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

Happy New Year for 2018…

OB YB 2018

I’D LIKE to wish all our residents a Happy New Year.

The last 12 months have seen some genuine highlights and progress for Oldham.

A personal favourite was confirming all the funding is in place for our exciting plans for a new Arts and Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre. Work starts imminently on-site and – alongside Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library – this will give us a fantastic Cultural Quarter we can all be proud of and enjoy.

EXTERIORAnother highpoint was opening our Digital Enterprise Hub as home to Wayra UK – backed by an £8m investment fund to help tech sector companies grow here – and Hack Oldham.

We’ve also unveiled the stunning Maggie’s Oldham cancer care centre and welcomed many new faces to our Independent Quarter, including Stocco and Furniture by Lauren.

Oldham showed great resilience this year responding to all kinds of events from flooding to police incidents and wintry weather with brilliant partnership working across all sectors and communities. We will need more of the same in 2018.

Looking ahead my priority is continuing the job of making this a place where everyone has a fair chance to access new opportunities and improve their lives. Better living standards, wages and skills are key to becoming an inclusive economy where nobody is left behind.

Get Oldham Working (GOW) made fantastic strides in 2017 having now created around 7,000 work-related opportunities, including more than 4,500 jobs, which is partnership working at its very best.

Many new businesses have also opened or relocated here including the Audi showroom for Jardine Motors at Chadderton, which is a high-end brand committed to GOW and working with local colleges and supply chains.

And there’s plenty more to come in 2018.

JEANHOLLINWOODA DPD delivery depot at Greengate with 350 new jobs is on-track and work is also starting at Hollinwood Junction, a hugely important strategic site, on a development creating new employment, retail, leisure and homes with 760 jobs.

Once legal issues are finalised, I’ll soon be able to announce next steps at the Prince’s Gate development and we’ll also be announcing another tenant at the Old Town Hall.

Our young and growing population is one of our biggest strengths and we must do everything to help them shine.

That’s why we’re working closely with Government, local education leaders, voluntary organisations and employers as one of six new Opportunity Areas in the UK. This focusses on social mobility and means extra funding from early years up to lifelong learning which we are determined will make a difference.

We’re also progressing well towards targets from the Oldham Education and Skills Commission. Having pledged that every child must attend a school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted by 2020 we now have 98 per cent of primary and 81 per cent of secondary pupils doing just that.

Much work remains to be done but alongside proactive schemes like the £4m Oldham Enterprise Fund, the Skills for Employment programme and our Career Advancement Service, we’re deadly serious about helping people of all ages to get on in life.

That’s not easy when we’re continuing to take harsh funding cuts – with almost £25m to save next year – and uncertainty about the future from Government, but we’re unwavering in our ambition for the borough.

tidyoldhamKey to all our futures is the amazing co-operative work we’re doing with partners and residents.

An 8 per cent increase in recycling rates this year is all down to you doing #your bit: and schemes like Warm Homes Oldham, #1Pieceofrubbish, Get Oldham Growing – plus our work to integrate health and social care into one system – all point the way to a brighter future.

But challenges persist and we know many people are still struggling with problems with Universal Credit and welfare sanctions. We are still lobbying at the highest level for change and our Welfare Rights team have this year helped hundreds of residents to claim an extra £2million they were rightly entitled to.

Thriving communities also need new and aspirational homes that offer a better range and choice for families, so we’re continuing to deliver these with building work underway or due to start at sites including Broadway Green, the Lancaster Club and the former Counthill site.

We’ve had many positive accolades for our Old Town Hall, Bloom and Grow, community energy schemes and other initiatives this year, but it is what residents think that matters most.

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEThe defining moment in 2017 for me was launching the Town Centre Masterplan – our biggest-ever forward planning exercise.

I thank everyone who’s taken part in the consultation so far and would encourage everyone to do the same. We certainly don’t have a monopoly on bright ideas and only you know best what kind of place you want Oldham to be in the future.

We’re doing all this because we must ensure that we are a place with a plan – and one that residents fully understand.

I’m fiercely proud of our place and will continue pushing to give us an even stronger voice within Greater Manchester in 2018.

Oldham is not perfect, but it is changing – and for the better.

Happy New Year!

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

Oldham Town Centre Masterplan is gathering momentum

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEINTEREST and confidence is spreading in our new Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

Our vision to make it a more vibrant place – including new homes, employment space, attractions and activity worth an extra £50 million each year to our economy – is about getting a clear strategic plan in place backed by residents, partners and business for our future.

