Councils on the brink | Time for Fair Funding

FCOUNCIL2FULL Council meets tonight to consider our budget proposals for the 2018/9 financial year.

This marks the end of a process that officially started last April and has seen a huge amount of work carried out examining all kinds of financial options and projections.

Given the huge pressures we face, it has also inevitably meant a lot of soul-searching as we strive to balance the books and protect vital services.

Since 2009 Oldham Council has now lost more than a third of its workforce and more than £200 million in Government funding – with up to another £20 million in savings to potentially find again next year.

Nobody goes into politics to put Council Tax up or to make cuts to key services but for the past decade these have been the pressures driving much of our deliberations.

We manage this challenge well in Oldham and have so far avoided some of the more drastic cuts that other authorities have made in areas like children’s centres, libraries, leisure centres and parks – but you can only dodge a bullet for long.

Councils up and down the country like ours also know that the tax rises they have planned won’t offset the cuts they are experiencing.

stackAcross England extra Council Tax will bring in an estimated £1.1bn in the next financial year which nowhere near covers the £1.4bn cut in central government funding.

These austerity-led cuts are not sustainable and the difficulties at Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire County Council – which essentially declared itself bankrupt earlier this month – shows that none of us are exempt from the strain.

What is happening there is just a snapshot of the difficulties all councils are facing: a growing population and one that lives longer, children that need more care and people that are struggling to get on in life, get on the property ladder, and have falling living standards and incomes. Rising demand, falling budgets.

Adults and children’s services are particularly underfunded with no clear solution in sight. We have an £8m pressure on the children’s’ services budget this year alone and councils can’t just keep dipping into reserves or selling buildings and land to get by.

The Government’s ‘answer’ to all this is to make councils rely in future on their Business Rates income, but as things stand that system will simply perpetuate inequalities and make them worse.

Areas with bigger business rates are already better funded and places with smaller business rate bases, like Oldham, will get poorer by comparison.

Next year, for the very first time, our Business Rates will constitute more of our income than what we get from Central Government support and that is a watershed moment.

We urgently need fair funding from Westminster and clarity about the future funding model for local services. There are few commitments on what lies ahead and finance settlements are typically thrown to us at the very latest possible moment, which also hampers our medium and long-term planning.

Here at Oldham Council what we must focus on is what we can influence and do ourselves to tackle this crisis.

CONSULTPOSTERWe are, for example, working hard to transform our ‘fiscal base’ – changing the sources of where our future income comes from – and that’s why the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan is so important with the boost to the economy, jobs and Business Rates it will produce.

But what is most frustrating about all this is the effect on residents. People in places like Oldham are being told to pay more, but also to expect to get less for their money. That doesn’t bode well for democracy, trust or local services.

The Government’s current stance on funding points to a bleak future where councils like ours would only be able to deliver statutory services – those we are legally obliged to.

Oldham has suffered more than most areas from the cuts and it’s time the Government put real measures and funding behind its rhetoric about preventing people being ‘left behind’.

I want to close today by thanking Councillor Abdul Jabbar, our finance team and all those members and officers involved in the difficult task of preparing this budget.

There is little sense of relief as we’re already thinking hard about what happens next year and beyond, but I promise that our work to try and increase our income and the prospects of local people will continue.

It is needed now more than ever.

Jean

Markets | Past, present and future…

TFILED3MARKETS have been an important part of my life since an early age.

Like many residents, I’ve always been fond of them since spending countless hours of my childhood bustling, browsing and playing between the busy stalls and aisles.

I also have a particular fondness for Tommyfield Market, the site which boasted Oldham’s first-ever market in 1788 and has had one there pretty much ever since. It is a key part of our heritage.

As a schoolgirl, this was also where I landed my first-ever part time job, on Peter Haq’s outdoor clothes stall. His family still runs one on the indoor market to this day, and my maternal aunts also ran a dress stall there for several years.

Those are just some of the many reasons why I’m determined to prioritise the building of a new fit-for-purpose Tommyfield as the first step in the delivery of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

Many people have told me they think that although the town centre has improved through recent developments like the Old Town Hall, it has also suffered as Tommyfield and the area around it has struggled to keep pace with the times. I have listened long and hard to them.

Our Masterplan is all about improving Oldham and making it a place that can thrive throughout the week and round the clock. That means careful planning to create better connections between key sites and improving attractions to pull in more footfall and custom.

TFILED5The new Tommyfield would be built on the existing site and would end the difficulties presented by the current structure, like its sloping floor, and improve facilities with new features, like Wi-fi access, for example.

We’re already talking with the traders about an interim but potentially exciting temporary market option while building work takes place. This will be an indoor, bright, modern space providing a great place where people can continue to enjoy their shopping, chitchat, bargains and gossip.

