WHAT IS A CO-OPERATIVE COUNCIL?

Chantel Birtwistle and Liam Turner
Ambassadors: Chantel Birtwistle and Liam Turner

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 Cooperatives – 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.

Jim

3 thoughts on “WHAT IS A CO-OPERATIVE COUNCIL?

  1. Patricia Parks

    Hi. I read with interest your explanation about Co-operative Councils and am still not clear about what difference it will make to me as a resident. You also state “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” – I think that Council staff, any way those ones I have dealt with, do a good job now, so why change it? Don’t want to appear negative, but if can’t be explained in a blog, then will other residents know what it means.

  2. In stating that “we should hold these kind of discussions, wherever possible, in front of the communities affected” Councillor McMahon – to his credit – clearly recognises the imperative of getting the soles of your shoes dirty and speaking ‘directly’ to the people who matter: notably those individuals for whom councillors are elected to diligently serve/represent.

    It’s going to take a great deal of hard work and effort – not forgetting a nugget of fortitude, to assuage the natural cynicism and scepticism of the voters, for whom the words of a politician are about as trustworthy as the much maligned second hand car salesman.

    In the final analysis, it will be deeds and not mere words, upon which substantive change – regards the thinking and expectations of the electorate – will pivot: Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day!

    As to the ‘Youth-making ceremony,’ in which Chantel Birtwistle took the chains from Liam Turner – to quote Councillor McMahon: “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.”

    Juxtapose the above, highly complimentary words, with the, let’s be absolutely honest, more jaundiced language reserved for our council and parliamentary representatives – anger coursing through every adjective, and one can begin to appreciate the chasm that, over decades of time, has brought us (collectively) to this sorry impasse.

    Unfettered by the constrictive and ideological parameters of party politics, Oldham Youth Council is the model of what ‘could’ and ‘should’ be. They say ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ yet it seems to me, that these ‘young pups’ can certainly teach ‘us’ a great deal.

    Finally, regards Councillor McMahon’s “aspiration for Oldham to become a Co-operative Council” – one particular line is worth quoting: “…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 it.”

    It’s a superbly, and in many respects, utopian ideal, in which collectively, to a man, woman and child, we do our bit – “All united together in one purpose: to improve our Borough”. But you know what, as an idealist, I embrace the vision: we’ve had an eternity of unimaginative and uninspiring rhetoric, in which optimism has vainly struggled for air – perhaps now is the time for a more inspired and creative outlook.

  3. Angela Cosgrove

    It would be really nice if you could possibly come to the annual Party in Stoneleigh Park (Saturday 6th August) on Derker to see the excellent community work being done by volunteers from the Derker community. We have been doing this so called big society for years we have close links with Street Scene, Parks and FCHO. We do street surveys for litter, potholes and grafitti on a monthly basis, which are then reported back to Oldham Council for actions to be raised. We are the contact link for all community members as we are very active in the community as there are no community forums/meetings organised by Oldham Council. We organise and fund 4-5 community events per year and currently are in the process of assisting vulnerable resident with their gardens be working with young people who are supported by the local Youth Inclusion Project.
    I really think this would be an ideal opportunity for you to see what can be done in communities with little or no cost to Oldham Council.

    Angela Cosgrove

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