A promise delivered…

DELIVERED: Celebrating Warehouse to Wheels this week - a new scheme to support people into higher-paid jobs as HGV drivers
DELIVERED: Celebrating Warehouse to Wheels this week – our new scheme supporting people in warehouse work into higher-paid jobs as HGV drivers delivered by Mantra Learning Limited.

OUR PASSION for Oldham and drive to improve the town has been a feature of the majority of my blogs.

I make no apologies for that because I think it’s important that we’re all focused on the job in hand.

Last year we launched 30 pledges for a fairer Oldham in a two-year manifesto.

Once the election was over with, the votes counted and the battered black ballot boxes all stacked up, we went straight on to delivering those promises.

The pledges we set out weren’t just about being re-elected. There are plenty of politicians who believe getting elected is an end in itself, but I am clear that this simply gives you the means to start improving your town.

A vision and ideas are meaningless, however, if you haven’t got a plan for delivering it, so I should start by offering my thanks to staff at Oldham Council and our partners.

Together we’ve brought together our shared ambition in the Oldham Plan and it’s meant that, even in very difficult financial times, we have made serious progress.

Very little, of course, could also be achieved without the support of YOU, the people of the borough: many of whom have agreed that simply managing our town’s decline isn’t the future we want for the next generation.

We’ve demanded better and I hope the following review gives confidence to all that, even when times feel hopeless, we can find hope. Even when we are scared of believing for fear of being let down, we can find the strength to believe. And even when there is so much to distract us we find the wisdom to keep focused on the job in hand.

IQuarterlogoFirstly, we wanted Oldham to be ‘Open for business’ so we set out to support firms to grow and create jobs. Here’s what we’ve done:

First Choice HomesWe wanted Oldham to be a ‘Regenerated borough’. Here’s what we’ve done:

  • Invested in new leisure centres in Oldham and Royton as well as upgrading facilities across the borough;
  • Got busy onsite to deliver your flagship ODEON cinema and restaurants in the Old Town Hall, which will soon be a destination to be proud of;
  • Brought forward key employment sites by working with development partners to secure new jobs, the most significant being at Foxdenton and Hollinwood Junction, both of which are essential for our long term economic success. And we’ve also worked to bring other sites and facilities back into use including the former BAE Systems factory on Greengate;
  • Invested in new primary and secondary school facilities including a special school for children with Autism at Hollinwood Academy. This has ranged from completely new buildings to catching up on important maintenance and upgrades so our young people have the best facilities we can afford;
  • And we’ve invested in redeveloping Royton Town Centre with the announcement of a new supermarket which will compliment work to Royton Town Hall and the precinct.

Get Oldham Working Target

We also wanted Oldham to be a ‘Working Borough’ and so we…

  • Set out to create 2,015 job opportunities by the end of 2015 – and have already smashed that target. That work won’t stop until we not only get people into jobs, but also support them into better-paid and more secure employment. We’ve also helped 70 new businesses get up and running;
  • Supported the expansion of the Primary Engineer and Junior University schemes working in primary schools to inspire our young people;
  • Supported new Enterprise Hubs in every secondary school, encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs. Young people are benefiting from programmes organised by Young Enterprise, and through the involvement of businesses like Jaguar Land Rover, NatWest, Bank of New York and O2;
  • Are on target to deliver our Youth Guarantee for every school leaver by Autumn 2015, which means every young person will have an offer of further education, apprenticeships, a job or support to set up their own business.
  • And are on course to introduce the Oldham Scholarship to help young people go to University.

StMarysWe want this borough to be a ‘Confident Community’ and set out to give Oldham a voice and tackle things which affect our communities by:

  • Leading the way on fairness with the Fair Employment Charter tackling low pay and zero hours contracts. Already 25 local employers have signed up and we’re gaining more all the time;
  • Giving housing priority to those who in work, volunteering or caring because you tell us it matters to support those who are contributing to make Oldham a better place;
  • Introducing the National Living Wage to all council workers by April 2015 and are working hard to make sure our contractors do the same;
  • Continuing to invest in Youth Council support and facilities to give our young people a voice in the future borough they will inherit;
  • On track to open a high street shop to take on expensive weekly payment stores, offering affordable and fair choice to local people;
  • And we’re on track to introduce a Green Dividend to fund new allotments and tree planting projects to communities who work together to create a better Oldham.

We want Oldham to have ‘Safe, Strong and Sustainable Communities’ so we have:

To say so much progress has been made amidst cuts of more than £141 million in the past five years – and your Council Tax has been frozen for the second year running – is nothing short of remarkable.

