THE SUMMER recess is over and it’s back to serious business at Oldham Council.
I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a family break – just before my eldest son begins secondary school, and my youngest starts primary school(!) – which was a real tonic and gave me a much-needed change of scenery.
I kept in touch with things in Oldham during my absence, of course, including the news of our youngsters getting their latest GCSE results.
Overall the headlines were positive with most schools retaining or increasing their performance results despite national concern about grading and what is now seen as a tougher test.
I would like to congratulate all those students and wish them the very best of luck as they embark on the next chapter of their lives.
Congratulations must also go to those supportive parents and teaching staff who have helped our young people to be the best they can be.
I’m also conscious though that what we need to make sure of is that we are properly investing in opportunities that lie beyond school.
The global economy is changing at such a rapid rate that we cannot afford to be narrow in our thinking. Nor can we think or believe that we know it all.
What we can do is give young people growing up in our Borough real life skills – basic things like being confident, being able to hold a conversation, present themselves and to have a good work ethic.
In such a highly competitive post-school environment – be that work or further and higher education – we also need to develop opportunities that help our young people stand out. Volunteering and additional activities and experience are all part of that – it adds to the CV when you’re applying for the next move in life.
But our work isn’t also just about young people.
With unemployment here still at an unacceptably high rate there are many adults with good experience and much to offer who are left searching for work.
The frustration felt by many who apply for job after job and often don’t even hear back is hard to take: especially when the system often doesn’t treat people like individuals.
Our local jobs clubs, often run by volunteers, are a real lifeline for many people. These volunteers don’t get paid and certainly don’t get the bonus payments those in the private sector do, but they do see that their friends and neighbours are struggling and step in to help.
That doesn’t take away the problem of a system which isn’t fit for purpose (if that purpose is getting people into quality and sustained employment) but it is a good example of a cooperative community in action.
As part of my responsibilities with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority I lead on Employment and Skills and this means I face the challenge of trying to make sense out of some very disjointed elements that are in place to help people into work.
Having said that I’ve now visited a number of colleges and skills providers across the City Region and am impressed at how those professionals who must work within the system are finding genuinely innovative ways to get people back into employment.
The current ‘work programme’ simply has not worked for Oldham – with only 12 per cent of those going through the system having got sustained employment.
My strong belief is that we need a more local solution to getting people into work.
We need to tailor our approach better to give meaningful one-on-one support. We need a system which gives credit to those who need a hand up – and also helps to promote self-employment opportunities and new businesses.
This isn’t just a plea to give local councils more money: although we could definitely do with it.
It’s about us all being smarter about how we bring competing and complex interests together and look beyond our own organisations and budgets at the bigger picture.
This is, after all, public money.
Thanks for listening,