Article published: Saturday, July 21st 2012
The census reveals a Manchester population surge over the last decade, Remploy workers take strike action against factory closures and Sir Richard Leese harks back to the Commonwealth Games (while trying to claim credit for the Olympics). Several investment plans were also rolled out this week – see if you can spot what they have in common…
Rail expansion gets boost – but will the North stay second class?
Ministers revealed £322m of extra funding for railway upgrades in Manchester, in an announcement in no way timed to distract from intensifying squabbles within the Coalition government. Manchester will see an extra £200m for the ‘Castlefield Corridor’ route through the city centre, two new stations at Piccadilly, £50m for improvements to the Manchester-Liverpool line and the remainder spent on extra capacity at the Airport and Rochdale.
The cash comes on top of £477 already approved for the ‘Northern Hub’, a cluster of various electrification and improvement projects including a direct link between Piccadilly and Victoria stations – with the latter gaining a £27m revamp and new roof.
Network rail, the quasi-private company which owns the UK’s train line infrastructure, reckons the economy will see a benefit of £4 for every £1 spent on the investment. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation, a think tank which campaigns for more devolution in the North, was slightly more guarded and pointed out that major gaps would still exist in the network with Hull, Middlesbrough and Barrow omitted from electrification plans and left to rely on worn-out diesel engines.
Much of the investment will be paid for by higher ticket fares, and the Foundation “shares the concerns of the rail unions” that passengers will be made to carry the costs of Britain’s privatised rail service. “Many rail passengers outside the main centres could face a triple whammy of higher fares to pay for the investment, loss of staffing at stations, and poorer links to the main cities,” said Linda Riordan, Foundation president and Labour MP for Halifax.
“Behind the apparent good news, there is a looming threat to many of our rail services. We need a publicly-owned railway which is accountable to the people of the North of England.”
Census reveals Manchester population surge
Manchester’s population has swelled by one fifth in the last ten years, according to the first results of the 2011 census published by the Office for National Statistics. The figures reveal that 503,000 people now live in the city, up from 423,000 in 2001 and the third largest increase in the country behind the London districts of Newham and Tower Hamlets. Overall the city grew by 19 per cent throughout the decade, just under three times the national increase of 7 per cent.
The trend confirms the reversal of Manchester’s steep population decline, in common with other cities of the industrial north, and should provide a relief to the city’s political figures who lost out on £7.5m in 2001 when the population estimate proved to be too low by 27,000. “It is important to get it right because grants are linked to population, we were being short-changed in 2001” explained Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd to the BBC.
The Manchester Evening News took the rise as a vote of confidence for Manchester’s regeneration, with thousands flooding into apartments around the city centre. But with schools, healthcare and other public services strained to breaking point and a quarter of the city’s children living in severe child poverty, it may not be the time to start popping champagne corks just yet.
Sir Richard reminisces over Commonwealth Games
The beloved leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, wrote an extended piece in the Manchester Evening News celebrating the legacy of Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games. He praised the games for mending the city’s reputation as a preferred host for major sporting events, international conferences and festivals which now sees more than 1 million international visitors arrive in Manchester each year.
Leese claimed the games as a “great psychological boost” for East Manchester, though given the area’s regeneration only managed one third of its 10,000 jobs target in ten years and much of the city’s private sector workforce is reliant on poorly paid and insecure work we suspect something may be amiss. He also made the bold assertion that “London would not be hosting this year’s Olympics if it had not been for our success 10 years ago”, in case you were looking for someone to blame. You can read the whole article here.
Inflation brought down by…rain, apparently
The consumer price index, the measure of the rate of inflation which excludes housing, fell by its lowest level since November 2009 when it dropped to 2.4 per cent in June down from 2.8 per cent in May. Analysts had predicted a much higher inflation rate this month of 2.7 per cent, although the level is still higher than the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target.
Continuing a trend of government economic targets being blown hither and yon by snow, royal weddings and other random annoyances, the Office for National Statistics put the decrease down to the atrocious weather causing clothing retailers to start their summer sales early. Falling global energy prices, and a drop in the price of food, were also cited as factors.
Man behind proposed military free school takes aim at Rochdale
Tom Buckard, the chap behind plans to set a military “free school” in Greater Manchester in order to build “a common British identity”, has switched his sights to Rochdale, after the government rejected a bid to open his proposed “Phoenix Academy” in Oldham. Plans were rejected by Department for Education officials due to a failure to get enough trained teachers on board, and Buckard told the Manchester Evening News he had been informed “in no uncertain terms” by Oldham council that they would refuse to sell him the necessary land.
Unemployment down in Greater Manchester
The levels of people claiming job seekers allowance in Greater Manchester fell by 0.8 per cent from 84,432 in May to 83,736 in June, reports the Manchester Evening News. The youth claimant count also saw a monthly dip by 865 to 24,300. The wider North West saw unemployment rise by 6,000 however, as the number of people out of work for over six months swelled nationally to 441,000, the highest level since 1997.