PollingStationThis will be my last blog before the election period officially begins and council publicity is restricted.

And as we approach the elections on May 7 candidates will no doubt soon be actively seeking your vote.

I won’t use this blog to ask you to vote for any particular political party, but I would like to ask that you do please use your vote, because it does matter.

When any candidates come knocking at your door, my simple advice would be to ask them what they will do to make Oldham a better place.

Regardless of party affiliation, I think we all want a council chamber that is firmly focussed on delivering a better borough.

You deserve nothing less.

Thanks for listening,


Day in the life: Keeping us safe

FOOD SAFETY: Ready to assist on my first ever food safety inspection with Lauren Wood at Country Oven Bakery, Oldham.

I WAS fortunate to be able to spend time working with two of our most important frontline services – our Food Safety and Neighbourhood Enforcement teams – this week.

The phrase ‘unsung heroes’ is often overused, but in both of these cases it is probably an understatement.

Basically their overall remit is to ensure the borough is a safe, healthy and quality environment to live in and it’s fair to say a great majority of residents and businesses act responsibly and look after their communities and premises.

But the work these teams do often also brings them into regular contact with those people who ruin it for everyone else. That makes their work not just frontline, but frontline and then some…

Out and about with our Environmental Health Inspectors on Tuesday morning, my first task was to accompany Lauren Wood (a previous winner of Young Employee of the Year) on an unplanned visit to a local bakery.

Officers in the five-strong Food Safety team inspect all the food businesses in Oldham (nearly 2,000). They take food samples, swab food surfaces, deal with reported food poisoning outbreaks and respond to complaints.

They carry out more than 1,000 visits each year and have the ability to prosecute when conditions are very poor or where businesses are failing to improve. Last year they had eight successful prosecutions of this kind, which is more than any other Greater Manchester authority.

I joined Lauren on a routine unannounced inspection of a premises tucked away behind Huddersfield Road and operated by a brand you’ll probably know from local supermarket shelves: Country Oven Bakery.

This family firm, based in Oldham for over 30 years, has to go above and beyond the basic minimum standard because they are supplying multi-national retailers who have their own standards. That means there is a real tension between getting on with the job – in this case baking over 250,000 items a week – and managing a business.

Mario, the owner, put it best when he told me that: “The days of the council being hard have gone. Now it’s much more of a partnership with advice and support given to help businesses meet the standard.”

That was good to hear but – with our inspection complete – there was no rest for Lauren and the rest of the team who were off to inspect other premises before preparing for a Food Forum: an annual event where food businesses are invited to a Q&A and information session.

If you’d like to check out how a food business near you fared on its latest inspection by this team then you can do so on the Oldham Council website by clicking here.

From seeing food being carefully and hygienically prepared I now went to the extreme opposite – seeing it dumped in alleyways.

This was the second part of my outing: this time alongside Samantha Jackson and Gary Durkin from our Neighbourhood Enforcement Team.

We’ve boosted their numbers recently with an additional seven staff as part of our ‘Changing Behaviours’ project and the team, which is now 13 members strong, investigates a range of issues including air quality, noise, and other ‘nuisances’ such as dust and odours, plus private drainage complaints and complaints about homes with potential vermin or pest infestations.

To give you an idea of how busy they are the team received a staggering 1,053 complaints regarding noise issues alone in the past year – around three a day on average.

Our first stop on Tuesday saw us dealing with one of our perennial problems – the illegal dumping of rubbish – aka fly tipping.

Stopping this is a major priority for the council and these staff are involved in a borough-wide project to tackle it alongside our waste and street scene teams.

Our approach to this problem is based on working with communities in the first instance to ensure they have all the right information and facilities to dispose of waste properly. This will then be backed up by strong enforcement action for those who continue to fly tip and dump their rubbish.

It really irritates me – and it should annoy every tax payer – to see the amount of litter and waste that is dumped in the borough. This filthy disrespect not only makes the town look a mess but it also costs a small fortune to clean it up and the infographic above gives you an idea of how big a problem this is for Oldham Council.

In addition to those seven new education and enforcement officers we’ve also now invested in an additional 10 street cleaners although – whilst we are happy to invest in frontline services, even in very difficult financial times – that money could be far better used on other things.

That morning we had a real live case of fly tipping to deal with.

Officers began sifting through the refuse for evidence of ownership and, under piles of children’s homework and takeaway left overs, we did actually find some information of interest relating to an address. The team will investigate this further and after bagging the waste in the pink/red enforcement bags we moved on again.

Our next stop was just a couple of streets away where we met up with officers from the team who are tackling issues regarding privately owned and rented properties.

