Keep dancing…

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webIT WAS certainly up there as one of the most unexpected phone calls I’ve received since becoming Council Leader.
 
In April I took a call fully expecting to be asked whether I had PPI, a car accident that wasn’t my fault or be told about a new pothole in my ward. Instead it was an invitation I really hadn’t expected.
 
It was Dr Kershaw’s Hospice calling to ask if I’d consider taking part in their Strictly Kershaw’s annual dancing competition. 
Ordinarily I would probably have politely declined given my busy schedule – not to mention my two left feet – but their timing was important.

The call came during the week of the funeral of our Royton councillor colleague, Tony Larkin, who I knew had been in Dr Kershaw’s Hospice during his final weeks.

It felt right to take part in something that raises funds to support the fantastic work of the Hospice. I know there are so many families across our borough who are grateful for the incredible work done by their staff for adults with life-limiting illnesses.

In the back of my mind too I remembered how, as a young girl, my Mum had sent me to Bardsley Dance School and – to be honest – I’d hated it!

But I said “Yes” and committed to 12 weeks of practice every Thursday night up until the actual  event on October 20.  


Jean GM Moving pledge (2)And in July I put my dancing venture forward as my pledge to the Greater Manchester (GM) Moving campaign, which aims to get everyone active and secure the greatest improvement in the health, wealth and wellbeing of the region’s 2.8m residents by 2021. 
 
I turned up for my first practice sessions a bit apprehensive but actually, whilst I’m no Ginger Rogers, I really am enjoying it.

I have a fantastic, patient dance partner and he and his real partner have been taking me through the choreography for my two dances. These are the Cha Cha Cha and a lesser-known dance called the Bachata.  I have to say some of the choreography is a bit racy and they are already talking fishnets and feathers for my outfits!

 
I’ve certainly felt fitter for doing it and it’s good sometimes to have something that you need to really concentrate on (because otherwise you might fall over!) and take just a couple of hours off from being Council Leader.    
 
So this has been great fun to do so far and – on the night –  I promise nothing other than 100 per cent effort and to provide some entertainment for the crowd  And I hope that however well (or not so well!) I have improved by then, people will remember the serious side to this is about raising funds for Dr Kershaw’s.

The Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free. They rely on public generosity and that’s why I hope some of you reading this will take the time to visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.  

 
Even better, if you want to attend the Strictly Kershaw’s event itself, it takes place at the QE Hall on October 20. You can book tickets and find out more about it here.
 
While we’re on the subject of a Royton institution this week I want to set the record straight on our plans for the library building, which we recently announced.
 
You can read all about them here but essentially the plan is to move the library into the ground floor of the Royton Town Hall buildings as part of a £2 million investment to improve the facilities. We’re then seeking a tenant to give the old library building a modern use to breathe new life into the district. 
 
Contrary to media and Social Media comments since then, I want to be crystal clear about what we are doing.  
 
Firstly, this isn’t the closure of the library service. It is simply relocating it – and into what will be a modern community venue with new facilities, meeting rooms and office space set within the historic Town Hall building. It will have better access for everyone and improved connectivity between the library, health centre and leisure centre facilities. This is an investment in the future, not a cut in service. 
 
Secondly, we have no plans to sell the old library building. We know it’s important to many Roytonians and have been very clear that we are seeking a tenant with a sympathetic view to its heritage who can offer something new to the district that can benefit everyone. 

And with that off my chest it’s back to work now and – tomorrow night – a little more Cha Cha Cha…

Jean 

shoes

Vulnerable people will pay the price for government underfunding of adult social care

stackCABINET has now approved our budget proposals for 2017/18 and these go to Full Council on March 1.

That will mark the end of another very difficult budget process in which we’ve had to take out £15m of funding for that financial year as a result of Government cuts.

Like most other councils we have, regrettably, included a proposed 3.99 per cent rise in Council Tax – although this is less than the 4.99 per cent rise most are introducing.

This is made up of a 1.99 per cent increase for Oldham Council services and an additional two per cent levy that Government say they are “allowing” councils to raise to help support under-funded adult social care services.

This means an increase of just below £5 per month for a Band D property and you can find out more about the measures we’ve taken to balance the budget proposals this time here.

It’s important to note that we withdrew some options as a result of our consultation with the public – including the proposed closure of the Link Centre and introducing charges for residents’ car parking permits.

This all means, however, that we’ve also had to propose taking £5.483m from our reserves this time.

As an administration we’ve always prided ourselves on our financial prudence and we know that this is not a sustainable policy to adopt in the medium-term.

