Budget Council – Video Blog – 2015/16

 

Tonight Full Council meets to agree its budget for the financial year 2015/6. Members are set to approve plans that seek a 0% rise in the amount you pay for Oldham Council services.

This week I decided to record a video blog talking about the challenges we are all facing as we seek to make Oldham a better place to live, work and do business against the backdrop of reduced Government funding.

Thanks for watching,

Jim.

Combatting cuts: Invest to grow

SPOTLIGHT: Explaining Oldham Council's 'Invest to Grow' strategy to the Financial Times this week at Gallery Oldham.
SPOTLIGHT: Explaining Oldham Council’s ‘Invest to Grow’ strategy to journalists from the Financial Times this week at Gallery Oldham.

IN LOCAL government circles the end of February always heralds the arrival of the ‘small’ tome that is the paperwork for your annual budget-setting meeting.

This means you’re finally nearing the end of a process stretching back several months and characterised by many hours of head scratching and heart searching.

Cabinet agreed our final proposals for 2015/6 on Monday and these now go forward to the annual budget-setting Full Council meeting on Wednesday, February 25 (6pm onwards) which – as ever – you can watch online via the Oldham Council website.

The dominant factor in this task for the past six years now has been balancing books in the face of significant funding reductions and rising demand – and that means there is no sense of relief as we look ahead.

I’m sorry to say this will be the same challenge next year – and in future years – which really makes you pause for thought where this may all end up.

We’ve already seen £141million removed from Oldham Council’s budget in the past five years which is equivalent to £1,566 less per household. With an extra £60m in savings to be made by 2017 that will bring the total reduction to £201m – that’s £2,232 less to spend per household.

As a local authority we’ve suffered more than most here in Oldham and I’m clear the cuts cannot carry on.

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This is not about a principled view about deficit reduction – or continuing the blame game – the issues are now about basic public service management.

Soon there simply won’t be enough money to deliver the services that are there to respond to community demand. And when I say that I’m not just talking about the things that people ‘want’, I’m talking about things that society genuinely ‘needs’.

Public sector spending has already borne the brunt of government reductions and – with the NHS and schools being protected in terms of future funding – huge pressure is again likely to fall on local government.

And even as I write there’s yet more evidence as to how widespread concerns about this are becoming.

The Independent Commission on Local Government Finance – whose members are economists, business, finance and public service experts – says today that councils are on a ‘cliff-edge’ which means everyday services “may not be there much longer” and that “urgent devolution of powers, funding and taxes” is needed.

This comes just days after the House of Commons’ own Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published some stark findings about the financial sustainability of local authorities like ours.

They found that local services are becoming unviable and the reductions to funding are hitting the poorest areas the hardest.

The PAC report says the Department for Communities and Local Government is simply not prepared for the impact of shunting cost pressures onto other services, like the NHS, and is failing to take responsibility for the very real threats to the validity of some statutory services. And this is not a political viewpoint by the way: the PAC membership is cross-party.

The question for Oldham Council is what are we going to do about this?

How can we find the funding needed to meet our legal responsibilities and provide the services you will need in future years?

Firstly, despite the financial pressures, we know that asking local households to stump up more money isn’t realistic. Many residents are facing similar budget issues and we can’t ignore that, which is why we’re proposing to freeze the amount of Council Tax you pay for our services over the next year.

Secondly, we are trying to transform the council’s ‘fiscal base’. That basically means we need to change the sources of where our future income comes from.

We do at least have an enviable record of managing our finances here in Oldham and much work has already been ongoing to address this fiscal challenge.

Essentially we know it means us needing to work even harder and faster to make Oldham a better place to live, work and do business. It makes our regeneration programme – projects like the Old Town Hall cinema, the new Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps, the Independent Quarter, and new housing schemes across the borough – even more vital.

Schemes like this will not only help to attract new money and jobs but will also support the delivery of your local services in the future by increasing the amount of business rates and council tax we will collect.  BudgetInfog2

Our work also includes a whole host of other measures across all our activity like our social value framework – designed to ensure we maximise the benefit to the local economy of every penny we spend – plus work to rewire services, examine different delivery models, and early intervention and preventative work to reduce demand for services.

When you’re on the verge of a financial tipping point like this you know even more challenging times lie ahead. Difficult decisions cannot – and must not – be avoided and we are often left as ‘arbiters in chief’ of a ‘Catch 22’ situation.

Nonetheless we are determined to stick to our core pledge to the people of Oldham.

We will not simply accept decline for the borough and just focus on implementing reduced budgets that we know will inevitably adversely affect communities.

Only by investing in growth do we know we can give ourselves a fighting chance of bringing in new income and opportunities that will give us hope for the future.

Let’s be very clear though that this approach is no silver bullet.

It won’t address the very real problems that are still hurtling down the track at local authorities unless fair funding is provided in the future.

So whichever party – or parties – form the next government after the General Election on May 7, my message to them all will be the same: this needs sorting.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Day in the life: Keeping us safe

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FOOD SAFETY: Ready to assist on my first ever food safety inspection with Lauren Wood at Country Oven Bakery, Oldham.

