THIS WILL be my final blog before the Local Elections that will be taking place on Thursday, May 3.
During this pre-election period – known in Local Government circles as Purdah – strict publicity rules mean you’ll hear less formally from me now until all the votes are counted up.
My role as Oldham Council Leader continues during that time and the usual packed schedule of meetings and decisions does not stop.
Sadly this week, we’ve lost another colleague following the passing of my fellow Hollinwood ward councillor, Brian Ames, last weekend.
Incredibly, Brian’s time at Oldham Council stretches right back to its inception as a local authority in 1974 which is a proud and lengthy record of public service.
My sincerest condolences go to his wife, Teresa, and all of Brian’s family and friends at this time.
If you knew Brian, you can pay your tributes in special Books of Condolence at Failsworth Town Hall and Oldham Civic Centre (Rochdale Road reception) during normal working hours – or do it online here.
As I say, it’s business as usual behind the scenes until May 3 and during that time we’ll continue to forge ahead on discussions around the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.
I’ll be chairing Cabinet next Monday evening when we consider a report seeking approval to formally launch our search for a development partner on that scheme in summer. This is to secure a partner to work alongside us on the transformation of the town over a 10-15 year period.
This issue has been my clear priority in the past year and I want to reiterate again just why it is so important.
We’ve made some great strides in recent times in Oldham – like the development of the Old Town Hall, Parliament Square, and progress on a new Heritage and Arts Centre, and Coliseum Theatre.
But what we’re talking about with this Masterplan is way bigger than that. This is an actual strategic vision designed to build on the great assets this borough already has and make sure it prospers in the future.
We cannot stand still as a place and – in spite of funding cuts from Central Government – I am determined we will not.
This Masterplan sets out a clear roadmap for what we want Oldham to be in the next 10 to 15 years, and how we will achieve that.
This isn’t some think-tank’s dreamy vision of the future, it’s rooted in all our aspirations. It is about leadership of the place and that’s we really need now.
Successful town centres in 2018 aren’t what they were 15 years ago: an almost random stack of shops anchored by the likes of Woolworths, British Home Stores and HMV. That has all changed. Society has changed. Habits have changed – and our needs have changed.
Just think of recent headlines from retailers and eateries everywhere like Toys R Us, New Look, Maplin, Prezzo, Jamie Oliver and Chimichanga.
Retail has a future in town centres, for certain, but it’s no longer the ‘be all and end all’ of the full mix that a place needs to be thriving.
Town centres like ours are crying out for a new approach that stops them being left behind and the Masterplan is all about tackling this: delivering regeneration, renewal and a clear purpose. This is about Oldham being a place thriving round the clock and – crucially – isn’t totally dependent on the unlikely prospect of retail of shopping habits remaining stable.
This is about Oldham offering an experience as a destination with, for example, a better Tommyfield Market environment and offer rooted in the 21st Century. And this is about Oldham being a place where more people choose to live and work – and therefore help that economy to thrive every day and night.
Without this Masterplan we’d simply be managing decline and dealing reactively with the terrible future fallout from all that. We cannot let that happen.
Some people still talk about the possibilities of building ‘new towns’ like Milton Keynes for future growth, but I believe the way to go is to reinvigorate our existing ones first. They have identity and they can be fixed.
With this Masterplan we can change Oldham’s story and its destiny, that’s what I am committed to do here.
See you in May!
WE’RE launching Ageing Well Oldham this week – a great new initiative to improve the lives of residents over the age of 50.
This is an increasingly important agenda because our population is ageing.
It’s good news that people are living longer than before, but it also creates challenges that need a strategic approach.
Part of that, of course, is the need to improve overall health across Oldham, which we are addressing through measures like the integration of our health and social care into a Local Care Organisation in April.
But this demographic change is also going to have profound impacts on costs, demand, and the sustainability of future health budgets.
Ageing Well Oldham is part of our response to these issues and has very clear aims.
