How the Co-operative Council works: #ourbit #yourbit #result

#ourbit #yourbit #result graphicI HAVE the pleasure of speaking at Staff Conference today where we’ll be looking at the progress made in the past year – and looking ahead to the future.

Part of that will inevitably be about the Town Centre Masterplan which was approved by Cabinet last week.

But equally important is some of the work that we’ve been doing internally to look at our Co-operative Council model and test that it remains fit for purpose.

We are now six years into our journey so it was an appropriate time to take stock, step back from the day-to-day work and challenge ourselves to look at what is working, and what is not. It has proved a useful exercise.

OURBIT3The Co-operative Council model remains entirely valid for us and there’s no question of that being abandoned.

When people elsewhere ask me what makes Oldham different, I tell them that it is great people – and the way we do things together.

I explain that our approach starts with us all recognising our shared problems or ambitions. Then we all sit down together to look at what each of us needs to do in order to get a better result that benefits the borough.

We have many examples of where this has produced some fantastic results but – looking at the model – we also came to realise that for some people the language doesn’t work or ‘land’ as easily as it needs to.

It is not obvious, for example, to a newcomer to the borough what we mean by being a Co-operative Council in practice.

That’s why we’re going to be explaining co-operative working in a different way from now: one that we think is simpler, self-explanatory and works across all kinds of audiences and platforms.

Whatever we are doing – from delivering everyday services to improving people’s lives or helping the private sector to grow our local economy – there’s a simple formula that explains how we do it, and what is required of each participant.

It is #ourbit #yourbit #result

To explain:

#ourbit is what Oldham Council is doing or contributing to help improve something

#yourbit is how local people, businesses and partners are helping to make change happen

And the #result is how we are all benefiting from working together.

OURBIT2

Here’s a simple high-level example of that in action – Get Oldham Working.

GOWLOGO#ourbit was to come up with a plan in 2013 to try and create new employment-related opportunities for local residents; attempting to link them better and smarter to businesses.

#yourbit was the local firms who have come forward with hundreds of offers of new jobs, apprenticeships and work placements – and the residents who stepped up seeking advice and assistance.

The #result is that by the end of last month a fantastic total of 6,264 new opportunities have now been created for local people. Business and people have been matched together by our free recruitment service that also removes both the stress and costs of recruitment for all sides.

That also means many families’ bottom lines and their prospects have been improved – and that means new money and spend injected into our local economy; increasing the confidence of residents and business alike. Everyone is benefiting.

At the end of the day, being a Co-operative Council is about an informal contract which needs lots of different people and partners across the borough to muck in. This new way of explaining how it works – and what is in the terms and conditions – works in a much simpler way.

We’re also using this new approach with all our staff to get them to look honestly at the service they are providing and be able to ask the right questions about it, and test whether it is truly co-operative, or if something is wrong.

OURBIT4You will see plenty of examples of this new approach in the latest edition of Borough Life (pictured, right) which starts hitting doorsteps next week.

The simple aim is to make it easier for people to understand how they can play their part in making things better – and that has to be a good thing for everyone.

Jean

Our new town centre – we can’t stand still

This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.

Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.

Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.

So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.

In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.

Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.

To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.

We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.

With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.

We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.

The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.

As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.

This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.

There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.

This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.

We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.

We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.

We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.

When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.

We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.

I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.

People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.

And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.

It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.

Digital future shines bright for Oldham 

EXTERIORYOU MAY have read this week about an important new report outlining a masterplan for the future of Oldham town centre to 2035.

That will go before Cabinet next Monday (July 10) and – following that decision – I will blog about it next week.

What I will say now, however, is that the importance of having a plan for our future is more vital than ever and I saw that first-hand last week at the opening of Oldham’s new digital hub in what was the Wahoo bar on Yorkshire Street. 

This completes a dramatic transformation for a period building that had fallen into ruin and been empty for several years until the council bought it and refurbished it to attract new tenants.

FURNITUREBYLAURENJust a couple of weeks earlier ‘Furniture by Lauren’ also began trading next door at 46/48 Yorkshire Street in what was once known as the Kiss Bar.

