On The Shoulders Of Giants…

THE OPENING of the Old Town Hall is clearly a major priority for myself and the council this week.

There is a very special free public event taking place on the night of Friday, October 21. – and everyone is invited.

We’ve all waited a long time to see the Old Town Hall reopen and we are marking the start of that phased process – the opening of the ODEON cinema and Costa Coffee – with what we believe will be the most spectacular outdoor show ever hosted in Oldham.

Our Arts Development team has worked incredibly hard to create a spectacle and a show that symbolises our pride in Oldham as a place, and our confidence in our future.

This fantastic event is called ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and takes its inspiration from a local legend – the Oldham Giant – who is buried in the crypt at Oldham Parish Church.

This was a man called Joseph Scholes who died in 1814 and is said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and weighed 37 stones when he died(!).

He was, however, a ‘gentle giant’ who spoke up for apprentices who were recruited from the workhouse and found themselves bullied and underfed by fustian weavers.

When he ‘awakens’ from the crypt at 7.30pm on Friday the entertainment will begin with 3D projections onto the Old Town Hall’s front facade, a six-metre tall giant, aerial acrobatics above the crowds, plus performances and narrations from local actors and musicians.

THE OLDHAM GIANT: Our six-metre puppet under construction

You can find everything you need to know at the event – including information on parking and timings – at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldtownhall The details are also on the graphic at the bottom of this page.

If you’re inspired to find out more about the Oldham Giant then Oldham Parish Church, will also be opening the next day (Saturday) from 9.30am to 2pm offering tours of that crypt at regular intervals, for a small donation, plus a cafe.

That will all be happening alongside a great weekend of live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment in Parliament Square and High Street.

I’ll no doubt be returning to the Old Town Hall topic next week, and – as promised – I will also complete my series of blogs about the administrations’ priorities by looking at health and wellbeing.

Please help us to spread the word about the fabulous Old Town Hall development – and do take your family along to enjoy Friday’s special event.

Finally, I must mention National Adoption Week (October 17-23) which has #SupportAdoption as its theme this year.

Adoption is the legal process in which children that cannot be brought up by their birth parents become a permanent part of a new family. Many will have experienced abuse or neglect and all will have experienced loss and separation.

This year the goal is to clarify the adoption process, reflect the challenges of adoptive parenting, share individual stories, highlight best practice and invite anyone whose life or heart is touched by it to #SupportAdoption.

The key issue in Oldham is that currently all our prospective adopters are looking to adopt children aged 0-2 years. So, what we are looking for and would welcome, is interest from people willing to adopt children over the age of 3, as well as sibling groups, children with additional and complex needs and children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

These children wait longer than any others to find their forever homes. Could you provide such a child/children with a loving home?

If you think that you could adopt a child then please visit the page on our website here to find out more and help us #SupportAdoption.



Improving education – Backing business and workers

SCHOOLS: A high-quality education system for all is our aspiration for Oldham

THIS IS my third of four blogs about our future priorities and I want to discuss how we’re improving education, plus backing business and workers.

Firstly, I want us to deliver a high-quality education system for all and the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report is a roadmap to get us there.

Changes were already being made before the final report was published in January and we’ve had a good start.

Our GCSE and A Level results improved this year, bucking the national trends.

GCSE (A*-C) results went up five per cent, closing the gap on the national average to seven per cent, and in A Levels 99 per cent of our pupils achieved the A*-E pass rate, again up three per cent.

Our Ofsted inspections are also improving fast – especially in schools where intervention was needed. We have taken action to tackle underperformance.

This time last year just 39 per cent of our secondaries were rated either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. That’s now already around 74 per cent, which is great progress towards one of our key targets: that every Oldham pupil should attend a school of that calibre by 2020.

I also know there’s much more that needs to be done, however, and our Key Stage 2 results were not good enough. Even though Ofsted rates 90 per cent of our primaries as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ our results mirrored a national drop and we’re now examining them to understand exactly why.

Whilst it’s true this was a whole new national curriculum and marking scheme, we can’t use excuses. Our target is for all performance indicators like this to be at or above the national average by 2020, so this will be urgently addressed.

Beyond the education system it’s a major priority for us to back our businesses and workers.

GOWLOGOGet Oldham Working has been a huge success and we’ve just launched phase two of the campaign. The team has already created 3,750 employment opportunities in less than three years and has now moved to Metropolitan House – around 100 steps away from JobCentre Plus – to make them accessible on a ‘drop in’ basis for jobseekers.

By 2020 the Get Oldham Working team is now looking to help 6,000 more residents and fill more than 5,000 work-related opportunities.

I’m very proud of the interventions this team has made and the difference they’re making to people’s lives. They’ve just worked with ODEON and Costa so that 80 per cent of their new roles at the Old Town Hall went to local residents, for example – and that came just weeks after they ensured every single person made redundant by the closure of BHS in Spindles got new employment.

