I’M COMMITTED to Oldham Council fighting to make a positive difference with partners to real people’s lives – and that starts in our local economy.
The sad case of the end of the iconic retail empire that was once British Home Stores is just one example where we’ve done that.
Last weekend saw the doors closed for the last time on the 88-year-old firm’s operations nationwide.
When BHS first collapsed in April, it still had 163 stores that were trading but the final 20 have now shut.
Included in that tragic tale, of course, was the Oldham outlet in Spindles, which had only been open since November 2012.
The BHS closure hit 11,000 jobs nationwide, sparking a parliamentary inquiry and – with 22,000 people’s pensions affected by a reported £571 million black hole in funding – its a story that will run and run, possibly even into a criminal investigation.
When it was first confirmed that the Oldham store was under threat we were clear that the remaining 25 or so local workers would need help and we had to act. That’s when our excellent Get Oldham Working team swung into action to find out what could be done and intervene where help might be needed.
Working with partners like JobCentre Plus they arranged one-to-one advice sessions with all staff so that they could get any information they needed quick about forthcoming employment opportunities, how to improve CVs, plus their rights and benefits etc.
We put several staff in contact with potential employers and outlined their options to them. Some wanted to stay in retail, return to previous careers or look for something completely different.
The team also offered the safety net that – if people were still seeking work later in the year – we could guarantee them, through GOW partners, an interview for positions that would be coming up at the Old Town Hall and other tailored recruitment options we had put together.
By the time the Oldham outlet closed on August 3, I am pleased to report that every single member of staff affected had found new employment.
It’s small comfort for the disruption that BHS’ collapse has caused generally, of course, but it does show yet again how effective and important the Get Oldham Working (GOW) team’s efforts have become.
That’s also why the team’s move to a new premises in Oldham town centre last week is vital and makes so much sense: making it even easier for people to access job information and advice.
The GOW team has already supported our objectives in creating 3,750 employment opportunities in less than three years since it was formed, but the work can’t stop there.
They’ve now moved out of the Civic Centre and into a new base on the first floor of Metropolitan House, Hobson Street, Oldham – which is just across the road from JobCentre Plus.
I visited the new set-up last week and saw for myself how the new location – and the team’s ‘open door’ policy – can be essential help to anyone seeking work, apprenticeships, traineeships and experience.
Anyone of working age can now simply turn up – without an appointment – and speak to a careers advisor on weekdays from 9am until 4pm.
Given the success of GOW, which is a fantastic example of Oldham Council working cooperatively with partners for everyone’s benefit, we’re keen to see the scheme help even more people.
Now we are embarking on Phase 2 of the scheme, which has new targets.
Over the next four years GOW is looking to assist and guide 6,000 more residents and fill 5,000 work-related opportunities.
This October the team will also launch a new Career Advancement Service (CAS). The CAS is focussed on helping an initial 400 employed local residents to understand what additional support they might need to get an in-work promotion (including advice and support to increase their skills and salary levels).
That won’t just ultimately help them and their families, it also serves to increase upward mobility in the local labour market and create new opportunities for others.
As our major regeneration projects, like the Old Town Hall, Prince’s Gate and the Independent Quarter continue attracting more large, medium and small-sized businesses to invest in our borough, I believe GOW will go from strength to strength.
The same also goes for that big vacant unit that BHS has left behind at Spindles.
We know that the shopping centre owners, Kennedy Wilson, are working hard to attract the right tenant and will do all we can to support them in that search.
It’s a chilling thought that former BHS staff in other parts of the country might not have been as fortunate as those in Oldham have been and could actually be joining the dole queue this week, but we’re determined to make a difference here, wherever we can, to support local people and business.
The doors at Metropolitan House are now open to everyone of working age – young people and adults alike – and that means you can get a dedicated learning mentor, access to training, experience and help to find secure employment.
Anyone who needs support should visit the team or look at www.oldham.gov.uk/gow as a starting point.
It goes without saying that we’re also very interested in hearing from even more local businesses and organisations that are interested in providing traineeships, apprentices or jobs for local people.
Many have already stepped forward, but more are always needed.
Please do your bit and get in touch to help us make a genuine difference to people’s lives – and the local economy.