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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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. To join in, details are here: Bury Stars.
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 News Desk - 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: details are here: Radcliffe regeneration consultation (22 June to 3 August).
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.
16 June 2020: Open for business, but please keep your distance
Hello everyone, and I hope you're keeping well during this pandemic.
This week brings the re-opening of non-essential retail in the latest stage of easing the Covid-19 lockdown, which all of us welcome.
I've no intention of being a killjoy, but we all had a real scare last week when new figures showed that the "R" rate for this region was perilously close to 1. That means the infection rate is on a plateau, rather than coming down. It rightly caused many people to worry, not least the government who promptly changed their advice on when schools should fully re-open.
The truth is, it's a lot harder to lift a lockdown than it is to impose one. These infection figures prove that the situation is highly sensitive and fragile and, while they're much lower than the mid-April peak, show that we need to move forward with great caution.
It's disheartening, to say the least, to see reports of illegal rave parties being held elsewhere in Greater Manchester last weekend, in flagrant violation of the social distancing rules. As we get more localised and accurate figures from the government, we will all be clearer about the risks in our immediate community, which should help in driving home the message.
But it's good to be back in business, and we have been working throughout the lockdown on plans to ensure that our economy recovers and local companies flourish. We've held weekly meetings with the Business Leadership Group, which brings together thousands of Bury businesses, and I want to say a huge thanks to group chair Andy Roberts and Phil and Debi Fellone of Made in Bury for their great work. We created a team of staff dedicated to support local firms in any way we can, from financial support to health and safety advice to help industry get back to work safely.
Details about the help available are on our Bury Means Business website.
We've also been getting behind our famous Bury Market, parts of which reopened for business yesterday. We'd already given the traders a rent holiday to help them through the lockdown, but we agreed last night that this rent-free period will be extended to the end of June (and into July for the few stalls that are still not allowed to resume trading). On top of our plans to invest £1.3 million in market improvements, it shows we're putting our money where our mouths are. My money, too, as I'll be visiting the stalls this week to snap up a few bargains.
In the longer term, we need to remind people how much our borough has to offer, and why it is a great place in which to live, work, study and enjoy ourselves. I recently met with Marketing Manchester to talk about the many cultural attractions we have, as our status as Greater Manchester's Town of Culture has been extended into next year due to the lockdown, giving us many more opportunities to showcase what we've got.
So as we cautiously go forward, let's shop local and give our traders and businesses all the support we can, and make sure that Bury can bounce back from this crisis and be even bigger and better than before.
2 June 2020: Let's say thanks as we ease out of lockdown
Hello everyone, and I hope you're all keeping well.
As lockdown restrictions ease, and we start heading back to normality - albeit at a 2-metre distance - I want to say a huge thanks to the key workers who have kept everything going.
Residents across the borough have rightly stood on their doorsteps every Thursday to clap for our health and social care workers. I'd like to extend that to all our staff, who have continued to provide vital public services during this crisis: from those who empty our bins and fill in potholes, to school staff who worked over the Easter and half-term holidays to ensure our children were fed.
Some have kept their services going online, such as libraries, museums and adult learning; while others, such as gym instructors and lifeguards, were retrained and sent to support frontline services such as waste collection and setting up community hubs to co-ordinate hundreds of volunteers getting help to the most vulnerable.
Just one example is Karen Dolton, who was due to retire this month as executive director of children and families. She has decided to stay on until September to help our schools and services for young people emerge from lockdown and get back to normal, and my grateful thanks go to her for that.
When people ask me what they pay their council tax for, I can tell them this, and more. For a full list of how council services are operating during this crisis, go to Impact on council services.
And I also want to say a huge 'thank you' to residents themselves. The people of Bury have been incredibly generous and supportive at this time. They've been very understanding and patient when services have been unavoidably disrupted, and volunteered in their thousands to help the sick and the shielded. The vast majority have kept to both the spirit and the letter of the law regarding lockdown and social distancing. Don't let the odd bad example undermine the message: following the rules really does save lives and protect our treasured NHS. And it's also about fairness too.
