The last 12 months has been a frantic period packed with inspiring people and stories, challenges and opportunities, but I believe we end it in a positive place.
We start the new year with our strongest-ever plan for our future – and one that should ensure that, when the economic recovery finally comes, we’ll be well-placed to benefit.
We saw significant milestones reached in Oldham in 2014: starting with the opening of our new town centre Metrolink line last January.
This marked the end of the biggest infrastructure construction project in our history but was also just the start of a much wider regeneration plan.
The tramline set the tone for much of the work and news that has followed as work to grow our economy – creating new job and opportunities for residents – continues apace.
Look around you and our skyline is now happily interrupted with cranes and construction works ongoing at places like Oldham College and Oldham Athletic. That and more and more companies signing up to our Get Oldham Working campaign all reflects our growing confidence as a town.
Later this month, FCHO’s new headquarters opens on Union Street and – with steelwork now finished – a new sports centre to put Oldham on the regional and national sporting map will also open its doors next winter.
Work also continues on our flagship scheme to transform the Old Town Hall into an ODEON cinema and on the new plans for Parliament Square, giving Oldham the quality public space it has lacked for decades.
We recently unveiled the latest designs for the new Coliseum and Heritage Theatre, confirmed the next steps towards delivering a town centre hotel alongside a revitalised QE Hall and – of course – unveiled the gamechanging news that Marks & Spencer is finally coming to town.
This is a scheme that’s also about much more than new retail space. Adjacent to the Independent Quarter, it will deliver up to 800 homes – a quality town centre living offer – create up to 700 new jobs and generate up to £12 m per year to the local economy.
I’m not naïve enough though to try and kid you that everything in the garden is rosy here: far from it. Yes, we have opportunities – but, boy, I fully recognise the challenges too.
Having already made cuts of £141 million from our budgets in the past five years, we must now find a further £60 million in the next two financial years.
To be blunt, we’re now beyond the point as a council where there is any fat left to trim from services. The cuts will affect every single area – including services for older people and vulnerable children, which account for around half of our spending. It’s awful and not what I came into politics to do, but this is the reality of where we are.
I also know that many people are struggling to make their own way in life too – and have been for some time.
Whether that is the huge difficulties in balancing bills to heat your homes, feed and clothe your families, getting on the property ladder or trying to get off a zero-hour contract and into secure employment, I know the challenges are legion and unrelenting day-to-day.
That’s why my only New Year’s resolution for 2015 is pretty simple.
Our town was built on the Industrial Revolution – and our regeneration will be built on an Industrious Revolution. Sheer hard work is the only way we will make progress. Minor changes will not be enough and I’m determined to get on even faster and harder delivering the things I know will ultimately improve people’s lives and future prospects.
That means ensuring these regeneration schemes are delivered with maximum benefit to our economy and people in the shape of good jobs, opportunities and homes, and a more vibrant visitor economy.
It also means keeping focussed on attracting more private investment here. Success in that drive will give us new income from business rates and Council Tax – all money that can then be used to help protect your services from cuts.
And it also means seeing through the recommendations of the Oldham Education and Skills Commission – due to report next summer – to tackle those under-performing schools that are failing too many of our children. We will celebrate success where we see it, but equally will tackle ‘second best’ performance head on.
We have serious work ahead in 2015 and as a Co-operative Council we know we cannot find all the answers on our own.
We will again need the support of partners and residents in finding solutions to budget challenges and in helping us to tackle things, like flytipping and bad landlords, that blight our communities.
I would also say that as a council we can work to deliver new tramlines, cinemas, sports centres or whatever, but none of that will matter if we don’t also succeed in making people advocates for our borough; prepared to really stand up for the place where they live and show civic pride.
We all need to stand up for Oldham. If we see people who don’t care, let’s challenge them. If we see selfish behaviour, let’s not turn a blind eye and – above all else – when we see people playing their part and putting something back, let’s acknowledge it and say thank you.
We need you now – more than ever – to spread the word about the changes we are making and the new aspirations we all share for Oldham.
This can be our time, so please ‘do your bit’ in 2015 and help to make it a year of Industrious Revolution in Oldham.
With hard work and determination we can do this.