Gavin and Lauren Howarth from Royton run this small family business. It specialises in made-to-measure sofas but also sells a full range of accessories and just one peek through the window – or at their website – shows you the kind of elegance and style on offer. They’re yet another welcome addition to our Independent Quarter, so please pay them a visit…  

The opening of the digital hub – at 38-44 Yorkshire Street – was an inspiring event.

The aim of this venture is to help local entrepreneurs launch and expand technology businesses. 

On the upper floor is Wayra UK’s Open Future North office, which is the northern branch of their national support network for technology firms, backed by the worldwide O2/Telefonica Group. 

IMG_9488Ground floor is the new home to Hack Oldham (see above), our community-led ‘makerspace’ that has grown from humble beginnings to offer a great range of workshops and events to upskill residents.  

They’re also offering desk and workshop space on a daily, half-day or monthly basis plus training rooms in what is a great creative environment for people to network seven days a week – much better than working alone at home(!). 

I’m particularly pleased that Wayra chose to come to Oldham.  

As an administration we’re clear that we are ambitious for everyone, so to attract their investment is fantastic.

But what was just as exciting was to see Wayra launching their new Fair By Design scheme: an investment fund that already has £8million to deploy, and is looking to raise up to £20million.

Its objectives are inspiring. It will support up to seven start-ups a year to tackle the ‘poverty premium’, and that’s something that is very important to me.

It’s hard enough being ‘left behind’ in 2017 and being among the one in five people that are living in poverty.

But what’s even worse – and surely unjustified – is the ‘poverty premium’: the situation where people are actually paying more for everyday goods and services like energy, borrowing, transport, insurance and food than others who can more easily afford them. 

The Fair By Design scheme complements our own drive for Inclusive Growth so that everyone gets the chance to share the benefits of economic prosperity.

This week, I was confirmed as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Lead on Fairness, Equality and Inclusion, so this is all very close to my heart.

To be tackling clear social injustice like this by supporting local tech companies to design solutions is something that can really put Oldham on the map.

WAYRA4The digital hub venture is also another important way in which we’re diversifying our offer to residents and businesses.

We have many talented individuals and our goal is to provide them with opportunities here, so that they don’t need to move elsewhere.

The Independent Quarter will be an ideal location for this. Once businesses grow out of the space provided by Wayra, they will get the chance to relocate nearby, ensuring they are still within easy distance and access to advice and that network of like-minded individuals.

Small to medium enterprises like these are vital to Oldham’s economy – remember that around 85 percent of Greater Manchester’s Gross Value Added (GVA), the total measure of the value of goods and services in the area, is generated by these companies.

Oldham’s offer to business has never been stronger. I’m confident that through Wayra and Hack Oldham we can truly become a digital force in Greater Manchester – and one for positive social change and mobility.

Jean

Reflections on a turbulent time

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THE LAST few weeks have been a turbulent time.

The calling of a snap General Election meant that I had to stop publishing my blog almost immediately due to publicity rules and – since then – things have been a whirlwind with a frantic schedule of door-knocking and supporting local candidates.
 
I’ve also been busy on Oldham Council business and you’ll see some of that work coming to fruition with positive announcements about plans for Oldham town centre and the Prince’s Gate scheme due in July. 
 
It’s undeniable, however, that we’re facing uncertainty at a national level.
 
The General Election has left us with a minority Conservative-led government and – even with the Democratic Unionist Party now alongside her in the voting lobbies – Theresa May will find things difficult.
 
Any controversial measures are unlikely to get through a Commons vote and the situation also means that any Conservative MPs wanting to ‘rock the boat’ could easily put themselves in a powerful position to obstruct government business.
 
What that all means for Oldham Council and local government remains uncertain.
 
Some commentators and politicians have predicted the election result means the age of austerity and funding cuts is now at an end, but only time will tell.
 
Last week’s watered-down Queen’s Speech also made no specific reference to many key issues facing local authorities.
 
Clarification about the future of council funding – or the original intention to have 100 per cent retention of business rates by 2020 – was glaring by its absence. And there are other questions, like what the government’s long-term and sustainable solution to the social care funding gap will be.
 
None of these will be helped by now having a minority government where solutions are likely to be a compromise, and the result of a painfully-paced bargaining process.
 
