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,