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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Damon Wilkinson

The Mancunian Way: Council Tax conundrum

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Here's the Mancunian Way for today:


We'd been told to expect tax rises for 'everyone'. And that's exactly what Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered during last week's autumn statement in a budget that, according to one think tank, left us all 'a lot poorer'.

But buried in among the headline-grabbing announcements about energy price caps and public spending cuts was a line about council tax that many local leaders had been dreading. In today's Mancunian Way we'll be taking a look at the potential consequences of that and the dilemma it presents to town hall chiefs.

We'll also return to Rochdale to explore the undertones of racism in the Awaab Ishak case, as the fall-out from the two-year-old's tragic death continues. And we'll examine the reaction of the national press to the news the English National Opera could be moving to Manchester.

Council tax dilemma

Council tax. Two little words that were mentioned only once by Jeremy Hunt in his hour-long speech setting out his autumn statement.

But the details of the changes to taxation and public spending outlined by the Chancellor presented town hall leaders across Greater Manchester with a dilemma they had long been dreading. From April local authorities will be able to hike council tax to 4.99 per cent without the need for a referendum.

It's up to each individual council what they decision they make. But faced with multi-million pound budget cuts, some will have no choice but to increase rates.

However that way of doing things is, according to Manchester council leader Bev Craig, 'fundamentally unfair'. Poorer areas like Manchester cannot collect as much money through council tax as more affluent parts of the country.

For example, every 1 pc increase raises around £2m in Manchester, while Surrey - where Mr Hunt is an MP - it would raise £8.3m, according to analysis from the Labour Group of the Local Government Association. That's because council tax is calculated according to property values set in the 1990s with households which were the least valuable paying the lowest rate.

It means the government is effectively asking hard-pressed tax-payers to fork out even more during the cost-of-living crisis to fund essential services such as social care. But they're relying on local authorities to make the unpopular decision to raise rates.

"The Chancellor thinks the only fair way of funding the universal services that we all rely on is taking that out of the pockets of ordinary people," Coun Craig said. "Councils now have to make the difficult decision as to how they balance the books."

And it's not just a Manchester problem. Councils across the region - and the North as whole - are wrestling with the same conundrum. Salford Mayor Paul Dennett described the decision to increase rates as like 'a choice to obey a command with a gun at your head'.

But not everyone agrees. Bolton's Conservative council leader Martyn Cox says he and his Labour counterparts have called for more control over their budgets for years.

And while he wants more funding from central government, he refutes claims that council tax is unfair, saying that money always has to come from taxation. "I'm a believer in councils having as much flexibility over their funding," he said.

Local authorities have until March to set their budgets, including council tax rates. They've got some tough decisions ahead and we'll all face the consequences.

Was Awaab Ishak a victim of prejudice?

Awaab Ishak was killed by breathing in the black mould that plagued his family's one bed flat in Rochdale. But did racism and prejudice also play in the toddler's tragic death?

His family certainly think so. So too does housing secretary Michael Gove. As do others, including the former children's commissioner and campaigners in the toddler's home town.

But how did that discrimination manifest itself? It's a question Stephen Topping has been examining, as the fall-out from the two-year-old's death continues.

The most obvious way prejudice reared its ugly head revolved around a practice staff at housing association Rochdale Boroughwide Housing called 'bucket bathing'. After inspecting the family's home in July and November 2020 three workers claimed to have seen a 'bucket' in the family's bathroom, wetness on the bathroom floor and a saturated bath panel.

All three made a snap assumption that the family were using the bucket to carry out 'ritual bathing'. It was a guess that was repeated time and time again. But at no point did anyone actually ask Awaab's parents, refugees who fled from Sudan, if that was what was happening.

If they had, they'd have likely got the same answer Awaab's father Faisal Abdullah gave the inquest - that his family took showers and ritual bathing was not in their 'culture'. In fact the bathroom had no shower screen, and the flat, on the Freehold estate in central Rochdale, had 'inadequate ventilation', coroner Joanne Kearsley said.

But was prejudice also behind the way the family were repeatedly ignored? Mr Abdullah first told RBH about mould in his home more than a year before Awaab was even born.

They told health visitors. They told midwives who were dealing with the second pregnancy of Awaab's mum, Aisha Amin. They told a legal firm. They even made one last plea for help to the doctor who saw Awaab at Royal Oldham Hospital on the day before he died.

Nothing was done. "We have no doubt at all that we were treated this way because we are not from the country and less aware of how the systems in the UK work," Awaab's parents said in a statement following the inquest.

"RBH we have a message for you - stop discriminating, stop being racist, stop providing unfair treatment to people coming from abroad who are refugees or asylum seekers, stop housing people in homes you know are unfit for human habitation. We were left feeling absolutely worthless at the hands of RBH."

