Welcome to my last blog before recess. As the summer break approaches I thought I would take the time to reflect on our positive progress, as well as outline the challenges we face when we return at the end of August.
On a recent walk through the town centre, I was really pleased to see how busy it was. The fabulous Britain in Bloom display looked glorious in the sunshine and the sound of youngsters playing happily was coming from the new children’s play area next door. There has been a lot of feedback recently from people saying that Oldham is looking the best it has in years – and I agree!
It has taken a lot of hard work though (glad it’s nearly the holidays!) and thanks are due in no small part to the excellent council teams who grow the plants and plan and maintain the displays. They excel themselves, producing displays even better than the year before. I need to also thank the in-house team who designed and built the children’s play area – the town centre really is ‘Made in Oldham’!
Looking down High Street, (past the buskers who were entertaining the crowds and generally adding to the atmosphere) I could see the wrapping around the Old Town Hall. The covers and scaffolding mask the industry taking place inside to turn it into the Town Centre’s first cinema for nearly 30 years.
It was really great to see the Gallery Oldham exhibition on the history of Union Street. One of the displays showed the original signs, posters, doors and exit sign from the town’s last Odeon! We’re coming full circle and soon a state of the art cinema will open its doors.
And it isn’t just the physical place that is changing – economic growth is also on the up for people of all ages. The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance has reduced by around 46 per cent since this same time last year, meaning we are now ranked third in Greater Manchester and we are currently the best performing across the region for those aged between 18-24 claiming JSA.
Now caution is needed on these figures.
We know Universal Credit and sanctions have affected the official figures but there is no doubt things are improving as we go full force on Get Oldham Working. And as if that wasn’t enough, we received the welcome news this week that for the first time since the recession weekly wages have risen and Oldham no longer sits at the bottom of the league table of average incomes in Greater Manchester.
We still have a long way to go and we must not take too much from small gains. We know only too well that for too many a Living Wage is not within reach as they struggle to make ends meet.
For Oldham to be the borough we want, it must be that if you are willing to work hard, then hard work pays. We will continue our push for economic growth but also to ‘raise all boats’.
The future looks bright for our youngest residents too. The launch of our Education Commission to raise local standards and aspirations was followed last week with news that Oldham’s primary school pupils achieved record SATS results. Provisional results show that 79.9 per cent of the borough’s 11-year olds are now hitting the national standard expected in reading, writing and maths. Congratulations to those pupils, their families and their teachers – enjoy the summer break!
The new UTC (University Technical College) will soon be open and the new Digital Skills Centre at Oldham College will offer our young people modern skills.
Our Sixth Form College continues to excel, and around 100 university graduates walking through town highlighted how importantly we view education.
But we know we can do better. For too many of our young people, the kids in the middle, they just ‘get by’. In a modern Oldham it isn’t enough just to get by when our ambition is for every young person to realise their full potential.
So things are looking up, but the borough’s resilience to market conditions needs to grow. Oldham has a tendency to be severely affected by small fluctuations in the economy and the labour market. Boom can turn to bust very quickly – as we have witnessed in the past.
If you are going away over the summer break, I hope you enjoy your holiday. For those who are staying closer to home there are some fabulous events taking place over the summer right across the borough. Why not take advantage of our lovely parks and open spaces; it is Love Your Local Park week this week, so make the most of them. The Visit Oldham and Go! Oldham websites are full of places and activities to visit and do over the holidays, lots of them free, so make the most of your money, and your borough, over the next few weeks. www.visitoldham.com and www.gooldham.com
As for me, there is still a few days to go before the start of recess and it continues to be busy with the Britain in Bloom judges visiting tomorrow. I hope they are impressed, I know many Oldhamers are.
Thanks for listening