Inclusive growth – what it is and why it matters

JeanStrettonTHE ‘INCLUSIVE Growth’ agenda is going to be absolutely central to my work as Council Leader.

What I mean by that it is that it’s vital we ensure that Greater Manchester devolution isn’t just delivering for core areas around Manchester city centre, but also for all our towns and districts.

The importance of that – as if we needed reminding – was highlighted again when the All-Party Group of Social Inclusion met in Parliament on Monday.

The group warned that Britain is becoming more ethnically segregated – with widening “cracks in our communities” because lessons haven’t been learned.

Their deliberations coincided with the unhappy anniversary of it being 15 years since the Oldham riots and I was, as you can imagine, asked to give my thoughts by several media sources.

Those scenes on our streets in 2001 were ones none of us will forget. Since then they’ve remained at the forefront of all our minds in everything we do to improve the prospects of our people, business and places.

I welcomed the fact that these issues were being discussed in the context of being matters for Britain as a nation this week. It’s important to do that rather than treating those disturbances as somehow being a defining and unique feature of Oldham.

Rising immigration has produced a national debate that is primarily focussed on numbers and sensational headlines; risking a response where communities blame each other and heightening the appeal of simplistic ‘Donald Trump’ solutions.

I want to talk about Oldham’s experiences since 2001 – and where we go next on this agenda.

Much hard work has been done by Oldham Council and partners across all sectors to provide stronger civic leadership here that can tackle the problems that can lead to communities living “parallel lives”.

We’ve made significant investments in landmark regeneration schemes designed to boost Oldham’s confidence, make it family-friendly, improve residents’ prospects and spark the local economy by attracting major inward investment deals to helping small independent traders.

There’s also been significant investment in housing, work to reduce the segregation of students from different ethnic backgrounds in schools, plus the Oldham Education and Skills Commission, which is striving to improve standards and encourage schools to work better together to raise them across the borough.

We’re not complacent but we’ve seen success in several areas. There’s less hate crime happening, for example, and the far right has still never had a single candidate elected here. Our neighbourhood teams working closely within communities also find that people much more prepared to acknowledge and discuss difficult issues.

But seeing these issues simply through the prism of race is too narrow a focus that offers few solutions.

Drill deeper and you can see that social integration and economic inclusion and prosperity go hand in hand, which is why I’m concentrating on three key areas for Oldham.

wordpress-gmcaFirstly, as a partner in Greater Manchester devolution, I’ve made the ‘inclusive growth’ agenda my top concern.

New research from the independent Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit (run by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and University of Manchester) rightly challenges the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to ensure the proceeds of growth are shared by all people and places in their regions.

Looking at key indicators like income, living costs, labour market exclusion, employment and human capital we can see that while Manchester city centre and Salford have seen growth in their prosperity, the GM region overall sits in the bottom half of the index for inclusion. That has to change or devolution will fail – and communities will divide.

Secondly, we must not lose sight of the importance of our key services. We cannot forget or underestimate the impact these targeted interventions can have in changing peoples’ lives. Initiatives like Get Oldham Working and Warm Homes Oldham have helped thousands of people into employment and out of fuel poverty – key interventions which can make a huge difference. Delivering them won’t be getting any easier, however, as the Government continues to slash our funding and offer measures like business rate redistribution, which won’t mitigate long-term risks to councils like ours. Westminster can and must do better.

And thirdly, I believe more should be done to include women in the GM devolution agenda and in finding solutions to these challenges.

We’ve underplayed the contribution women can make and haven’t engaged them well in this process so far: the devolution deal photocall was a very telling image filled entirely with men in suits. That matters for reasons of justice, legitimacy and efficiency.

I’m the first female leader of Oldham Council and it’s one that has strong cabinet and ward member representation of women. But I’m also now the only female leader in GM and I will push for that voice to be heard better in policy-making and helping to tackle entrenched divisions and inequalities.

As a Co-operative Council we work hard with partners in every area and sector of our borough. All of us recognise that we have our own roles to play in tackling deep-seated social, economic and cultural forces that can drive our communities apart.

We share those challenges with many other places and cannot ever ignore them.

What’s important about Oldham though is not that we had a riot – London and Manchester had them much more recently, remember – but that we have a plan, a partnership and the determination to tackle these issues head on.

Jean Stretton

Leader of Oldham Council

Oldham Council: Priorities for the year ahead

NEW YEAR, NEW MAYOR: Councillor Derek Heffernan takes his place on the dias in the Council Chamber for the first time as Mayor of Oldham.

TODAY WAS our Annual Council meeting which is a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the future.

Our new Cabinet line-up for 2016/7 was approved as part of the usual order of business.

That means myself and Abdul Jabbar will continue as Council Leader and Deputy Leader and – amongst the other main changes – sees the return of Amanda Chadderton and new portfolio areas for Shoab Akhtar and Fida Hussain.

You can read all about the full line-up and those new roles and responsibilities here:

As part of the tradition of Annual Council I also spoke this afternoon to explain this administration’s priorities as we enter a ‘fallow’ period with no local elections scheduled until May 2018.

To give you a summary of what I said, I reflected on the fact that it is now five years since we became a Cooperative Council.

I believe that approach has delivered – and will continue to do so – for the borough.

We remain committed to that approach in order to deliver our key priorities.

Put simply, those are to improve the prospects of all our people, all of our business communities and the whole of the borough.

