A report commissioned by Bury Council and written by Philip Collins, former speech-writer for Tony Blair and now a Times newspaper columnist and leader writer, sets out 25 recommendations to improve the life chances of Bury residents and boost the borough’s economy and prosperity.
The recommendations in the ‘Bury Commission on Life Chances’ report, include a range of proposals for Council action, in partnership with local schools, colleges, businesses, the soon-to-be-elected Mayor for Greater Manchester and Government, including:
100% literacy – There is a tiny minority of children whose learning difficulties mean they will never be able to read properly. Aside from that small group there is no reason why every child in Bury should not reach fictional literacy at the ages of seven and 11. Bury should set itself the target of being the first borough in the country which reaches 100% literacy.
Coding College – This new college should be in the area of high-skill manufacturing. This would refer to Bury’s industrial heritage whilst also updating it. One option would be for a college dedicated to coding, to make coding a specialism of the town. Or Bolton University should make expertise in digital industries a major part of what it offers to local students.
Mayoral Development Corporation for Inclusive Growth – Devolution to Greater Manchester opens up the opportunity for a Mayoral Development Corporation. Bury should offer to be its pilot area. The Council would designate the pilot area a Living Wage Zone, it would pilot a ‘welfare earn back’ approach, which would see central government rewarding them for moving people from unemployment into work, based on higher tax receipts and lower benefit payments. It should use the planning system to require a minimum number of apprentices, for both development and end use. Section 106 powers could also be used to direct developer funding toward technical education and pre-apprenticeship training from 14-19, and direct Bury’s young people to benefit from the apprenticeships that are being created. Part of this programme would devise the best use of the apprenticeship levy.
Pooled Corporate Social Responsibility Budgets – Companies spend a lot of money on various forms of philanthropy and social projects. Much of it is well spent and a great deal of good is done. However, it could do so much more. Both at Mayoral and at borough level, there is an opportunity to bring local companies together and seek to get them to pool their CSR budgets. They should all be focused on a single task, with a defined time horizon. There could be local publicity as the companies collectively seek to solve a defined problem in a given time. The funding may, if the finances allow, be matched by the public authority. The resultant publicity for the companies would be excellent and, more important for them and for everyone else, a lot more good would get done.
Philip Collins, born and educated in Bury, was invited to lead the Commission by Cllr Rishi Shori, leader of Bury Council. Collins said: “The idea of life chances is a deliberate focus on every life. It applies not just to the least well-off, though lack of income scars life chances. It applies not just to the young, though more can be in the early years of life than at any other time. The idea of life chances also strongly implies that you are the author of your own life. Or, at least, you would be if given the right opportunities. The purpose of the approach is not to tell people how they should live or what they should be interested in, although clearly the economic future of the town sets limits on the work that will be available. The purpose of the life chances approach is to equip people with the skills required to live a good life of their own choosing.
“Bury has a singular identity, a sense of itself as a town. That identity was once wrapped up in the innovators of the industrial revolution in which the North West led the world. Some of that spirit needs to be reclaimed as Bury continues to adapt and reinvent itself. As, indeed, it has done. There are some towns in and around the North West that are on their uppers or at least struggling to come to terms with rapid change. Bury is not really one of them. Bury has adapted well and its task is now to capitalise.”
Cllr Rishi Shori, leader of Bury Council, said: “We are indebted to Philip Collins for setting out the ‘route map’ to improving life chances for Bury residents and for boosting the town’s local economy and prosperity. In the new post-Brexit world it is vital that towns like Bury take control of its own destiny by giving local people the skills they need to lead a happy and fulfilled life. We live in difficult times and it will be essential for the Council to maximise the opportunities that devolution and the new Mayor will bring to the Greater Manchester area. This is a massive opportunity for residents and businesses and the Council will take a strong lead in securing new investment, new opportunities and new ambitions for Bury. As Philip says in his report, “Bury is not a town with endemic problems. There is much to admire and much to commend. But there is still more that can be done.”
- Read the Bury Life Chances report in full
- Image courtesy of Mark Robinson