MY THOUGHTS are dominated at present by next year’s Budget challenge and possible job losses at Oldham Council.
You’ll no doubt have read the stories in the press this week that up to 400 posts could go: and nobody enjoys reading those less than myself.
No Leader, of whatever political persuasion, ever wants to have to take steps like these but the simple truth is that the grant settlement from Government leaves us – like every other Local Authority nationwide – facing tough decisions that we cannot shy away from. Staying the same is not an option.
We are a long way yet from making any final decisions and a 90-day consultation period is now underway with our staff and Trade Unions.
I am determined that during this process we must stay true to our values and objectives – and ensure that cuts are made in non-priority areas.
We must also keep our staff fully informed and listen to their good ideas about shredding bureaucracy and unnecessary work. That is the only way that we can protect the frontline services and reduce waste.
This is a financial tightrope – and not an easy one to walk – but as a Council we also have to be mindful that we do far more than just emptying bins.
We have a crucial strategic role to fulfil that ensures we can attract future investment into the Borough.
To do that we need to have the capital funding available for ‘big ticket’ projects to get things moving forward, and we must therefore strike a balance that also allows us to continue investing in these clear priority areas for the future.
A good example of an excellent regeneration scheme is the Regional Science Centre Oldham – our partnership venture with Oldham Sixth Form College – which opened its doors for the very first lessons last week.
I paid a visit to Kings Point last Wednesday and had a fantastic discussion with staff – and some student ambassadors. Many had chosen to come to Oldham from Ashton, Rochdale and Manchester.
No doubt they were attracted by what are clearly first-class facilities, but they also came here because of the reputation of our Borough for science results, and the RSCO’s aspirations.
It was inspiring to hear young people striving to become the scientists, dentists and doctors of the future who have chosen to come here to Oldham to do it.
My whistle-stop diary continued the next day with a ‘back to the floor’ visit to see the Unity-run call centre in Rochdale in action for myself.
Staff here were transferred from Oldham last year and I was keen to see their working environment and learn more about the day-to-day nature of their work.
I have to say that I was very impressed by what I saw. This is a team dealing with around 9,500 calls a week (!) and clearly boasts very dedicated, enthusiastic and experienced staff.
The queries they deal with cover an incredibly wide range from bins not being collected to complex benefits claims.
It was a pleasure to talk with staff and listen to their ideas – and particularly reassuring to hear they do follow-up calls with residents to ensure their issues have been resolved.
My travels around the Borough continued last night as I attended a meeting of the Greenfield and Grasscroft Residents’ Association to discuss our plans for a Co-operative Council with residents.
This was just the start of an ongoing series of discussions I want to have across the districts and was a very positive event. I was given a warm welcome, and thought the level of debate was excellent.
For many years communities like these have been challenging us to listen more. And, for me, the most important thing is that Oldham Council starts becoming an ‘enabler’ of things rather than being seen as a dead-handed bureaucracy.
There were a lot of residents telling me what we had not done – or where we had gone wrong in the past. I am asking for a clean slate looking forward and that can only work if there are no ‘hangovers’ from the past – on all sides.
Some people at the meeting were definitely enthused by this and some, clearly, will remain sceptical at least for now.
I’m conscious that it’s my job to convince them all that we mean business. I’m also confident that some people who were present will come back with some really good ideas.
For this to work it has to be a two-way process we all participate in – listening and contributing – so I look forward to hearing what they come up with.
Finally, tonight sees a meeting of Full Council and one that will, no doubt, see at least a temporary outbreak of unanimity across all party benches as we confer the title of Honorary Alderman on two former Mayors.
David Jones and Christine Wheeler are outstanding examples of people who have made a significant contribution to the Borough through public service.
David’s passion was for education and he was instrumental in leading the opening of Oldham Sixth Form College, which is now one of the country’s leading Further Education establishments.
Through her work as a nurse, and as a Ward Member, Christine has always helped people and her work on the Adoption Panel has seen hundreds of children benefit by settling into suitable families.
I’ve talked in past blog postings about the need for all Ward Members to become respected community leaders. David and Christine are excellent examples of exactly what that means.
Both have shown the kind of dedication and leadership that should be a role model for all elected members to aspire to emulate.
Thanks for listening,