Happy New Year for 2018…

OB YB 2018

I’D LIKE to wish all our residents a Happy New Year.

The last 12 months have seen some genuine highlights and progress for Oldham.

A personal favourite was confirming all the funding is in place for our exciting plans for a new Arts and Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre. Work starts imminently on-site and – alongside Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library – this will give us a fantastic Cultural Quarter we can all be proud of and enjoy.

EXTERIORAnother highpoint was opening our Digital Enterprise Hub as home to Wayra UK – backed by an £8m investment fund to help tech sector companies grow here – and Hack Oldham.

We’ve also unveiled the stunning Maggie’s Oldham cancer care centre and welcomed many new faces to our Independent Quarter, including Stocco and Furniture by Lauren.

Oldham showed great resilience this year responding to all kinds of events from flooding to police incidents and wintry weather with brilliant partnership working across all sectors and communities. We will need more of the same in 2018.

Looking ahead my priority is continuing the job of making this a place where everyone has a fair chance to access new opportunities and improve their lives. Better living standards, wages and skills are key to becoming an inclusive economy where nobody is left behind.

Get Oldham Working (GOW) made fantastic strides in 2017 having now created around 7,000 work-related opportunities, including more than 4,500 jobs, which is partnership working at its very best.

Many new businesses have also opened or relocated here including the Audi showroom for Jardine Motors at Chadderton, which is a high-end brand committed to GOW and working with local colleges and supply chains.

And there’s plenty more to come in 2018.

JEANHOLLINWOODA DPD delivery depot at Greengate with 350 new jobs is on-track and work is also starting at Hollinwood Junction, a hugely important strategic site, on a development creating new employment, retail, leisure and homes with 760 jobs.

Once legal issues are finalised, I’ll soon be able to announce next steps at the Prince’s Gate development and we’ll also be announcing another tenant at the Old Town Hall.

Our young and growing population is one of our biggest strengths and we must do everything to help them shine.

That’s why we’re working closely with Government, local education leaders, voluntary organisations and employers as one of six new Opportunity Areas in the UK. This focusses on social mobility and means extra funding from early years up to lifelong learning which we are determined will make a difference.

We’re also progressing well towards targets from the Oldham Education and Skills Commission. Having pledged that every child must attend a school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted by 2020 we now have 98 per cent of primary and 81 per cent of secondary pupils doing just that.

Much work remains to be done but alongside proactive schemes like the £4m Oldham Enterprise Fund, the Skills for Employment programme and our Career Advancement Service, we’re deadly serious about helping people of all ages to get on in life.

That’s not easy when we’re continuing to take harsh funding cuts – with almost £25m to save next year – and uncertainty about the future from Government, but we’re unwavering in our ambition for the borough.

tidyoldhamKey to all our futures is the amazing co-operative work we’re doing with partners and residents.

An 8 per cent increase in recycling rates this year is all down to you doing #your bit: and schemes like Warm Homes Oldham, #1Pieceofrubbish, Get Oldham Growing – plus our work to integrate health and social care into one system – all point the way to a brighter future.

But challenges persist and we know many people are still struggling with problems with Universal Credit and welfare sanctions. We are still lobbying at the highest level for change and our Welfare Rights team have this year helped hundreds of residents to claim an extra £2million they were rightly entitled to.

Thriving communities also need new and aspirational homes that offer a better range and choice for families, so we’re continuing to deliver these with building work underway or due to start at sites including Broadway Green, the Lancaster Club and the former Counthill site.

We’ve had many positive accolades for our Old Town Hall, Bloom and Grow, community energy schemes and other initiatives this year, but it is what residents think that matters most.

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEThe defining moment in 2017 for me was launching the Town Centre Masterplan – our biggest-ever forward planning exercise.

I thank everyone who’s taken part in the consultation so far and would encourage everyone to do the same. We certainly don’t have a monopoly on bright ideas and only you know best what kind of place you want Oldham to be in the future.

We’re doing all this because we must ensure that we are a place with a plan – and one that residents fully understand.

I’m fiercely proud of our place and will continue pushing to give us an even stronger voice within Greater Manchester in 2018.

Oldham is not perfect, but it is changing – and for the better.

Happy New Year!

Jean

The hidden costs of false economies…  

poundcoins2WE’VE ALL probably made false economies in our time – and it’s a life lesson we often learn the hard way.

In striving to make an apparent financial saving it can actually cost you more in the long run: like buying cheap batteries or shoes, or not servicing the boiler just to have it fail on the coldest night of the year.

The same can be said of the public sector pay freeze introduced by George Osbourne in 2010 – a seven-year squeeze that has hit workers, families and communities hard in the name of economic austerity.

What did it gain in the short-term? Well, attacking the public sector may have gained some populist headlines and made marginal savings on Treasury spreadsheets but the opportunity costs – what could have been achieved with that money instead – weren’t considered because of political dogmatism.

Real median household incomes today are just five per cent higher than in 2007 and the UK is now in the worst period of pay growth in 150 years, affecting both the public and private sector. Clearly, George’s marvellous medicine didn’t work.

Public sector incomes have fallen way behind inflation and as the cuts bit deeper it meant people working even harder for less money.

It hit the lowest-paid frontline workers in the most vital services – health, education, police and care – disproportionately hardest. And it has lowered morale, increasing the problems of staff retention at a time of rising demand, which can mean having fewer colleagues to share the work around.

Worried Senior Woman Sitting On Sofa Looking At Bills

The impact has been equally bad for household budgets. ‘In work’ poverty is now at the point where a recent TUC survey found that one in seven public sector workers were forced to skip meals this year and almost a quarter reported they would not be able to pay an unexpected bill of £500.

