Healthcare devolution: we all have a part to play

Last week saw a major step forward in the push for decisions to be made locally.

At the start of the week the news broke that plans to devolve decisions over healthcare in the region were imminent. And then on Friday came the ground-breaking announcement of plans to bring together health and social care budgets worth £6 billion.

This puts local people firmly in control of future health and care services that suit the region.

I am clear decisions made about services which effect people should be made by, or as close to that community as possible, and have democratic accountability.

We must now use the next 12 months during the ‘transitional stage’ to involve local people, health professionals and ALL councillors in the changes that will follow.

In many respects the changes all get obsessed about (governance) but most people don’t give much attention to them, they just want it to work. When they need social care or health treatment they rightly expect the system to work.

But there are too many stories of people falling through the gaps between services, departments and the complex number of organisations. Any sense that the NHS is ‘one’ today is very far from reality. It’s complicated and while in some cases that might be for good reason, for the public they just want a system that puts them first.

We all have our own ambitions for this and together with my own desire to see services formed around people, not institutions. I also want to see an equal relationship between the government, the public, NHS staff and other public services.

Success for me would be to see the hardworking employees who provide in home care for mainly older people treated with the same respect as those caring in hospitals. Decent wages and terms and conditions will mean they can be held by members of the public in the same respect and admiration as NHS staff (quite rightly) have earned.

Here’s what the deal says:

The deal sees NHS England, 12 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, 15 NHS providers and the 10 local authorities, including Oldham, agreeing a framework for health and social care – with plans for joint decision-making on integrated care to support physical, mental and social wellbeing.

This is an early step on the road for the devolution of decisions and budgets to regional level and it is welcome. By devolving power away from the distant Whitehall civil servants to locally accountable councillors and health and social care professionals we believe we can create a better and more efficient way to deliver services that are arranged around people, not institutional silos. Health and Social Care has some of our best and highly-regarded frontline workers and they, like us, recognise there are gaps in the current system which can only be resolved through true integration.

We need to balance this opportunity though. It is all too easy to get carried away into building more layers of bureaucracy and slowing down a system that is already under pressure to the point of breaking. It is also vital that we don’t rush into expensive reorganisations and restructures – that would be a big mistake.

We need to go into this with our eyes and ears open. We need to listen to the public and ensure that their needs and voices are part of the ongoing discussions. We also need to keep our eyes open as leaders and make sure we have the full picture so we can make vital decisions on a crucial part of people’s care – now and in the future.

There is a lot to be said for ‘better together’ and here in Greater Manchester we can be proud of what we have achieved by working together.  We have one of the best tram systems in Europe and many leading institutions such as the BBC and the Imperial War Museum have chosen to locate here.

We must be clear, however, about the major challenges still facing us.

As a conurbation our local economy under-performs compared to similar areas in the rest of Europe. We actually receive more from central government than we currently raise in taxes and too many of those who could contribute to our success choose to make their futures elsewhere.

The ongoing discussion about an elected mayor and devolution for Greater Manchester needs to be firmly focused on addressing these key concerns – and how we can help create prosperity locally.

The Combined Authority working in real partnership will have a budget of billions of pounds. It cannot be a talking shop and it has to be clearly very accountable to the public.

The real opportunity is that locally we can begin to exert more control over the billions spent in Greater Manchester by unaccountable national quangos and ensure that our housing and employment programmes can meet real local needs.

The public aren’t calling for more politicians – there’s no public appetite for that – and it’s absolutely right that we’re incorporating the existing Police and Crime Commissioner role, saving money and avoiding duplication.

With a £50 billion economy and a population of 2.7 million, Greater Manchester has led the national debate on political devolution from Westminster.

There was a tipping point on the devolution debate. A point where the assumption was in favour of devolution over Whitehall control was accepted as the norm. I believe with this announcement we’ve seen the tipping out.

And if the assumption is devolution we now need to look at other areas where Whitehall has failed to reform services. I’ll put a marker down for the Department for Work and Pensions right now.

Our task now is to take the people with us and create a city region leadership that can contribute to our economic success and a brighter future for all our residents.

