Leader's column: Taking stock and looking ahead

In her latest column, Tameside Council leader Cllr Brenda Warrington recaps what was discussed in the first Full Council meeting of the new year.

Last Tuesday we held the first meeting of Full Council of 2021, an opportunity for us all to take stock and prepare for the work that awaits us in the year ahead.

As the transmission of coronavirus intensifies across the country, the public health experts have made it clear that we’re in the middle of the most serious crisis we’ve faced since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Infection rates in Tameside and elsewhere are continuing to increase in a dramatic and sustained manner, and more people with severe symptoms are in hospital now than there were in the worst days of the first wave in mid-April. 

We are under no illusion that the impact of repeated lockdowns our residents has been severe. It grieves me that after all that has happened over the past ten months, you are now being asked to do even more. 

But if we want to protect ourselves and those around us we have no choice except to follow the new national rules.

The meeting of Full Council also heard two motions about other significant issues that have arisen at this stage of the pandemic.

The first, presented by Cllr Ryan, addressed the government’s failure to live up to their promise to do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect local authority finances. 

Their recent Spending Review made it clear that they expect local authorities to increase council tax by five per cent - the maximum allowed before a local referendum must be called. 

We believe that asking residents to put their hands in their pockets again is neither a fair nor sustainable answer to the financial problems imposed on us. 

The second motion, forwarded by Cllr Drennan, concerned the government’s decision to end the Union Learning Fund. Since 1998, this programme has helped over 200,000 workers a year into on-the-job training to improve their skills and development.

It makes no sense that such an established and successful programme is being cut at a time when retraining is needed more than ever.

I said recently that the vaccine roll-out meant we may finally begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this terrible pandemic. 

I stand by that, but it is also clear that the road ahead will be longer and harder than we hoped. 

Let’s make sure that we all do our part to protect and support each other in the crucial months to come.

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