, we'll be outlining our latest plans to transform the town centres of Radcliffe and Prestwich. We're taking the lead, and investing many millions of pounds, to acquire key assets which will drive forward this regeneration. And we've also announced similar plans for Bury and Ramsbottom town centres.
It will take everybody to make this happen: residents, businesses, government and external agencies. But if we show the same collaborative spirit as have during Covid, all our borough will the better for it.
25 February 2021: Recognition, recovery, regeneration
Traditionally, the so-called 3 Rs have stood for reading, writing and arithmetic.
For legendary Prestwich band The Fall, the 3 Rs stood for repetition, repetition, repetition.
Now it's my turn to define what the phrase means for Bury, as we start to leave the year-long coronavirus lockdown behind us.
My 3 Rs stand for recognition, recovery and regeneration - all essential if we are to flourish in the post-Covid years ahead.
Throughout this pandemic, social care staff and those working in schools and other public services have been at the front line of looking after our elderly and young people. All of them deserve our grateful thanks, but too many of them have been traditionally undervalued and underpaid.
That's why I'm proud to announce that we will introduce the Real Living Wage for these staff, both council and agency workers.
The move, which will be phased in over the next two to three years, is a key part of the 2021/22 budget, which we set last night (Wednesday 24 February).
Covid has had a significant effect on our budget, and will continue to do so. We face a £43 million shortfall, even after Government support, over the next three years due to lost income and increased costs caused by the series of lockdowns and local restrictions.
But it is imperative that we continue to invest in our people and our economy to make sure we can thrive in the post-Covid world.
Regeneration of our towns is high on our agenda. We have already committed to raising more than £30 million to transform the heart of Radcliffe, and masterplans to regenerate Bury and Prestwich town centres are well under way. We also want to produce a bespoke Town Plan for Ramsbottom and will be looking at how we can protect the future of the civic suite there as part of it.
We are also committing a further £6 million in a Regeneration Investment Fund to kickstart these projects and attract external investment.
And finally, recovery. We will be setting up two special Recovery Funds, for our communities and local businesses to collaborate with the council to help us build back better.
This will run alongside our commitment to providing free school meals to eligible pupils over the long summer holidays, helping struggling families to recover and make ends meet, and a refresh of our hardship fund to support those who are in work but have not been previously eligible for support.
We'll also invest in our green spaces and parks, transport projects, sports facilities, road safety schemes and tackling potholes.
Taken together, these measures will put Bury on the right track for recovery and regeneration, with suitable recognition for those who have played such a crucial role in getting us to this point.
Finally, a huge thanks to everyone involved in rolling out the coronavirus vaccinations across Bury. As of today, around 59,000 people registered with a Bury GP have had at least one jab, which is one third of the eligible population. I'm pictured at one of the testing centres in the borough, with Major Olly Morley of the Coldstream Guards, to thank the Army for all their help.
28 January 2021: Going on the offensive
Hello everyone, and it's nice to have some uplifting news to report.
The number of people in Bury who have now had their Covid jab is up to 23,000, the vast majority of them among the most elderly and vulnerable citizens in our borough.
The vaccinations are being carried out at four vaccination centres covering all points on Bury's compass: the Elizabethan Suite in Bury, Bealey's in Radcliffe, Ramsbottom Civic Hall, and Prestwich Walk-in Centre.
The target is to vaccinate everyone in the top four priority tiers by 15 February, and those in the top nine tiers by mid-April, in line with Government policy.
I visited my local vaccination centre in Prestwich this week to meet the staff, and I want to say a huge thanks to them - and to all the volunteers who are helping to run the centres - for their tireless and magnificent work. (I'm pictured with Dr Jeff Schryer (CCG Chair and Prestwich GP, and pharmacist Saleem Akhtar).
Isn't it amazing what can be achieved when the Government drops the reins and allows local public services and communities to get on with it? We need a lot more of this devolution of power.
We've just launched a weekly vaxxinometer to keep everyone in Bury up to date with how many local people are being vaccinated, and give us all reasons to be cheerful as we can see the numbers rise by the day.
Remember: your GP will invite you when it's your turn. Continue to follow the Covid-safe rules, as you could still transmit the virus, and go back for your second jab when invited.
Advice and support on all matters related to coronavirus can be found on Coronavirus.
