AS PART OF our drive to become a Cooperative Council we’re also gearing up to be a campaigning council.
This is about using our weight to fight on behalf of the people of Oldham on the issues that you say matter.
A number of campaigns are coming up and I’m excited by the potential for the Council to make a real difference for people on a range of issues from the cost of energy, to the growing presence of payday lenders and log book loan shops, to high street banks failing small businesses in our Borough.
The first campaign – recently endorsed by all political parties at Full Council – is our ‘Fares Fair’ campaign which seeks to end the unfairness in the high cost of public transport in the North East conurbation of Greater Manchester.
I invited Councillor Sean Fielding, Ward Member for Failsworth West, to pen a few words on this for me.
Sean introduced this motion to Council and explained the issues very eloquently, so it’s over him to explain more:
“Metrolink is now up and running providing a frequent and efficient link connecting Oldham to the wider Greater Manchester area.
Whilst this is certainly something to celebrate, it would be foolish of anybody to simply sit back and assume all of our public transport problems are now solved.
At Full Council I proposed a motion calling on members to agree to lobby Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) to secure a better deal for bus fare paying passengers in Oldham.
Currently in Oldham there is one company – FirstBus – which has a near-monopoly on bus service provision.
The situation is much the same in Boroughs in the South of Greater Manchester, although their principal provider is Stagecoach, but the difference in costs to use the services of these two companies is stark.
Taking a weekly ticket as an example, First charges £18 for a week’s bus travel – Stagecoach charges just £12.
In this case then, Oldham bus passengers are paying 50 per cent more for travel than residents in the South of Manchester. How can that ever be described as fair?
This situation has arisen since the de-regulation of bus services outside Greater London in 1986.
This was 26 years ago – four years before I was even born – but I simply don’t accept that as a Council we can let this disparity in fares continue unabated for another quarter of a century.
At a time when many Oldhamers’ incomes are being squeezed in so many other ways, expensive bus travel is just another unwelcome and unfair burden.
This campaign is borne from our ambitions to become a Co-operative Council. Rather than being a Local Authority that just empties your bins and sprays your weeds, we want to be more relevant to residents’ lives by finding ways we can improve their lot. That’s not just because we have to, but because we can.
I believe that this campaign is a great example of that and hope that by working together we can improve public transport in a way that will have a big impact for many residents.”
I would echo everything that Sean says.
I’d also point out that when this story ran on the BBC website, FirstBus responded saying: “We have a standard fare structure across our whole Greater Manchester network and so our customers in Oldham pay the same as customers across the region.”
That might be true, but it simply doesn’t address the large discrepancy between FirstBus and Stagecoach fares, nor the lack of meaningful competition.
We’ll work constructively with FirstBus and other Councils on this campaign, but our stance is clear. Oldham residents deserve to access job opportunities across our region – and that means that the cost of public transport must be reasonable and fair.
If you have any suggestions or would like to have your say on this topic then please contact Sean Fielding direct via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Moving onto other matters, we met last week to discuss the implications of the budget settlement and the effect of the forthcoming Council Tax Benefit localisation scheme on our residents.
The poorest members of society face being hit hardest under these Government proposals, even though pensioners and those in receipt of single person discount are protected.
The 10 per cent cut in this money from Government isn’t actually 10 per cent when it filters down and those protected by Government are taken to one side. The reality actually is that this could be as much as a 30-45 per cent cut, or £400 a year to those who can least afford it. How can that be fair?
The scale of this challenge will also mean that it can not be business as usual for Local Authorities. By the end of this financial settlement, the Councils’ budget from government will have been cut in half.
Setting the budget for services going forward we must therefore decide whether we do a lot of things in average or slightly below average fashion – or whether we stop doing some things altogether to ensure that vital services are maintained, especially social services and those for young people.
Against this context the only way our area can be resilient to this economic storm is for individuals to do more and take collective responsibility for the area where they live.
Fine words – and many people do it – but we also know that a minority do not and the cost – in littering, for example – is then picked up by all of us, and increasingly at the expense of important services.
A Cooperative Borough is a place where everyone does their bit, and if there was ever a time Oldham needed everyone to pull together this is it.
Thanks for listening,