Leader's blog

Introduction

Hello everyone,

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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14 November 2022: We will remember them

Hello everyone, and may I pay tribute to all those who took part in Sunday's magnificent Remembrance services across the borough.

These occasions are always poignant, when we remember all those who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom. Bury has a long and proud military history, and so many of us will have had relatives and loved ones who took part in the world wars and other conflicts across the globe.

The ceremony and march through the town centre of Bury was particularly moving, as it was the first one to take place following the death of Colonel Eric Davidson. Colonel Eric, as he was affectionately known by everyone, played the lead role in organising these events for decades, and I'm sure he would have been impressed by how well it went. Certainly, everyone said to me that the organisers had done his memory proud.

It was also an honour to attend the afternoon service in Tottington, along with the Mayor of Bury, Councillor Shaheena Haroon. It was an appropriate occasion to visit the newly renamed Private Peachment VC Town Meadow Park and view the incredible mural that has been painted there by Tony Kelzo to mark a local hero of the First World War, who won a posthumous Victoria Cross for gallantry at the Battle of Loos.

Remembrance Day - Award Presentation

Before the services, the mayor welcomed dignitaries and forces representatives to the town hall, where she showed them the Silver Award presented to the council by the Ministry of Defence. This is in recognition of the council's commitment to looking after serving and former members of the armed forces, and their families, in all areas of civilian life - from employment to housing and health.

Sunday's service in Bury also reminded us of the historic and ongoing significance of the Castle Armoury, which has been closed for safety reasons for some time. We will continue to hold discussions with the Government and all other parties to attract the major investment that the building needs to reopen.

As I said, we have a long and proud military history in Bury. It cannot just be consigned to history, though. We will always need brave and remarkable men and women to keep our town and our country safe.

2 November: Serious budgets for serious times

Hello everyone, and now that the dust has settled on the Downing Street stage, it's time to get serious about the situation facing people in the real world.

Make no mistake about it - Bury, like councils across the country, is grappling with how to make huge cuts to its budget while protecting those who are most vulnerable.

The gap in on our budget projections for next year is around £29 million, due in large part to soaring inflation, fuel costs and increasing demand for services from the most vulnerable.

This is in sharp contrast to previous years when the council replenished its reserves and announced ambitious plans to help those most affected by the cost of living crisis and tackle the climate emergency.

That's why we have launched a public consultation with local residents and businesses, because it is vital that we hear what your priorities are before we set the budget, and that you are fully aware of how serious the situation is. There is no flesh left to trim - these cuts will go to the bone.

This includes saving £4.9 million from a review of high-cost social care placements and other measures affecting children's services; savings of £1.1 million to remodel sheltered housing support; and saving £1 million through an options appraisal of Bury Art Museum. There is also the potential for the council to lose 75 posts.

To read the proposals in greater depth, and to take part in the consultation, go to One Community Bury. You can take the survey any time until 15 December, and the results will be reported back as part of the final budget approval process in February 2023.

The situation is not helped by the delay in the Government's budget, when we will discover the true impact that the country's economic woes will have on public service providers like us.

We have major plans in the pipeline to regenerate our town centres, on which local jobs and our future prosperity lie. We should not be forced to choose between these long-term ambitions and keeping day-to-day services going.

As I say, we are not alone in facing these challenges. The Local Government Association, which represents councils across the land and led by different political parties, is forecasting a budget gap of £4.5 billion by 2025. They say: "The future financial sustainability of councils is on a cliff-edge. Without Government action, they will have no choice but to significantly cut the local services our communities - and economy - rely on."

The LGA has also written an all-party letter to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, which you can read here: Local Government Association - Letter from the LGA Chairman and Political Group Leaders to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

These are serious times, which require serious action - and that starts with properly funding public services to ensure our citizens and businesses don't just survive but flourish.

5 September 2022: Only action will dispel the doom and gloom

Hello everyone and, as the schools go back, I hope you've managed to have a well-deserved break.

Many of us are worried that we are about to swap the glorious sunshine of summer for an autumn of unremitting gloom. There's no question that we are facing a prolonged period of huge financial challenges and difficult decisions to be made.

