I’D LIKE to take this opportunity to wish all residents across our borough a Happy New Year.
This has been my first year as Oldham Council Leader. It has flown by at a rapid pace and it will be hard to forget 2016 for many reasons.
I would probably choose the Old Town Hall opening event in October as my personal highlight.
That spectacular show produced some iconic images and fantastic memories. Best of all, it showcased our ambitions for Oldham.
Raising the bar as the boldest outdoor event that we’ve ever put on in the town centre, it was brilliant to see and hear the excited reaction of families – especially young children – and made it a remarkable experience.
The opening of the ODEON cinema and restaurants – and the other businesses emerging and blossoming in our Independent Quarter – are clear signs of the transformation that’s now underway in Oldham.
These aren’t just physical symbols of regeneration either. They are bringing new jobs, footfall and visitors and they are contributing towards the family-friendly environment we have needed for so long.
There is also more to come.
We’ve recently been able to complete funding packages for our new Arts and Heritage Centre and the new Coliseum Theatre that are going to link up with Gallery Oldham and our Library to make a fantastic Cultural Quarter.
And we continue to work up amended plans for the Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps development, which we will share as soon as we can.
Our borough can’t be immune, however, from the impacts of the dramatic events we’ve seen at national and international levels in 2016.
Old assumptions and orders have been challenged: I can still barely believe I’m now writing in a pre-Brexit and Planet Trump era.
Oxford Dictionaries have named “post-truth” – which means ignoring objective facts and taking emotional decisions – as their Word of the Year for 2016.
My word for 2017 is going to be ‘fairness’. That’s because, as a place and a council, it seems to be the overriding issue on so many levels.
Fair Growth, for example, is a key part of my new brief at the GM Combined Authority and I am leading on this agenda to make sure more of our residents share in the benefits of prosperity – not just selected parts of the south and centre of the region.
Oldham also needs fairness on many other levels to give our people the best chance to compete and prosper.
The cuts in Government funding have hit us disproportionately hard in recent years and that continues – not least with the decision to stop funding adult social care from central government budgets and hand the responsibility over to cash-strapped councils and Council Taxpayers.
Answers to the questions about how we are going to be funded in future when Government withdraws our core grant in 2020 – and in a way that genuinely reflects the level of need here – are also going to be vital.
And there are other issues about our access to infrastructure and opportunities – like a direct tram link to Manchester Piccadilly, HS2 and beyond – where we will be fighting Oldham’s corner at a regional and national level in 2017.
The past year has seen the continuation of much unseen work that has such a positive impact on so many lives – and gives our residents a fairer chance in life.
I’m thinking of campaigns like Warm Homes Oldham, which has lifted more than 1,300 people out of fuel poverty, and our Early Help scheme, which is supporting people and families to get self-help and the skills needed to tackle their long term issues in better ways.
We’ve also made good progress on implementing the Oldham Education and Skills Commission’s recommendations, created thousands of new employment opportunities through Get Oldham Working, attracted more important new private investment, and begun building many of the new homes – and range of housing choice – we need as a borough.
In all those things, and others, our aim is to make Oldham a place where everyone can reach their potential and enjoy good quality districts, homes, transport links and life opportunities.
We’ll be spelling out those new priorities and our programme for the rest of this decade in the first part of 2017. None of us, however, can predict with full confidence what lies ahead.
At a time when the world feels as though it has been turned on its head, one undeniable truth is the value of strong public services – as shown by the response from the council and partners to the recent Maple Mill fire, or November’s flooding.
Those services remain vital to communities and we will continue to defend them – and invest in our future – as the next budget challenges get underway.
I’ve been inspired by some great local people this year.
Nicola White, our Olympic gold medallist, has already made more than 60 appearances since the Rio games to inspire local schoolchildren, and she is just one high-profile example of hundreds of people who are ‘putting something back’ into our communities.
We still also have that great Oldham sense of humour to fall back on – as you showed in our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition that proved so popular it ended up being endorsed on the X Factor by Nicole ‘Saltslinger’ herself.
And another constant, which I’ve seen in countless examples this year, is the fact that Oldham only succeeds when we all pull together in the same direction.