I WAS fortunate to be able to spend time working with two of our most important frontline services – our Food Safety and Neighbourhood Enforcement teams – this week.

The phrase ‘unsung heroes’ is often overused, but in both of these cases it is probably an understatement.

Basically their overall remit is to ensure the borough is a safe, healthy and quality environment to live in and it’s fair to say a great majority of residents and businesses act responsibly and look after their communities and premises.

But the work these teams do often also brings them into regular contact with those people who ruin it for everyone else. That makes their work not just frontline, but frontline and then some…

Out and about with our Environmental Health Inspectors on Tuesday morning, my first task was to accompany Lauren Wood (a previous winner of Young Employee of the Year) on an unplanned visit to a local bakery.

Officers in the five-strong Food Safety team inspect all the food businesses in Oldham (nearly 2,000). They take food samples, swab food surfaces, deal with reported food poisoning outbreaks and respond to complaints.

They carry out more than 1,000 visits each year and have the ability to prosecute when conditions are very poor or where businesses are failing to improve. Last year they had eight successful prosecutions of this kind, which is more than any other Greater Manchester authority.

I joined Lauren on a routine unannounced inspection of a premises tucked away behind Huddersfield Road and operated by a brand you’ll probably know from local supermarket shelves: Country Oven Bakery.

This family firm, based in Oldham for over 30 years, has to go above and beyond the basic minimum standard because they are supplying multi-national retailers who have their own standards. That means there is a real tension between getting on with the job – in this case baking over 250,000 items a week – and managing a business.

Mario, the owner, put it best when he told me that: “The days of the council being hard have gone. Now it’s much more of a partnership with advice and support given to help businesses meet the standard.”

That was good to hear but – with our inspection complete – there was no rest for Lauren and the rest of the team who were off to inspect other premises before preparing for a Food Forum: an annual event where food businesses are invited to a Q&A and information session.

If you’d like to check out how a food business near you fared on its latest inspection by this team then you can do so on the Oldham Council website by clicking here.

From seeing food being carefully and hygienically prepared I now went to the extreme opposite – seeing it dumped in alleyways.

This was the second part of my outing: this time alongside Samantha Jackson and Gary Durkin from our Neighbourhood Enforcement Team.

We’ve boosted their numbers recently with an additional seven staff as part of our ‘Changing Behaviours’ project and the team, which is now 13 members strong, investigates a range of issues including air quality, noise, and other ‘nuisances’ such as dust and odours, plus private drainage complaints and complaints about homes with potential vermin or pest infestations.

To give you an idea of how busy they are the team received a staggering 1,053 complaints regarding noise issues alone in the past year – around three a day on average.

Our first stop on Tuesday saw us dealing with one of our perennial problems – the illegal dumping of rubbish – aka fly tipping.

Stopping this is a major priority for the council and these staff are involved in a borough-wide project to tackle it alongside our waste and street scene teams.
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Our approach to this problem is based on working with communities in the first instance to ensure they have all the right information and facilities to dispose of waste properly. This will then be backed up by strong enforcement action for those who continue to fly tip and dump their rubbish.

It really irritates me – and it should annoy every tax payer – to see the amount of litter and waste that is dumped in the borough. This filthy disrespect not only makes the town look a mess but it also costs a small fortune to clean it up and the infographic above gives you an idea of how big a problem this is for Oldham Council.

In addition to those seven new education and enforcement officers we’ve also now invested in an additional 10 street cleaners although – whilst we are happy to invest in frontline services, even in very difficult financial times – that money could be far better used on other things.

That morning we had a real live case of fly tipping to deal with.

Officers began sifting through the refuse for evidence of ownership and, under piles of children’s homework and takeaway left overs, we did actually find some information of interest relating to an address. The team will investigate this further and after bagging the waste in the pink/red enforcement bags we moved on again.

Our next stop was just a couple of streets away where we met up with officers from the team who are tackling issues regarding privately owned and rented properties.

The improvement of private sector housing is a priority for the council and this team are central to delivering that. The Selective Licensing of Private Landlords, a new scheme which was approved by Cabinet before Christmas, is just one example of the activity that the team are involved in which aims to not just improve individual properties, but the area as a whole.

There’s a lot of work going on to improve the standard of the environment and good advances have been made, but there’s no doubt that there is still a long way to go in some areas.

The filthy sight that faced us at the back of one particular tenanted property that morning was horrific. It looked like the aftermath of something apocalyptic and was obviously a health hazard.

Unfortunately it wasn’t an isolated scene and as we walked down this row a similar sight greeted us in several insecure back gardens.

The enforcement team are making inroads and work tirelessly to keep up on activity like this but things will only ever really improve when individuals change their ways and the community collectively does their bit too.

Thankfully though, it wasn’t all about muck and mice out with these teams. It’s easy to forget that the eventual outcomes from a typical morning’s unenviable tasks like this are often hugely positive for individuals, neighbourhoods and communities.

