Budget Day looming large… 

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277IT’S AN important few weeks for Oldham Council – and all local authorities nationwide.

We’re now in the final stages of agreeing how to balance the books for the next financial year here and we must bridge a £24.8million funding gap.

This has been our toughest budget process to date because we’re way beyond looking for easy cuts – they’ve all long gone – and are literally now being squeezed down to the pips.

Like all council leaders I’ll have a keen eye on the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, when delivers his latest budget to Parliament next Wednesday (November 22).

This will, he has stated, set out the Government’s thinking “on how to keep the economy strong and resilient and fair – an economy that works for everyone.”

They’re fine words, but will that be what he deliver in practice? I’m very clear about what I want for Oldham Council…

As I said in my Annual Statement at Full Council last week, the landscape for Oldham remains a challenging one.

As a place, we are facing unprecedented uncertainties as a result of several complex inter-playing factors including Brexit, the future of local government funding, Welfare Reform, Business Rates, Adults and Childrens’ Social Care funding, and many more.

We’ve now spent several years since 2010 under a regime of so-called economic ‘austerity’; a phrase I dislike to hear because it is a benign term for a regime that is actually having savage consequences for so many people across our communities.

It became the dominant fiscal ideology in Westminster after the Greek financial crisis and weaponised the dangers of ‘deficits’ and ‘debts’ to attack the welfare state and justify punitive measures like increased cuts in benefits.

Government seems to have ditched concerns about things like unemployment and the viability of public services, including the NHS and has focussed instead on an obsession with massive spending cuts.

This must now come to an end. It has not delivered. It was not necessary at the time and what our economy needs now is the prioritisation of investment, stimulus and inclusive growth.

What we need from the Chancellor – and the Local Government Finance Settlement that follows in December – is a dose of reality and a clear plan.

If he is really serious about Government delivering “for everyone” then he cannot ignore the obvious fact that local government must be fairly and adequately funded and given the powers to help to deliver those outcomes.

Depressed elderly woman sitting at the table

I’m going to be particularly interested in what Mr Hammond says about social care.

The Local Government Association recently calculated than an extra  £1.3 billion is needed from the Treasury just to plug funding gaps in this area of local government funding over the next financial year.

And here’s a frightening thought. By 2020 almost 60p in every £1 people pay in Council Tax may have to be spent caring for children and adults. With a population in which people are living longer than ever before, there’s a very clear challenge to both sustainability and the dignity we give our most vulnerable residents.

Social care isn’t the only area of concern either. What measures will the Government bring forward to tackle the housing crisis or address how we help young people to achieve their ambitions without saddling themselves with huge debt?

There is also the massive unresolved question of how local government is to be financed in future.

By 2020 this sector will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 it got from the Revenue Support Grant in 2015 and almost half of all councils will no longer get any of this core central government funding by 2019/20.

The Government previously said it was committed to letting local authorities keep all of their business rates income by 2020, yet even that is now in doubt after the Local Government Finance Bill failed to re-appear in the Queen’s Speech after the General Election.

There’s now a real fear and lack of clarity about our future funding and I know it’s something that keeps colleagues awake at night.

ABDULMBEAt Oldham Council finance is the portfolio of my Deputy Leader, Abdul Jabbar, and it is an unenviable task.

I was delighted to see him receive his MBE at Buckingham Palace this week because anyone handling that kind burden must be worthy of a medal!

Seriously though, Abdul has been a great ward member, community leader and Cabinet Member for around a quarter of a century – and he is a great ambassador for Oldham.

His persistent and patient approach has helped to steer our finances through some very choppy waters in recent years and we’re all delighted to see that recognised with this honour.

Finally this week, I want to pay tribute to all those Royal British Legion personnel, local volunteers and residents who helped to make Remembrance Sunday such a poignant occasion.

I attended the service in Oldham town centre. The weather conditions were perfect – if a tad chilly(!) – and it was heartening to be part of such a huge crowd stretching across Parliament Square and down High Street all paying their respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you all.

Jean

Remembrance in Oldham | We will honour them

FCOUNCIL2I’M PREPARING to deliver my Annual Report to Full Council as I write this week’s blog.

One of the themes running through my speech tonight is about supporting and developing thriving communities across our borough. So, what does that mean?

