I’D LIKE to take this opportunity to wish all residents across our borough a Happy New Year.
This has been my first year as Oldham Council Leader. It has flown by at a rapid pace and it will be hard to forget 2016 for many reasons.
I would probably choose the Old Town Hall opening event in October as my personal highlight.
That spectacular show produced some iconic images and fantastic memories. Best of all, it showcased our ambitions for Oldham.
Raising the bar as the boldest outdoor event that we’ve ever put on in the town centre, it was brilliant to see and hear the excited reaction of families – especially young children – and made it a remarkable experience.
The opening of the ODEON cinema and restaurants – and the other businesses emerging and blossoming in our Independent Quarter – are clear signs of the transformation that’s now underway in Oldham.
These aren’t just physical symbols of regeneration either. They are bringing new jobs, footfall and visitors and they are contributing towards the family-friendly environment we have needed for so long.
There is also more to come.
We’ve recently been able to complete funding packages for our new Arts and Heritage Centre and the new Coliseum Theatre that are going to link up with Gallery Oldham and our Library to make a fantastic Cultural Quarter.
And we continue to work up amended plans for the Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps development, which we will share as soon as we can.
Our borough can’t be immune, however, from the impacts of the dramatic events we’ve seen at national and international levels in 2016.
Old assumptions and orders have been challenged: I can still barely believe I’m now writing in a pre-Brexit and Planet Trump era.
Oxford Dictionaries have named “post-truth” – which means ignoring objective facts and taking emotional decisions – as their Word of the Year for 2016.
My word for 2017 is going to be ‘fairness’. That’s because, as a place and a council, it seems to be the overriding issue on so many levels.
Fair Growth, for example, is a key part of my new brief at the GM Combined Authority and I am leading on this agenda to make sure more of our residents share in the benefits of prosperity – not just selected parts of the south and centre of the region.
Oldham also needs fairness on many other levels to give our people the best chance to compete and prosper.
The cuts in Government funding have hit us disproportionately hard in recent years and that continues – not least with the decision to stop funding adult social care from central government budgets and hand the responsibility over to cash-strapped councils and Council Taxpayers.
Answers to the questions about how we are going to be funded in future when Government withdraws our core grant in 2020 – and in a way that genuinely reflects the level of need here – are also going to be vital.
And there are other issues about our access to infrastructure and opportunities – like a direct tram link to Manchester Piccadilly, HS2 and beyond – where we will be fighting Oldham’s corner at a regional and national level in 2017.
The past year has seen the continuation of much unseen work that has such a positive impact on so many lives – and gives our residents a fairer chance in life.
I’m thinking of campaigns like Warm Homes Oldham, which has lifted more than 1,300 people out of fuel poverty, and our Early Help scheme, which is supporting people and families to get self-help and the skills needed to tackle their long term issues in better ways.
We’ve also made good progress on implementing the Oldham Education and Skills Commission’s recommendations, created thousands of new employment opportunities through Get Oldham Working, attracted more important new private investment, and begun building many of the new homes – and range of housing choice – we need as a borough.
In all those things, and others, our aim is to make Oldham a place where everyone can reach their potential and enjoy good quality districts, homes, transport links and life opportunities.
We’ll be spelling out those new priorities and our programme for the rest of this decade in the first part of 2017. None of us, however, can predict with full confidence what lies ahead.
At a time when the world feels as though it has been turned on its head, one undeniable truth is the value of strong public services – as shown by the response from the council and partners to the recent Maple Mill fire, or November’s flooding.
Those services remain vital to communities and we will continue to defend them – and invest in our future – as the next budget challenges get underway.
I’ve been inspired by some great local people this year.
Nicola White, our Olympic gold medallist, has already made more than 60 appearances since the Rio games to inspire local schoolchildren, and she is just one high-profile example of hundreds of people who are ‘putting something back’ into our communities.
We still also have that great Oldham sense of humour to fall back on – as you showed in our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition that proved so popular it ended up being endorsed on the X Factor by Nicole ‘Saltslinger’ herself.
And another constant, which I’ve seen in countless examples this year, is the fact that Oldham only succeeds when we all pull together in the same direction.
Only by all of us making our own contributions to shared aspirations and goals, can we build a better borough together.
That was true in 2016 – and it remains more vital than ever for 2017 and beyond.
BUSINESSES of all shapes and sizes are the lifeblood of our local economy; the dynamo that can power the place and people forward.
Oldham Council is often the first point of access – especially for smaller ventures – when they’re seeking support to get ideas and plans off the ground.