More information about last week’s announcement can be viewed online at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority website at:
http://www.agma.gov.uk/gmca/gmca-devolution-agreement1/caring-for-gm-together/index

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Edited.

We are getting a Mayor – Like it, or not!

DEVOLUTION: The deal to bring new powers to Greater Manchester is a decent starting point - not the end game.
DEVOLUTION: This week’s deal is a decent starting point for Greater Manchester – not the end game.

DEVOLUTION to Greater Manchester has not arrived overnight.

This has truly been a hard fought process, so it would be churlish of me not to reflect, first of all, that this is a momentous week.

As the great and good – and myself(!) – travelled to Manchester Town Hall on Monday we were still reviewing the very last minute details of the ‘deal’ with Government which was to go before us all for final agreement.

For Greater Manchester this means more power will now be in the hands of those who directly represent the community.

For local government it also means that the devolution debate has now finally moved on.

My own view is this package of £1 billion pounds of financial devolution across a range of responsibilities represents good progress.

But it should really only be considered a decent starting point – and it is certainly not the end game.

Why? Well, it’s important to put that £1bn into context for starters.

Over the life of the current settlement this is actually less than the budget cuts that are faced by Greater Manchester councils, which will stand at around £1.2bn.

The package of new powers coming down to us on housing, transport, skills and the economy – as well as health – is also a good foundation to build on.

But that, of course, is only the case provided that this is genuine devolution and not some poisoned chalice whereby cuts coming further down the line are a sweeter pill for the Treasury to swallow because someone else now has to make the tough decisions needed.

I’m thinking, as an example, about the funding of adult skills: an area where colleges are already struggling incredibly hard to balance the books in the face of constant change.

Since the establishment of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in 2011 it has become apparent that simply bolting on new structures, committees and changing job titles is not the way for us to run an efficient organisation.

But in a drive to remove layers and modernise we must also not create a distant elite.

The role of all councillors in Greater Manchester in contributing and holding to account the work of the City Region is especially vital if we are to get more responsibilities.

For me, the move to a directly-elected mayor with responsibility for the whole of the city region is not an answer in itself. But if this is used to clean up a confusing and disjointed system then it could well give the people of Greater Manchester the ability to hold those making decisions on their behalf to account.

We must be very clear, however, to all members of the public about what this organisation does and how much it costs too.

People know how much the police costs them because, like the Fire and Rescue Authority, it appears on their Council Tax bills.

They also know how much the Waste and Transport Authorities cost because they also appear as a levy to each council.

Each body knows its budget and sticks to it.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, operating through the Combined Authority, needs to have that same level of accountability and openness about the true cost of this new layer of local government.

And it cannot be right that to fund this new office each council should have to cut their own budgets further to fund a whole new army of civil servants, special advisors and the like.

Equally there will also be understandable fears that the identity of each district may be diluted – Manchester Borough of Oldham anyone? – or the different needs of each town may be lost in a bid to bring us all closer together.

That’s why I believe that protection of the sovereignty of each council is absolutely vital here if we’re serious about this being a process that sees powers drawn further down, rather than each council giving power up and taking it even further away from the communities it serves.

Personally I remain unconvinced there is a public appetite for another politician, directly elected or otherwise, to take charge across the City Region.

I also take exception to the imposition of this deal by an appointed Chancellor who, let’s not forget, controls £732 billion and is forcing a directly-elected Mayor on Greater Manchester for a price of just £1bn, which is 0.13 per cent of UK Government spend.

The real battle here though isn’t about convincing politicians of the merits of this deal, it’s about explaining it and showing the merits to the public.

I’d say that will only happen if we show what good can be achieved as the answer to the ‘so what?’ question.

For this deal to ultimately succeed we must build on it very quickly and continue the fight to get as much fiscal devolution as possible – because power without resources is actually no power at all.

There’s no denying these are fascinating times, however, and there’s little doubt that the prospect of being the Mayor of Greater Manchester with its £50 billion economy and its 2.5 million people represents a fantastic role which should attract a credible field of potential candidates.

