AS WE HEAD into Oldham Council’s summer recess this seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the past year.
I believe we have moved forward with plans on several fronts in that time.
From the outset it was our intention to modernise the Council and important steps have been taken to make it more relevant to local people.
Internal changes made to our constitution, for example, are now enabling the public to grill Cabinet Members – and watch it live on the Internet. More outward changes have also been made in supporting our Councillors to be better local leaders with greater devolution of power and influence.
In March we won the prestigious ‘Most Improved Council’ accolade at the Local Government Chronicle awards and we were also later shortlisted for the MJ’s ‘Best Achieving Council’ award.
Whilst I’m not one to chase ‘gongs’, I do think both make a statement about the direction we are taking this Council in.
More importantly to me there is evidence – anecdotal and from face-to-face discussions on doorsteps – that our reputation is steadily improving with at least some residents: although we know much remains to be done to regain trust and build confidence.
Despite the backdrop of the recession we also embarked on an ambitious journey to create jobs, attract inward investment and show Oldham has still got what it takes to be great and proud.
The confirmation that Monopumps is relocating to the former BAE Systems site at Chadderton was a huge achievement and a very positive start, but we still need to do much more to make up for the 2,000 local jobs lost in the last two years alone. No stone is being left unturned in this respect.
Our plans to create a new complex at the Old Town Hall – and address the lack of a cinema and family entertainment venue – have now been submitted and will go before the Planning Committee in September.
Agreements have also been reached with partners that could see up to £25 million invested in Royton Town Centre, and to realise the delivery of Hotel Future – the country’s first national hospitality training academy.
We’re also working at a rate of knots to ensure Oldham town centre improves as a shopping venue and we are – touch wood – within weeks of making a major announcement about a new anchor tenant.
We now have 90 per cent occupancy at Tommyfield Indoor Market and are putting plans in place for a bold new approach to offer two hours of free parking, every day of the year. More on that soon.
Whilst it is often never easy to make progress in these financial circumstances, we are doing our bit and getting some very tangible results.
As we look forward I know we must ensure that roadworks associated with the next phase of Metrolink are handled in a more co-ordinated way. We can see the difficulties that local businesses are facing – and we are determined to work with them and do all we can to help.
A reflection on the past year wouldn’t be complete, of course, without mention of the tragic recent events in Shaw.
All that can be said about this scenario probably already has been, but I do think it is important to reflect on the positives – on the strength of a community which rallied around when it needed it to most. That brings some small comfort in what was a truly devastating scenario which saw Jamie Heaton, an innocent child, lose his life.
Whatever the cause of this incident, and we should not speculate on that at this stage, my only hope is that justice will be done which adequately reflects the scale of what occurred.
Looking forward overall, I’m confident our Borough can hold its own even in the choppy waters that surround us.
Like every other town and Local Authority we have our challenges, of course, and there will be more to face down. Will it be easy? No, far from it, but failure is not an option.
We have a fantastic place with enterprising and selfless people here. And I am clear in my mind that the Council’s role is to provide energetic leadership and a genuine commitment to work alongside you to take our Borough forward.
My blog will now be taking a short break for the Council recess period, but it will return on Wednesday, September 5.
Finally, if you have also holidays planned in the weeks ahead – or are just hoping to take in the sunshine at home – enjoy them and take care.
Thanks for listening,