How we recover from the pandemic was top priority at last week's meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which I attended for the first time along with the other council leaders in the region and Mayor Andy Burnham.
I'm glad we were able to make our case for better funding to look after our homeless people, with a more comprehensive phase of the A Bed Every Night initiative coming in from July. It's vital we do all we can to keep people off the streets, and just as importantly prevent them from going back there once this crisis is over.
And then there's the question of money. The funding shortfall in Greater Manchester in dealing with Covid-19 will be around £400 million, with £20 million of that in Bury. This huge financial gap risks undermining all the hard work of our staff I mentioned earlier to keep services going; it threatens too our ability to make a full and speedy recovery and protect people's jobs.
At the start of the lockdown, the Government said they would support us to do whatever it takes to get through this, and we should not worry about the cost. For the sake of the people in Bury, I intend to hold them to that promise. Our future depends on it.
Previous blog entries from Councillor David Jones
4 May 2020: Stick with it - we'll get through it
The Prime Minister may have announced that we are now past the peak of Covid-19 infection, but we are nowhere near out of the woods just yet.
The death this weekend of much-loved local GP, Dr. Saad Al-Dubbaisi, is a sad reminder (if we needed one) of the dreadful human toll this virus continues to take. Aged just 59, he worked at Garden City Medical Centre in Holcombe Brook, and died in hospital after being ill for more than a month. Our deepest sympathies go to his family and friends.
Please keep this in mind as the Bank Holiday weekend approaches, when we were all planning to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The need to stay at home and defeat this modern-day enemy is too important to ignore. There are lots of events, both in Bury and nationally, that we can take part in, thanks to the wonders of digital technology. We can still paint the town red (and white and blue) from the comfort of our gardens and living rooms: for more information, see VE Day: 75th anniversary celebrations.
One of the most important ways we can get back to normal life is testing, and I'm delighted that a second testing station has now been opened in Bury so that key workers can get back to work knowing that they are not a risk to those they care for.
We've also been working with the NHS and the private sector to open a new facility at Gorsey Clough Nursing Home, so that very frail people who have dementia can have appropriate care on leaving hospital.
While staff in some council services have been allocated to other priority jobs, many services are continuing to run, such as bin collections. The re-opening of the recycling centre in Radcliffe last weekend caused thankfully few problems, although please try to go later in the day to avoid the 'first thing rush', and only go at all if your visit is truly essential. Details of opening hours are here: Recycle for Greater Manchester - Coronavirus updates and advice.
Finally, the importance of having a healthy economy as we emerge from this crisis is paramount. We've already administered £25 million of grants to local firms, and we are making plans to support business in the weeks and months of recovery to come. All the updates will be posted on this web site.
Enjoy the weekend, and remember that, for now, the song remains the same: stay home, save the NHS, save lives.
7 April 2020
Hello everyone, and I hope you are all well during these unprecedented times.
First of all, I want to offer my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Bury care worker Carol Jamabo, who died this week of Covid-19. Our brave social care workers and health professionals are in the frontline of tackling this pandemic - they truly are heroes, and our grateful thanks go to them. Please help them by following the official advice - stay home, save lives, save our NHS.
The social distancing rules are also having an effect on those who are about to celebrate Easter. Also, Passover starts today, and my very best wishes go to the many members of our Jewish community. The usual family gatherings will be affected by this outbreak, but unfortunately, we have little choice - we need to save lives by stopping the virus spreading. So, for everyone preparing to start their celebrations tonight, I hope that your table is 'virtually' expanded to include those who are not able to be with you this year for Seder. May your cup overflow with happiness and prosperity!
Also - I want to urge residents not to make the annual pilgrimage to Holcombe Hill this weekend.