We know local firms are the engines of social mobility and potential gamechangers to the status quo in creating new products, services and, ultimately, jobs.
That’s why we take our role in championing, supporting them and encouraging growth in every area so seriously and this week I visited two great examples of how we are succeeding.
On Monday I went down to Chadderton Way to meet Stephen Pettyfer, Group Property Director of the Jardine Motors Group who are bringing an Audi dealership to town.
Builders are now six weeks into the construction of a huge showroom on the former Westhulme Hospital site in what represents an £8 million investment for the firm.
They’d approached us last year with plans to base their Northern hub at the five-acre site and, although the land is not council-owned, we worked with NHS bosses to broker the deal and bring the site forward quickly for development.
It will see the creation of around 90 new skilled jobs and is a high-end global brand that we are proud to see investing here.
With most of the steel infrastructure already in place, I’m really looking forward to revisiting the site to see the finished development next year.
I also had the great pleasure to open another new business right in the heart of Oldham town centre yesterday.
Attracted by the Old Town Hall cinema and restaurants scheme, this is just the latest local venture to benefit from our Independent Quarter scheme.
Ross McGivern has taken advantage of our business support, advice and a Building Improvement Grant to make his dream a reality.
He also liked our plans for Parliament Square so much that he’s even named his new delicatessen and cafe after it as ‘The Parliament SQ’.
Ross’ enthusiasm already seems to have been instilled in his friendly team and – after linking up with our Get Oldham Working campaign – he will initially be employing up to 18 new staff.
It’s great to see this site, the old Santander building, back in use after three years of being vacant and I was really impressed by the stylish interior and glass frontage which gives fantastic views across Parliament Square and over to the Old Town Hall.
This is yet another different addition to the fast-growing dining and entertainment offer in Oldham and I am sure – especially given Ross’ focus on great customer service – that it will be a big hit with locals and visitors alike.
Part of the new attraction to Oldham is, of course, the Metrolink line. We unashamedly set out to use its arrival as a catalyst for our own regeneration programme and to attract more private investment.
We know that transport is vital to our future growth prospects. Strong connectivity is important to make sure that all our residents, partners and businesses – and those we hope to attract in the future – have a level playing field in terms of access to new opportunities.
That’s why I’ve teamed up with Richard Farnell, Rochdale Council Leader, in urging Transport for Greater Manchester to deliver on giving our Oldham-Rochdale line a direct link to Manchester Piccadilly, rather than people having to change tram at Manchester Victoria.
It can’t be right that our line will be the only branch of the network without an unbroken link to that transport hub with its important strategic links to London and beyond.
The justification we’ve been given is based on the current levels of demand on our line. But that doesn’t take any account of future growth and – by denying us that extension – it actually hampers the prospects of that future growth happening.
Both Oldham and Rochdale are positive partners in Greater Manchester devolution who are investing in our boroughs through physical and social regeneration schemes. We are asking for that to be recognised and supported, and we look forward to productive talks soon about this with Tony Lloyd, the Interim Mayor, and Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGm committee.
I always like to end my blogs on a positive note so there’s two final things I’d highlight this week…
The first is the astonishing national public reaction to our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition with local primary school children. Spurred on by the infamous ‘Boaty McBoatface’ saga earlier this year, it has really caught the imagination with more than 2,500 entries to date – and a lot by adults that simply can’t be included(!)
The great thing is this all helps us to raise awareness of the vital work our gritting teams do. It’s also a fun way to teach young people about road safety and winter weather.
The competition closes at 5pm today (Wednesday) and we’re hoping to announce the much-anticipated winner later this week.
And finally, I did promise you some really positive news would be coming this week, and it will.
Watch our Twitter feed and local media from 7am on Friday and you will be the first to read all about it…
BEING Council Leader can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride and I will admit this has felt like a very tough week.
Since my last blog I’ve barely had time to catch my breath as a series of challenging events unfolded.
We started off by dealing with the winter’s first deluge of snow, then moved on to internal building problems that caused Access Oldham to be closed and relocated to the Civic Centre.
Then we had the terrible severe rainfall and flooding, and then came a phone call from Marks & Spencer…
You probably already know that M&S informed us yesterday they won’t now be taking up their option on retail space at Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps.
As commercial discussions remain ongoing with them, I can’t add much to my original response statement in the media, but I do want to reassure people.
Was it disappointing news? Yes, of course it was.
But in context it is also not a major shock and we should see this as more of a fork in the road rather than some dramatic reversal of Oldham’s forward direction.
