Co-operative working in business and leisure

Visit to Trinity Mirror
IMPRESSED: Councillor McMahon with Councillor Dave Hibbert inspecting the Trinity Mirror printing plant

I PAID an interesting visit to the Trinity Mirror Printing plant in Hollinwood last week.

This site is home to the northern hub of the print services arm of Trinity Mirror – the UK’s largest newspaper publisher.

The growth of the business at that site has been phenomenal in recent years and is a real Oldham success story.

The facility is now the base for an impressive array of national and regional titles that includes the Daily and Sunday Mirror, The People, the Manchester Evening News and its associated titles, and the Oldham Chronicle to name just a few.

I was invited – alongside Dave Hibbert, our Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Regeneration – to see the operation for ourselves and it proved an extremely useful trip.

The overriding impression we got was of a hugely-professional and focussed organisation at work, but I must confess it was also completely different to what I expected.

I imagined beforehand that we’d be visiting an extremely noisy and dirty environment full of frantic people running hither and hither, but that certainly wasn’t the case.

What we actually experienced was a huge warehouse full of automated vehicles that drove themselves around. Steel rods in the floor directed them with information on where to go, what to move – and to where – and what to do next: all driven by mind-blowing technology.

It was a hugely impressive sight to see in action but, I must admit, it also felt somewhat spooky.

Cutting-edge technology is, of course, essential to keep Trinity Mirror competitive in the national marketplace. You have to keep apace with that just to ensure that you remain in business.

But there are also around 500 staff working from this site in various capacities, ranging from their huge distribution networks of drivers and vans to those overseeing the manual addition of advertisement insertions into newspapers before they begin to be sent out.

Whilst at Trinity Mirror we also spoke with key personnel who were keen to learn more about our Co-operative vision for the Borough.

Our challenge as a Council now is to get out and about more to sites like this – and communities – to outline that.

We need to explain what it means to them and their areas because I have always believed that many of the best Co-operative schemes will be organic – i.e. ones that residents and businesses innovate and come up with themselves to tackle what they identify as a local priority.

Although it’s early days, Trinity Mirror did indicate that they were interested in finding out more about what they can do – potentially with staff joining in some of the volunteering schemes that we have planned – and we certainly welcome the opportunity to discuss that further.

We also talked about how they and other businesses in the area can help each other through mutually beneficially schemes – like staff discounts – that can help the local economy.

A key driver to that Co-operative vision is about leadership. It’s about ‘doing our bit’ to help local organisations prosper – and a good example of that is our partnership with the Oldham Coliseum.

This week the theatre is closing the doors at Fairbottom Street for the first time in 125 years to undertake extensive – and crucial – repair works.

As a Council we’ve committed to assisting the Coliseum with a grant to fund these works – and with the greater part of that sum being kept aside to help realise their vision of a new permanent home in the town centre.

It’s vital that these repair works costs are kept as low as possible because every extra pound spent on this will impact on what they have left to fund a new development.

Both ourselves and the Coliseum are in total agreement that we cannot simply sit on our hands and wait for an economic recovery to deliver funding opportunities for a new venue.

Our joint aspiration is for this to be in the town centre where it will be absolutely central to our plans to shift the ‘cultural offer’ there towards more family-friendly and leisure-oriented activities.

The Coliseum Theatre will now be temporarily housed at Grange Arts Centre, Rochdale Road, until it can reopen back at Fairbottom Street in September. 

I’d urge residents to keep supporting the theatre in its temporary venue as the entertainment line-up on offer will continue to be just as varied – and excellent – as ever.

I’m again meeting Coliseum officials later this week to discuss that long-term vision and ensure they finally get the kind of bespoke modern facility that it has long-deserved.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Leadership in today’s economy

Councillor Jim McMahon
ECONOMY: Councillor McMahon believes investment by Local Authorities must be focussed on job creation and schemes that can attract additional inward investment.

AS SEVERAL EU countries, including France, see their credit rating downgraded it does focus the mind again on economic matters – and in particular here in Oldham.

Expert assessments are that it will take until 2032 – that’s another 20 years – to return to our 2008 economic position.

The problem with that for Oldham is twofold.

Firstly, 2008 might have been better for us – but it still wasn’t great.

Secondly, waiting another 20 years just to be back at a standstill simply won’t move our Borough forward.

In that context the challenge for all Council leaders is to understand their local economy, understand the national direction and assess the UK’s position in the global economy – not an easy task.

We can learn a lot from the last decade.

At a time when the rest of the UK was growing significantly Oldham stood still.

Worse still, when you unpick our numbers, it tells a tale of private sector decline and public sector boom with roughly the same numbers of private sector jobs lost here as were created in the public sector.

That’s all well and good but we’re also now experiencing massive public sector cuts that affect the Local Authority, NHS, Police and Fire services to name but a few. A rapid increase in public sector jobs simply isn’t going to happen.

As political leaders we naturally also might become more cautious about embarking on ‘big ticket’ projects when finances are tight. But at the same time, our aspirations for the future of the Borough shouldn’t diminish. Our challenge is to marry these two instincts and get the big decisions right.

Even when times are tough there’s usually some money to invest, but clearly less. It’s therefore vital we focus on any investment on job creation and schemes that will attract inward investment.

We must also be clear that at times it is not best for us as a Council to deliver development. What we can do though is provide leadership, corral resources and ensure any effort or investment is used to the best effect.