We want to improve the lives of people aged over 50 so they can continue to contribute to – and benefit from – economic growth, and can also enjoy a good quality of life and be able to contribute to society.
It’s about us tackling barriers like social isolation, improving health services, encouraging more active participation in communities and creating better wellbeing opportunities.
We’re coordinating this work across Greater Manchester as part of our vision to make it the first age-friendly city region in the country.
This is a pledge to be a place that ensures it hears and represents the voices of the older population and makes decisions that take their needs and experiences into full account.
Working with partners we’ve now set up the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub to provide that strategic response to an older population.
Barriers can prevent older people from being active in their communities and having a good quality of life but, of course, many people wouldn’t necessarily recognise these until they experience them in later life.
Ageing Well Oldham aims to help on several levels: assisting people to further their careers, to get help with business funding and to improve their health and wellbeing.
Each Thursday we will hold sessions at Werneth Lifelong Learning Centre (below) where people over 50 can get free access to things that can really make a difference to their lives, including employment advice and information from our Get Oldham Working team, Job Centre Plus and Learn Direct staff.
The sessions can also help people to identify skills or capabilities they need to help them get to the next step on their chosen career path through our Career Advancement Service. There will also be advice for those who want a new challenge and are looking for a change in direction as to how they could embark on a new and different career.
While it may surprise you to hear this, the over-50s are also a powerhouse of new businesses. Some are also drawn to the idea of enjoying a second career, often in something they always wanted to do with their lives, and find they have more spare time than before to achieve this.
The growth in UK self-employment since 2000 has been very much driven by this group.
At Ageing Well Oldham people will be able to get information about potential funding and grants from Give it a Go, the Greater Manchester Growth Hub and other agencies.
You can also get free advice and support from our Oldham Community Leisure staff who will point you in the right direction to stay healthy, take up a new activity, get in shape and meet other people in classes and schemes in your area.
The sessions are taking place every Thursday from 9.30am to 2.30pm (from Thursday, March 22 onwards).
Each day consists of three different focusses: Health and wellbeing sessions from 9.30am to 10.30am; employability-related workshops from 10.15am to Noon; and enterprise development support from 12.30pm to 2.30pm.
This agenda is all about us working better together to tackle social, economic and health inequalities in later life – something we all have a vested interest in to create a truly inclusive economy.
Please have a think about whether you – or a family member or friend – could benefit from Ageing Well Oldham and find more information at the website here.
RESILIENCE helps us all to get through a typical Oldham winter – and this year we’ve needed it even more than usual.
Winter has been a particularly cruel season this time round with unusually prolonged spells of frost and frequent snowfall all culminating in last week’s big freeze. Let’s hope that is the worst of it out of the way!
The visits of Storm Emma and the Beast From The East brought together an extreme cocktail of freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and high winds that made hibernation look an appealing option by last Thursday morning.
It feels like it has been winter forever now and, to put it in to some context, I wanted to share with you the efforts our gritting and highways team have been putting in to battle what the elements have been throwing at the borough.
By last Saturday morning our gritter drivers had clocked up 77,287 road miles – or 124,381 kilometres – since October.
They’d also put in around 15,000 tractor miles, done 148 separate treatment shifts on local roads and spread 6,280 tonnes of salt.
The response last week from all our staff, partners and residents was fantastic and inspiring yet again.
Gritting shifts continued round the clock from last Sunday onwards. Roads were ploughed, snow blowers deployed and fallen trees removed as the disruption deepened.
Council staff and employees of MioCare, which is responsible for delivering social care in Oldham, literally waded their way through snow drifts to visit elderly and vulnerable people in some of the remotest locations we have – not missing one single appointment. Others rang thousands of residents checking on their wellbeing, food and medicine stocks and heating.
Partners also came to the fore. Oldham Mountain Rescue Team, for example, helped us ensure that a 94-year-old lady was safe and warm in her isolated Strinesdale home surrounded by snow drifts.
