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: http://bit.ly/1Xmq1aD
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.