We’ve recently just published two key new documents that chart our future strategic path to deliver employment sites and improve prospects.

Our Strategic Investment Framework sets out how we will seek to develop important sites across the borough – like Broadway Green and Hollinwood Junction – and our Work and Skills Strategy sets out how we will raise aspirations through measures like working to deliver high-quality careers advice, improving links between local schools and industry, and promoting opportunities in regional and local growth sectors.

Our key motivation is to reduce the number of low-paid and low-skill industry jobs  we have at present – including zero hours contracts – that make life so insecure and demoralising for too many families.

We also want to do all we can to help people already in work to progress and improve their prospects.

That’s why we’re about to launch an exciting new initiative – the Career Advancement Service – in Oldham. This will help an initial 400 employed residents to understand what support they might need to get an in-work promotion and improve their incomes. That won’t just ultimately help them and their families, it also creates mobility in the labour market and new chances for others to find work. It’s a pioneering pilot scheme and could be a gamechanger for many local people.

We also recognise that people in work have other priorities that help them settle and live in the borough.

First Choice Homes
TRANSPORT: Metrolink is great news for Oldham – but where does it need to go next?

We’ll continue lobbying hard at Greater Manchester level for even better transport links – like our long-promised direct line to Manchester Piccadilly, for example, and Metrolink extensions with an Ashton loopline to Oldham Mumps, and a Middleton spur from Westwood through Middleton and on to the Bury line to connect the north-east Greater Manchester conurbation.

These will give all residents even better access to future job and training opportunities, and we’re also determined to build the new homes that people need.

Several housing schemes finished in the past year and work has also started on the £15m development of 135 new homes in Limehurst Village, new homes at High Barn Street, Royton, at Greenhurst Crescent on Fitton Hill, and on the former St Augustine’s School and the Lancaster Club sites. We are also advancing well with taking the ex-Counthill and Kasknemoor school sites to market soon.

This isn’t just about just boosting the number of homes here, its about giving people a wider choice of homes that are attractive, affordable and energy efficient.

I also believe everyone has the right to live in a good neighbourhood and we make no apologies for tackling people who don’t ‘do their bit’ where they live or operate.

CRIME: Flytipping is a blight on communities

Our Private Sector Landlords scheme has had good early success in prosecuting practices that have blighted communities in places like St Mary’s, Hathershaw, Waterhead, Hollinwood, Primrose Bank and selected parts of Coldhurst, Alexandra and Oldham Edge.

Decent landlords back us because they know the rented sector in Oldham has to improve. But those who don’t think the law applies to them should be in no doubt that we’ll prosecute anyone failing to meet the required homes standard: a crime that has such a terrible impact on the health and welfare of tenants and the wider community.

Tenants and businesses also need to act responsibly and show respect for their neighbours, which is why we’ll carry on cracking down hard on flytipping, littering, dog fouling and other selfish behaviour. In the last year 867 fixed penalty notices and 122 prosecutions were completed on fly-tipping and littering offences: a zero tolerance stance that we won’t be changing.

Next week I’ll finish this series of blogs about our priorities by looking at how we can make Oldham a more caring place to live – and supporting healthier lifestyles.

It will also be just a few days before the opening of the Old Town Hall (Friday, October 21) so I will be sharing some more information with you about that too.


Social Regeneration: Fair Growth Vs Donuts

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THIS IS my second blog explaining our key priorities in the coming years – and this time I’m talking about social regeneration.

We have many important physical regeneration schemes complete or underway in Oldham, but there’s more to transforming the prospects of a place, people and business than just that.

New facilities are always good news but ‘build it and they will come’ is not going to work on its own – it’s just one part of the wider battle and you can’t just do it in isolation.

Social regeneration is the other work that is needed to tackle the problems that lead to deprivation, lack of aspiration and underachievement in an area.

These are schemes you must carry out side by side with residents, community groups, community organisations, businesses, schools, all public services and the voluntary sector if you are to succeed.

They can be labour-intensive, unglamorous and lack ‘quick wins’, especially as they often mean engaging with people who are hard to reach. But if you do have the right initiative, the impact of social regeneration – starting from a sound evidence base, which is always key – can be radical and life-changing.

Social regeneration schemes seek to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion. They look to give people a ‘handup’, so they can start helping themselves.

People can be materially deprived – like having little/no disposable income, no transport or Internet access, for example – and also non-materially deprived: in bad health or held back by negative experiences from living in a poor area.

warmhomesoldhamIn this respect, schemes like Warm Homes Oldham – which has seen us work with partners to lift 1,300 people out of fuel poverty and removed the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma – are prime examples of how lives can be changed.

Another is our Early Help scheme, which has totally redesigned and integrated our support services for individuals, households and families of all ages with problems who need support to stop them getting worse or reaching crisis point.

