As leader of the Council my focus is on the long term direction of the borough – balancing increasingly limited budgets and supporting the Chief Executive to run an organisation of thousands of staff.
As we work towards Cooperative Council status I am keen to make sure not just that people receive a good service, but that what they receive is tailored to their circumstances, compassionate and understanding.
The recent story about breastfeeding and how it could have been offensive as the building was ‘multi-cultural’ could have been funny if the consequences weren’t so serious. This is, of course, nonsense, the fact that Oldham has a rich variety of nationalities, races and backgrounds is a strength of our borough, not something which should restrict us in this way.
Unfortunately what was an isolated mistake that was dealt with quickly soon turned into national news with newspapers like The Sun declaring in their usual way “Don’t breastfeed in here, you’ll upset Muslims” and putting my deputy Councillor Akhtar in the firing line for racist emails for the rest of the week with cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’, and a few telling him to go back home… to his family home in Werneth I presume?
So what should have been dealt with as a normal complaint directly to the council became a circus for the country. As the Leader of the council I am unhappy about our borough being in the news for this kind of thing – but also realistic enough to understand that at times you can’t pre-empt everything, nor can you micromanage every member of staff. Though far from ideal, you have to accept that at times these things happen.
Shoab attended a meeting of mums on Monday to talk through the council’s position and by all accounts things went very well.
Next was the case of a lady suffering dementia who moved into a care home. Following the move the family home was rented out for a period before becoming empty. The family did all the right things and told the council tax office.
Unfortunately the change wasn’t registered and so bills continued to arrive causing genuine anxiety to the family. This could have been avoided and again the Council is in the press for the wrong reasons.
Whilst neither of these stories put Oldham Council in the best light it is worth thinking that the authority carries out millions of transactions and provides services to thousands of people each year without error, misjudgement or fuss. So to everyone who just got on and did their job without any media attention this week – thanks!
The now weekly coverage of roadworks in Oldham continues to occupy people, especially around Mumps. Although this is not the Council undertaking the works, it goes without saying that we end up in the firing line.
I do appreciate the frustrations felt by motorists who end up late for work or dropping their kids off at school, but we do need to bear in mind what Transport for Greater Manchester and the Council are trying to achieve here; we are rebuilding the town’s infrastructure which impacts on most routes into the town centre.
Residents have suggested that bad planning is the cause of traffic delays, but I have to disagree. With all but one or two exceptions the works are being handled well so far, the delays are in the main unavoidable given the scale of works and the timetable for completion.
If you are affected by road works you have my sympathy, but please bear with us while we work hard to rebuild Oldham.
Launch of Cooperative Councils Network
Finally, last week was the launch of the Cooperative Councils network whereOldhamis working with 14 other local authorities across the country to work to change the role and perception of local government and communities for the better.
Ed Milliband MP and Michael Stephenson, General Secretary of the Cooperative Party visitedRochdale– birthplace of the Cooperative movement – to have a roundtable discussion on what was working well, and the future direction of Cooperative Councils.
I highlighted our work throughOldham’s Cooperative Commission chaired by Councillor Barbara Dawson. We have been fortunate to build a strong relationship with Lambeth Council inLondonwhich has been leading the way on cooperatives for some time. Lambeth’s leader Councillor Steve Reed has been inspirational in spreading the benefits of cooperatives in service delivery and in empowering the community to take the lead to improve their area.
We have agreed to lead on a number of themes; the first being the creation of an Ethical Framework, the establishment of a Community Dividend Scheme and building a network of young co-operators across our schools to promote volunteering and civic pride. We will also be working hard to transform backbench councillors into Local Leaders through our plans to devolve decision making.
It was fantastic to hear of projects ongoing across the country and encouraging that Ed Milliband has given us his backing.
We have an opportunity to create something really special here, not just within the council – if that’s all we achieve then we have failed – but with the whole community across the borough.