THE PAST week has provided some poignant moments.
To see about 40 members of the public turn up to our first Cabinet Meeting away from the Civic Centre was heart-warming last Monday. Clearly they’d specifically come to hear us discuss plans to reopen the centre – and it was very important to them.
This is a good lesson for the future – that we should hold these kind of discussions, wherever possible, in front of the communities directly affected.
I also attended the annual Youth Mayor-making Ceremony on Thursday to see Chantel Birtwistle take the chains from Liam Turner.
What really struck me at this event was how much humility was on show in the Council Chamber. There was such genuine affection and respect between the Youth Council members that, to be frank, it put the usual Full Council rabble to shame. Another lesson learnt.
That evening I also had the privilege of attending the Halfords Series Tour cycle races.
I was astonished when I saw the scale of it all and thought it was a fantastic event. My sincere congratulations go to all involved.
To host a showcase family leisure event like this gave us all a glimpse of what we want Oldham town centre to become as a place for residents – and an attraction to visitors.
I PROMISED last week to explain more about what my aspiration for Oldham to become a Co-operative Council actually means.
This topic is the one I’ve been quizzed about most so far by staff and residents.
The Co-operative Council vision is about recognising that – in the context of the budget reductions we are facing – staying the same is not an option.
Services are going to be affected – that is a fact.
My focus here is on looking at how and where we spend money and re-examining it to find new ways of doing things. It’s about bringing people together to do their bit.
For example, Oldham Council spends about £2m each year picking up litter on your streets. About half of that is wasted cleaning up stuff that people could have removed themselves – like stray children’s toys, empty food packets, discarded leaflets etc – and that’s before we get started on fly-tipping and graffiti.
But if we all started to think about what being a ‘good neighbour’ is and make little selfless changes we can really help make our local communities better places. Not only that, we can reduce Council spending in that area and free it up to invest in quality frontline services, and ensure there is no Council Tax rise.
Another part of this vision is the role of the voluntary sector.
I believe this Borough is already blessed with an outstanding ‘third sector’ but that the Council hasn’t done enough to assist and work together with it. I want to see that sector supported, nurtured and encouraged to make it sustainable.
As I said when launching this blog, this ‘disconnect’ in the relationships between the Council, residents, communities and voluntary groups is exactly what I am seeking to address.
Rather than Oldham being about ‘Us and Them’ I want to see us all working together to redefine our relationships. I want each person to do their own bit – big or small – in their own different roles and responsibilities. All united together in one purpose: to improve our Borough
I recognise that a massive part of that picture is about your local ward councillors. And I want members that step up to the plate more for the people they serve.
I want to support and promote ward members – including training them, if necessary – to do their jobs more effectively. Local councillors should be beacons of support, confidence and aspiration to their communities.
Finally, we will also support Council staff and groups who want to set up their own co-operatives and start delivering things differently in a way that better reflects what people want.
All this isn’t about passing the buck away from the Council to somebody else on service delivery. It’s about residents and groups working alongside us in difficult economic times and us, in turn, offering guidance and sometimes even financial support.
I hope you’ll be able to see more clearly how this all works in practical terms as we announce the details of our first Co-operative pilot schemes later this year.
But it is crucially important to note that a Co-operative is not something people can be coerced into. It has to be a voluntary decision to join in: people have to want to do this.
I may be relatively young to lead a Local Authority, but I’m not naive. I know that Oldham won’t become a Cooperative Council overnight.
It will take time for people to understand such a bold transition, see how it works in practice, and then decide to ‘buy in’.
I do hope though that by 2012 – which is the United Nations’ International Year of Co–operatives – we’ll be in a position to say that Oldham is making great strides towards becoming a Co-operative Borough. And a better place for all.
Thanks for listening.