This is helping to get positive outcomes for people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, adult mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, housing, diet and health, and children’s mental wellbeing. It helps people to help themselves and addresses all the issues a person or household presents to us with, rather than passing them around a complex system where duplication frustrates the purpose.

But allied to local initiatives like this I know we must also deliver on what some call ‘Inclusive Growth’, although I prefer the label ‘Fair Growth’.

In my new portfolio at Greater Manchester level of Fairness, Equality and Cohesion, I am determined to build our profile as a strong and influential voice on this agenda.

I intend to use our influence to continue shifting the focus of that debate and action towards practical and specific steps that include more and more of our residents in the benefits of prosperity.

To that effect our officers are already working closely with the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit at Manchester University, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and other partners to develop that evidence base and formulate answers.

It’s great that Manchester’s economy is prospering – we all welcome that – but there’s no evidence at all to support the assumption that the benefits will simply ‘trickle down’ across the region. That hasn’t worked in other regions and countries, and it isn’t happening here.

Look at jobs. The south of GM has gained 60,000 jobs since 2008, yet the number of jobs in the north has remained essentially static. And our average weekly gross wage in Oldham is £444, the lowest in the region: that must change.

gmca-black-logo-expandedFor the GM project to succeed, we need prosperity to be spread wider through targeted investment and intervention. Around 620,000 people in the region are estimated to live in poverty and the benefits of growth need to spread to people and businesses in the donut – or ring – around Manchester to ensure places like Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside, Bolton and Wigan also get their share.

At a Government level the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, which we’re hearing reiterated this week at Tory Conference after a recent wobble, must also go further.

Government investment is sorely needed in key areas like transport, homes, work and skills – not just more devolution of responsibility passed on with much smaller budgets. That is just devolution of blame and problems. It won’t change the story.

Social regeneration and fair growth will give people new opportunities to succeed and enjoy a better quality of life.

Although few were surprised, the Brexit voting patterns showed that our national and regional economy is not delivering for many residents. We all ignore that at our peril and must not leave people behind.

Next week – continuing on this social regeneration theme – I will look at our future priorities in delivering a high-quality education system for all, and how we will continue to back the unemployed, those people already in work, plus local businesses.


An economy that works for everyone

SPECIAL DELIVERY: The new DPD depot set to bring 350 new jobs to the borough

I PROMISED to blog more about our key priorities in the years ahead – as outlined in my recent Annual Report to Full Council.

As I said last week, Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own efforts towards making it a better place – we can only build a better borough together.

That’s the spirit of co-operative working, but what does it really mean and how does it work in practice?

Put simply, it means everyone with a vested interest in a scheme contributes their own ‘bit’ towards making it a reality, whatever that might be.

And that involves all of us – not just public sector partners and investors putting in funding or sharing resources – but also residents doing simple but important things, like getting behind a plan, being an ambassador for it and using a new facility when it is built.

At the heart of this co-operative work lies our drive to create a strong economy here – and a place that we can all be proud of.

For Oldham Council that means a clear commitment from us to continuing to work hard to attract outside investment.

We’re still having good success on that front. Take last week’s deal for a new DPD Depot at Chadderton last week creating up to 350 new local jobs, for example.

LIDL: New Royton store created 40 new jobs this month

It’s a commitment from us that the regeneration of our town and district centres – like the new Lidl which opened in Royton this month – will go on and that we’ll carry on striving to build a more balanced and stronger economy that works for everyone.

The Old Town Hall will open on October 21 and that’s a flagship project that makes a clear statement about where we are heading as a place.

It says everything about our intent to have a thriving and confident Oldham town centre where families and communities can enjoy quality time. And it’s about banishing those bad old days when the ‘Wild West’ culture of cheap booze offers around Yorkshire Street blighted our reputation.

But as I’ve outlined in earlier blogs, the Old Town Hall will be just the heartbeat of that new town centre and there will be other important developments taking shape around it.

Funding is in place now for our new Arts & Heritage Centre in the old library on Union Street, for example, and next year we can lay the foundations on the Prince’s Gate scheme, including that much-awaited Marks & Spencer store.

You should also have noticed major improvement works going on to highways and pedestrian areas around the town centre.

That’s not just our new Parliament Square, it’s the ongoing upgrades to Yorkshire Street and the Campus Oldham part of town, along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre and Oldham Sixth Form College.

All of this is being done to improve the experience for motorists, cyclists, shoppers, visitors, residents and business.

The progress on schemes like this – and the new Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at the Royal Oldham Hospital – is helping to move Oldham to the next level with better opportunities and jobs and one we can finally market as a visitor destination in its own right.

We’ve worked with so many partners on those schemes I’ve just mentioned: including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Stoller Trust, Arts Council England, NHS Oldham, Marks & Spencer, Transport for Greater Manchester and the GMCA, to name just a few.

