An economy that works for everyone

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SPECIAL DELIVERY: The new DPD depot set to bring 350 new jobs to the borough

I PROMISED to blog more about our key priorities in the years ahead – as outlined in my recent Annual Report to Full Council.

As I said last week, Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own efforts towards making it a better place – we can only build a better borough together.

That’s the spirit of co-operative working, but what does it really mean and how does it work in practice?

Put simply, it means everyone with a vested interest in a scheme contributes their own ‘bit’ towards making it a reality, whatever that might be.

And that involves all of us – not just public sector partners and investors putting in funding or sharing resources – but also residents doing simple but important things, like getting behind a plan, being an ambassador for it and using a new facility when it is built.

At the heart of this co-operative work lies our drive to create a strong economy here – and a place that we can all be proud of.

For Oldham Council that means a clear commitment from us to continuing to work hard to attract outside investment.

We’re still having good success on that front. Take last week’s deal for a new DPD Depot at Chadderton last week creating up to 350 new local jobs, for example.

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LIDL: New Royton store created 40 new jobs this month

It’s a commitment from us that the regeneration of our town and district centres – like the new Lidl which opened in Royton this month – will go on and that we’ll carry on striving to build a more balanced and stronger economy that works for everyone.

The Old Town Hall will open on October 21 and that’s a flagship project that makes a clear statement about where we are heading as a place.

It says everything about our intent to have a thriving and confident Oldham town centre where families and communities can enjoy quality time. And it’s about banishing those bad old days when the ‘Wild West’ culture of cheap booze offers around Yorkshire Street blighted our reputation.

But as I’ve outlined in earlier blogs, the Old Town Hall will be just the heartbeat of that new town centre and there will be other important developments taking shape around it.

Funding is in place now for our new Arts & Heritage Centre in the old library on Union Street, for example, and next year we can lay the foundations on the Prince’s Gate scheme, including that much-awaited Marks & Spencer store.

You should also have noticed major improvement works going on to highways and pedestrian areas around the town centre.

That’s not just our new Parliament Square, it’s the ongoing upgrades to Yorkshire Street and the Campus Oldham part of town, along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre and Oldham Sixth Form College.

All of this is being done to improve the experience for motorists, cyclists, shoppers, visitors, residents and business.

The progress on schemes like this – and the new Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at the Royal Oldham Hospital – is helping to move Oldham to the next level with better opportunities and jobs and one we can finally market as a visitor destination in its own right.

We’ve worked with so many partners on those schemes I’ve just mentioned: including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Stoller Trust, Arts Council England, NHS Oldham, Marks & Spencer, Transport for Greater Manchester and the GMCA, to name just a few.

But successful co-operative working also works at all ends of the spectrum – and it’s just as important when it delivers great outcomes at a smaller level.

oldhams-independent-quarter-sqA shining example of that is the Independent Quarter.

Doing our bit as the local authority has been to put up a £1m package of comprehensive support to help existing or start-up businesses.

For others, their bit as traders has been to put life savings, hard graft and vision into a new venture, or as residents it’s been just to go and use these new shops and support the traders in their new home.

The result to date is that we have seen 30 new specialist traders move in, plus three new quality restaurants and 50 buildings refurbished.

We’ve got a waiting list of applications and people wanting to relocate there – including a new Digital Enterprise Hub that will help new enterprises grow across the digital, technology and creative sectors.

Between all of us we’re transforming what was a run-down area strewn with vacant units into a place that is changing by the day, providing a specialist offer for customers and businesses, creating new jobs and blossoming in confidence.

I believe it could well rank as the best £1 million this local authority has ever spent – and that’s because other people have bought into the vision and backed it.

That is very powerful. That’s the difference we can make together. That’s an economy that works for everyone.

Next week I’ll be explaining the growing importance of social regeneration for this administration.

These are existing and new schemes that are just as important as new facilities and buildings to people.

We want to restore pride – not just in Oldham as a place – but also in people and communities by helping to change their daily lives for the better and improve their prospects.

Above all, it’s about ensuring that, in Oldham, nobody is left behind.

Jean

Popcorn and politics: Putting families first

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COMING SOON: The Old Town Hall will open its doors to the public on Friday, October 21

THE DRIVING ambition behind our redevelopment of the Old Town Hall was always about giving local families a town centre they can enjoy and be proud of.

That’s why I was delighted this week to be able to finally reveal the opening date for the new ODEON as Friday, October 21.

It’s the same day that local schools will break up for holidays and it would’ve been simply wrong to deny people the chance to visit their new seven-screen cinema and restaurants and have quality family time on their own doorstep.

We could’ve waited for every last paving stone to be laid on Parliament Square, of course, and fussed about other minor details – but this very definitely felt like the right timing.

I’d like to thank everyone involved for their patience in awaiting this news, and the fantastic reception they’ve given it on Social Media and elsewhere – positivity does wonders for us all!

I recently promised to spell out some of the main themes of my recent Annual Report to Full Council, so I will start this week by talking about the context we are operating in at present.

