Cllr Nathan Evans is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Trafford Council.
Like many other parts of the country, it’s the local people of Trafford (in Greater Manchester) who have shone a bright light in these dark times. Whether it’s collecting food and prescriptions for elderly neighbours, looking after pets, or just being that person at the end of a phone (or Zoom) to talk to.
In response to the pandemic, the Council, along with its partners, mobilised six Community Response Hubs located in Altrincham, Sale, Urmston, Partington, Stretford, and Old Trafford. The centres were set up to ensure that those most severely at-risk of illness could receive essential food and medical parcels to their front door – and they have received over 2,000 calls, of which over 600 have been passed to the Community Hubs.
The call for volunteers has received an overwhelming response, meaning help has been at hand for the borough’s most vulnerable residents during the lockdown period.
Us local Conservatives (as the Opposition on Trafford Council) have been generally supportive of the approach that the Council is taking during this time and I have been appreciative that I and the Shadow Executive are being kept up-to-date with the latest challenges and developments.
The Council believes that it will face a funding gap of around £37 million this year due to Covid-19 and Conservatives are willing to work with the Labour administration to identify how to fill the gap. However, there are three key areas where we feel the Council is failing:
- Business Rates Grants. Trafford Conservatives welcome the generous funding from the Government, but our councillors were inundated with queries from businesses that had applied for a grant and heard nothing more. Other businesses weren’t even contacted by the Council at all. A lack of forward planning played a big role in this situation – the Council’s business database wasn’t up-to-date and the Council hadn’t procured software to allow batch payments to be made either. Thankfully, the payments are now starting to come through and Trafford is in a much better position than neighbouring socialist Manchester City Council who had only paid out 16 per cent of funding as of 20 April 2020.
- Council’s Investment Strategy. The Council has a half billion-pound pot of borrowed money which has largely been invested in commercial property, namely tired shopping centres. Even in the last quarter when it was clear that traditional retail was in serious decline, the Council was still investing. A disastrous return on this outlay may now come home to roost sooner than anyone could have imagined, with the taxpayer bearing the brunt of the cost.
- Waste management. Trafford Labour has made no secret of its ideological wish to bring waste management in-house and has run the existing waste contract into the ground, bringing the entire service into disrepute. In October 2019, the Council hastily brought in new collection rounds resulting in crews taking on unfamiliar routes. The result was absolute chaos with thousands of bins being uncollected for weeks, assisted collections being ignored, and crews avoiding collections at some apartment buildings as no one had thought to pass on the door key codes to the new crew. Into 2020, the missed collections continued and the situation has only been made worse by Covid-19.
Whilst I’m on the subject of waste, household recycling centres – under jurisdiction of the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester – were closed. This was made worse by Trafford Council cancelling green waste collections. Residents rightly asked the question as to what they were to do with their green waste as it wasn’t being collected by the Council and the tips were closed. The Council’s response was to announce a one-off green waste collection, but the goal posts were moved again as a fortnightly collection was announced. Collections now appear to be sporadic. Residents are rightly confused.
In good news, Conservatives across Greater Manchester, including Laura Evans, candidate for Greater Manchester Mayor, lobbied hard for tips to be re-opened. I was delighted when Labour caved-in and announced the centres will be re-opening (in most cases) within the next two weeks.
It is important to point out, however, that our Council staff are not to blame for Labour’s mismanagement. Colleagues have gone above and beyond what is expected of them, whether it is staff moving into care homes to support residents, or colleagues in early years and social care who have come together to support the most vulnerable under twos by opening Council nurseries.
Overall, the picture in Trafford is not too dissimilar to other metropolitan boroughs. Conservatives will continue to support the Labour administration in its handling of the crisis, but we are not afraid to challenge mismanagement or indeed highlight when ideology gets in the way of good governance.