Oldham Fire Station opened their facilities as a rest centre for motorists stranded around the local road network after the M62 became impassable. And local tractor drivers and residents came out in their droves to offer help and food to people trapped in and around the Saddleworth villages.
The clean-up operation is now underway – and there is plenty to do.
Our facility at Access Oldham suffered wind damage but it is now back and fully operational. Unfortunately, Gallery Oldham suffered from flooding and remains closed for now. To get the latest updates on any of our services or buildings please go to www.oldham.gov.uk/winter
We also have a backlog of bin collections to catch up on, grit bins to refill and – of course – we know the latest freeze inevitably means dozens more potholes will be appearing on our roads.
Just last month we announced a £6.2 million investment to bring many of our highways back up to scratch. I want to stress again that that work is ongoing and it is in addition to our regular pothole repairs, where we need your help.
We’ve repaired more than 4,441 potholes in the last twelve months but with 856 kilometres of roads to look after we simply don’t have the resource to spot them all. That’s why I am again asking people to please do #yourbit and report any potholes that you see using our online form here
If the pothole poses an immediate and serious threat to safety, then please call 0161 770 4325.
I want to say thank you once again to everyone who helped make the latest Oldham response to extreme weather so effective.
Thank you to local residents and business for your patience too, and the many kind comments and words of appreciation that our staff received.
The spirit that was shown and the snow heroes who came to the fore are a true credit to the borough.
I, for one, am now desperately hoping that was winter’s last hurrah for 2017/8 and am counting down the days until British Summer Time officially begins (Sunday, March 25) and brings a glorious extra hour of daylight to warm our spirits.
FULL Council meets tonight to consider our budget proposals for the 2018/9 financial year.
This marks the end of a process that officially started last April and has seen a huge amount of work carried out examining all kinds of financial options and projections.
Given the huge pressures we face, it has also inevitably meant a lot of soul-searching as we strive to balance the books and protect vital services.
Since 2009 Oldham Council has now lost more than a third of its workforce and more than £200 million in Government funding – with up to another £20 million in savings to potentially find again next year.
Nobody goes into politics to put Council Tax up or to make cuts to key services but for the past decade these have been the pressures driving much of our deliberations.
We manage this challenge well in Oldham and have so far avoided some of the more drastic cuts that other authorities have made in areas like children’s centres, libraries, leisure centres and parks – but you can only dodge a bullet for long.
Councils up and down the country like ours also know that the tax rises they have planned won’t offset the cuts they are experiencing.
Across England extra Council Tax will bring in an estimated £1.1bn in the next financial year which nowhere near covers the £1.4bn cut in central government funding.
These austerity-led cuts are not sustainable and the difficulties at Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire County Council – which essentially declared itself bankrupt earlier this month – shows that none of us are exempt from the strain.
What is happening there is just a snapshot of the difficulties all councils are facing: a growing population and one that lives longer, children that need more care and people that are struggling to get on in life, get on the property ladder, and have falling living standards and incomes. Rising demand, falling budgets.
Adults and children’s services are particularly underfunded with no clear solution in sight. We have an £8m pressure on the children’s’ services budget this year alone and councils can’t just keep dipping into reserves or selling buildings and land to get by.
The Government’s ‘answer’ to all this is to make councils rely in future on their Business Rates income, but as things stand that system will simply perpetuate inequalities and make them worse.
Areas with bigger business rates are already better funded and places with smaller business rate bases, like Oldham, will get poorer by comparison.
Next year, for the very first time, our Business Rates will constitute more of our income than what we get from Central Government support and that is a watershed moment.
We urgently need fair funding from Westminster and clarity about the future funding model for local services. There are few commitments on what lies ahead and finance settlements are typically thrown to us at the very latest possible moment, which also hampers our medium and long-term planning.
Here at Oldham Council what we must focus on is what we can influence and do ourselves to tackle this crisis.
