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

Child Poverty – Guest Blog

COLDHURST has been in the headlines this week after a national study was published on child poverty.

I asked Abdul Jabbar, Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader, to guest-blog on the issues this has raised as he knows Coldhurst better than most.

He was keen to talk about the challenges and issues around child poverty, what we are doing – and what we need to tackle it more effectively.

Over to Abdul…

Oldham 23.2.16-9424COLDHURST is in my heart and many members of my family call it ‘home’.

I first came to live here when I was 14 years old and I’m very proud to have now represented this area for almost a quarter of a century as a ward member.

During that time I’ve worked among all our communities, probably knocked on every single door at one time, and seen all the kinds of challenges faced by local families.

I felt saddened this week when Coldhurst hit the news after a report by the End Child Poverty group said it has the highest child deprivation rate in England with over 60 per cent of youngsters living ‘below the breadline’.

Saddened, yes. Surprised? No.

I don’t fool myself that Coldhurst and other areas aren’t facing serious challenges because I see it every day around me.

The problems for our least well-off families are unrelenting and getting out of the poverty cycle has never been harder than it is today.

But there is something that is absolutely great about Coldhurst – the people who live there.

Yes, there are problems with crime and anti-social behaviour like fly-tipping, but walk around those streets and you’ll also find many friendly, positive people and a sense of community that you might not see in more affluent areas.

Within Coldhurst I know groups and associations, GPs, headteachers, community workers, voluntary organisations and residents who are all working hard to make the most of what they have.

Our challenge at local and national level is to match that.

There are a lot of factors behind child poverty.

The four-year freeze on social security benefits – amongst other welfare reform measures like the Bedroom tax – has been felt most by the poorest families.

UCREDITOldham was a pilot area for the rollout of Universal Credit which has caused huge problems by leaving families without money for several weeks, forcing many people into making desperate choices between heating the home or eating food.

Many people in Coldhurst do work extremely hard for long hours but due to low skills, stagnant wages and increasing living costs, things are tough. Many are also living in low-quality rented homes that are actually more expensive than social housing.

Worst of all is the fact that children are suffering. Not just because they are vulnerable now, but because if you have a bad start in life then your chances of success in adulthood are not good.

Coldhurst is not alone, however. Oldham has other pockets like this and so do our neighbours in Greater Manchester and big cities like London. End Child Poverty say that more than half of all children in the UK’s very poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.

We are trying to address these issues locally on many levels.

The Oldham Education and Skills Commission committed us to improving our education by 2020 and we are on target to achieve this, but it won’t be enough on its own.

We’ve introduced schemes like Warm Homes Oldham to help with fuel poverty, Get Oldham Working to improve employment prospects, Get Oldham Growing to improve health, and the Town Centre Masterplan to deliver significant opportunities in the local economy over the next two decades.

northmoorIn Coldhurst itself we invested £7.5 million to open the fantastic new Northmoor Academy (pictured) in September 2016. This three-form entry primary school on the former Grange school site was designed to cope with rising pressure on school places but also to provide a first-class facility where children can thrive.

As part of being a new Opportunity Area we’re also this week about to start rolling out the ‘Making it REAL’ programme in nurseries in Coldhurst. This is intervention in early years’ settings that targets improving literacy and giving children with disadvantaged backgrounds the language skills they need before they get to school. It involves home visits to support and train parents and group events – all have been proved to raise and sustain literacy standards in other areas. The reason we’re doing this is that it has also been shown that language and literacy skills are the most impactful intervention you can make for any child from a disadvantaged background, so we’re determined to get it right.

That kind of work will and must continue, but it still it won’t be enough on its own.

We have a Government that still refuses to set a target to reduce child poverty. For me, if you refuse to recognise a problem exists, then what hope can we have that you’re actually committed to finding – let alone funding – the solutions?

In families where it is hard to make ends meet, only one person is working, bills are paid late and loan sharks are circling, this is not the message they need to hear.

Last week we were told that more people are in work now than for many years. That might be true, but never have so many also been paid so relatively little and with work often on insecure terms like zero hour contracts.

Local authority’s children’s services are also being reduced to firefighting through Government cuts. Without the money we need to intervene at an early stage through important measures like parenting classes, substance misuse prevention and teenage pregnancy support, the impacts can be simply devastating.

This is also a false economy. If we can only get involved when children reach a crisis point then it will result in much more expensive steps in the long term, like taking young people into care.

In the budget we’re currently finalising for Oldham in 2018/9 we have an £8 million gap in funding for children’s social care services. That is a typical picture nationally and yet remains a problem which Government fails to address.

Making significant progress in living standards, wages and skills for everyone is our goal and it’s why we are championing the Inclusive Growth agenda so hard at Greater Manchester level.

As Deputy Council Leader and a ward member for Coldhurst I will continue my efforts for the people of the area alongside our MP, partners, communities and the voluntary sector, to help wherever we can.

But we also need the Government to finally listen and act.

The thought of having a generation of children suffering like this is heart-breaking and it also leaves me in fear of what legacy it will leave us with as a society.

