Council Tax and Landfill Tax

Landfill
LANDFILL – Landfill Tax on Local Authorities has increased from £24 a tonne to £80 since 2008. The Local Government Association is campaigning for it to be frozen.

MOST residents will have received their annual Council Tax bills by now – and there are two concerns that I want to address.

Before doing so, I must start by agreeing wholeheartedly that the way we explain the breakdown of your Council Tax increases is confusing.

The first query that has been raised is why the published overall increase (including levies and precepts – see below for explanation) was 3.5 per cent, yet the Council Tax bill states the total increase is 3.7 per cent?

The difference between these two figures is simply due to the slightly-higher increases that have come back from precept authorities: in this case Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.

The second query I’ve been asked is why the Oldham Council element of the increase was published as being 2 per cent, yet it is shown as being 3.5 per cent?

This is because the Council Tax element also includes charges from the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester.

The actual increase in Oldham Council services was 1.9 per cent.

It’s understandable that residents believe ‘the council’ has increased the Council Tax by 3.7 per cent, because that’s exactly what the bill says, but in cash terms that isn’t the case.

If you look at your bill you will see mention of ‘precepts’ and levies’. In layman’s terms, ‘precepts’ are the charges from the police and fire services. Both are separated from the ‘Council Tax’ element when it appears on your bill.

The ‘levies’ are the Greater Manchester charges for waste and transport services. Both are included in the ‘Council Tax’ element when it appears on your bill. These are collected and then passed on – they are not used for Oldham Council services.

All of which now brings me to the main point of this week’s blog – waste disposal.

The Local Government Association has been campaigning to freeze the landfill tax which local councils pay.

This isn’t because councils don’t want to recycle – we do, but it takes massive investment to increase recycling rates.

That might have been possible when times were good, but it’s extremely difficult when our budgets have been slashed to the tune of over 30 per cent, and with more to come.

We have a record to be proud of here in Oldham.

From a low starting point in 2008 we have increased recycling from 15 per cent to 40 per cent through a combination of ‘alternative weekly collections’, plus investment in new bins and campaigns.

The landfill tax has increased from £24 a tonne to £80 a tonne since 2008.

Simply taxing the local councils without investment in campaigning is nonsense.

It‘s quite ironic that the Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, is so keen to return to weekly ‘black bin’ collections when there is strong evidence that this doesn’t actually encourage diversion of waste from landfill or recycling at all.

Surely a far better use of the £250m grant on offer would have been to freeze the inflation busting 11 per cent increase in landfill tax – and allow councils to instead invest in increased recycling and work to support the reduction of greenhouse gases?

This isn’t a political point but of the 326 councils in England just one has applied to restore their weekly bin collections. That means 325 councils with varied political control all thought better of the idea. 

Mr Pickles needs to work harder on a coherent plan for dealing with waste and increasing recycling.

Yet when local councils take the initiative – such as the nine members of the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority – we come under attack from the very same government department.

As part of our plan to create a sustainable waste plan for our City Region a £3.8bn investment was needed to replace our crumbling waste infrastructure.

This included the construction of 43 new facilities plus a new Combined Heat and Power Plant to be built at Runcorn.

Under this contract we are guaranteed at least 50 per cent recycling rates and the diversion of 75 per cent of waste from landfill.

To fund this we knew that upfront investment was needed, which created a 14.15 per cent increase in the waste element of Council Tax in Oldham.

This, however, is ‘upfront’ so that by 2015 the increase is forecast to be 1.98 per cent. As landfill taxes continue to increase, the investment would then pay off as it means we don’t need to pay a premium for waste treatment.

Rather than acknowledge the foresight in planning ahead and investing in facilities for future generations that reduce landfill costs and environmental damage, the plans came under what I believe was a misjudged and poorly-briefed attack.

Mr Pickles’ labelled the Waste Disposal Authority increase as “forced up by a botched PFI deal signed by the unelected Waste Authority”. This “shoddy” deal, he claimed, by a “shadowy, unelected body” had caused a “double whammy of both fortnightly bin collections for some of its residents and higher taxes”.

That is wrong.

Each of the nine councils in Greater Manchester who are part of the Waste Disposal Authority all have elected councillors on the board.

All the papers are published online and a copy is included on the main council agenda here in Oldham.

Residents can attend the meetings and have done so to present petitions.

That is a level of transparency that others could perhaps learn from.

As ever on recycling, though, it’s ultimately over to the people of Oldham to continue to do your bit.

Your efforts have already taken us to an impressive fourth in Greater Manchester in terms of our recycling rates.

But if we could all increase our recycling further by just 10 per cent each, we could all save an estimated £1.6 million a year.

That’s a significant sum that would help to fund vital frontline services at a time when budgets continue to be slashed.

Thanks for listening,

Jim 

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

Twitter
TWITTER: Use of the Social Media tool during Council meetings has sparked a heated local debate in recent weeks.

TWEETING during Oldham Council meetings is (slowly) growing in popularity.

So much, in fact, that it has become a topic that has dominated the letters page and online forum of the local press in recent days.