We are, for example, working hard to transform our ‘fiscal base’ – changing the sources of where our future income comes from – and that’s why the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan is so important with the boost to the economy, jobs and Business Rates it will produce.
But what is most frustrating about all this is the effect on residents. People in places like Oldham are being told to pay more, but also to expect to get less for their money. That doesn’t bode well for democracy, trust or local services.
The Government’s current stance on funding points to a bleak future where councils like ours would only be able to deliver statutory services – those we are legally obliged to.
Oldham has suffered more than most areas from the cuts and it’s time the Government put real measures and funding behind its rhetoric about preventing people being ‘left behind’.
I want to close today by thanking Councillor Abdul Jabbar, our finance team and all those members and officers involved in the difficult task of preparing this budget.
There is little sense of relief as we’re already thinking hard about what happens next year and beyond, but I promise that our work to try and increase our income and the prospects of local people will continue.
It is needed now more than ever.
MARKETS have been an important part of my life since an early age.
Like many residents, I’ve always been fond of them since spending countless hours of my childhood bustling, browsing and playing between the busy stalls and aisles.
I also have a particular fondness for Tommyfield Market, the site which boasted Oldham’s first-ever market in 1788 and has had one there pretty much ever since. It is a key part of our heritage.
As a schoolgirl, this was also where I landed my first-ever part time job, on Peter Haq’s outdoor clothes stall. His family still runs one on the indoor market to this day, and my maternal aunts also ran a dress stall there for several years.
Those are just some of the many reasons why I’m determined to prioritise the building of a new fit-for-purpose Tommyfield as the first step in the delivery of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.
Many people have told me they think that although the town centre has improved through recent developments like the Old Town Hall, it has also suffered as Tommyfield and the area around it has struggled to keep pace with the times. I have listened long and hard to them.
Our Masterplan is all about improving Oldham and making it a place that can thrive throughout the week and round the clock. That means careful planning to create better connections between key sites and improving attractions to pull in more footfall and custom.
The new Tommyfield would be built on the existing site and would end the difficulties presented by the current structure, like its sloping floor, and improve facilities with new features, like Wi-fi access, for example.
We’re already talking with the traders about an interim but potentially exciting temporary market option while building work takes place. This will be an indoor, bright, modern space providing a great place where people can continue to enjoy their shopping, chitchat, bargains and gossip.
The new Tommyfield would also have a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park built next to it – plus new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces – all designed to draw more punters in.
I can still vividly remember standing in the old Littlewoods building in 1974 watching as the old Market Hall was razed to the ground by a huge fire and – just like then – now is an opportunity to revitalise Tommyfield.
Markets still retain a unique appeal for many us, but shopping habits are now unrecognisable from their heyday.
As supermarket giants like Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Sainsburys et al have prospered, people have shown less inclination or time to spare to browse market stalls. Indeed, for some, a few clicks on a smartphone completes their weekly shop these days, so times have drastically changed.
We now know that modern markets can only thrive by finding a mix between offering specialist services, like cobblers and key cutting, independent traders and locally sourced food, plus a good eating and drinking offer in their own right. In short, they need to offer an experience, something for the whole family to enjoy.
Ultimately it will be you, the Oldham public, who decides if Tommyfield will thrive again, as I believe it can.
Our bit will be working closely with traders, shoppers and experts to help make it an attraction that can again be a magnet to new customers.
Your bit is to give it a go and back those people and traders who will be putting their savings and hard graft on the line to improve Oldham town centre.
As a council we always encourage people to shop local because it makes sound economic sense to spend your pounds in the area where you live, and to help boost your local economy.
But there are many other valid reasons too.
Supermarket shopping can be convenient and quick but if you want to avoid plastic packaging waste – which seems to know no bounds these days(!) – and also like to avoid having to buy more fruit, veg or meat than you actually need, then your local market is the place to go right now.
We hope the future for Tommyfield will be bright but you needn’t wait until the new venue gets up and running – there’s already plenty of great local traders and reasons to give all your local markets a visit today.