Telegraph jobs editor Louise Peacock cast doubt on official unemployment figures however, pointing out that nearly a fifth of the increase in full time workers were self-employed. These, said Peacock, are likely to reflect “desperate people struggling to get a job, starting odd jobs (like cleaning and decorating) and having to file tax returns under the label of being self-employed.”
She further noted that 42,000 people across the country entered government training schemes over the period, meaning that they would not be counted as unemployed for official figures despite not having work.
Former Manchester liberal democrat leader Marc Ramsbottom, who lost his council seat in last May’s local elections, announced he will stand in the forthcoming Manchester Central by-election scheduled for November. In competition with Ramsbottom for the historically safe Labour seat will be Labour candidate and Ed Miliband ally Lucy Powell, Respect party candidate and CND general secretary Kate Hudson, who will be hoping to achieve a repeat of her party’s shock win in the recent Bradford West by-election, and factory worker and Communist League member Peter Clifford.
Given horrid defeats for Lib Dems of late you’d expect him to have had enough, but Ramsbottom claimed he was “delighted” to stand in the seat for the third time. “I want to use this election as an opportunity to air all the good things that the Lib Dems in government are doing, some things that normally get ignored”, he said.
“We’ve received the biggest ever funding settlement for our schools, tax cuts for lowest and middle earners, the Pupil Premium and the Northern Hub are just some examples.”
Co-op snaffles 4.8 million customers from Lloyds TSB sale
The Co-operative bank gained an extra 4.8m customers after buying 632 Lloyds TSB high street branches for a knock-down offer of £750m, half the original £1.5bn price tag. Lloyds, which is 40 per cent owned by the taxpayer following the bank bailouts, was forced to sell the branches due to EU rules restricting “state aid” to businesses.
Earlier in the week Dave Pringle, boss of the Co-op’s NOMA development project in the city centre, said he expected a “successful outcome” from the sale and leaseback of its new city centre HQ. The bank hopes to move into the site from September.
The £150m raised from the site, which cost £100m to build, is expected to free up funds ahead of the mutually owned bank’s high street branch takeover. Given that Manchester City Council handed over £20m of its own money for the NOMA regeneration one might hope the “ethical bank” might see fit to split some of the profits with the public. Considering they were threatening to move away from the city in 2007 before the taxpayer-backed scheme was announced we won’t hold our breath.
Remploy workers strike back
Remploy workers in Manchester took strike action against government plans to shut down the majority of the government-run factories set up in 1945 to provide employment for disabled people. The strike was part of nationwide industrial action against the closures, which will put over 1,700 jobs at risk out of the 2,800 people who work at 54 sites across the UK.
Most factories run at a loss, and the government says its subsidies amount to £25,000 per worker each year according to the Guardian. Remploy workers argue the factories provide a vital source of independence for disabled people in a tight labour market where they often face prejudice and discrimination, with research by the GMB trade union finding that 90 per cent of those who took voluntary redundancy in a government offer 18 months ago have so far failed to find work.
Architect Ian Simpson eyes another Manchester skyscraper
Ian Simpson, the architect behind the Beetham Tower, Urbis, Number One Deansgate and other new features of Manchester’s revamped city centre over the last decade, has submitted plans for a new 42-story skyscraper next to the Mancunian Way reports the Manchester Evening News. The tower would provide 600 apartments aimed at – you guessed it – business executives on visits to Manchester, along with retail and office facilities. As to how the new addition will look, visit here to judge for yourself.
Ardwick the next geothermal energy hotspot?
Anglo-Irish firm GT Energy says it will submit plans to drill two 3,000 metre deep wells in Ardwick in order to tap the Cheshire Basin hot springs, a reservoir of water heated to 100C deep within the Earth’s crust. The company claims the geothermal energy released from the scalding abyss will be enough to provide 10MWth for businesses, homes and other sites in the area, including buildings at the University of Manchester.
Government subsidies worth £70m have recently been made available for the exploitation of renewable energy sources by private companies, and the firm has recently teamed up with utility behemoth E.ON to take advantage of the publically-funded offer at five sites across the UK.
Hulme Adult Education Centre closes
Hulme’s adult education centre closed its doors for the last time due to Manchester City Council budget cuts, with staff moved to Greenhays in Moss Side according to Manchester Green Party. Library services in the same building will also be moved from the area by December 2012. The centre won an Adult Learners of the Year national award for its “mapping our lives” project carried out in the 1990s by Hulme and Moss Side residents.
The future of the 80 ft mural outside the centre, celebrated as a prized piece of public artwork and which won support from comedian Johnny Vegas last year against any possible threat arising from service closures, is still unclear.
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