Oldham Council: Annual Report

ANNUAL REPORT: It isn't possible to take £200 million from the Council's budget and expect that everything will carry on as usual.
ANNUAL REPORT: It isn’t possible to take £200 million from the Council’s budget and expect that everything will carry on as usual. We’ve trimmed many services – some now to the bone.

LAST WEEK I delivered my ‘Annual Report’ at the Full Council meeting.

I also recorded a video-blog immediately afterwards which summarises the main points, and you can view that by clicking here.

My first task was to reflect on another testing year with cuts continuing to bite hard and changes in Government policy meaning that the Council is in a state of constant change.

I paid tribute to those staff that have gone the extra mile and continued to work extremely hard to provide more than 600 excellent services to the people of Oldham.

The Council will, of course, change even further with less money in future and we have trimmed many services – some now to the bone.

We’re in a position where we will simply have to stop delivering some services altogether and that’s why I want a meaningful consultation with you, the people who use those services, about what you need and what you expect for the Council Tax you pay.

It just isn’t possible to take £200m from the Council’s budget and kid oursevles that everything will carry on as usual.

I’m acutely aware that these are also uncertain times outside of the Council. We know that many people are really feeling the pressure in terms of unemployment, for example, and changes to the welfare system.

If you accept the scale of the challenge is big there are, I suppose, three options…

The first would be to accept further decline as being inevitable and simply to ‘try and get by’ and muddle through.

The second would be to defer responsibility – knowing that the problems will continue – but reverting to blaming someone or something else.

The final option – my ‘call to arms’ – is that instead we use our collective energy and power in Oldham to do all that we can: so the Chronicle headline last Thursday ‘We’re all in this together’ was accurate.

That article subsequently met with some criticism on the Chronicle’s own online forum. What appeared to spark that was a reference in my report to ‘armchair critics’ and I’d like to explain exactly who and what I mean by that.

If you are someone who complains about real problems and are even cynical and uncertain about the future then – actually – I’m not talking about you.

If you blame the Council for part of Oldham’s decline and don’t yet believe things are going to change, I don’t mean you either. I understand that viewpoint and, although I hope people can already see improvements, I know we need to deliver what we have promised and, until then, I accept it takes time to build confidence and trust.

The group of people I was referring to though are those who seemingly make a hobby out of talking the town down for enjoyment’s sake, spending hours and hours on forums, on Social Media and on email in this sport. So, perhaps, ‘armchair critics’ wasn’t right. Maybe ‘keyboard warriors’ would have been more fitting?

I can’t tell you how dispiriting it is to make small steps towards improving our Borough only for any progress to be immediately slammed on message boards.

I’m always happy to accept strong alternate views, and we can learn from them, but I must admit to being baffled by the logic that the town where you choose to live is so bad you must attack it at every opportunity. If it was so unbearably bad, surely you’d just move?

This band of people often email me too. Not to complain or to offer a constructive course of action – but simply to fire me a single line of abuse about Oldham and its future.

A simple question: If the people of Oldham don’t believe in our town then why on earth should an outside investor? Online forums are universally accessible and inevitably now something of a ‘shop window’ to people researching the place, so the negative external impact this kind of mindset can have is pretty clear.

I know that most people genuinely don’t behave in this way – and no way would I advocate censorship – but it is unfortunate that the silent majority are often drowned out by a highly vocal minority.

I’ve learned to avoid being distracted by them and lose focus – but have also now learned a personal lesson to be careful about broad statements which others could feel was targeted at them.

I do believe that the majority of residents are behind what we are trying to do – and the vision we want to deliver – but also are perhaps cynical that they’ve heard it all before when it comes to regeneration.

I understand that and it’s my job to do all I can to show real improvement. I can give you my personal assurance that I’m doing all that I can around the clock, but that task would be a lot easier with the whole Borough pulling together behind that work.

The challenges we face are big: so let our response be even bigger and let’s come out fighting.

I have seen first-hand the truly inspiring work done by individuals, community groups, organisations and business leaders who are going above and beyond the call of duty across the Borough.

As a Cooperative Council we’re about bringing all that energy and drive together. Already the town has responded to the Get Oldham Working campaign and our ambition to regenerate our town centre. We’ve already made far more progress on those fronts than if it was just the Council trying to doing it all alone or to dictate the approach. We know that doesn’t work.

I do hope you take time to view the video on my Annual Report and listen first-hand about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

If you wish, you can also view the full speech which I gave on this to Full Council. Click here to watch this – and then fast-forward the clip (using the slider at the bottom of the video player) to 49 minutes and 15 seconds.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

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