Your reserves are there for a ‘rainy day’ – like dealing with major civil emergencies – but, sadly, that’s exactly where we are right now with the funding of adult social care.

Depressed elderly woman sitting at the tableThose services are by far our largest cost and they will continue to suffer unless this Chancellor listens to what everyone is now telling him – that social care is in crisis now. That it is a national issue that should be funded from the taxes he raises nationally. And that it is simply unfair to force councils to plug that gap by adding 2 per cent to Council Tax.

This inevitably means that poorer areas like ours are able to raise less in this way than richer ones like Surrey. Hence we have been forced to take money out of reserves this time.

Already this month the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has called for emergency government funding of £1bn for 2017-18 just to stabilise a care market it believes to be on the edge of collapse.

The Local Government Association has also warned that the severe underfunding is putting councils in peril of not being able to provide the help that older and disabled people need with basic tasks – and it is also impacting on frontline NHS services.

It also can’t be right that councils do not appear to be treated equally by Government…

You may recall that Tory-run Surrey Council announced it was planning a local referendum on a proposed 15 per cent rise in Council Tax, blaming cuts and the demand for their services, including adult social care.

Suddenly, however, it dropped the plans and the council instead then voted through a 4.99 per cent increase thanks, it seems, to a so-called ‘sweetheart’ funding deal with Government.

That is just the latest slap in the face to councils like ours. And it comes after we’ve been forced to plug their adult social care funding shortfall by imposing a tax on our residents based on local property values – rather than on the basis of need.

poundcoins2Unless the government address this inequity sooner rather than later ultimately this will lead to the level of service people get being decided by where they live.

Postcode lotteries should never be how our society looks after its most vulnerable people – that’s simply unacceptable.

Mr Hammond needs to start listening, and listening now!

Finally this week, you may have seen media coverage about allegations of a Trojan Horse plot in an Oldham primary school.

I am unable to add to what has already been publicly said by Oldham Council at this stage. However, I am assured that we have acted properly and responsibly in fully investigating these serious claims, which it was right and proper to do.

You can view our full press statement on those matters here

Jean

How we can all ‘do our bit’ in wintry weather

Snow removalWINTRY WEATHER is forecast in the next 48 hours or so – and that will probably mean more pressure on local services.

We’re hardened to dealing with snow, icy roads and winds here in Oldham, of course, and it’s important to stress that we’re not unusually concerned by anything in the forecasts at this stage.

It can’t have escaped your attention in recent days, however, that the pressures on the NHS are at a critical point right now up and down the country.

It was alarming to read the British Red Cross’ claims last weekend that our NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis” as hospitals and ambulance services battle to match rising demand.

The reality is we all know that the winter can traditionally be an extremely challenging time, especially for urgent care services like A&E.

These months always see an increase in hospital admissions and can inevitably lead to breaches of the ‘urgent and emergency care standard’ – which is that 95 per cent of patients should be seen, treated, admitted or discharged within four hours of presenting at A&E.

But whatever the political arguments about targets and the funding of the NHS there are some things that all of us can and should do to help to reduce unnecessary demand.

snow2As a council we work actively with partners to help ensure those people most at risk of preventable emergency admission to hospital are and helped to take the necessary actions to avoid that happening.

By avoiding going to A&E unless a medical condition is a genuine emergency – and by using local pharmacies and NHS 111 for medical advice – we can all significantly help to cut non-urgent demand.

For our loved ones and others there are other things to consider…

Winter conditions can be bad for anyone’s health; especially those people aged 65 or over, and those with long-term health conditions.

That’s why keeping warm is absolutely vital. It can prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems like heart attack, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

If you are struggling to heat your home then Warm Homes Oldham can help you with things like insulating your property, replacing broken boilers, advice on debt, benefit entitlements and cutting bills through energy efficiency measures. You can find out more at www.warmhomesoldham.org or by calling 0800 019 1084

Another step you can take is to make sure your family have had the flu jab.

This is free for pregnant women, the over-65s, people with long-term health conditions and children aged 2 to 4 years. Ask at your GP if you’ve not had this.

You should also act quickly when you are feeling unwell. Speak to your pharmacist at the first sign of winter illness or call 111 for medical advice, assessment and direction to the best medical treatment for you.

All of Oldham’s GP practices are open from 8am to 6.30pm (Monday to Friday) as a minimum.

iccThe Walk In service at the Integrated Care Centre (right) is open from 8am to 8pm every day of the year.

It’s also vital that we look out for our neighbours, friends and family members at these times.