Thousands of people traditionally take a trek to Peel Tower on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this would make social distancing impossible. Please follow the Government's advice: take your daily exercise locally, do not make unnecessary travel, and keep your distance from others. Holcombe Hill will still be here after this is all over, and the sooner we stop this virus spreading the sooner things will get back to normal.
The council has been working tremendously hard, and with our partners in the NHS, to keep all our top priority services going, particularly our most vulnerable residents who need social care.
Members of the council's cabinet are having virtual meetings several times a week, with emergency decisions being made by leaders of all political parties on the council. Working from home, I can now tell you what the wallpaper looks like in the homes of every council leader in Greater Manchester!
Our Community Hubs are up and running, co-ordinating supplies of food, medicine and other support to the most isolated across Bury. If you are in need, call the hub hotline on 0161 253 5353 or visit Bury VCFA - Voluntary Community and Faith Alliance.
Our local economy is vital to the borough's health, and we are already enabling more than 500 companies to receive grants of £10k and £25k to help them through this crisis. Our staff have done exceptionally well to achieve this in just a few days - and a whole range of information on support is available on our Bury Means Business web site.
Bins is a subject close to everyone's heart. We had to suspend collections of the brown bins for two weeks while we focused on maintaining the other bin collections, as there would be very little garden waste at this time of the year. However, we are carrying out one-off collections of the brown bins, recognising that people will have put food waste in there before the restrictions came in. To find out when yours will be emptied, please sign up for our email reminders - nearly 33,000 households have already done so - at Bin collection days and dates.
We have also been taking measures to settle our homeless and rough sleepers into stable accommodation, and many of our schools are still open during the holidays to look after and feed the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable.
Around 8,500 residents who receive Council Tax support will soon have their bills reduced by £150, and I urge anyone who is in financial difficulty to contact us - we will help you wherever we can. See Coronavirus (COVID-19) - support with your Council Tax.
I wish you and your loved ones good health, and by following the official advice we'll get through this.
24 March 2020: Unprecedented times
Hello everyone, and I hope you are all keeping well at this time - and following the latest advice on self-isolating and reducing social contact.
These are unprecedented times, but one thing we know is that national crises always bring out the best in people.
Let me reassure you that we at the council are doing everything we can. We have a range of emergency plans in place to deal with situations like this, and we are working every day at the highest level with our partners in the health service and the 'blue lights' to tackle this at strategic and local level.
Cabinet members are in daily contact with me and senior officers to ensure we can look after those who need help the most, and councillors of all parties have put aside their political differences to work for the greater good.
I want to say a huge thanks to the brave and dedicated NHS staff who are putting their health at risk by looking after us. This is why it's so important to follow the Prime Minister's advice and stay at home to stop the virus spreading and putting even greater strain on our health professionals.
We had already taken measures to reduce social contact by asking all staff who can work from home to do so, and they will be redeployed where necessary to keep our priority services operating.
We also closed our libraries, civic venues and leisure centres as we divert all our resources towards protecting the most vulnerable, such as children and adults who need social care.
And although we have made some changes to the garden (brown) bin collections, we are doing this to focus on maintaining collections of non-recyclable bins.
The latest isolation measures mean that our local economy is coming under tremendous strain, with many residents faced with losing their jobs or a substantial part of their income. We are playing our part in ensuring that businesses get the help and financial support announced by the Government, from rate relief to grants and wage subsidies. Go to our Bury Means Business website for more details.
The current lockdown restrictions may seem draconian, but all the experts tell us that the crisis is set to deepen over the next few weeks. That's why we will continue to work hand in hand with the NHS and community groups to ensure those most at risk will be shielded from the greatest risk.
The poet John Donne wrote that no man is an island, and it's at times like this we realise the importance of community.
We can already see large numbers of people volunteering to do whatever they can to keep their communities safe, and are reminded of just how many charitable and voluntary groups that provide help in Bury all year round.