We knew M&S had been experiencing problems driven by global economic and trade factors that are completely outside of our control.
They recently confirmed they are shutting 30 UK clothing and homeware shops and will convert dozens more into food stores as part of a business restructuring. Against a backdrop of falling sales and profits the Oldham decision was, no doubt, one of many tough ones that they are still yet to take.
M&S also made it clear to us, however, that they aren’t necessarily closing the door on coming to Oldham – it just won’t be at the Prince’s Gate site.
We are continuing to have discussions with them about that and hopefully work towards a positive outcome. It’s not the end of that road: it just means we may take a different path.
I want to be clear when I say that what remains unaltered and undiminished are our ambitions for the town.
We’ve seen only recently through the opening of the Old Town Hall what it is possible to achieve in Oldham, so we must reflect on this, regroup and then push forward again and deliver with the same determination as before.
Despite the M&S decision it’s clear that Oldham town centre’s fortunes are actually on the up. We’re already seeing increased footfall, trade, new investment and visitors here and I’ve been inspired by many recent chats with partners and residents.
We remain in positive discussions with several partners to capitalise further on that success – and we do also have some good news to announce on another front next week. Watch this space…
Now onto other choppy waters – the flooding that hit several parts of the borough this week…
It was heartbreaking to see those people and businesses who suffered damage and loss on Tuesday night and, as I write, our highways team are still working as fast as they can to help get things back to normal.
Some people have questioned whether more frequent clearing of our drains would have prevented the damage. But this was caused by extreme rainfall. Oldham was not the only place affected and we weren’t caught napping.
Weather experts say we had more than a month’s rainfall in one night and we also saw local rivers, like the River Tame, rising to unprecedented levels.
All drains across the borough are cleared on a cyclical rota and – as an example – the gulleys on Station Road, which was badly flooded at one point, were cleaned on September 27.
Road gulleys are there for surface water only and each year we clean more than 44,000 on a rota basis.
We recently introduced new software which maps all our gullies and shows us what their condition and status is. That means we can identify those that may need more – or less – cleaning than the current schedule suggests.
We also use a high pressure-jet machine to clear blockages. There is a high demand on this machine so we prioritise sites that may cause flooding of properties and areas with high footfall or busy traffic.
Road flooding is usually caused by rainwater from the surrounding area flowing downhill to a low point on the road and overwhelming the drains. The problem is normally due to the volume of water rather than a blockage.
Heavy rain also washes debris like soil and stones into drains which means that some which were initially clear can quickly get clogged and struggle to drain water away.
You can find more information about gullies and flooding in the latest edition of Borough Life and if you need to report a blocked gulley, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 770 4325.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to everyone that played a part in the response work on Monday night/Tuesday.
When the deluge of rain hit the area our staff came in at short notice to work overnight through atrocious conditions alongside brilliant partners like the GM Fire and Rescue Service and local police, and some fantastic local residents.
At the worst of times like this you can often see the very best in our communities: people mucking in selflessly together and helping out alongside official and emergency services.
That’s a spirit that is clearly still afloat in Oldham – and one that makes me very proud.
THE CLOCKS have gone back and the evenings are getting colder – but November in Oldham always starts with the warm glow, heat and colours of The Big Bang.
It’s now five years since we brought the civic bonfire back onto the annual events calendar and it was one of our best decisions yet. It is always a great night for families.
Oldham Edge has proved to be a fantastic picturesque setting for it all – and it has the added advantage of enabling many people across the borough unable to attend to marvel at the fireworks display from the comfort of their own homes.
This year The Big Bang is taking place on Thursday, November 3 and although the weather conditions are forecast to be relatively mild you should still wrap up snug.
Please also remember to wear appropriate footwear at what is a totally grassed site – white stiletto heels and your prized trainers will simply not do the job(!).
For 2016 we’re once again offering the use of all council-owned car parks free of charge from 3pm onwards on the day, but demand on those nearest to Oldham Edge – like at the Civic Centre and Bradshaw Street – is always high and they fill up early.
There’s no parking at the event itself but our band of volunteers will help you to find alternative places to park and direct you towards the site on foot.
We advise you to arrive early and, wherever possible, to use public transport.
The Big Bang takes months of careful planning and this year we’ve got another great entertainment line-up on offer from the moment the site opens at 5pm with a funfair and food stalls.
The stageshow starts at 6pm, with the bonfire lit shortly afterwards, and the family can enjoy Juba Do Leao with their Latin percussion drums plus a headline performance from ‘Flame Oz’ with a ‘glow show’, fire dancing and spectacular juggling.
