I DELIVERED my Annual Report at last week’s meeting of Full Council.
I reflected on the eventful year we have had and the many challenges that lie ahead at local, regional and national levels – whether that is cuts to our funding as a council, Greater Manchester devolution or the state of the economy and the new measures introduced in the recent Emergency Budget.
You can watch my speech on a video link by clicking here and will need to fast forward the clip to 1 hr, 8 minutes and 30 seconds.
Alternatively, below is a summary of some of what I said about the huge amount of work Oldham Council has done in the past 12 months to help ordinary residents deal with the issues that affect them. .
We knew we needed to step up and help local residents with the financial challenges so many are facing on a daily basis.
If you doubt that assistance is needed, think again. In the year to June, Oldham Foodbank has provided food for 3,716 adults and 1,620 children which shows that the pips are already squeaking in many family homes
New cuts announced in the Emergency Budget will also mean that benefit changes, changes to tax credits, thresholds, housing benefits and social housing payments and others will cost our local economy more than £58 million over the next four years. The worst-affected 2,000 families here will lose, on average, more than £3,800 a year.
We invested in our Welfare Rights Service Invested ahead of the implementation of Welfare Reform because we understood the huge impact this was going to have in Oldham.
In the last year that team has helped more than 1,100 residents with benefits advice, filling in forms, submitting appeals and representing them at tribunals.
This support saw a massive £2.3m extra brought into the borough’s economy during 2014/15 either through an increase in benefits for clients or backdated and one-off payments.
EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME
In the past year we’ve been doing our bit to stand up for people trying to find work and extra income.
Our Get Oldham Working campaign – an unprecedented scheme with partners across all sectors – smashed its original target to create 2,015 jobs, apprenticeship and trainee opportunities, and did it nine months ahead of schedule.
To date 3,025 opportunities have been created, which includes 1,672 jobs and 475 apprenticeships. More than 2,200 of these opportunities have been filled, including 1,226 jobs, 286 apprenticeships and 162 traineeships.
We were again ahead of the curve – and Government – in introducing the Living Wage at Oldham Council. We gave a new £7.86 minimum hourly rate to 540 employees from April 1. The majority of those staff are Oldham residents in cleaning and catering posts and this was worth more than £800 a year to full time employees. Even at a time of severe budget challenges we recognise those people play an important role in delivering our services and deserve the respect of being paid a fair wage for it – which will also benefit the local economy.
We also recognised that Getting Oldham Working isn’t just about the number of jobs created – it’s about the quality of them.
That’s why we’ve been signing up businesses to our Fair Employment Charter. This campaign encourages local firms to commit to creating job opportunities that are fair, ethical, responsible and sustainable – not zero hours contracts, for example – and to give people good training support and prospects. We have several big local employers already on board including FCHO and Emmanuel Whitaker.
Another vital thing we’ve been doing is to embed ‘Social Value’ into all our activity.
To make every pound of the £225m we spend go even further we demand that contractors show how they will actively support the local economy in their bids, including sub-contracting. This goes from the biggest to the smallest contracts we do. Barclays, as an example, now have our banking contract and provide social value through schemes like Life Skills and Money Skills projects – all aimed at helping young people to become more employable and manage money better.
We also know that even if you are in stable employment none of us are immune to a financial ‘rainy day’.
That’s why we launched Our House in June: the country’s first-ever payment store run by a not-for-profit business. This offers fair credit to families needing to buy important goods like furniture, appliances and electrical items. The FRC Group reinvests all profits back into business and weekly prices are up to 50 per cent lower than other high street rent-to-own stores.
HOMES AND GOOD PLACES TO LIVE
We’ve introduced a licensing scheme for private landlords to stamp out the letting of poor quality accommodation. Landlords must become licence holders and meet certain standards to rent properties out.
This is to challenge poor standards and management practices, including tenants’ anti-social behaviour. Four out of five of around 3,700 respondents to our consultation on these plans said it will improve their areas.
Another issue for tenants and homeowners is Fuel Poverty. Our national award-winning scheme, Warm Homes Oldham, has now lifted more than 1,900 people out of fuel poverty in its first two years. This is a full support package that includes energy efficiency and bill advice, grants for heating updates and insulation, energy switching, emergency heating, and benefit checks.