We must also accept that although we aspire for and demand high-quality jobs, for many people ‘a job is a job’ and we shouldn’t be snobbish about new jobs being created. Clearly there needs to be a mix.

We should also recognise that growth might not now necessarily mean a shiny new building: it might mean using what facilities we already have in a better way.

We also need to recognise that the type of jobs available is changing across the UK, which also competes in a global market. Science, new technologies and creative industries will grow, but not at the rate needed in Oldham – so what else is going to help us expand?

Investing in education has paid dividends for Oldham and this surely cannot be faulted. We have an outstanding College and Sixth Form, for example. We are also home to a University Centre and schools that are improving across the board. These factors will undoubtedly assist in attracting investment in higher skilled jobs in the future.

As a Council we also have a large land bank which we can release for investment. This might be for housing or commercial properties and without a doubt will make an investor look at Oldham with interest.

Improving our infrastructure – to which Metrolink is central with routes to Manchester Airport and Media City – will also aid recovery, as will pursuing an investment strategy that is focused on job creation.

We must ensure too that when we talk about development plans they are real opportunities. For instance, if we say we have a development site, it has to be just that: not simply a vacant piece of land. Planning permissions, other formal permissions and associated infrastructure should be in place now so that any would-be investor can get going straight away.

Ultimately the recovery will be private sector-led. We can’t fight against the way in which Government funding and policy leans towards that, and nor should we.

But that also does not mean the private sector will simply ‘sort it’ for Oldham.

For us to defy the critics and prove we can do better than 20 years of drag we have to show clear leadership and – most importantly – provide real opportunities for growth; not just warm words and artists’ impressions.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Heritage and heroics

Park Road Warehouse
DEMOLITION: The Park Road Warehouse had to demolished last week after an inspection found the building to be in imminent danger of collapse.

I’VE GOT mixed feelings about the demolition of the Park Road Warehouse last weekend.

As a keen amateur local historian, I’m more inclined than most to preserve our heritage. But I also recognise that years of decline have taken their toll and with the best will in the world some buildings are beyond rescue.

I also accept that – whilst people like me might look at our older buildings and see history – for those living side by side with them they can be symbols of decline.

The fact that a Borough which was once home to more than 360 mills has such a smaller number today is evidence that, whilst some can find a modern use, the world has moved on.

As the former cotton spinning capital of the world we have a large legacy of these mill and warehouse buildings.

That’s left our Borough – according to Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge, so it must be true!) – with more Grade II listed structures in our boundaries than any other Greater Manchester authority (excluding the City of Manchester). That’s 524 to be precise.

The days of a textile magnate building a mill and nestling homes around it to keep an eye on his workforce are long gone.

People no longer need nor desire to live and work in this type of arrangement. They no longer work en masse in mills at the end of their streets and they also don’t crave to live in an industrialised setting.

There are some mills in the Borough, like Earl Mill and Anchor Mill, and Albert Street near my own home where historically we’ve been able to find a new use for them that has justified investment. But that doesn’t mean that every mill here should – or can – be saved.

The Council has often inherited buildings, or become the ‘buyer of last resort’ which would have made sense at the time, but this has left us with a large number of buildings which take their toll on the Oldham taxpayer.

We have to be more realistic about the economic climate we operate in and that means we must only prioritise investment where it will definitely make a significant and tangible improvement to people’s lives. Either we accept a large number of substandard buildings – or we concentrate on the very best.

Even with the loss of Park Road Warehouse we still have the old Town Hall, former Library, Foxdenton Hall and other civic buildings such as Royton Town Hall amongst those which require priority investment to ensure they have a long term future.

Failsworth Town Hall has shown what can be achieved with focused investment and we now need to move to ensure we have flagship buildings which show Oldham’s heritage in the best possible light.

Oldham AthleticOn a totally unrelated topic I must say I was delighted to be amongst more than 6,000 locals who travelled to Anfield on Friday night to see Latics take on Liverpool in the FA Cup.

I will preface my remarks here by pointing out that I’m not claiming to be a diehard supporter. In fact, as anyone who knows me will confirm, my knowledge of football would take about ten seconds to explain.

But whether you are an Oldham Athletic fan or not, you cannot deny that the town’s professional football club is a hugely important part of our Borough’s wider cultural offer.

I hugely enjoyed the experience – probably much more than I expected to – and I thought Latics and their supporters were a credit to the town.

The players refused to be daunted by their task and took the game to Liverpool with a confidence and spirit you simply had to admire. The general consensus was they matched their hosts for an hour or so and the gulf in class – even to my untrained eyes – was certainly not glaring.

It was just a fantastic occasion and the main thing I will remember about it was the amazing atmosphere whipped up by Oldham fans.

This was the first time I’ve seen local people shouting in such voice and numbers with obvious pride about where they come from – and it was heart-warming to see and hear “We love you Oldham” being sung out.

It’s fair to say that when we announced Oldham Council’s proposed deal to keep Oldham Athletic in the Borough and redevelop Boundary Park last August not everyone was supportive – but Friday night showed me two things…

Firstly, Anfield demonstrated how vital a good stadium and infrastructure is to helping a club flourish and maximise its revenue streams.

Secondly, it showed me just how Oldham Athletic helps to put our Borough on the national map in a positive way – and provides a real feelgood factor for the local area.

Good luck to them against Chesterfield later this month. Here’s hoping they can secure a trip to Wembley for the JPT Trophy Final – and another memorable occasion, and perhaps with a better result.

Thanks for listening,

Jim