RBH chief executive Gareth Swarbrick addressed the issue of racism in the statement he issued on Thursday night, as he confirmed he would not resign. He has since been sacked.

Mr Swarbrick said: "We all have a duty to call out prejudice, wherever we see it. Equity is at the heart of what we do as a mutual housing society and we will continue to strive for greater inclusion and equality.

"We agree with the coroner that the tragic death of Awaab will be, and should be, a defining moment for the whole housing sector. I will continue our work in Rochdale and collaborate with the social housing sector and beyond to make sure this can never happen again."

The heartbreaking story of Awaab shines a light on the people in Britain who don't have a voice. And it has to be a turning point in the way we treat some of the most vulnerable in our society.

"It should never have taken the death of a child to get to this place," Stephen writes. "And now the unthinkable has happened, this cannot be a case where we are told 'lessons will be learned', but nothing really changes at RBH, or in the sector.

"It's often said that a society can be measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable. And there can be few more vulnerable than the child aged two, slowly poisoned by the place where he should have been safe, his parents desperate to protect him, but trapped."

'Our time to shine'

Grace Mouat as Cinderella at Hope Mill Theatre (Michael Wharley)

The reaction to the news that the English National Opera could be leaving London and moving to Manchester was entirely predictable, but no less depressing for it.

ENO bosses are considering the move north as part of a new three-year £17m funding programme. 'Fair enough, why shouldn't we have the opera?' you might think. But if you read the national press you'd think London was the only show in town.

'Don't send the English National Opera to Manchester - London needs it,' wrote The Independent, 'English National Opera is a cultural beacon that must be protected,' said The Times, and 'English National Opera should move - but not all the way to Manchester', argued The Telegraph.

But that - ahem - parochial view is ultimately self-defeating. Why should the and best and brightest young talents believe they have to move to London to further their careers? Why should opera lovers in Hale, Harpurhey or Harrogate head down the motorway to catch a show? Why always London?

In this interview with Rob Parsons for the The Northern Agenda podcast, Randel Bryan, who spent most of his career in London and is now based in Manchester running the ambitious Factory International arts centre project, says moving a major cultural institution to the North of England would have a host of benefits.

Manchester is a more 'entrepreneurial, more creatively fluid' area than London, Mr Bryan said. And moving here would 'really benefit' the ENO in the long term, he believes.

It's a view backed up by the M.E.N.'s what's on editor Jenna Campbell who writes: "The message for the capital is this. Greater Manchester deserves a much bigger slice of the pie when it comes to arts funding, to protect not just our institutions and our heritage, but that of the country.

"And national institutions should be looking beyond the capital, if they are to be truly national. London might not like it, but it's our time to shine."

The gig that 'changed everything' for Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham with Mani and Imelda at their Manchester fundraiser (Paul Husband)

“Who is and who isn’t?' Ian Brown asked as the Stone Roses closed their now legendary 1989 gig at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom. It was a clarion call picked up by many in the 4,000 strong crowd, including, it turns out Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

Speaking at fundraiser for The Christie organised by Roses bassist Mani and wife Imelda, Mr Burnham revealed the concert 'changed everything' for him.

"I'd like to say to you, Mani and to Ian, to Reni and to John - and to everyone who was a part of it all then - a massive 'thank you' because you said that we could be better than we were, and that the North of England shouldn't always be expecting the worst and we could be proud and that we were going somewhere," he told the audience at the fundraiser at the Kimpton Clocktower ballroom..

"I don't think I'd be standing here today if it wasn't for the hope that you gave us back then so I want to thank you for what you did for us - you gave the North of England a bit of pride and something for us to believe in when we needed it, and that was down to you."

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Weather etc

Tuesday: Light rain changing to sunny intervals by the afternoon, 8C.

Trains: No services on Avanti West Coast on Saturday, November 26 due to strike action

Trivia question: England kicked off their World Cup campaign against Iran today, but which Bury-raised full-back scored their last goal at the 2018 tournament when he netted a spectacular free-kick in the semi-final defeat to Croatia?

Manchester headlines

  • Shooting: One man has been arrested following a shooting and multi-car crash in Farnworth in Bolton on Saturday night. More here
  • Hit and run: A baggage handler at Manchester Airport is fighting for his life at after being knocked down as he walked home from the pub. Read more

Worth a read

Neal Keeling looks back at the navvies who put their lives on the line to build the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1890s. Of the 17,000 men who worked on the 36 mile waterway a staggering 1,000 died - mainly due to landslides.

Now their contribution to an engineering feat of colossal importance to the prosperity of the twin cities of Manchester and Salford is to be recognised with a grant from Historic England.

You can read Neal's piece here.

That's all for today

Thanks for joining me. If you have stories you would like us to look into, email

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The answer to today's trivia question is: Kieran Trippier. The Newcastle star grew up in Summerseat near Ramsbottom and started his career in the youth team at Manchester City

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