Today, we're formally launching our new Community Hubs to focus and co-ordinate all this herculean effort. These will be based at five locations across the borough, bringing together health and social care staff with people from the community. We will be actively seeking out those in our borough who we think need help the most, such as those who have been notified they are at higher risk because of their age or medical history, to get the most appropriate support to them. You can read all about this here: My News Desk - New Community Hubs to co-ordinate help to most vulnerable during Covid-19.
An important thing to remember is the effect that isolation can have on a person's mental health and physical wellbeing, especially among the elderly or infirm who may already suffer from loneliness or depression. We all need to be there for them now, whether through talking on the phone or connecting through online forums, or even a wave at the window: the human recognition is so important.
Talking about community spirit: let me just mention Simon Toft, franchisee of the McDonald's branches in Whitefield, Radcliffe and Pilsworth. He rang me to say they had to close, but said they had lots of fresh milk, eggs and salad ingredients which they would like to go to a good cause. I gladly accepted his offer, and we will be distributing this to elderly residential homes in the borough. Well played, Simon.
The coronavirus pandemic may be new, but we can fight it by using some very old-fashioned methods. Washing your hands and keeping your distance to prevent transmission of illness, while shielding the most vulnerable and supporting our neighbours. And we will get through it, together.
For all the medical advice around Covid-19, go to NHS - Coronavirus.
3 March 2020: Message of reassurance - Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Three residents from Bury have now tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19). The first Bury case was confirmed on 1 March 2020 after returning from Italy. Following their return to the UK this individual self-isolated and is now being cared for as a matter of precaution at one of the national specialist NHS infection centres.
As a result of contact tracing, we know that the two new Bury cases announced today are known contacts of the previously confirmed case from Bury.
The news of cases in Bury may be unsettling and we understand many people may be feeling worried. It's important that we remain level headed about the virus and that you know what's being done to keep everyone safe.
We'd like to reassure people that the risk to the general public remains low and the majority of cases are mild. Bury Council is working with health colleagues to do everything we can to contain the virus and ensure the people of Bury are protected.
Public Health England is leading on control measures and they will be contacting any individuals who may have a slight chance of being affected. These people will be given advice on what to do if they are concerned. This tried and tested method will ensure that any risk to them is minimised and the wider public is protected.
We are monitoring the situation closely and following all the advice from Public Health England. You can read this information for yourself at NHS - Coronavirus. As the situation develops, we'll be keeping you informed about what it means for Bury. You can check the latest local information at The simple things we must all do to keep on protecting each other.
We all want to look after our own health and wellbeing, and the health of the people we care about. That's why we're asking everyone to take simple, common-sense steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Good hygiene is the best prevention you can take to protect yourself and your family, by washing your hands regularly and thoroughly. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, throw it away and wash your hands.
If you have recently been to one of the affected countries and are feeling unwell, you should phone the NHS 111 helpline for further advice straight away - please don't go to your Doctor's surgery. There's lots of advice from the NHS on how people can protect themselves at NHS - Coronavirus.
Thank you to our dedicated health and care professionals at Bury Council and the NHS who are working to ensure that our borough can continue to work as usual. We'd also like to offer our best wishes to the people affected.
27 February 2020: Budget gets the green light
Hello everyone. Last night we set our budget for the coming financial year 2020/21, and I can say without fear of contradiction that it's the greenest budget this council has ever set.
We agreed a huge range of initiatives - with funding to match - to help us tackle the climate emergency and encourage all our citizens to play their part in making Bury carbon neutral.
Just some of our proposals are:
- £500,000 to fund a 2-year tree planting programme, which would be able to plant about 5,000 semi-mature trees and 10,000 tree whips across the borough.
- £600,000 to create a Community Climate Capital Fund. This will provide local community groups the much-needed one off funding for projects linked with carbon neutrality, renewable energy and biodiversity.
- £240,000 to support the new "Green Township Forums" that were proposed in the Climate Emergency motion. These forums will provide the space, and now the resource, for residents, elected members, community groups, schools and businesses to work together on local green initiatives. The council will also fund a "Citizens Assembly" on Climate Change.