It means doing all that we can as a council – alongside partners – to attract new investment, jobs, skills, economic growth and homes for our residents.

A good example of how that co-operative approach works – where everyone does their bit, and everyone benefits – is the Independent Quarter.

This is flourishing thanks to the £600,000 we’ve already granted to existing and new independent businesses.

We now have 27 new independent firms trading in that area who have created more than 150 new jobs and invested £1m of their own money. We expect a further nine companies with another 50 jobs to come during this year.

There’s also been improvements to 40 buildings and 35 more are set to complete in 2016. And this area – which many people had stopped visiting because of too many takeaways, cheap booze offers and vacant run-down units – is now home to some fantastic new restaurants, traders, professional services and even social enterprises.

Tackling areas of deprivation and helping people who are both in and out of work is also a key priority.

Get Oldham Working has been a great pathway into employment for more than 2,550 people but we know too many residents are in low-paid and low skilled jobs with little job security. That has to change.

We must prioritise giving those people new opportunities to get better skills and make progress in their careers that earn more money for their families. That will not only push local wages higher but it will also create mobility in the labour market and encourage more new people into work.

And we are fully committed to implementing the findings of the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report. A new Education Partnership Leader is to be appointed soon and good progress is already being made.

Around 63 per cent of our children now attend ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools, which is a big improvement in a short space of time.

We must also focus on playing a proactive role in the Greater Manchester devolution agenda.

I want us to be a positive partner in that project while also trying to strike the best deal for our residents and businesses. I see no contradiction in that stance because devolution will only truly work if everyone sees and shares the benefits.

It makes sense for all GM authorities to work together. We share similar challenges and interests in getting better results in health and social care, nurturing business growth and equipping residents with the skills and life chances they deserve.

But we also must ensure that devolution doesn’t just deliver for core areas around Manchester city centre. We need a strong settlement for our towns and districts too. We need inclusive growth.

My final – but very important – priority is to continue to focus on getting your basic services right.

There’s no point me moaning that we have to find another £67m in savings over the next two years. We just have to get on with it.

We have to respond and innovate and work harder than ever to protect your essential local services. And we will.

Finally this week, I must mention the ‘Mayor making’ ceremony which took place earlier today in the Council Chamber.

I was delighted to join all members in unanimously selecting Councillor Derek Heffernan, who has been a ward member for Saddleworth since 1995, as our new first citizen.

Derek is held in high regard across all parties for his dedication to public service and unstinting work for local organisations.

He and his wife, Di, will be splendid ambassadors for Oldham and both deserve this very special honour.

We also gave thanks to the departing Mayor, Ateeque Ur-Rheman and his Mayoress, Yasmin Toor.

They have been one of the busiest duos ever to hold that office and made a really big impact across the borough – especially in our schools.

Their excellent year finished with a Zip Wire event last weekend which raised more than £17,000 for local good causes. That is, I believe, a record total raised by a Mayoral event in one day.

I know lots of people have enjoyed meeting them and have sent in many letters of thanks and appreciation.

On behalf of them, the borough and the council, I would like to thank Ateeque and Yasmin for their fantastic efforts.


New shoes, new faces – and familiar challenges  

pollingIT’S ALWAYS something of a relief to get back to ‘business as usual’ once the local elections are finished.

As council leader the election period is an incredibly busy one spent supporting established and new candidates on doorsteps the length and breadth of the borough – and buying a new pair of shoes is often one of your first considerations afterwards(!).

I was generally pleased with the results last Thursday as this administration – having lost one seat and gained another, through Stephen Hewitt (in Saddleworth West and Lees) – remains in the same situation it was in before the polls opened.

However, that is also tempered with deep disappointment that Arooj Shah was not re-elected in the St Mary’s seat that she has served with distinction for four years. I firmly believe, however, that what doesn’t kill you simply makes you stronger, and she will be certainly be back in local politics soon.  

Without being in any way complacent I am taking the overall result as a general backing for the priorities and policies that we have been working hard on for you and your families.

OTH2Much of the regeneration programme we promised since 2011  is now delivered, or firmly underway, and the opening of the Old Town Hall (right) later this year will be a symbolic moment and a real boost for our town centre, residents and visitor economy.

Aside from next month’s EU referendum, of course, things are now getting back to normal and I am enjoying the chance to refocus and get on with planning what comes next for Oldham.

As I have previously said there will be more focus in the months and years ahead on social regeneration. These are schemes designed to invest in and help to improve local people’s prospects and lives.

It’s an agenda that includes work with our partners to implement the findings of the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report, for example, plus schemes that can help residents to lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives – and deliver the homes and community facilities they need.

There are also emerging opportunities for us from devolution to Greater Manchester: in particular on health, skills and transport  where we could have much more say over the public services and investments which affect all our communities.

I will be setting out this agenda more fully in the coming months and I promise that the focus of our work will stay true to our long-standing ambitions and vision for this borough.

As I write I’m currently drawing together my final thoughts on a new Cabinet, which will be revealed later today.

I am fortunate in having a strong talent pool to draw from within the group and the line-up will go before Annual Council for approval next Wednesday (May 18).

As a Cabinet we’ll also be turning our attentions quickly to the huge task of how to find a projected £37 million in savings we need to find from reduced budgets over the next two years…What did I say about it being ‘business as usual’ at Oldham Council?