ECONOMIC concerns are again driving this week’s headlines and deadlines.
The cut in the UK growth forecast to just 1.1 per cent for 2011 is just the latest reminder, as if one were needed, of the challenges that all of us are facing.
Everyone across our Borough – residents, staff and businesses alike – are looking over their shoulders and trying to protect their bottom line.
For most people that means constantly monitoring mortgages, pensions, savings, income and bills – and looking at how to cut costs with the minimum impact on your welfare.
The challenge is exactly the same for Oldham Council.
Our balancing act is to find £24 million in savings from next year’s budget whilst continuing to invest in priority areas for residents, plan for the future and protect the frontline services that you depend upon.
This week we’ve launched our consultation exercise with the public to discuss exactly how we can achieve this.
Oldham Council’s challenges are the same as every other Authority – to wrestle with becoming a leaner organisation that will have to work very differently – and we simply can’t sit here with our fingers in our ears wishing the problems will go away.
It would also be unforgivably arrogant for us to assume that our management team and Councillors have a monopoly on good ideas or common sense – and that’s where you come in.
I’d urge everyone reading this to please take five minutes of your time to visit the new Budget Consultation pages at www.oldham.gov.uk/budgetand give us your feedback. This explains our income sources and where we are currently spending every penny of your money.
The Council administers this budget on your behalf and that’s exactly why we need to make our final decisions based on what you tell us are your priorities, – and also what is not(!).
This cycle of finding savings and reducing spending is one that Oldham Council will continually be facing for many years. But as I told employees at last week’s Staff Conference, we must stay focussed and be positive about what this will mean. It needn’t all be doom and gloom…
As we look towards launching our vision of what becoming a Cooperative Council means for Oldham next month, I want staff to start embracing the opportunities to change for the better.
With more powers and budgets being devolved downwards, the staff we are redeploying to the six new district Town Halls will work closer than ever before with residents.
That means they will no longer be shackled by a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and therefore also means they should start to feel more empowered.
It’s surely going to be better for everyone if we enable staff to proactively change the ways they work with the people they’re serving – and if they’re finally liberated to find smarter solutions with less bureaucracy that better meet the differing priorities within each district.
I also explained to Council staff about our new commitment – as part of the Cooperative approach – to enable them to invest time back into the community.
We’re going to allow staff to take three days of paid leave annually to put something back into the local area to support groups and initiatives where their expertise can make a big difference. That might be someone in our finance team helping a local charity apply for grant funding or do their books, for example, or someone from our Environmental/Parks teams assisting them with a community garden, clean-up or allotment scheme.
Essentially, this is the spirit of what a Cooperative Borough should look like. Everybody working together – public sector, hand-in-hand with residents, plus the voluntary and private sectors – to achieve a common goal that improves the place.
I also want to put improved aspirations at the top of our agenda as an Authority.
My vision from here is that every apprentice starting work at Oldham Council should be able to aspire to climb all the way up to the top, and become Chief Executive.
In a generation’s time I would like to see the majority of senior management in the Council to have been produced from – and thereby be closer to needs and aspirations of – this Borough.
Another crucial part of this Cooperative jigsaw – beyond staff and residents – will be to make Ward Members more effective.
We recently held our first session with councillors of a new Local Leaders Programme, which aims to help them become more responsive and valued community figures.
There was a vastly differing mix of experiences and lengths of time served amongst all present at this event, but the ideas discussed were well received.
Across all the political parties it was very clear to me that our Ward Members do believe in the Borough, and that we need to do more to support them.
Giving them the powers and the budgets to do things that make a real difference in their area is key to the devolution agenda, but it’s not the whole answer.
Being a Councillor is not a profession – it’s a vocation and there is no defined ‘career path’ into it. That’s why we need to support and enable them all to perform better through appropriate training and development.
Finally today – on a very different tangent – I’m pleased to report that good progress is being made by Langtree, with whom Oldham Council recently signed a development agreement to revitalise Hollinwood.
Langtree has already moved quickly to appoint key personnel to make things happen and I’m looking forward next to seeing the architects’ Masterplan for the area.
Redeveloping the key sites in question here – alongside Metrolink’s arrival – can help us strengthen Hollinwood’s identity and secure its position it as a destination of regional importance.
Thanks for listening,