And there’s been a much wider impact on the local economy…

By significantly eroding the value of public sector pay through this freeze – with frontline staff earning around £2,000 less than if their pay had risen in line with inflation – it’s meant workers have cut back on their spending. That has hit local high streets hard to the tune of an estimated £48bn less spent in shops since 2010.

Council employees last week were offered a two-year pay increase of 2 per cent with more, rightly, for the lowest-paid such as staff in children’s centres, school support, parks, libraries and those who keep vulnerable children and elderly people safe.

But it’s a long way back and only the first step in any kind of serious attempt to tackle national issues around pay and productivity.

Crucially it also needs extra funding from Government to help local authorities deliver it, not just placing even more burden on our budgets and putting more services and jobs in peril.

Another part of the ‘austerity’ agenda has been cuts to welfare that have gone hand-in-hand with demonising some of our most vulnerable people.

UCREDITAs the cruel winter frost blew our way last weekend I found myself again fearing for those families facing hardship through Universal Credit (UC).

As the national rollout for the new benefit continues many thousands of families are still enduring the in-built six-week wait for help.

Yes, the Chancellor did reduce this wait to five weeks in the budget – a very small step in reducing the pain, in my view – but this does not start until February 2018.

Many others are also facing a difficult time because around 67,000 UC claimants are paid weekly and 25,000 might be affected over the festive season because of when their assessment periods fall.

That simply isn’t fair and it means Foodbanks – like the fantastic one in Oldham – will be strained to their limit again.

None of the above feels very festive, I know, but we can all do #ourbit by bearing in mind those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year and also by ensuring our neighbours and relatives are safe during wintry weather.

This will be my last blog before the holidays but I will return with a New Year’s Blog on January 1 looking ahead to the opportunities, landmarks and challenges that lie ahead for 2018.

In the meantime I want to wish you all a happy Christmas blessed with great quality family time and memories.

Jean

Oldham Town Centre Masterplan is gathering momentum

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEINTEREST and confidence is spreading in our new Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

Our vision to make it a more vibrant place – including new homes, employment space, attractions and activity worth an extra £50 million each year to our economy – is about getting a clear strategic plan in place backed by residents, partners and business for our future.

That’s why it was important and heartening to speak at a breakfast event in Manchester last week where potential development partners, plus representatives from the public and private sectors, had all gathered to learn more about our ambitions and discuss the investment opportunities lying ahead in Oldham.

INSIDER2After opening the event I sat on one of two panel discussions with business and regeneration experts who unanimously agreed that Oldham’s Masterplan proposals are “investable”.

Local business stalwarts Dave Benstead, from Diodes, and Craig Dean, from Web Applications UK, spoke about skills issues and the work that is being done to address Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) standards in our schools.

Dave also highlighted schemes like the Oldham Enterprise Fund, saying that the borough’s offer is amongst the best in the North West for businesses starting out – and that “Oldham is easy to sell and to get people to relocate to.”

Also discussed were the exciting things that are happening with the likes of Hack Oldham, Wayra UK and North Planet in creating a great digital offer for start-ups in Oldham.

It was fantastic to hear Craig Dean explaining how most of his staff initially commuted from Manchester but how many subsequently then moved to Oldham as it is now seen as “a place people want to be”.

Carolyn Wilkins, Chief Executive of Oldham Council, did a great Q&A session inbetween the panel discussions. She used this to explain our co-operative approach and how we’re working with partners to deliver the maximum mutual benefit for everyone and be ambitious for the place.

INSIDERShe also stressed to the 120-strong audience – who each took away hard copies of our new borough prospectus – that “We don’t want Oldham to look like every other town centre: we want something different” and stressed that we are keen to make progress on the Masterplan as quickly as possible.

On the second panel, Neal Biddle from Langtree, who are currently making great strides on the redevelopment plans for Hollinwood Junction, paid our borough perhaps its finest compliment of the day by saying that it is now a “cool” place to be.

These comments were backed by more positive vibes from Muse’s managing director, Matt Crompton, and Christian Gilham from Leach Rohdoes Walker, which you can read from Insider North West’s excellent report of the event here.

Developer interest in the Masterplan – and we will officially launch the search for a partner to progress these plans next year – was high on the day and there were some very positive conversations taking place at the networking event afterwards.

Early in 2018 we will be doing further consultation targeted more specifically at the local business audience, but there’s also still plenty of chances, if you’ve not already done so, to have your say as residents in shaping these plans.

We’ve already held 17 public consultation events all across the borough since September and there are still some more left before the festive season at Uppermill Library, The Civic Centre, Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre, Greenfield and Lees libraries. You can find out dates and times here.

December is always the busiest time of the year for events and there’s a couple of great ones in the next few days which are both at the town centre gem that is Oldham Parish Church.

Firstly we have the annual Christmas Tree Festival which starts this Friday and runs until Sunday, December 17.

This features more than 60 individually decorated trees for you to browse, admire and get some inspiration from and – on weekdays from 12noon – you also get the bonus of being able to listen to the sounds of carols, and you can enjoy a brew at the café, which is open throughout the festival.

XMASTREENext Monday (December 11), the church is also hosting a very special event at 11am.

This is a Service of Dedication to honour Oldhamer Private Walter Mills VC where family members, long-lost relatives and visitors will join dignitaries and representatives from local community groups and schools at what is certain to be a very moving occasion.

A commemorative flagstone will then be unveiled in the church grounds before an exhibition about Private Mills and the Manchester 10th Battalion Regiment opens for the day in the Egyptian Room in Parliament Square from 12Noon onwards.

Everyone is, of course, invited to come along and pay your respects to this fallen hero.

Jean