That’s why it was important and heartening to speak at a breakfast event in Manchester last week where potential development partners, plus representatives from the public and private sectors, had all gathered to learn more about our ambitions and discuss the investment opportunities lying ahead in Oldham.

INSIDER2After opening the event I sat on one of two panel discussions with business and regeneration experts who unanimously agreed that Oldham’s Masterplan proposals are “investable”.

Local business stalwarts Dave Benstead, from Diodes, and Craig Dean, from Web Applications UK, spoke about skills issues and the work that is being done to address Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) standards in our schools.

Dave also highlighted schemes like the Oldham Enterprise Fund, saying that the borough’s offer is amongst the best in the North West for businesses starting out – and that “Oldham is easy to sell and to get people to relocate to.”

Also discussed were the exciting things that are happening with the likes of Hack Oldham, Wayra UK and North Planet in creating a great digital offer for start-ups in Oldham.

It was fantastic to hear Craig Dean explaining how most of his staff initially commuted from Manchester but how many subsequently then moved to Oldham as it is now seen as “a place people want to be”.

Carolyn Wilkins, Chief Executive of Oldham Council, did a great Q&A session inbetween the panel discussions. She used this to explain our co-operative approach and how we’re working with partners to deliver the maximum mutual benefit for everyone and be ambitious for the place.

INSIDERShe also stressed to the 120-strong audience – who each took away hard copies of our new borough prospectus – that “We don’t want Oldham to look like every other town centre: we want something different” and stressed that we are keen to make progress on the Masterplan as quickly as possible.

On the second panel, Neal Biddle from Langtree, who are currently making great strides on the redevelopment plans for Hollinwood Junction, paid our borough perhaps its finest compliment of the day by saying that it is now a “cool” place to be.

These comments were backed by more positive vibes from Muse’s managing director, Matt Crompton, and Christian Gilham from Leach Rohdoes Walker, which you can read from Insider North West’s excellent report of the event here.

Developer interest in the Masterplan – and we will officially launch the search for a partner to progress these plans next year – was high on the day and there were some very positive conversations taking place at the networking event afterwards.

Early in 2018 we will be doing further consultation targeted more specifically at the local business audience, but there’s also still plenty of chances, if you’ve not already done so, to have your say as residents in shaping these plans.

We’ve already held 17 public consultation events all across the borough since September and there are still some more left before the festive season at Uppermill Library, The Civic Centre, Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre, Greenfield and Lees libraries. You can find out dates and times here.

December is always the busiest time of the year for events and there’s a couple of great ones in the next few days which are both at the town centre gem that is Oldham Parish Church.

Firstly we have the annual Christmas Tree Festival which starts this Friday and runs until Sunday, December 17.

This features more than 60 individually decorated trees for you to browse, admire and get some inspiration from and – on weekdays from 12noon – you also get the bonus of being able to listen to the sounds of carols, and you can enjoy a brew at the café, which is open throughout the festival.

XMASTREENext Monday (December 11), the church is also hosting a very special event at 11am.

This is a Service of Dedication to honour Oldhamer Private Walter Mills VC where family members, long-lost relatives and visitors will join dignitaries and representatives from local community groups and schools at what is certain to be a very moving occasion.

A commemorative flagstone will then be unveiled in the church grounds before an exhibition about Private Mills and the Manchester 10th Battalion Regiment opens for the day in the Egyptian Room in Parliament Square from 12Noon onwards.

Everyone is, of course, invited to come along and pay your respects to this fallen hero.

Jean

Male violence towards women – are we taking it seriously enough?

crime_scene_tapeYOU WILL have seen in recent weeks that the news has been awash with allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.
 
In most of these news stories the high profile of the alleged perpetrators – and in some cases, of the victims – has tended be the focus.

Whilst that is understandable to an extent, there is also a danger that the personalities involved become a distraction from the wider horror of what we are actually talking about here: an abuse of power that can go to even deeper and darker levels of control and violence.
 
I was pondering this at the meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) last Friday where all GM leaders and their deputies showed support for The White Ribbon Campaign, which is a part of a global movement to put a stop to male violence against women and girls. 

GMCAThis year part of that campaign has been to look for male role models to take a stand and act on behaviours that can ultimately become something far worse. It makes a simple pledge to “
Never commit, excuse or stay silent about male violence towards women.”
 

