Northern Powerhouse: Not the end of the line…

Diggle Village looking from Clough ReservoirGOOD public transport is vital in ensuring that everyone can fulfil their potential in life.

As the lead member for Inclusive Growth at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) I know how important this is to peoples’ prospects and opportunities.

Public transport has an absolutely key role in promoting social inclusion by enabling people from the widest possible range of groups – including jobseekers, low income families, young people, disabled people and older people – to work, learn and be economically active.

So, if we’re truly committed to sharing the benefits of prosperity more widely – not just within Greater Manchester, but across the country as a whole – good public transport is essential to tackling issues for people who feel ‘left behind’.

Sorting that out requires investment, of course. And above all, it requires fair investment.

That’s why last week’s announcement that the Government has ditched its pledge to electrify the Manchester to Leeds rail line was so disappointing.

In 2015, the Department for Transport had said electrification of the whole link going through Manchester, Leeds and York would be complete by 2022. This, we were assured, demonstrated the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and it was also in their election manifesto published less than a couple of months ago.

Yet today we now find ourselves once again stranded at the platform…

This is the second time the pledge has been backtracked upon – a pause for ‘review’ was undone last time – and Greater Manchester isn’t the only place to suffer from these announcements by Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary.  He’s also scrapped electrification of the routes between Cardiff and Swansea, Windermere and Oxenholme in the Lake District, and between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield.

On Monday this was then followed by news that the Government will be spending billions more on Crossrail 2 – running as far north as Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and as far south as Epsom in Surrey, passing through central London.

That pledge was not in the Government’s election manifesto and is a massive slap in the face to the North and other regions.

In principle I’ve got no issue with South East commuters getting investment in their rail services; far from it.  But it’s also very clear that different parts of the country are not being treated equally or fairly in this.

Data from Statista, using HM Treasury figures, shows that spending per head of population on transport infrastructure is £2,595.68 in London. That is 26 times more than the £99.19 spent per person in the North West.

That wouldn’t be so bad if our rail connections were already good but, frankly, we all know they are ‘state of the ark’.

Many residents will be very familiar with the substandard state of trans Pennine services with overcrowded carriages, vintage rolling stock and regular delays or cancellations. Journey times haven’t improved for decades – although fares have risen substantially – and don’t even dare to dream that you might be able to enjoy Wi-Fi access…

Making these announcements after Parliament went into summer recess all feels, shall we say, at least a tad convenient for Mr Grayling. But if he really thinks this will all be forgotten when they return to business after the party conference season, he is very much mistaken.

Andy Burnham has made clear the universal disgust at this decision across GM – and, rest assured, we’re all prepared to fight long and hard to get this decision overturned once again. This is not the end of the line on this story.

JEANHOLLINWOOD

On a more positive note this week, I wanted to mention great news for Hollinwood.

On Monday I went to meet Neal Biddle, development director of Langtree, at Hollinwood Junction where we have signed a development agreement that could create up to 760 new jobs with leisure, retail, employment and housing.

This is a significant milestone and it hasn’t been easy to get here.

It started when I wrote to the National Grid asking them to talk to us about the redundant gas holder that has become such a blight on the area and blocking development.

They were planning to leave it there until 2023 at the earliest but we’ve reached agreement and can now get on with demolition to start regenerating this key gateway site.

Interest from potential occupiers is high and Langtree expect to be able to announce a first deal before the end of summer, so watch this space.

This is my last blog before the Oldham Council recess period, but it will return on August 23.

Until then, please get out and enjoy the summer weather with your family and friends and have a great time.

Jean

How the Co-operative Council works: #ourbit #yourbit #result

#ourbit #yourbit #result graphicI HAVE the pleasure of speaking at Staff Conference today where we’ll be looking at the progress made in the past year – and looking ahead to the future.

Part of that will inevitably be about the Town Centre Masterplan which was approved by Cabinet last week.

But equally important is some of the work that we’ve been doing internally to look at our Co-operative Council model and test that it remains fit for purpose.

We are now six years into our journey so it was an appropriate time to take stock, step back from the day-to-day work and challenge ourselves to look at what is working, and what is not. It has proved a useful exercise.

OURBIT3The Co-operative Council model remains entirely valid for us and there’s no question of that being abandoned.

When people elsewhere ask me what makes Oldham different, I tell them that it is great people – and the way we do things together.

I explain that our approach starts with us all recognising our shared problems or ambitions. Then we all sit down together to look at what each of us needs to do in order to get a better result that benefits the borough.

We have many examples of where this has produced some fantastic results but – looking at the model – we also came to realise that for some people the language doesn’t work or ‘land’ as easily as it needs to.