But, please, let’s hear no more of this talk about GM getting our own ‘Boris’. That,

I suspect, could put off even the most harded supporter of regional mayors.

RESPONSIBLE LENDERS: Oldham Credit Union offers access to fair and straightforward financial services.
RESPONSIBLE LENDERS: Oldham Credit Union offers access to fair and straightforward financial services.

To finish on a different note, I also wanted to let people know about the activity taking place across our borough this week to tackle the problem of illegal money lenders (aka loan sharks) in the run up to Christmas.

Oldham Council is working with Greater Manchester Police and the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) encouraging people of all ages to celebrate the festive season without falling prey to local loan sharks.

We want to raise awareness of the dangers borrowers face, not only in terms of the high interest repayments, but also the all-too-often extreme collection methods that are used, including violence, threats and intimidation. These illegal lenders are a blight on our neighbourhoods and communities – and are not welcome in a co-operative borough like Oldham.

We also want to ensure people know that there are responsible lenders available out there, such as the Oldham Credit Union (OCU).

Anyone can sign up to the OCU which offers residents access to fair and straightforward financial services, including secure savings and affordable loans.

This week also sees the start of two exciting new OCU initiatives. In partnership with Villages Housing, it will be launching a Community Collection Point at Fitton Hill and also a Junior Savings Club at Beever primary school.

I wish both schemes the best of luck and strongly encourage people in those communities to get behind them. For more information about OCU log onto www.oldhamcreditunion.co.uk or call 0161 678 7245.

Please don’t get bitten this Christmas. And if you think a loan shark may be operating in your area call the confidential hotline on 0300 555 2222.

And finally – just a quick reminder…

Please get yourself and your loved ones along to The Big Bang on Oldham Edge for a real treat on Bonfire Night. This is a great free family event for Oldham and you can find all the information you need by clicking here.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Putting energy into things that make a difference

FAMILIES are feeling the pinch more than ever right now.

In many cases they are facing rising household costs but declining income and – very soon – thousands will also be hit by reductions in benefits.

As a Council we have been working hard to do as much as possible to try and reduce the impact of this for people.

We’ve come up with a local Council Tax discount scheme which is designed to protect the most vulnerable whilst investing in job creation – long term planning that is much-needed in Oldham if we are to turn our economy around.

We are now also looking at what we can do in other areas to help free up money and cushion your household income.

The Get Me Toasty campaign to install energy-saving measures in homes free of charge has got off to a great start, saving real money for many local people.

A few weeks ago we then also launched a new campaign to try and reduce the cost of public transport, as outlined recently on this blog by Councillor Sean Fielding.

Now we have launched another money-saving campaign for you – but from a very different angle.

Whereas those other schemes are about Oldham Council doing things for you, it is now time to do things with you in the form of our new Energy Co-operative.

By pulling together people in this Borough would have huge potential buying power as a group.

Almost 100,000 households spend many millions of pounds each year on the things we can’t do without – but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it for less money.

Oldham Council has got together with Ichoosr, a specialist in the collective buying of energy who have already run very successful schemes in the Netherlands and Belgium.

How does it work then?

The idea is simple. If you want to come together as a Borough and form a buying cooperative we will assist by taking this bulk contract to the energy companies and asking them to bid for the work in an auction.

The lowest price offered will get the contract – and you will get the saving.

On average we expect each household to save around £150 a year which, when added to our energy saving programme Get Me Toasty, means up to £500 a year back into your pocket.
Please visit the Oldham Council website now to register your interest.

Have a look at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/info/200706/fuel_co-operative for more information and note that you are under absolutely no obligation to switch suppliers.

I must close this week by saying a massive well done to everyone involved in Oldham winning the ‘Best City’ category in Britain in Bloom 2012.

This is an absolutely huge prize for our Borough and also great recognition that when the Council works closely with the local community and businesses, the end product can be truly remarkable.

I must, obviously, also highlight the work of our parks team who are a real jewel in our Civic crown and work extremely hard day in, day out.

Ours is a beautiful Borough, although not every neighbourhood has a stunning Pennine view.

