Happy New Year for 2017…

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277I’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.
 
coliseum-move-pr-shot-daily-issuesWe’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.
 
gmca-black-logo-expandedFair 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.
 
hubI’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.

jeannicNicola 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. 
 
Happy New Year!

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

The hidden impact of winter weather

WINTRY weather can have a huge impact when it hits the borough – not just the immediate inconvenience it causes, but on people’s long-term health.

Even though we’re hardened to bitter Arctic winds and freezing fog in Oldham it was something of a surprise to get a blast of up to 30cm of snow (in higher areas) so late in the season last Friday.

The scale of that snowfall was dramatic and I’m always thankful we can rely on our brilliant gritting team who, once again, helped keep the borough moving and cleared our primary routes round the clock.

But when a cold spell like that hits us my thoughts also turn to people on low incomes, behind with their bills and struggling with basics like fuel and food costs.

It’s easy to forget that weather conditions like those don’t just affect schools, bus services and local events, they also pose a serious threat in terms of ill health.

One key reason for that is fuel poverty.

This is defined as spending more than 10 per cent of your income on heating – and it remains a sad reality for more than two million people in the UK.

The facts are (literally) chilling.

Data shows that one older person dies every seven minutes during the winter – almost 120,000 from cold weather or associated factors over the last four winters alone.

And if you compare that with Nordic countries, such as Sweden, which have much harsher conditions in the cold months, you find their mortality rates are lower than ours.

IMG_5256So when the mercury plummets like it did last week many of us take for granted being able to just turn up the heating at home, but that isn’t such a simple choice for some.

That’s why, as a Co-operative Council, we set up the Warm Homes Oldham service to help.

This is jointly funded by ourselves, Oldham NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership. It brings health and housing bodies together to address that direct link between fuel poverty and illness.

It’s also recognised by all partners that no single organisation is solely responsible for the health of our residents – we all are. It delivers a joined-up approach that will ultimately cut the numbers of people admitted to hospital and deliver other wellbeing benefits that will cut costs for all partners and, more importantly, improve the quality of life for the people helped by the scheme.

The help on offer from Warm Homes Oldham includes the fitting of home improvements, energy efficiency and switching advice, plus support for claiming benefits, getting off prepayment meters and clearing fuel debt.

In the last three years we’ve now fitted the second highest number of home improvements and new energy saving measures – like boilers, loft insulation and cladding – in the country.

Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that 170 out of every 1,000 households in Oldham have now benefitted from an Eco grant and our scheme has helped lift more than 3,300 homes out of fuel poverty.

We’ve got many fantastic case studies of the positive impact this had for local people and you can see some of these by watching the video at the top of this page.

So when I think about great examples of what we mean by living in a Co-operative Borough, the Warm Homes Oldham scheme is always high on my list.

I also know that many of you ‘do your bit’ during the bad weather – like checking on your elderly and vulnerable neighbours to make sure they are okay or clearing their paths – and that is fantastic to see.

But I would ask you all to please take a moment today to consider if you know anyone who might benefit from the Warm Homes Oldham service.

It’s already been so successful that it has been able to secure more than £3.5 million in funding from external sources. We want that success to continue.

And although you may think winter is almost behind us, I would urge you to take action now whilst this is fresh in your mind.

Cold homes are currently a bigger killer across the UK than road accidents, alcohol or drug abuse – which is shocking.

Please help us spread the word about the scheme and to improve the lives and health of people in your community.

For more information, or to book a free home visit to find out exactly how we can help, visit www.warmhomesoldham.org or call 0800 019 1084.

Jean