+Mayoral Candidate Questions
On 6 May 2021, Mayoral Elections will take place in Greater Manchester.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester is a major figure in the political life of the region, entrusted with unique powers and responsibilities. The Mayor’s responsibilities include setting budgets and priorities for Greater Manchester’s public services including transport and the fire and rescue service; Police and Crime Commissioner responsibilities, and acting as an ambassador for the city region. The elected Mayor works together with the GMCA to deliver their vision for Greater Manchester.
As the Greater Manchester Older People’s Network, we want to hear what the candidates have to say about the issues that matter most to older people. We’ve developed six key questions that were sent to the candidates and their responses are below. These questions have been developed based on the priorities of our members. In order to form the questions, we looked at our previous reports and recommendations and considered all the issues that have been raised in our working groups over the past year. We also invited our members to let us know if they had any particular areas or questions that they wanted to raise.
+Nick Buckley MBE
Q1. Where and how do older people figure in your priorities for Greater Manchester? We know that people aged 50 and over are far from one homogenous group and our needs, interests and priorities are diverse. What do you see as the main factors that will improve the experience of the older population and how do you propose to make a difference?
One of my priorities for Greater Manchester will be increasing 'quality of life'. This is more important for many older people, as they are at higher risk of living a life of loneliness. As a society, we have, in many cases, handed over our responsibility of older family members to the state. We comfort ourselves by believing we have no room in our home, or that the family member will be better off alone, or in a caring home. We have become a nation that sees old people as a burden and an expense. We need to value older members of society for they are us, a future version of us. They are repositories of knowledge, childminders, educators, friends, and a connection to our past. Many other cultures around the world have a better understanding of the value of older people. This is something we need to admit and replicate.
My policies, where possible, will state the argument for personal responsibility. This will include one's family members; old and young.
'Quality of life' means having a purpose. A job, a hobby, a role. I do not want the state to be the 'caretaker' of older people. I want older people to have the freedom, choice, and aspiration to lead the lives they wish to lead. Not the lives we want them to lead. We need to remove barriers that stop them from achieving their goals, not set their goals for them. These barriers may be public perception, self-confidence, or social norms.
With personal responsibility comes personal choice. Older people need to have the freedom to make imperfect choices, to take risks, and to pursue happiness. I have seen too many people forced into 'longevity of life', where what they wanted was 'quality of life' even if it reduced their time with us.
Q2. One of the priorities for the Greater Manchester Older People’s Network is trying to make sure that older people have access to the services and support they need wherever they live in Greater Manchester. The experience of our members tells us that it is often a postcode lottery. How do you see the role of Greater Manchester Mayor in levelling up older people’s experiences, wherever they live?
Not every service can be on everyone's doorstep, this is a given. But a certain level of service is expected by everyone for tax-funded services. The level needs assessing, explaining, and advertising. For if we cannot do better, the very least we should do is to be transparent and open with the facts. We cannot please everyone, but we can be truthful.
I would like to see community groups expand and take up this challenge. When I ran a community centre, I tried to offer many different services and entertainment. My staff dealt with most issues and offered advice. More complicated issues my staff knew who to go to or refer to. We ensured everyone who wanted or needed help got it quicker. This stopped people from reaching crisis point before asking for help. Early intervention is quicker, cheaper, and easier to deliver.
We have many community assets that could be used by community groups. Libraries, fire stations, housing offices, community centres, schools. Buildings are not an issue, access to them is. I want taxed funded buildings used for the benefit of the wider community.
With community hubs in neighbourhoods, we can then look at making support services mobile and visiting the communities they serve. We need to place the need and convenience of people at the fore. (Obviously, within certain tight financial constraints)
Q3. We often see examples of generations being set against each other in the media. We believe that fostering intergenerational connections is key to improving the lives of all citizens. How do you see your role in bringing generations together to strengthen communities?
Over 2 decades, I have designed and run many intergeneration projects. I have seen the benefits to individuals and communities. The face of a 9 yr old eating tripe stew and told what exactly tripe is! Watching a 90 yr woman boxing on the Nintendo Wii is a picture burnt into my memory. These activities were not designed for amusement, but to generate conversations about life, personal experiences, history, and what people have in common. For we all have so much more in common than we realise.
Video of one of my projects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRMHRYgbAkI
What the press never seems to understand is that older people have grandchildren and want the best for them. Young people have grandparents and want them to be safe and happy. There is no intergenerational problem in the UK, except for what others wish to pursue. A case can be made that politicians care more about older people because they vote more. The answer to this is to ensure young people vote a lot more. Older people can be message carriers for this problem.