There's more good news. We've just agreed to provide financial support to more local businesses hit by lockdown. Two of these schemes are for major employers and industries which are key to the borough's economy and jobs, and the third is for small and micro businesses who have not qualified for support before. These include people like taxi drivers who rent their vehicle or people who buy a chair at a hairdresser's or beauty salon.
For more details, and to apply for help, see our Bury Means Business web site and sign up to receive the latest news on how we can help you through these unprecedented times.
Finally, this week we remembered all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and in subsequent genocides. It's incredibly important that we respect our history but also make decisions in the 'here and now' to learn from it. We all have a duty to make our world a better place.
17 December: There is light and hope this Christmas
Hello everyone, and after what can only be described as a turbulent year, we've finally had some great news.
Our first Covid vaccination centre opened this week in Prestwich, with priority patients aged 80+ the first to receive this potentially life-saving jab.
Further vaccination centres will shortly be opening across the borough, bringing real hope to thousands of our most vulnerable citizens. Furthermore, we have started the targeted testing of asymptomatic people in Bury to reduce the spread of the virus in our community and get our infection rates down.
All this is thanks to the amazing work and tireless dedication and hard work of our scientists, health workers and those across the public sector.
This optimism, though justified, is balanced out somewhat by the hard fact that Bury is still in Tier 3 of Covid restrictions. I'm as frustrated as everyone else by this but, while our infection rate has fallen since last month, it is still around the national average - and local people are continuing to need intensive care in hospital.
That's why it's so important that we don't take our eye off the ball at this crucial moment. This will be especially important over Christmas, when the restrictions will be relaxed to allow us to meet some family members. The last thing we want is another steep spike in cases come the New Year, so we must continue to follow the rules and get the rate down - washing our hands, wearing face coverings, keeping space and letting fresh air in. These sacrifices will be worthwhile. We all want life to return to normal.
We will have other serious matters to deal with come the New Year, as we finalise plans to balance the council's next budget. Following the Government's spending review, we will have to find £64 million of cuts over the next four years, including their announcement that council tax can rise by an additional 3% to pay for increased social care costs, taking the total rise to around 5%. Given the horrendous year that so many residents and businesses have endured, this is entirely the wrong time to be putting this burden on local taxpayers, and we will continue to argue against this until the budget is set in February.
Before then, there is Light and Hope this Christmas, and it is so important that we look out for each other over the festive period, a time when many will feel lonelier than ever and need our support.
Among the many online activities that I urge you to take part in is the chance to make your own stars and display them in your window. More than 700 stars are already on show across the borough to thank all those who have been supporting local communities during the pandemic. The stars are fitting symbols for the light of hope that they have brought to people, such as those who were shielding, and also symbolise the best in people during periods of darkness.
My personal stars are the council staff and key workers who have done a tremendous job throughout the crisis. The council formally thanked them at September's meeting, calling on them to be properly recognised and rewarded for their heroic efforts (full text here: Council decisions - Council meeting 9 September 2020 - Agenda: Notices of motions) It's ridiculous that it should take a global pandemic to make us realise the value of the work they do.
Take care, keep safe, and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a prosperous New Year.
3 December 2020: It doesn't have to end in tiers
Hello everyone, and I wouldn't blame you for having a strong sense of déjà vu.
After a national lockdown, local measures, Tier 2, Tier 3, and a second national lockdown, here we are back in Tier 3 again.
There is good news, though. The Covid infection rate in Bury has dropped by a third in the last week alone, and a number of vaccines are on their way. Leisure centres and gyms are reopening, as are non-essential shops - including all the stalls on our cherished Bury Market.
Yes, the hospitality trade continues to take the blows, and the restrictions on our personal freedom remain as frustrating as when we started. But we're getting there - and that's why we've got to stick with it and not give up the fight now. Just because we're allowed to visit family for a few days over Christmas, we must still follow the rules and take all precautions. These sacrifices will be worthwhile. We all want life to return to normal.
Among those hit hardest by lockdown have been Bury businesses, and the thousands of people they employ. The recent news around Arcadia and Debenhams has made this clear.
That is why I joined the Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham in calling for extra financial support to be provided by the Government to areas like ours which have been placed in the top tiers and face months of additional restrictions. This is especially important for our hospitality trade and those who support or rely on it.
One of my top priorities as Leader is to build on the strength of our council's relationship with businesses. To that end, I was delighted to attend - digitally - thus year's Made in Bury Business Awards, celebrating the resilience and tenacity, the imagination, and the bravery of those who lead our economy and on whom the strength of our borough relies.
