Oldham Council needs YOU

 

USE YOUR VOTE: In democracy, it’s your vote that really counts – and apathy is no good to anyone. Make sure your voice is heard.

THIS WILL be my final ‘Leader’s Blog’ before the Local Elections that are taking place on May 3.

It seems a fitting point then to reflect a little on what’s happened since my first-ever blog last June: a whopping 41 posts ago(!).

My first musings came just a few days after officially taking the reigns at the Civic Centre, and that almost feels life a lifetime ago already.

The pace of change feels like it’s been continually cranking up each month since then and – in fact – has got to a point where the last few weeks have felt like something of a madcap blur.

I reflect too that, upon taking control of Oldham Council, I had set myself two key goals. Those haven’t changed.

The first was to take whatever action possible, working co-operatively with partners, to stimulate the creation of jobs, new opportunities and regeneration.

My starting point in all this was a belief that strong leadership, allied to good groundwork from officers, can breed stability, which then builds confidence and civic pride.

Regeneration was always going to be a tricky task given the national economic context – and at the same time there’s been no easy way around making some very tough budget decisions – but I do think foundations are starting to bear fruit on this front.

Deals, for example, to deliver the Hotel Future project in the town centre, new development schemes for Hollinwood, Royton, and the old Town Hall, plus initiatives like our recent Invest in Oldham pitch to investors, the ‘Get Oldham Working’ campaign – and getting work underway on 1,200 new homes – are all parts of a huge Borough-wide jigsaw.

In recent weeks I’ve also been taking the Council’s key messages on this agenda out to the wider business and investor community and have been reassured by what I’ve heard.

That kind of audience can bring unique demands of its own, yet I can honestly report their mood is far more upbeat about the Borough’s future than you would probably expect given the current national economic climate.

The other main target I set coming into office was – as stated in that first-ever blog – to tackle the “serious disconnect between Oldham Council and local residents”.

We’ve started to do that by trying to re-engage with people and have been leading the national agenda in recent times on this.

Measures like streaming Full Council live on the Internet, and letting people submit questions via Twiter and Facebook, plus this blog (with 17,000 visitors to date) are all part of that wider process of ‘opening up’ to try and regain your trust.

Equally important has been the moves to devolve power and budgets back to local neighbourhoods with new district Town Halls, and to offer training to enable Ward Members to step up and become more active and effective leaders in their communities.

We’re delivering on that agenda, but I know this is only a start.

Oldham Council won the ‘Most Improved Council’ 2012 title at the Local Government Chronicle Awards last week, but I don’t kid myself that means we have somehow finally ‘made it’ as an Authority by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s important to say that the award wasn’t about chasing a pointless ‘gong’ and that recognition from your peers is, clearly, a very good thing.

I do also genuinely believe that this was deserved recognition for the incredibly hard work of staff across all levels to achieve positive change in recent years – a process that was already underway before I first sat down in this chair.

But equally I know that, whilst Local Government circles may admire our intentions and deeds, it still remains our biggest challenge to convince our own residents about that. And it’s going to be a long journey.

You can’t ‘reconnect’ with alienated residents inside a few months, and it’s more likely (even with a huge concerted effort) to take between five and ten years to achieve it.

I also know the bottom line is that trust in politicians and institutions depends on results – so we really must deliver what we’re aspiring to do here for the Borough.

For now at least this must be my final blog now before the period known as ‘Purdah’ – the six-week period before polling day – gets underway.

I’ve decided to temporarily suspend this blog during that time. Although this facility is hosted independently of the Council, I’ve been writing it purely from my standpoint as a Council Leader and it would – probably rightly – be challenged if I continued to update it during an election period.

And I’m not, of course, going to close today by even daring to suggest which candidate or party you should vote for on May 3.

But I would make one final plea. Please ensure that you get out and use your vote.

In democracy, it’s your vote that really counts – and apathy is no good to anyone.

If you don’t think you are registered to vote – or want to check – then please have a look at www.oldham.gov.uk/elections for further information.

Just make sure your voice is heard.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

High stakes for Oldham

INVEST IN OLDHAM: Councillor McMahon unveiling Hotel Future with Charlie Parker, Chief Executive, and Stephen Miles, Chair of Manchester Hoteliers Association
INVEST In Oldham: Councillor McMahon unveiling Hotel Future with Charlie Parker, Chief Executive, and Stephen Miles, Chair of Manchester Hoteliers Association

MONDAY was a big night as we launched ‘Invest in Oldham’.

The venue where we chose to pitch our new opportunities and mindset to potential investors was Gallery Oldham.

This is a stunning and aspirational space – but we were very clear this event couldn’t be about ‘style over substance’.

I’ve been asked why we gathered potential investors together in one room and addressed them in this manner. The answer is that this was about making a very clear statement of intent.

I wanted them all to leave with one clear and unequivocal message: Oldham means business.

There are lots of Local Authorities up and down the country who’ve had their budgets cut and are focused purely on coping with that – and there are also many people who say Oldham will take a decade to recover from this recession.

My response to that is: Not if I have anything to do with it.

I explained to the audience that we’re now a Council that is driven. One that is fixated on creating jobs and opportunities – and one that you can approach with confidence.

I now have people ringing me at all hours to talk about real projects and how to deliver them – and that’s because they know I’ll guarantee them my personal time and commitment.

We’re also working hard to ensure that attitude permeates across the organisation – from myself and Charlie Parker, the Chief Executive – and through to officers you might call in Planning, Regeneration or Environmental Health for assistance.

That’s because we know that a ‘will do’ approach is the only way we can regain trust, build successful new partnerships and move this Borough forward.

We also have the assets needed to deliver here, and that’s not just about Metrolink’s arrival: even though it can unlock fantastic new opportunities.

