Strictly just great fun!

skershawsI REALLY didn’t know what to expect when I first agreed to take part in Strictly Kershaw’s dance fundraising event – but now I’m so glad that I did it.

Last Friday night was an experience that left me breathless but buzzing and I’m so pleased now that I that stepped outside my comfort zone and took up the challenge.

Part of what made it such a memorable night was the incredible effort that had been put into making this a success by the Hospice’s organisers and volunteers.

The QE Hall looked simply fabulous – with all the glitz and glamour you could hope for – and, best of all, it was absolutely packed.

Having been drawn to go on and perform first I will admit to having had some initial butterflies, but these were quickly forgotten once the music began.

From that point on you have to focus incredibly hard to keep yourself co-ordinated and be in the right place at just the right time.

What helped everyone taking part was that the crowd were so enthusiastic and they whipped up an atmosphere that inspired us all.

Looking back it was, for me, quite a risky thing to agree to take part in this. Too few of us step out of our comfort zone like that very often and I really hadn’t enjoyed my previous brief flirtations with dancing.

Now, however, I certainly understand the great pleasure that dancing gives to so many people. It’s not just a great physical challenge but also helps you forget a bad day, to put things into perspective – and you also get to meet some simply fantastic people.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Dr Kershaw’s, Madd for Dance in Shaw, my dance partner Marco Maestro, and and all those who have helped me on this journey.

And we also mustn’t forget the incredible people who keep Dr Kershaw’s going all year round, plus all those who sponsored me (which you can still do!) here.

Boundary-Commission-EnglandMoving onto other matters now and I was disappointed to see the latest version of the proposed Boundary Commission for England (BCE) changes that was published last week…

This is its third and final consultation on proposed new Parliamentary constituencies as part of a move to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

We made representations last year to the BCE on their initial proposals to create two Parliamentary constituencies within the borough boundaries.

There were clear flaws in those proposals which, in particular, ignored important long-standing local associations and identities.

This new version does at least no longer propose to split the two Royton wards into different constituencies – as was initially put forward – and also now keeps the Saddleworth wards together.

However, I  do not view these plans as a good deal for Oldham because they are still breaking up the direct links with local authority boundaries, which is very important.

We will be putting our concerns forward again to the Boundary Commission and urging the public to do the same before the final December 11 deadline. You can do this by visiting the BCE website here.

BIGBANG2017Finally this week a reminder that with the end of British Summertime upon us this weekend, and with the nights drawing in, it’s almost time again for the Big Bang bonfire at Oldham Edge.

I will be talking more about this in my blog next week, but for now please mark Thursday, November 2 (5pm onwards) in your diary for this fantastic free event.

You can also visit our webpage here to see everything we’ve got planned to make this a ‘Feast of Fire’ – and our biggest and best event yet.

Jean

Universally Discredited: Stop this madness 

UCREDITUNIVERSAL Credit is making headlines again – and that will continue throughout the winter unless the Government comes to its senses.

For the uninitiated, Universal Credit (UC), is this government’s flagship Welfare Reform.

It’s an all-in-one benefit system that replaces several existing benefits, including housing benefit and child tax credits, with one single monthly payment.

So what’s going wrong?

The main issue is that people moving onto UC are faced with a six-week delay before receiving their first payment. Nationally, more than a quarter of claimants have been waiting even longer than that. Months, in some cases.

stackSuch delays are totally unacceptable. They are needlessly pushing many people into debt and rent arrears, causing great stress, especially to the most vulnerable, and can lead to eviction or homelessness.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says UC is “an online service” and last week used that to justify their telephone helpline charging callers 55p per minute.

Well I’m sorry but how on earth can hard-up people be expected to pay a premium rate to get help in claiming money that they are actually entitled to? What’s morally defensible about charging those most in need of the money for help with their claims?

The DWP says encouraging people to use UC online helps with their digital skills and employability. That’s fine, but those struggling financially are less likely to have a smartphone, tablet, PC or even their own internet connection. And you can’t just cut people adrift like that.

For me, social security should do exactly what it is supposed to do – offer a safety net for those who need it and help to get people back into work.

When Oldham agreed to become an early adopter of UC in 2013 we envisaged working with the DWP to help identify problems and produce a more effective system before it was rolled out nationally.

That simply hasn’t happened and unless a debate led by Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams is successful in Parliament today (October 18) then I really fear the impact in the months ahead.

Sadly there’s a wealth of local data showing the true impact of UC here in Oldham.

Oldham Food Bank has seen a 77 per cent increase in people getting food parcels due to benefit delays or changes in the last two years, for example.

oldhamfoodbankAt Oldham Council our benefits advisers are spending an average of one hour and ten minutes on the phone just to help each claimant through the online application process.

Politicians – and that’s from all sides – are now uniting with public sector bosses, advice services and the voluntary sector in calling for the national rollout of UC to be stopped.

