Stockport Council announces negative gender pay gap

On International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March, Stockport Council is set to publish data that shows it has made further strides in gender pay equality for all its employees.

Papers going to Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 12th of March show that Stockport Council proudly has a negative gender pay gap in both mean and median terms. Cllr Jilly Julian, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources said of the report-

“It’s so positive to see that the hard work on making Stockport Council an inclusive, fair, and progressive employer is paying off. The council is an employer that is both flexible and supportive in its practices, which ensures that we can get the best people in the positions they deserve to be in, and they can thrive as a result.”

Public sector organisations with over 250 employees are required to publish specific data on their own gender pay gaps, and Stockport Council has made further leaps, with the following-
Mean earnings (per hour)
Male: £17.84
Female: £17.94
Pay gap percentage: -0.56%

Median earnings (per hour)
Male: £15.61
Female: £16.21
Pay gap percentage: -3.58%

This year’s International Women’s Day, the theme is ‘Inspire Inclusion’ giving “the world the opportunity to understand and value women’s inclusion, which helps to forge a better world”. On this theme, the news comes ahead of the Stockport Council Cabinet meeting in which there is an even 50/50 gender split amongst its members. Cllr Julian added-

“We have a brilliant group of talented women in our cabinet, our group, and around the Chamber, the work that’s been done since we were elected is a testament to the fact that having an inclusive workplace means that you get the best results. We look forward to continuing to Inspire Inclusion within Stockport, and let our subsequent achievements speak for themselves.”

Stockport Council calls for Household Support Fund extension

Stockport Council have called on the government to extend the Household Support Fund in light of the end date of 31st March nearing. HSF was introduced by the government in 2021 to help vulnerable households pay for essentials, and was initially only meant to last until spring of 2022, but was extended several times up until the upcoming cut off point.

Leader of Stockport Council, Cllr Mark Hunter, recently joined council leaders from across the country by signing an open letter to the Chancellor calling for the extension of the provision.

Cllr Hunter said “Household Support Fund has been providing vital support to struggling families across the country. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to put families under massive financial strain, it is absolutely imperative the government extend this support, I cannot urge them strongly enough to do so.”

The fund itself is from a grant created by the Department of Work and Pensions, with each council receiving an allotted amount to distribute to low-income households for essentials. With the financial pressures on people up and down the country continuing, Stockport council has joined a growing movement that has called on the government to extend the support.

Cabinet member for Finance and Resources, Cllr Jilly Julian said “The financial strain faced by both councils and households shows no sign of letting up, and many will not be able to afford the essentials if the Government take away this support. Simply put- we need more financial support from the Government, not less.”

Manchester Mayoral Candidate announced

Liberal Democrats chose Stockport Councillor Jake Austin to face-off against Andy Burnham in the Greater Manchester Mayoral Election.

Jake Austin, born and raised in Wigan and now settled in Stockport with his Husband Andy, has been nominated to represent Liberal Democrats across Greater Manchester in May’s upcoming Mayoral Election.

Liberal Democrats are pitching themselves as the progressive alternative to an inept Tory party and a Labour party that is fast becoming indistinguishable from them.

Commenting on his nomination, Jake Austin said he was “incredibly proud and humbled” to be representing Liberal Democrats across the region, while slamming the Labour party for being “too scared of losing an election to enact meaningful change”.

The newly selected candidate for Greater Manchester said:

“Greater Manchester deserves a Mayor who will fight its corner. Whether that’s fighting against the closure of our essential fire services, or fighting against United Utilities to stop sewage being dumped in our rivers.

Our great region is a diverse and welcoming set of communities that deserves a liberal alternative to a stagnant Labour administration and a Tory party that can’t be trusted as far as it can be thrown.

Liberal Democrats have proven how trusted we are in local communities across the region. Whether it’s Salford to Stockport, or Oldham to Manchester – Liberal Democrat campaigners are getting elected and making a difference, protecting our green belt, and fighting for local communities. I am proud to be representing every one of those in May’s election.

I look forward to showing the people of Greater Manchester why we are the progressive leadership our region needs.”

Council Leader calls for Royal Commission on Local Government Finance

The culmination of many months’ work, last night’s meeting of Stockport Council saw the Council Budget set for the year ahead, managing an £11m deficit, caused by continued underfunding of local authorities by the Conservative government and which has resulted in many councils declaring effective bankruptcy.

Speaking after the meeting, and repeating the call he made in answer to a public question. Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Council and of the Liberal Democrats at Stockport Town Hall, said: “Local government is facing a bleak financial future. I genuinely fear winter is coming, the system is broken. Councils are simply not being resourced to provide the services that residents are demanding. This is not just my view, but the view of the all-party Local Government Association, who say there is a shortfall of £4bn for council in England over the next two financial years.