- A £5.5 million investment in an LED streetlight rollout. Not only will this save the council money on energy costs, it will contribute to reducing the council's carbon footprint even further than they already have, down by over 40% in the last 10 years.
- £10 million on replacing the council's fleet of vehicles with clean air compliant technology.
Other plans include funding for more electric vehicle charging points, a new electric vehicle trial programme aimed at local businesses, money to buy and use a glyphosate alternative in tackling weeds across the borough, the introduction of a dedicated cycling and walking officer to produce ambitious new schemes as part of the Beelines initiative, and a green spaces officer to support the community in delivering local green schemes.
Our budget contains a lot more which will look after the most vulnerable people in our society - and, yes, which means an increase in the council tax.
For all the details of our budget and the green measures we are taking, go to My News Desk - Budget pledge to address the Climate Emergency.
On non-budgetary matters, it was a great pleasure to visit the Fusilier Museum this week to see an exhibition called "We were there too". This tells the story of the many thousands of British Jews who signed up at the outbreak of the First World War to fight for King and country.
It features photographs, records, accounts and other contemporary artefacts to explore the lives and experiences of soldiers and civilians, with particular emphasis on those with connections to the Fusiliers and the wider Bury borough. Did you know there was a special battalion in the Fusiliers called the Judeans?
It reminds us that people of all religions, colours and races make up our British society, and that they are all ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms.
I'm pictured at the exhibition with the Mayor of Bury, Cllr Trevor Holt. For lots more information on this fascinating show, see this article in the Bury Times: Bury Times - Jewish history We Were There Too exhibition coming to Fusilier Museum
12 February 2020: Heating up, cooling down
Hello everyone, and what a week it's been, especially on the weather front.
Storm Ciara shows just what can happen when huge amounts of rain fall in a very short time, and unfortunately it looks like we're due a visit from Storm Dennis this coming weekend.
The important thing is that we did not have a repeat of the suffering caused in the Boxing Day floods of 2015.
A major reason for that was the success of the first phase of the Radcliffe and Redvales flood defences, a £40 million project led by the Environment Agency. Fewer than 20 houses were evacuated this time, compared to more than 700 during Storm Eva. Even more of our residents will be protected when the next phases of the flood defences are completed.
I'd like to thank the tremendous efforts by council staff and all those in our partner agencies for their work, and especially from the community who volunteered to help in whatever way they could.
I was at the rest centre at Castle and spoke to residents who had had to leave their homes temporarily, and everyone was in good spirits. It takes extreme events like this to remind us just how resilient we are in Bury.
Such extreme weather, though, is becoming ever more frequent and one day could well be the norm. Without getting too 'political', this is why it's so important to take action now to tackle climate change and stop our planet heating up. And we can all do something, however small. What's that phrase again? Think global, act local.
Another topic I'd like to mention concerning our community spirit is the week of activities just held to tackle Hate Crime. We'd like to think that racial or religious prejudices were something from a bygone era, but even in our enlightened 21st century some people are determined to foster bigotry and create division. We must be equally determined to shine the spotlight on this and bring about harmony instead of fear and distrust. We're all human, on the one small planet.
27 January 2020: Standing together
It was a great honour to attend our annual Holocaust Memorial Event at the Longfield Suite in Prestwich.
This year's theme was Standing Together, and came on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and also the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia.
It was very moving to hear the powerful and heroic stories of those who suffered persecution during the Second World War yet stood up to Nazi tyranny at great risk to themselves.
They reminded me that each one of us has the power to stand up to hatred and bigotry, and contribute to making the world a safer and more tolerant place.
I signed the Statement of Commitment, based on the principles of the 2000 Stockholm declaration, which outlines the need to remember the Holocaust, make future generations aware of it, to recognise the sacrifice of those that risked their lives to save others and to pledge to promote education and research about the Holocaust and other genocides.