For different generations to build relationships and mutual respect, we need to have these groups meet each other and socialise. Obviously, they will not always have the same interests but local community days are great at getting the community together for different reasons. Community groups are crucial in this vision. Sharing the use of a community centre can help people understand the needs of others. I have had older people make buffets for my youth clubs, and young people repaid them by moving furniture or collecting litter. I have also arranged for local kids to cook a Christmas Dinner for older members of the community. It never matters what the activity is, the important part is taking part.
Q4. Transport is a major concern for older people and the GM Older People’s Network has supported the idea of bus reregulation in the hope that it will provide better services and customer experience. Now it seems that this will occur, what measures will you put in place to make sure that things really do change for the better?
Public transport is a public service. I do not want the state running public transport, but I do want the state to ensure that it is run as a public service, for the benefit of the general public. This does mean that the state needs to ensure the level of coverage is acceptable. Public subsidies need to compensate for loss-making routes that are vital to some communities and individuals.
Ensuring buses, trams, and trains cooperate is essential. Bus stops at train and tram stations. Integrated timetables. Day tickets for all services. We are behind the curve on this topic. We can look at almost any other city for ideas and working solutions. We need to play catch up in Greater Manchester.
Where we need to be careful of making things worse. It is far easier to mess things up than it is to improve them. A competent approach is needed based on evidence and facts, not on political convenience and ideology. For let's be honest, the people who make the decisions will not suffer if our transport system declines. We only have to look at how ur police service has declined and is now placed into special measures.
Q5. Neighbourhood and community safety is often a priority for older people. How would you use your responsibilities on police and crime to improve confidence and safety in communities and neighbourhoods?
Community safety is crucial for any society to be successful. I have 2 decades of experience in this field. I have won awards for this work, including from the police and government. This topic is where I will make the biggest impact in Greater Manchester. I have many police officers supporting me behind the scenes.
Antisocial behaviour connected to transport is a major reason why some people do not use it. For people who have to use it, it is a constant nightmare. Improving our transport has to include community safety.
As already mentioned, Greater Manchester Police are in special measures for failing the public. 100,000 crimes were ignored. That's 100,00 victims let down. Every one of those offenders got away with their crime and is still on the streets. This is a scandal. Our current Labour Mayor has washed his hands of the whole affair, even though he is ultimately responsible for the police.
I understand policing. When I worked for Manchester Council as a Community Safety Coordinator, I was based in police stations. I have trained police officers. I have spoken to 1000s of residents about community safety. They all say the same thing. Low-level antisocial behaviour is one of their priorities. It is the low-level stuff that really destroys 'quality of life'. I am also a big believer in if you solve the small stuff, the big stuff reduces.
Knife crime will be one of my policing priorities. I want neighbourhoods to vote on if they want more Stop & Search to get knives off the streets. I want neighbours to have a bigger say on policing. It is their community, their streets, their kids dying in pools of blood.
Q6. Digital exclusion can be a major issue for older people. The pandemic has seen more and more services and groups move to being delivered online. How will you make sure that this doesn’t exclude older people and others who can’t or don’t want to engage with online services and opportunities? How will you make sure that post-pandemic we build our communities and connections back again?
This is important, as it is a new issue. I do not want the world to remain online only. We are social creatures and need human interaction to remain mentally healthy and happy. The arguments around cost savings and efficiency are void if it damages us in the long run. Any service or organisation that receives tax money will be expected to offer services as directed by their service users. I believe this will be face-2-face interaction, as well as online. We need a choice. We need customer service. I am tired of being offered a one-size-fits-all / take it or leave it approach to public services.
The new normal of Zoom meetings, working from home and online-only will reduce over the coming year naturally. It is human nature to want to socialise. But as Mayor, I will speed up the process by setting an example and calling out organisations that may be using the pandemic to change their delivery model to save money.
I have mentioned community centres / hubs several times now, but I really do believe that we need centres in communities run by local people, for local people. I will be asking a lot more from housing associations to lead the charge on this quest. I want people to have opportunities to socialise, access entertainment, or even just get out of their house for a brew.
I will end how I began. I want to increase the 'quality of life' of the residents of Greater Manchester. I want to move away from promoting 'longevity of a miserable existence' and into an era of a life worth living. I do not want the state to define what is worth living for, for I believe in personal responsibility and choice. We know what is best for us. Many older people are living wonderful lives, I want this option for everyone.
I want to remove the barriers that are stopping you from living your best life. A great life. A Greater Manchester Life.