We now have a new Prime Minister, and there's a lot in her in-tray to deal with. For me, her number one priority must be to confront the cost of living crisis.

And make no mistake, it is a crisis. Soaring inflation and fuel costs are threatening to deliver another national emergency, just after we've got through two turbulent years of Covid.

How this is tackled will determine whether residents are forced to choose heating or eating, whether businesses go bust through a combination of rocketing costs and fewer customers, and whether vital public services will collapse under the financial strain.

We've just concluded a 'big conversation' with local residents as we begin the process of working up our budget next year. It's very clear that people are concerned about the budget gap the council faces, which currently stands at £20 million but will certainly widen in the months ahead.

And talking to local businesses, particularly those in hospitality, I know they are deeply worried about how they are going to get through the next six months.

In July, we launched our new strategy to help people - especially those most in need - with the cost of living and to stave off poverty. This ranges from help to buy school uniforms to giving £100 payments to those on pension credit. For more details about this, go to My Newsdesk - Council launches new cost of living and anti-poverty strategy.

But there's only so much that a council can do, with shrinking grants and increasing demand for services. The big answers must come from the top.

We've heard a lot from the Government in recent years about 'levelling up'. That means things should be improving, not getting worse. If that phrase is to mean anything, it means that strong action must be taken now before this upcoming autumn of gloom becomes a winter of serious discontent.

1 August 2022: Summer highs and lows

Hello everyone, and I hope you're all looking forward to having a good summer break.

Not everyone, though, will be going away - and I'm not just talking about those hapless motorists stuck at passport control in Dover.

The significant rise in the cost of living has hit many families hard in Bury. For some, this means they are literally struggling to buy food and pay their bills. For others, it means that the long-awaited holiday will have to wait that bit longer.

We're determined to ensure that those most in need do not have a summer of discontent. That's why we've put half a million pounds into providing food vouchers over the school holidays to around 6,500 families whose children receive free school meals.

We are also providing grants towards the cost of school uniforms, which we know can be a heavy burden on families given how quickly youngsters grow up. And we're running our holiday activity programme which, as well as providing meals, gives our young people a huge range of sporting and artistic projects to get involved in - which is good for both their physical and mental health.

While this is important to ensure we recover from the Covid pandemic, and to respond to the current cost of living crisis, it's equally as vital to make sure we plan for the future.

Over the summer, we'll be drawing up our new strategy to improve skills. Making sure our young - and not so young - people from all sections of our society have the talent, ability and opportunity to flourish in the years and decades to come. Everyone deserves the chance to fulfil their potential, and be well prepared for the economic challenges that will come our way.

We'll be announcing more about this after the summer. In the meantime, have a great holiday if you can.

1 June 2022: Jubilee celebrations and our best wishes

Hello everyone, and I'm sure many of you are looking forward to celebrating the Queen's Platinum Jubilee over the next few days.

For 70 years she has been an exemplar of stability and leadership at the heart of Britain, and is now our longest reigning monarch. Over those seven decades she has demonstrated a tremendous great sense of duty, and been a model of consistency and continuity which has helped to unite the country during times of extraordinary change.

The Queen has visited Bury on three occasions.

  • In 1954, she officially opened the new Bury Town Hall with the Duke of Edinburgh. PS: Did you know we had to build a special loo for her, in one of the store cupboards?
  • Her second visit was in 1968, when she came to Bradley Fold in Radcliffe where she oversaw Operation Springclean and visited the engineering works of Dobson and Barlow Ltd.
  • Her last visit was in 1992 when she officially opened the Metrolink tram system.

People in Bury, like millions across the nation, have been busy making plans for the occasion.

We've been doing our bit to help. We waived the fee for people wanting to close roads for street parties, and there are lots taking place across the borough.

We also awarded grants to various cultural groups, who are making artefacts which will be a lasting legacy of the Jubilee.

Oak trees have been planted in all 12 of our Green Flag parks, and the Mayor of Bury, Cllr Shaheena Haroon, is hosting a Jubilee Lunch on Sunday for hundreds of local heroes who helped us get through the Covid pandemic.

