Better roads for Oldham – £6.2m investment starts now

THE LATEST wintry weather is a stark reminder of the challenges we face in keeping local roads to a good standard of repair.

Ask any Council Leader about this subject and I would confidently bet that most will tell you that potholed roads is the top cause of the complaints they get from the public.

And I do sympathise – I am a driver after all!…

I can’t deny I get as irked as anyone else does after driving over one – although it is also true that nobody ever notices driving over roads where no bumps occur, for obvious reasons.

To try and address the pothole problem we’ve announced a new £6.2 million investment programme in Oldham’s roads this week.

This new money is funding a 12-month programme of works to get more streets into shape with a high-quality and durable surface that supports residents, motorists and business and keeps the borough moving.

This is really positive news, but we’ve also got to be realistic about the scale of the problem.

OMBC HighwaysRoad surfacing is a constant ongoing battle and the significant funding cuts from Government leave us with far less to spend on it than we would ideally put in.

In recent years we’ve also had some very harsh winters and wet summers which have had a significant impact on the 856 kilometres of roads we maintain.

This – and increased traffic levels – means many road surfaces are in need of repair or resurfacing. That £6.2 million commitment means specialist teams are out on the roads as you read this right now and getting on with that job.

There’s two key issues at play when it comes to road surfacing.

Firstly, there just isn’t enough Government funding to help local authorities like ourselves get on top of the problem.  Last year a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance estimated that councils are fixing 1.75 million potholes a year, which is one every 19 seconds, and sounds impressive. But the scale of the issue is such that the Local Government Association believes there is an astronomical national funding gap of £12 billion to be plugged and it would still take more than a decade – even with all that money provided – just to catch up with the backlog.

Although we’re not unique in terms of the funding challenges we face, a second issue for Oldham lies in the topographical nature of where we live.

Snow and ice causes the vast majority of pothole cracks and are much more likely to be on higher ground.  That’s because the higher you are, the colder it tends to be, which explains why the Saddleworth Moors always appear to be hit first. Height is also crucial because just a small change in temperature can mean the difference between rain and snow (which melts at 0 degrees C or above) and the Highways team tell me that 99 per cent of our borough lies at least at a height of 100 metres above sea level.

POTHOLES2We know it is vital that we continue to invest in our key infrastructure, like the road network.

In addition to this new investment we’re continuing to give overall priority to our main roads (A and B roads). These are our Priority Routes because the majority of the public use them each day – and you can help us to keep them well maintained.

We operate a 24 Hour Repair Promise on these roads (you may have noticed the road signs indicating this) so, if you see a defect, then please report it to us so we can take action immediately. Find out more here.

Obviously, we cannot go out driving every stretch of our roads checking for defects like this every day, so we rely on your help as our ‘eyes and ears’ by reporting problems as they arise.

Finally, I want to stress that this £6.2million investment is new money and it is in addition to the regular and scheduled work that our Highways Team are already carrying out, such as other reactive pothole repairs.

You can find out more about which roads will be improved in the first three months of this programme here.

Please do #yourbit and report any pothole problems to us online.

Jean

 

 

Stay well – and act wisely

stay-well1IT’S BEEN no surprise to hear a throng of sneezing, coughing and hoarse throats back at work this week.

Like many others, I also fell victim to the ‘lurgy’ over the festive season but the numbers affected nationally – and the impact on our NHS – have been significant in recent weeks.

I’d like to personally thank all staff that worked so hard over the holidays with the pressures mounting at hospitals up and down the country.

And let’s not forget our own Oldham Council staff who have also gone the extra mile (literally!) in hazardous conditions ensuring roads were continuously gritted through a prolonged cold weather snap, plus our refuse collectors who also did a fantastic job picking up all that extra Yuletide waste.

Every winter sees several strains of flu doing the rounds and this year things seem to have been complicated further by so-called H3N2 – better known as ‘Aussie flu’.

Flu symptoms can come on very quickly but, for most of us, following the tried and trusted advice to drink lots of fluids, rest up in bed and take paracetamol/ibuprofen usually does the trick.

However for some people, especially the very old, very young or people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, flu can be deadly and that’s why it’s more important now than ever that we all take the right decisions about what help we really need when we get ill.

Adults over 65, pregnant women or those with underlying health conditions are advised to get a free flu jab, and a free nasal spray is also available to children aged two to eight.