We pride ourselves on the unrivalled quality of the pyrotechnics at this event which is why we’ve again asked Fantastic Fireworks to provide the showcase display from around 7pm onwards. A personal highlight for me is always to see the thrilled face of our young competition winner who gets to press the buzzer and start the firework finale.
Oldham Edge has now hosted this event since 2013 and each year we review arrangements to improve the event and the site for families.
We’re again working hard with event partners Revolution96.2 to get all the vital information publicised quickly and help to get you there on time to enjoy the spectacle.
This year we’ve also added an extra entrance to the site to try and reduce some of the congestion and slippy conditions underfoot that we had last year. The site map is below for your reference.
Please bring your families along and take advantage of what is the best bonfire and fireworks display for miles around at what is not just a free but – crucially – a safe event designed with our partners at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service and the Treacle campaign.
Finally this week, on the subject of learning from experiences, I have noticed the odd comment about teething problems at the Old Town Hall ODEON cinema development in the first few days.
The public response to the venue so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
To attract around 14,000 visitors in the first week certainly vindicated our decision to go for a phased opening over the school half-term holidays and I’m certain many people will be returning as Molino Lounge, Nando’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen open their doors in the weeks ahead.
Some people have said they experienced long food queues and issues with cleanliness between showings. But with sold-out viewings back to back in each screen – and new staff learning on the job in a very challenging baptism – I simply ask that people be patient.
I know that Paul Dagg, the ODEON manager, is working extremely hard with staff to identify any issues and iron them out.
Please bear with him and his team, and also respect the environment and the building that we have all worked SO hard to make great again.
Everyone can play their part in that – even if that’s just by removing your own litter after a film – and help to ensure the Old Town Hall continues to be the huge success that Oldham town centre deserves and needs.
THE OPENING of the Old Town Hall is clearly a major priority for myself and the council this week.
There is a very special free public event taking place on the night of Friday, October 21. – and everyone is invited.
We’ve all waited a long time to see the Old Town Hall reopen and we are marking the start of that phased process – the opening of the ODEON cinema and Costa Coffee – with what we believe will be the most spectacular outdoor show ever hosted in Oldham.
Our Arts Development team has worked incredibly hard to create a spectacle and a show that symbolises our pride in Oldham as a place, and our confidence in our future.
This fantastic event is called ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and takes its inspiration from a local legend – the Oldham Giant – who is buried in the crypt at Oldham Parish Church.
This was a man called Joseph Scholes who died in 1814 and is said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and weighed 37 stones when he died(!).
He was, however, a ‘gentle giant’ who spoke up for apprentices who were recruited from the workhouse and found themselves bullied and underfed by fustian weavers.
When he ‘awakens’ from the crypt at 7.30pm on Friday the entertainment will begin with 3D projections onto the Old Town Hall’s front facade, a six-metre tall giant, aerial acrobatics above the crowds, plus performances and narrations from local actors and musicians.
You can find everything you need to know at the event – including information on parking and timings – at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldtownhall The details are also on the graphic at the bottom of this page.
If you’re inspired to find out more about the Oldham Giant then Oldham Parish Church, will also be opening the next day (Saturday) from 9.30am to 2pm offering tours of that crypt at regular intervals, for a small donation, plus a cafe.
That will all be happening alongside a great weekend of live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment in Parliament Square and High Street.
I’ll no doubt be returning to the Old Town Hall topic next week, and – as promised – I will also complete my series of blogs about the administrations’ priorities by looking at health and wellbeing.
Please help us to spread the word about the fabulous Old Town Hall development – and do take your family along to enjoy Friday’s special event.
Finally, I must mention National Adoption Week (October 17-23) which has #SupportAdoption as its theme this year.
Adoption is the legal process in which children that cannot be brought up by their birth parents become a permanent part of a new family. Many will have experienced abuse or neglect and all will have experienced loss and separation.
This year the goal is to clarify the adoption process, reflect the challenges of adoptive parenting, share individual stories, highlight best practice and invite anyone whose life or heart is touched by it to #SupportAdoption.
The key issue in Oldham is that currently all our prospective adopters are looking to adopt children aged 0-2 years. So, what we are looking for and would welcome, is interest from people willing to adopt children over the age of 3, as well as sibling groups, children with additional and complex needs and children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
These children wait longer than any others to find their forever homes. Could you provide such a child/children with a loving home?