We have plans in place for thousands of aspirational homes to be built here that give real choice and variety to communities. When I talk about aspirational homes, I mean like those on the new St Mary’s Estate – our multi-award winning affordable housing development of 90 high quality homes built to highest specification and green standards. I mean something that offers a decent opportunity to residents regardless of income, tenure or circumstance.
Through ‘Working Extra’ we now give housing priority to people in work, volunteering or caring. This is to support residents’ who ‘do their bit’ and 80 per cent of homes at a new Keswick Avenue development, Fitton Hill, were recently allocated to people on that basis.
Through the Action Oldham Fund we’ve used dormant trust funds in excess of £1 million to let them be used for grassroots activities to improve neighbourhoods; like community growing schemes and projects to tackle ASB.
There is also our new Green Dividend scheme which funds allotments and tree planting projects to make communities better places to live through collective action.
THE FUTURE: YOUNG PEOPLE AND EDUCATION
Last summer I asked Estelle Morris to chair our new Oldham Education and Skills Commission. This has been looking at how we realign our education offer across the board with what the local economy needs, and testing whether what we’re doing is really supporting people into meaningful employment or future education.
Their final report is due soon and will set out a new Oldham Offer outlining what every pupil, parent, governor, teacher, business and partner should expect – and what each themselves needs to do – to contribute to improvement in young people’s prospects.
This month we have just delivered on another flagship pledge – the Oldham Youth Guarantee. That means for the first time here that every 18-year-old leaving school can access either continued education, training, apprenticeship, a job opportunity or be supported into self-employment.
We have also seen the expansion this year of Enterprise Hubs: a brilliant collaboration with schools, students, businesses and other partners to stimulate entrepreneurship and create vital networking opportunities.
SUPPORTING BUSINESS AND SKILLS
Our strategy for Oldham is ‘invest to grow’ and businesses are hugely important partners in all our plans.
Successful regeneration and a growing economy will mean that more businesses will be paying business rates and more residents in work will be paying Council Tax. This will help us to protect frontline and vital services that people depend on.
Some examples of how we’re helping local firms include:
Warehouse to Wheels: The Logistics industry faces a national shortage of drivers with only a third of the numbers needed being trained each year, so we approached and co-invested money with European Social Fund and the Skills Funding Agency. Many warehouse staff or others want to get the Category C LGV licence but can’t afford the £2,000 costs. This month more than 50 of our first trainees will graduate from this scheme – and their success promotes further mobility and new opportunities for others in labour market.
Independent Quarter: By investing £1m we are supporting a range of businesses – from bedroom start-ups to independent firms and social enterprises – into the blossoming new IQ in Oldham town centre. More than 60 applications have already been approved with a fast-growing range of shops breathing new life into the area. The scheme has been so successful that it now being rolled out to help revive district town centres in Failsworth, Shaw and Lees.
Oldham Enterprise Fund: This £1m cashpot has now processed more than 90 applications giving a range of practical funding help and expert support to start-ups and existing businesses.
THE VULNERABLE AND ELDERLY
Last October we spun out our Adult social care operation into two services.
Oldham Care and Support now delivers adult care services bought by the council on residents’ behalf and Oldham Care and Support at Home is now actively taking on and competing with private sector companies in the home care and personal assistance market. By bringing in additional business from self-funders, people who have the Independent Living Fund, and work from the health service and people switching from other private home care providers, we are protecting staff and ensuring the quality of the care they receive.
This year we’ve launched ‘Volunteering for All, a new project for residents who want to meet new friends or need help with daily tasks. This includes befriending, help with technology, shopping and everyday tasks, community clubs and travel companions. It’s a vital voluntary contribution to improving lives for all who take part in it.
And there can be few better examples of co-operative working than the Oldham Dementia Action Alliance. We teamed up with more than 30 organisations to create a scheme which had a target to sign up 500 people to agree to learn more about dementia in 45-minute training sessions.
After just three months it had created an astonishing 2,592 Dementia Friends in the borough prompting Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, to visit Oldham to see our pioneering work.
Our town is full of inspiring and amazing people that include our regular national headline grabbers like Kevin Sinfield, Nicola White, Brian Cox or Simon Wood: all of whom deserve every plaudit they receive.
But we also have so many unsung heroes in our borough. People here are industrious and selfless.
For every one flytipper or rogue landlord or tenant we have dozens of fantastic people who deserve better and will play their part in improving the place.
That’s why we’re working so hard to help them – and why we’ll continue to leave no stone unturned in making 2015/6 another successful year for Oldham.
Thanks for listening,