Social Regeneration: Fair Growth Vs Donuts

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THIS 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.

warmhomesoldhamIn 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.

gmca-black-logo-expandedFor 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.

Jean

An economy that works for everyone

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SPECIAL DELIVERY: The new DPD depot set to bring 350 new jobs to the borough

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.

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LIDL: New Royton store created 40 new jobs this month

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.

oldhams-independent-quarter-sqA 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.

Jean

Popcorn and politics: Putting families first

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COMING SOON: The Old Town Hall will open its doors to the public on Friday, October 21

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.

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VIDEO: Click on the banner above to watch my Annual Report in full

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.

JeanStrettonThat’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.

Jean

The balancing act: Budgets, services and aspirations

Old Town Hall, Oldham, September 7, 2016
LABOUR OF LOVE: Around 200 contractors are on-site at the Old Town Hall daily putting finishing touches to the flagship development 

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.

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GOLDEN GIRL: Nicola White

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

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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.

Jean

Making a difference: BHS and Get Oldham Working

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GONE: The former BHS unit in Spindles shopping centre which closed on August 3

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.

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NEW HOME: On a visit to see the GOW team at their new Metropolitan House base 

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.

GOWLOGOAs 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.

Anyone who needs support should visit the team or look at  www.oldham.gov.uk/gow as a starting point.

You can also email GOW at employability@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 4674 and you can even follow the team on Twitter @EmployOldham or “like” www.facebook.com/getoldhamworking

It goes without saying that we’re also very interested in hearing from even more local businesses and organisations that are interested in providing traineeships, apprentices or jobs for local people.

Many have already stepped forward, but more are always needed.

Please do your bit and get in touch to help us make a genuine difference to people’s lives – and the local economy.

Jean

Oldham’s changing skyline: The need for a plan

SKYLINE1OLDHAM’S skyline and environment are changing fast – and the best is yet to come.

That transformation has been steadily accelerating since the opening of our town centre Metrolink line in 2014.

Walking around Oldham now you can’t fail to notice many new or improved buildings, plus new views and vistas, and the green shoots needed to improve our local economy.

You can see it clearly in areas like the Independent Quarter – where we are co-investing with people putting their life savings, daily graft and faith into breathing new life into the area – and it is steadily being replicated across the town centre.

The Old Town Hall is, of course, the flagship project and it’s already become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Every day you see people stopping to stand around the Cenotaph and the Greaves Arms sneaking a peek at the site and taking snapshots.

Although you cannot yet see inside the grand old building, I can confirm that work is well advanced and we now have a provisional handover date from our contractors.

OTHBlog

Following that there will then be a ‘fit out’ period when the new tenants’ own contractors move into the units to install their own fittings and train staff. I can’t yet confirm the opening date publicly but your new ODEON cinema and restaurants remain on track to open later this year.

And it was great this week – before we’ve even opened the doors – to see the Old Town Hall scheme nominated for a major award.

The GM Chamber of Commerce has shortlisted it for ‘Building of the Year 2016’ and that’s a promising early indication of the kind of impact we’re expecting from a new regional destination that will put us firmly on the map.

If you can’t wait to glimpse that future then I’d recommend a visit to the new ‘Revival’ exhibition which opened at Gallery Oldham this week.

REVIVALThis looks at the Old Town Hall and the iconic old Library and Art Gallery building, which will become our new Heritage Centre, showcasing images and objects belonging to both as they are adapted for their new future uses.

Looking at that Old Town Hall site you can also see work is progressing well on Parliament Square, our new public space, and other much-needed improvements being made to the surroundings of the Yorkshire Street/Union Street area.

Important work has also just got started in the ‘Campus Oldham’ part of town along the King Street corridor linking Oldham College, the new Oldham Leisure Centre, and Oldham Sixth Form College

This will see better highways and pedestrian areas and an improved cycle infrastructure leading into the town centre.

That will make a significant difference to the appearance of that area, which will also be boosted by the new-build three-form academy primary school set to open at the former Grange School site in September.

Just down the road from there I had the honour of attending the official groundbreaking ceremony for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at Royal Oldham Hospital on Monday.

This will provide a fantastic place offering free practical and emotional support in an environment that will make a huge difference to the quality of care for local patients. The plans show it set in a sloping garden with trees growing up through the buildings – accessed over a bridge – with views down to a garden pool. It’s just the latest life-changing project to be funded by the generosity of the Stoller Charitable Trust.

But what goes up must also come down – and that’s another way in which regeneration is changing the skyline.

Earlier this year we pulled down the former Oldham Sports Centre on Lord Street which means residents on the new St Mary’s Estate (for now at least) can enjoy a more splendid view of Oldham Parish Church.

A couple of weeks ago I also pressed the button to demolish the seven-storey council-owned car park at Hobson Street which, let’s face it, has been an eyesore for many years and its demise clears that site again for a brighter future.

This was a cold, brutalist structure which, like the old St Peter’s Shopping Precinct (or ‘Windy City’ as many of us called it!) will surely not be missed by even the most nostalgic of residents.

In looking positively to the future like this, I’m also very conscious that we’re living in incredibly uncertain times.

The UK is in a difficult and challenging environment on so many levels at present and, as a mere Council Leader, I don’t for one moment pretend to have a crystal ball about what that lies ahead.

What I do know, however, is that having a long-term regeneration plan – both physical and social – is crucial to anchoring your confidence (and that of others) in your place and its ability to improve people’s prospects.

These latest signs of progress in Oldham’s skyline and environment show that we have that plan. Without it we would surely be exposing ourselves to even greater uncertainty.

This is my final blog now before the traditional Council recess break, but it will return on August 24.

Many of you will have holidays planned soon, so I hope you all enjoy fine family times and weather – and stay safe.

Jean