Strength in Numbers

A busy week. Just been up to Blackley Village for a sod-turning ceremony for the under construction new Pikefold Primary School, which is just down the road from St. Peter's Church as featured on this mornings Today programme. Was good to do something to mark the building of the new school, but a bit odd calling it a sod-turning as the steel work is now well out of the ground. The big event of the week was a visit to London along with, amongst others, the Leaders of Trafford, Stockport and Wigan and the Chair of our Local Enterprise Partnership.

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Better Safe than Sorry

Setting the annual budget is by some way the most important decision the City Council makes so it would be remiss of me in extreme not to remark on today's Executive Committee meeting when the Executive's 2012/3 budget proposals were agreed. This is one of a number of staging posts in the budget setting process. The next stage is in twelve days time when the budget proposals and any proposed amendments will be subjected to scrutiny by the Council's Resources and Governance Overview and Scrutiny, and then finally the budget goes to budget Council on March 7th for approval ( subject to any amendments agreed ).

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A nice to have

Don't think I've ever done a Valentine's Day entry before, at least not consciously, so at the risk of being accused of being soppy and sentimental, this post goes with love to Manchester and all its people. The Arts Council are in town today. I know that as they have a big chunk of their operation at the Hive in the Northern Quarter they are in town everyday, but this particular day they are holding what I think is their third State of the Arts Conference, and the first out of London. It's a co-production with the City Council, Salford City Council and the Manchester International festival which kicked off last night at RNCM and then the Whitworth before moving today to the Lowry Centre. The conference brings together artists and arts administrators from across the country, and Mancs attending have picked up that there is a mixture of envy and astonishment at the extent to which in this age of austerity we in this city are still supporting the arts.

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Keeping Quiet

In London yesterday, principally for a meeting of the Local Government Association Executive Committee. The main items on the agenda were connected items of local government finance and welfare reform. The item of most immediate concern is reform of Council Tax benefit where government is planning to hand it over to local authorities lock, stock and barrel. Just the sort of devolution we've been looking for you might say. Well yes but unfortunately they are only going to provide 90% of the current funding and still expect a large number of recipients to be 100% protected. One of the London boroughs ( A conservative one ) has crunched some numbers on this which suggest that almost 4000 of their 20,000 Council tax benefit claimants will receive a cut of 49.5%.

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Cautious Optimism

Speak this morning at the CityCo ( City Centre Management Company ) annual review, a look back at how the city centre has performed over the past year, and a look forward to the prospects over the next twelve months. Co-incidentally the Council's Economy, Employment and Skills is taking a report this morning on city centre regeneration, a follow up to a presentation they had last month on economic development more generally across the city. That presentation talked about the potential to create 75,000 jobs in the city by 2015, but to get an idea of just how important the city centre is, 57,000 of those jobs are expected to be in it. This morning's review was opened by Rowena Burns, the chair of the CityCo board, and both she and I pursued a similar theme - times are tough but, in Manchester at least, there are grounds for cautious optimism.

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Democracy at Work?

Full Council meeting today. The Council's business largely consists of receiving the minutes of the Executive Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Committees, and Licensing and Planning committees that have met over the last eight weeks. Although the minutes can be debated, thanks to a bit of misguided legislation by the previous government wholly supported by the present one, decisions, particularly decisions of the Executive cannot be overturned by the full Council. There are some major policy decisions reserved for the Council not least the budget but my view is that the inability to overturn or refer back Executive decisions is undemocratic.

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