Only by all of us making our own contributions to shared aspirations and goals, can we build a better borough together.
That was true in 2016 – and it remains more vital than ever for 2017 and beyond.
THIS IS my third of four blogs about our future priorities and I want to discuss how we’re improving education, plus backing business and workers.
Firstly, I want us to deliver a high-quality education system for all and the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report is a roadmap to get us there.
Changes were already being made before the final report was published in January and we’ve had a good start.
Our GCSE and A Level results improved this year, bucking the national trends.
GCSE (A*-C) results went up five per cent, closing the gap on the national average to seven per cent, and in A Levels 99 per cent of our pupils achieved the A*-E pass rate, again up three per cent.
Our Ofsted inspections are also improving fast – especially in schools where intervention was needed. We have taken action to tackle underperformance.
This time last year just 39 per cent of our secondaries were rated either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. That’s now already around 74 per cent, which is great progress towards one of our key targets: that every Oldham pupil should attend a school of that calibre by 2020.
I also know there’s much more that needs to be done, however, and our Key Stage 2 results were not good enough. Even though Ofsted rates 90 per cent of our primaries as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ our results mirrored a national drop and we’re now examining them to understand exactly why.
Whilst it’s true this was a whole new national curriculum and marking scheme, we can’t use excuses. Our target is for all performance indicators like this to be at or above the national average by 2020, so this will be urgently addressed.
Beyond the education system it’s a major priority for us to back our businesses and workers.
Get Oldham Working has been a huge success and we’ve just launched phase two of the campaign. The team has already created 3,750 employment opportunities in less than three years and has now moved to Metropolitan House – around 100 steps away from JobCentre Plus – to make them accessible on a ‘drop in’ basis for jobseekers.
By 2020 the Get Oldham Working team is now looking to help 6,000 more residents and fill more than 5,000 work-related opportunities.
I’m very proud of the interventions this team has made and the difference they’re making to people’s lives. They’ve just worked with ODEON and Costa so that 80 per cent of their new roles at the Old Town Hall went to local residents, for example – and that came just weeks after they ensured every single person made redundant by the closure of BHS in Spindles got new employment.
We’ve recently just published two key new documents that chart our future strategic path to deliver employment sites and improve prospects.
Our Strategic Investment Framework sets out how we will seek to develop important sites across the borough – like Broadway Green and Hollinwood Junction – and our Work and Skills Strategy sets out how we will raise aspirations through measures like working to deliver high-quality careers advice, improving links between local schools and industry, and promoting opportunities in regional and local growth sectors.
Our key motivation is to reduce the number of low-paid and low-skill industry jobs we have at present – including zero hours contracts – that make life so insecure and demoralising for too many families.
We also want to do all we can to help people already in work to progress and improve their prospects.
That’s why we’re about to launch an exciting new initiative – the Career Advancement Service – in Oldham. This will help an initial 400 employed residents to understand what support they might need to get an in-work promotion and improve their incomes. That won’t just ultimately help them and their families, it also creates mobility in the labour market and new chances for others to find work. It’s a pioneering pilot scheme and could be a gamechanger for many local people.
We also recognise that people in work have other priorities that help them settle and live in the borough.
We’ll continue lobbying hard at Greater Manchester level for even better transport links – like our long-promised direct line to Manchester Piccadilly, for example, and Metrolink extensions with an Ashton loopline to Oldham Mumps, and a Middleton spur from Westwood through Middleton and on to the Bury line to connect the north-east Greater Manchester conurbation.
These will give all residents even better access to future job and training opportunities, and we’re also determined to build the new homes that people need.
Several housing schemes finished in the past year and work has also started on the £15m development of 135 new homes in Limehurst Village, new homes at High Barn Street, Royton, at Greenhurst Crescent on Fitton Hill, and on the former St Augustine’s School and the Lancaster Club sites. We are also advancing well with taking the ex-Counthill and Kasknemoor school sites to market soon.
This isn’t just about just boosting the number of homes here, its about giving people a wider choice of homes that are attractive, affordable and energy efficient.