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VIDEO: Click on the banner above to watch my Annual Report in full

You can’t fail to have noticed that there’s great upheaval in British politics(!).

Following the EU Referendum – and the vote for Brexit on June 23 – we’ve also had a swift change of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It’s claimed that we will soon see changes in the Government’s approach and key policies, away from the austerity agenda, but only time will tell on that front. We live in hope…

Clearly the Brexit vote is going to have a big impact in framing what we do – and can do – in the future as both a council and a borough.

And anyone who tells you they know what it means with any certainty is kidding both you and themselves.

The implications are going to touch every part of our work as a local authority: our budgets, community relations, our ability to invest, the strength of our local economy, and the confidence of our businesses and partners.

JeanStrettonThat’s why I am crystal clear that Oldham Council remains fully committed to stepping up and playing a leadership role, as it has done with the Old Town Hall.

I am determined that we will do that with a strong and focused Cabinet getting on with the crucial work that is needed – because the only thing we can be certain of these days is that nobody will come in from the outside and fix our problems for us.

It’s now more than five years since we started our journey as a Co-operative Council and what that period of time has shown me is a very simple lesson: Oldham only succeeds when we all pull together.

Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own very different contributions towards making it a better place – whether that is recycling well, reporting a pothole, checking on a neighbour’s wellbeing, creating new opportunities for local people or spreading good news and information.

Put simply, we can only build a better borough together.

Next week I will look at how that approach works in practice – and what we are doing next – in terms of our efforts to create a strong local economy and a place we can all be proud of.

That’s all about continuing to attract investment, regenerating our town and district centres and, crucially, building an economy that works for everyone.

Popcorn and politics may make for a curious mix, but I hope this week serves as a timely reminder of our determination to make Oldham an aspirational place to live and work.

Jean

Changing boundaries

pollingA STORM began rumbling yesterday – and I don’t mean the extreme weather that arrived in the evening.

I’m talking about the long-awaited publication of Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the Parliamentary map and cut the House of Commons from 650 MPs to 600.

The North West loses seven constituencies – the highest number in any region – and only 14 of the current 75 seats are unchanged.

So – how will it affect you?

As you know, Oldham currently has three constituencies – Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and part of Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner’s seat which includes wards in Failsworth and Hollinwood).

The new proposals would mean:

  • Most of the current Oldham West and Royton constituency would become a new Oldham seat containing Royton South, Chadderton Central, Chadderton North, Chadderton South, Coldhurst, St Mary’s, St James, and Waterhead – plus the addition of Moston.
  • Oldham East and Saddleworth would be replaced by a new Littleborough and Saddleworth constituency. This would be made up of Royton North, Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth North, Saddleworth South, along with five Rochdale borough wards.
  • Of the remaining wards in our borough it is proposed that Werneth, Hollinwood, and Medlock Vale should join a new Failsworth and Droylsden constituency alongside Failsworth East, Failsworth West, Alexandra and Saddleworth West and Lees – plus the current Tameside wards of Audenshaw, Droylsden East and Droylsden West.
  • The Ashton-under-Lyne seat would no longer contain any Oldham borough wards.

We are told that this is all about ensuring “an equal say for each voter” by having more equal-sized constituencies – and cutting costs by £12 million – but what is the real price of these proposals?

Surely the make-up and footprint of all seats has to make geographical sense and context to the people living within them?

Many of the wards and constituencies affected have long-standing identities and associations and there’s plenty in these initial proposals to raise eyebrows…

Is it right, for example, to cut the historic district of Royton in half and move the North ward into a Littleborough and Saddleworth seat alongside Rochdale wards?

Under what rationale does Moston, currently in Manchester Central, fit into the proposed new Oldham seat?

And what reasoning lies behind splitting Saddleworth and Lees away from the rest of Saddleworth – and then planting it in Failsworth and Droylsden?

Obviously I have my own personal views on the proposals and I will be discussing these with councillors across all parties in the coming weeks.

I am more inclined to support proposals that would allow Oldham to be a borough that has two constituency MPs, has none of our wards in another constituency and no wards from outside of the borough in either of our constituencies. That’s common sense.

partner-resource-poster-212x300There are other issues too…

The Boundary Commission set a ‘quota’ size which aims for each constituency to represent around 74,769 voters, but that figure is based on the electoral register as it stood on December 1, 2015.

Since then we know that a further two million people have also registered to vote – many signed up to take part in the Brexit referendum – and they simply haven’t been taken into account in these calculations and proposals.

That’s just a smattering of the issues at stake here and a public consultation on the plans is now under way.

Although final proposals will not be made until 2018 you have just 12 weeks to put your views forward.

If agreed by Parliament the new boundaries would be in place by the 2020 general election.

I would urge everyone reading this to take the time to look at the proposals and have your say on them. Visit here to find out how.

Two more vital points this week…

Firstly, I can reveal that we will be announcing the opening date for the Old Town Hall next Monday – and I will comment further on that next time.

And last but not least, I must pay tribute to another remarkable athlete, and a former Oldham resident, Sascha Kindred OBE.