Essentially, it’s about Oldham being a place where being a part of society – and societal action – really means something.

We want people and communities to be coming together to share local agendas, tackle problems, and make the most out of their opportunities and assets as a place.

We also want them to have civic pride about where they live – and one part of that is having great free family events, which is something I believe we do well in Oldham.

The Big Bang Bonfire last week, as an example, was attended by a record crowd and – six years after we brought it back and changed its focus and venue – it’s been a huge success.

Despite our ongoing budget challenge we’ve added further free events to the annual calendar this year including OldhamLIVE, Illuminate and this year’s YourOldham festival.

These complement the range of other great family occasions already on offer.

Our Christmas shopping events began with last week’s Reindeer Parade (now in its 20th year) and there’s also the likes of the live@thelibrary and Bookmark Festivals, which have all been attended by big numbers in 2017.

Oldham War MemorialBut one thing I am particularly proud of that we do well in Oldham – working alongside a range of partners, including the local branches of the Royal British Legion – is our annual Remembrance Sunday events and related activities.

This Sunday at 11am thousands of people will fall silent at district services across the borough to remember the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and security. You can find all the details of these local events here.

Residents, uniformed services and representatives of all organisations are invited and encouraged to attend these events and I’d also ask people to again support the RBL’s annual campaign and wear a poppy with pride.

We are now into the third year of commemorative events to mark the centenary years of World War I (1914-18) and there has been a huge effort undertaken to mark this locally. This has been led on our side by Councillor Cath Ball, who is our Deputy Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Cooperatives with special responsibility for WWI and Remembrance, and has done an enormous amount of work behind the scenes on this.

The Oldham Council website has an on-line roll honour here which contains many names of borough residents who have lost their lives serving their country from WWI onwards.

WalteRMillsThere is also going to be a very special event taking place on Monday, December 11 at Oldham Parish Church at 11am.

The borough will be honouring Victoria Cross recipient Walter Mills (PICTURED RIGHT) with a service to mark 100 years since his death at Red Dragon Crater, near Givenchy in France.

The 23-year-old – one of three Oldham recipients of the highest military honour awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” – was on duty when a strong gas attack saw the trenches overwhelmed.

Despite being badly gassed, he stayed at his post and fought the attackers single-handedly, throwing grenades until reinforcements arrived

Whilst being carried away from the scene he sadly died from gas poisoning on 11 December 1917, but it was solely thanks to his efforts that the enemy was defeated and the line remained intact. He was awarded the VC posthumously.

It is stories like these that really bring alive the incredible human costs and heroicism shown in the service of our country.

That’s why it’s so vital that we continue to archive and preserve memories like this so that future generations can learn about them.

oldhamremebersThe Oldham Remembers website – which was created as part of the WWI centenary commemorations – is there to achieve just that.

This is being regularly updated with the stories of soldiers who fought in conflicts, plus images from our past. Please pay it a visit at www.oldhamremembers.org.uk

It may seem a long way off, but in 22 years we will be commemorating the start of the Second World War. The problem is that there will be literally nobody around left to tell their own tales by then, which is why we want to gather them now.

If you have information, stories or tales you wish to submit to this community effort then please contact us via email at oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk

Lest we forget.

Jean

The origins of The Big Bang

BIGBANG2017THE BIG Bang – our hugely-popular civic bonfire – is back in town at Oldham Edge on Thursday evening (November 2).

This is the sixth year we’ve put on this event and in that time it’s provided fantastic free entertainment and fun for thousands of local families.

But there’s also a very serious side to why we do it.

Reintroducing a civic bonfire and fireworks event in 2011 wasn’t just motivated by giving residents something to enjoy (great though that is!), but also by the incredible strain that the bonfire season puts on our blue light services.

There are literally countless examples of the harm that badly organised bonfires and the misuse of fireworks can lead to.

I still find it somewhat odd that for 25 days a year people can go out and buy something that can be so destructive and dangerous in the wrong hands.

There’s always genuine accidents, of course, but anti-social behaviour, illegal and badly planned bonfires and loutish behaviour with fireworks can have serious and devastating consequences.

MitzyPICAs a cat owner (see Mitzy, pictured right) and animal lover, I also know that you don’t need to be Dr Doolittle to understand how petrified many pets are at this time of year.