Recognising that not everyone has access to or buys the Oldham Chronicle, I thought it might be helpful to reproduce a letter I recently submitted setting out my views on the issue.

Editor – “Twittergate” still occupies the letters page as the debate rumbles on about whether councillors should use Twitter during council meetings.

Your front page carried a piece on Deputy Mayor Cllr John Hudson who has expressed his view that the use of Twitter is not always appropriate. The story paints Cllr Hudson as being slightly ‘old fashioned’ on the use of technology to connect with the public.

I have to say that does Cllr Hudson a great disservice. Regardless of party politics he has been supportive in our work to modernise the council by embracing new technology such as webstreaming and accepting public questions by facebook and Twitter, so he certainly isn’t against moving with the times.

Cllr Hudson, and indeed your own editorial raised a broader question about whether councillors should be taking part in the chamber debate or commentating on the meeting during on Twitter.

As a regular user of Twitter I have found it a great way to connect with a new audience who wouldn’t dream of attending a council meeting and for that we should embrace it.

We do need a discussion across all political groups about how councillors use this during meetings and I hope common ground is found which enables councillors to connect and answer public questions without having a ‘virtual’ council meeting which excludes those not on Twitter.

I do hope that councillors who are not users of Twitter consider how appropriate it is to have side conversations and distract those who do stand to speak with their own commentary and small talk. This is as distracting and disconnected from the wider debate as those involved in one to one social media discussions.

Perhaps this has raised a broader issue about mutual respect in the council chamber and if that is resolved that can only be a good thing. We can all have fun and enjoy the political back and forth but ultimately the council chamber carries great responsibility and has a serious job to do. However it would be a mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water and we should continue to embrace all forms of communication including Twitter.

Since that letter was published the leaders of all three political groups represented on Oldham Council have now come to an agreement on the future use of Social Media during meetings.

I don’t believe this is actually an issue about whether or not people are paying attention if they are tweeting from the benches.

Simply adding commentary once or twice during a three to four-hour meeting isn’t any more distracting than other things that are going on in the Council Chamber – and I would add that to comment you do, of course, need to be listening to the debate to form a view.

But if Councillors are having one-to-one discussions throughout the meeting, therefore excluding others in the chamber, or even worse are criticising but not being prepared to stand up and make that contribution to the proceedings, then that isn’t respectful or helpful to democracy.

Twitter isn’t a replacement for face-to-face contact – and it never should be – but it is also a great way to communicate and we should embrace it.

Saddleworth School
BACK TO SCHOOL: Saddleworth School is an inspiring place with great ambition for its pupils.

On that note I am continuing my visits to all of Oldham schools and last week made a stop at Saddleworth School.

This is a really inspiring school that clearly has great ambition for its future and the Borough.

During the discussions with pupils and staff I also heard some great ideas about how we can get more young people to come into the town centre, and feedback that we need to find new ways to reach out to them and promote what is happening.

Finally this week I had the task of preparing for an Oldham Community Radio show where I had to make my own ‘Desert Island Discs’ selection.

This, I quickly learned, is not easy – and somewhat daunting once you’ve started.  

After finally choosing my six tracks I discovered three things.

Firstly, that it’s actually very difficult to get a playlist down to just six songs.

Secondly, it reaffirmed to me that I am far from cool to any generation.

And finally, an exercise like this is an unexpected but also rather useful insight into your own thoughts – however disappointing the results may ultimately prove to be(!).

Here’s what I came up with:

The Dubliners: Black Velvet Band
Heart: Alone
The Pasadenas: I’m Doing Fine Now
The Smiths: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
Yazz: The Only Way Is up
Oasis: Some Might Say

Thanks for listening (even if – likely(!) – not to my music selection),

Jim 

National Apprenticeship Week

Jim-and-the-apprentices
IT COULD BE YOU: Cllr Jim McMahon meets apprentice hopefuls Jake Wharton, Georgina Lloyd, Zohaib Mohammed, Katie Barlow with Rohema Khan

This week is the National Apprenticeship Week, its not the only week when work is done to create and support apprenticeships – far from it – but it does give a reason for greater focus and an opportunity to celebrate success.

I started my working life in 1996 as a trolley pusher at a cash and carry for around £1.50 an hour. It wasn’t until my mother noticed an advert for an apprenticeship at North Manchester General Hospital that I felt I had a ‘proper job’ and one where my employer invested in me. It was actually a modest pay decrease at £40 a week but it was a fantastic opportunity.

During my time I worked at the Medical Library and a group of staff took me under their wing. They taught me the basics of the job but more importantly than that they supported me to be a rounded human being, gave me confidence and made me feel part of a team. I owe that team a debt of gratitude which will stay with me forever.

It was the same team who supported me when a trainee placement came up at the University of Manchester – at a real salary too. I stayed at the University (latterly UMIST) as a technician for many years until I got the bug for community work and went to work for another local authority.

The job at Manchester University was a real career, it invested in young people and supported them through training, college and through to promotion in the organisation.