When we met the RHS judges earlier in the year we told them why this competition was so important to Oldham.

But we see an award like this as another significant part of the work we are doing to attract inward investment. We need recognition like this nationally to help change the perception of our borough.

Inevitably there will be some people who will ask why Oldham Council is funding projects like this at a time when it says it has no money (indeed, some already have on Twitter in some very choice language!).

My answer to that is simple. To attract investment we need to make Oldham a place where people want to live and work – not one where people feel they have no choice but to be.

We need to showcase Oldham and prove that we invest in our Borough in order to convince others that the place is a sound investment.

Ultimately, if we are serious about creating the conditions for growth and attracting investment, we have to up our game.

A major national award like this shows we’re making good progress, but there is no room for complacency and still plenty to do.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Focus and delivery: Building a better future

EXPANSION: Paul Naylon, NOV Mono's Managing Director, shakes on the Greengate deal with Jim McMahon, Council Leader
EXPANSION: Paul Naylon, NOV Mono’s Managing Director, shakes on the Greengate deal with Jim McMahon, Council Leader

WITH THE start of the new Civic Year this week it is vitally important that Oldham Council’s focus and agenda are clear from the outset.

I make no apologies for reiterating that this means we need to send out the clearest possible message that Oldham is not just open for business, but also deadly serious and proactive about attracting inward investment.

Our focus in these times as a Co-operative Council is simple. It’s about doing our bit on regeneration, job creation and delivering real opportunities that improve people’s lives and help them into work.

That’s why I was delighted to be able to confirm today a deal that sees Nov Mono – an internationally recognised pump manufacturer – relocating here to Oldham.

The firm, currently based in Audenshaw, is taking the former BAE Systems site at Greengate, Chadderton, in a move that will see it expand and increase its manufacturing capacity with the potential for it to be home to more than 1,000 jobs.

That site has a proud history – not least as the production line of the Lancaster Bomber – and it was absolutely vital that it remained an industrial hub.

Oldham Council has worked proactively within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) to pull together a package that ensures this could be done quickly.

This was crucial work not just for our Borough but also in terms of ensuring this firm and its jobs were not lost to the region.

This news also comes just days after Global Draw, one of the biggest global gaming machine operators, announced it is planning a major expansion at Broadway.

Deals like this are just the start, of course, but they are clear indications that businesses are starting to see Oldham as a place to invest.

Our new Cabinet line-up, approved by Annual Council on Wednesday, is another important step in this work.

Crucially it sees Councillor Shoab Akhtar becoming the new dedicated Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and the Town Centre. This is a new portfolio and he is the ideal person with the energy and commitment to make a vital contribution.

Shoab’s task is to not only ensure we capitalise on Metrolink but also to drive the business and employment agenda, work to promote the Borough’s markets, and oversee the vital offer we provide in terms of post-16 education.

As Council Leader I will continue to direct our national and city relationships and our overall regeneration strategy but having this new support will undoubtedly assist me in bolstering our focus on these clear priorities across all that we do.

We know from ongoing conversations with potential investors and business outside our Borough that they believe it is vital they can see our commitment to this agenda – and that they can deal quickly and directly with dedicated people to get results.

Finally – continuing on that regeneration theme – there is a hugely important event taking place next Tuesday (May 29) at which residents can go back into the Old Town Hall for the first time in almost two decades.

Back in March we appointed BDP to come up with a scheme to bring this building back into use. This is the first result of that work.

You can come along on the day at any time between 12.30pm and 7pm to view and comment on the new drawings and proposals that they have come up with.

This is a really fantastic opportunity for us to correct two things that people have rightly moaned about for years on doorsteps across the Borough – the desperate need for a cinema facility, and to transform the Old Town Hall back to a symbol of civic pride rather than neglect.

By using this historic Grade-II listed building for this purpose (plus restaurants) we have a great chance here to create something so much better than those out-of-town developments elsewhere that lack character.

The potential impact of delivering this for our town centre – making it a destination for families to visit and enjoy leisure time – is clear to everyone.