THILLTWOSince my last blog there’s also been significant domestic news – most notably the series of appalling terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
 
The attacks at Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park have raised all kinds of issues about our security, foreign policy and policing.
 
I can’t ever recall so many shocking events in such a short period, but it has also been met with a magnificent public response.
 
Locally, it was heart-breaking to learn that two of the innocent victims of the Manchester attack – Alison Howe and Lisa Lees – were mums from Royton who had gone to pick their daughters up from that Ariana Grande concert.
 
This was an horrific attack on innocent people going about their everyday business –on our way of life – and the community response has been inspiring.
 
Royton town centre became home to huge floral tributes, lengthy queues to sign books of condolence and a very moving public vigil at Tandle Hill Park: all showing the very best in local community spirit.
 
POETFour weeks on, the support from people wanting to show they stand together with the families was apparent again at last Friday’s funerals and at the Picnic in the Park at Tandle Hill, which was a wonderful idea by the families.
 
Hundreds of local residents showed their respects and were entertained by stage performances from Tony Walsh (the Manchester Poet, pictured right), Clint Boon and local bands.

I want to thank all those people, firms, partners and council staff who worked so hard to make that event happen. Offers of help came in all shapes and forms ranging from the donation of 1,000 pies, pastries and pasties by Greggs, to volunteers spending hours to clear the park of litter afterwards. 
 
For those two families the hard work is only just beginning, but that display of support will hopefully at least have given them comfort that they are not alone.
 

Once again, I find myself in admiration of the human warmth, decency and kindness of our residents – and the courage of our amazing ‘blue light’ services.

Jean

General Election: Back to pounding the pavements…

PollingStationI’D ONLY just started writing this blog on Tuesday when I was informed that the Prime Minister was about to make an announcement.

There’s nothing unusual in that, but it’s not often that the PM addresses the country from the steps of Downing Street and predictions that this was going to be a significant development proved to be spot on.

As you will probably know, Parliament has now voted today to approve that a General Election will be held on Thursday, June 8.

This means that we will very quickly enter into a period known traditionally as ‘Purdah’ which enforces strict rules about publicity that must – rightly – be adhered to until after election day.

The timing of this all kicking in remains uncertain, but it means you will hear less formally from me in my role as Oldham Council Leader and this could be the last blog from me until after the votes have all been counted.

Although the timing of Theresa May’s announcement was somewhat unexpected, there had been speculation that it was in the offing for some time.

For political activists it all means full steam ahead for another round of pounding pavements, heavy wear on the shoe leather and lengthy day and night time door knocking.

My work as Council Leader will continue daily during this time but I will also genuinely enjoy the face to face engagement and the chance to discuss residents’ views about the issues affecting their lives in Oldham.

Until that General Election timetable is confirmed it’s very much business as usual, so I wanted to highlight that until April 30 we are taking part in and promoting national Adoption Fortnight.

Each year this campaign has a different focus and this time it is all about encouraging Oldham parents to come forward and create a “forever family” by adopting children from harder to place backgrounds.

These are older children, sibling groups, those from mixed heritage backgrounds and children with additional needs who typically wait much longer for adoption.

It is a huge decision to take to adopt but it can make such a massive and positive impact, not just to the child concerned, but also to the benefit of you and your family.

There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about adoption – and particularly around who is eligible to do it – so it’s always best to get in touch with experts and people who have been through the process to learn all about the pros and cons.

You can find out more about adopting in Oldham on our website here and you can also get information about Adoption Fortnight events in the region at www.adoptnorthwest.co.uk

BOOMKARKSFinally, as mentioned last week, I just wanted to give you a quick reminder that our amazing Bookmark Festival starts on Friday.  You can have a look at all the events on offer – and book tickets – by visiting http://www.oldham.gov.uk/bookmark

And if it turns out that you don’t hear from me now until after the General Election then all I would ask is that you please take the time to get out and use your vote on June 8 – and in the GM Mayoral Election on May 4 . It’s the only way to ensure that your voice is heard.

Jean

Books Glorious Books

BOOMKARKSEASTER IS upon us and it’s always a very busy time with our annual events calendar getting into full swing.

