Northern Powerhouse: Not the end of the line…

Diggle Village looking from Clough ReservoirGOOD public transport is vital in ensuring that everyone can fulfil their potential in life.

As the lead member for Inclusive Growth at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) I know how important this is to peoples’ prospects and opportunities.

Public transport has an absolutely key role in promoting social inclusion by enabling people from the widest possible range of groups – including jobseekers, low income families, young people, disabled people and older people – to work, learn and be economically active.

So, if we’re truly committed to sharing the benefits of prosperity more widely – not just within Greater Manchester, but across the country as a whole – good public transport is essential to tackling issues for people who feel ‘left behind’.

Sorting that out requires investment, of course. And above all, it requires fair investment.

That’s why last week’s announcement that the Government has ditched its pledge to electrify the Manchester to Leeds rail line was so disappointing.

In 2015, the Department for Transport had said electrification of the whole link going through Manchester, Leeds and York would be complete by 2022. This, we were assured, demonstrated the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and it was also in their election manifesto published less than a couple of months ago.

Yet today we now find ourselves once again stranded at the platform…

This is the second time the pledge has been backtracked upon – a pause for ‘review’ was undone last time – and Greater Manchester isn’t the only place to suffer from these announcements by Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary.  He’s also scrapped electrification of the routes between Cardiff and Swansea, Windermere and Oxenholme in the Lake District, and between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield.

On Monday this was then followed by news that the Government will be spending billions more on Crossrail 2 – running as far north as Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and as far south as Epsom in Surrey, passing through central London.

That pledge was not in the Government’s election manifesto and is a massive slap in the face to the North and other regions.

In principle I’ve got no issue with South East commuters getting investment in their rail services; far from it.  But it’s also very clear that different parts of the country are not being treated equally or fairly in this.

Data from Statista, using HM Treasury figures, shows that spending per head of population on transport infrastructure is £2,595.68 in London. That is 26 times more than the £99.19 spent per person in the North West.

That wouldn’t be so bad if our rail connections were already good but, frankly, we all know they are ‘state of the ark’.

Many residents will be very familiar with the substandard state of trans Pennine services with overcrowded carriages, vintage rolling stock and regular delays or cancellations. Journey times haven’t improved for decades – although fares have risen substantially – and don’t even dare to dream that you might be able to enjoy Wi-Fi access…

Making these announcements after Parliament went into summer recess all feels, shall we say, at least a tad convenient for Mr Grayling. But if he really thinks this will all be forgotten when they return to business after the party conference season, he is very much mistaken.

Andy Burnham has made clear the universal disgust at this decision across GM – and, rest assured, we’re all prepared to fight long and hard to get this decision overturned once again. This is not the end of the line on this story.

JEANHOLLINWOOD

On a more positive note this week, I wanted to mention great news for Hollinwood.

On Monday I went to meet Neal Biddle, development director of Langtree, at Hollinwood Junction where we have signed a development agreement that could create up to 760 new jobs with leisure, retail, employment and housing.

This is a significant milestone and it hasn’t been easy to get here.

It started when I wrote to the National Grid asking them to talk to us about the redundant gas holder that has become such a blight on the area and blocking development.

They were planning to leave it there until 2023 at the earliest but we’ve reached agreement and can now get on with demolition to start regenerating this key gateway site.

Interest from potential occupiers is high and Langtree expect to be able to announce a first deal before the end of summer, so watch this space.

This is my last blog before the Oldham Council recess period, but it will return on August 23.

Until then, please get out and enjoy the summer weather with your family and friends and have a great time.

Jean

How the Co-operative Council works: #ourbit #yourbit #result

#ourbit #yourbit #result graphicI HAVE the pleasure of speaking at Staff Conference today where we’ll be looking at the progress made in the past year – and looking ahead to the future.

Part of that will inevitably be about the Town Centre Masterplan which was approved by Cabinet last week.

But equally important is some of the work that we’ve been doing internally to look at our Co-operative Council model and test that it remains fit for purpose.

We are now six years into our journey so it was an appropriate time to take stock, step back from the day-to-day work and challenge ourselves to look at what is working, and what is not. It has proved a useful exercise.

OURBIT3The Co-operative Council model remains entirely valid for us and there’s no question of that being abandoned.

When people elsewhere ask me what makes Oldham different, I tell them that it is great people – and the way we do things together.

I explain that our approach starts with us all recognising our shared problems or ambitions. Then we all sit down together to look at what each of us needs to do in order to get a better result that benefits the borough.

We have many examples of where this has produced some fantastic results but – looking at the model – we also came to realise that for some people the language doesn’t work or ‘land’ as easily as it needs to.

It is not obvious, for example, to a newcomer to the borough what we mean by being a Co-operative Council in practice.

That’s why we’re going to be explaining co-operative working in a different way from now: one that we think is simpler, self-explanatory and works across all kinds of audiences and platforms.

Whatever we are doing – from delivering everyday services to improving people’s lives or helping the private sector to grow our local economy – there’s a simple formula that explains how we do it, and what is required of each participant.

It is #ourbit #yourbit #result

To explain:

#ourbit is what Oldham Council is doing or contributing to help improve something

#yourbit is how local people, businesses and partners are helping to make change happen

And the #result is how we are all benefiting from working together.