The new Tommyfield would also have a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park built next to it – plus new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces – all designed to draw more punters in.

I can still vividly remember standing in the old Littlewoods building in 1974 watching as the old Market Hall was razed to the ground by a huge fire and – just like then – now is an opportunity to revitalise Tommyfield.

Markets still retain a unique appeal for many us, but shopping habits are now unrecognisable from their heyday.

As supermarket giants like Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Sainsburys et al have prospered, people have shown less inclination or time to spare to browse market stalls. Indeed, for some, a few clicks on a smartphone completes their weekly shop these days, so times have drastically changed.

TFILED2We now know that modern markets can only thrive by finding a mix between offering specialist services, like cobblers and key cutting, independent traders and locally sourced food, plus a good eating and drinking offer in their own right. In short, they need to offer an experience, something for the whole family to enjoy.

Ultimately it will be you, the Oldham public, who decides if Tommyfield will thrive again, as I believe it can.

Our bit will be working closely with traders, shoppers and experts to help make it an attraction that can again be a magnet to new customers.

Your bit is to give it a go and back those people and traders who will be putting their savings and hard graft on the line to improve Oldham town centre.

As a council we always encourage people to shop local because it makes sound economic sense to spend your pounds in the area where you live, and to help boost your local economy.

But there are many other valid reasons too.

Supermarket shopping can be convenient and quick but if you want to avoid plastic packaging waste – which seems to know no bounds these days(!) – and also like to avoid having to buy more fruit, veg or meat than you actually need, then your local market is the place to go right now.

We hope the future for Tommyfield will be bright but you needn’t wait until the new venue gets up and running – there’s already plenty of great local traders and reasons to give all your local markets a visit today.

TFILED1Tommyfield has more than 100 businesses operating from Monday to Saturday each week, and we also have some great district markets in various guises and development across Royton, Saddleworth, Shaw and Chadderton. You can read about them all here – and the great incentives we’ve got on offer for would-be stallholders.

I still believe markets can thrive in the future through hard work, investment, community buy-in and by retaining that special personal quality that made them a success for generations.

It will not be easy, of course, but I am determined to make the big decisions Oldham town centre needs – and addressing the future of Tommyfield Market is just the start of that process.

Jean

Sue’s final cause…

Cllr-Dearden-1
IT’S A DIFFICULT time here as we start coming to terms with the passing of Councillor Sue Dearden last weekend.

Many people were aware Sue had been ill for some time, but that knowledge doesn’t diminish the sadness and loss when the inevitable happens.

Sue had been an excellent ward member for Chadderton Central since 2012, but her impact on local life and communities extended way beyond that.

In her professional life she worked as a school teacher and in youth justice, and she was one of life’s ‘doers’ who got involved with causes ranging from education to women’s rights and encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles.

Throughout everything she did, Sue was passionate and drew on her own experiences as a single mum bringing up two boys to challenge the obstacles she saw many people facing in making life better for their families.

Today I have a very small chance to pay her back by helping to champion her final cause.

Sue had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and this is something she made clear that she wanted to raise awareness of in her final days.

She knew there was no hope of a better outcome for herself but, typically, she wanted people to understand more about this disease and its poor profile.

When you look at some of the advances made in treating other forms of cancer in recent times the progress is little short of astonishing.

Did you know, for example, that 40 years ago few children survived childhood leukaemia – yet now the survival rate is 80 per cent? Or that 40 years ago the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer who survived five years or more was just 46 per cent – and now that is also up to 80 per cent?

That’s all fantastic news, clearly, and everyone involved from medical experts to specialist researchers, clinicians, GPs and fundraisers are to be applauded.

But the outcomes for pancreatic cancer are very different.

Every year 9,500 people in the UK are diagnosed and their prognoses are very poor and short.

The survival rates today for patients with pancreatic cancer stand at around 3 per cent – the same as 40 years ago. That is the lowest survival rate for all forms of cancer, and yet it is the fifth most common cause of cancer death, causing five per cent of cancer deaths each year.

One of the reasons is that pancreatic cancer is incredibly difficult to diagnose and treat. Experts say it is unusually aggressive and often has vague symptoms which appear at a late stage when surgery is no longer an option.

pcrf-logo-26.7The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund was set up in 2004 and it tries to raise new funds and to argue for a fair allocation of research and attention.

Sue wanted donations to help others in the future, so I would urge you to please spread the word about this cause and do your bit to help.

If you go to sign one of Sue’s Books of Condolence – which are available during normal opening hours in the Rochdale Road reception at the Civic Centre and at Chadderton Wellbeing Centre – then please consider making a donation in the buckets provided.

