“What did the women ever do for us?”#IWD2017

IWDTODAY is International Women’s Day 2017 – a worldwide event celebrating women’s achievements in all areas and calling for gender equality.

This has been taking place since the early 1900s and it isn’t affiliated with any one group.

It brings together women’s organisations, corporations and groups through a series of performances, rallies, networking events, conferences and marches.

I know from past experience that on this day there is usually at always at least one ‘joker’ who sarcastically asks when it is ever going to be Men’s Day.

I always delight in his embarrassment when I explain that it takes place on November 19 and – throughout my working life – I’ve encountered even less kind responses questioning what we are actually celebrating.

Debating that point reminds me of the infamous scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian when – after much arguing – it’s agreed that: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”.

jean
DELIGHTED to have been named in GM Business Week’s ‘100 Inspiring Women’ on #IWD2017

The truth is that International Women’s Day is as relevant and necessary now as it has ever been.

Its original aim was to achieve full gender equality for women across the world – and that hasn’t happened.

There is still a clear gender pay gap and many areas of society where women are not proportionately represented and where we are disadvantaged.

Take a look at this week’s news if you want some depressing evidence.

On Monday an MPs investigation into work dress codes said it had found “widespread discrimination”. They heard stories about a woman who was told to dye her hair blonde, and one woman sent home from her temp job after refusing to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

On the same day the Football Association was desperately trying to drag itself into the 21st Century. Faced with a threat of losing £30-£40m in funding unless it reforms, Greg Clarke had to outline ‘controversial’ plans to reserve three spaces on its board for women.

That’s just two examples from one day’s headlines.

Clearly we have some distance to go and there’s a very genuine logic as to why this all really matters.

Anyone who sees these issues as a ‘zero sum game’ – where change only benefits one gender at the necessary expense of the other – is totally missing the point.

Look at local government.

BoldForChangeAt Oldham Council I’m proud to be part of what is currently the only all-female Council Leader and Chief Executive team in Greater Manchester, but Carolyn Wilkins and I are just a snapshot of the amazing work done daily by women in our borough. Some are working at the most senior levels, some are working in finance, IT, social care, catering and as gritter drivers. Their contribution is vast and varied.

In local government we are there to work for an amazing array of people from all demographics, backgrounds, beliefs and barriers to achievement.

So if we don’t ensure they are represented when decisions are being made then it can’t be a surprise when a policy fails for them.

That then weakens trust in the institutions that are supposed to represent them, which doesn’t improve things for anyone.

I would be the first to say that there have been improvements, but when you are faced with stark reminders of how far we still have to go it’s very clear that some things haven’t changed enough.

Last month a Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester launched with an all-male line-up of 15 advertised speakers. Only 13 of 98 named speakers in total were woman and many panel sessions had no female faces at all.

The organisers’ apology was suitably unreserved and regretful, but given how many women are operating at a senior level across all sectors in Greater Manchester they should never have got into that position in the first place.

I’m not planning on being around until 2186 – which is the date when the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap will finally close(!) – and these things matter to me now because diversity benefits everybody.

I’m proud that Oldham has been blessed with some inspiring women who have made a real difference to so many people’s lives.

kenneyOne shining example, of course, is Annie Kenney. This is the Springhead woman who went on to play a key role in winning voting rights for women and that’s why I am delighted to be supporting a new campaign to raise funding to erect a permanent statue of her outside the Old Town Hall.  You can find out more about that here.

We’ve had many other pioneers too – have a look at these examples on the Oldham Council website – but we can’t all make the big breakthroughs.

Small ripples – shows of compassion or empathy, incremental changes that unblock stalemate or change outlooks – are just as important in the overall picture.

Everyone can play a part, big or small, in achieving change.

We recognise that and it’s why we’re appealing for you to tell us this week about women that have made a difference in your community, your street or your home. If you want to nominate an unsung heroine like this, please email marketing@oldham.gov.uk with her name, the reason why you think she deserves recognition, and your contact details.

Finally, I’d say the real value of International Women’s Day, for me, is to serve as an annual point of reflection about where we have come from – and where we’re heading as a society.

We shouldn’t forget there has been genuine progress in many areas.