I also believe everyone has the right to live in a good neighbourhood and we make no apologies for tackling people who don’t ‘do their bit’ where they live or operate.
Our Private Sector Landlords scheme has had good early success in prosecuting practices that have blighted communities in places like St Mary’s, Hathershaw, Waterhead, Hollinwood, Primrose Bank and selected parts of Coldhurst, Alexandra and Oldham Edge.
Decent landlords back us because they know the rented sector in Oldham has to improve. But those who don’t think the law applies to them should be in no doubt that we’ll prosecute anyone failing to meet the required homes standard: a crime that has such a terrible impact on the health and welfare of tenants and the wider community.
Tenants and businesses also need to act responsibly and show respect for their neighbours, which is why we’ll carry on cracking down hard on flytipping, littering, dog fouling and other selfish behaviour. In the last year 867 fixed penalty notices and 122 prosecutions were completed on fly-tipping and littering offences: a zero tolerance stance that we won’t be changing.
Next week I’ll finish this series of blogs about our priorities by looking at how we can make Oldham a more caring place to live – and supporting healthier lifestyles.
It will also be just a few days before the opening of the Old Town Hall (Friday, October 21) so I will be sharing some more information with you about that too.
THIS IS my second blog explaining our key priorities in the coming years – and this time I’m talking about social regeneration.
We have many important physical regeneration schemes complete or underway in Oldham, but there’s more to transforming the prospects of a place, people and business than just that.
New facilities are always good news but ‘build it and they will come’ is not going to work on its own – it’s just one part of the wider battle and you can’t just do it in isolation.
Social regeneration is the other work that is needed to tackle the problems that lead to deprivation, lack of aspiration and underachievement in an area.
These are schemes you must carry out side by side with residents, community groups, community organisations, businesses, schools, all public services and the voluntary sector if you are to succeed.
They can be labour-intensive, unglamorous and lack ‘quick wins’, especially as they often mean engaging with people who are hard to reach. But if you do have the right initiative, the impact of social regeneration – starting from a sound evidence base, which is always key – can be radical and life-changing.
Social regeneration schemes seek to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion. They look to give people a ‘handup’, so they can start helping themselves.
People can be materially deprived – like having little/no disposable income, no transport or Internet access, for example – and also non-materially deprived: in bad health or held back by negative experiences from living in a poor area.
In this respect, schemes like Warm Homes Oldham – which has seen us work with partners to lift 1,300 people out of fuel poverty and removed the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma – are prime examples of how lives can be changed.
Another is our Early Help scheme, which has totally redesigned and integrated our support services for individuals, households and families of all ages with problems who need support to stop them getting worse or reaching crisis point.
This is helping to get positive outcomes for people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, adult mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, housing, diet and health, and children’s mental wellbeing. It helps people to help themselves and addresses all the issues a person or household presents to us with, rather than passing them around a complex system where duplication frustrates the purpose.
But allied to local initiatives like this I know we must also deliver on what some call ‘Inclusive Growth’, although I prefer the label ‘Fair Growth’.
In my new portfolio at Greater Manchester level of Fairness, Equality and Cohesion, I am determined to build our profile as a strong and influential voice on this agenda.
I intend to use our influence to continue shifting the focus of that debate and action towards practical and specific steps that include more and more of our residents in the benefits of prosperity.
To that effect our officers are already working closely with the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit at Manchester University, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and other partners to develop that evidence base and formulate answers.
It’s great that Manchester’s economy is prospering – we all welcome that – but there’s no evidence at all to support the assumption that the benefits will simply ‘trickle down’ across the region. That hasn’t worked in other regions and countries, and it isn’t happening here.
Look at jobs. The south of GM has gained 60,000 jobs since 2008, yet the number of jobs in the north has remained essentially static. And our average weekly gross wage in Oldham is £444, the lowest in the region: that must change.
For the GM project to succeed, we need prosperity to be spread wider through targeted investment and intervention. Around 620,000 people in the region are estimated to live in poverty and the benefits of growth need to spread to people and businesses in the donut – or ring – around Manchester to ensure places like Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside, Bolton and Wigan also get their share.