The council was the headline sponsor, and presented Bury Hospice with a new Triumph Over Adversity award for the way in which they have risen to the coronavirus challenge.
At the council, we're doing all we can to support local companies and put business friendly policies at the heart of everything we do. We've set up a specialist advice team, town centre boards, and distributed around £40 million to 4,000 local firms hit by lockdown. This week we will have processed the vast majority of the new grants to businesses and we continue to champion more support for those who have missed out on the latest support scheme.
With the right plans for the future, and the right support, we'll be able to build back better.
9 November 2020: Reasons to be cheerful - yes, there are some!
Hello everyone, and I hope you're all keeping well during this latest period of lockdown.
Let's be honest - we're all a bit fed up with coronavirus, aren't we? With the glorious exception of three weeks in July, we've been labouring under some form of restrictions since March. These southerners don't know they're born!
So I totally understand everyone's frustration, as the temperature drops and the nights draw in, at not being able to see their friends and relatives and pop out for some food or the pub.
But there is hope on the horizon. In the news this week, there was serious talk that a vaccine is getting ever closer. The initial reports are positive and I am pleased to announce that we are already planning the practicalities for the mass delivery of a vaccine, should we have one approved soon.
Whilst many of our dedicated council staff, key workers and community groups are battling with Covid fatigue, there has still been a huge amount of work undertaken in recent months. Plans are well under way to keep people well and get the local economy in the best position to recover from this recession.
The community hubs we set up have brought together the biggest ever number of local organisations and volunteers, and will play a crucial role in the coming years to provide services in people's neighbourhoods.
Similarly, the new town centre boards in each of our localities are bringing together businesses to protect jobs, rebuild our high streets and plan for long-term success.
Our Bury Opportunity Guarantee aims to ensure that no one is left behind in the recovery: by creating job opportunities, improving people's skills and boosting apprenticeships.
We're making great progress on our ambitious plans to regenerate the heart of Bury, Prestwich and Radcliffe, with Sir Howard Bernstein leading the way on the latter.
We're providing more accommodation and wraparound support to end rough sleeping in the borough, and using our own and government money to ensure our children are properly fed and also have constructive leisure and fitness activities to enjoy outside of school time.
New pots of funding have been created and are being targeted at those classed as living in poverty, including those who are in work and often get left out of support measures.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, folks, and we will get through this, of that there is no doubt.
30 September 2020: We need more than 'the few' to win this battle in Britain
Earlier this month, veterans and their families took part in commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Churchill's immortal words about the many owing so much to the few spoke the truth. This was a truly defining episode in our nation's long and proud history, and we would not enjoy the liberties we have today without their hard-won triumph.
I don't think it's an over statement to say that we are at another watershed moment, in our current fight against coronavirus. This silent invisible enemy has already claimed 241 lives in Bury and over 40,000 across the country - that's the same number of civilians who died in the Blitz.
In Bury, we've been under extra restrictions since July: but these measures have not had the desired aim of bringing down the infection rate, which is continuing to rise.
For us to avoid going into lockdown, three things need to happen to get the transmission rate down:
- The Government need to get a grip on testing. Too many people cannot get a test when they try to book using the national system, or are offered a test many miles away. That's why we've opened 3 walk-in testing centres across the Borough to make it easier for our residents to get a test, with a target of 7 sites by the end of next month. Testing is the cornerstone, and a lack of it undermines everything else being done to beat back the virus. The results also need to come back more quickly.
- Track and trace must improve, as too many people are not being contacted. We have offered to run the system locally, using our own capacity and resources, because it's become apparent that this is the only way it's going to get better. I hope the Government will support us on this, as this will important for the coming year at least.
- I understand people's confusion and frustration about the rules. But we need everyone, more than ever, to make a real effort to follow the law and the guidance - it's our civic responsibility, not something we can leave to others. You might think you're invincible, but think about your local pub, or your local shop, if the Government orders another lockdown. Think of your mates who will lose their jobs, and your elderly relatives who may be isolated from their families. This isn't virtual reality - real life actions have real life consequences.
If we are to defeat this virus, and save people's lives, jobs and businesses, it will take more than actions of the few. It will take the actions of us all if we are to get back to normal and enjoy the freedoms that were defended in the Battle of Britain 80 years ago.
8 September 2020: Thank those who think of us
There are many big words in the English language, but sometimes the short ones are best.
