Balancing the books: Cracking-down on crooks

QUESTION TIME: Residents get the chance to quiz councillors again at Full Council on December 12 via Social Media and email
QUESTION TIME: Residents get the chance to quiz councillors again at Full Council on December 12 via Social Media and email

THIS week Cabinet discussed a set of proposals to help us save around £31 million from Oldham Council’s budget over the next two years.

I want to start by saying something about the language we use when talking about this as it can be misleading.

When we say ‘savings’ we don’t mean an amount of money we’ve decided not to spend that will not be put away in a bank or spent on something else.

What we actually mean is there is going to be £31 million less to spend – forever – on services like social care, parks, street cleaning and libraries. The unfortunate truth is there is no fat left to cut.

Oldham Council is a service business, so when the money is cut the services must be cut. That is inevitable.

We cannot escape that and people will start to feel the impact of the decisions we’re making now in the coming years.

We also spend most of our money on people – the staff delivering those services – and with cuts so deep it means we will employ fewer people.

These cuts may also not be the final picture. As mentioned last week, we’re set to hear from the Government about our financial settlement later this month and may be facing even more tough decisions as a result.

Like all Oldham households we must our cloth according to our means, although I am confident that the difficult decisions we will take will be the best that we can for residents given the resources and options we have. 

The fact that we are in a position to agree 95 per cent of our budget proposals at this early stage –  well before other local authorities – means we’re well placed to face any additional challenges to the budget that may come our way. 

These budget proposals go to Full Council for debate next Wednesday (December 12) and a Public Question Time section will again be part of that meeting. You can submit questions on Twitter, Facebook or via an email to localdemocracy@oldham.gov.uk by 6pm on the day.

Whilst we are on the subject of budgets I must take this opportunity to highlight our crackdown this Christmas on loan sharks who are causing misery for countless families across the Borough.

This is a stressful enough time without families fearing extra amounts and hidden interest payments that will put them in a never-ending spiral of debt.

We’ve had complaints from many victims in recent months after people took what seems like a small loan to tide them over and have then found the eventual repayment costs – and the effects on their families – to be horrific.

Oldham CAB have reported a doubling in the number of debt issues raised through them in the last year and a high percentage of those is about credit card debt and unsecured loans, including payday loans.

In Oldham the number of people struggling to pay off debts between £5,000 and £15,000 are also double the national rate.

We have a long-term campaign to help tackle this problem and this week you’ll hopefully start to see some publicity as we raise awareness of the alternatives open to them, like the Oldham Credit Union.

On Saturday some of our team will be in Oldham Town Centre to promote the Credit Union.

Following on from the recent success of our Fare’s Fair campaign, which saw significant reductions in Oldham bus fares, First Bus has now also agreed to a 30 per cent discount for members of the Oldham Credit Union on a weekly ticket for travel from December 3. This deal can be used right across the First Bus network

If you’re not going to be around in the town centre on Saturday, then I would urge you to go and find out some more information about the Oldham Credit Union on our website at:
http://www.oldham.gov.uk/creditunion

Oldham Council’s task is to steer the Borough through these difficult economic times. Central to that is investing in our future – creating jobs, regenerating and encouraging external investment – but we also have a key role to play in helping residents experiencing difficulties now.

I can assure you as a Co-operative Council it’s not a responsibility we will shy away from.

We’ve already ‘done our bit’ on cheaper energy bills and bus fares, and more will follow on this campaigning agenda as we try to help you through tricky waters ahead in 2013.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

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