THEY say a week is a long time in politics and that sentiment is ringing loud and clear as I try to catch up on everything that’s happened during the Council recess.
Whilst away I’ve been kept in touch with major developments, of course, but there’s a huge amount of work ongoing behind-the-scenes across the whole range of Council business at present and I’m conscious this will be an extremely busy period as autumn approaches.
On the subject of hard work, I firstly want to congratulate all those students across the Borough who got their A-Level results last Thursday.
It looks very much like this was the 11th consecutive year that our exam results have improved and it’s disappointing that national media was again full of people quick to use statistics like that to knock the value of these exams.
It’s a crying shame – and downright churlish, actually – to be knocking all the hard work that has been put in, not just by these young people but also their teachers, school support staff and parents, to get those grades.
Hundreds of other local students are now also set to get their GCSE results on Thursday and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish them all the very best of luck.
Back at my desk on Monday it was straight into meetings – and a very important one with Chris Hamilton, Chairman of the Roughyeds.
In a case not dissimilar to Oldham Athletic, this club has been battling against the odds to secure a permanent base in the Borough for nigh on 14 years.
We’ve had an agreement in place for some time for them to become tenants at the Whitebank Stadium but had to wait some time for a very complex land deal to be negotiated on the site.
I’m delighted to say that work is now complete. Chris and I had a very positive meeting and we’re now able to sign an agreement in the coming days which will confirm their tenure and enable them to finally plan ahead with confidence.
Our Borough is a Rugby League hotbed with the Roughyeds and local amateur clubs having produced an impressive conveyor belt of some of the sport’s brightest talents.
I sincerely hope this enables them to now start making the long-term plans needed that will one day return this club to a level that befits its dazzling history.
Onto other matters now and – in the coming weeks and months – work will be gathering serious pace on devolving power, influence and budgets down to your neighbourhoods.
On arriving in this role I promised it was a top priority for this administration to invest more – and do it smarter – in your local areas. That means handing back increased power to new town halls that are better responsive to residents’ aspirations, and also offer stronger and more visible civic leadership.
You will soon be seeing physical action on this front with – for example – the opening of the newly-refurbished Failsworth Town Hall in the middle of next month, but what is also key to this agenda is the next round of District Partnership meetings in September.
As part of our Emergency Budget we made improvements to DP budgets to cut red tape and allow them to bid for funding for much larger-scale projects than was previously possible.
I’d urge all residents reading this to have a think about what is a top priority where you live. Councillors certainly don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, so please attend the meetings or contact your local members with your thoughts. This is Council Taxpayers’ money being spent in your district and your voice should be heard as loudly as everyone else.
I want to end today by saying something about our heritage as a Borough.
I believe Oldham Council is spreading itself too thinly and trying to do too much on increasingly limited resources.
There are some fantastic buildings around but if our local heritage is to genuinely have a sustainable future then we need to cut the number of properties that we are maintaining as a Local Authority.
The former Town Hall has got to the state that it has, for example, because it is one of about 200 that the Council owns and maintains.
Of that huge estate it is also one of about 60 buildings that are vacant and costing us lots of money to keep safe, monitor and secure. That money could be much better spent on safeguarding frontline services.
It’s my belief that each district now needs to look at this issue and start identifying which one or two key buildings it has that are genuinely iconic. We should then prioritise the funding to ensured these are maintained properly to make them genuine ‘jewels in the crown’ for their area and a source of civic pride.
With the budget challenges that we are likely to face over the next generation, the idea of us keeping an estate with hundreds of properties – many being under-used or lying vacant – can no longer be justified.
Thanks for listening,