It is not obvious, for example, to a newcomer to the borough what we mean by being a Co-operative Council in practice.

That’s why we’re going to be explaining co-operative working in a different way from now: one that we think is simpler, self-explanatory and works across all kinds of audiences and platforms.

Whatever we are doing – from delivering everyday services to improving people’s lives or helping the private sector to grow our local economy – there’s a simple formula that explains how we do it, and what is required of each participant.

It is #ourbit #yourbit #result

To explain:

#ourbit is what Oldham Council is doing or contributing to help improve something

#yourbit is how local people, businesses and partners are helping to make change happen

And the #result is how we are all benefiting from working together.

OURBIT2

Here’s a simple high-level example of that in action – Get Oldham Working.

GOWLOGO#ourbit was to come up with a plan in 2013 to try and create new employment-related opportunities for local residents; attempting to link them better and smarter to businesses.

#yourbit was the local firms who have come forward with hundreds of offers of new jobs, apprenticeships and work placements – and the residents who stepped up seeking advice and assistance.

The #result is that by the end of last month a fantastic total of 6,264 new opportunities have now been created for local people. Business and people have been matched together by our free recruitment service that also removes both the stress and costs of recruitment for all sides.

That also means many families’ bottom lines and their prospects have been improved – and that means new money and spend injected into our local economy; increasing the confidence of residents and business alike. Everyone is benefiting.

At the end of the day, being a Co-operative Council is about an informal contract which needs lots of different people and partners across the borough to muck in. This new way of explaining how it works – and what is in the terms and conditions – works in a much simpler way.

We’re also using this new approach with all our staff to get them to look honestly at the service they are providing and be able to ask the right questions about it, and test whether it is truly co-operative, or if something is wrong.

OURBIT4You will see plenty of examples of this new approach in the latest edition of Borough Life (pictured, right) which starts hitting doorsteps next week.

The simple aim is to make it easier for people to understand how they can play their part in making things better – and that has to be a good thing for everyone.

Jean

Our new town centre – we can’t stand still

This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.

Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.

Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.

So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.

In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.

Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.

To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.

We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.

With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.

We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.

The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.

As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.

This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.

There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.

This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.

We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.

We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.

We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.

When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.

We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.

I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.

People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.

And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.

It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.

Digital future shines bright for Oldham 

EXTERIORYOU MAY have read this week about an important new report outlining a masterplan for the future of Oldham town centre to 2035.

That will go before Cabinet next Monday (July 10) and – following that decision – I will blog about it next week.

What I will say now, however, is that the importance of having a plan for our future is more vital than ever and I saw that first-hand last week at the opening of Oldham’s new digital hub in what was the Wahoo bar on Yorkshire Street. 

This completes a dramatic transformation for a period building that had fallen into ruin and been empty for several years until the council bought it and refurbished it to attract new tenants.

FURNITUREBYLAURENJust a couple of weeks earlier ‘Furniture by Lauren’ also began trading next door at 46/48 Yorkshire Street in what was once known as the Kiss Bar.

Gavin and Lauren Howarth from Royton run this small family business. It specialises in made-to-measure sofas but also sells a full range of accessories and just one peek through the window – or at their website – shows you the kind of elegance and style on offer. They’re yet another welcome addition to our Independent Quarter, so please pay them a visit…  

The opening of the digital hub – at 38-44 Yorkshire Street – was an inspiring event.

The aim of this venture is to help local entrepreneurs launch and expand technology businesses. 

On the upper floor is Wayra UK’s Open Future North office, which is the northern branch of their national support network for technology firms, backed by the worldwide O2/Telefonica Group. 

IMG_9488Ground floor is the new home to Hack Oldham (see above), our community-led ‘makerspace’ that has grown from humble beginnings to offer a great range of workshops and events to upskill residents.  

They’re also offering desk and workshop space on a daily, half-day or monthly basis plus training rooms in what is a great creative environment for people to network seven days a week – much better than working alone at home(!). 

I’m particularly pleased that Wayra chose to come to Oldham.  

As an administration we’re clear that we are ambitious for everyone, so to attract their investment is fantastic.

But what was just as exciting was to see Wayra launching their new Fair By Design scheme: an investment fund that already has £8million to deploy, and is looking to raise up to £20million.

Its objectives are inspiring. It will support up to seven start-ups a year to tackle the ‘poverty premium’, and that’s something that is very important to me.

It’s hard enough being ‘left behind’ in 2017 and being among the one in five people that are living in poverty.