These are all key reasons why we hold The Big Bang. It is part of our co-ordinated approach with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and partners on the annual Treacle campaign which aims to keep people safe from fires and injuries and nuisance.

The three-week Treacle period is the busiest time of the year for GMFRS. They responded to more than 2,000 incidents in that time last year which ranged from sheds burnt to the ground by wayward fireworks to cars being engulfed in flames by fireworks used inappropriately.

As part of Treacle there’s also now a Fireworks Amnesty which is encouraging people to give up or report dangerous fireworks.

Our firefighters are busy enough normally without this kind of extra strain – as are our A&E departments and police.

It also just makes common sense to attend The Big Bang.

Why bother spending your own money and taking risks with low-calibre fireworks in the back garden, when you can be dazzled by the best fireworks professionals in the UK setting off their high-grade ones in a stunning, totally safe and free display?

Fantastic Fireworks always perform our Oldham Edge display and they’re the UK’s double British Fireworks champions for many reasons. They never fail to deliver a dazzling show and they are at the leading edge of pyrotechnic innovation.

There’s lots more to enjoy at The Big Bang too. I know some people are tempted to just turn up for the fireworks later on, but you really will be missing out if you do.

After the site opens at 5pm you can enjoy a funfair with the kids and foodstalls before we get the stage show underway and light the bonfire at around 6pm.

FlameOz1We’ve got then Flame Oz headlining proceedings. They’ve now performed in more than 40 countries with an amazing ‘glow show’ of fire dancing and juggling that is breath-taking.

A new act this year is Raijin Storm who are ancient Japanese guardians that will be drumming thunderous rhythms with the audience in a brilliant interactive performance.

All this is hosted and MC’d by Elliot Eastwick from our event partners Revolution 96.2 and he will build things up until the final countdown when our prize-winner – a lucky schoolchild – pushes the button to start the fireworks display.

You can even park for nothing too as all Oldham Council-owned town centre car parks will again be free of charge from 3pm on the day.

To find out more, please visit the webpage at www.oldham.gov.uk/bonfire and plan your evening.

And finally – if you want any further information about the Treacle campaign and how to stay safe this autumn – please visit safe4autumn.com

Jean

Big_Bang_A5_DS_Flyer_2017_V5_

Strictly just great fun!

skershawsI REALLY didn’t know what to expect when I first agreed to take part in Strictly Kershaw’s dance fundraising event – but now I’m so glad that I did it.

Last Friday night was an experience that left me breathless but buzzing and I’m so pleased now that I that stepped outside my comfort zone and took up the challenge.

Part of what made it such a memorable night was the incredible effort that had been put into making this a success by the Hospice’s organisers and volunteers.

The QE Hall looked simply fabulous – with all the glitz and glamour you could hope for – and, best of all, it was absolutely packed.

Having been drawn to go on and perform first I will admit to having had some initial butterflies, but these were quickly forgotten once the music began.

From that point on you have to focus incredibly hard to keep yourself co-ordinated and be in the right place at just the right time.

What helped everyone taking part was that the crowd were so enthusiastic and they whipped up an atmosphere that inspired us all.

Looking back it was, for me, quite a risky thing to agree to take part in this. Too few of us step out of our comfort zone like that very often and I really hadn’t enjoyed my previous brief flirtations with dancing.

Now, however, I certainly understand the great pleasure that dancing gives to so many people. It’s not just a great physical challenge but also helps you forget a bad day, to put things into perspective – and you also get to meet some simply fantastic people.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Dr Kershaw’s, Madd for Dance in Shaw, my dance partner Marco Maestro, and and all those who have helped me on this journey.

And we also mustn’t forget the incredible people who keep Dr Kershaw’s going all year round, plus all those who sponsored me (which you can still do!) here.

Boundary-Commission-EnglandMoving onto other matters now and I was disappointed to see the latest version of the proposed Boundary Commission for England (BCE) changes that was published last week…

This is its third and final consultation on proposed new Parliamentary constituencies as part of a move to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

We made representations last year to the BCE on their initial proposals to create two Parliamentary constituencies within the borough boundaries.

There were clear flaws in those proposals which, in particular, ignored important long-standing local associations and identities.

This new version does at least no longer propose to split the two Royton wards into different constituencies – as was initially put forward – and also now keeps the Saddleworth wards together.