Tommyfield has more than 100 businesses operating from Monday to Saturday each week, and we also have some great district markets in various guises and development across Royton, Saddleworth, Shaw and Chadderton. You can read about them all here – and the great incentives we’ve got on offer for would-be stallholders.
I still believe markets can thrive in the future through hard work, investment, community buy-in and by retaining that special personal quality that made them a success for generations.
It will not be easy, of course, but I am determined to make the big decisions Oldham town centre needs – and addressing the future of Tommyfield Market is just the start of that process.
IT’S A DIFFICULT time here as we start coming to terms with the passing of Councillor Sue Dearden last weekend.
Many people were aware Sue had been ill for some time, but that knowledge doesn’t diminish the sadness and loss when the inevitable happens.
Sue had been an excellent ward member for Chadderton Central since 2012, but her impact on local life and communities extended way beyond that.
In her professional life she worked as a school teacher and in youth justice, and she was one of life’s ‘doers’ who got involved with causes ranging from education to women’s rights and encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles.
Throughout everything she did, Sue was passionate and drew on her own experiences as a single mum bringing up two boys to challenge the obstacles she saw many people facing in making life better for their families.
Today I have a very small chance to pay her back by helping to champion her final cause.
Sue had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and this is something she made clear that she wanted to raise awareness of in her final days.
She knew there was no hope of a better outcome for herself but, typically, she wanted people to understand more about this disease and its poor profile.
When you look at some of the advances made in treating other forms of cancer in recent times the progress is little short of astonishing.
Did you know, for example, that 40 years ago few children survived childhood leukaemia – yet now the survival rate is 80 per cent? Or that 40 years ago the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer who survived five years or more was just 46 per cent – and now that is also up to 80 per cent?
That’s all fantastic news, clearly, and everyone involved from medical experts to specialist researchers, clinicians, GPs and fundraisers are to be applauded.
But the outcomes for pancreatic cancer are very different.
Every year 9,500 people in the UK are diagnosed and their prognoses are very poor and short.
The survival rates today for patients with pancreatic cancer stand at around 3 per cent – the same as 40 years ago. That is the lowest survival rate for all forms of cancer, and yet it is the fifth most common cause of cancer death, causing five per cent of cancer deaths each year.
One of the reasons is that pancreatic cancer is incredibly difficult to diagnose and treat. Experts say it is unusually aggressive and often has vague symptoms which appear at a late stage when surgery is no longer an option.
The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund was set up in 2004 and it tries to raise new funds and to argue for a fair allocation of research and attention.
Sue wanted donations to help others in the future, so I would urge you to please spread the word about this cause and do your bit to help.
If you go to sign one of Sue’s Books of Condolence – which are available during normal opening hours in the Rochdale Road reception at the Civic Centre and at Chadderton Wellbeing Centre – then please consider making a donation in the buckets provided.
Alternatively, you can send cheques payable to Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at PO Box 47432, London, N2 1XP or donate online at www.pcrf.org.uk
You can also sign an online Book of Condolence at our website here.
Sue was always best at encouraging and inspiring the people around her to be positive in every situation, so she would be telling us all now that life must go on.
That’s why I’ll close this week with a reminder about a great event taking place on Friday evening.
Illuminate, our free family late night arts festival, is returning after a successful debut last year.
Spectacular installations, lanterns, landscapes, dancers, drummers and puppets can be enjoyed at sites across Oldham town centre, including Oldham Parish Church, Parliament Square, and Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library, from 6 to 9pm.
My favourite feature is the illumination of the exterior of the Old Town Hall with giant 3D projections. This year the display will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Oldham Theatre Workshop showcasing the history of our acclaimed youth theatre and bringing stories of cast and crew from productions past into stunning focus.
That’s just one of several attractions on offer, so please click here to find out more about Illuminate and take your family along for another great free evening of entertainment.
