Firstly I’d like to say well done to the winners and shortlisted nominees at the 11th Pride in Oldham awards which were held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week.
The awards celebrate the great work of volunteers, community workers and businesses who are working to improve the borough. Each year the awards gets higher recognition and I know from speaking to many just how firm a fixture it has become in the calendar of community life in Oldham.
This year the council sponsored the Love Where You Live award for those making a difference to community and cooperation in the borough. The winners were the Friends of Crompton Moor for their work to improve Crompton Moor for future generations but in reality any of the individuals or groups nominated would have been worthy winners.
One notable new addition to the Oldham community scene is Oldham Foodbank who won the Community Group award. The Foodbank, set up on Clegg Street last year, has so far helped 700 Oldham families and local people have really got behind the great work they do. Although it is shameful that Britain in 2013 needs food banks let’s not take away from the volunteers the sheer amount of work that goes into making the Foodbank work.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event this year as I was speaking at the Local Government Conference on a number of issues facing local government. I find conferences boring and usually avoid at all costs, but after a five year absence this conference was the tonic I needed. Hearing about so much good work from other local councils has given me some ideas to bring back to Oldham.
I was really encouraged to hear from the Leader of Plymouth Council about the work being done to set up economic community development trusts to regenerate areas of the city. The approach of bringing community and voluntary representatives together to bring about economic benefit in their area – putting the future of those areas in the hands of those affected – makes complete sense.
I also heard from the Deputy Leader of Liverpool about their work to boost local credit unions in order to tackle doorstep lenders in the city. This is work we need to take on board in Oldham on the back of our campaign against illegal loan sharks – although unfortunately not all sharks are illegal.
During my contribution I spoke about the work we are doing on campaigns such as Fair Energy and Fairs Fare. We have made great progress on those – delivering savings on energy bills and bus travel – but we have more to do including our plans to take on high interest retailers such as Brighthouse and Perfect Home and offer a real alternative in the borough.
The lesson from our campaigns is that when we listen to people and take action on things that strike at the heart of fairness we begin to make a real difference.
The proof of that is in our residents satisfaction levels which will be published next week in full. In 2008 Oldham ranked as the worst performing council in the country with just 22% of residents believing the council provided good services and good value for money.
I believe that the increase which you will see next week is a direct result of our ambition to become a cooperative borough with an outward and challenging council.
We often have to make tough and unpopular decisions and that can mean we are put in difficult situations we’d rather not be in, but I believe, today more than ever, that after a decade of disconnect the people of Oldham are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt.
With that comes a great responsibility and one that I take on personally.
Thanks for listening.