However, I  do not view these plans as a good deal for Oldham because they are still breaking up the direct links with local authority boundaries, which is very important.

We will be putting our concerns forward again to the Boundary Commission and urging the public to do the same before the final December 11 deadline. You can do this by visiting the BCE website here.

BIGBANG2017Finally this week a reminder that with the end of British Summertime upon us this weekend, and with the nights drawing in, it’s almost time again for the Big Bang bonfire at Oldham Edge.

I will be talking more about this in my blog next week, but for now please mark Thursday, November 2 (5pm onwards) in your diary for this fantastic free event.

You can also visit our webpage here to see everything we’ve got planned to make this a ‘Feast of Fire’ – and our biggest and best event yet.

Jean

Universally Discredited: Stop this madness 

UCREDITUNIVERSAL Credit is making headlines again – and that will continue throughout the winter unless the Government comes to its senses.

For the uninitiated, Universal Credit (UC), is this government’s flagship Welfare Reform.

It’s an all-in-one benefit system that replaces several existing benefits, including housing benefit and child tax credits, with one single monthly payment.

So what’s going wrong?

The main issue is that people moving onto UC are faced with a six-week delay before receiving their first payment. Nationally, more than a quarter of claimants have been waiting even longer than that. Months, in some cases.

stackSuch delays are totally unacceptable. They are needlessly pushing many people into debt and rent arrears, causing great stress, especially to the most vulnerable, and can lead to eviction or homelessness.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says UC is “an online service” and last week used that to justify their telephone helpline charging callers 55p per minute.

Well I’m sorry but how on earth can hard-up people be expected to pay a premium rate to get help in claiming money that they are actually entitled to? What’s morally defensible about charging those most in need of the money for help with their claims?

The DWP says encouraging people to use UC online helps with their digital skills and employability. That’s fine, but those struggling financially are less likely to have a smartphone, tablet, PC or even their own internet connection. And you can’t just cut people adrift like that.

For me, social security should do exactly what it is supposed to do – offer a safety net for those who need it and help to get people back into work.

When Oldham agreed to become an early adopter of UC in 2013 we envisaged working with the DWP to help identify problems and produce a more effective system before it was rolled out nationally.

That simply hasn’t happened and unless a debate led by Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams is successful in Parliament today (October 18) then I really fear the impact in the months ahead.

Sadly there’s a wealth of local data showing the true impact of UC here in Oldham.

Oldham Food Bank has seen a 77 per cent increase in people getting food parcels due to benefit delays or changes in the last two years, for example.

oldhamfoodbankAt Oldham Council our benefits advisers are spending an average of one hour and ten minutes on the phone just to help each claimant through the online application process.

Politicians – and that’s from all sides – are now uniting with public sector bosses, advice services and the voluntary sector in calling for the national rollout of UC to be stopped.

Even the National Audit Office, the body overseeing government spending, has said that UC is “driven by an ambitious timescale” with “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”. We can’t all be wrong, surely?

Universal Credit just isn’t fit for purpose as it stands and our society should be treating vulnerable people much better than this.

Instead of continuing to try and save face and push on with this rollout, the Government should acknowledge these failings, press the pause button and stop this minimum six-week delay. And do it now.

The consequences of not doing so, for many people and families, don’t bear thinking about.

With winter on the horizon some could be facing the coldest months of the year making the hardest of choices, like whether to heat their home or feed themselves and their families.

This is a Government that has talked a lot about creating ‘an economy that works for everyone’ and its concerns for those who are ‘Just About Managing’ – so how on earth does the UC rollout fit with that stance?

Please spare a thought for those affected by this as we head towards the festive season and visit the Oldham Foodbank website here to find out how you can help make a difference for local people in crisis.

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webAnd finally this week: after thousands of steps, 12 weeks of practice, two outfits and two left feet, I am as ready as I will ever be to strut my stuff on Friday at Strictly Kershaw’s.

Although I’m used to speaking at public meetings and debating issues with large groups of people, this is really going to be something very different.

I’ll let you know how I get on in next week’s blog.

You can still buy tickets here and (please!) sponsor my efforts at my JustGiving page here to help keep Dr Kershaw’s on course for its challenging fundraising targets.