IT’S EXACTLY 100 years ago this week that women were finally granted the vote.
On February 6, 1918, The Representation of the People Act passed into law giving the vote to all men over the age of 21 – and to certain women over the age of 30.
Those women also had to meet a property qualification so it would actually be another decade before all women got an equal vote.
Nonetheless 1918 was a political earthquake and historians still debate what won the day.
There were many factors involved including years of suffragette campaigning – both constitutional and militant – plus the need to extend the vote to soldiers after World War One, the pressure to recognise women’s war work, and the exit of figureheads opposed to female suffrage from the political stage.
It’s a common misconception that Britain was somehow an early adopter of votes for women. New Zealand did it first back in 1893 and seven more nations had followed suit before we finally caught up with the times.
Local women played a significant role in making this victory happen, not least Springhead’s Annie Kenney, Chadderton’s Lydia Becker and Werneth’s Marjory Lees (pictured above, left to right).
Kenney was born in 1879 as the fourth daughter of 12 children and started work at a mill in Lees Brook in Lees at the age of just 10. She was employed there as a “tenter”, spending 15 years fitting bobbins and fixing broken strands of fleece. During that time she also lost one of her fingers, which was ripped off by a bobbin.
Determined to better herself, Annie self-studied and began taking part in trade union activity before getting involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in around 1905.
In October that year she made national headlines after attending a Liberal meeting at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall with Christabel Pankhurst.
Annie had the temerity to ask Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey if they believed woman should have the right to vote. Neither would answer. The pair were then ejected from the meeting after unfurling a ‘Votes for Women’ banner. Outside they were arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer.
Kenney served three days behind bars on that occasion – becoming the first to be jailed for direct action – and this was to be one of 13 spells for her in prison.
Some may look back and say that suffragette violence against property was unnecessary and put many off their cause, but it’s also too simplistic to overlook the level of state violence these women faced.
Rough-handling by police was commonplace, imprisonment was frequent, and there can be few more brutal acts than physically holding someone down whilst force feeding them against their will to end a hunger strike.
Annie Kenney wasn’t the only local suffragette, of course – there were many others – but what was special about her was her roots and influence.
She’s widely acknowledged as the only working class woman to have reached the top of the WSPU (she was deputy by 1912) and there remains a feeling that, compared with the Pankhursts and others, her contribution still isn’t fully recognised.
Oldham Council did install a blue plaque at Leesbrook Mill acknowledging her contribution many years ago and we recently cleaned it. Unfortunately that did not make it look much better so it is being repainted as soon as possible.
This centenary is an ideal moment to ensure we preserve the memories of Annie Kenney’s struggle for future generations, so please visit the website here to learn more about the local efforts to erect a statue of Annie Kenney in Parliament Square.
Back to 2018 and the battle against injustice still continues in many other ways…
This week Oldham Council is supporting workshops, information stalls and activities as part of Greater Manchester’s Hate Crime Awareness Week.
Latest Home Office statistics show that hate crimes nationally went up 29 per cent to 80,393 offences in 2016-17: yet even that doesn’t give us the full picture because so much of it goes unreported.
As an Oldham resident you should not suffer a hate crime in silence. If you’re attacked because of your difference – your religion, sexuality, colour of your skin or disability – then you should report it.
By speaking out you can help send the message that hate has no place in modern society and that perpetrators will feel the full force of the law.
A full programme of what is taking place in each part of the borough until February 9 is here. For more information on hate crime you can also visit letsendhatecrime.com or call the Victim Support Services helpline on 0161 200 1950.
Prejudice, it seems, is always with us – and that’s why we must never stop fighting it.
COLDHURST has been in the headlines this week after a national study was published on child poverty.
I asked Abdul Jabbar, Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader, to guest-blog on the issues this has raised as he knows Coldhurst better than most.
He was keen to talk about the challenges and issues around child poverty, what we are doing – and what we need to tackle it more effectively.