One of my favourites is the Oldham Bookmark Festival which we’re holding for a fourth time later this month. In a short space of time it has already become a mainstay of our programme and has proved hugely popular with families.

Given the countless volumes of council reports I work through each week it still amazes me that I never seem to lose any of my love for books. That’s probably because reading isn’t just something I have to do or a chore, it is a real hobby and passion for me like it is for so many others.

BOOKPILEI’ve also always believed that a child with an appetite for reading is one that is likely to have an appetite for learning – and that can give them a great start in life.

Growing up on Alt Estate, I can still clearly remember how captivated I was by reading JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit for the first time. I went on to read his Lord of the Rings trilogy too – and enjoyed it – but it was The Hobbit and the escapades of Bilbo Baggins that I found myself going back to time and time again.

In more recent times I became a late adopter of a Kindle e-book, so now the only books I buy in hardback are cook books – and far too many of them, according to my husband!

I know some miss the feeling of the book in their hands and the joy of storing their collection on the shelves, but for me – especially when packing for holiday – the way I can simply download a whole range of books is a modern joy.

I read across a wide range of literature, although fiction and autobiographies tend to be my favourites. One of the best books I read recently was ‘I am Pilgrim’, the debut novel by Terry Hayes. I also like Barbara Vine – a pseudonym of Ruth Rendell, well known for Inspector Wexford – and her darker, psychological thrillers. And I’ve also recently revisited John O’Farrell’s ‘Things can Only Get Better’.

Everyone has their own taste and favourite genres, of course, so the beauty of the Oldham Bookmark Festival – which runs from April 21-29 – is the sheer variety of speakers, authors, workshops and performances on offer.

AlastairThis year’s festival kicks off with a visit from Alastair Campbell who will be discussing his most recent book ‘Winners and How They Succeed’ which examines what it takes to be successful in politics, business and sport. He is, of course, better known as Tony Blair’s ex-spokesperson but since then has written six volumes of diaries, three novels and a personal memoir about depression and mental health issues.

If that’s not your cup of tea – and I realise it may not be for some(!) – then there’s a whole range of other highlights to enjoy like visits to Oldham by Guardian columnist Erwin James and blogger Emily Morris.

There’s also the opportunity to spend an evening with some of the best crime writers around, including Elizabeth Haynes and Rachel Abbott, talking about what it is like to write for a living.

Highly Suspect are also returning and taking their new murder mystery evening to Molino Lounge at the Old Town Hall with a special Harry Potter themed event.

If you’re more into classic literature then you might enjoy a special workshop exploring the writing techniques of Anthony Burgess, or the talk by Helena Kelly explaining what she believes to be the ‘secret radical’ side of Jane Austen that might just send you scurrying back to re-read her works all over again.

Bookmark Kids events Facebook 2017There’s also plenty going on to bring out the bookworm in the kids.

Popular author and illustrator Nick Sharratt – best-known for Shark in the Park and Ketchup on your Cornflakes – will be at Oldham Library, as will CBBC book club presenter Katie Thistleton who will be playing some intriguing games with her audience and talking about her new children’s book.

You can find out more about all the events – and how to book tickets – by visiting http://www.oldham.gov.uk/bookmark

Books are brilliant for so many reasons. They can give you escapism, insights into other cultures and lifestyles or places, and – best of all – expand your horizons.

We’re blessed with a brilliant library service in Oldham which isn’t just about books: they host live theatre, author visits, storytelling sessions and all manner of useful events all year round.

To keep in touch with what they’re up, follow them on twitter @oldhamlibraries and like them on facebook.com/oldhamlibrary service

Happy reading!

Jean

Bookmark Facebook Crime

A Spring in our step…

CORNER IMAGE_FINAL_lowresDELIVERING Oldham’s Cultural Quarter is a major priority for this administration – and we are making really good progress.

Last week we released the new designs for the Oldham Coliseum Theatre that will be built on the current Southgate Street car park site.

This will be the second time the Coliseum has moved in its 132-year history and it should really help the theatre to fulfil its undoubted potential, serving its existing audiences and opening it up to whole new ones.

