THE OUTDATED municipal councils would fail most communities today.
We now live in a complex world and the local council is rarely the dominant power it might have been in the past when it could rely on the weight of spending power to get others to listen.
The Co-operative Council agenda provides an opportunity to look at things differently.
The place – defined in different ways to different people – is the starting point of this. And the place belongs to the people, not the council.
What the council can do is provide leadership, marshal resources and bring different interests together.
The way Oldham came together during the snowfall last week gave a real feeling of community.
Yes, some people did complain – but then that’s life – but most mucked in together: including a strong army of volunteers who helped to clear the snow from the Boundary Park pitch on Saturday.
Leaders also present themselves in many guises at different times.
Oldham Athletic themselves did it for our Borough with a storming performance in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Many fans had hoped to try and force a draw beforehand – that in itself would have been a victory with huge financial rewards.
But to actually then humble the giants of Liverpool sent this team to the heights of fantasy and wrote their names into football folklore.
On that day Oldham was truly led by the Latics as an audience of millions watched across the world. And whilst I may suffer from being sentimental at times, even the sternest cynic would have felt immense pride to witness it.
This week also saw a second energy switching auction close with a staggering 30,000 households signed up.
To think that all started here in Oldham and is now a national scheme is another great credit to our Borough.
Oldham can lead the way and can do it by listening to the ideas of people like you. So, if you have the next great idea, send me an email and we’ll look into it. You never know it may be the next ‘Made in Oldham’ success story.
Last week we announced our proposals to increase Council Tax from April 1.
I’m one of a handful of people, it seems, who believe that modest increases – inline with or below inflation – are acceptable in most circumstances.
If you don’t increase in line with inflation yet your operating costs are going up – energy bills for instance – then you simply have to make cuts somewhere else.
That isn’t about playing fast and loose with your money: it’s the pragmatic reality of life.
Prior to Christmas I thought we could be in a position where an increase might not have been needed.
We’re only too aware that families are feeling the squeeze and went into the December meeting of Full Council with almost all of the £31 million needed to be found in savings identified. It hadn’t been easy but, unlike many areas, we didn’t propose library closures or children’s centres locking the doors for good.
Interestingly when you don’t close facilities the vocal minority shout that they should actually cut because they personally don’t use them.
Unfortunately we live in the real world where we must think about the community as a whole – not just the interests or opinions of a minority. We also have to keep an eye on future generations: those who had nothing to do with the financial crash or the credit crunch.
But just before Christmas the Chancellor sent Oldham an early present – no wrapping paper or fancy bows – just another £7.5m of cuts to find. That’s actually the minimum we must find because the Government figures can’t be relied on at this stage as they’ve often been found to be incorrect or incomplete.
So with our budget cut now increased from £31 million to around £38.5 million we have a choice. It’s not a great choice, but it is a choice of some sorts. We either cut or we cut(!).
Believe me, after already taking more than £131million from the Council’s budget, that extra £7.5m will affect frontline services – the more palatable options have long gone.
The rise you will pay for Oldham Council’s services will be 2 per cent, which is within the Government limit, and when Police, Fire and other precepts are included the increase will be 3.5 per cent overall.
Cries from Eric Pickles, the Minister for Local Government, that Councils like ourselves who increase Council Tax (including precepts) by more than 2 per cent are ‘cheating Councils’ is outrageous and a cheap attack.
It does beg the question: If we weren’t allowed to increase within the law then why does the law itself allow it?
Could it be that Councils are acting within the law – or perhaps that some highly-paid civil servant has messed up by creating a loophole?
We play by the rules. If the Government wants to move the goalposts on a whim then they can’t be too surprised if Councils stop listening.
Unlike the Government department concerned we have real work to do in providing essential services to our residents – and that has to take priority.
Thanks for listening,