Over to Abdul…
COLDHURST is in my heart and many members of my family call it ‘home’.
I first came to live here when I was 14 years old and I’m very proud to have now represented this area for almost a quarter of a century as a ward member.
During that time I’ve worked among all our communities, probably knocked on every single door at one time, and seen all the kinds of challenges faced by local families.
I felt saddened this week when Coldhurst hit the news after a report by the End Child Poverty group said it has the highest child deprivation rate in England with over 60 per cent of youngsters living ‘below the breadline’.
Saddened, yes. Surprised? No.
I don’t fool myself that Coldhurst and other areas aren’t facing serious challenges because I see it every day around me.
The problems for our least well-off families are unrelenting and getting out of the poverty cycle has never been harder than it is today.
But there is something that is absolutely great about Coldhurst – the people who live there.
Yes, there are problems with crime and anti-social behaviour like fly-tipping, but walk around those streets and you’ll also find many friendly, positive people and a sense of community that you might not see in more affluent areas.
Within Coldhurst I know groups and associations, GPs, headteachers, community workers, voluntary organisations and residents who are all working hard to make the most of what they have.
Our challenge at local and national level is to match that.
There are a lot of factors behind child poverty.
The four-year freeze on social security benefits – amongst other welfare reform measures like the Bedroom tax – has been felt most by the poorest families.
Oldham was a pilot area for the rollout of Universal Credit which has caused huge problems by leaving families without money for several weeks, forcing many people into making desperate choices between heating the home or eating food.
Many people in Coldhurst do work extremely hard for long hours but due to low skills, stagnant wages and increasing living costs, things are tough. Many are also living in low-quality rented homes that are actually more expensive than social housing.
Worst of all is the fact that children are suffering. Not just because they are vulnerable now, but because if you have a bad start in life then your chances of success in adulthood are not good.
Coldhurst is not alone, however. Oldham has other pockets like this and so do our neighbours in Greater Manchester and big cities like London. End Child Poverty say that more than half of all children in the UK’s very poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.
We are trying to address these issues locally on many levels.
The Oldham Education and Skills Commission committed us to improving our education by 2020 and we are on target to achieve this, but it won’t be enough on its own.
We’ve introduced schemes like Warm Homes Oldham to help with fuel poverty, Get Oldham Working to improve employment prospects, Get Oldham Growing to improve health, and the Town Centre Masterplan to deliver significant opportunities in the local economy over the next two decades.
In Coldhurst itself we invested £7.5 million to open the fantastic new Northmoor Academy (pictured) in September 2016. This three-form entry primary school on the former Grange school site was designed to cope with rising pressure on school places but also to provide a first-class facility where children can thrive.
As part of being a new Opportunity Area we’re also this week about to start rolling out the ‘Making it REAL’ programme in nurseries in Coldhurst. This is intervention in early years’ settings that targets improving literacy and giving children with disadvantaged backgrounds the language skills they need before they get to school. It involves home visits to support and train parents and group events – all have been proved to raise and sustain literacy standards in other areas. The reason we’re doing this is that it has also been shown that language and literacy skills are the most impactful intervention you can make for any child from a disadvantaged background, so we’re determined to get it right.
That kind of work will and must continue, but it still it won’t be enough on its own.
We have a Government that still refuses to set a target to reduce child poverty. For me, if you refuse to recognise a problem exists, then what hope can we have that you’re actually committed to finding – let alone funding – the solutions?
In families where it is hard to make ends meet, only one person is working, bills are paid late and loan sharks are circling, this is not the message they need to hear.
Last week we were told that more people are in work now than for many years. That might be true, but never have so many also been paid so relatively little and with work often on insecure terms like zero hour contracts.
Local authority’s children’s services are also being reduced to firefighting through Government cuts. Without the money we need to intervene at an early stage through important measures like parenting classes, substance misuse prevention and teenage pregnancy support, the impacts can be simply devastating.