On behalf of the people of Bury, I send her our very best wishes and warmest greetings on this historic occasion, and we look forward getting together I celebration at this time.

25 May 2022: Big challenges, big ambitions

Hello everyone, and it's nice to be with you again after the local elections.

Firstly, may I offer my continuing sympathies to the families of three Bury people who we remembered with sadness at the weekend: Fusilier Lee Rigby, Olivia Campbell-Hardy and John Atkinson. All taken from us too soon.

Turning back to the elections, thank you to everyone who voted, and not just for me! The terrible events in Ukraine show us how lucky we are to live in a free country, where we can freely choose our own leaders and representatives. We should never take democracy for granted.

I think this is going to be a momentous, and tremendous, year for Bury.

Not that it'll be easy. We all face huge challenges, from the soaring cost of living to the long-lasting effects of the Covid pandemic, particularly on businesses and public services including the NHS.

Above all, it's about people. That is why I am proposing to keep our focus on the first of my 3 Rs - Response. Originally, this was looking at how we responded to the pandemic, but we must now respond to the serious issue of keeping people fed, warm and housed.

We are delivering a package of over £2.5m to support families, which includes help with the cost of school uniforms and continuing free school meals over the long summer holidays. We've also created a hardship fund for those in particular need.

Recovery plans will be vital in enabling our businesses to thrive in the post-Covid era, when so many people's working and shopping habits have changed, perhaps irrevocably.

Finally, this coming year will be when our Regeneration plans really kick into action. From Ramsbottom to Radcliffe, from Bury to Prestwich, there will be unprecedented investment into transforming our town centres, making sure they will prosper for generations to come.

This will be a year of great challenges, but also great opportunity. With your support, we will deliver the best for Bury. Let's Do It!

22 March 2022: Responding, recovering and regenerating

Hello everyone, and it's safe to say it's been an extraordinary year.

12 months ago, we had just started ramping up Covid vaccinations for those of working age. One year later, and 382,000 first, second, third and booster jabs have been given to people across Bury. This is an astounding achievement, and I want to say a huge thanks to all those responsible for vax rollout - from our magnificent NHS and its clinicians, right down to our venue staff and volunteer marshals.

Infection rates, however, are still stubbornly high, and I urge all over-75s (and those aged 12 and over who are clinically extremely vulnerable) to go for their spring booster jabs when they're invited.

Making sure we responded to the pandemic and ensure we are well placed to recover from its effects have been and will be crucial.

The council has administered £76 million in grants to businesses hit by Covid, and there's now a new pot of £3 million available to help those who did not qualify for support under the rules of previous schemes. See COVID-19 Additional Relief Fund.

We're doing our best to help households with the spiralling cost of living, which is set to soar further once the effects of higher inflation and fuel bills kicks in. That's why, in our recent budget, we set up a 'cost of living' fund to help people in hardship, along with grants to help parents buy school uniforms, and give their children free school meals over the long school holidays. More details: Let's manage tough times.

And our plans to regenerate all parts of our borough are well under way. The council's cabinet is meeting tonight (Tuesday) to discuss the latest stage of our proposals to buy the Mill Gate centre in Bury as part of a transformation of the town centre. This will complement our success in winning £20 million from the Levelling Up fund, which will create a new flexi-hall next to an improved Bury Market, and a new transport interchange.

In Radcliffe, which also won £20 million in Levelling Up money, you can view the latest design ideas for a multi-purpose civic and leisure hub - go to the Radcliffe Regeneration Office on Dale Street.

With new housing and a new high school on the way, the future is indeed looking bright.

In Prestwich, we're writing to 17,000 residents this week with the latest news of our plans to transform the Longfield Centre. The High Streets Task Force will be visiting Whitefield to offer expert support to business, and we've just concluded our public consultation on the best ways to make Ramsbottom an even more attractive place in which to live and work.

Yes, there are big challenges ahead, but we can look back on a year where we've stuck together to survive and cope and we're now well placed to head into better times.