These staff are rightly proud of the difference they make, and so am I.

To these genuine unsung heroes – busy keeping our borough clean and safe and taking to task those who put it at risk – I say a huge thank you.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Cancer: Prevention, diagnosis and treatment in Oldham

140820 Preventable Cancers SimpleDOORSTEP conversations are the lifeblood of local politics and always give the best insight into the issues that are really affecting communities.

One issue that comes up an awful lot is the impact that cancer has on families.

Whether talking to someone who is fighting cancer themselves or caring for someone with the disease, it’s clear that either way it can put people under incredible pressure.

The scale of the problem was only further highlighted with the publication of new analysis this week by Cancer Research UK which suggests that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

This estimate uses a new calculation method that replaces the previous well-known forecast of more than one in three people developing the disease.

Longer life expectancies mean that increasing numbers of people are now going to be affected unless preventative measures are taken to improve lifestyles.

Like most people I’ve lost friends to cancer and have also seen others taking on the fight of their lives only to come out the other side never quite being certain it won’t ever return.

If you are an avid reader of the Oldham Chronicle you’ll no doubt have been following first-hand the experiences of its editor, Dave Whaley, in recent months.

Dave has been describing in detail his roller-coaster emotional journey as he battles throat cancer – right from the initial diagnosis through to some incredibly tough decisions and his latest complex operation.

It takes a great deal of courage and personal resilience to lay out so starkly and publicly the human impact of his experiences at this time but, in doing so – and using his family motto ‘Keep Smiling’ – I believe he has inspired and helped far more people than even he realises.

It’s interesting to look at the available data on the impact of cancer in Oldham.

In our borough we have a higher rate of new cases of cancer at 399 per 100,000 residents, compared to 393 per 100,000 (England) with breast, prostate, lung and bowel being the most common types.

One of the starkest facts I’ve learnt whilst researching this subject is that in the last five years almost 600,000 cancer cases in the UK could have been prevented.

This particularly interests me as local authorities like Oldham Council now have responsibility for Public Health.

The evidence suggests though that around half of all cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK could be avoided if people made changes to their lifestyle, such as not smoking, having a healthy diet and doing regular exercise.

Smoking, for example, is the largest single cause of cancer in the UK, linked to an estimated 19 per cent of cancer cases nationally each year, with lung cancer having the highest proportion of smoking-linked cases.

The infographic (see above) shows how adopting a healthier lifestyle can reduce a person’s chances of developing cancer.

As a co-operative borough, Oldham is focused on developing an approach to health and wellbeing that is centred around prevention because it not only promotes healthier and less dependent communities but also saves money on high cost treatments further down the line.

For all those cases that can be prevented there are also, of course, those that can’t.

Cancer3Whilst cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years (see right) it’s clear that, when the unthinkable happens, getting support is vital.

We are really very fortunate here in Oldham to have a comprehensive support network for those diagnosed with cancer – and their family members. It reminds me that whilst cancer shows how fragile human beings are it also reveals their inner-strength and deep compassion.

The Christie at Oldham, opened in 2010, is the first in a unique network of its radiotherapy centres where patients can access first-class treatment from experts. The site, which treats the more common forms of cancer such as breast and prostate, allows patients to receive the same renowned care that they would get at the main Christie site in Didsbury, whilst also being able to stay closer to home.

The Christie at Oldham is also where the Macmillan Cancer Information Centre is located. This is staffed by specialists who offer a wide range of information on all aspects of cancer and free confidential advice for anyone affected.

Macmillan also provides the Oldham Community Specialist Palliative Care Team, which helps patients and families to live as well as possible by providing high-quality pain and symptom control, as well as practical and psychological support.

The Oldham Cancer Family History Service based at Failsworth Health Centre offers high-quality personalised risk assessments for those who are concerned or have been identified by a health professional to be at an increased risk of developing certain inherited cancers. The primary focus is for breast, bowel, womb and ovarian cancers where faulty genes have been identified.

Failsworth is also where Oldham Cancer Support Centre is based. This patient-led initiative, working in partnership with Oldham Primary Care Trust, offers help to patients, carers and family members. Amongst the support on offer is specialist benefits advice, complementary therapies, counselling and opportunities to chat through needs and concerns relating to any aspect of cancer.

Last but not least there is the renowned Dr Kershaw’s Hospice in Royton which is Oldham’s only specialist care facility for adults with life limiting illnesses. The care the hospice provides is free of charge and set within beautiful grounds that create a peaceful environment for patients and families to enjoy.

As residents and neighbours we also all have a part to play in helping those dealing with the effects of cancer. Whether that is offering to help them to keep on top of their cleaning or gardening, getting some shopping in for them, raising money for one of the local or national cancer charities, or just taking time to listen to them over a brew, please show your support in whatever way you can. Together, we can beat cancer.

For more information, please visit the Cancer Research UK site

If you want to speak to someone about cancer, or need support for yourself or a family member, you can also visit the Macmillan website for details on how to get in touch.

Thanks for listening,

Jim