Icy pavements and roads can stop people from getting out and about which might mean they miss out on vital medicine or food. A friendly face just popping round to have a brew can also work wonders for isolated people – and it costs you nothing other than just a few minutes of your time.

Don’t forget that the ‘Winter’ section on the Oldham Council website here contains all the information you will need about local school and children’s centre closures, gritting routes, bins and travel updates, local support services such as drop-in centres, shelters and food providers; and advice on winter health, affordable warmth grants and flood relief.

You can also stay informed through live winter updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/oldhamcouncil and facebook www.facebook.com/loveoldham

Our updates will also be publicised to local media, including radio and newspapers.

Here’s hoping that the impact of this week’s weather turns out to be nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year – but please note this information and make sure you are prepared, just in case.

Jean

Every step counts…

Strinesdale Reservoir
THIS WEEK I have a confession to make – and it’s about a new addiction I have.

It all started last month when I took to the stage at the council’s Staff Conference with Carolyn Wilkins to talk about the theme of the event: which was the health and wellbeing of all our staff.

This is part of a new drive within the council and it has obvious merit.

A huge amount of credit for many of the achievements here in recent years is down to our staff, be they frontline, back office or managerial, and that’s something I am keen to recognise.

Despite the ongoing cuts, reductions in their teams and rising demand for our services, so many of them have kept focussed on doing their bit towards continuing our improvement journey.

But we also recognise that for our staff to continue getting better at what they do – and having the drive to do so – we also need them to be in good shape.

Put simply, to serve our residents well we need our employees to be ‘fit for purpose’, both physically and mentally.

FITBITTo help them achieve that we’ve put together a comprehensive programme that signposts them to help, inspiration and whatever else they might need to make important life changes for themselves and their families.

Happy staff are productive staff, after all. They take less time off, their morale is good – and that means they deliver for residents.

Let’s face it though, very few of us these days have the time to lead perfect lifestyles.

And if you’re anything like me you’ve probably become expert at always finding an excuse or a reason why we can’t make that healthy change ‘just now’.

But I knew it would be utterly pointless that day if I stood there in front of staff urging them to make a change if I didn’t try it myself. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t a great mantra for any politician…

That’s why I agreed to take on a ‘Fitbit challenge’, which basically means agreeing to use a tracker to monitor your daily physical activity and see how it compares to others.

This has proved to be a fantastic ‘lightbulb’ moment for me (so far!) as I have been more active in recent weeks than for many more years than I can care to admit.

The standard target is for people to try and do 10,000 steps daily, so I set out determined to achieve that and, I will admit, my natural competitive streak didn’t take long to kick in.

LGFW logo and bootsI really don’t have time to start planning routines so I just decided to use the fantastic walks from our ‘Let’s Go For a Walk’ campaign and see how it went.

My followers on Twitter may have noticed me tweeting away with pictures lately as I have been doing these routes.

I have walked around sites like Daisy Nook, Strinesdale (five times!) and Dove Stone Reservoir with plenty more yet to have a go at.

This is such an easy way to get active.

It removes the bother of working out what to do or where to go and I’ve also enjoyed seeing some fantastic scenery across the borough.  Some of it was already familiar, but I’d never been to Strinesdale before and there are other walks that I’ve yet to do that will be new to me.

I started out on this mission on June 22 and I am still going strong, touch wood.

In the first full week I did 60,000 steps, which I was pretty pleased with. I then managed 90,000 steps the next week due, at least partly, to being at a local government conference where I used this as a perfect motivation to get around and see everything.

As I mentioned, other colleagues at the council have also been getting involved and you really do become competitive (in a nice way) when checking the latest data to see if you’ve just managed to overtake a hardened walker/runner’s efforts for the day.

We are, of course, all doing this mainly in our own time but the habit is now quickly spreading around the organisation and it has become a great talking point amongst staff. Some are even having ‘walking meetings’.

I’d encourage anyone reading this blog to visit the Let’s Go For a Walk section on our website here, have a look at what’s on offer and consider having a go.

DNOOKIt’s all totally free. These walks take you around some of the most beautiful parts of our borough and you can also use them as a great way to get quality time with family and friends.

So, that’s it. My new addiction is steps and physical activity and it feels a good one to have right now – so long as I don’t start getting obsessed to the point where I’m deliberately getting up during meetings and pacing around the tables…

This has all even culminated in a new delivery at home this week.

To even my own astonishment I have just taken delivery of a shiny new treadmill.

I’m not naive enough to think it will ever has as many miles on it as my car does, but I am hoping I can really stick to this and that it won’t be going on e-Bay any time soon!

Jean