Jean

Integrating health and social care – What really matters

asburnhamUSEIT WAS great to welcome Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to Oldham this week.

He came to hear Oldham Council, the Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group and other partners explaining what we’re doing to integrate our health and social care work into one system.

Now I know this stuff does not sound immediately exciting – and it doesn’t make big media headlines – but it’s vitally important, so bear with me…

I know a lot of the health sector can seem inaccessible to the public and filled with confusing acronyms and jargon, which I will avoid here.

The key point about this integration work is simple: it’s all about the quality and effectiveness of the result for the patient.

When we need to access care we probably don’t care who’s responsible for providing the service, or who controls the budget. Why would we?

What matters is the right help being there for us at the right time in the right place, and that it is effective.

Success will mean better prevention and health outcomes for patients – and hence reduced costs and less strain on the public purse, enabling more money to be available to invest in the health of our population.

 

greater-manchester-devolutionThat’s why we are all focussed on this work. This integration of health and social care is a great opportunity from devolution – and its ‘win win’ for all if we get it right.

Like all members of the GM City Region, Oldham now has a Locality Plan under which all partners are working together to transform our social and health care system into a new model that breaks down the old silos at every level.

This is also about aligning care to wider public services like education, skills, work and housing to create a system that is financially balanced and sustainable.

One great example of this is housing where Oldham Council, Oldham CCG and the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership broke the mould in coming together to fund Warm Homes Oldham in 2013.

This scheme offers measures like installing insulation and more efficient boilers, assistance with tariff switching, accessing benefits, using heating systems better and clearing debt with energy companies.

The health problems associated with badly heated homes are those usually suffered by older people and associated with cold weather, like strokes, and conditions affecting children, like asthma. But there are also mental health issues linked to social isolation caused by a reluctance to invite friends and family into a cold home.

warmhomesoldhamWarm Homes Oldham has now lifted more than 4,000 local people out of fuel poverty, eradicating many health problems and producing significant savings on reduced hospital admissions and mental health.

Andy Burnham expressed his concern to us that the link between housing and health outcomes appears to have been under-recognised elsewhere. He was suitably impressed with this scheme and wants to come back to learn more about a scheme he says is just one showing how Oldham is “moving further and faster” than many others on integration.

Another area of clear agreement was our focus on what’s known as social prescribing; an approach where local health practitioners are encouraged to go beyond the simple default of prescribing pills to address problems.

Often when people present to their GP, nurses or other primary care professionals, their problems are more complex and deeper-seated than simply the immediate ailment…

It means, for example, a patient could be encouraged to join a local exercise class or group to address both weight and health issues at the same time as allowing them to make more social connections. This approach can be much more effective for the person, addressing their social, emotional and practical needs, and can also have the added benefit of reducing the use of NHS services.

Andy’s visit was inspiring and the huge collective commitment to get this agenda right in Oldham – with a new system focussed on the person and the place, rather than ‘one size fits all’ – was self-evident.

A couple more important things to mention this week…

Firstly, we have now announced dates and venues for the public consultation on our Oldham Town Centre Masterplan. We’re taking this across the borough in a mini-roadshow where you can view the proposals, then ask questions and submit comments. Please do #yourbit and find your local ‘drop in’ session here.

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webAnd finally I’m just two more practice sessions away from my dancing debut at Strictly Kershaw’s on Friday, October 20.

It’s been great fun to do this but the serious side is that Dr Kershaw’s Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free.

Many thanks to friends and colleagues who have already made donations – and for those who would still like to do so, please visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.

Jean 

Trash talk #1PieceofRubbish

I RARELY use the word ‘hate’ – but I make an exception when it comes to street litter.

I hate how litter looks. I hate how it smells and, worst of all, I hate what it says about the place to anyone living there or visiting it.

Whether it’s cigarette butts, empty cans or bottles, carrier bags, chewing gum or fast food cartons, it’s all anti-social.

Most people and businesses take pride in our community, living and operating here without making any mess, but some do not.

I often wonder what it is that makes a person feel it’s okay to just drop something from their hands, to not be bothered to keep hold of rubbish for just a few seconds more, and there’s a lot of research around the psychology of this.

People probably do it because they simply don’t feel responsible for public areas, like streets and parks and they often do it away from their own ‘patch’ – so that their mess simply becomes “someone else’s problem”.

