Business and Transport: Our Economic Engine Room

jardine-audi-site-oldham-57BUSINESSES of all shapes and sizes are the lifeblood of our local economy; the dynamo that can power the place and people forward.

Oldham Council is often the first point of access – especially for smaller ventures – when they’re seeking support to get ideas and plans off the ground.

We know local firms are the engines of social mobility and potential gamechangers to the status quo in creating new products, services and, ultimately, jobs.

That’s why we take our role in championing, supporting them and encouraging growth in every area so seriously and this week I visited two great examples of how we are succeeding.

On Monday I went down to Chadderton Way to meet Stephen Pettyfer, Group Property Director of the Jardine Motors Group who are bringing an Audi dealership to town.

Builders are now six weeks into the construction of a huge showroom on the former Westhulme Hospital site in what represents an £8 million investment for the firm.

They’d approached us last year with plans to base their Northern hub at the five-acre site and, although the land is not council-owned, we worked with NHS bosses to broker the deal and bring the site forward quickly for development.

It will see the creation of around 90 new skilled jobs and is a high-end global brand that we are proud to see investing here.

With most of the steel infrastructure already in place, I’m really looking forward to revisiting the site to see the finished development next year.

parliamentsq1I also had the great pleasure to open another new business right in the heart of Oldham town centre yesterday.

Attracted by the Old Town Hall cinema and restaurants scheme, this is just the latest local venture to benefit from our Independent Quarter scheme.

Ross McGivern has taken advantage of our business support, advice and a Building Improvement Grant to make his dream a reality.

He also liked our plans for Parliament Square so much that he’s even named his new delicatessen and cafe after it as ‘The Parliament SQ’.

Ross’ enthusiasm already seems to have been instilled in his friendly team and – after linking up with our Get Oldham Working campaign – he will initially be employing up to 18 new staff.

It’s great to see this site, the old Santander building, back in use after three years of being vacant and I was really impressed by the stylish interior and glass frontage which gives fantastic views across Parliament Square and over to the Old Town Hall.

This is yet another different addition to the fast-growing dining and entertainment offer in Oldham and I am sure – especially given Ross’ focus on great customer service – that it will be a big hit with locals and visitors alike.

Part of the new attraction to Oldham is, of course, the Metrolink line. We unashamedly set out to use its arrival as a catalyst for our own regeneration programme and to attract more private investment.

We know that transport is vital to our future growth prospects. Strong connectivity is important to make sure that all our residents, partners and businesses – and those we hope to attract in the future – have a level playing field in terms of access to new opportunities.

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Richard Farnell, Rochdale Council Leader, in urging Transport for Greater Manchester to deliver on giving our Oldham-Rochdale line a direct link to Manchester Piccadilly, rather than people having to change tram at Manchester Victoria.

It can’t be right that our line will be the only branch of the network without an unbroken link to that transport hub with its important strategic links to London and beyond.

The justification we’ve been given is based on the current levels of demand on our line. But that doesn’t take any account of future growth and – by denying us that extension – it actually hampers the prospects of that future growth happening.

Both Oldham and Rochdale are positive partners in Greater Manchester devolution who are investing in our boroughs through physical and social regeneration schemes. We are asking for that to be recognised and supported, and we look forward to productive talks soon about this with Tony Lloyd, the Interim Mayor, and Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGm committee.

I always like to end my blogs on a positive note so there’s two final things I’d highlight this week…

gritterThe first is the astonishing national public reaction to our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition with local primary school children. Spurred on by the infamous ‘Boaty McBoatface’ saga earlier this year, it has really caught the imagination with more than 2,500 entries to date – and a lot by adults that simply can’t be included(!)

The great thing is this all helps us to raise awareness of the vital work our gritting teams do. It’s also a fun way to teach young people about road safety and winter weather.

The competition closes at 5pm today (Wednesday) and we’re hoping to announce the much-anticipated winner later this week.

And finally, I did promise you some really positive news would be coming this week, and it will.

Watch our Twitter feed and local media from 7am on Friday and you will be the first to read all about it…

Jean

It’s been one of those days – All week(!)

BEING Council Leader can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride and I will admit this has felt like a very tough week.

Since my last blog I’ve barely had time to catch my breath as a series of challenging events unfolded.

We started off by dealing with the winter’s first deluge of snow, then moved on to internal building problems that caused Access Oldham to be closed and relocated to the Civic Centre.