At a Government level the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, which we’re hearing reiterated this week at Tory Conference after a recent wobble, must also go further.
Government investment is sorely needed in key areas like transport, homes, work and skills – not just more devolution of responsibility passed on with much smaller budgets. That is just devolution of blame and problems. It won’t change the story.
Social regeneration and fair growth will give people new opportunities to succeed and enjoy a better quality of life.
Although few were surprised, the Brexit voting patterns showed that our national and regional economy is not delivering for many residents. We all ignore that at our peril and must not leave people behind.
Next week – continuing on this social regeneration theme – I will look at our future priorities in delivering a high-quality education system for all, and how we will continue to back the unemployed, those people already in work, plus local businesses.
THE ‘INCLUSIVE Growth’ agenda is going to be absolutely central to my work as Council Leader.
What I mean by that it is that it’s vital we ensure that Greater Manchester devolution isn’t just delivering for core areas around Manchester city centre, but also for all our towns and districts.
The importance of that – as if we needed reminding – was highlighted again when the All-Party Group of Social Inclusion met in Parliament on Monday.
The group warned that Britain is becoming more ethnically segregated – with widening “cracks in our communities” because lessons haven’t been learned.
Their deliberations coincided with the unhappy anniversary of it being 15 years since the Oldham riots and I was, as you can imagine, asked to give my thoughts by several media sources.
Those scenes on our streets in 2001 were ones none of us will forget. Since then they’ve remained at the forefront of all our minds in everything we do to improve the prospects of our people, business and places.
I welcomed the fact that these issues were being discussed in the context of being matters for Britain as a nation this week. It’s important to do that rather than treating those disturbances as somehow being a defining and unique feature of Oldham.
Rising immigration has produced a national debate that is primarily focussed on numbers and sensational headlines; risking a response where communities blame each other and heightening the appeal of simplistic ‘Donald Trump’ solutions.
I want to talk about Oldham’s experiences since 2001 – and where we go next on this agenda.
Much hard work has been done by Oldham Council and partners across all sectors to provide stronger civic leadership here that can tackle the problems that can lead to communities living “parallel lives”.
We’ve made significant investments in landmark regeneration schemes designed to boost Oldham’s confidence, make it family-friendly, improve residents’ prospects and spark the local economy by attracting major inward investment deals to helping small independent traders.
There’s also been significant investment in housing, work to reduce the segregation of students from different ethnic backgrounds in schools, plus the Oldham Education and Skills Commission, which is striving to improve standards and encourage schools to work better together to raise them across the borough.
We’re not complacent but we’ve seen success in several areas. There’s less hate crime happening, for example, and the far right has still never had a single candidate elected here. Our neighbourhood teams working closely within communities also find that people much more prepared to acknowledge and discuss difficult issues.
But seeing these issues simply through the prism of race is too narrow a focus that offers few solutions.
Drill deeper and you can see that social integration and economic inclusion and prosperity go hand in hand, which is why I’m concentrating on three key areas for Oldham.
Firstly, as a partner in Greater Manchester devolution, I’ve made the ‘inclusive growth’ agenda my top concern.
New research from the independent Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit (run by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and University of Manchester) rightly challenges the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to ensure the proceeds of growth are shared by all people and places in their regions.
Looking at key indicators like income, living costs, labour market exclusion, employment and human capital we can see that while Manchester city centre and Salford have seen growth in their prosperity, the GM region overall sits in the bottom half of the index for inclusion. That has to change or devolution will fail – and communities will divide.
Secondly, we must not lose sight of the importance of our key services. We cannot forget or underestimate the impact these targeted interventions can have in changing peoples’ lives. Initiatives like Get Oldham Working and Warm Homes Oldham have helped thousands of people into employment and out of fuel poverty – key interventions which can make a huge difference. Delivering them won’t be getting any easier, however, as the Government continues to slash our funding and offer measures like business rate redistribution, which won’t mitigate long-term risks to councils like ours. Westminster can and must do better.
And thirdly, I believe more should be done to include women in the GM devolution agenda and in finding solutions to these challenges.
