I FELT a sense of utter disbelief upon learning about the tragic death of Nellie Geraghty in Shaw last week.
The callous mugging that led to this great-grandmother losing her life has stunned everyone across the Borough.
My heartfelt condolences go out to her family and friends at what must be an unbearably distressing and sad time.
This terrible kind of event often makes you instinctively think about your own family and loved ones.
It just doesn’t bear thinking about that it could have been your own grandmother who might have just been innocently going about her own business that day, at that time, on that street.
Another natural reaction to tragic news like this is also often to try and find some reason or logic behind it – to attempt to explain what happened. But in this case that’s simply a waste of effort.
This was clearly a selfish, senseless criminal act that could only have been carried out by someone detached from society.
Incidents like this are, thankfully, rare but I also understand that the sense of shock and vulnerability will affect the local area for some time.
What Shaw does have though is a close-knit community and it has been heart-warming to see local people rallying round quickly to assist the family in whatever way they can.
I only now hope that whoever is responsible for this act is swiftly brought to justice – and that the missing ashes of Mrs Geraghty’s late husband, Frank, are returned to the family as soon as possible.
TODAY will see nationwide industrial action that will potentially affect a range of public services across the Borough.
This is, of course, a national strike and Oldham Council will – like every other Local Authority across the country – be affected to some degree.
This is about staff exercising their right to strike in the face of proposed reforms to their pensions.
Clearly both sides of the fence have well-established viewpoints that you will be reading and hearing about in the media coverage.
It’s a genuine shame that the people who will really lose out as a result of the industrial action are ordinary residents who rely on public services day-to-day. Some, for example, will have to take today off or find alternative childcare because a local school has had to close.
That’s clearly not ideal but, at the same time, public sector employees do have every right to take this action and their decision must be respected.
I do also think that in the midst of the ‘noise’ ahead of the strike it’s been disappointing that many of the real issues haven’t had closer examination.
As an example I’ve not seen it widely reported that the median average public sector pension for women is actually just £4,000: the vast majority of them are part-time workers at the bottom end of the pay-scales.
The notion chucked around that public sector pensions are ‘gold plated’ is also a very one-sided view. The starkest inequalities actually exist in the private sector where highly-paid executives get the real ‘gold plated’ pensions and other workers get a comparatively raw deal.
I’m not trying to make any political point here, but it does seem to me that in the heat of this debate some of the more salient facts are not being fully debated and some misleading assumptions peddled as ‘fact’, which is disappointing.
What is for certain about today’s action though is that it will serve to remind people how vital many public sector services are to their daily lives.
People will take their own viewpoint on whether the strike is justified or not, but the reality is that – even in 2011 – the ultimate power a worker has is to withdraw their labour.
Whilst that decision will adversely impact on many people for one day, I still firmly believe that the right to strike is an important sanction that should remain open to those who wish to take a stand.
Finally, I’d like to end on a more positive today with some good news – the return of the Beer Festival to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2012.
I realise many people were disappointed by the recent decision of event organisers to cancel the Saddleworth Beer Walk for 2012, but this is a very different kind of experience.
This is a static event that doesn’t require huge marshalling and policing to enable it to proceed as it will all take place under one roof.
It attracts a very different set of people, an unusual demographic if you like, into the town centre – often from very far afield.
I know there will be some who disapprove of such events but I do think there’s a certain element of cultural ‘snobbishness’ in some attitudes to this kind of thing.
If real ale isn’t your ‘bag’ that’s fine – it’s not particularly mine either – but the Beer Festival event is an important part of our cultural calendar.
It doesn’t just raise glasses, it raises important funds for charities and also helps to boost our town centre’s trade and profile.
Thanks for listening,