The hope is that by recognizing and standing up against any form of gender-based violence against women we can effect a shift in attitude that helps prevent all kinds of violence against women and helps to reduce the escalation of such behaviours in abusive relationships to the point where women are killed.

 
When a woman is killed by an abusive partner or former partner it is often reported and seen as being an isolated incident. But unfortunately that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I did some research into the issue of male violence against women. What I found was truly shocking.

The most recent statistics I could find – by The Femicide Census – cites a total of 936 women killed by men in England and Wales over a six-year period from 2009 to 2015.
 
Horrifically – and at least one aspect that TV dramas do tend to get right – most of these deaths, 598 women or 64 per cent, are at the hands of current or ex-partners and a further 75 deaths, 8 per cent, are by their sons.
 
That makes for chilling reading.
 
What’s deeply worrying though is that many of the killings in this report actually have a lot in common.
 
The report points out that “too many of them followed a similar pattern of violence and were premeditated. Many were committed in similar settings, similar weapons were used, and similar relationships existed between the perpetrators and the victims.”

The report also found women are at the most significant risk of deadly violence after separating from an abusive partner. Around three-quarters of women killed at the hands of their ex-partner or former spouse died within 12 months of that separation.
I’m also concerned not enough is being done to support victims. 

Women’s Aid, a charity, last week obtained data it says shows that around 200 women and children fleeing 
domestic abuse are turned away from refuges every day in England. They warn that the government plans to place councils like ourselves in charge of funding for emergency accommodation will only intensify the pressures and push things towards breaking point.

Women talk to other women about these issues.  But not enough men are talking about this with their friends, colleagues and staff. 
white-ribbon
Surely the time has come now for a new level of commitment across the board. We need to ensure domestic violence victims get the full support they need from police, refuges and local councils – and that we also have a culture where it is the norm for anyone and everyone to speak up against sexual and domestic violence. If you wish to sign the pledge you can do so here.
 

Whilst the White Ribbon Campaign – which started on November 25 and lasts for 16 days – focuses on male violence against women, it is equally important to note that domestic violence can also be perpetrated by women against men and in same-sex relationships.I

f you are an Oldham resident and are affected by any of these issues you can find out more about the local help available here on the Oldham Council website. 

Jean

Budget Day looming large… 

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277IT’S AN important few weeks for Oldham Council – and all local authorities nationwide.

We’re now in the final stages of agreeing how to balance the books for the next financial year here and we must bridge a £24.8million funding gap.

This has been our toughest budget process to date because we’re way beyond looking for easy cuts – they’ve all long gone – and are literally now being squeezed down to the pips.

Like all council leaders I’ll have a keen eye on the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, when delivers his latest budget to Parliament next Wednesday (November 22).

This will, he has stated, set out the Government’s thinking “on how to keep the economy strong and resilient and fair – an economy that works for everyone.”

They’re fine words, but will that be what he deliver in practice? I’m very clear about what I want for Oldham Council…

As I said in my Annual Statement at Full Council last week, the landscape for Oldham remains a challenging one.

As a place, we are facing unprecedented uncertainties as a result of several complex inter-playing factors including Brexit, the future of local government funding, Welfare Reform, Business Rates, Adults and Childrens’ Social Care funding, and many more.

We’ve now spent several years since 2010 under a regime of so-called economic ‘austerity’; a phrase I dislike to hear because it is a benign term for a regime that is actually having savage consequences for so many people across our communities.

It became the dominant fiscal ideology in Westminster after the Greek financial crisis and weaponised the dangers of ‘deficits’ and ‘debts’ to attack the welfare state and justify punitive measures like increased cuts in benefits.

Government seems to have ditched concerns about things like unemployment and the viability of public services, including the NHS and has focussed instead on an obsession with massive spending cuts.

This must now come to an end. It has not delivered. It was not necessary at the time and what our economy needs now is the prioritisation of investment, stimulus and inclusive growth.

What we need from the Chancellor – and the Local Government Finance Settlement that follows in December – is a dose of reality and a clear plan.

If he is really serious about Government delivering “for everyone” then he cannot ignore the obvious fact that local government must be fairly and adequately funded and given the powers to help to deliver those outcomes.

Depressed elderly woman sitting at the table

I’m going to be particularly interested in what Mr Hammond says about social care.