This will be my last blog for a while due to the rules around pre-election publicity. As you may know, the council elections will be held on Thursday 5 May: and this time it's all-out election, with all 51 seats up for grabs.

Whatever your politics, I urge everyone to make sure they are on the electoral register, and to cast their vote. Events elsewhere are a terrible reminder that we can never take liberty for granted.

11 March 2022: Helping those who need it, at home and abroad

It always amazes me - but never surprises me - how many people come forward to help when there's a crisis.

The infamous invasion of Ukraine has touched the hearts of so many, not least the many residents in Bury who have Ukrainian and Eastern European heritage and still have strong links to these countries.

I want to say a huge thanks to those who have come forward to donate supplies and offer emergency help. This includes volunteers from our staff at the council, and our partners in the police and fire service, who arranged transport and logistics for the huge amount of donations that came in. It shows how standing together really makes a difference.

We're doing our best to look after people in need at home, too, despite the continuing pressure on council services and the NHS.

The soaring cost of living hits those on fixed and low incomes most, and it's predicted to get worse as the year goes on.

That's why, in our new budget, we're going to spend £240k on helping thousands of families with the cost of school uniforms, and £570k on keeping free school meals going over the long summer break. We're also putting £100k into a special hardship fund for those struggling to make ends meet.

The council's cabinet has also agreed a raft of measures to improve people's daily lives. Our new homelessness strategy, for instance, aims to take early action to keep people in accommodation and prevent them becoming homeless in the first place. You don't need to be on the streets to be homeless - by far the biggest problem is so-called sofa surfers, or those facing eviction because they cannot afford the rent.

We're also aiming to establish an £8 million OnSide Youth Zone, which will be a fantastic asset for our young people, many of whom suffered a huge amount of disruption during the Covid pandemic, not to mention cuts to youth services.

New affordable homes at Fletcher Fold, for rent and shared ownership, will help those struggling to get on the housing ladder. It's on brownfield land, and will be carbon neutral, so it proves that it's possible to do the right thing and be green too.

And our plans to regenerate our town centres are going full steam ahead. We've given the green light to proposals for Ramsbottom and Bury, and now Whitefield is to benefit from help through the national high streets task force.

Together, we can make a better life for everyone in our communities.

8 February 2022: Budgeting for the future

Hello everyone, and I hope you're feeling well and continuing to do all you can to keep safe as we slowly escape from the Covid pandemic.

Make no mistake - with an infection rate in Bury of around 670, the virus is very much still with us. I don't mind telling you that I finally succumbed to it last week, which shows you how contagious this Omicron variant is. I'm feeling fine, but would that be case if I hadn't had all my jabs? It's never too late to get vaccinated - see here for the latest clinics.

Later this month, the council will set its budget for the next financial year. And unfortunately, like last year, Covid continues to have a major effect on our finances. We have lost a huge amount of income due to repeated lockdowns, while money has continued to flow out in support of the many businesses and residents who have struggled to survive through these unprecedented hard times.

On top of the coronavirus factor, our budget has been continually sapped by Government underfunding. We have had £110 million cut from our budgets since 2010, while at the same time the demand for services has remorselessly increased. Social care, for instance, takes up the majority of your council tax - but demand for social care has doubled in the last decade. So it's a double whammy - we've less money to pay for the things that cost the most.

Regardless, we are determined to ensure that Bury will not only recover from the pandemic but be in the best position to flourish in the post-Covid world.

In our budget, we will propose setting up a special fund of £3 million to make improvements in children's services. We are also making provision to continue paying thousands of key workers the Real Living Wage, which will particularly help those who work in vital but poorly paid areas such as social care. We will also be finding money to continue providing children with free school meals during the long summer holidays.

And it is not just how we recover in the short term: with our plans to regenerate Bury, Ramsbottom, Radcliffe and Prestwich, we are making the biggest investment into regeneration Bury Council has ever made. We have been working over the past few years to unleash the potential of our borough and we now have confidence to allocate the largest sum of money to boost our towns since the metropolitan borough was created 50 years ago. Not only will this give residents more pride in the places they live and work, it will grow our economy and help provide more resources to run public services in the future.