But successful co-operative working also works at all ends of the spectrum – and it’s just as important when it delivers great outcomes at a smaller level.

oldhams-independent-quarter-sqA shining example of that is the Independent Quarter.

Doing our bit as the local authority has been to put up a £1m package of comprehensive support to help existing or start-up businesses.

For others, their bit as traders has been to put life savings, hard graft and vision into a new venture, or as residents it’s been just to go and use these new shops and support the traders in their new home.

The result to date is that we have seen 30 new specialist traders move in, plus three new quality restaurants and 50 buildings refurbished.

We’ve got a waiting list of applications and people wanting to relocate there – including a new Digital Enterprise Hub that will help new enterprises grow across the digital, technology and creative sectors.

Between all of us we’re transforming what was a run-down area strewn with vacant units into a place that is changing by the day, providing a specialist offer for customers and businesses, creating new jobs and blossoming in confidence.

I believe it could well rank as the best £1 million this local authority has ever spent – and that’s because other people have bought into the vision and backed it.

That is very powerful. That’s the difference we can make together. That’s an economy that works for everyone.

Next week I’ll be explaining the growing importance of social regeneration for this administration.

These are existing and new schemes that are just as important as new facilities and buildings to people.

We want to restore pride – not just in Oldham as a place – but also in people and communities by helping to change their daily lives for the better and improve their prospects.

Above all, it’s about ensuring that, in Oldham, nobody is left behind.


Popcorn and politics: Putting families first

COMING SOON: The Old Town Hall will open its doors to the public on Friday, October 21

THE DRIVING ambition behind our redevelopment of the Old Town Hall was always about giving local families a town centre they can enjoy and be proud of.

That’s why I was delighted this week to be able to finally reveal the opening date for the new ODEON as Friday, October 21.

It’s the same day that local schools will break up for holidays and it would’ve been simply wrong to deny people the chance to visit their new seven-screen cinema and restaurants and have quality family time on their own doorstep.

We could’ve waited for every last paving stone to be laid on Parliament Square, of course, and fussed about other minor details – but this very definitely felt like the right timing.

I’d like to thank everyone involved for their patience in awaiting this news, and the fantastic reception they’ve given it on Social Media and elsewhere – positivity does wonders for us all!

I recently promised to spell out some of the main themes of my recent Annual Report to Full Council, so I will start this week by talking about the context we are operating in at present.

VIDEO: Click on the banner above to watch my Annual Report in full

You can’t fail to have noticed that there’s great upheaval in British politics(!).

Following the EU Referendum – and the vote for Brexit on June 23 – we’ve also had a swift change of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It’s claimed that we will soon see changes in the Government’s approach and key policies, away from the austerity agenda, but only time will tell on that front. We live in hope…

Clearly the Brexit vote is going to have a big impact in framing what we do – and can do – in the future as both a council and a borough.

And anyone who tells you they know what it means with any certainty is kidding both you and themselves.

The implications are going to touch every part of our work as a local authority: our budgets, community relations, our ability to invest, the strength of our local economy, and the confidence of our businesses and partners.

JeanStrettonThat’s why I am crystal clear that Oldham Council remains fully committed to stepping up and playing a leadership role, as it has done with the Old Town Hall.

I am determined that we will do that with a strong and focused Cabinet getting on with the crucial work that is needed – because the only thing we can be certain of these days is that nobody will come in from the outside and fix our problems for us.

It’s now more than five years since we started our journey as a Co-operative Council and what that period of time has shown me is a very simple lesson: Oldham only succeeds when we all pull together.

Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own very different contributions towards making it a better place – whether that is recycling well, reporting a pothole, checking on a neighbour’s wellbeing, creating new opportunities for local people or spreading good news and information.

Put simply, we can only build a better borough together.

Next week I will look at how that approach works in practice – and what we are doing next – in terms of our efforts to create a strong local economy and a place we can all be proud of.

That’s all about continuing to attract investment, regenerating our town and district centres and, crucially, building an economy that works for everyone.

Popcorn and politics may make for a curious mix, but I hope this week serves as a timely reminder of our determination to make Oldham an aspirational place to live and work.


Changing boundaries

pollingA STORM began rumbling yesterday – and I don’t mean the extreme weather that arrived in the evening.

I’m talking about the long-awaited publication of Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the Parliamentary map and cut the House of Commons from 650 MPs to 600.

The North West loses seven constituencies – the highest number in any region – and only 14 of the current 75 seats are unchanged.

So – how will it affect you?

As you know, Oldham currently has three constituencies – Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and part of Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner’s seat which includes wards in Failsworth and Hollinwood).