Oldham has a prime location with excellent transport links – we’re just five miles from Manchester City Centre and are the gateway to Leeds with access to a potential domestic market of eight million people.

We’ve got great people. Our 219,000 population is bucking the national trend with a growing proportion of younger people, and employers have access to a skilled future workforce: including the 9,000 students who are in Oldham town centre each day.

We’re also now building great infrastructure. We’ve a range of key sites that are ‘shovel ready’: premises and land to suit all business from start-ups and managed workspace to established commercial areas to bespoke commercial opportunities, like Hollinwood.

And we also have some great businesses – more than 5,000 of them – spanning a range of key sectors and boasting national and international brands in advanced manufacturing, construction, retail, financial and professional services.

As a Cooperative Council we know we can’t just sit here and ride things out, hoping for the best. When we see a solution we need to make quick decisions and take action, and that means cutting out the red-tape.

Frankly, the experiences some people have had contacting Oldham Council were not good and some often felt obstacles were being put in place to hold them back.

But if you find bureaucracy stopping you do business here now, we want to know about it – and will act to remove it.

We weren’t in the right place to do this before because the organisation had other priorities – like getting its financial act in order – and it wasn’t changing fast enough.

But the definition of insanity is to simply do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. And that’s why we’ve changed.

The challenge for us now is to get the whole community – business and residents alike – to back the place and this vision.

Oldham’s got a proud history of driving change. Those townsfolk who marched from here to Peterloo eventually secured their right to vote, for example, and Ferranti’s used to build the components of the very first computers right here.

But when things were relatively good economically speaking in the 1990s and the early years of this century, Oldham didn’t prosper as it should have.

In fact, in that time, we actually lost about 2,000 private sector jobs – many of which were, in turn, simply replaced with new public sector posts.

In 2012, I’m not daft enough to sit here and imagine the public sector will ever expand like that again. Nor would it be right to do so.

So the only alternative is for us to think differently.

The only alternative is for us to seek to forge brave new ventures – like Hotel Future – with partners who share our taste for progress.

That’s why we need to promote that ‘Invest in Oldham’ vision wider and ensure potential investors get the messages they need to hear.

These are high stakes. But Oldham expects – and the times demand action.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Oldham means business

FUTURE VISION: We have taken the difficult but essential decision to reduce service budgets to create an economic job creation fund.
FUTURE VISION: We have taken the difficult but essential decision to reduce service budgets to create an economic job creation fund.

I’VE SPENT a lot of time in the last few days talking to local businesspeople.

I had a networking meeting at Fresca in Delph, which is an excellent new venue, plus a meeting with the Oldham Business Leadership Group.

On Friday evening I then had the pleasure of attending the Oldham Chronicle’s ‘One Business Awards’ event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

I was asked to speak that evening and – not having prepared anything beforehand – decided to do it off the cuff.

Not having a script can sometimes be a blessing because I pretty much knew what I wanted to say.

I did, of course, make mention of some of our recent announcements about the Oldham Mortgage, for example, and regeneration activity with Hotel Future, the Old Town Hall, and our agreement with Dransfields in Royton.

But primarily I wanted to talk about how we move the Borough forward – and the respective parts we all have to play.

The jist of my approach is that together we’re creating the future story of our Borough in all that we do, but that each of us has a key role. If all the components don’t focus on the same outcomes then we will fail.

I likened this to a game most people would have played at school as a child – one where you make a sentence together, but each person only gets to say one word of it.

If you’ve played it, you’ll probably recall that the direction of the sentence can sway one way and the other right up until the final word.

The sentence can also be sailing along towards a particular type of tale until suddenly the final word or two make the final outcome totally unexpected.

That’s a metaphor for Oldham. We all play parts in this chain and if one goes awry then the good intent of everyone can be lost.

I firmly believe we all have roles to play here as ambassadors – not just business people and Council employees, but also as residents – for our Borough.

Together we are writing the narrative of our future and its success depends on positive input from each and every one of us.

That’s why I believe it’s time for people to stop talking Oldham down and being negative.

It just doesn’t make sense at all to me why some people almost seem to take a perverse delight in being negative about the very place that they have chosen to live in, work, invest and raise their families.

Knocking the place is self-defeating because – if you’re doing it – how can you seriously expect it to improve?

A key component to rebuilding Oldham’s economy, for example, is for us to attract inward investment. But if, for example, you’re a potential investor who is picked up at Manchester Airport by a taxi driver who slams the place during the journey – or you are greeted by somebody with the ‘it’ll never happen’ mentality – then what can we reasonably expect the end result to be? And can we really be surprised?

If we could bottle up that negative energy and instead translate it into ambition and aspiration, then just think what we might be able to start achieving together.

For that to happen, of course, I fully recognise that Oldham Council needs to step up and show civic leadership that achieves tangible outcomes, not empty promises.

By delivering schemes like Hotel Future and others shortly due to be announced, we must show how working Cooperatively with a range of partners can deliver real change. And that means new jobs.

Whilst an iconic hotel or a cinema venue would be nice things to have in our town centre, the new training and employment opportunities are even more important in my book.

Helping people back into work is now my key focus because I know that gainful employment is the bottom line to most folk.

Getting a job and a new opportunity gives people their pride back and enables them to aspire again for their families.

The knock-on effect from that is we also know that proud people make the best citizens – and they are the foundation stone of good communities.

It’s easy to get caught up in the national ‘doom and gloom’ amidst a recession, but I’m determined we have to buck that trend here.

Oldham is going to have many positive things to say in the coming months that will give people new hope.

But at the same time it also needs to look to the future to start fulfilling its potential and – in that process – our mindset as a Borough will be key.

Thanks for listening,

Jim