If you think that you could adopt a child then please visit the page on our website here to find out more and help us #SupportAdoption.
THIS IS my second blog explaining our key priorities in the coming years – and this time I’m talking about social regeneration.
We have many important physical regeneration schemes complete or underway in Oldham, but there’s more to transforming the prospects of a place, people and business than just that.
New facilities are always good news but ‘build it and they will come’ is not going to work on its own – it’s just one part of the wider battle and you can’t just do it in isolation.
Social regeneration is the other work that is needed to tackle the problems that lead to deprivation, lack of aspiration and underachievement in an area.
These are schemes you must carry out side by side with residents, community groups, community organisations, businesses, schools, all public services and the voluntary sector if you are to succeed.
They can be labour-intensive, unglamorous and lack ‘quick wins’, especially as they often mean engaging with people who are hard to reach. But if you do have the right initiative, the impact of social regeneration – starting from a sound evidence base, which is always key – can be radical and life-changing.
Social regeneration schemes seek to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion. They look to give people a ‘handup’, so they can start helping themselves.
People can be materially deprived – like having little/no disposable income, no transport or Internet access, for example – and also non-materially deprived: in bad health or held back by negative experiences from living in a poor area.
In this respect, schemes like Warm Homes Oldham – which has seen us work with partners to lift 1,300 people out of fuel poverty and removed the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma – are prime examples of how lives can be changed.
Another is our Early Help scheme, which has totally redesigned and integrated our support services for individuals, households and families of all ages with problems who need support to stop them getting worse or reaching crisis point.
This is helping to get positive outcomes for people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, adult mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, housing, diet and health, and children’s mental wellbeing. It helps people to help themselves and addresses all the issues a person or household presents to us with, rather than passing them around a complex system where duplication frustrates the purpose.
But allied to local initiatives like this I know we must also deliver on what some call ‘Inclusive Growth’, although I prefer the label ‘Fair Growth’.
In my new portfolio at Greater Manchester level of Fairness, Equality and Cohesion, I am determined to build our profile as a strong and influential voice on this agenda.
I intend to use our influence to continue shifting the focus of that debate and action towards practical and specific steps that include more and more of our residents in the benefits of prosperity.
To that effect our officers are already working closely with the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit at Manchester University, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and other partners to develop that evidence base and formulate answers.
It’s great that Manchester’s economy is prospering – we all welcome that – but there’s no evidence at all to support the assumption that the benefits will simply ‘trickle down’ across the region. That hasn’t worked in other regions and countries, and it isn’t happening here.
Look at jobs. The south of GM has gained 60,000 jobs since 2008, yet the number of jobs in the north has remained essentially static. And our average weekly gross wage in Oldham is £444, the lowest in the region: that must change.
For the GM project to succeed, we need prosperity to be spread wider through targeted investment and intervention. Around 620,000 people in the region are estimated to live in poverty and the benefits of growth need to spread to people and businesses in the donut – or ring – around Manchester to ensure places like Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside, Bolton and Wigan also get their share.
At a Government level the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, which we’re hearing reiterated this week at Tory Conference after a recent wobble, must also go further.
Government investment is sorely needed in key areas like transport, homes, work and skills – not just more devolution of responsibility passed on with much smaller budgets. That is just devolution of blame and problems. It won’t change the story.
Social regeneration and fair growth will give people new opportunities to succeed and enjoy a better quality of life.
Although few were surprised, the Brexit voting patterns showed that our national and regional economy is not delivering for many residents. We all ignore that at our peril and must not leave people behind.
Next week – continuing on this social regeneration theme – I will look at our future priorities in delivering a high-quality education system for all, and how we will continue to back the unemployed, those people already in work, plus local businesses.
I PROMISED to blog more about our key priorities in the years ahead – as outlined in my recent Annual Report to Full Council.
As I said last week, Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own efforts towards making it a better place – we can only build a better borough together.
That’s the spirit of co-operative working, but what does it really mean and how does it work in practice?
Put simply, it means everyone with a vested interest in a scheme contributes their own ‘bit’ towards making it a reality, whatever that might be.
And that involves all of us – not just public sector partners and investors putting in funding or sharing resources – but also residents doing simple but important things, like getting behind a plan, being an ambassador for it and using a new facility when it is built.
At the heart of this co-operative work lies our drive to create a strong economy here – and a place that we can all be proud of.
For Oldham Council that means a clear commitment from us to continuing to work hard to attract outside investment.
We’re still having good success on that front. Take last week’s deal for a new DPD Depot at Chadderton last week creating up to 350 new local jobs, for example.