Some people also litter because they believe or know that someone – a local street cleaner or even a good-hearted neighbour – will get it sorted out.

The big problem, of course, is that it you’re in an area where there’s already lots of visible litter, then the temptation to do the same is too much for some.

We know that’s true because if you’re somewhere that looks pristine and litter-free we know you’re far less likely to toss unwanted items to the kerb for sheer fear of embarrassment.

There’s some fantastic work being done around what can be done to tackle littering.

Some looks at how we can ‘nudge’ people to change their behaviour and it’s getting some interesting results.

Hubbub, a charity that creates environmental campaigns with a difference, is one good example.

They set up on a busy London street and tested a whole raft of things to see how it affected littering behaviour. They used ‘voting bins’ for cigarette butts, for example, or chalked around chewing gum litter highlighting the cost of removing each piece (£1.50 as it happens) and had some very encouraging results.

RUTHWe’re looking at ideas like this too and are also throwing our weight behind another campaign thanks to a very persistent and inspiring local lady.

Ruth Major (pictured, right) is retired but is certainly not a person to rest on her laurels.

She has been an ‘anti-littering’ activist for a long time and posts updates as ‘Rubbish Ruth’s Rambles’ on Social Media.

Wherever she goes – and believe me, she seems to get everywhere up and and down the country – Ruth encourages people to join a national campaign asking each resident to pick up at least one piece of rubbish a day.

Just think about that.

The population of Oldham is more than 230,000 people so if each resident did that each day it could make a huge difference.

To get things started this month we’re running a #1PieceofRubbish competition on Twitter.

1pr screen shot

Anyone who picks up a piece of litter in Oldham and follows the entry guidelines will be entered into a prize draw and the winner gets a three-month premium all-inclusive membership to Oldham Community Leisure (OCL). You can read all the details here

There’s no limit on how many times you can enter this competition because we want everyone to pick up as many pieces of rubbish as possible.

This campaign isn’t finishing at the end of October either – we’re committed to #1PieceofRubbish for the long haul.

If, like me, you love where you live then you’ll hate litter too – please get involved and do #yourbit.

Jean

Keep dancing…

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webIT WAS certainly up there as one of the most unexpected phone calls I’ve received since becoming Council Leader.
 
In April I took a call fully expecting to be asked whether I had PPI, a car accident that wasn’t my fault or be told about a new pothole in my ward. Instead it was an invitation I really hadn’t expected.
 
It was Dr Kershaw’s Hospice calling to ask if I’d consider taking part in their Strictly Kershaw’s annual dancing competition. 
Ordinarily I would probably have politely declined given my busy schedule – not to mention my two left feet – but their timing was important.

The call came during the week of the funeral of our Royton councillor colleague, Tony Larkin, who I knew had been in Dr Kershaw’s Hospice during his final weeks.

It felt right to take part in something that raises funds to support the fantastic work of the Hospice. I know there are so many families across our borough who are grateful for the incredible work done by their staff for adults with life-limiting illnesses.

In the back of my mind too I remembered how, as a young girl, my Mum had sent me to Bardsley Dance School and – to be honest – I’d hated it!

But I said “Yes” and committed to 12 weeks of practice every Thursday night up until the actual  event on October 20.  


Jean GM Moving pledge (2)And in July I put my dancing venture forward as my pledge to the Greater Manchester (GM) Moving campaign, which aims to get everyone active and secure the greatest improvement in the health, wealth and wellbeing of the region’s 2.8m residents by 2021. 
 
I turned up for my first practice sessions a bit apprehensive but actually, whilst I’m no Ginger Rogers, I really am enjoying it.

I have a fantastic, patient dance partner and he and his real partner have been taking me through the choreography for my two dances. These are the Cha Cha Cha and a lesser-known dance called the Bachata.  I have to say some of the choreography is a bit racy and they are already talking fishnets and feathers for my outfits!

 
I’ve certainly felt fitter for doing it and it’s good sometimes to have something that you need to really concentrate on (because otherwise you might fall over!) and take just a couple of hours off from being Council Leader.    
 
So this has been great fun to do so far and – on the night –  I promise nothing other than 100 per cent effort and to provide some entertainment for the crowd  And I hope that however well (or not so well!) I have improved by then, people will remember the serious side to this is about raising funds for Dr Kershaw’s.

The Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free. They rely on public generosity and that’s why I hope some of you reading this will take the time to visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.  

 
Even better, if you want to attend the Strictly Kershaw’s event itself, it takes place at the QE Hall on October 20. You can book tickets and find out more about it here.
 
While we’re on the subject of a Royton institution this week I want to set the record straight on our plans for the library building, which we recently announced.
 
You can read all about them here but essentially the plan is to move the library into the ground floor of the Royton Town Hall buildings as part of a £2 million investment to improve the facilities. We’re then seeking a tenant to give the old library building a modern use to breathe new life into the district. 
 
Contrary to media and Social Media comments since then, I want to be crystal clear about what we are doing.  
 
Firstly, this isn’t the closure of the library service. It is simply relocating it – and into what will be a modern community venue with new facilities, meeting rooms and office space set within the historic Town Hall building. It will have better access for everyone and improved connectivity between the library, health centre and leisure centre facilities. This is an investment in the future, not a cut in service. 
 
Secondly, we have no plans to sell the old library building. We know it’s important to many Roytonians and have been very clear that we are seeking a tenant with a sympathetic view to its heritage who can offer something new to the district that can benefit everyone. 

And with that off my chest it’s back to work now and – tomorrow night – a little more Cha Cha Cha…

Jean 

shoes

Oldham LIVE and kicking

CLINTOLIVEEVEN the worst kind of weather couldn’t stop the first-ever Oldham LIVE event being a big success.

Heavy showers on Saturday morning and afternoon were an untimely frustration but Oldhamers are – as we know – a hardy lot.

Families and young children took to their deck chairs undeterred to brave the elements and enjoy a pirate-themed show led by CBeebies’ Gemma Hunt sprinkled with magic, puppetry and plenty of laughs.

By the time the live music began at 6pm the skies had finally cleared and it was great to see Parliament Square, its restaurants and outdoor spaces, all filling up with brisk and happy trade.

The live music was, as expected, excellent – and there was something for all tastes and ages.

There were great Oldham welcomes home to Kelly Llorenna and Clint Boon, who clearly enjoyed themselves. Stooshe bounced onto stage and put great ‘girl power’ into the line-up while Nathan Moore (pictured below) is such a natural entertainer that he’d have probably have stayed on-stage for hours if we’d let him.

nmooreolive

By the time The Farm brought the event to a close around 10pm, Parliament Square was rocking in delight and it was a fantastic sight.

This is exactly what this new public space was designed to be: somewhere people can enjoy something to eat or drink and the kind of high-quality entertainment you might not normally expect in Oldham. And it was all free.

Now that we’ve tested our detailed event safety and management plan for this new venue, the hard work has been done.

We’re confident Parliament Square is an ideal setting for this kind of event and – as I promised the crowds on Saturday night – Oldham LIVE will certainly be back next year.

What was best about it all, for me, was just seeing so many smiling faces with volunteers, spectators and strangers dancing together, and all in a family friendly atmosphere that lasted the whole day.

I spoke afterwards with Paul, the manager at Molino’s, to check the impact on town centre businesses, and he seemed delighted.

Many customers appeared to be first-time visitors to the Old Town Hall and were more than pleasantly surprised by what they found, so there should be some positive repeat business for town centre premises to come.

But this is not the end of the transformation of Oldham – it’s just the start – and you can play a part in making it even better.

CONSULTPOSTER

This week we’re launching a public consultation exercise on our masterplan proposals for the town centre of the future.

If you get time on Friday or Saturday this week I would urge you to visit the Egyptian Room at the Old Town Hall, next door to Nando’s. This is a glorious setting that the public have been unable to visit for several years and we’re now opening it up, in all its refurbished glory, to let you see it and have your say on our future plans at the same time.

This town centre masterplan is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham and it’s vitally important.

It looks at how we can create a town centre that works better and is aspirational for everyone – for residents of all generations, public sector partners and businesses/traders of all sizes. Its purpose is to provide new homes, 55,000 square metres of new and refurbished office, leisure and retail space – set to bring economic activity worth an additional £50 million each year to the Oldham economy.

We have our budget challenges, as you know, but I’m determined that we will not make the mistake of standing still.