The Coliseum will be located alongside our other main cultural assets in the Cultural Quarter.

It will sit alongside the new Arts and Heritage Centre in the former library building and it will be linked with Gallery Oldham, Library and Lifelong Learning Centre.

Located just yards from the Oldham Central Metrolink stop and the Old Town Hall, the Cultural Quarter will be our next crucial step in reinvigorating the town centre and visitor economy – and providing brilliant facilities for residents in the future.

Spring into OldhamBack to the present and we’re hosting our annual Easter-themed event ‘Spring into Oldham’ this Saturday in our fantastic new setting of Parliament Square.

Running from 11am to 4pm, this will be a day packed with loads of free and fun things for all the family.

You can meet Chickedy and Chick from the hit CBeebies show ‘Twirlywoos’, take part in a madcap Egg Hunt with the Easter Bunny or enjoy the visiting petting farm with rabbits, chicks and a Jersey calf.

There’s also story-telling sessions on offer inside in a giant inflatable egg, and Easter bonnet-making craft activities.

Everything finishes off with a spectacular bonnet parade around the square with the Town Centre mascots Ollie and Millie starting at 3pm.

Please send in your pictures on the day to us on Twitter @OldhamCouncil using the hashtag #LoveOldham. And don’t forget to take advantage of up to three hours of free parking in all council-owned car parks at weekends – just remember you do need to take and display a ticket.

Finally, on the subject of the little ones, we’re looking for the views of all parents or carers of children aged four years and under about the forthcoming introduction of 30 hours of free childcare in the borough.

From September this year, eligible parents will be able to access this offer – double the current amount – for 38 weeks of the year.

We want to hear your views to help us anticipate how many people are likely to take this up so that we make sure everyone’s needs are met.

All the answers and information you provide are confidential and won’t be shared with any third parties.

To take part, please visit www.oldham.gov.uk/30hrparent survey and fill in the form before Friday, April 21.

Jean

Deaths in public service: Loss and hope

flaghalfmastTHE DEATHS of people in public service – known to us or not – always serve as a shock reminder of our own mortality.

Last Wednesday afternoon, whilst preparing for Full Council, I was alerted to news of the terrorist attack underway in Westminster.

Like many others I watched the horrific scene unfold as four innocent people were killed and many injured after a lone attacker drove his car at pedestrians and then into railings outside the Houses of Parliament.

The heroic actions of unarmed PC Keith Palmer, who bravely fought to stop the man entering the Palace of Westminster, touched us all.

As Full Council began at 6pm with a minute’s silence, the facts were becoming clearer. I was able to report that all three of the borough’s MPs were safe, but the atmosphere remained one of great shock and solemnity.

It soon emerged that PC Palmer’s selfless example was not an isolated act. Witnesses told how police and other emergency responders ran towards danger at the scene while directing the public in the other direction – and there were heart-warming stories of folk stopping to help those lying in distress.

PC Palmer’s efforts to protect the public were rightly highlighted, but his sacrifice also makes everyone feel uneasy and vulnerable.

It reminds us all of humanity: that no matter how healthy, professional and well-trained we are, our ultimate fate can be incredibly random.

Larkin TIn very different circumstances, Oldham Council has sadly also lost two highly-dedicated public servants – one elected member, and one senior officer – in recent days.

Councillor Tony Larkin had been known to be seriously ill for some time but that doesn’t make his departure any less sad.

A staunch and campaigning trade unionist, Tony was originally from Manchester but he took Royton to his heart and local people did the same: re-electing him to serve to them several times since 1996.

He was incredibly passionate about where he lived and, believe me, Tony never passed up an opportunity to lobby for a local cause on his residents’ behalf.

He was also a great listener and a man who saw representing people as a very serious public duty.

I know how difficult this time must be right now for his wife Penny, their three children and their family and friends. My heart goes out to them all.

CSUTTONIn contrast, the loss of Carrie Sutton, Oldham Council’s director of Education and Early Years last weekend, was completely out of the blue and has stunned everyone.

Carrie joined us in August 2015 and impressed many people, myself included, from day one.

Honest, passionate and no-nonsense in the pursuit of the right outcome, I knew almost instantly that she was someone I was going to enjoy working with.