The one I'm using this week is 'thanks'. Firstly, to everyone involved in getting our schools reopened safely after the lockdown. Thanks to the school heads, teachers and staff. To those arranging transport, to our catering teams, to welfare officers. To the thousands of parents and carers, and the kids themselves, who have suffered this unprecedented disruption to their education.
It's not been easy, and there will be many challenges along the way. But the best way to tackle these challenges is to plan and prepare. For example, we've been drawing up plans to ensure that children entitled to free school meals will still receive them if they have to self-isolate at home.
I also want to thank the many volunteers, organisations and council staff who are still working hard to support vulnerable people in the community. To the many businesses who are working with us to build up their recovery plans and ensure Bury remains prosperous.
We cannot let all their good work go to waste. Rising coronavirus rates across Greater Manchester mean that we are likely to remain under additional restrictions for the immediate future. We're lobbying the government to take action and properly fund a local track and trace system, which will be vital in helping us deal with any local outbreaks and get back to normality.
Yes, the majority of new cases are among the under-40s, who are physically more likely to recover from the virus should they contract it. Yes, we are not seeing the alarming number of hospital admissions and deaths that we saw in the first wave in April and May.
But we simply cannot be complacent - catching this illness and bringing it home to our families has serious consequences. Don't wait until it moves on up the age scale and hits the old and those with health conditions again. Don't put our NHS at breaking point, as they deal with a potential winter double whammy of regular flu and coronavirus.
This also reminds me of the final group of people I want to thank: the health, social care and other key workers who put themselves on the frontline of fighting this virus - some of whom lost their own lives trying to keep us safe. We don't want to put them through that again.
I will be proposing a motion at full council on Wednesday to formally thank those workers for their often heroic contributions, and calling for fairer council funding to ensure they are properly appreciated through the payment of a real living wage. You can watch the debates live from 7pm at Council Stream - Live stream 9 September 2020.
Let's keep it simple. Keep your distance from others, wash your hands regularly, and wear a face covering in shops and on public transport. That way we'll get out of this safely. Why not carry a mask and a mini sanitiser in your pocket, along with your keys and purse, whenever you leave the house? To everyone who does that, I say 'thanks' to you too.
25 August 2020: Welcoming everyone back to school safely
Hello everyone, and I hope you're all keeping well.
It's been a turbulent time in education, to say the least. I want to congratulate our young people on their A-level and GCSE results, which they finally received, no thanks to a ridiculous algorithm which discriminated against our students and threatened to blight their futures.
As a council, we put our full support behind our schools, teachers and pupils who have worked so hard to succeed in the midst of the most difficult year we can remember. This exam shambles should never have happened, and I'm proud that we took up the cause and fought to get it resolved.
Now, we're all looking forward to our children being able to return to school next week. An incredible amount of work has been undertaken by head teachers and their staff, along with our own employees, to ensure that schools are safe to reopen and they deserve huge thanks from all of us.
Each school has put in place arrangements around classrooms, teaching and transport to give children and parents confidence that returning to education is safe in Bury. There are also detailed plans to deal with any consequent spike in cases, should this occur. I urge parents (and the wider community) to continue to follow the guidance around social distancing and hand hygiene to keep the risk of transmission down - if we don't, we will end up in another lockdown, which will jeopardise our children's education and put jobs and livelihoods at risk, along with people's lives.
We have a number of plans to recover from coronavirus and keep Bury's economy healthy as well as its population. At our cabinet meeting next Wednesday, we will be taking the next step in the regeneration of Radcliffe. The first round of public consultation on this has just finished, and more than 1,400 comments were received from local residents, businesses and other interested parties. Already people's views have brought some changes to the plans, so I can assure you that what you say does make a difference. Major plans like these will only work if we all work to make them work! You can read more about the next steps here: My Newsdesk - Next steps in Radcliffe regeneration scheme
Cabinet will also be considering a masterplan for Bury town centre, to ensure it is fit for the future retail and leisure environment and continues to be one of the most visited town centres in Greater Manchester.
And, again with the focus on our young people, we will be proposing to build four new classrooms at Park View Primary School in Prestwich. This will allow pupils to learn in the best of modern facilities and set them on the right course to fulfil their ambitions and reach their potential. That's what it's all about, folks.
10 August 2020: Coronavirus hasn't gone on holiday either
Hello everyone. I hope you're all keeping well and also keeping to the new restrictions introduced in these parts to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Sadly, the infection rate in Bury and Greater Manchester continues to rise.
