MOST people reserve their Bank Holiday weekends for a spot of family fun – and I am no exception.
Despite the somewhat gloomy weather on Sunday morning, I ventured out to take part in the closing events of the annual Rochdale Canal Festival.
There has been significant restoration work along the canal in recent years and I was privileged to take a barge ride with the Mayor of Oldham, Councillor Richard Knowles, to see some of the fantastic recreational opportunities and activities this historic stretch of water has to offer.
This canal is an outstanding outdoor asset for our Borough but also one that is no doubt under-utilised by the public, so I would really encourage anyone reading this to put it down on your list of places to visit in the future.
Getting about by barge proved trouble-free for me but, regrettably, a day out is not always as simple and pleasurable as it should be for a significant minority of our residents.
My mind focussed on this after being amongst the Council team which heard a presentation from Councillor Derek Heffernan (Saddleworth North) last week.
This explained how and where disabled people are accessing Oldham town centre and I must congratulate Cllr Heffernan because it was a real eye-opener.
There are clearly certain parts of town that are very difficult for disabled people to visit and this highlighted some major difficulties with access which an able-bodied person such as myself would not immediately recognise.
Following on from that discussion we are committed to looking at this in more detail and examining what can be done to tackle these problems.
The news that Ian Kendall is stepping down as Chief Executive of Oldham Community Leisure prompts me to look ahead this week and offer some personal thoughts about the future of the Borough’s ‘Leisure Estate’.
Firstly, I’d like to pay tribute to Ian for all his hard work. During his time at the helm OCL has notched many significant improvements – particularly in terms of making the leisure estate offering more commercial and thereby also reducing the costs of this to the taxpayer.
Legally we were not allowed to extend OCL’s contract any further than we already had done, so Ian’s departure serves as a useful reflection point for us to consider what comes next and what our future leisure offering should look like.
As an example, I believe that our town centre provision really should be housed in a flagship facility. But I certainly don’t think that it is true at present, and we need to address that.
Equally we have a situation in Crompton and Royton where the swimming pools are really not fit for purpose and we need to make sure we can offer something better for local residents.
With OCL’s contract set to end I think it’s time to take a more holistic view of what we have, listen to users and look at what we need in the future.
The portion of our leisure estate which OCL is responsible for delivering is actually just one small part of what is on offer in the Borough. The estate also includes our school playing fields and facilities, for example, and I think we need to take that whole picture into account and try to apply better logic to it.
What do I mean by that? Well, I know of a situation in Failsworth which convinces me that changes are needed whereby the secondary school hires out sports pitches on one side of the road and OCL does the same on the opposite side of the street.
The two are actively competing against each other on price and fighting for the same business – from local service users – at a time when we actually have under-provision in other parts of the Borough. That just doesn’t make sense to me whichever way you look at it.
Not only is it confusing to service users but it is also inefficient and ineffective when you consider that both of these operations are subsidised by the local taxpayer.
In thanking Ian Kendall I should stress that – as a former board member of OCL – I know there is also a much wider team of very dedicated and hard-working staff on the ground who have contributed to OCL’s successes. We need to make sure they are kept fully informed and understand what will happen next as this contract goes – as it must – out to tender.
Last but not least it would be remiss of me not to mention last week’s GCSE exam celebrations. Local results have again improved for the eleventh consecutive year and I humbly salute the efforts of all involved.
On that note I’m particularly looking forward to visiting our Regional Science Centre when it opens next week to meet with new students and staff.
This venue is a significant landmark in the expansion of local education provision in this area. It will be used by primary school pupils right through to undergraduates and move our offering up to a whole new level.
Thanks for listening,