Carrie had such determination and drive and worked tirelessly with partners like school heads and governors to improve young people’s prospects.

And she will be equally fondly remembered here for her personality as well as her work ethic. My sincere condolences go to her family and anyone fortunate enough to have known her.

At a time when we’re repeatedly told that people trust their public institutions and personnel less than ever before, examples of good public service like these – their values and  behaviours – shine light on the best path towards us regaining that trust.

Jean

Hooray for Hollinwood

HollinwoodGREAT NEWS for Oldham’s regeneration programme this week as we took a vital step towards unlocking the development and employment opportunities at Hollinwood Junction.

This site at junction 22 of the M60 has long had great development potential, but with one major stumbling block.

Following Cabinet approval on Monday we will now buy the redundant gas holder from National Grid Property Holdings – who weren’t scheduled to remove the structure until 2023 at the earliest – and get on with demolition to spark regeneration and create new jobs.

We’d signed a Strategic Partnering Agreement with developers Langtree Group PLC some time ago, and are now working with them – and the Hollinwood Partnership – to regenerate the area.

Hollinwood Junction has significant parcels of public and private sector-owned land all boasting great transport links which could make it a regionally important employment zone at a major gateway, boosting the local economy and improving the environment.

After a lengthy process this is a real boost for our plans and we’re ready to get on with the job. We’ve already got planning permission to demolish and can start on-site this summer to remove the gas holder by early 2018.

DFESTIVALAnother development much closer to fruition is our Digital Enterprise Hub which opens this summer on Yorkshire Street.

This will support grassroots entrepreneurs and bring together the talent, inspiration and investment needed to create a launch pad where digital creatives can collaborate in the heart of our Independent Quarter.

Hack Oldham will be offering low-cost and flexible workspaces there and fellow tenants Open Future North will be leading the regional arm of Wayra UK’s work to grow entrepreneurial ‘ecosystems’ and energise local economies.

As we now look to promote our growing offer in this sector for residents and businesses, Oldham Library will be hosting our first-ever Digital Festival this Saturday.

This free event has all kinds of opportunities for people to improve their digital skills through advice, workshops and tips to get on in work and life with new technology.

The line-up includes explorations and experiments with some of the best professional digital artists around, plus chances to start your micro:bit adventure with BBC Make it digital, draw in virtual reality with Google Tilt Brush, make your own video game characters or learn how to repair digital equipment.

Hack Oldham will be on hand offering advice on coding, making, tech, gaming and devices, and you can also join in some retro games or just find out more about online banking and Smartphone apps first-hand from the experts.

There will also be workshops for writers, a University Campus Oldham stall with advice on digital careers, and a demonstration of free and interactive business resources.

People of all ages and experience are welcome and you can find out more about the Digital Festival at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldham_library

CTAX
And finally this week – as I prepare for this evening’s Full Council – some Council Tax news…

First, we’re giving all residents a chance to win a share of £1,000 as part of our drive to encourage more people to use direct debit and online services.

All you have to do is sign-up to pay your Council Tax via Direct Debit by Friday, April 28 and you’ll be entered into a free draw to win one of five cash prizes. To register, just have your bank details and Council Tax account reference ready and log onto www.oldham.gov.uk/ctcomp or call 0161 770 6622.

Last but not least, we’re proposing to increase our support for young people leaving care by making them exempt from Council Tax for a three-year period.

Under the proposals, which go to Cabinet next month, all care leavers aged 18, 19 and 20 would benefit from a move backed by the Children’s Society which found that this is a particularly vulnerable group for Council Tax debt.

This measure is just one way we can do ‘our bit’ and ensure we continue helping young people trying to adapt to living on their own, managing their finances and finding work for the first time.

Jean

Credit Unions: Needed more than ever in 2017

OCU - Logo
I CHAIRED the Annual General Meeting of the Oldham Credit Union (OCU) last night.

I’ve been chair of the OCU for around 12 years now and I’ve seen its offer change significantly in that time.

In 2017, Britain continues to face a mounting debt and savings crisis and Credit Unions can help with the issues faced by many individuals and families.

These were highlighted by a new survey into personal finances this week.

