I RECENTLY attended the annual Local Government Association Conference.
This event is always a good opportunity to meet some leading lights, hear new ideas and discuss the burning issues of the day.
The main issue focusing minds was, of course, the scale of budget cuts to local government.
There was also a stark warning that should reductions continue at the same rate then – by 2020 – councils will just about have enough money to look after the elderly and vulnerable adults and do not a great deal else.
Soon the cries that folk are paying so much Council Tax to get their bins emptied will be replaced with a more deep-seated anger that they are being short changed.
The harsh truth is though that local government and – by extension local residents – have new realities to deal with.
The frontline services that people rely on and value are clearly going to be affected.
That means the weak-sounding “We’ll do more for less” mantra that you often hear as local politicians try and manage the impact of cuts will ultimately have to be replaced with a more honest assessment of “Less for much less”.
If Councils were only responsible for service delivery that would be bad enough, but the truth is that battening down the hatch and hoping the worst will blow over leaves a gaping hole – in the local economy.
Here in Oldham we’ve been hit massively by the budget reductions and, in my view, also by the lack of a coherent national economic strategy.
But I am also determined that Oldham Council is not in the business of just managing decline. What is the point of that?
We are about improving the social and economic wellbeing of our residents – and to deliver on that we must step up and accept that the tough decisions just got tougher.
In Oldham we know we cannot afford to wait for Government to change course: estimates are that by 2020 a further 4,000 people will be unemployed if current trends continue.
So, we have taken the difficult but essential decision to reduce service budgets further in order to create an economic job creation fund that can directly boost regeneration and get people back into work.
We have begun to see the benefits of this approach already.
For example, we’ve had the relocation of a major engineering company – Monopumps – with the potential to create a further 500 jobs. We’ve also had signed up a high-end national hospitality training hotel and conference centre – Hotel Future – to come to town, creating 120 jobs and 120 apprenticeships.
In doing this we not only give people valuable job opportunities but also quicken the pace of regeneration for our Borough.
New plans for the Old Town Hall and cultural quarter will also soon go to the Planning Committee after a resounding 91 per cent of more than 500 respondents indicated they were in favour of the scheme.
We will also be bring forward ambitious plans to transform Union Street and to bring back historic statues into the town centre, such as John Platt and Blind Joe, and I’d love to hear if local people support this.
It is my firm belief that we have to turn our heritage around from being symbols of decline and into something we can be proud of.
Ultimately – regardless of where we come from, our race, our religion or age or mindset – the one thing that unites us all is the Borough of Oldham, so let’s celebrate it and get working together to improve it.
Thanks for listening,