The improvement of private sector housing is a priority for the council and this team are central to delivering that. The Selective Licensing of Private Landlords, a new scheme which was approved by Cabinet before Christmas, is just one example of the activity that the team are involved in which aims to not just improve individual properties, but the area as a whole.

There’s a lot of work going on to improve the standard of the environment and good advances have been made, but there’s no doubt that there is still a long way to go in some areas.

The filthy sight that faced us at the back of one particular tenanted property that morning was horrific. It looked like the aftermath of something apocalyptic and was obviously a health hazard.

Unfortunately it wasn’t an isolated scene and as we walked down this row a similar sight greeted us in several insecure back gardens.

The enforcement team are making inroads and work tirelessly to keep up on activity like this but things will only ever really improve when individuals change their ways and the community collectively does their bit too.

Thankfully though, it wasn’t all about muck and mice out with these teams. It’s easy to forget that the eventual outcomes from a typical morning’s unenviable tasks like this are often hugely positive for individuals, neighbourhoods and communities.

These staff are rightly proud of the difference they make, and so am I.

To these genuine unsung heroes – busy keeping our borough clean and safe and taking to task those who put it at risk – I say a huge thank you.

Thanks for listening,


Voting matters

PollingStationWE HOSTED a surprise visit to Oldham last week by the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, who is the Shadow Communities Secretary.

We were delighted to receive him and keen to urge Hilary, as we have done with other parties, to keep the need for urban renewal firmly in mind.

There is a currently lot of debate and discussion nationally about building new homes and that is welcome.

We mustn’t forget, however, that there are large swathes of the country – in particular in the North – where far too many properties remain unfit. Homebuyer demand is weak and that creates fertile ground for some private landlords to buy cheaply and make a killing on rent, often paid for by taxpayers through housing benefit.

We need to rethink how we use public money and use whatever cash is available to invest in long-term decent homes which help to create stable communities.

Simply paying out money year after year to private landlords who don’t invest back into their properties isn’t a good use of money – and it isn’t good for tenants either.

Hilary Benn’s visit coincided with the launch of the unofficial General Election campaigns of all political parties last week. The starting gun for May 7 has already definitely been fired and, whatever your political view of the world, we’re all in for an interesting few months.

The subject of elections is what I want to blog about this week although not the politics behind them (you might be glad to read!), but the actual process.

Since last summer Oldham Council has been working to implement Individual Electoral Registration, which is the government’s new system for registering to vote. With more than 160,000 people eligible to vote across the borough, this is no simple undertaking.

Registering to vote is important. It ensures you can have your say and influence the decisions that affect you, so you need to make sure that you’re on that new electoral register.

The move to a new system was primarily done to reduce electoral fraud, but also to make it easier for people to register, which you can do online now at: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

IER-logo-jpegThe new system requires anyone needing to register to vote to provide their National Insurance number and date of birth. This information is then checked by matching the details to the data held by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Oldham’s electoral register was sent for checking back in June last year and proved to be an 82 per cent match with the data held by the DWP. A local data matching exercise was then undertaken against Council Tax records, which increased that overall figure to 84 per cent.

Following a period of canvassing from July to November last year we have to date now matched 88 per cent of electors under the old system and re-registered them automatically under the new system, which is fantastic.

But that does mean there are still around 7,000 local electors who haven’t been matched under the new system so we are now encouraging these people to come forward.

How are we going to do that? Well, we’ll be writing to every household at the end of January/beginning of February advising them which individuals we have registered at that address and asking them to contact us if the information is incorrect.

If you are not sure if you are registered under the new system then you should call the Elections team on 0161 770 4718 – and will need to provide your National Insurance number and date of birth.

Being registered is vital because anyone who hasn’t registered to vote under the new system by the end of 2015 may receive a fixed penalty notice – so make sure that’s not you(!).

Not being registered could also impact on your life in other ways. It could make it harder for your address to be verified by companies when you’re trying to get a mobile phone contract, for example or a loan or mortgage, because credit reference agencies use the register to confirm where you live

Your democratic right to vote is also, of course, hard fought and important, so please ensure that you are registered and engaged.

Finally this week, I was honoured to attend a commemorative event for the late Councillor Phil Harrison last Friday.

Phil was a dedicated public servant who fought hard to give a voice to those who found it difficult to speak up for themselves.

His portfolio as a Cabinet Member was for social services and community health, and as part of this he led the work for the Link Centre to become a facility for independent living where people with a wide range of disabilities can get advice and support to live independent lives.

I am delighted a suite at the Link Centre has now been named after him. Remembering those who make a difference is important.

Thanks for listening,