Even the National Audit Office, the body overseeing government spending, has said that UC is “driven by an ambitious timescale” with “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”. We can’t all be wrong, surely?

Universal Credit just isn’t fit for purpose as it stands and our society should be treating vulnerable people much better than this.

Instead of continuing to try and save face and push on with this rollout, the Government should acknowledge these failings, press the pause button and stop this minimum six-week delay. And do it now.

The consequences of not doing so, for many people and families, don’t bear thinking about.

With winter on the horizon some could be facing the coldest months of the year making the hardest of choices, like whether to heat their home or feed themselves and their families.

This is a Government that has talked a lot about creating ‘an economy that works for everyone’ and its concerns for those who are ‘Just About Managing’ – so how on earth does the UC rollout fit with that stance?

Please spare a thought for those affected by this as we head towards the festive season and visit the Oldham Foodbank website here to find out how you can help make a difference for local people in crisis.

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webAnd finally this week: after thousands of steps, 12 weeks of practice, two outfits and two left feet, I am as ready as I will ever be to strut my stuff on Friday at Strictly Kershaw’s.

Although I’m used to speaking at public meetings and debating issues with large groups of people, this is really going to be something very different.

I’ll let you know how I get on in next week’s blog.

You can still buy tickets here and (please!) sponsor my efforts at my JustGiving page here to help keep Dr Kershaw’s on course for its challenging fundraising targets.

Jean

Integrating health and social care – What really matters

asburnhamUSEIT WAS great to welcome Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to Oldham this week.

He came to hear Oldham Council, the Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group and other partners explaining what we’re doing to integrate our health and social care work into one system.

Now I know this stuff does not sound immediately exciting – and it doesn’t make big media headlines – but it’s vitally important, so bear with me…

I know a lot of the health sector can seem inaccessible to the public and filled with confusing acronyms and jargon, which I will avoid here.

The key point about this integration work is simple: it’s all about the quality and effectiveness of the result for the patient.

When we need to access care we probably don’t care who’s responsible for providing the service, or who controls the budget. Why would we?

What matters is the right help being there for us at the right time in the right place, and that it is effective.

Success will mean better prevention and health outcomes for patients – and hence reduced costs and less strain on the public purse, enabling more money to be available to invest in the health of our population.

 

greater-manchester-devolutionThat’s why we are all focussed on this work. This integration of health and social care is a great opportunity from devolution – and its ‘win win’ for all if we get it right.

Like all members of the GM City Region, Oldham now has a Locality Plan under which all partners are working together to transform our social and health care system into a new model that breaks down the old silos at every level.

This is also about aligning care to wider public services like education, skills, work and housing to create a system that is financially balanced and sustainable.

One great example of this is housing where Oldham Council, Oldham CCG and the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership broke the mould in coming together to fund Warm Homes Oldham in 2013.

This scheme offers measures like installing insulation and more efficient boilers, assistance with tariff switching, accessing benefits, using heating systems better and clearing debt with energy companies.

The health problems associated with badly heated homes are those usually suffered by older people and associated with cold weather, like strokes, and conditions affecting children, like asthma. But there are also mental health issues linked to social isolation caused by a reluctance to invite friends and family into a cold home.

warmhomesoldhamWarm Homes Oldham has now lifted more than 4,000 local people out of fuel poverty, eradicating many health problems and producing significant savings on reduced hospital admissions and mental health.

Andy Burnham expressed his concern to us that the link between housing and health outcomes appears to have been under-recognised elsewhere. He was suitably impressed with this scheme and wants to come back to learn more about a scheme he says is just one showing how Oldham is “moving further and faster” than many others on integration.

Another area of clear agreement was our focus on what’s known as social prescribing; an approach where local health practitioners are encouraged to go beyond the simple default of prescribing pills to address problems.

Often when people present to their GP, nurses or other primary care professionals, their problems are more complex and deeper-seated than simply the immediate ailment…

It means, for example, a patient could be encouraged to join a local exercise class or group to address both weight and health issues at the same time as allowing them to make more social connections. This approach can be much more effective for the person, addressing their social, emotional and practical needs, and can also have the added benefit of reducing the use of NHS services.

Andy’s visit was inspiring and the huge collective commitment to get this agenda right in Oldham – with a new system focussed on the person and the place, rather than ‘one size fits all’ – was self-evident.

A couple more important things to mention this week…

Firstly, we have now announced dates and venues for the public consultation on our Oldham Town Centre Masterplan. We’re taking this across the borough in a mini-roadshow where you can view the proposals, then ask questions and submit comments. Please do #yourbit and find your local ‘drop in’ session here.

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webAnd finally I’m just two more practice sessions away from my dancing debut at Strictly Kershaw’s on Friday, October 20.

It’s been great fun to do this but the serious side is that Dr Kershaw’s Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free.

Many thanks to friends and colleagues who have already made donations – and for those who would still like to do so, please visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.

Jean 

Keep dancing…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean 

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