“Stockport has a long and proud record of sound financial management and the prudent use of resources developed over many years, with strong pre-decision scrutiny and a willingness to take the tough decisions when they are needed. Yet we will face a budget meeting next year where a further deficit of some £20m will need to be managed. Council Tax payers will be asked to pay more and more whilst the universal services have to be cut back so that we can afford to pay for Adult and Children’s Social Care.

“How is it right that Council Tax payers locally carry all the risk for funding Social Care? Why does this burden fall onto a regressive form of taxation rather than being funded centrally out of general taxation, where those who earn the most also pay the most? This model works for schools and it works for the NHS, so why not for Social Care?

“I am therefore calling on the government to establish a Royal Commission to explore fully the current state of Local Government finances across the board and for them to come up with recommendations as to how the system might be improved, before even more local councils are forced into bankruptcy. It is time for a fundamental reset.”

Liberal Democrats look ahead to setting a “no surprises” budget

Liberal Democrats on Stockport Council are looking ahead to setting the Council’s budget later this week after many months of preparation and cross-party work through the Scrutiny Committees.

Speaking ahead of Thursday night’s meeting, Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Council and of the Lib Dems at Stockport Town Hall, said: “Everybody knows just how challenging the financial situation is for local authorities at the moment as the Conservative government continues to provide inadequate funding to deliver essential services our residents rely on.

“With headlines about councils such as Birmingham ‘going bankrupt’, and neighbouring councils like Cheshire East in the news amid warnings of having inadequate reserves, I am pleased that Stockport Council has such a well-established and mature approach to sound financial management and budget setting, with all parties engaged positively in delivering the very best for our borough that we can afford.

“We are not in the same difficulties as others because we have taken the difficult decisions as they needed to be taken over many years. Together each year we have re-shaped our services, we have made only prudent use of reserves, and we have taken the difficult but necessary decisions around Council Tax increases. That said, the Local Government Association has identified a £4bn funding deficit for English councils over the coming two years. We really hope the next government recognises this and acts to ensure more money is made available for the vital services our residents rely on.”

Cllr Jilly Julian, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and Budget-lead, added: “Despite the very challenging financial landscape we face, I am frankly relieved that we are able to present the council with a balanced budget which delivers against an ambitious refresh of the Council Plan.

“High among our priorities is tackling poverty and inequality across the borough. We are investing significantly in programmes which will support our most disadvantaged residents in ways which improve their quality of life whilst reducing costs to the council over the medium term.

“We are also finding ways to continue to invest in cleaning up the borough, with more investment in maintenance of our drainage system, more parking enforcement and improved road safety measures, especially near schools.

“I am grateful not only to my Liberal Democrat colleagues but also to my fellow councillors of all parties for their positive engagement in our budget setting process over the past six months. Come Thursday evening there will be no surprises from the Liberal Democrats – just the proposal of a sound budget that implements the changes needed to balance our books for another year.”

Council Tax debt collection

In response to a media enquiry for a forthcoming news article regarding the Council’s use of collection agents for Council Tax debts, Cllr Jilly Julian, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, said: “Liberal Democrats oppose Council Tax in principle because it is an unfair and regressive taxation model. But, along with Business Rates, it forms a significant part of the Council’s ability to fund critical services.

“The Conservative government’s funding of local government has been based on continual and unsustainable increases in Council Tax. But times really are tough and, despite the noise from government, the cost-of-living crisis is likely to be around for a while yet, and we understand that some residents are still really struggling.

“This is why in Stockport we have a Council Tax discounts scheme intended to support those who need it most. For example, we provide up to 100% Council Tax relief for eligible residents in up to band B properties and, unlike other authorities in Greater Manchester such as Salford, we do not seek Council Tax at all from those who clearly cannot afford to pay it. Our 100% Council Tax relief also now extends to care leavers up to the age of 25.

“It’s also why we have advice and support services to help people maximise their income, provide crisis support, and help them with longer term money management. We’ll keep working to find ways to ease the burden on those on the lowest incomes here in Stockport.

“It is, however, very important to make sure that those who can pay, but simply refuse to, do pay their fair share, along with everyone else.

“It is interesting that Stockport Labour are raising this issue now as this isn’t a new situation. From the FoI data you have received you can see the final two years of collections under Labour before their administration ended in May 2022.

“There has been no change to the agency used or the process for collections since the current Labour Group Leader was in the Cabinet himself. There has been a shift, however – the number of cases referred to a collection agency has been lower in the past two years, reflecting Liberal Democrat emphasis on early support and targeted, enhanced Council Tax relief.

“Recognising that there’s still work to be done, though, we have already been working towards adoption of the Citizens Advice Bureau Council Tax Protocol, which will happen shortly. Labour could have adopted the Protocol during their six years as an administration, but they clearly did not believe it was a priority at that time.”