Then we had the terrible severe rainfall and flooding, and then came a phone call from Marks & Spencer…

You probably already know that M&S informed us yesterday they won’t now be taking up their option on retail space at Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps.

As commercial discussions remain ongoing with them, I can’t add much to my original response statement in the media, but I do want to reassure people.

Was it disappointing news? Yes, of course it was.

But in context it is also not a major shock and we should see this as more of a fork in the road rather than some dramatic reversal of Oldham’s forward direction.

We knew M&S had been experiencing problems driven by global economic and trade factors that are completely outside of our control.

They recently confirmed they are shutting 30 UK clothing and homeware shops and will convert dozens more into food stores as part of a business restructuring. Against a backdrop of falling sales and profits the Oldham decision was, no doubt, one of many tough ones that they are still yet to take.

M&S also made it clear to us, however, that they aren’t necessarily closing the door on coming to Oldham – it just won’t be at the Prince’s Gate site.

We are continuing to have discussions with them about that and hopefully work towards a positive outcome. It’s not the end of that road: it just means we may take a different path.

I want to be clear when I say that what remains unaltered and undiminished are our ambitions for the town.

othWe’ve seen only recently through the opening of the Old Town Hall what it is possible to achieve in Oldham, so we must reflect on this, regroup and then push forward again and deliver with the same determination as before.

Despite the M&S decision it’s clear that Oldham town centre’s fortunes are actually on the up. We’re already seeing increased footfall, trade, new investment and visitors here and I’ve been inspired by many recent chats with partners and residents.

We remain in positive discussions with several partners to capitalise further on that success – and we do also have some good news to announce on another front next week. Watch this space…

Now onto other choppy waters – the flooding that hit several parts of the borough this week…

It was heartbreaking to see those people and businesses who suffered damage and loss on Tuesday night and, as I write, our highways team are still working as fast as they can to help get things back to normal.

Some people have questioned whether more frequent clearing of our drains would have prevented the damage. But this was caused by extreme rainfall. Oldham was not the only place affected and we weren’t caught napping.

Weather experts say we had more than a month’s rainfall in one night and we also saw local rivers, like the River Tame, rising to unprecedented levels.

All drains across the borough are cleared on a cyclical rota and – as an example – the gulleys on Station Road, which was badly flooded at one point, were cleaned on September 27.

Road gulleys are there for surface water only and each year we clean more than 44,000 on a rota basis.

We recently introduced new software which maps all our gullies and shows us what their condition and status is.  That means we can identify those that may need more – or less – cleaning than the current schedule suggests.

We also use a high pressure-jet machine to clear  blockages. There is a high demand on this machine so we prioritise sites that may cause flooding of properties and areas with high footfall or busy traffic.

Road flooding is usually caused by rainwater from the surrounding area flowing downhill to a low point on the road and overwhelming the drains. The problem is normally due to the volume of water rather than a blockage.

Heavy rain also washes debris like soil and stones into drains which means that some which were initially clear can quickly get clogged and struggle to drain water away.

You can find more information about gullies and flooding in the latest edition of Borough Life and if you need to report a blocked gulley, please email highways@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 4325.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to everyone that played a part in the response work on Monday night/Tuesday.

When the deluge of rain hit the area our staff came in at short notice to work overnight through atrocious conditions alongside brilliant partners like the GM Fire and Rescue Service and local police, and some fantastic local residents.

At the worst of times like this you can often see the very best in our communities: people mucking in selflessly together and helping out alongside official and emergency services.

That’s a spirit that is clearly still afloat in Oldham – and one that makes me very proud.

Jean

Christmas redundancies: a cruel present

GOWLOGOTHE FESTIVE season can be the best of times for many people – and, cruelly, the worst of times for others…

Although I’m yet to hear a Slade record, the shopping season is clearly getting into full swing and this Sunday sees our Christmas Lights Switch-On event in Oldham.

My primary thoughts this week, however, are for all those people who have just learned that they are set to lose their jobs at local retail firm Betta Living.

The company, based on Suthers Street in Werneth, sold kitchens, bedrooms and wardrobes with outlets in more than 70 towns nationwide.

Administrators were appointed on November 4 and last Friday they notified staff of their decision to make all employees redundant.

We understand that up to 50 staff could be affected locally and the Council’s Get Oldham Working (GOW) team are already on the case offering our help.