The new proposals would mean:

  • Most of the current Oldham West and Royton constituency would become a new Oldham seat containing Royton South, Chadderton Central, Chadderton North, Chadderton South, Coldhurst, St Mary’s, St James, and Waterhead – plus the addition of Moston.
  • Oldham East and Saddleworth would be replaced by a new Littleborough and Saddleworth constituency. This would be made up of Royton North, Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth North, Saddleworth South, along with five Rochdale borough wards.
  • Of the remaining wards in our borough it is proposed that Werneth, Hollinwood, and Medlock Vale should join a new Failsworth and Droylsden constituency alongside Failsworth East, Failsworth West, Alexandra and Saddleworth West and Lees – plus the current Tameside wards of Audenshaw, Droylsden East and Droylsden West.
  • The Ashton-under-Lyne seat would no longer contain any Oldham borough wards.

We are told that this is all about ensuring “an equal say for each voter” by having more equal-sized constituencies – and cutting costs by £12 million – but what is the real price of these proposals?

Surely the make-up and footprint of all seats has to make geographical sense and context to the people living within them?

Many of the wards and constituencies affected have long-standing identities and associations and there’s plenty in these initial proposals to raise eyebrows…

Is it right, for example, to cut the historic district of Royton in half and move the North ward into a Littleborough and Saddleworth seat alongside Rochdale wards?

Under what rationale does Moston, currently in Manchester Central, fit into the proposed new Oldham seat?

And what reasoning lies behind splitting Saddleworth and Lees away from the rest of Saddleworth – and then planting it in Failsworth and Droylsden?

Obviously I have my own personal views on the proposals and I will be discussing these with councillors across all parties in the coming weeks.

I am more inclined to support proposals that would allow Oldham to be a borough that has two constituency MPs, has none of our wards in another constituency and no wards from outside of the borough in either of our constituencies. That’s common sense.

partner-resource-poster-212x300There are other issues too…

The Boundary Commission set a ‘quota’ size which aims for each constituency to represent around 74,769 voters, but that figure is based on the electoral register as it stood on December 1, 2015.

Since then we know that a further two million people have also registered to vote – many signed up to take part in the Brexit referendum – and they simply haven’t been taken into account in these calculations and proposals.

That’s just a smattering of the issues at stake here and a public consultation on the plans is now under way.

Although final proposals will not be made until 2018 you have just 12 weeks to put your views forward.

If agreed by Parliament the new boundaries would be in place by the 2020 general election.

I would urge everyone reading this to take the time to look at the proposals and have your say on them. Visit here to find out how.

Two more vital points this week…

Firstly, I can reveal that we will be announcing the opening date for the Old Town Hall next Monday – and I will comment further on that next time.

And last but not least, I must pay tribute to another remarkable athlete, and a former Oldham resident, Sascha Kindred OBE.

The 38-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, has been a household name in Paralympics for the past two decades and is one-half of a ‘golden couple’ with his wife and celebrated fellow swimmer Nyree Lewis.

Although he now lives in Herefordshire, Sascha is an ex-Kaskenmoor School pupil who moved here from Germany as a young boy.

On Monday he marked the last-ever appearance of his Paralympic career by setting a new world record time to win his seventh gold medal since his first games in 1996.

Sacha’s positive attitude and determination also shines in his work as a motivational speaker and this is a fitting final chapter of what has been a truly glittering career.


The balancing act: Budgets, services and aspirations

Old Town Hall, Oldham, September 7, 2016
LABOUR OF LOVE: Around 200 contractors are on-site at the Old Town Hall daily putting finishing touches to the flagship development 

I’M PREPARING to deliver my first ever Annual Report to Full Council as I write – and it’s been a very busy few days.

Firstly, I know many of you are hoping for an update on the opening of the Old Town Hall, so here’s where we stand right now…

I chaired a meeting with the regeneration team here at the Civic Centre last week where we discussed this matter at length and I’m continuing to personally monitor progress on the development.

You can’t see them from outside, but there are currently more than 200 contractors working daily inside the Old Town Hall right now – drilling, preserving, painting and finishing off what has been a mammoth task and a labour of love for many craftspeople.

But the issue here isn’t just about progress on the old Grade II-listed building itself, it’s also about us being confident that the improvements we’re making to the surrounding environment and highways, and especially the new public space at Parliament Square, will also be ready.

It’s important that we have a date that will enable the maximum number of spectators to enjoy the public opening events and get in and out of the area safely and quickly: so please just bear with me just a little while longer for that announcement.

On Friday, I caught the early train down to London to take my place on the Local Government Association’s City Regions Board for the first time.

That might not mean much to you, but it’s crucially important that as key partners in Greater Manchester devolution we are at the centre on this issue, ensuring we get the best deal for our region, and for Oldham.

GOLDEN GIRL: Nicola White

That appointment meant I couldn’t be at Oldham Leisure Centre for the homecoming event for Nicola White, our Olympic Gold medallist, but I’m happy to report that I made it back in time to meet and talk to Nicola at a celebration at the Oldham Event Centre later that night.