OURBIT2

Here’s a simple high-level example of that in action – Get Oldham Working.

GOWLOGO#ourbit was to come up with a plan in 2013 to try and create new employment-related opportunities for local residents; attempting to link them better and smarter to businesses.

#yourbit was the local firms who have come forward with hundreds of offers of new jobs, apprenticeships and work placements – and the residents who stepped up seeking advice and assistance.

The #result is that by the end of last month a fantastic total of 6,264 new opportunities have now been created for local people. Business and people have been matched together by our free recruitment service that also removes both the stress and costs of recruitment for all sides.

That also means many families’ bottom lines and their prospects have been improved – and that means new money and spend injected into our local economy; increasing the confidence of residents and business alike. Everyone is benefiting.

At the end of the day, being a Co-operative Council is about an informal contract which needs lots of different people and partners across the borough to muck in. This new way of explaining how it works – and what is in the terms and conditions – works in a much simpler way.

We’re also using this new approach with all our staff to get them to look honestly at the service they are providing and be able to ask the right questions about it, and test whether it is truly co-operative, or if something is wrong.

OURBIT4You will see plenty of examples of this new approach in the latest edition of Borough Life (pictured, right) which starts hitting doorsteps next week.

The simple aim is to make it easier for people to understand how they can play their part in making things better – and that has to be a good thing for everyone.

Jean

Our new town centre – we can’t stand still

This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.

Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.

Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.

So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.

In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.

Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.

To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.

We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.

With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.

We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.

The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.

As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.

This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.

There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.

This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.

We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.

We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.

We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.

When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.

We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.

I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.

People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.

And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.

It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.

Digital future shines bright for Oldham 

EXTERIORYOU MAY have read this week about an important new report outlining a masterplan for the future of Oldham town centre to 2035.

That will go before Cabinet next Monday (July 10) and – following that decision – I will blog about it next week.

What I will say now, however, is that the importance of having a plan for our future is more vital than ever and I saw that first-hand last week at the opening of Oldham’s new digital hub in what was the Wahoo bar on Yorkshire Street. 

This completes a dramatic transformation for a period building that had fallen into ruin and been empty for several years until the council bought it and refurbished it to attract new tenants.

FURNITUREBYLAURENJust a couple of weeks earlier ‘Furniture by Lauren’ also began trading next door at 46/48 Yorkshire Street in what was once known as the Kiss Bar.

Gavin and Lauren Howarth from Royton run this small family business. It specialises in made-to-measure sofas but also sells a full range of accessories and just one peek through the window – or at their website – shows you the kind of elegance and style on offer. They’re yet another welcome addition to our Independent Quarter, so please pay them a visit…  

The opening of the digital hub – at 38-44 Yorkshire Street – was an inspiring event.

The aim of this venture is to help local entrepreneurs launch and expand technology businesses. 

On the upper floor is Wayra UK’s Open Future North office, which is the northern branch of their national support network for technology firms, backed by the worldwide O2/Telefonica Group. 

IMG_9488Ground floor is the new home to Hack Oldham (see above), our community-led ‘makerspace’ that has grown from humble beginnings to offer a great range of workshops and events to upskill residents.  

They’re also offering desk and workshop space on a daily, half-day or monthly basis plus training rooms in what is a great creative environment for people to network seven days a week – much better than working alone at home(!). 

I’m particularly pleased that Wayra chose to come to Oldham.  

As an administration we’re clear that we are ambitious for everyone, so to attract their investment is fantastic.

But what was just as exciting was to see Wayra launching their new Fair By Design scheme: an investment fund that already has £8million to deploy, and is looking to raise up to £20million.

Its objectives are inspiring. It will support up to seven start-ups a year to tackle the ‘poverty premium’, and that’s something that is very important to me.

It’s hard enough being ‘left behind’ in 2017 and being among the one in five people that are living in poverty.

But what’s even worse – and surely unjustified – is the ‘poverty premium’: the situation where people are actually paying more for everyday goods and services like energy, borrowing, transport, insurance and food than others who can more easily afford them. 

The Fair By Design scheme complements our own drive for Inclusive Growth so that everyone gets the chance to share the benefits of economic prosperity.

This week, I was confirmed as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Lead on Fairness, Equality and Inclusion, so this is all very close to my heart.

To be tackling clear social injustice like this by supporting local tech companies to design solutions is something that can really put Oldham on the map.

WAYRA4The digital hub venture is also another important way in which we’re diversifying our offer to residents and businesses.

We have many talented individuals and our goal is to provide them with opportunities here, so that they don’t need to move elsewhere.

The Independent Quarter will be an ideal location for this. Once businesses grow out of the space provided by Wayra, they will get the chance to relocate nearby, ensuring they are still within easy distance and access to advice and that network of like-minded individuals.

Small to medium enterprises like these are vital to Oldham’s economy – remember that around 85 percent of Greater Manchester’s Gross Value Added (GVA), the total measure of the value of goods and services in the area, is generated by these companies.

Oldham’s offer to business has never been stronger. I’m confident that through Wayra and Hack Oldham we can truly become a digital force in Greater Manchester – and one for positive social change and mobility.

Jean