The Local Government Association recently calculated than an extra  £1.3 billion is needed from the Treasury just to plug funding gaps in this area of local government funding over the next financial year.

And here’s a frightening thought. By 2020 almost 60p in every £1 people pay in Council Tax may have to be spent caring for children and adults. With a population in which people are living longer than ever before, there’s a very clear challenge to both sustainability and the dignity we give our most vulnerable residents.

Social care isn’t the only area of concern either. What measures will the Government bring forward to tackle the housing crisis or address how we help young people to achieve their ambitions without saddling themselves with huge debt?

There is also the massive unresolved question of how local government is to be financed in future.

By 2020 this sector will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 it got from the Revenue Support Grant in 2015 and almost half of all councils will no longer get any of this core central government funding by 2019/20.

The Government previously said it was committed to letting local authorities keep all of their business rates income by 2020, yet even that is now in doubt after the Local Government Finance Bill failed to re-appear in the Queen’s Speech after the General Election.

There’s now a real fear and lack of clarity about our future funding and I know it’s something that keeps colleagues awake at night.

ABDULMBEAt Oldham Council finance is the portfolio of my Deputy Leader, Abdul Jabbar, and it is an unenviable task.

I was delighted to see him receive his MBE at Buckingham Palace this week because anyone handling that kind burden must be worthy of a medal!

Seriously though, Abdul has been a great ward member, community leader and Cabinet Member for around a quarter of a century – and he is a great ambassador for Oldham.

His persistent and patient approach has helped to steer our finances through some very choppy waters in recent years and we’re all delighted to see that recognised with this honour.

Finally this week, I want to pay tribute to all those Royal British Legion personnel, local volunteers and residents who helped to make Remembrance Sunday such a poignant occasion.

I attended the service in Oldham town centre. The weather conditions were perfect – if a tad chilly(!) – and it was heartening to be part of such a huge crowd stretching across Parliament Square and down High Street all paying their respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you all.

Jean

Remembrance in Oldham | We will honour them

FCOUNCIL2I’M PREPARING to deliver my Annual Report to Full Council as I write this week’s blog.

One of the themes running through my speech tonight is about supporting and developing thriving communities across our borough. So, what does that mean?

Essentially, it’s about Oldham being a place where being a part of society – and societal action – really means something.

We want people and communities to be coming together to share local agendas, tackle problems, and make the most out of their opportunities and assets as a place.

We also want them to have civic pride about where they live – and one part of that is having great free family events, which is something I believe we do well in Oldham.

The Big Bang Bonfire last week, as an example, was attended by a record crowd and – six years after we brought it back and changed its focus and venue – it’s been a huge success.

Despite our ongoing budget challenge we’ve added further free events to the annual calendar this year including OldhamLIVE, Illuminate and this year’s YourOldham festival.

These complement the range of other great family occasions already on offer.

Our Christmas shopping events began with last week’s Reindeer Parade (now in its 20th year) and there’s also the likes of the live@thelibrary and Bookmark Festivals, which have all been attended by big numbers in 2017.

Oldham War MemorialBut one thing I am particularly proud of that we do well in Oldham – working alongside a range of partners, including the local branches of the Royal British Legion – is our annual Remembrance Sunday events and related activities.

This Sunday at 11am thousands of people will fall silent at district services across the borough to remember the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and security. You can find all the details of these local events here.

Residents, uniformed services and representatives of all organisations are invited and encouraged to attend these events and I’d also ask people to again support the RBL’s annual campaign and wear a poppy with pride.

We are now into the third year of commemorative events to mark the centenary years of World War I (1914-18) and there has been a huge effort undertaken to mark this locally. This has been led on our side by Councillor Cath Ball, who is our Deputy Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Cooperatives with special responsibility for WWI and Remembrance, and has done an enormous amount of work behind the scenes on this.

The Oldham Council website has an on-line roll honour here which contains many names of borough residents who have lost their lives serving their country from WWI onwards.

WalteRMillsThere is also going to be a very special event taking place on Monday, December 11 at Oldham Parish Church at 11am.

The borough will be honouring Victoria Cross recipient Walter Mills (PICTURED RIGHT) with a service to mark 100 years since his death at Red Dragon Crater, near Givenchy in France.

The 23-year-old – one of three Oldham recipients of the highest military honour awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” – was on duty when a strong gas attack saw the trenches overwhelmed.