This evening it will be my absolute pleasure to introduce an agenda item which (subject to approval!) will see her nominated for the title of ‘Freewoman of the Borough’.

Nicola is our first Gold medal winner since Henry Taylor in 1908. Her achievement is historic and it’s only right we mark that by bestowing upon her the highest honour that we can as a council.

When I deliver my Annual Report at that same meeting tonight (more about that in next week’s blog) I’ll be setting out the progress we’ve made in the past year and what our clear priorities are for the borough looking ahead.

This is an administration that is ambitious for Oldham – for its people, for its businesses and for the local economy – but that continues to be hampered by reductions in Government funding and these amount to a further £20 million next year.

Getting that balance right between delivering good services, defending vulnerable residents and giving people the new opportunities and facilities they deserve is an incredibly hard challenge.

That’s why we launched our budget consultation yesterday on a series of proposals to help us balance those priorities – and the books.

This will be the eighth consecutive year when we’ve been hit by a significant fall in our funding and we don’t have a monopoly on the answers or bright ideas.

We’re facing some incredibly tough decisions, so we need your input and views more than ever before.

Much of the proposed budget reductions could come from changing internal processes and how we deliver services and share resources in ever-closer partnership with other equally hard-pressed public bodies. Examples of that are our work with the NHS and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group on social care, health and children’s services – and with neighbouring councils on some back office functions.

Inevitably, however, after eight years of cuts it is increasingly difficult to absorb these without directly having some impact on residents.

The more contentious ones include proposals to close the Link Centre on Union Street, reduce top-up funding to Parish Councils, introducing a charge to cover the cost of producing residents’ parking permits and more rigorously enforcing fines to drivers who ignore bus lane restrictions.

I don’t believe any member of Oldham Council, regardless of their politics, sought office to take decisions like these, but we simply have no choice and must balance the budget.

Please take a few minutes to tell us what you think about these proposals – and give us your own ideas – at the online consultation at www.oldham.gov.uk/budget

Your feedback about possible alternative savings, or steps we could take to mitigate the impact of these proposals, would be particularly welcome.

It’s a harsh fact that when this latest budget process is complete we’ll have lost £212m from budget savings requirements and the Government’s funding reductions since 2009.

That is a huge hit to our income and resources. And it is not a burden which is being shared proportionately across the country.

That’s why – as I will explain in my Annual Report this evening – it’s more vital than ever that Oldham Council continues to provide the civic leadership and direction needed to make this a better borough by working with you to get results.

If you don’t want to wait until next week’s blog to see my Annual Report, you can watch it live on our website here from 6.05pm tonight (Wednesday, September 7).

A video replay will also be posted online separately by the end of the week and I will post that link on here when it is available.


Making a difference: BHS and Get Oldham Working

GONE: The former BHS unit in Spindles shopping centre which closed on August 3

I’M COMMITTED to Oldham Council fighting to make a positive difference with partners to real people’s lives – and that starts in our local economy.

The sad case of the end of the iconic retail empire that was once British Home Stores is just one example where we’ve done that.

Last weekend saw the doors closed for the last time on the 88-year-old firm’s operations nationwide.

When BHS first collapsed in April, it still had 163 stores that were trading but the final 20 have now shut.

Included in that tragic tale, of course, was the Oldham outlet in Spindles, which had only been open since November 2012.

The BHS closure hit 11,000 jobs nationwide, sparking a parliamentary inquiry and – with 22,000 people’s pensions affected by a reported £571 million black hole in funding – its a story that will run and run, possibly even into a criminal investigation.

When it was first confirmed that the Oldham store was under threat we were clear that the remaining 25 or so local workers would need help and we had to act.  That’s when our excellent Get Oldham Working team swung into action to find out what could be done and intervene where help might be needed.

Working with partners like JobCentre Plus they arranged one-to-one advice sessions with all staff so that they could get any information they needed quick about forthcoming employment opportunities, how to improve CVs, plus their rights and benefits etc.

We put several staff in contact with potential employers and outlined their options to them. Some wanted to stay in retail, return to previous careers or look for something completely different.

The team also offered the safety net that – if people were still seeking work later in the year – we could guarantee them, through GOW partners, an interview for positions that would be coming up at the Old Town Hall and other tailored recruitment options we had put together.

By the time the Oldham outlet closed on August 3, I am pleased to report that every single member of staff affected had found new employment.

It’s small comfort for the disruption that BHS’ collapse has caused generally, of course, but it does show yet again how effective and important the Get Oldham Working (GOW) team’s efforts have become.

That’s also why the team’s move to a new premises in Oldham town centre last week is vital and makes so much sense: making it even easier for people to access job information and advice.