It’s a commitment from us that the regeneration of our town and district centres – like the new Lidl which opened in Royton this month – will go on and that we’ll carry on striving to build a more balanced and stronger economy that works for everyone.
The Old Town Hall will open on October 21 and that’s a flagship project that makes a clear statement about where we are heading as a place.
It says everything about our intent to have a thriving and confident Oldham town centre where families and communities can enjoy quality time. And it’s about banishing those bad old days when the ‘Wild West’ culture of cheap booze offers around Yorkshire Street blighted our reputation.
But as I’ve outlined in earlier blogs, the Old Town Hall will be just the heartbeat of that new town centre and there will be other important developments taking shape around it.
Funding is in place now for our new Arts & Heritage Centre in the old library on Union Street, for example, and next year we can lay the foundations on the Prince’s Gate scheme, including that much-awaited Marks & Spencer store.
You should also have noticed major improvement works going on to highways and pedestrian areas around the town centre.
That’s not just our new Parliament Square, it’s the ongoing upgrades to Yorkshire Street and the Campus Oldham part of town, along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre and Oldham Sixth Form College.
All of this is being done to improve the experience for motorists, cyclists, shoppers, visitors, residents and business.
The progress on schemes like this – and the new Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at the Royal Oldham Hospital – is helping to move Oldham to the next level with better opportunities and jobs and one we can finally market as a visitor destination in its own right.
We’ve worked with so many partners on those schemes I’ve just mentioned: including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Stoller Trust, Arts Council England, NHS Oldham, Marks & Spencer, Transport for Greater Manchester and the GMCA, to name just a few.
But successful co-operative working also works at all ends of the spectrum – and it’s just as important when it delivers great outcomes at a smaller level.
A shining example of that is the Independent Quarter.
Doing our bit as the local authority has been to put up a £1m package of comprehensive support to help existing or start-up businesses.
For others, their bit as traders has been to put life savings, hard graft and vision into a new venture, or as residents it’s been just to go and use these new shops and support the traders in their new home.
The result to date is that we have seen 30 new specialist traders move in, plus three new quality restaurants and 50 buildings refurbished.
We’ve got a waiting list of applications and people wanting to relocate there – including a new Digital Enterprise Hub that will help new enterprises grow across the digital, technology and creative sectors.
Between all of us we’re transforming what was a run-down area strewn with vacant units into a place that is changing by the day, providing a specialist offer for customers and businesses, creating new jobs and blossoming in confidence.
I believe it could well rank as the best £1 million this local authority has ever spent – and that’s because other people have bought into the vision and backed it.
That is very powerful. That’s the difference we can make together. That’s an economy that works for everyone.
Next week I’ll be explaining the growing importance of social regeneration for this administration.
These are existing and new schemes that are just as important as new facilities and buildings to people.
We want to restore pride – not just in Oldham as a place – but also in people and communities by helping to change their daily lives for the better and improve their prospects.
Above all, it’s about ensuring that, in Oldham, nobody is left behind.
THE DRIVING ambition behind our redevelopment of the Old Town Hall was always about giving local families a town centre they can enjoy and be proud of.
That’s why I was delighted this week to be able to finally reveal the opening date for the new ODEON as Friday, October 21.
It’s the same day that local schools will break up for holidays and it would’ve been simply wrong to deny people the chance to visit their new seven-screen cinema and restaurants and have quality family time on their own doorstep.
We could’ve waited for every last paving stone to be laid on Parliament Square, of course, and fussed about other minor details – but this very definitely felt like the right timing.
I’d like to thank everyone involved for their patience in awaiting this news, and the fantastic reception they’ve given it on Social Media and elsewhere – positivity does wonders for us all!
I recently promised to spell out some of the main themes of my recent Annual Report to Full Council, so I will start this week by talking about the context we are operating in at present.
You can’t fail to have noticed that there’s great upheaval in British politics(!).
Following the EU Referendum – and the vote for Brexit on June 23 – we’ve also had a swift change of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
It’s claimed that we will soon see changes in the Government’s approach and key policies, away from the austerity agenda, but only time will tell on that front. We live in hope…
Clearly the Brexit vote is going to have a big impact in framing what we do – and can do – in the future as both a council and a borough.
And anyone who tells you they know what it means with any certainty is kidding both you and themselves.
The implications are going to touch every part of our work as a local authority: our budgets, community relations, our ability to invest, the strength of our local economy, and the confidence of our businesses and partners.