But with more people turning up at GP surgeries with symptoms or being admitted to hospital with flu, we must all try to act responsibly and avoid unnecessarily clogging surgeries and A&E departments to help the NHS prioritise those most in need of care.

staywell2At the first sign of illness, even just a cough or a cold, you should act quickly by talking to your local pharmacist for professional advice or visiting www.nhs.uk

Please also remember that 999 is for life-threatening emergencies only.

If you need medical help fast – but it’s not a 999 emergency – then call NHS 111 for clinical advice, assessment and signposting to the most appropriate treatment.

Please also do #yourbit if you have symptoms of flu by avoiding unnecessary contact with other people, washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water and cleaning surfaces regularly to stop the spread of flu. And, of course, check on any vulnerable neighbours or relatives that you have as temperatures plummet and risks rise.

newfoodbankAnother place that has also been busy over the holiday season has been Oldham Foodbank.

Their latest data paints a bleak picture of the struggles local people are continuing to experience.

From January 1, 2017 to New Year’s Eve in 2017, Oldham Foodbank provided 7,078 three-day emergency supplies to local people in crisis – a figure that is up substantially from 5,554 in 2016.

Of that number, 2,425 packages went to children and Oldham Foodbank say issues with benefit payments account for 70 per cent of all their referrals: well above the national average of 43 per cent.

The unpaid work done by volunteers at Oldham Foodbank is simply inspirational and their running costs each year are £6,000 for operating a van, picking up and distributing food, and overheads like electricity and insurance.

This really shouldn’t be necessary in 2018 – and in one of the richest economies of the world(!) – but please visit their website here if you can offer any help.

Just over one week into 2018 and it’s again palpably clear that this is a Government that needs to focus on the ‘day job’ more – not just Brexit.

We deserve a Cabinet and top team capable of tackling the real problems making life miserable for so many people – like the underfunding of our NHS and the distress caused by welfare reform policies – but I see nothing in this week’s reshuffle to give me hope that we’ll be seeing any significant change in approach.

kquinnFinally, I must mention the tragic death of Kieran Quinn, Tameside Council Leader, on Christmas Day.

This news came as such a huge shock to everyone involved in regional politics and my heart goes out to Susan, his wife, and his family and friends.

He was held in high regard across Greater Manchester by politicians of all parties, by fellow trade unionists, by his Tameside and GM political and officer colleagues and by the residents he served as a committed Council Leader and Ward Councillor.

He will be sorely missed.

Jean

The hidden costs of false economies…  

poundcoins2WE’VE ALL probably made false economies in our time – and it’s a life lesson we often learn the hard way.

In striving to make an apparent financial saving it can actually cost you more in the long run: like buying cheap batteries or shoes, or not servicing the boiler just to have it fail on the coldest night of the year.

The same can be said of the public sector pay freeze introduced by George Osbourne in 2010 – a seven-year squeeze that has hit workers, families and communities hard in the name of economic austerity.

What did it gain in the short-term? Well, attacking the public sector may have gained some populist headlines and made marginal savings on Treasury spreadsheets but the opportunity costs – what could have been achieved with that money instead – weren’t considered because of political dogmatism.

Real median household incomes today are just five per cent higher than in 2007 and the UK is now in the worst period of pay growth in 150 years, affecting both the public and private sector. Clearly, George’s marvellous medicine didn’t work.

Public sector incomes have fallen way behind inflation and as the cuts bit deeper it meant people working even harder for less money.

It hit the lowest-paid frontline workers in the most vital services – health, education, police and care – disproportionately hardest. And it has lowered morale, increasing the problems of staff retention at a time of rising demand, which can mean having fewer colleagues to share the work around.

Worried Senior Woman Sitting On Sofa Looking At Bills

The impact has been equally bad for household budgets. ‘In work’ poverty is now at the point where a recent TUC survey found that one in seven public sector workers were forced to skip meals this year and almost a quarter reported they would not be able to pay an unexpected bill of £500.

And there’s been a much wider impact on the local economy…

By significantly eroding the value of public sector pay through this freeze – with frontline staff earning around £2,000 less than if their pay had risen in line with inflation – it’s meant workers have cut back on their spending. That has hit local high streets hard to the tune of an estimated £48bn less spent in shops since 2010.

Council employees last week were offered a two-year pay increase of 2 per cent with more, rightly, for the lowest-paid such as staff in children’s centres, school support, parks, libraries and those who keep vulnerable children and elderly people safe.

But it’s a long way back and only the first step in any kind of serious attempt to tackle national issues around pay and productivity.

Crucially it also needs extra funding from Government to help local authorities deliver it, not just placing even more burden on our budgets and putting more services and jobs in peril.