This will be a budget which, despite the challenges of budget cuts, helps to boost business and employment, prioritises support to our most vulnerable residents, and empowers local communities. After two years of virus misery, it's what we all want and deserve.

25 January 2022: One Day like this

Hello everyone - and if you haven't been for your Covid jabs already, please do so now!

Some people think it's all over - well, it isn't now, or any time soon. The infection rate in Bury is still around 800 - that's 50 times higher than when we went into local measures. So, while restrictions have been all but lifted, let's do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

This week is marked by an event which is of huge significance to many in our community - Holocaust Memorial Day. This annual commemoration is on Thursday (27 Jan), and everyone is invited to tune in to a special 'virtual' ceremony with readings, music and prayers. A number of faith leaders are taking part including those representing the Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths, and primary schools have completed work for the event which will be displayed on the night.

The event starts at 7pm - go to Bury holocaust memorial event - and it will be available to watch for a full week afterwards.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we also remember the suffering and the victims of genocides across the world: from the atrocities committed in Bosnia and Rwanda to those in Cambodia.

At this time, however, I would like to focus on the particular resonance this has for our Jewish community, the largest outside London. The recent attack on a synagogue in Texas, and rising levels of anti-Semitic abuse in our own country, show that hatred against Jews is very much still with us. Just last week, here in Bury, an anti-vaxxer thought it was acceptable to use Nazi imagery to make their point.

Tree planting, Prestwich

At such times, we stand together. I was privileged to be at a tree-planting event in Fairway, Prestwich marking the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat. Organised by the Friendship Circle, with support from the council and City of Trees, this holiday symbolises new beginnings and will be an important place for those supported by the Friendship Circle to go along and use.

It was also a pleasure to attend another tree-planting event in Hamilton Road Park in Whitefield, where we planted a native oak tree to mark the 80th anniversary of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) - the national charity providing social and welfare services to Holocaust refugees and survivors in the UK. The great work of the AJR, in keeping so many memories and stories of Jewish refugees, has instilled a spirit of care and concern for refugees today. I recalled that, when the first Afghan refugees came to Bury, Jewish residents and synagogues were among the first to offer help and support.

AJR tree planting

A national campaign, 80 Trees for 80 Yearswill have oak trees planted around Britain in honour of people and places that embody the enormous contribution made to every walk of British life by refugees who escaped from Nazi Europe. You can read more about this event in Whitefield here: My Newsdesk - Tree planting commemorates 80 years of Jewish refugees.

The previous week's focus on new beginnings seemed a very apt message for this event too.

Remember to tune in on Thursday or during the following week: Bury holocaust memorial event.

14 January 2022: The coming year

Hello everyone, and I hope you all managed to have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

If you haven't already, can I urge you to make a resolution to get your Covid jabs? In Bury, the infection rate is now the highest it has ever been, and getting vaccinated is crucial in preventing people from becoming seriously ill or worse.

All our local vax clinics are walk-in, although you can book if you prefer - for clinic details, see Getting vaccinated.

The coming year will present a range of challenges, but we are well prepared to meet them, and ensure our borough bounces back in line with our 3 Rs policy - response, recover, regeneration.

One of the first things we're doing is taking action to improve our children's services, following a recent critical report by Ofsted. We're certainly not the only council to have faced major difficulties caused by cost pressures and high staff workload, but this is one of the council's most essential functions and we need to do better. We'll be putting in additional investment and improving our staff recruitment and retention policies, all under new senior leadership, and we are confident that this will bring us results.

We also have major plans for a strong and fair recovery, one which places the values and aspirations of our communities at its heart.

The council's cabinet has just agreed to enter a formal agreement with Bury supporters groups to help bring football back to Gigg Lane. We have always been supportive of this, and we are now looking at how we can provide financial help, in a way that brings everybody together as a united fanbase with a successful club at the heart of the community.

On a smaller scale, but a no less important matter, cabinet has also agreed to approve 13 new one-bed flats specifically for people with learning and/or physical disabilities. This will enable Bury people to stay in their home town rather than be placed elsewhere for the support they need, and it also brings a derelict brownfield site back into use. It really is a win-win situation.