The research, by MoneySuperMarket, showed many people are getting into even more debt – and the vast majority blame the rising cost of living.

Studio Shot Of Worried Couple Looking At BillsMore than a third of adults said their debt is going up because of rises in transport costs, household bills and grocery costs.

Another issue now is that whilst inflation is slowly rising – up to a 32-month high in February – most people’s salaries are continuing to flatline. This means their spending power is steadily declining.

Inflation is expected to hit 2.4 per cent later this year, mostly because of the weakness of the pound, and this means people who are already in debt will find it even harder to ever get back into the black.

With the possibility of interest rate rises to come, these are very hard times for many people.

The average debt per person in the North West is £5,811 – just below the UK average of £6,372 – and its known that younger people (in the 18-34 age bracket) are racking up debt much quicker than those nearing retirement age.

A third of people surveyed admitted they rely on cards and loans just to get by from month to month, so it’s clear this is a widespread problem in the context of an insecure labour market where zero hours contracts also mean a steady, predictable income is a pipedream for many.

Good Bad Credit Signpost Showing Customer Financial RatingSo, what can Oldham Credit Union do to help?

OCU is a not-for-profit, democratic co-operative owned and controlled by its members. Its philosophy is about mutual self-help and it is not run on the same basis as lenders like banks and building societies.

Their services are there for anyone aged over 16 living or working in our borough. They try to promote the savings ‘habit’, provide fair loans at competitive interest rates, and provide advice on managing finances. They have a range of services on offer for different circumstances.

Imagine, for example, being hit with an unexpected car repair bill that needs doing immediately so you can get to work. In this scenario, some people without access to affordable credit end up falling prey to high-interest lenders or loan sharks.

OCU works with Greater Manchester Police and the Illegal Money Lending Team to keep people away from loan sharks because borrowers don’t just risk high interest repayments. Sharks often also employ extreme collection methods that include intimidation, threats and violence.

That kind of behaviour isn’t welcome here and we want people to know there is a responsible alternative in Oldham.

OCU offers access to fair and straightforward financial services, including secure savings and affordable loans. It works closely in neighbourhoods offering Junior Savings clubs and Community Collection Points in some areas.  Members include people who cannot access a bank account and don’t have any substantial kind of savings buffer – and it continues to develop partnerships with organisations like Regenda, Great Places, First Choice Homes Oldham – and Oldham Council – to tackle financial exclusion.

An example of how OCU can help is a Jam Jar budgeting account. This is a simple way of ensuring key bills like Council Tax and rent get paid. When opening an account, people agree how much they will pay towards each key bill per month and the OCU does the rest. Any surplus left over is then available in your OCU Savings Account. A Jam Jar account is free (subject to a one-off £1 joining fee) and you can also have benefits paid directly into the account.

Worried Senior Woman Sitting On Sofa Looking At BillsDespite the clear need for Credit Unions – there are about 350 across the UK – we’re small compared to this sector in other countries. UK Credit Unions have assets worth around £1.32bn and 1.2m members, but globally we’re small players in a sector boasting more than 208m members and assets worth $1.7tn.

That’s why UK Credit Unions are trying to raise their profile now through increasing awareness and getting more members from all income groups – and the OCU is no exception.

This all needs to be done at a sustainable pace. A three-year business plan has seen OCU grow in recent times and the range of services is now expanding.

A new Engage Pre-paid Visa Card and E account offer members modern online payment services and, in the year head, OCU will launch a new loan offers and an automated Lending Decision system for members.

MAServiceIf you’re facing any kind of financial difficulties or issues, I’d also recommend the Money Advice Service, which is a not-for-profit government organisation set up solely to advise people on their finances. You can find it at: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en

Credit Unions provide a public good filling an important gap in the market: and not just for people who are rejected by High Street banks. Many join because they want their money to be used to support the principles of ethical lending.  If you want to find out more, visit the OCU website at www.oldhamcreditunion.co.uk or call 0161 678 7245.  If you don’t already have an account, why not open one now?

OCU needs to appeal to that wider audience in future but our overriding goal – offering Simple Affordable Fair and Ethical financial services – has never changed, and it never will.

Jean