That’s why I am crystal clear that Oldham Council remains fully committed to stepping up and playing a leadership role, as it has done with the Old Town Hall.
I am determined that we will do that with a strong and focused Cabinet getting on with the crucial work that is needed – because the only thing we can be certain of these days is that nobody will come in from the outside and fix our problems for us.
It’s now more than five years since we started our journey as a Co-operative Council and what that period of time has shown me is a very simple lesson: Oldham only succeeds when we all pull together.
Oldham only succeeds when we all make our own very different contributions towards making it a better place – whether that is recycling well, reporting a pothole, checking on a neighbour’s wellbeing, creating new opportunities for local people or spreading good news and information.
Put simply, we can only build a better borough together.
Next week I will look at how that approach works in practice – and what we are doing next – in terms of our efforts to create a strong local economy and a place we can all be proud of.
That’s all about continuing to attract investment, regenerating our town and district centres and, crucially, building an economy that works for everyone.
Popcorn and politics may make for a curious mix, but I hope this week serves as a timely reminder of our determination to make Oldham an aspirational place to live and work.
I’M PREPARING to deliver my first ever Annual Report to Full Council as I write – and it’s been a very busy few days.
Firstly, I know many of you are hoping for an update on the opening of the Old Town Hall, so here’s where we stand right now…
I chaired a meeting with the regeneration team here at the Civic Centre last week where we discussed this matter at length and I’m continuing to personally monitor progress on the development.
You can’t see them from outside, but there are currently more than 200 contractors working daily inside the Old Town Hall right now – drilling, preserving, painting and finishing off what has been a mammoth task and a labour of love for many craftspeople.
But the issue here isn’t just about progress on the old Grade II-listed building itself, it’s also about us being confident that the improvements we’re making to the surrounding environment and highways, and especially the new public space at Parliament Square, will also be ready.
It’s important that we have a date that will enable the maximum number of spectators to enjoy the public opening events and get in and out of the area safely and quickly: so please just bear with me just a little while longer for that announcement.
On Friday, I caught the early train down to London to take my place on the Local Government Association’s City Regions Board for the first time.
That might not mean much to you, but it’s crucially important that as key partners in Greater Manchester devolution we are at the centre on this issue, ensuring we get the best deal for our region, and for Oldham.
That appointment meant I couldn’t be at Oldham Leisure Centre for the homecoming event for Nicola White, our Olympic Gold medallist, but I’m happy to report that I made it back in time to meet and talk to Nicola at a celebration at the Oldham Event Centre later that night.
This evening it will be my absolute pleasure to introduce an agenda item which (subject to approval!) will see her nominated for the title of ‘Freewoman of the Borough’.
Nicola is our first Gold medal winner since Henry Taylor in 1908. Her achievement is historic and it’s only right we mark that by bestowing upon her the highest honour that we can as a council.
When I deliver my Annual Report at that same meeting tonight (more about that in next week’s blog) I’ll be setting out the progress we’ve made in the past year and what our clear priorities are for the borough looking ahead.
This is an administration that is ambitious for Oldham – for its people, for its businesses and for the local economy – but that continues to be hampered by reductions in Government funding and these amount to a further £20 million next year.
Getting that balance right between delivering good services, defending vulnerable residents and giving people the new opportunities and facilities they deserve is an incredibly hard challenge.
That’s why we launched our budget consultation yesterday on a series of proposals to help us balance those priorities – and the books.
This will be the eighth consecutive year when we’ve been hit by a significant fall in our funding and we don’t have a monopoly on the answers or bright ideas.
We’re facing some incredibly tough decisions, so we need your input and views more than ever before.
Much of the proposed budget reductions could come from changing internal processes and how we deliver services and share resources in ever-closer partnership with other equally hard-pressed public bodies. Examples of that are our work with the NHS and Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group on social care, health and children’s services – and with neighbouring councils on some back office functions.
Inevitably, however, after eight years of cuts it is increasingly difficult to absorb these without directly having some impact on residents.
The more contentious ones include proposals to close the Link Centre on Union Street, reduce top-up funding to Parish Councils, introducing a charge to cover the cost of producing residents’ parking permits and more rigorously enforcing fines to drivers who ignore bus lane restrictions.
I don’t believe any member of Oldham Council, regardless of their politics, sought office to take decisions like these, but we simply have no choice and must balance the budget.
Please take a few minutes to tell us what you think about these proposals – and give us your own ideas – at the online consultation at www.oldham.gov.uk/budget
Your feedback about possible alternative savings, or steps we could take to mitigate the impact of these proposals, would be particularly welcome.