The 38-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, has been a household name in Paralympics for the past two decades and is one-half of a ‘golden couple’ with his wife and celebrated fellow swimmer Nyree Lewis.

Although he now lives in Herefordshire, Sascha is an ex-Kaskenmoor School pupil who moved here from Germany as a young boy.

On Monday he marked the last-ever appearance of his Paralympic career by setting a new world record time to win his seventh gold medal since his first games in 1996.

Sacha’s positive attitude and determination also shines in his work as a motivational speaker and this is a fitting final chapter of what has been a truly glittering career.

Jean

The balancing act: Budgets, services and aspirations

Old Town Hall, Oldham, September 7, 2016
LABOUR OF LOVE: Around 200 contractors are on-site at the Old Town Hall daily putting finishing touches to the flagship development 

I’M PREPARING to deliver my first ever Annual Report to Full Council as I write – and it’s been a very busy few days.

Firstly, I know many of you are hoping for an update on the opening of the Old Town Hall, so here’s where we stand right now…

I chaired a meeting with the regeneration team here at the Civic Centre last week where we discussed this matter at length and I’m continuing to personally monitor progress on the development.

You can’t see them from outside, but there are currently more than 200 contractors working daily inside the Old Town Hall right now – drilling, preserving, painting and finishing off what has been a mammoth task and a labour of love for many craftspeople.

But the issue here isn’t just about progress on the old Grade II-listed building itself, it’s also about us being confident that the improvements we’re making to the surrounding environment and highways, and especially the new public space at Parliament Square, will also be ready.

It’s important that we have a date that will enable the maximum number of spectators to enjoy the public opening events and get in and out of the area safely and quickly: so please just bear with me just a little while longer for that announcement.

On Friday, I caught the early train down to London to take my place on the Local Government Association’s City Regions Board for the first time.

That might not mean much to you, but it’s crucially important that as key partners in Greater Manchester devolution we are at the centre on this issue, ensuring we get the best deal for our region, and for Oldham.

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GOLDEN GIRL: Nicola White

That appointment meant I couldn’t be at Oldham Leisure Centre for the homecoming event for Nicola White, our Olympic Gold medallist, but I’m happy to report that I made it back in time to meet and talk to Nicola at a celebration at the Oldham Event Centre later that night.

This evening it will be my absolute pleasure to introduce an agenda item which (subject to approval!) will see her nominated for the title of ‘Freewoman of the Borough’.

Nicola is our first Gold medal winner since Henry Taylor in 1908. Her achievement is historic and it’s only right we mark that by bestowing upon her the highest honour that we can as a council.

When I deliver my Annual Report at that same meeting tonight (more about that in next week’s blog) I’ll be setting out the progress we’ve made in the past year and what our clear priorities are for the borough looking ahead.

This is an administration that is ambitious for Oldham – for its people, for its businesses and for the local economy – but that continues to be hampered by reductions in Government funding and these amount to a further £20 million next year.

Getting that balance right between delivering good services, defending vulnerable residents and giving people the new opportunities and facilities they deserve is an incredibly hard challenge.

That’s why we launched our budget consultation yesterday on a series of proposals to help us balance those priorities – and the books.

This will be the eighth consecutive year when we’ve been hit by a significant fall in our funding and we don’t have a monopoly on the answers or bright ideas.

We’re facing some incredibly tough decisions, so we need your input and views more than ever before.

Much of the proposed budget reductions could come from changing internal processes and how we deliver services and share resources in ever-closer partnership with other equally hard-pressed public bodies. Examples of that are our work with the NHS and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group on social care, health and children’s services – and with neighbouring councils on some back office functions.

Inevitably, however, after eight years of cuts it is increasingly difficult to absorb these without directly having some impact on residents.

The more contentious ones include proposals to close the Link Centre on Union Street, reduce top-up funding to Parish Councils, introducing a charge to cover the cost of producing residents’ parking permits and more rigorously enforcing fines to drivers who ignore bus lane restrictions.

I don’t believe any member of Oldham Council, regardless of their politics, sought office to take decisions like these, but we simply have no choice and must balance the budget.

Please take a few minutes to tell us what you think about these proposals – and give us your own ideas – at the online consultation at www.oldham.gov.uk/budget

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Your feedback about possible alternative savings, or steps we could take to mitigate the impact of these proposals, would be particularly welcome.

It’s a harsh fact that when this latest budget process is complete we’ll have lost £212m from budget savings requirements and the Government’s funding reductions since 2009.

That is a huge hit to our income and resources. And it is not a burden which is being shared proportionately across the country.

That’s why – as I will explain in my Annual Report this evening – it’s more vital than ever that Oldham Council continues to provide the civic leadership and direction needed to make this a better borough by working with you to get results.

If you don’t want to wait until next week’s blog to see my Annual Report, you can watch it live on our website here from 6.05pm tonight (Wednesday, September 7).

A video replay will also be posted online separately by the end of the week and I will post that link on here when it is available.

Jean