In many cases, the virus is being spread when people get together outside of their household - often inside each other's homes, when it is understandably all too easy to relax and let social distancing slip.
The regulations mean that we cannot meet with people we do not live with in private homes and gardens, or in indoor public venues such as pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship, community centres, leisure and entertainment venues, and visitor attractions. We also cannot visit our loved ones in care homes, other than in exceptional circumstances.
I totally understand people's frustration and disappointment. At this time of year we're all looking to get away on a much-deserved holiday, and many of us have had to abandon our plans to go abroad in favour of a 'staycation'. I'm no exception: we've had to cancel our trip to visit family in Ireland.
But the coronavirus hasn't gone on holiday either, which is tough luck on us. Everybody has to take the new measures seriously, follow the guidance, and stop us going into another full-scale lockdown.
Any attempt to blame one section of our community is simply wrong: in Bury the new cases are spread out across the borough, from Ramsbottom to Sedgley Park, and across all ethnic groups and age ranges (increasingly among the under-40s). As someone else said at another time, we really are all in this together, and we are all responsible for solving the problem.
One way we can tackle the crisis is to improve the Test and Trace system, which is simply not managing to contact people quickly enough. With Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, I held a call with Dido Harding, head of the NHS Test and Trace operation. This was extremely constructive, with no party political point-scoring, and I am glad that they are listening and taking on board our experiences and suggestions.
While the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the fragility of the recovery and the need to be constantly vigilant, it is certainly not putting our recovery plans on hold.
Andy Burnham joined us for a conference with the Bury Business Leadership Group, talking about the type of support and long-term plans that are needed around skills, land, transport and infrastructure, and he was impressed by the partnership we've put together to set us on course for a prosperous future.
Our immediate plans include getting our schools ready to fully reopen in September. Our children's education is absolutely vital, so we need everyone to take the next few weeks very seriously or more drastic measures will be necessary to ensure they can go back to school safely. It's the only choice we have.
30 July: Let's Do It - our 10-point plan for Covid-19 recovery
Hello everyone, and I hope you're all keeping well and continuing to follow the social distancing guidance.
Because make no mistake - coronavirus is very much still with us, and its after-effects will last months and years.
But that doesn't mean we're going to sit back and take it; just the opposite. Just last night, my cabinet agreed a 10-point plan for our recovery, making sure the borough is fit for the challenges coming our way.
Our plans will focus on the immediate next six months: keeping Covid-19 infection under control, supporting people and businesses through the recession, and working with partners to do both while under huge financial pressure.
At its core will be a Bury Opportunity Guarantee - a promise that help will be available to all citizens and no one will be left behind.
The coronavirus lockdown has brought unprecedented challenges - to individuals, to our public services, and to our economy.
Now we need an unprecedented plan to bounce back - to keep people healthy, protect people's jobs and businesses, make sure our children get the education they deserve, and ensure the future prosperity of our borough.
Details of the 10-point plan are here: Council decisions - Covid-19 Response and recovery update.
We've drawn up our list of priorities based on the coronavirus experience in Bury and how we can use that to our advantage in future.
For instance, the community hubs we set up have played a crucial role in bringing together a huge number of local organisations and volunteers, united in helping the most vulnerable in our society through the worst of the pandemic. We'll be building on all that work to do much more.
Similarly, our creation of town centre boards in each of our townships has brought local businesses together in new ways, and playing a key role in planning for our local economy. That gives us a solid base on which to get everyone back in business.
We'll be taking more moves to improve people's health and wellbeing: the healthier we are, the better chance we have of avoiding the worst effects of any second wave in the virus, especially as we approach winter. You'll have heard about the latest drive to persuade people to lose weight, given the obesity is a contributory factor in so many illnesses. I've taken the pledge to shed more than a few pounds, or kilograms if you prefer.
Dealing with the virus has cost public services a huge amount of money, so we need to find new ways of working to maintain crucial services, especially in the coming few months.
This crisis has shown us how we can all pull together, and why we need to continue with that community spirit. This plan will focus on the most vulnerable but also aim to ensure that no one in our borough is left behind.
We were supposed to be enjoying a variety of Victoria Wood themed events to celebrate our year as Greater Manchester's first Town of Culture: sadly, the lockdown has put paid to much of that, replacing our anticipated warm summer with the chilly winds of recession.
