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,