WE HAD a number of things which set alarm bells ringing at last week’s Full Council meeting.
The first, of course, was the unplanned activation of the security system which protects the Borough’s silverware cases – often referred to as the family silver.
A recent upgrade of security lead to the installation of vibration-activated smoke machines which flood the chamber and reception area with thick smoke in around three seconds.
Whilst this was an impressive and reassuring demonstration it caused a delay of almost an hour before the meeting could resume after the building had been cleared.
The second cause for alarm was – thankfully – planned. As part of our move to modernise Oldham Council and its ageing constitution (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the detail) we’ve made a series of changes to allow ward councillors the opportunity to raise concerns.
For example, we’ve introduced a leader and cabinet question time so that the opposition can hold us to account in a meaningful way – and we’ve opened up Full Council meetings to the public through web streaming and live question feeds via social media.
One member questioned these changes saying it ‘challenged custom and practice’. My response is simple – great!
The next natural step in this process was to enshrine the role of Oldham Youth Council in our constitution so that it can have a more direct influence on the council.
With immediate effect the role of the Youth Mayor is now a formally recognised civic position and, importantly, now supported in its work by the Mayor’s Office.
Secondly, the Youth Council now also has a constitutional right to present motions and reports to Full Council, giving them real control of the debate and providing direct influence over decision-making. Last week’s meeting was also the first since tragedy hit the people of the Shaw.
As prayers were said for the family of Jamie Heaton it was for many of us the first time the scale of the loss actually hit home. Being so frantically busy trying to help and support local people in so many ways served as a distraction from the real pain and suffering.
On the day of this incident Councillor Jean Stretton and I walked the inner cordon within metres of the homes which had fallen just hours earlier.
We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t admit that it has been emotionally challenging and draining to see the heart of a community hit so hard.
What we must continue to do now is support those in most need. As a Council I am proud of how we stepped up when people needed us, but I also know that some feel we could have done more.
Perhaps hindsight is a wonderful thing at times like this, but I can say with full heart that we moved mountains to help, threw out the rulebook and for once enabled the Council to be human and caring.
If that meant some things didn’t go quite as well as they could in an ideal world, I still think what was better than to have pulled down the shutters and defaulted to being a distant uncaring bureaucracy.
For the people of Shaw – and those who will be affected for many months to come – we’re here to help. And if you feel as though we should do more, then work with us and talk to us about it.
This week is a dark one for our Borough as family and friends of two-year-old Jamie Heaton send their little man to rest on Thursday.
Our thoughts are with you all.
Thanks for listening.