But what’s even worse – and surely unjustified – is the ‘poverty premium’: the situation where people are actually paying more for everyday goods and services like energy, borrowing, transport, insurance and food than others who can more easily afford them. 

The Fair By Design scheme complements our own drive for Inclusive Growth so that everyone gets the chance to share the benefits of economic prosperity.

This week, I was confirmed as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Lead on Fairness, Equality and Inclusion, so this is all very close to my heart.

To be tackling clear social injustice like this by supporting local tech companies to design solutions is something that can really put Oldham on the map.

WAYRA4The digital hub venture is also another important way in which we’re diversifying our offer to residents and businesses.

We have many talented individuals and our goal is to provide them with opportunities here, so that they don’t need to move elsewhere.

The Independent Quarter will be an ideal location for this. Once businesses grow out of the space provided by Wayra, they will get the chance to relocate nearby, ensuring they are still within easy distance and access to advice and that network of like-minded individuals.

Small to medium enterprises like these are vital to Oldham’s economy – remember that around 85 percent of Greater Manchester’s Gross Value Added (GVA), the total measure of the value of goods and services in the area, is generated by these companies.

Oldham’s offer to business has never been stronger. I’m confident that through Wayra and Hack Oldham we can truly become a digital force in Greater Manchester – and one for positive social change and mobility.

Jean

Reflections on a turbulent time

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THE LAST few weeks have been a turbulent time.

The calling of a snap General Election meant that I had to stop publishing my blog almost immediately due to publicity rules and – since then – things have been a whirlwind with a frantic schedule of door-knocking and supporting local candidates.
 
I’ve also been busy on Oldham Council business and you’ll see some of that work coming to fruition with positive announcements about plans for Oldham town centre and the Prince’s Gate scheme due in July. 
 
It’s undeniable, however, that we’re facing uncertainty at a national level.
 
The General Election has left us with a minority Conservative-led government and – even with the Democratic Unionist Party now alongside her in the voting lobbies – Theresa May will find things difficult.
 
Any controversial measures are unlikely to get through a Commons vote and the situation also means that any Conservative MPs wanting to ‘rock the boat’ could easily put themselves in a powerful position to obstruct government business.
 
What that all means for Oldham Council and local government remains uncertain.
 
Some commentators and politicians have predicted the election result means the age of austerity and funding cuts is now at an end, but only time will tell.
 
Last week’s watered-down Queen’s Speech also made no specific reference to many key issues facing local authorities.
 
Clarification about the future of council funding – or the original intention to have 100 per cent retention of business rates by 2020 – was glaring by its absence. And there are other questions, like what the government’s long-term and sustainable solution to the social care funding gap will be.
 
None of these will be helped by now having a minority government where solutions are likely to be a compromise, and the result of a painfully-paced bargaining process.
 
THILLTWOSince my last blog there’s also been significant domestic news – most notably the series of appalling terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
 
The attacks at Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park have raised all kinds of issues about our security, foreign policy and policing.
 
I can’t ever recall so many shocking events in such a short period, but it has also been met with a magnificent public response.
 
Locally, it was heart-breaking to learn that two of the innocent victims of the Manchester attack – Alison Howe and Lisa Lees – were mums from Royton who had gone to pick their daughters up from that Ariana Grande concert.
 
This was an horrific attack on innocent people going about their everyday business –on our way of life – and the community response has been inspiring.
 
Royton town centre became home to huge floral tributes, lengthy queues to sign books of condolence and a very moving public vigil at Tandle Hill Park: all showing the very best in local community spirit.
 
POETFour weeks on, the support from people wanting to show they stand together with the families was apparent again at last Friday’s funerals and at the Picnic in the Park at Tandle Hill, which was a wonderful idea by the families.
 
Hundreds of local residents showed their respects and were entertained by stage performances from Tony Walsh (the Manchester Poet, pictured right), Clint Boon and local bands.

I want to thank all those people, firms, partners and council staff who worked so hard to make that event happen. Offers of help came in all shapes and forms ranging from the donation of 1,000 pies, pastries and pasties by Greggs, to volunteers spending hours to clear the park of litter afterwards. 
 
For those two families the hard work is only just beginning, but that display of support will hopefully at least have given them comfort that they are not alone.
 

Once again, I find myself in admiration of the human warmth, decency and kindness of our residents – and the courage of our amazing ‘blue light’ services.

Jean

General Election: Back to pounding the pavements…

PollingStationI’D ONLY just started writing this blog on Tuesday when I was informed that the Prime Minister was about to make an announcement.

There’s nothing unusual in that, but it’s not often that the PM addresses the country from the steps of Downing Street and predictions that this was going to be a significant development proved to be spot on.