Having started my working life as an apprentice I am keen to make sure that the opportunity I had is made as widely available as possible.

As a council we are a large employer and before we go out and promote apprenticeships to other businesses and organisations we need to lead by example.  We currently have 51 apprentices in the council and this week will seek to recruit a further 5. Over the coming months a further 10 will be advertised.

As part of our work in Greater Manchester we are pushing apprenticeships heavily. We know youth unemployment is a problem and just providing part time temporary employment will be no more than a short term fix. We need to provide real opportunities and apprenticeships offer just that.

As an employer the benefits are huge. I know when I joined North Manchester General Hospital it fired up the team, gave them a new ‘project’ and an opportunity to try new ideas out. Sometimes fresh thinking and new additions to a team can be the glue which binds other things together so well.

In Greater Manchester we are going even further by adding incentives to the national scheme. Currently employers can claim £1,500 per apprentice plus training costs. We are topping that up by £750 which provides a healthy £2,250 contribution towards the cost of taking on an additional member of staff.

In addition Oldham Council’s ‘Employability Team’ will work first hand with employers to guide them through the maze of recruiting an  apprentice.

I have successfully convinced my partner that an apprentice would be a good addition to her Coffee Shop so we have recent experience of trying to find out how to recruit an apprentice. In the current online system you can be presented with over 30 training providers to go through which is quite daunting. But with the council’s team you get support which includes a visit from a trained officer who can match you with a training provider who meets the needs of your business. They can also offer support on recruitment to find the right person. I know this is a real support for businesses who want to ‘do their bit’ but don’t want to be bogged down with paperwork or chasing around for information.

There has never been a better time to take on an apprentice – the benefits for you and the young person are huge and what’s more there is more support than ever before!

For more information go to:

To find out how to apply for an Oldham Council apprenticeship go to:

The road to nowhere? Telling the story of Oldham

HERITAGE: Statues like this Platt muse could be relocated from Alexandra Park as part of wider plans to give Oldham town centre a better sense of its history.

Well we know where we’re going, but we don’t know where we’ve been” (Talking Heads: 1985)

WE HAVE great ambitions for the future regeneration of Oldham town centre.

Plans are well and truly in place to begin work this year on some exciting flagship projects including the Old Town Hall cinema and restaurants scheme, plus the nationally significant Hotel Future, which held a successful launch event in Manchester on Tuesday evening.

Whilst I am more confident than ever these schemes will come to fruition and make a positive difference here they will not – alone – address an underlying problem: the cynicism of some people when you suggest change.

I’ve encountered this a lot in recent weeks after talking about plans to improve Oldham and capitalise on the arrival of our new Metrolink line.  

I firmly believe that when visiting a town or city you should be able to get a feel for where it has come from; the hands that have built it up and those who made their mark on its character.

You cannot say that you get that feeling in Oldham town centre today.

We’ve talked a lot about diversity since 2001 but almost nothing about the very thing that brings us all together regardless of background – the place itself. 

Oldham has its own niche in history. The mills might have been ‘satanic’ but there are too many people who say that whilst offering no credible solutions about how to replace them with a more ‘green and pleasant’ land.

We’ve had our personalities too. 

Winston Churchill, for example, may not have been the best-ever Oldham MP – and only time will tell if he was one of the worst (!) – but he did have a very important place in history.

I am grateful that the Oldham Evening Chronicle has recently begun a series profiling those famous Oldhamers who could be remembered and celebrated in our town centre.

Churchill might be a household name but others have clearly made more of direct impact on our town and yet they go without even a modest mention or passing nod at present.

Since starting this discussion about how to improve our ‘public realm’ I’ve actually discovered that statues are incredibly controversial – although that hasn’t been helped by it seeming to be the single most important issue occupying some members of the Council’s official opposition.

Statues are nothing new in Oldham but numerous developments during the past few decades have gradually seen them removed from the town centre.

The result, in my opinion, is that it makes it much harder for people visiting to get a sense of the place and its history.

The beautiful Alexandra Park is now home to several statues which used to be located in the town centre. They provide a wonderful talking point, adding character and encouraging people to ask; “Who is that?” and “Why is it here?”. Perhaps some of them should make a return? 

I welcome the debate we’re starting to have about all this – and it’s crucial that we get this right – but it’s also important to be clear that we’re not, as has been alleged, planning to spend £500,000 on a statue. Nothing like it. 

What we are keen to do is to inject some heritage back into Oldham town centre after decades of it being either ignored or airbrushed out.

The final answer might not be statues at all. It might perhaps be a wall of fame or interpretation boards, for example – but either way this should not become a party political issue.  

Short-term electioneering has failed Oldham too many times and I won’t fall into that trap. To rebuild this place in the way it deserves and needs we must plan ten years ahead – not just to next May.

During this debate one idea which also seems to be gaining support is not to remember historical politicians, industrialists or personalities, but instead to find a way to represent the ’everyday man and women’ of the Borough.

It’s proving to be an interesting discussion so far and local people will soon get the chance to have their say – it’s your town after all.

Thanks for listening,

Jim