We’ve seen great changes on things like maternity rights, equal treatment for part-time workers (the majority of whom are women), and expanding career opportunities that weren’t previously open to us.

There’s also now more women in work, but they’re often still paid less than men, and in part-time jobs or informal employment with insufficient rights and protection.

Women are also still drastically under-represented in senior management roles, board positions and Parliament.

Add to that a range of societal issues, including poor access to free childcare, and you can see there’s still much to do.

Almost 64 years after her death, Annie Kenney might have been encouraged in 2017 – but she’d probably also dismay at how much remains to be done and how long it is all taking.

Jean

A focus on our future – and the past

IT’S ANOTHER busy week and one in which we are looking to the future – and remembering our past.

I was delighted to attend a launch event on Monday for Open Future_North and to welcome Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, on Monday.

Open Future_North will be new tenants – alongside local social enterprise, Hack Oldham – at the digital enterprise hub we are currently refurbishing in the ex-Wahoo nightclub and Kiss bar buildings on Yorkshire Street.

Located right in the heart of our Independent Quarter, this hub will be supporting grassroots entrepreneurs and bringing the necessary talent, inspiration and investment together to help them flourish. It will be a launch pad where creatives can collaborate, learn and unlock each other’s potential.

On the ground floor and in the basement, Hack Oldham will offer access to low-cost and flexible workspace – plus equipment geared to individual entrepreneurs and Small to Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the digital and creative sectors.

Open Future_North will occupy the first and second floors of the old Wahoo bar as part of the work by Wayra UK (part of Telefónica Open Future) to revitalise entrepreneurial ‘ecosystems’, energise local economies and democratise entrepreneurship across the UK.

What struck me about the launch, held at the Old Town Hall, was how upbeat and positive the mood was among all present with a fantastic exchange of opinions and viewpoints.

As I told the audience in one of the new cinema screens, the venue they were sat in is stunning, but regeneration isn’t just about architecture and iconic buildings. To transform a local economy you also have to empower people and nurture a culture that enables success.

It’s about people and prospects. It’s about opportunities, networks, ideas and environment. It’s about social regeneration.

Instead of giving people a ‘handout’, we’re trying here in Oldham to give them a ‘hand up’ by working with partners across every single sector – and this new digital enterprise hub is just one part of our action on that front.

We’re trying to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion by backing businesses, enterprises and workers and the talented people we know we have here and want to retain.

Open Future 40.jpgAt Open Future_North two groups of five start-ups will get access to a state-of-the-art co-working space, each for a period of six months in 2017, as well as support like mentoring, access to Wayra UK’s network and knowhow, plus training in business skills.

The best performers will be asked to join the full acceleration Wayra UK programme, where they could receive up to £34,000 in investment, and it was particularly inspiring to hear the pitches from budding start-ups.

Local firm OfferMoments, founded by Abdul Alim and Shahzad Mughal, explained their billboards that change with information tailored towards your profile, based upon your social media activity, as you walk towards them.

And the husband and wife team behind JobSkilla – Chris and Lisa Hughes from Shaw – talked passionately about how their online service can bridge the gap between job-seekers, training providers and training advisers.

Oldham has a proud history of innovation and has led the world at times, so there’s no reason why we can’t be the birthplace of one of the next big ideas.

Through his ‘Pitch at the Palace’ initiative, the Duke of York is backing efforts like this to help support entrepreneurs to accelerate and grow their plans.

cwilkoContinuing on a royal theme I was delighted to see Carolyn Wilkins, our Chief Executive, visit Buckingham Palace on Tuesday for her investiture after being made an OBE in June for her services to Local Government and Public Sector Reform.

It is an award that is richly deserved and I know that the Council team and all partners will join me in congratulating Carolyn.

Later today (Wednesday) I am also looking forward to the ceremony at which Nicola White will be confirmed as a freewoman of the borough.

Based on local press and social media, our star Olympic hockey player appears to have been in incredibly high demand since Rio, and small wonder as she is an outstanding ambassador.

I am excited to be welcoming her to the Council Chambers today and celebrate a special moment with so many of her family and friends present. You will also be able to watch this live from 4pm onwards on our website – and tweet your own congratulations into the room.

Finally the week will, of course, end on a very poignant note as crowds fall silent across the borough on Sunday to remember the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and security.

