Train of thought

SUPPORT: Ex-servicemen, the Mayor of Oldham and Members unfurl the flag for Armed Forces Day

AS ANOTHER week passes by at a rate of knots a train journey to London gives some thinking (and typing) time…

I believe we are making good progress since gaining control of Oldham Council officially in May with a great deal of attention being given to the preparation of an ‘emergency budget’.

There are no blue lights or sirens, as the name might suggest, but a good way of putting our plans into actions – most things cost money!

One thing which has received some attention – for and against – is our proposal to introduce a living wage.

Most people, I guess, aren’t too sure what it is, so I’ll try and explain it quickly.

Rather than simply paying a minimum wage we make an assessment of the actual cost of living in the local area and match our payscale to it. The principle being that, as a good employer, you should at least pay your employees enough to pay for the basics like utilities, food, transport and housing costs.

We gave this a great deal of thought. Was now the right time to raise the pay bill when we are facing reductions on a scale not seen since the Second World War?

On balance we felt, regardless of that backdrop, that we have a social and ethical responsibility to enable our employees – the vast majority of whom are Oldham residents – to cover the cost of living by earning an honest wage.

Often headlines are dominated by talk of public sector waste, mega-pensions and high salaries but it is helpful to reflect that thousands of our staff working to make our Borough a better place don’t fall into this category at all.

On Monday this week I attended the raising of the Armed Forces Day flag at the Civic Centre. This is designed to raise awareness and support for Britain’s soldiers, sailors and airmen and women.

This is an important event on the annual calendar and an excellent opportunity for us all to pay tribute to – and support – our armed forces past, present and future.

I think I speak for all residents when I say that we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

I was particularly looking forward to a visit this week to unveil a huge art wall on Hollins Road in Hollinwood. This was part of the new school building works at the Oasis Academy Oldham.

Aside from it being a much-needed respite from back-to-back meetings in the Civic Centre, it also allowed me to reflect on the young people who were present with proud parents – and what I want for my own two boys growing up in our Borough.

I want all children to enjoy a safe place, great schools and a caring community, but more importantly to also have good future prospects. We have done wonders rebuilding our schools and creating a ‘University Town’ but Oldham needs good jobs if we want people to stay once they are educated.

Today I met with Local Government Minister Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, a meeting I had been warned about. My view was that regardless of party politics my job is to represent Oldham in the best way I can. Part of that is to meet national decision makers to get the best deal.

It was encouraging to hear words of support for local government and reflections that some good things are being delivered in challenging economic times.

But there was still an air of cynicism about the ‘value’ of councillors in general – too many – paid too much – doing very little etc.

I can no doubt hear a round of applause from some readers… which leads very nicely onto the review I am carry out about the role of councillors in Oldham.

It will be interesting to hear from residents about their own experiences, expectations and needs from their elected representatives. Watch this space for more information on how to take part in the debate!

Thanks for listening,

Jim

2 thoughts on “Train of thought

  1. Patricia Parks

    Really good to see the flag flying for Armed Forces Day – although slightly disappointed to not see many Councillors there, in particular those who are in Cabinet. Surely, this is one of the ways in which Councillors should be involved. I don’t think Councillors are paid too much – I think that a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, that residents don’t see – I bet if they worked out how many hours Councillors worked in a week, the hourly rate would be well below the minimum-wage, let alone the “Living Wage”.

  2. The proposal to introduce a ‘living wage’ is certainly most welcome. At a time when food, transport, housing costs and utility bills are increasing exponentially, it would be a dereliction of “social and ethical responsibility” to ones employees, were the council not to rise to the challenge of a more stringent and demanding economic climate. In meeting this head on, and despite the negative and cautionary reactions of some, it is undoubtedly – without any note of reservation – the right and morally correct thing to do.

    The planned review into the ‘role’ of ward councillors, notably their efficacy as ‘local’ representatives – and all that it should entail – is a long time coming. Rather than a slight against, what are overwhelmingly conscientious, decent and hardworking individuals, it is, if I understand correctly, merely an opportunity to ‘flag up’ any concerns, worries or ‘constructive’ criticisms that are quietly festering away in the minds of some residents: look upon it as the political equivalent of a comprehensive health check, making sure that our elected representatives are ‘fit for purpose’.

    If I may end on one ‘oft discussed’ criticism (certainly amongst the people I know and talk to) – specifically the interminable political point scoring that, like adolescent schoolchildren engaging in some pathetic one-upmanship with their peers, seems to have infected every area of political discourse. Whether it’s the letters page of the Advertiser and Oldham Chronicle, or the occasional party circulars and leaflets that drop through our doors, any notion of informed debate, maturely entered into, is drowning in a sea of juvenile and ‘bitchy’ remarks – more about getting the last ‘verbal’ tag in, than about presenting a grown-up and cogent argument.

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