The GOW team has already supported our objectives in creating 3,750 employment opportunities in less than three years since it was formed, but the work can’t stop there.

They’ve now moved out of the Civic Centre and into a new base on the first floor of Metropolitan House, Hobson Street, Oldham – which is just across the road from JobCentre Plus.

NEW HOME: On a visit to see the GOW team at their new Metropolitan House base 

I visited the new set-up last week and saw for myself how the new location – and the team’s ‘open door’ policy – can be essential help to anyone seeking work, apprenticeships, traineeships and experience.

Anyone of working age can now simply turn up – without an appointment – and speak to a careers advisor on weekdays from 9am until 4pm.

Given the success of GOW, which is a fantastic example of Oldham Council working cooperatively with partners for everyone’s benefit, we’re keen to see the scheme help even more people.

Now we are embarking on Phase 2 of the scheme, which has new targets.

Over the next four years GOW is looking to assist and guide 6,000 more residents and fill 5,000 work-related opportunities.

This October the team will also launch a new Career Advancement Service (CAS). The CAS is focussed on helping an initial 400 employed local residents to understand what additional support they might need to get an in-work promotion (including advice and support to increase their skills and salary levels).

That won’t just ultimately help them and their families, it also serves to increase upward mobility in the local labour market and create new opportunities for others.

GOWLOGOAs our major regeneration projects, like the Old Town Hall, Prince’s Gate and the Independent Quarter continue attracting more large, medium and small-sized businesses to invest in our borough, I believe GOW will go from strength to strength.

The same also goes for that big vacant unit that BHS has left behind at Spindles.

We know that the shopping centre owners, Kennedy Wilson, are working hard to attract the right tenant and will do all we can to support them in that search.

It’s a chilling thought that former BHS staff in other parts of the country might not have been as fortunate as those in Oldham have been and could actually be joining the dole queue this week, but we’re determined to make a difference here, wherever we can, to support local people and business.

The doors at Metropolitan House are now open to everyone of working age – young people and adults alike – and that means you can get a dedicated learning mentor, access to training, experience and help to find secure employment.

Anyone who needs support should visit the team or look at  www.oldham.gov.uk/gow as a starting point.

You can also email GOW at employability@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 4674 and you can even follow the team on Twitter @EmployOldham or “like” www.facebook.com/getoldhamworking

It goes without saying that we’re also very interested in hearing from even more local businesses and organisations that are interested in providing traineeships, apprentices or jobs for local people.

Many have already stepped forward, but more are always needed.

Please do your bit and get in touch to help us make a genuine difference to people’s lives – and the local economy.


Success breeds success

GOLDEN GIRL: Our very own Nicola White before and after Team GB’s Olympic Hockey final

WATCHING Nicola White play a starring role in last Friday night’s Team GB Women’s Hockey final was truly inspiring.

The performances of so many of our athletes in Rio have been a source of national pride to everyone but, of course, it’s always even better when you’re actually cheering on one of your own.

My husband went out to play snooker and I settled down to watch the drama unfold.

It turns out I was one of nine million people watching live in the UK and BBC One even took the highly unusual step of postponing ‘News at Ten to show the whole game.

To the undisguised disgust of my cat Mitzy, it was not long before I found myself shouting encouragement at the television.

Many moons ago, I used to play a bit of hockey myself. That was down on the red clay pitches at Hathershaw School where you usually had to pick bits out of your knees after the game, but this Olympic surface and the quality of play were in a totally different league.

The Dutch team dominated at times but you couldn’t fail to admire the guts and tenacity our team displayed throughout.

Twice they hauled themselves level but still looked to be heading for defeat until our Nicola swooped to equalise: taking the game into that dramatic shootout, won by Hollie Webb’s decisive penalty.

Team GB: What made the difference?

It was one of many magic moments for Team GB and not surprisingly their spectacular achievements – their best medal tally in 108 years – has prompted a wider debate about exactly how it was achieved, and whether anything can be learnt from it in other areas of public life.

Some have suggested it proves the merits of central planning and the benefits of Lottery investment. At a cost of £1.09 to each resident per year, it certainly represents great value, but surely picking ‘winners’ from, say, entrepreneurs and businesses would be much more problematic.

Some have also highlighted the ‘detail’ element – the idea that this success has been down to a team, making painstaking ‘marginal gains’ which left absolutely nothing to chance. Again that clearly has had a positive effect.

But I’d also put the triumphs down to something else that’s rather simple: the fact that success often breeds success.

As in sport, the most difficult part in tackling major issues as a Council Leader (especially when trying to transform performance) lies in the hard work that goes into researching and defining your plan. But if you get that right and capitalise on early wins it can lead to momentum and a snowball effect.

It’s a lesson that we try to apply in Oldham, and with some success.