Residents, uniformed services and representatives of all organisations are encouraged to attend these services and I would also ask people to again support the Royal British Legion’s annual campaign and wear a poppy with pride.

Full details of all the events taking place can be found here and our website also features an online ‘Roll of Honour’ containing the names of all borough residents who lost their lives serving their country from the First World War onwards at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/remembrance

Jean

Flytipping: The fight goes on

flytipNEWFLYTIPPING IS the scourge of our communities – it’s bad for people and places.

The photographs you can see on this page are of the thoroughly-depressing scene that I visited last week.

Although I am Council Leader, I remain a ward member and am still always there to look after Hollinwood matters alongside my colleagues, Councillors Steve Williams and Brian Ames.

A local resident came to see me and told me about this carnage, just behind the cemetery off Limeside Road, last Friday afternoon.

When I got there I was shocked at the scale of the mess. A picture says a thousand words and, honestly, how do people look at themselves in the mirror after doing something like this?

I’m told it seems to have happened between 9.30am and 3.30pm last Wednesday – so it was in broad daylight and utterly shameless.

I rolled my sleeves up and started to sift through the mess on the site.

There was what looks like removed render and other builders’ rubble and lots of bags – including some which contained what appeared to be stripped wallpaper.

NEW4The way it was all strewn along the floor in a trail (pictured) suggests it was on the back of a flatbed truck. They probably just dropped the guard at the back and then drove off at speed to dump it.

The contents this time appear to be trade waste but we also often find flytipping to be the result of another eviction by a rogue landlord. Either way, there’s simply no excuse.

In and amongst the filth and debris I finally located what I was hoping to find: tell-tale signs of where the rubbish might have originated from.

There was a letter and a slip containing two separate addresses of people with the same surname. Coincidence? Time – and our investigation – will tell.

I photographed these and reported everything to council officers who then swung into action and got on investigating the matter.

Our environmental services and enforcement staff do a great job in cleaning up scenes like this on a regular basis but it’s a thankless and disheartening task.

They also work very hard to find the people responsible by looking for evidence of the original owner of the dumped items.

In May this year all local authorities were given greater powers to tackle flytipping crime by now being able to issue penalty notices of between £150 and £400 to those caught in the act of dumping anything from old fridges or sofas to garden waste or rubble.

The maximum fine for dumping waste has also been bumped up to £3m for companies and up to £95,000 for individuals.

Even low-level offenders could face a bill of up to £10,000 and three years in jail.

Crime like this – and that’s exactly what it is – costs our economy and you, the Council Taxpayer, millions of pounds each year.

It also undermines legitimate business, and poses serious risks to the environment because it doesn’t just blight the area, it attracts vermin and is a health hazard.

For me, actions speak louder than words.

If you flytip it speaks volumes about you: about your outlook and attitude to society.

Dumping your waste by the road, whether that’s in an alleyway, the countryside or a random industrial estate, is about as selfish as you can get.

NEW2That’s why Oldham Council will have absolutely no qualms about using those new powers to punish anyone caught doing this.

These ‘on the spot’ fixed penalty notices could also save us time and money in punishing offenders as they are a much quicker alternative to prosecuting through the courts.

We’ll also continue to prosecute whenever we have sufficient evidence – and continue working closely with neighbouring authorities to jointly pursue cases that are happening across our borders.

The money we spend on clearing up mess like this could be saved and spent on other vital services that people rely on. In the current financial climate this simply cannot continue.

We rely on the public’s help in reporting flytipping and helping us to identify the people responsible.

Please do your bit and let us know whenever you spot flytipping – or have information about it – by calling us on 0161 770 2244 or reporting it online here.

To end on a much happier note this week, I just want to say congratulations to Carolyn Wilkins.

CWOBEOur Chief Executive was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List last weekend and it was fully deserved.

It’s an accolade that highlights her brilliant work and long-standing service to Local Government and Public Service Reform.

It’s also yet another positive reflection on the way that people are starting to recognise the great progress that is being made here in Oldham.

I’m very proud to work alongside Carolyn and also to be able to consider her as a valued friend.

I’m sure all who know her across and beyond our borough will join me in congratulating her on this news.

Jean