There is a lot at stake here in terms of our future. That’s why I would urge as many of you as possible to please take a few minutes next Tuesday to come along and give some serious feedback and momentum to these plans.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Financial tightrope: the balancing act

OLDHAM COUNCIL: The Local Authority must find £24 million in savings from its budget for 2012/3 budget
OLDHAM COUNCIL: The Local Authority must find £24 million in savings from its budget for 2012/3

A COUNCIL budget should reflect the values and priorities of your residents.

That’s a good starting point, but it doesn’t make the task any easier.

In recent days we’ve been putting the final touches on proposals to find £24m in savings from the 2012/3 settlement, and I’m the first to admit that it is a struggle.

Finding savings on that scale is demanding and I don’t kid myself it’s going to get any easier.

In an ideal world we wouldn’t be making some of the tough proposals that we are – but there simply is no hiding from them.

I’m also mindful of my responsibilities as Council Leader to produce a balanced budget. If we don’t, the Government will intervene and take decisions for us – and in a manner unlikely to take account of local sensitivities – so we must press on.

Around £70 million has already been taken out of Oldham Council’s budget in the last two years and the process gets harder each time.

This year has been the most difficult to date and the next couple of years will just be even harder. There are no easy options left.

We must simply try to do the best that we can to stay true to our priorities and values in what we choose.

Rather than just salami slicing the budget – i.e. telling each area to shave the same amount from each of their services – we’re trying be holistic.

That means reviewing absolutely everything the Council does and changing the way that it does business, but it’s a lengthy process.

There is, for example, a lot of joint-working across AGMA authorities to find savings from economies of scale. If done properly these will deliver significant savings in the long run.

But dealing with nine other authorities is complex. It requires detailed planning and negotiations, and won’t happen overnight.

We’re also looking at all our contracts and procurement but – again – unravelling existing arrangements cannot happen quickly and we’re also mindful that rushing the process could mean your final savings are potentially much smaller and important opportunities are lost.

The financial climate has changed beyond all recognition and we’re going to have to be extremely creative in how balancing budgets and yet still ‘pump-priming’ to translate our ambitions to be a Co-operative Council so that it genuinely enables residents to help themselves do more in their areas, makes resources available to communities – and businesses – and properly supports those people who want to do more.

Even in the national days of comparative ‘milk and honey’ of the previous decade Oldham’s economy failed to achieve significant growth.

Now that the days of grant funding and big European cheques are well and truly gone the only body able to take up the cudgel of regeneration is Oldham Council.

We can’t do it alone, of course. We need to act alongside local businesses and partners to find mutually-beneficial schemes and purpose, but fundamentally that’s why we’re reserving some budget funding to help big projects get started.

I make no apologies for that because if your focus is narrowly obsessed with just balancing a budget then you offer little – if any – hope for the future.

Last week we took our budget plans to a cross-party scrutiny panel and they came back with no single recommendation for change.

The most contentious of the proposals was to revise Council staff terms and conditions of employment. This has been developed through our ongoing budget consultation with employees and Trade Unions.

We’re proud of the positive dialogue we’re having with them and the reason for looking at Ts and Cs – and, for example, whether we should end sick pay for the first three days – is straightforward.

Staff themselves told us that if this is the alternative to making further job cuts then it must be considered. 

At that cross-party meeting I was quizzed about the hypothetical process ahead if employees rejected the changes to their Ts and Cs. The answer I gave – that you would need to dismiss and re-engage staff – was completely theoretical. At no point did I say that this is what we intend to do.

Politicians try to pre-empt what people will think and want, but it’s not an easy science.

In these budget proposals there are measures which I openly admit to being nervous about.

But for this to be a genuine consultation we must include measures like this – which may be unpalatable to some – at the earliest possible stage. If we didn’t do that, the process would neither be honest nor fair.

We’ll continue to face similar challenges in the coming years and I’m not prepared to hide budget options and then sneak them through a back door at the eleventh hour. That’s not my style.

Staff at the Council have already been through difficult enough times and I want to continue engaging by being able to look them squarely in the eyes.

Thanks for listening,

Jim