Manchester City Council

One day later

Slightly worried that our new style controller will be down on me like a tonne of bricks after yesterday's entry but hasn't happened yet. A very full Executive Committee Agenda yesterday. As usual I’m not proposing to go through every item but will spend a bit more time on it than I normally do. There were a lot of important decisions taken yesterday. Some were easy decisions to make.

The decision to buy Manchester's oldest surviving theatre, The Theatre Royal, and turn it into a new home for the Library Theatre Company was both easy and attracted a fair chunk of positive publicity. Perhaps slightly more obscure was the decision to extend discretionary housing benefits for people going off benefit back into work, a decision which was equally easy and, although very different, equally important. For unemployed people getting back into work there is a real risk of a gap between benefits stopping and wages starting and doing something to minimise that gap makes it easier for people to take up jobs which of course saves money for the benefits system (and the taxpayer) in the long term.

Not all the decisions yesterday were easy. We have just carried out a review and consultation on a range of provision for some of our school children with special educational needs. The outcome of the review was to propose that more, though not all, of this provision should be in mainstream settings, and that as a consequence one special school should close and another should both reduce in size and develop a new specialism. This is not the first time we have carried out reviews of this sort and some of the reaction is predictable. I do not recall ever a case where the Headteacher, staff, and governors of a school facing closure have supported the proposal, and in this case we are talking about schools that within their own terms of reference have been performing well. This is not simple self-interest on their part as we would hope that the people running schools of this sort or indeed any sort would have a real emotional commitment to them. Some, though not all, parents of children in these schools will also oppose change. They have often had bad experiences of inadequately resourced mainstream provision and having found a secure environment for their children are justifiably anxious about a change. This one of the many cases where politicians have to take all the advice they can, set aside the issue of popularity and then have the courage, with no certainty that they are right, to take the decisions that they believe are the best for our young people in the future. Even if what we have is good, if it could be better, then it should be better. (Just to be clear, this review wasn't about cuts, rather it was about investment - around £28m to improve the educational environment for the children concerned).

There was at least one other difficult decision yesterday concerning a report from the Ombudsman who had judged us to be guilty of maladministration in using bankruptcy proceedings to recover (seven years) unpaid Council Tax from a resident. We have the greatest respect for the role of the Ombudsman as an independent arbiter on behalf of individual citizens who believe they have been badly treated. We don't always agree with Ombudsman's findings, but since I became leader we have always accepted their recommendations. So to reject, as we did yesterday, a report from the Ombudsman was not a step to be taken lightly. There were a number of reasons for the rejection, but perhaps the thing that most stuck in the throat was the recommendation that we should use Council Tax payers' money to pay 'compensation' to somebody who spent seven years avoiding paying a penny. What sort of message would that send out?

There are 8 responses to “One day later”

  1. Jim Mogg Says:

    This position of "The Controller" seems very sinister indeed.

  2. Stuart Corry Says:

    In total agreement with the decisions on the library theatre and especially the decision to reject the ombudsmans findings - why has this person been allowed to go 7 years without paying though

  3. Rose Snow Says:

    The decision to extend housing benefit to plug the gap between benefits and wages / salary will ease hardship for many people, as well as help iron out the often bumpy transition from benefits to work.

  4. ian Says:

    I think what you are doing with regard to council tax payers money is wrong. What about all those people who are twenty pounds a month above the limit of getting council tax benifit were is the help for them.
    In the time when families are cutting back you are still spending the money of those who can hardly pay with little regard to the situation we are in.
    Just as a side line how much is it costing the people of manchester to buy this new home for the theratre I'm not even going to ask about the upgrading of the town hall offices. I suppose this is spending to get out of reccession then?

  5. ABU Says:

    I strongly disagree with you Ian and think its great that the council are looking to use the Peter St Theatre.
    I also think the Town Hall refurb is as importnat as anything the council will do in the next 5 years.

  6. Ian Says:

    ABU it might be great but who's paying for it. Like the Government the council only has the money it collects from the people in Manchester plus a grant from Central Government.
    I find it strange that manchester feels it able to start large capital expenduture projects when the central government is having to cut public spending to the most needy departments.

    To be honest I'm sure the work at the Town Hall could have waited to see what the situation would be like with the financies next year. As I am sure your aware that there is an election next year. All the good money is on Mr Osbourne taking over the job of running the finiancial side of the country. As he has stated time after time he is going to cut public spending to local councils why spend money that might be cut next year. Do you honestly think there will not be a cut in spending were is the money coming from to cover these costs no doubt a large increase in Council Tax.

  7. Richard Leese Says:

    Not sure if ian and Ian are the same person but the money to ease the transition from benefits to work comes from central government not council tax. Benefits are a national system administered not funded by the Council. We could have delayed action on the Town Hall Extension and Central Library but not for long as both buildings are in urgent need of very major repair and maintenance. Delaying would have probably ended up costing us more and we do have a responsibility to look after these key parts of Manchester's heritage.Money will be tight over the next few years which is why we started planning next year's budget six months ago to try and ensure we can continue to meet all our objectives for the city.

  8. Diane Bennett Says:

    Education for children should be paramount. Difficult decision? For my child your proposal will end his educational future and destroy any chances that he may of had of sucess. As a mother I fear the worst for him. These proposal are in the best interest of exactly who?

 

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The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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