Alternatively, you can send cheques payable to Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at PO Box 47432, London, N2 1XP or donate online at www.pcrf.org.uk

You can also sign an online Book of Condolence at our website here.

Sue was always best at encouraging and inspiring the people around her to be positive in every situation, so she would be telling us all now that life must go on.

That’s why I’ll close this week with a reminder about a great event taking place on Friday evening.

Illuminate18Illuminate, our free family late night arts festival, is returning after a successful debut last year.

Spectacular installations, lanterns, landscapes, dancers, drummers and puppets can be enjoyed at sites across Oldham town centre, including Oldham Parish Church, Parliament Square, and Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library, from 6 to 9pm.

My favourite feature is the illumination of the exterior of the Old Town Hall with giant 3D projections. This year the display will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Oldham Theatre Workshop showcasing the history of our acclaimed youth theatre and bringing stories of cast and crew from productions past into stunning focus.

That’s just one of several attractions on offer, so please click here to find out more about Illuminate and take your family along for another great free evening of entertainment.

Jean

Victory for votes: Annie Kenney’s history-making role

Daily Issues2

IT’S EXACTLY 100 years ago this week that women were finally granted the vote.

On February 6, 1918, The Representation of the People Act passed into law giving the vote to all men over the age of 21 – and to certain women over the age of 30.

Those women also had to meet a property qualification so it would actually be another decade before all women got an equal vote.

Nonetheless 1918 was a political earthquake and historians still debate what won the day.

There were many factors involved including years of suffragette campaigning – both constitutional and militant – plus the need to extend the vote to soldiers after World War One, the pressure to recognise women’s war work, and the exit of figureheads opposed to female suffrage from the political stage.

It’s a common misconception that Britain was somehow an early adopter of votes for women. New Zealand did it first back in 1893 and seven more nations had followed suit before we finally caught up with the times.

Local women played a significant role in making this victory happen, not least Springhead’s Annie Kenney, Chadderton’s Lydia Becker and Werneth’s Marjory Lees (pictured above, left to right).

AKSIGNKenney was born in 1879 as the fourth daughter of 12 children and started work at a mill in Lees Brook in Lees at the age of just 10. She was employed there as a “tenter”, spending 15 years fitting bobbins and fixing broken strands of fleece. During that time she also lost one of her fingers, which was ripped off by a bobbin.

Determined to better herself, Annie self-studied and began taking part in trade union activity before getting involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in around 1905.

In October that year she made national headlines after attending a Liberal meeting at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall with Christabel Pankhurst.

Annie had the temerity to ask Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey if they believed woman should have the right to vote. Neither would answer. The pair were then ejected from the meeting after unfurling a ‘Votes for Women’ banner. Outside they were arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer.

Kenney served three days behind bars on that occasion – becoming the first to be jailed for direct action – and this was to be one of 13 spells for her in prison.

Some may look back and say that suffragette violence against property was unnecessary and put many off their cause, but it’s also too simplistic to overlook the level of state violence these women faced.

Rough-handling by police was commonplace, imprisonment was frequent, and there can be few more brutal acts than physically holding someone down whilst force feeding them against their will to end a hunger strike.

Annie Kenney wasn’t the only local suffragette, of course – there were many others – but what was special about her was her roots and influence.

She’s widely acknowledged as the only working class woman to have reached the top of the WSPU (she was deputy by 1912) and there remains a feeling that, compared with the Pankhursts and others, her contribution still isn’t fully recognised.

Oldham Council did install a blue plaque at Leesbrook Mill acknowledging her contribution many years ago and we recently cleaned it.  Unfortunately that did not make it look much better so it is being repainted as soon as possible.

This centenary is an ideal moment to ensure we preserve the memories of Annie Kenney’s struggle for future generations, so please visit the website here to learn more about the local efforts to erect a statue of Annie Kenney in Parliament Square.

hatecrimeBack to 2018 and the battle against injustice still continues in many other ways…

This week Oldham Council is supporting workshops, information stalls and activities as part of Greater Manchester’s Hate Crime Awareness Week.

Latest Home Office statistics show that hate crimes nationally went up 29 per cent to 80,393 offences in 2016-17: yet even that doesn’t give us the full picture because so much of it goes unreported.

As an Oldham resident you should not suffer a hate crime in silence. If you’re attacked because of your difference – your religion, sexuality, colour of your skin or disability – then you should report it.

By speaking out you can help send the message that hate has no place in modern society and that perpetrators will feel the full force of the law.

A full programme of what is taking place in each part of the borough until February 9 is here. For more information on hate crime you can also visit letsendhatecrime.com or call the Victim Support Services helpline on 0161 200 1950.

Prejudice, it seems, is always with us – and that’s why we must never stop fighting it.

Jean