But we can still take our inspiration from Victoria's most famous song - in her immortal words, let's do it!
13 July 2020: Bury is open for business
Have you been to the hairdresser yet for a much-needed trim, eaten out or popped to your local for a pint?
The easing of the lockdown restrictions means that we're now enjoying the freedom to do more of the things we are used to, and have missed - albeit with precautions.
I've been going round some of the borough's pubs and cafes, speaking to owners and customers about how the latest phase of reopening is going. And I'm delighted to report that many of them are going the extra mile to keep people safe: installing one-way systems, screens, sanitisers, table service, and taking people's details in case they need to be contacted by the Track and Trace system.
Optimism has overcome the initial nervousness, and the vast majority of people are following the rules and being sensible. We want to keep it that way.
Allow me to mention three establishments that I visited who impressed me with the measures they had put in: the Sir Robert Peel in Unsworth, the Liberal Club in Prestwich, and the Coffee Sack café in Prestwich. There will be similarly great examples elsewhere, so please write in and let me know who they are so we can thank them.
This is all essential to the wider recovery of our economy, and in protecting and creating jobs. We've set up town centre recovery boards in each of our townships, and are working with them to find as many ways as possible to protect and enhance our prosperity. Feedback so far has been very positive, and I look forward in the coming weeks and months to continuing this vital work to keep us all both safe and successful.
Getting our health recovery right is also essential, so we will continue to promote social distancing, the wearing of masks, washing our hands and working from home where possible. We've also produced our own comprehensive Outbreak Plan to enable us to control any local spike in infection rates, isolating cases without having to reimpose a widespread lockdown.
Alongside that, we have big regeneration plans for our town centres, especially Radcliffe. We are currently consulting on a Strategic Regeneration Framework for Radcliffe, which aims to transform the town centre for many years to come. I visited Radcliffe Market on Sunday, a vibrant place which shows how much potential there is - let's have more of it, and as quickly as possible! The consultation runs until 3 August - please look at the plans and give us your views.
Council, at its full meeting last week, voted to demand a full independent inquiry into the Government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Whatever your politics, this is necessary if we are to learn from mistakes and to better prepare ourselves for any future outbreaks. At the very least, this would do justice to those who have lost their lives and their loved ones, and ensure that our frontline staff and key workers get the resources they need, when they need them, in future. We owe them that much at least.
1 July 2020: Getting back to normal - safely
Hello everyone, and I hope you're continuing to follow the guidelines around social distancing now that we're gradually leaving lockdown.
So far the reopening of non-essential retail has gone well, with the majority of shoppers showing restraint and patience: I particularly enjoyed being able to go round Bury Market again and grab a few bargains.
With the reopening of places of worship, and more of our children going back to school, we're now seeing the emergence of a new normal - we can do this, but we must stick to the rules.
Another big challenge for us all arrives this weekend, with the unlocking of bars, restaurants and other sectors which have had to remain closed due to the numbers of people in close proximity they attract.
We all want them to reopen, but we also want to be safe, and not risk a resurgence in Covid-19 infections and deaths. Events in Leicester this week show how quickly the situation can change, and none of us want to go back into lockdown.
We've been working closely with the hospitality sector to ensure that pubs and cafes can get back to business - they are a vital part of our local economy, with many jobs depending on their success.
We now have town centre management boards in each of Bury's town centres, which provide crucial liaison points and will be very important in making thorough, highly localised plans to get all parts of our borough up and running again in a safe way.
These plans will change and adapt over time, but my aim is to produce - alongside our local businesses - an unprecedented response to how we can reopen and use our public spaces to help drive a better recovery across our borough. To make this a success, we will need support from everyone but I trust we can all pull together again and do it right.
As the new leader of the council, one of my first priorities has been to meet and talk with a wide range of business partners, community and faith groups. The coronavirus has put added emphasis on the need for partnership working, and the superb support they have given to residents across Bury at this time shows just how much more we can achieve when we all work closely together.
And this is why it is essential that we receive the money, promised by the government at the start of the lockdown, to help us recover and build back better. If the government break their promise to fund us, we will inevitably face massive challenges to keep even basic Council services going.
At the moment we are forecasting at least a £20 million budget shortfall. If we have to find that ourselves, and spend the next two years retreating into a world of cuts, everything we have done to build those partnerships and move us forward will be undone. We are at risk of killing off the recovery just when it's starting to work well.
People's health, opportunities and livelihoods depend on it.
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