Abdul Jabbar

Heritage: When to save it – and when you have to let go… 

Hartford Mill 01

OUR HERITAGE is our inheritance as a place and it encompasses many different things.

It can be the physical: like historic buildings, objects, artefacts and documents. It can also be the natural environment: our landscapes, native wildlife and plants. And it can be the intangible: things like our traditions, folklore, music and skills.

We are blessed with some amazing assets and heritage in Oldham.

No doorstep in our borough is more than two miles away from glorious open countryside and we can offer the benefits of town and rural life in one location.

Our pride in our heritage buildings, people and history has also been the foundation of our regeneration.

This is exemplified in the Old Town Hall project which restored an iconic Grade-II listed building at the heart of the town centre with a modern use. In relaunching it we also used heritage symbols and tales – like the owls in Parliament Square and the ‘Oldham Giant’ puppet – to showcase our pride in who we are.

CreditIanBeesley1That’s also why we’ve worked hard to rescue the amazing haul of documents, newspaper clippings and images that were the archives of the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

This week we were able to confirm that they have been saved and I want to thank KPMG, the administrators, for letting us assess the quality of this trove and then transferring it to public ownership.

These archives will be fully accessible to the public when the new Heritage and Arts Centre opens in late 2019/early 2020.

That new facility – which also sees the restoration of the Grade II former library building on Union Street – will tell Oldham’s story from our era as cotton spinning capital of the world to the present day.

P1290127The Chronicle archives will then be alongside the borough’s extensive collection of objects, works of art, heritage and archive information as we open up them all up to public access in an unprecedented way.

That particular heritage tale had a happy ending but it isn’t always straightforward.

Sometimes you must be realistic about when to save something – and when to let it go. One example of the latter is Hartford Mill.

Last week I was concerned to learn that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service had to rescue two teenage girls who got stuck on the roof.

Sadly this isn’t an isolated incident and we’ve been asking serious questions for considerable time about the wisdom of this structure remaining in place.

I genuinely understand the beauty and historic value that many people see in heritage buildings, but this one is a total blight on the Freehold and Chadderton area.

It’s a danger to the public, a magnet for vandalism and anti-social behaviour, and is an awful sight as you travel along the Metrolink line. Would you really want to look out of the window of your family home at that every day?

The mill is privately owned and it’s clear that the security and safety of the site is costly and challenging.

In 2004 Oldham Council had secured an option to buy the mill but when the government pulled the plug on Housing Market Renewal (HMR) we could no longer proceed. The owner has since looked at conversion options and in 2015 we agreed to grant an option to transfer council-owned land adjoining the mill to him so he could offer a larger parcel of land that might be more attractive to developers.

Little has happened since then, sadly. Renovating Hartford Mill would cost huge sums of money and who will spend that on a property with no apparent practical use? The situation has become an impasse – and a huge frustration to local residents – and it has to end.

Freehold Metro 02

That’s why Oldham Council is now about to submit an application to demolish the listed building. Because of its status this is unlikely to be an easy or straightforward process, but it’s clearly the best solution for the community.

I understand the strong emotions cases like this can arouse but the prospects of ever turning Hartford Mill into housing, offices or public amenities are extremely remote.

The private sector has brought forward no such proposals in two decades. Now it is time to think about the future – and to let it go.

Jean

Better roads for Oldham – £6.2m investment starts now

THE LATEST wintry weather is a stark reminder of the challenges we face in keeping local roads to a good standard of repair.

Ask any Council Leader about this subject and I would confidently bet that most will tell you that potholed roads is the top cause of the complaints they get from the public.

And I do sympathise – I am a driver after all!…

I can’t deny I get as irked as anyone else does after driving over one – although it is also true that nobody ever notices driving over roads where no bumps occur, for obvious reasons.

To try and address the pothole problem we’ve announced a new £6.2 million investment programme in Oldham’s roads this week.

This new money is funding a 12-month programme of works to get more streets into shape with a high-quality and durable surface that supports residents, motorists and business and keeps the borough moving.

This is really positive news, but we’ve also got to be realistic about the scale of the problem.

OMBC HighwaysRoad surfacing is a constant ongoing battle and the significant funding cuts from Government leave us with far less to spend on it than we would ideally put in.

In recent years we’ve also had some very harsh winters and wet summers which have had a significant impact on the 856 kilometres of roads we maintain.

This – and increased traffic levels – means many road surfaces are in need of repair or resurfacing. That £6.2 million commitment means specialist teams are out on the roads as you read this right now and getting on with that job.

There’s two key issues at play when it comes to road surfacing.

Firstly, there just isn’t enough Government funding to help local authorities like ourselves get on top of the problem.  Last year a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance estimated that councils are fixing 1.75 million potholes a year, which is one every 19 seconds, and sounds impressive. But the scale of the issue is such that the Local Government Association believes there is an astronomical national funding gap of £12 billion to be plugged and it would still take more than a decade – even with all that money provided – just to catch up with the backlog.

Although we’re not unique in terms of the funding challenges we face, a second issue for Oldham lies in the topographical nature of where we live.