It’s a harsh fact that when this latest budget process is complete we’ll have lost £212m from budget savings requirements and the Government’s funding reductions since 2009.
That is a huge hit to our income and resources. And it is not a burden which is being shared proportionately across the country.
That’s why – as I will explain in my Annual Report this evening – it’s more vital than ever that Oldham Council continues to provide the civic leadership and direction needed to make this a better borough by working with you to get results.
If you don’t want to wait until next week’s blog to see my Annual Report, you can watch it live on our website here from 6.05pm tonight (Wednesday, September 7).
A video replay will also be posted online separately by the end of the week and I will post that link on here when it is available.
I’M COMMITTED to Oldham Council fighting to make a positive difference with partners to real people’s lives – and that starts in our local economy.
The sad case of the end of the iconic retail empire that was once British Home Stores is just one example where we’ve done that.
Last weekend saw the doors closed for the last time on the 88-year-old firm’s operations nationwide.
When BHS first collapsed in April, it still had 163 stores that were trading but the final 20 have now shut.
Included in that tragic tale, of course, was the Oldham outlet in Spindles, which had only been open since November 2012.
The BHS closure hit 11,000 jobs nationwide, sparking a parliamentary inquiry and – with 22,000 people’s pensions affected by a reported £571 million black hole in funding – its a story that will run and run, possibly even into a criminal investigation.
When it was first confirmed that the Oldham store was under threat we were clear that the remaining 25 or so local workers would need help and we had to act. That’s when our excellent Get Oldham Working team swung into action to find out what could be done and intervene where help might be needed.
Working with partners like JobCentre Plus they arranged one-to-one advice sessions with all staff so that they could get any information they needed quick about forthcoming employment opportunities, how to improve CVs, plus their rights and benefits etc.
We put several staff in contact with potential employers and outlined their options to them. Some wanted to stay in retail, return to previous careers or look for something completely different.
The team also offered the safety net that – if people were still seeking work later in the year – we could guarantee them, through GOW partners, an interview for positions that would be coming up at the Old Town Hall and other tailored recruitment options we had put together.
By the time the Oldham outlet closed on August 3, I am pleased to report that every single member of staff affected had found new employment.
It’s small comfort for the disruption that BHS’ collapse has caused generally, of course, but it does show yet again how effective and important the Get Oldham Working (GOW) team’s efforts have become.
That’s also why the team’s move to a new premises in Oldham town centre last week is vital and makes so much sense: making it even easier for people to access job information and advice.
The GOW team has already supported our objectives in creating 3,750 employment opportunities in less than three years since it was formed, but the work can’t stop there.
They’ve now moved out of the Civic Centre and into a new base on the first floor of Metropolitan House, Hobson Street, Oldham – which is just across the road from JobCentre Plus.
I visited the new set-up last week and saw for myself how the new location – and the team’s ‘open door’ policy – can be essential help to anyone seeking work, apprenticeships, traineeships and experience.
Anyone of working age can now simply turn up – without an appointment – and speak to a careers advisor on weekdays from 9am until 4pm.
Given the success of GOW, which is a fantastic example of Oldham Council working cooperatively with partners for everyone’s benefit, we’re keen to see the scheme help even more people.
Now we are embarking on Phase 2 of the scheme, which has new targets.
Over the next four years GOW is looking to assist and guide 6,000 more residents and fill 5,000 work-related opportunities.
This October the team will also launch a new Career Advancement Service (CAS). The CAS is focussed on helping an initial 400 employed local residents to understand what additional support they might need to get an in-work promotion (including advice and support to increase their skills and salary levels).
That won’t just ultimately help them and their families, it also serves to increase upward mobility in the local labour market and create new opportunities for others.
As our major regeneration projects, like the Old Town Hall, Prince’s Gate and the Independent Quarter continue attracting more large, medium and small-sized businesses to invest in our borough, I believe GOW will go from strength to strength.
The same also goes for that big vacant unit that BHS has left behind at Spindles.
We know that the shopping centre owners, Kennedy Wilson, are working hard to attract the right tenant and will do all we can to support them in that search.
It’s a chilling thought that former BHS staff in other parts of the country might not have been as fortunate as those in Oldham have been and could actually be joining the dole queue this week, but we’re determined to make a difference here, wherever we can, to support local people and business.
The doors at Metropolitan House are now open to everyone of working age – young people and adults alike – and that means you can get a dedicated learning mentor, access to training, experience and help to find secure employment.