There’s never a good time to lose your job, of course, but at this time of year – when cashflow is so key to your family plans and people are looking forward to relaxing and having fun together – it is especially hard to take. My heart goes out to them all.

Our Get Oldham Working staff have contacted JobCentre Plus to agree an approach and we will work with them and other partners to do all we can to minimise the impact.

As in the case of BHS, where we were able to help every staff member affected to find new employment, we will also be offering practical support such as help with CVs and interview practice.

At a time like this we all have a part to play, so I would ask any Oldham businesses that might have suitable vacancies to please contact Get Oldham Working and offer your support.

If you are directly affected, or think you can help, the GOW Team can be contacted on 0161 770 4674 or at employability@oldham.gov.uk

rsundayMoving onto other matters, I was delighted to see attendances at Remembrance Sunday services at such a high level across the borough.

I was in Oldham and the huge turnout of people to pay their respects – young and old – was absolutely heartwarming.

The service was very poignant and it was also great to see the area in front of the Old Town Hall back in use again. This will be a perfect venue for all manner of civic events like this when the phased opening culminates in Parliament Square’s completion.

For that reason this year is also likely to be the last time that we host our Christmas Lights Switch-On at Tommyfield Market.

This venue has worked well for the last couple of years and Sunday’s event promises to be another great free family show.

The fun starts in the town centre at 1pm with TV favourites Chase and Marshall from PAW Patrol making the first of several appearances during the day.

Tommyfield will then host a spectacular stage show at 4.45pm featuring Britain’s Got Talent’s ‘Stormtroopers’, Boogie Storm, our very own Ollie and Millie, and another fantastic firework display.

Why not plan ahead for the day and pay a visit to the Old Town Hall for a family movie, do some shopping, or visit one of the excellent restaurants in the area?

There’s also a whole series of district lights switch-on events going on across the borough between November 24 and December 8 and you can find out what’s going on where you live here.

Finally, the weather has been comparatively mild of late, and I hope that this continues, but if we do get hit by some early-season snow you can keep fully updated on the impact on our website at www.oldham.gov.uk/winter

Jean

A focus on our future – and the past

IT’S ANOTHER busy week and one in which we are looking to the future – and remembering our past.

I was delighted to attend a launch event on Monday for Open Future_North and to welcome Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, on Monday.

Open Future_North will be new tenants – alongside local social enterprise, Hack Oldham – at the digital enterprise hub we are currently refurbishing in the ex-Wahoo nightclub and Kiss bar buildings on Yorkshire Street.

Located right in the heart of our Independent Quarter, this hub will be supporting grassroots entrepreneurs and bringing the necessary talent, inspiration and investment together to help them flourish. It will be a launch pad where creatives can collaborate, learn and unlock each other’s potential.

On the ground floor and in the basement, Hack Oldham will offer access to low-cost and flexible workspace – plus equipment geared to individual entrepreneurs and Small to Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the digital and creative sectors.

Open Future_North will occupy the first and second floors of the old Wahoo bar as part of the work by Wayra UK (part of Telefónica Open Future) to revitalise entrepreneurial ‘ecosystems’, energise local economies and democratise entrepreneurship across the UK.

What struck me about the launch, held at the Old Town Hall, was how upbeat and positive the mood was among all present with a fantastic exchange of opinions and viewpoints.

As I told the audience in one of the new cinema screens, the venue they were sat in is stunning, but regeneration isn’t just about architecture and iconic buildings. To transform a local economy you also have to empower people and nurture a culture that enables success.

It’s about people and prospects. It’s about opportunities, networks, ideas and environment. It’s about social regeneration.

Instead of giving people a ‘handout’, we’re trying here in Oldham to give them a ‘hand up’ by working with partners across every single sector – and this new digital enterprise hub is just one part of our action on that front.

We’re trying to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion by backing businesses, enterprises and workers and the talented people we know we have here and want to retain.

Open Future 40.jpgAt Open Future_North two groups of five start-ups will get access to a state-of-the-art co-working space, each for a period of six months in 2017, as well as support like mentoring, access to Wayra UK’s network and knowhow, plus training in business skills.

The best performers will be asked to join the full acceleration Wayra UK programme, where they could receive up to £34,000 in investment, and it was particularly inspiring to hear the pitches from budding start-ups.

Local firm OfferMoments, founded by Abdul Alim and Shahzad Mughal, explained their billboards that change with information tailored towards your profile, based upon your social media activity, as you walk towards them.