Snow and ice causes the vast majority of pothole cracks and are much more likely to be on higher ground.  That’s because the higher you are, the colder it tends to be, which explains why the Saddleworth Moors always appear to be hit first. Height is also crucial because just a small change in temperature can mean the difference between rain and snow (which melts at 0 degrees C or above) and the Highways team tell me that 99 per cent of our borough lies at least at a height of 100 metres above sea level.

POTHOLES2We know it is vital that we continue to invest in our key infrastructure, like the road network.

In addition to this new investment we’re continuing to give overall priority to our main roads (A and B roads). These are our Priority Routes because the majority of the public use them each day – and you can help us to keep them well maintained.

We operate a 24 Hour Repair Promise on these roads (you may have noticed the road signs indicating this) so, if you see a defect, then please report it to us so we can take action immediately. Find out more here.

Obviously, we cannot go out driving every stretch of our roads checking for defects like this every day, so we rely on your help as our ‘eyes and ears’ by reporting problems as they arise.

Finally, I want to stress that this £6.2million investment is new money and it is in addition to the regular and scheduled work that our Highways Team are already carrying out, such as other reactive pothole repairs.

You can find out more about which roads will be improved in the first three months of this programme here.

Please do #yourbit and report any pothole problems to us online.

Jean

 

 

Stay well – and act wisely

stay-well1IT’S BEEN no surprise to hear a throng of sneezing, coughing and hoarse throats back at work this week.

Like many others, I also fell victim to the ‘lurgy’ over the festive season but the numbers affected nationally – and the impact on our NHS – have been significant in recent weeks.

I’d like to personally thank all staff that worked so hard over the holidays with the pressures mounting at hospitals up and down the country.

And let’s not forget our own Oldham Council staff who have also gone the extra mile (literally!) in hazardous conditions ensuring roads were continuously gritted through a prolonged cold weather snap, plus our refuse collectors who also did a fantastic job picking up all that extra Yuletide waste.

Every winter sees several strains of flu doing the rounds and this year things seem to have been complicated further by so-called H3N2 – better known as ‘Aussie flu’.

Flu symptoms can come on very quickly but, for most of us, following the tried and trusted advice to drink lots of fluids, rest up in bed and take paracetamol/ibuprofen usually does the trick.

However for some people, especially the very old, very young or people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, flu can be deadly and that’s why it’s more important now than ever that we all take the right decisions about what help we really need when we get ill.

Adults over 65, pregnant women or those with underlying health conditions are advised to get a free flu jab, and a free nasal spray is also available to children aged two to eight.

But with more people turning up at GP surgeries with symptoms or being admitted to hospital with flu, we must all try to act responsibly and avoid unnecessarily clogging surgeries and A&E departments to help the NHS prioritise those most in need of care.

staywell2At the first sign of illness, even just a cough or a cold, you should act quickly by talking to your local pharmacist for professional advice or visiting www.nhs.uk

Please also remember that 999 is for life-threatening emergencies only.

If you need medical help fast – but it’s not a 999 emergency – then call NHS 111 for clinical advice, assessment and signposting to the most appropriate treatment.

Please also do #yourbit if you have symptoms of flu by avoiding unnecessary contact with other people, washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water and cleaning surfaces regularly to stop the spread of flu. And, of course, check on any vulnerable neighbours or relatives that you have as temperatures plummet and risks rise.

newfoodbankAnother place that has also been busy over the holiday season has been Oldham Foodbank.

Their latest data paints a bleak picture of the struggles local people are continuing to experience.

From January 1, 2017 to New Year’s Eve in 2017, Oldham Foodbank provided 7,078 three-day emergency supplies to local people in crisis – a figure that is up substantially from 5,554 in 2016.

Of that number, 2,425 packages went to children and Oldham Foodbank say issues with benefit payments account for 70 per cent of all their referrals: well above the national average of 43 per cent.

The unpaid work done by volunteers at Oldham Foodbank is simply inspirational and their running costs each year are £6,000 for operating a van, picking up and distributing food, and overheads like electricity and insurance.

This really shouldn’t be necessary in 2018 – and in one of the richest economies of the world(!) – but please visit their website here if you can offer any help.

Just over one week into 2018 and it’s again palpably clear that this is a Government that needs to focus on the ‘day job’ more – not just Brexit.

We deserve a Cabinet and top team capable of tackling the real problems making life miserable for so many people – like the underfunding of our NHS and the distress caused by welfare reform policies – but I see nothing in this week’s reshuffle to give me hope that we’ll be seeing any significant change in approach.

kquinnFinally, I must mention the tragic death of Kieran Quinn, Tameside Council Leader, on Christmas Day.

This news came as such a huge shock to everyone involved in regional politics and my heart goes out to Susan, his wife, and his family and friends.

He was held in high regard across Greater Manchester by politicians of all parties, by fellow trade unionists, by his Tameside and GM political and officer colleagues and by the residents he served as a committed Council Leader and Ward Councillor.

He will be sorely missed.

Jean

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