We’ve underplayed the contribution women can make and haven’t engaged them well in this process so far: the devolution deal photocall was a very telling image filled entirely with men in suits. That matters for reasons of justice, legitimacy and efficiency.
I’m the first female leader of Oldham Council and it’s one that has strong cabinet and ward member representation of women. But I’m also now the only female leader in GM and I will push for that voice to be heard better in policy-making and helping to tackle entrenched divisions and inequalities.
As a Co-operative Council we work hard with partners in every area and sector of our borough. All of us recognise that we have our own roles to play in tackling deep-seated social, economic and cultural forces that can drive our communities apart.
We share those challenges with many other places and cannot ever ignore them.
What’s important about Oldham though is not that we had a riot – London and Manchester had them much more recently, remember – but that we have a plan, a partnership and the determination to tackle these issues head on.
TODAY WAS our Annual Council meeting which is a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the future.
Our new Cabinet line-up for 2016/7 was approved as part of the usual order of business.
That means myself and Abdul Jabbar will continue as Council Leader and Deputy Leader and – amongst the other main changes – sees the return of Amanda Chadderton and new portfolio areas for Shoab Akhtar and Fida Hussain.
You can read all about the full line-up and those new roles and responsibilities here: http://bit.ly/1Xmq1aD
As part of the tradition of Annual Council I also spoke this afternoon to explain this administration’s priorities as we enter a ‘fallow’ period with no local elections scheduled until May 2018.
To give you a summary of what I said, I reflected on the fact that it is now five years since we became a Cooperative Council.
I believe that approach has delivered – and will continue to do so – for the borough.
We remain committed to that approach in order to deliver our key priorities.
Put simply, those are to improve the prospects of all our people, all of our business communities and the whole of the borough.
It means doing all that we can as a council – alongside partners – to attract new investment, jobs, skills, economic growth and homes for our residents.
A good example of how that co-operative approach works – where everyone does their bit, and everyone benefits – is the Independent Quarter.
This is flourishing thanks to the £600,000 we’ve already granted to existing and new independent businesses.
We now have 27 new independent firms trading in that area who have created more than 150 new jobs and invested £1m of their own money. We expect a further nine companies with another 50 jobs to come during this year.
There’s also been improvements to 40 buildings and 35 more are set to complete in 2016. And this area – which many people had stopped visiting because of too many takeaways, cheap booze offers and vacant run-down units – is now home to some fantastic new restaurants, traders, professional services and even social enterprises.
Tackling areas of deprivation and helping people who are both in and out of work is also a key priority.
Get Oldham Working has been a great pathway into employment for more than 2,550 people but we know too many residents are in low-paid and low skilled jobs with little job security. That has to change.
We must prioritise giving those people new opportunities to get better skills and make progress in their careers that earn more money for their families. That will not only push local wages higher but it will also create mobility in the labour market and encourage more new people into work.
And we are fully committed to implementing the findings of the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report. A new Education Partnership Leader is to be appointed soon and good progress is already being made.
Around 63 per cent of our children now attend ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools, which is a big improvement in a short space of time.
We must also focus on playing a proactive role in the Greater Manchester devolution agenda.
I want us to be a positive partner in that project while also trying to strike the best deal for our residents and businesses. I see no contradiction in that stance because devolution will only truly work if everyone sees and shares the benefits.
It makes sense for all GM authorities to work together. We share similar challenges and interests in getting better results in health and social care, nurturing business growth and equipping residents with the skills and life chances they deserve.
But we also must ensure that devolution doesn’t just deliver for core areas around Manchester city centre. We need a strong settlement for our towns and districts too. We need inclusive growth.
My final – but very important – priority is to continue to focus on getting your basic services right.
There’s no point me moaning that we have to find another £67m in savings over the next two years. We just have to get on with it.
We have to respond and innovate and work harder than ever to protect your essential local services. And we will.
Finally this week, I must mention the ‘Mayor making’ ceremony which took place earlier today in the Council Chamber.
I was delighted to join all members in unanimously selecting Councillor Derek Heffernan, who has been a ward member for Saddleworth since 1995, as our new first citizen.