And the husband and wife team behind JobSkilla – Chris and Lisa Hughes from Shaw – talked passionately about how their online service can bridge the gap between job-seekers, training providers and training advisers.

Oldham has a proud history of innovation and has led the world at times, so there’s no reason why we can’t be the birthplace of one of the next big ideas.

Through his ‘Pitch at the Palace’ initiative, the Duke of York is backing efforts like this to help support entrepreneurs to accelerate and grow their plans.

cwilkoContinuing on a royal theme I was delighted to see Carolyn Wilkins, our Chief Executive, visit Buckingham Palace on Tuesday for her investiture after being made an OBE in June for her services to Local Government and Public Sector Reform.

It is an award that is richly deserved and I know that the Council team and all partners will join me in congratulating Carolyn.

Later today (Wednesday) I am also looking forward to the ceremony at which Nicola White will be confirmed as a freewoman of the borough.

Based on local press and social media, our star Olympic hockey player appears to have been in incredibly high demand since Rio, and small wonder as she is an outstanding ambassador.

I am excited to be welcoming her to the Council Chambers today and celebrate a special moment with so many of her family and friends present. You will also be able to watch this live from 4pm onwards on our website – and tweet your own congratulations into the room.

Finally the week will, of course, end on a very poignant note as crowds fall silent across the borough on Sunday to remember the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and security.

Residents, uniformed services and representatives of all organisations are encouraged to attend these services and I would also ask people to again support the Royal British Legion’s annual campaign and wear a poppy with pride.

Full details of all the events taking place can be found here and our website also features an online ‘Roll of Honour’ containing the names of all borough residents who lost their lives serving their country from the First World War onwards at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/remembrance

Jean

The Big Bang 2016…

bigbangTHE CLOCKS have gone back and the evenings are getting colder – but November in Oldham always starts with the warm glow, heat and colours of The Big Bang.

It’s now five years since we brought the civic bonfire back onto the annual events calendar and it was one of our best decisions yet. It is always a great night for families.

Oldham Edge has proved to be a fantastic picturesque setting for it all – and it has the added advantage of enabling many people across the borough unable to attend to marvel at the fireworks display from the comfort of their own homes.

This year The Big Bang is taking place on Thursday, November 3 and although the weather conditions are forecast to be relatively mild you should still wrap up snug.

Please also remember to wear appropriate footwear at what is a totally grassed site – white stiletto heels and your prized trainers will simply not do the job(!).

For 2016 we’re once again offering the use of all council-owned car parks free of charge from 3pm onwards on the day, but demand on those nearest to Oldham Edge – like at the Civic Centre and Bradshaw Street – is always high and they fill up early.

There’s no parking at the event itself but our band of volunteers will help you to find alternative places to park and direct you towards the site on foot.

We advise you to arrive early and, wherever possible, to use public transport.

The Big Bang takes months of careful planning and this year we’ve got another great entertainment line-up on offer from the moment the site opens at 5pm with a funfair and food stalls.

The stageshow starts at 6pm, with the bonfire lit shortly afterwards, and the family can enjoy Juba Do Leao with their Latin percussion drums plus a headline performance from ‘Flame Oz’ with a ‘glow show’, fire dancing and spectacular juggling.

We pride ourselves on the unrivalled quality of the pyrotechnics at this event which is why we’ve again asked Fantastic Fireworks to provide the showcase display from around 7pm onwards. A personal highlight for me is always to see the thrilled face of our young competition winner who gets to press the buzzer and start the firework finale.

Oldham Edge has now hosted this event since 2013 and each year we review arrangements to improve the event and the site for families.

We’re again working hard with event partners Revolution96.2 to get all the vital information publicised quickly and help to get you there on time to enjoy the spectacle.

This year we’ve also added an extra entrance to the site to try and reduce some of the congestion and slippy conditions underfoot that we had last year. The site map is below for your reference.

bonfire-2016-site-plan

Please bring your families along and take advantage of what is the best bonfire and fireworks display for miles around at what is not just a free but – crucially – a safe event designed with our partners at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service and the Treacle campaign.

Finally this week, on the subject of learning from experiences, I have noticed the odd comment about teething problems at the Old Town Hall ODEON cinema development in the first few days.