This is a great opportunity for us all to decide the kind of place we want Oldham to be – and then get a clear plan in place to achieve it. The opening times for this event are:

Friday, September 15 – 10am to 5pm

Saturday, September 16 – 10am to 3pm

Anyone can attend, admire the Egyptian Room, view the proposals, submit comments and speak to officers and members.

We’ve all got a stake in Oldham town centre so please do #yourbit and drop in to help us to get these plans right. If you can’t make it, we’ll also be holding a series of consultation ‘drop in’ sessions across every district before the end of 2017, with details to be announced soon.

After all that music this week, I’ll be turning my attention to all things dancing in next week’s blog. No, seriously.

Bet that’s got you intrigued…

Jean

Local press is vital to communities and democracy

CHRONADMIN

IT WAS devastating to learn that the Oldham Evening Chronicle had closed its doors last week.

After almost 164 years of continuous publishing, millions of words, hundreds of controversies and stories, and the production of dozens of fine journalists, KPMG were swiftly appointed administrators of the firm last Thursday afternoon.

At the time staff were unwittingly filing their stories, taking advert placements and making calls for a Friday morning edition that would sadly never see the light of day.

Within an hour they were gathered together and told their fate – and that they did not even get the chance to write their own obituary edition seemed particularly cruel to me. They deserved that at least.

I knew the paper had been having financial problems for some time – in particular with a pension deficit – but had always hoped that a solution to be found.

DWhaleyDave Whaley, the Editor, called in to confidentially update me on the issues just a few weeks earlier.

Characteristically defiant and pragmatic about what might happen his chief thoughts, typically, were for the fate of all his 49 staff. Dave was, however, also deeply concerned about the impact the paper’s potential closure would have for Oldham – and he was right.

I’ve seen some say on social media that Oldham Council will now be quietly rejoicing the Chronicle’s demise, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people have already told me they cannot get their head around not being able to go and buy their ‘Chron’ and there is a genuine sense of loss that extends even to ex-pats who still looked forward to reading from afar.

Local media has a vital connection to its people that provides an unmatched service to everyone. It is crucial for communities and democracy.

Many Oldham residents will have appeared in its pages at one time or another and will still have a proud cutting gathering dust somewhere in their home.

If you were on the wrong side of the law in court you could expect to be identified in the Chron. If you were fundraising in your community for a good cause you could expect to be supported by them. And you could expect to find out news from the families of long-lost friends, neighbours or relatives in the births, deaths and marriages pages.

In recent years the Chronicle had also been a positive ambassador for Oldham as a place.

It backed us as a council when we showed ambition, but it was also ready to give us very public criticism when we deserved it. We may have squirmed and fumed at the time, but that is the scrutiny that comes with local democracy and it is a deal that works.

I sincerely hope a ‘Phoenix Chronicle’ may yet rise from the ashes, albeit likely in a weekly or bi-weekly form, and we will do anything we can to assist and encourage that to happen.

Oldham as a town needs a newspaper so we will be keeping a keen eye on developments: not least because it’s also vital that other elements of the old Chronicle brand and products are not lost.

prideoinoldhamThe Pride in Oldham awards, for example, was a fantastic community event that highlighted the incredible contributions of ordinary people in a way that nothing else could.

And let’s not forget the importance of the newspaper’s archive too.  Thousands of plates, negatives and digital content are all there on Union Street telling the story of our town and they simply must not be lost. I know people are working hard behind the scenes to ensure it can be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.

Moving onto brighter news this week, I was delighted to open the EPIC Talks at the Your Oldham Festival in the Old Town Hall on Monday. It was inspiring to see important issues like inclusive growth and social contracts being discussed here in the heart of our town.

There’s still chance to catch some fantastic events across the borough until Saturday, so please visit our website here and book your free place.

Oldham_Live_Web_BannerOn Saturday our exciting Oldham LIVE event will be taking place offering fun for all the family from Noon followed by established music artists from 6pm onwards.

We’ve now updated our webpage with more detailed information – including site maps and FAQs – so please give it a visit here and support us.

This is a pilot event designed to show that Oldham has an appetite for and can deliver top-quality events that re-establish it as a destination.

Parliament Square is the place to be this Saturday – and it’s all completely free. Please come along, spread the word with your friends and neighbours, and help us to make it a day to remember.

Jean