As you have probably heard, we've been given the honour of being the first Greater Manchester Town of Culture - and we're drawing up a packed programme of events to celebrate our year.
A packed audience at The Met was given a taste of what will be coming up over the next 12 months, and many thanks to those who gave performances - poet Steven P. Taylor, Bury Choral Society, Bury Footlights, actor Steve Gibson and Bury Music Service. I'm pictured at the launch with the Mayor and Mayoress of Bury, Councillor Trevor Holt and his wife Evelyn; Victoria Robinson, CEO of The Met; and Lynne Ridsdale, deputy chief executive of Bury Council.
One of the flagship elements of the Town of Culture plan is a focus on Happiness. This will build on the legacy of Victoria Wood, with a mixture of special commissions and a talent development scheme in which Bury residents will be mentored by industry professionals, and then perform at a Happy festival in May and a Proms event in the summer in conjunction with the Halle.
We've also secured the neon lights which adorned Media City in Salford Quays from the BBC's Front Row show. They feature the words "Happy" and "Wonder", chosen by Victoria Wood and Danny Boyle respectively, and these signs will now be installed in the borough. Where would you like them to go?
Co-incidentally, we have also won Purple Flag status for the fifth year in a row. Like the Green flag for parks and Blue Flag for beaches, this prestigious national accolade is in recognition of our evening and night-time economy. We're working with our partners in business and the police to make Bury a friendly and safe place in which to have a night out, and our Town of Culture status will surely boost that.
Sometimes we forget all the good things we have in Bury, and it's about time we celebrated them. In the immortal words of Victoria Wood herself - let's do it!
18 December 2019: That was the year that was
Hello everyone, and you'll be glad to know I'm not asking you to vote for anything. We've had five elections in Bury this year (the General, the European, the council, and two by-elections), so I think we're all polled out by now.
Regardless of the results, it's very much business as usual for the council. We've faced a lot of challenges this year and there will be more to come in 2020, both financially and in the increasing demand for services to the most vulnerable in our community.
I'll have more news in the New Year about ongoing plans to regenerate our borough and bring ever closer the council and NHS to provide a more joined-up service to residents.
But for now it's Christmas, and let's have some good news.
Today (Wednesday 18 December) Bury was chosen to be the very first Greater Manchester Town of Culture. It was a huge pleasure to be at the official launch, which was held at the Fusilier Museum in the company of Griff Rhys Jones and GM Mayor Andy Burnham. (We're pictured in front of the Victoria Wood statue).
It's no time for false modesty, and I feel it's overdue recognition for the borough which brought you Danny Boyle, Elbow, Victoria Wood, Celia Birtwell and a host of others past and present. There will be a busy programme of arts activity next year to accompany our new-found status, which will foster local talent and help put Bury on the wider cultural map. You can read all about it here: My News Desk - Get happy: Bury secures prestigious Greater Manchester Town of Culture accolade.
Christmas is also a time for staying local and looking after your nearest and dearest. As a councillor for Unsworth, it was a great pleasure to serve Christmas lunch to the pupils at Sunny Bank Primary School, where I am chair of governors. I'll also be popping into the Elms Community Centre tomorrow for a mince pie or two, and attending the evening carol service at Bury Parish Church.
As the Greater Manchester spokesman on young people, I enjoyed attending an event at Old Trafford this week to celebrate the success of Our Pass, the mayor's project to give free bus travel to teenagers. This scheme will make it easier for them to get to college, stay in training or secure employment, something we can all agree on.
Sadly, Christmas can be a lonely and difficult time for many people. May I urge you to keep an eye out for your neighbours, especially those who are elderly or vulnerable, and see if they need anything?
I want to say a particular thanks to those people who will not be on holiday over the festive period - from social care workers to NHS staff and the emergency services - who keep us all safe and well.
Have a merry Christmas, a good New Year, a happy Hanukkah - the best of Bury to you all.
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