Derek is held in high regard across all parties for his dedication to public service and unstinting work for local organisations.
He and his wife, Di, will be splendid ambassadors for Oldham and both deserve this very special honour.
We also gave thanks to the departing Mayor, Ateeque Ur-Rheman and his Mayoress, Yasmin Toor.
They have been one of the busiest duos ever to hold that office and made a really big impact across the borough – especially in our schools.
Their excellent year finished with a Zip Wire event last weekend which raised more than £17,000 for local good causes. That is, I believe, a record total raised by a Mayoral event in one day.
I know lots of people have enjoyed meeting them and have sent in many letters of thanks and appreciation.
On behalf of them, the borough and the council, I would like to thank Ateeque and Yasmin for their fantastic efforts.
AWARENESS of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) has never been higher than it is today – and we know more about the issues as a society than we ever did before.
The media contains stories about cases on a daily basis such that the topic at times almost feels like it has lost its ‘shock value’ to the reader.
Complacency is an enemy to keeping our young people safe, which is why we must guard against that all times and never stop trying to promote a better understanding of the warning signs.
At Oldham Council our Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) has the statutory responsibility for our overall CSE strategy.
And it is our Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), which has the job of identifying children at risk and helping those who become victims.
We are proud of their work and committed to helping them by keeping these issues in the public eye.
That’s why, for the fourth year running, we’ve again joined forces with our partners in Project Phoenix – Greater Manchester’s multi-agency response to the problem – in a ‘Week of Action’.
The focus this time is on the strong link between young people who run away or go missing from home and cases of exploitation.
Regional statistics show that this connection is irrefutable and needs more attention drawn to it.
‘Going missing’ has several variants, of course – including bunking off from school, staying out overnight or running away for a few days or longer.
But the chilling truth is that 95 per cent of those children who are judged to be at risk from CSE have all gone missing at least once.
In 2014, a total of 4,226 young people went missing in Greater Manchester. Of those 44 per cent only went missing once – but 43 children went missing more than 100 times.
Those young people who run away tend to do so regularly and that exposes them to increased risk of coming to harm.
Part of the problem is that they are often simply unaware of the dangers that they may place themselves in when they stay away from home.
Those who go missing are amongst the most vulnerable children around us, however, and there are many reasons why this might happen.
It could be neglect or abuse at home.
It could be drug or alcohol misuse by their parents or family members.
And it could also be that they are under the influence of predatory adults.
In cases like these it’s absolutely vital that young people get support at the earliest possible stage so that we can help to address the issues – whatever the context – and protect them from becoming a victim of CSE or other crimes.
About 18 months ago we launched the ‘It’s Not Okay’ campaign as part of Project Phoenix’s work with public and voluntary sector partners to protect young people together.
This joined-up approach is proving effective in raising awareness and having direct contact and discussions with children and those who care for them. This has meant that hundreds more young people have been identified, educated and helped than ever before.
This work is absolutely vital and Oldham Council will continue to play a leading role with our partners in highlighting the issues.
We all have a part to play in helping to spot this and to help keep young people safe.
You should, of course, always urge your own children to keep in touch when not at home: whether that is through a relative or a friend, or someone they trust.
But even if you are not a parent, you too have an important role to play as our ‘eyes and ears’ on these matters because vigilance cannot just be left to our childcare professionals or the police.
I would be grateful if you would take just a few minutes today to visit the website at www.itsnotokay.co.uk to learn more about the early signs that a child in your community could be at serious risk.
It’s important to point out that it will often be the case that several small pieces of information from different sources will contribute to the full picture of what is really going on in a vulnerable young person’s life.
By providing information confidentially you could play an invaluable part in safeguarding a young person – and others – by sharing it and letting the professionals investigate.
Changes in the way that a child appears, behaves or communicates can often be key and you can report concerns in several ways in Oldham.
If you suspect someone is in immediate risk of harm then you should always call 999 and speak to the police.
All calls will be treated seriously and confidentially.
To report information contact Oldham’s MASH team between 9am and 5pm on 0161 770 3790 or 3791.