Despite being badly gassed, he stayed at his post and fought the attackers single-handedly, throwing grenades until reinforcements arrived

Whilst being carried away from the scene he sadly died from gas poisoning on 11 December 1917, but it was solely thanks to his efforts that the enemy was defeated and the line remained intact. He was awarded the VC posthumously.

It is stories like these that really bring alive the incredible human costs and heroicism shown in the service of our country.

That’s why it’s so vital that we continue to archive and preserve memories like this so that future generations can learn about them.

oldhamremebersThe Oldham Remembers website – which was created as part of the WWI centenary commemorations – is there to achieve just that.

This is being regularly updated with the stories of soldiers who fought in conflicts, plus images from our past. Please pay it a visit at www.oldhamremembers.org.uk

It may seem a long way off, but in 22 years we will be commemorating the start of the Second World War. The problem is that there will be literally nobody around left to tell their own tales by then, which is why we want to gather them now.

If you have information, stories or tales you wish to submit to this community effort then please contact us via email at oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk

Lest we forget.

Jean

The origins of The Big Bang

BIGBANG2017THE BIG Bang – our hugely-popular civic bonfire – is back in town at Oldham Edge on Thursday evening (November 2).

This is the sixth year we’ve put on this event and in that time it’s provided fantastic free entertainment and fun for thousands of local families.

But there’s also a very serious side to why we do it.

Reintroducing a civic bonfire and fireworks event in 2011 wasn’t just motivated by giving residents something to enjoy (great though that is!), but also by the incredible strain that the bonfire season puts on our blue light services.

There are literally countless examples of the harm that badly organised bonfires and the misuse of fireworks can lead to.

I still find it somewhat odd that for 25 days a year people can go out and buy something that can be so destructive and dangerous in the wrong hands.

There’s always genuine accidents, of course, but anti-social behaviour, illegal and badly planned bonfires and loutish behaviour with fireworks can have serious and devastating consequences.

MitzyPICAs a cat owner (see Mitzy, pictured right) and animal lover, I also know that you don’t need to be Dr Doolittle to understand how petrified many pets are at this time of year.

These are all key reasons why we hold The Big Bang. It is part of our co-ordinated approach with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and partners on the annual Treacle campaign which aims to keep people safe from fires and injuries and nuisance.

The three-week Treacle period is the busiest time of the year for GMFRS. They responded to more than 2,000 incidents in that time last year which ranged from sheds burnt to the ground by wayward fireworks to cars being engulfed in flames by fireworks used inappropriately.

As part of Treacle there’s also now a Fireworks Amnesty which is encouraging people to give up or report dangerous fireworks.

Our firefighters are busy enough normally without this kind of extra strain – as are our A&E departments and police.

It also just makes common sense to attend The Big Bang.

Why bother spending your own money and taking risks with low-calibre fireworks in the back garden, when you can be dazzled by the best fireworks professionals in the UK setting off their high-grade ones in a stunning, totally safe and free display?

Fantastic Fireworks always perform our Oldham Edge display and they’re the UK’s double British Fireworks champions for many reasons. They never fail to deliver a dazzling show and they are at the leading edge of pyrotechnic innovation.

There’s lots more to enjoy at The Big Bang too. I know some people are tempted to just turn up for the fireworks later on, but you really will be missing out if you do.

After the site opens at 5pm you can enjoy a funfair with the kids and foodstalls before we get the stage show underway and light the bonfire at around 6pm.

FlameOz1We’ve got then Flame Oz headlining proceedings. They’ve now performed in more than 40 countries with an amazing ‘glow show’ of fire dancing and juggling that is breath-taking.

A new act this year is Raijin Storm who are ancient Japanese guardians that will be drumming thunderous rhythms with the audience in a brilliant interactive performance.

All this is hosted and MC’d by Elliot Eastwick from our event partners Revolution 96.2 and he will build things up until the final countdown when our prize-winner – a lucky schoolchild – pushes the button to start the fireworks display.

You can even park for nothing too as all Oldham Council-owned town centre car parks will again be free of charge from 3pm on the day.

To find out more, please visit the webpage at www.oldham.gov.uk/bonfire and plan your evening.

And finally – if you want any further information about the Treacle campaign and how to stay safe this autumn – please visit safe4autumn.com

Jean

Big_Bang_A5_DS_Flyer_2017_V5_

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