You may have read about our plans to regenerate the heart of Bury and Ramsbottom. These proposals are now out for public consultation. (Update: The consultations are now closed).

Together with the unprecedented investment we are making in Radcliffe and Prestwich town centres, this shows we are determined to ensure that the whole borough can thrive in a post-Covid world, so that Bury remains a great place in which to live, work and study.

14 December 2021: A year like no other

Hello everyone, and, as this is my last blog of 2021, I'd like to wish every one of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

And what a year it's been. Last December, I never thought we would be going into a second consecutive festive season with Covid restrictions and a potentially fatal virus that simply won't go away.

But here we are, and I urge everyone to get vaccinated and go along for their booster jabs. More than 600 people across Bury have already died from Covid, and we can't have one person more, especially when we can do something about it. Remember - we didn't have any vaccines one year ago, so despite the gloom we are in a much better place than we were then.

Can I also urge everyone to obey the law and wear face masks where they have to, such as in shops and on public transport? It's really not too much to ask for, and it really does make a difference in cutting the transmission rate.

And remember our NHS, which has been given the mammoth task of vaccinating one million people a day between now and 31 December. This is unprecedented in scale, but I agree with the Government for getting ahead of the game for once and taking strong action in the interests of public health.

The latest details of vaccination clinics and al matters coronavirus are here: Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Come the New Year, we'll be cracking on with our plans to regenerate the town centres of this borough - Bury, Ramsbottom, Prestwich and Radcliffe - to the tune of £250 million. This is the biggest investment programme we've ever embarked on, because we are determined that we will not only recover from the Covid pandemic but thrive for generations to come.

Businesses especially have suffered during this health crisis: through closures, through restrictions, though disruption to supply chains and much more.

We have paid out more than £41 million in Covid business grants to around 3,700 companies in Bury, but the criteria meant that some businesses could not qualify for help.

This is why I have now written to the Government's business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asking him to allow us to keep any surplus and set up a business recovery fund to be administered at our discretion. This could mean that millions of pounds are used to help businesses here in Bury, rather than that money being returned to Whitehall.

I call on Mr Kwarteng to give us this early Christmas present and allow us to bring some festive cheer to companies across Bury. Their success, and our economy, may depend upon it.

3 December 2021 - Let's back our borough's businesses

Hello everyone, and I hope you're looking forward to Christmas - and remembering to wear a face mask while doing your shopping!

I know that many of our local businesses are hoping for some festive cheer, but - more importantly - in the longer term following the impact of coronavirus.

That's why I was keen to visit a number of them last week, and have a serious discussion about how we can support them to build back better and flourish.

One thing holding us back is the strict criteria on allocating Covid support grants. I have written to the Government calling on them to drop the restrictions and allow councils like ours to pool these surpluses into a new business recovery fund. This would put millions into our local economy, money that exists on our balance books but cannot legally be accessed by many businesses who are outside the restrictions. I hope the Government listen to this sensible and costed solution: it will be a test of whether they are serious about "levelling up" in my view.

The second biggest issue raised on my visits was skills, and many businesses say they are struggling to recruit suitably qualified and talented staff. This is a major concern, given our plans to regenerate our towns and create thousands of jobs.

Added to this, many young people lost out on vital education time during the lockdowns. The Government's former education adviser says that £15 billion is required to help them catch up on their learning - but so far the Government has coughed up just 10% of that sum. That's why we passed a motion at council last week calling on the Government to spend the full £15 billion on a children's recovery plan: to include breakfast clubs and activities for every child, mental health support, small group tutoring for all who need it, and continued development for teachers.

A new skills strategy is a key part of our 10-point plan for recovery, bringing together our schools, colleges and higher education institutions with local businesses to identify where the gaps are and how to fill them. Together, we can all ensure Bury's economy is the best it can be.

Finally, I'd like to wish everyone in our Jewish community a very happy Hannukah, and hope you can all celebrate safely in peace this week.


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