The public response to the venue so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

To attract around 14,000 visitors in the first week certainly vindicated our decision to go for a phased opening over the school half-term holidays and I’m certain many people will be returning as Molino Lounge, Nando’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen open their doors in the weeks ahead.

Some people have said they experienced long food queues and issues with cleanliness between showings. But with sold-out viewings back to back in each screen – and new staff learning on the job in a very challenging baptism – I simply ask that people be patient.

I know that Paul Dagg, the ODEON manager, is working extremely hard with staff to identify any issues and iron them out.

Please bear with him and his team, and also respect the environment and the building that we have all worked SO hard to make great again.

Everyone can play their part in that – even if that’s just by removing your own litter after a film – and help to ensure the Old Town Hall continues to be the huge success that Oldham town centre deserves and needs.

See you at The Big Bang on Thursday night!

Jean

Old Town Hall: New Era

The opening of the Old Town Hall last Friday was every bit as exciting as I had hoped it would be and I was honoured to carry out the official opening, alongside former council Leader, MP for Oldham West and Royton, Jim McMahon.

Hundreds of people made the special journey to Oldham town centre to witness the free show ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and were both entranced and delighted with the bravery of the aerial acrobats who helped to bring the story to life. The story epitomizes what we are about – a small girl who, when raised on the shoulders of a giant, finds that she can see much further – and that she can also see a brighter future for herself and her town. 

Well I see a brighter future for our town and truly believe that this development marks a new era for Oldham. 

I was heartened to see so many people at the event. So many of you gave up your Friday night to join us in celebrating this new start for Oldham town centre, so it just goes to show what a huge difference this development has already begun to make to our town.

As I said on the night, this is a game-changer for Oldham – and it really is just the start.

It was a fantastic weekend filled with live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment. All I would ask now is that you continue to show your support and use this great new facility, take your family to visit the new Odeon cinema and use Parliament Square as a focal point for enjoying time with your friends and family – just make sure you tell everyone about it and encourage them to do the same. Take a look at what’s on at the cinema here www.odeon.co.uk/cinemas/oldham/222/

Work will continue over the next few weeks to progress the phased opening of the restaurants and I will continue to keep you updated on this as it happens. 

Finally, as promised a fortnight ago, I’m going to explain the final two priorities that lie ahead for this administration. 

Both are about health and wellbeing. 

We will work hard to manage our budget so we can continue to provide care for all who need it – and for Oldham to be a caring place to live. 

That’s not easy given the challenges we’re facing with our budget, falling income and rising demand, but it’s a commitment that remains: from our new Right Start service right up to helping people live independently in their homes or managed accommodation in later life.  

That agenda is increasingly about reforming public services, delivering things in a different way with partners, and empowering individuals to help themselves.  

The partnership model behind Warm Homes Oldham is a great example of that – as is the Early Help scheme which has redesigned and integrated services for people who need support with problems like drug and alcohol addictions, mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, and housing.

A vital final priority for us is to support healthy lifestyles. 

We’re actively helping residents and staff to be ‘Fit for Oldham’ – mentally and physically – and there are many aspects to that.

I think of our brilliant catering team who offer the healthiest school meals in the North West to give our children a great start are a perfect example of that.

We’ve also got fantastic parks and open spaces like Alexandra and Dunwood Parks to enjoy and get active – and we’re continuing to invest in others, like the new MUGA pitch at Coalshaw Green Park.

With partners and volunteers we also offer a wide range of help and activities, like the fantastic local Parkruns, and we now have a modern estate of leisure centres. 

Through a host of other measures like growing hubs, fruit routes, allotments and schemes across the borough – like those at Lees,  Alexandra Park and community projects like those with the Firwood and District Residents’ Association and the Fatima Womens’ Association – we’re widening access to healthy food, knowledge and fitness. And we’re doing all that from juniors upwards to help these become habits for the next generation. 

The rationale is that this is ‘win win’ for everyone, if we get this right. It’s not just beneficial for those families taking part, it will also ultimately save the public sector money. 

But it also needs your participation and – as I said at the outset of this series of blogs – I pledge that people who do their bit and contribute to this vision and priorities will benefit from them…

We can only build a better borough together.

Jean

On The Shoulders Of Giants…

town-hall-3-19-oct
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.

giant-standing
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.

Jean

town-hall-poster

Improving education – Backing business and workers

academynorth-11
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.

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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.

Jean

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.

Jean

An economy that works for everyone

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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.

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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.

Jean