This is also a false economy. If we can only get involved when children reach a crisis point then it will result in much more expensive steps in the long term, like taking young people into care.
In the budget we’re currently finalising for Oldham in 2018/9 we have an £8 million gap in funding for children’s social care services. That is a typical picture nationally and yet remains a problem which Government fails to address.
Making significant progress in living standards, wages and skills for everyone is our goal and it’s why we are championing the Inclusive Growth agenda so hard at Greater Manchester level.
As Deputy Council Leader and a ward member for Coldhurst I will continue my efforts for the people of the area alongside our MP, partners, communities and the voluntary sector, to help wherever we can.
But we also need the Government to finally listen and act.
The thought of having a generation of children suffering like this is heart-breaking and it also leaves me in fear of what legacy it will leave us with as a society.
OUR HERITAGE is our inheritance as a place and it encompasses many different things.
It can be the physical: like historic buildings, objects, artefacts and documents. It can also be the natural environment: our landscapes, native wildlife and plants. And it can be the intangible: things like our traditions, folklore, music and skills.
We are blessed with some amazing assets and heritage in Oldham.
No doorstep in our borough is more than two miles away from glorious open countryside and we can offer the benefits of town and rural life in one location.
Our pride in our heritage buildings, people and history has also been the foundation of our regeneration.
This is exemplified in the Old Town Hall project which restored an iconic Grade-II listed building at the heart of the town centre with a modern use. In relaunching it we also used heritage symbols and tales – like the owls in Parliament Square and the ‘Oldham Giant’ puppet – to showcase our pride in who we are.
That’s also why we’ve worked hard to rescue the amazing haul of documents, newspaper clippings and images that were the archives of the Oldham Evening Chronicle.
This week we were able to confirm that they have been saved and I want to thank KPMG, the administrators, for letting us assess the quality of this trove and then transferring it to public ownership.
These archives will be fully accessible to the public when the new Heritage and Arts Centre opens in late 2019/early 2020.
That new facility – which also sees the restoration of the Grade II former library building on Union Street – will tell Oldham’s story from our era as cotton spinning capital of the world to the present day.
The Chronicle archives will then be alongside the borough’s extensive collection of objects, works of art, heritage and archive information as we open up them all up to public access in an unprecedented way.
That particular heritage tale had a happy ending but it isn’t always straightforward.
Sometimes you must be realistic about when to save something – and when to let it go. One example of the latter is Hartford Mill.
Last week I was concerned to learn that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service had to rescue two teenage girls who got stuck on the roof.
Sadly this isn’t an isolated incident and we’ve been asking serious questions for considerable time about the wisdom of this structure remaining in place.
I genuinely understand the beauty and historic value that many people see in heritage buildings, but this one is a total blight on the Freehold and Chadderton area.
It’s a danger to the public, a magnet for vandalism and anti-social behaviour, and is an awful sight as you travel along the Metrolink line. Would you really want to look out of the window of your family home at that every day?
The mill is privately owned and it’s clear that the security and safety of the site is costly and challenging.
In 2004 Oldham Council had secured an option to buy the mill but when the government pulled the plug on Housing Market Renewal (HMR) we could no longer proceed. The owner has since looked at conversion options and in 2015 we agreed to grant an option to transfer council-owned land adjoining the mill to him so he could offer a larger parcel of land that might be more attractive to developers.
Little has happened since then, sadly. Renovating Hartford Mill would cost huge sums of money and who will spend that on a property with no apparent practical use? The situation has become an impasse – and a huge frustration to local residents – and it has to end.
That’s why Oldham Council is now about to submit an application to demolish the listed building. Because of its status this is unlikely to be an easy or straightforward process, but it’s clearly the best solution for the community.
I understand the strong emotions cases like this can arouse but the prospects of ever turning Hartford Mill into housing, offices or public amenities are extremely remote.
The private sector has brought forward no such proposals in two decades. Now it is time to think about the future – and to let it go.