As you will probably know, Parliament has now voted today to approve that a General Election will be held on Thursday, June 8.

This means that we will very quickly enter into a period known traditionally as ‘Purdah’ which enforces strict rules about publicity that must – rightly – be adhered to until after election day.

The timing of this all kicking in remains uncertain, but it means you will hear less formally from me in my role as Oldham Council Leader and this could be the last blog from me until after the votes have all been counted.

Although the timing of Theresa May’s announcement was somewhat unexpected, there had been speculation that it was in the offing for some time.

For political activists it all means full steam ahead for another round of pounding pavements, heavy wear on the shoe leather and lengthy day and night time door knocking.

My work as Council Leader will continue daily during this time but I will also genuinely enjoy the face to face engagement and the chance to discuss residents’ views about the issues affecting their lives in Oldham.

Until that General Election timetable is confirmed it’s very much business as usual, so I wanted to highlight that until April 30 we are taking part in and promoting national Adoption Fortnight.

Each year this campaign has a different focus and this time it is all about encouraging Oldham parents to come forward and create a “forever family” by adopting children from harder to place backgrounds.

These are older children, sibling groups, those from mixed heritage backgrounds and children with additional needs who typically wait much longer for adoption.

It is a huge decision to take to adopt but it can make such a massive and positive impact, not just to the child concerned, but also to the benefit of you and your family.

There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about adoption – and particularly around who is eligible to do it – so it’s always best to get in touch with experts and people who have been through the process to learn all about the pros and cons.

You can find out more about adopting in Oldham on our website here and you can also get information about Adoption Fortnight events in the region at www.adoptnorthwest.co.uk

BOOMKARKSFinally, as mentioned last week, I just wanted to give you a quick reminder that our amazing Bookmark Festival starts on Friday.  You can have a look at all the events on offer – and book tickets – by visiting http://www.oldham.gov.uk/bookmark

And if it turns out that you don’t hear from me now until after the General Election then all I would ask is that you please take the time to get out and use your vote on June 8 – and in the GM Mayoral Election on May 4 . It’s the only way to ensure that your voice is heard.

Jean

“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

Why the new GM Mayor matters to Oldham

4may
VOTERS across our region will soon be electing their first-ever Greater Manchester Mayor on May 4 – and, yes it does affect you.

First things first. If you’re already registered to vote in Oldham Council local elections than you are also automatically eligible to vote on that day.

But I also know that many people are still unclear or confused about what the Mayoral post is all about, what he or she will or won’t be able to do, and how it all works.

This Mayor will not just be some sort of meaningless figurehead, it will be a role that will have significant impact on the future of Oldham, our services and prosperity.

Whoever wins the contest – and this blog isn’t the place for me to talk about candidates and policies – will be taking on a profile of regional and national importance.

The Mayor is tasked with working with the ten Leaders of Greater Manchester, including myself.  We are effectively the Mayor’s Cabinet for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).  The Mayor and the Cabinet will then work together with local services, Government and others to progress shared ambitions and opportunities and to tackle problems on a level of devolution unmatched anywhere else in England.

The Mayor will take on all the responsibilities of  the GM Police and Crime Commissioner post (which will no longer exist).  This will include setting the budget and preparing the Police and Crime Plan that sets priorities for Greater Manchester Police.

The Mayor will also take on responsibility for the functions of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority and will have new powers on housing and planning.

gmca-black-logo-expandedAnd in terms of transport, the Mayor will be responsible for controlling the budget devolved from Government and new initiatives like re-regulating bus services and smart ticketing.

The post can easily be compared to that of the Mayor of London in terms of its standing – and that’s why it is vital that our borough continues to punch above its weight at Combined Authority level.

I’ve blogged before, for example, about the importance of the Inclusive Growth agenda at Greater Manchester level: striving to create an economy where everyone can share the benefits of growth no matter what the background is, where they live or who they are.

One way we are already doing this is by us all increasingly using our purchasing power as councils to collectively shift towards a consensus which no longer measures success solely by GVA (Gross Value Added to the economy) or a ‘fast buck’ return on investment.  Instead we focus on spending as much as possible in our own boroughs or within GM – supporting and helping local businesses to deliver genuine social value for our own areas and people.

The Health devolution deal is another great opportunity in that regard, putting us in charge of a £6bn budget which, if spent mostly across Greater Manchester, could make a huge difference to the local economy.

greater-manchester-devolution

This Inclusive Growth approach could also be spearheaded by a strong Mayor, putting Greater Manchester’s values and approach firmly on the agenda at a time when it seems it isn’t shared at a national level.