Another part of the ‘austerity’ agenda has been cuts to welfare that have gone hand-in-hand with demonising some of our most vulnerable people.

UCREDITAs the cruel winter frost blew our way last weekend I found myself again fearing for those families facing hardship through Universal Credit (UC).

As the national rollout for the new benefit continues many thousands of families are still enduring the in-built six-week wait for help.

Yes, the Chancellor did reduce this wait to five weeks in the budget – a very small step in reducing the pain, in my view – but this does not start until February 2018.

Many others are also facing a difficult time because around 67,000 UC claimants are paid weekly and 25,000 might be affected over the festive season because of when their assessment periods fall.

That simply isn’t fair and it means Foodbanks – like the fantastic one in Oldham – will be strained to their limit again.

None of the above feels very festive, I know, but we can all do #ourbit by bearing in mind those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year and also by ensuring our neighbours and relatives are safe during wintry weather.

This will be my last blog before the holidays but I will return with a New Year’s Blog on January 1 looking ahead to the opportunities, landmarks and challenges that lie ahead for 2018.

In the meantime I want to wish you all a happy Christmas blessed with great quality family time and memories.

Jean

How we can all ‘do our bit’ in wintry weather

Snow removalWINTRY WEATHER is forecast in the next 48 hours or so – and that will probably mean more pressure on local services.

We’re hardened to dealing with snow, icy roads and winds here in Oldham, of course, and it’s important to stress that we’re not unusually concerned by anything in the forecasts at this stage.

It can’t have escaped your attention in recent days, however, that the pressures on the NHS are at a critical point right now up and down the country.

It was alarming to read the British Red Cross’ claims last weekend that our NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis” as hospitals and ambulance services battle to match rising demand.

The reality is we all know that the winter can traditionally be an extremely challenging time, especially for urgent care services like A&E.

These months always see an increase in hospital admissions and can inevitably lead to breaches of the ‘urgent and emergency care standard’ – which is that 95 per cent of patients should be seen, treated, admitted or discharged within four hours of presenting at A&E.

But whatever the political arguments about targets and the funding of the NHS there are some things that all of us can and should do to help to reduce unnecessary demand.

snow2As a council we work actively with partners to help ensure those people most at risk of preventable emergency admission to hospital are and helped to take the necessary actions to avoid that happening.

By avoiding going to A&E unless a medical condition is a genuine emergency – and by using local pharmacies and NHS 111 for medical advice – we can all significantly help to cut non-urgent demand.

For our loved ones and others there are other things to consider…

Winter conditions can be bad for anyone’s health; especially those people aged 65 or over, and those with long-term health conditions.

That’s why keeping warm is absolutely vital. It can prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems like heart attack, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

If you are struggling to heat your home then Warm Homes Oldham can help you with things like insulating your property, replacing broken boilers, advice on debt, benefit entitlements and cutting bills through energy efficiency measures. You can find out more at www.warmhomesoldham.org or by calling 0800 019 1084

Another step you can take is to make sure your family have had the flu jab.

This is free for pregnant women, the over-65s, people with long-term health conditions and children aged 2 to 4 years. Ask at your GP if you’ve not had this.

You should also act quickly when you are feeling unwell. Speak to your pharmacist at the first sign of winter illness or call 111 for medical advice, assessment and direction to the best medical treatment for you.

All of Oldham’s GP practices are open from 8am to 6.30pm (Monday to Friday) as a minimum.

iccThe Walk In service at the Integrated Care Centre (right) is open from 8am to 8pm every day of the year.

It’s also vital that we look out for our neighbours, friends and family members at these times.

Icy pavements and roads can stop people from getting out and about which might mean they miss out on vital medicine or food. A friendly face just popping round to have a brew can also work wonders for isolated people – and it costs you nothing other than just a few minutes of your time.

Don’t forget that the ‘Winter’ section on the Oldham Council website here contains all the information you will need about local school and children’s centre closures, gritting routes, bins and travel updates, local support services such as drop-in centres, shelters and food providers; and advice on winter health, affordable warmth grants and flood relief.

You can also stay informed through live winter updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/oldhamcouncil and facebook www.facebook.com/loveoldham

Our updates will also be publicised to local media, including radio and newspapers.

Here’s hoping that the impact of this week’s weather turns out to be nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year – but please note this information and make sure you are prepared, just in case.

Jean

Business and Transport: Our Economic Engine Room

jardine-audi-site-oldham-57BUSINESSES 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.

parliamentsq1I 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…

gritterThe 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…

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