One example is education where our ‘central planning’ and detailed approach in tackling underperformance in local schools was launched with the publication of the Oldham Education and Skills Report back in January.  Already we’re seeing a pay-off.

The number of secondary school pupils attending a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school is now more than 70 per cent, compared with just 39 per cent last year – and last week’s A-level results also showed improvements across the board.

Part of that new approach encourages successful schools to share their best practice and data with others, which helps to raise the bar across the board, not just at one school.

As I said, success breeds success…

LCENTREOn a final note, I’m sure that Team GB’s exploits have motivated many people to get involved in new sports, or just to get fit and active again, which is brilliant.

The power to inspire others is a truly rare and wonderful gift, and we are blessed to have role models and ambassadors like Nicola White for our borough.

When we first set out to build two new leisure centres in Oldham, some scoffed at our stated aim to capitalise on an Olympics legacy.

Perhaps they might view that a little differently now.


Oldham’s changing skyline: The need for a plan

SKYLINE1OLDHAM’S skyline and environment are changing fast – and the best is yet to come.

That transformation has been steadily accelerating since the opening of our town centre Metrolink line in 2014.

Walking around Oldham now you can’t fail to notice many new or improved buildings, plus new views and vistas, and the green shoots needed to improve our local economy.

You can see it clearly in areas like the Independent Quarter – where we are co-investing with people putting their life savings, daily graft and faith into breathing new life into the area – and it is steadily being replicated across the town centre.

The Old Town Hall is, of course, the flagship project and it’s already become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Every day you see people stopping to stand around the Cenotaph and the Greaves Arms sneaking a peek at the site and taking snapshots.

Although you cannot yet see inside the grand old building, I can confirm that work is well advanced and we now have a provisional handover date from our contractors.


Following that there will then be a ‘fit out’ period when the new tenants’ own contractors move into the units to install their own fittings and train staff. I can’t yet confirm the opening date publicly but your new ODEON cinema and restaurants remain on track to open later this year.

And it was great this week – before we’ve even opened the doors – to see the Old Town Hall scheme nominated for a major award.

The GM Chamber of Commerce has shortlisted it for ‘Building of the Year 2016’ and that’s a promising early indication of the kind of impact we’re expecting from a new regional destination that will put us firmly on the map.

If you can’t wait to glimpse that future then I’d recommend a visit to the new ‘Revival’ exhibition which opened at Gallery Oldham this week.

REVIVALThis looks at the Old Town Hall and the iconic old Library and Art Gallery building, which will become our new Heritage Centre, showcasing images and objects belonging to both as they are adapted for their new future uses.

Looking at that Old Town Hall site you can also see work is progressing well on Parliament Square, our new public space, and other much-needed improvements being made to the surroundings of the Yorkshire Street/Union Street area.

Important work has also just got started in the ‘Campus Oldham’ part of town along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre, and Oldham Sixth Form College

This will see better highways and pedestrian areas and an improved cycle infrastructure leading into the town centre.

That will make a significant difference to the appearance of that area, which will also be boosted by the new-build three-form academy primary school set to open at the former Grange School site in September.

Just down the road from there I had the honour of attending the official groundbreaking ceremony for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at Royal Oldham Hospital on Monday.

This will provide a fantastic place offering free practical and emotional support in an environment that will make a huge difference to the quality of care for local patients. The plans show it set in a sloping garden with trees growing up through the buildings – accessed over a bridge – with views down to a garden pool. It’s just the latest life-changing project to be funded by the generosity of the Stoller Charitable Trust.

But what goes up must also come down – and that’s another way in which regeneration is changing the skyline.

Earlier this year we pulled down the former Oldham Sports Centre on Lord Street which means residents on the new St Mary’s Estate (for now at least) can enjoy a more splendid view of Oldham Parish Church.

A couple of weeks ago I also pressed the button to demolish the seven-storey council-owned car park at Hobson Street which, let’s face it, has been an eyesore for many years and its demise clears that site again for a brighter future.

This was a cold, brutalist structure which, like the old St Peter’s Shopping Precinct (or ‘Windy City’ as many of us called it!) will surely not be missed by even the most nostalgic of residents.

In looking positively to the future like this, I’m also very conscious that we’re living in incredibly uncertain times.

The UK is in a difficult and challenging environment on so many levels at present and, as a mere Council Leader, I don’t for one moment pretend to have a crystal ball about what that lies ahead.

What I do know, however, is that having a long-term regeneration plan – both physical and social – is crucial to anchoring your confidence (and that of others) in your place and its ability to improve people’s prospects.

These latest signs of progress in Oldham’s skyline and environment show that we have that plan. Without it we would surely be exposing ourselves to even greater uncertainty.

This is my final blog now before the traditional Council recess break, but it will return on August 24.

Many of you will have holidays planned soon, so I hope you all enjoy fine family times and weather – and stay safe.