I am proud that our region has such a great history of working together but I also know from talking to people on doorsteps everywhere that there is still a lot of work for us to do.

Politicians of all persuasions must continue working hard to make the case for the elected Mayor and devolution to all our residents between now and May 4 – and beyond – to help encourage participation and understanding across the region about these new arrangements.

That’s not an easy task, given the subject matter, but I do hope people will engage with us and listen to the debates that will be had.

Finally, if you want to find out more about the powers the Mayor will have, registering and how to vote, and the work of the GMCA then visit the new information website just launched at www.gmelects.org.uk

Jean

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

Giant strides forward for Oldham

illuminate1ILLUMINATE – the first-ever late night arts festival we’ve held in Oldham town centre – was a sparkling success.

Now that the Old Town Hall is back in business and revitalising the area, exciting new opportunities are opening up that enable us to offer completely different types of events for the public.

And Parliament Square – the new public space adjacent to it – is a perfect new location to host these events given its central location, street furniture, space and vistas.

It just gives us a whole new civic focal point where families can gather and be entertained.

illuminate3Illuminate was the first of our new regular events designed to capitalise on this and we were delighted by the public reaction.

Even though it was a four-hour long ‘drop in’ show, it was busy throughout the evening as hundreds of people braved the wintry showers. The Old Town Hall and its Lightbox made the perfect backdrop for the array of spectacular performances of drumming, lighting, choreography and dance.

A major highlight was the children’s lantern parade and there were some great street arts to see including the Spark! illuminated drummers, Global Grooves’ carnival arts version of The Tempest and The Bureau of Silly Ideas.

Gallery Oldham held an installation of ‘Shakespearian curiosities’ in its gardens, plus a visit from an illuminated vintage bus and a Stomp to the Light dance display from Oldham Theatre Workshop. It stayed open late and it was great to see so many people milling around it on an evening.

illuminate2It was also fantastic to see Oldham Parish Church playing a central part.

In recent times this Grade II* listed church – which dates back to 1830 in its current form – has felt somewhat ‘left out of things’ on the periphery of a quiet area, but not now.

For Illuminate it was beautifully lit up with spectacular 3D projections accompanied by a bells and pipes soundtrack from the church itself. Outside an installation of sound, water and mechanics by Oldham artist Mike Green added to the ambience, and I know many people kept going back up for another look.

Tours were also held in the crypt beneath the church and there was a real sense that this jewel has finally re-entered the town centre ‘scene’.

illuminate5In that crypt, of course, lies the Oldham Giant, whose five-metre puppet persona was a main attraction for the evening.

Earlier that day I had the great pleasure of meeting Tom Scholes-Fogg and his granddad, John, who had travelled from London and Slaithwaite respectively to see Illuminate.

Tom had contacted me via email after the Old Town Hall opening event last year when he was astonished to hear how his sixth great grandfather – Joseph Scholes – had been brought back to life in puppet form.

Known as a “gentle giant”, ‘Dody’ was said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and 37 stones when he died in 1814. Instantly recognisable for obvious reasons, he was probably the best-known Oldhamer of his time: especially given his work as a military recruiting sergeant and his time as governor of the Oldham weavers’ workhouse where he stood up for the rights of underfed local apprentices.

Tom showed me some of the research he has been doing into this story and shared some fascinating anecdotes.

There were thousands of people at Dody’s funeral – he’s been buried three times, which is another story in itself(!) – but it was only able to take place after the windows of his Henshaw Street home were removed once the funeral director realised he just couldn’t get his casket outside. Once on the streets it had to be carried by several groups of 12-strong coffin bearers who constantly rotated, such was the weight of the task at hand.

illuminate4The Scholes family are rightly proud that their ancestor’s story is finally getting a wider audience and it was a wonderful moment on Friday night when Tom and John met up with locally-based Debbie and Amelia Scholes – four generations of the family – to have a unique ‘selfie’ with the Oldham Giant puppet.

Tom continues to research this story further so, if you have any information or anecdotes passed down amongst your family about him, then please get in touch and let us know via an email to presspr@oldham.gov.uk with the subject ‘Oldham Giant’.

Finally, if you want to see ‘Dody’ and others there are now regular public openings of the Oldham Parish Church and the crypt on every second Saturday of the month from 9.30am to 1pm. Group/party visits can be made by prior arrangement with the church, and light refreshments are also available. I can highly recommend a visit.

Next week, I’ll be returning to more serious matters as I blog about our final Council Tax proposals for 2017-8 and the continued crisis in national underfunding for adult social care.

Jean