Stepping up for Oldham

ENTERPRISE: Oldham's first-ever Student Market was held last Saturday at the Hilton Arcade in a special O Project event
ENTERPRISE: Oldham’s first-ever Student Market was held last Saturday at the Hilton Arcade. The O Project event saw arts, crafts and specialist stalls.

MANY disabled people were left facing an uncertain future when Government funding cuts led to the closure of the Remploy factory last August.

These were workers who had built up many years of loyal service in an environment that was crucial to their lives because they’d previously had difficulty securing work within ‘mainstream’ employment.

Compounding the misery was the fact that the Oldham plant, in Bardsley, had a good reputation.

It made excellent products and it had a healthy order book – but it wasn’t spared the axe.

When former workers and local investors approached Oldham Council with the aim to restart elements of the former business it was fair to say that the hurdles in front of us seemed high.

Many would have turned away at this point but the team led by local businessman Mike Braddock worked with the help of Michael Meacher MP and Councillor Shoab Akhtar, who leads on Business and Skills for us in Cabinet.

This new factory at the Trent Industrial Estate in Shaw – revealed this week – is going to be run by managers who were part of the previous Remploy brand.

That means customers can be assured of the same excellent service whilst also retaining that highly-valued approach to employing people with disabilities and limiting conditions.

The end result is that 22 people will now be employed by 4D Enterprises – and I am pleased for several reasons.

Firstly this is a welcome ray of light against the backdrop of national economic doom and gloom.

Secondly, when Oldham Council was put to the test on its pledge to be ‘Open for Business’ it passed.

And thirdly it also shows that other people in Oldham are also ready to – and really do – step up to the mark when asked.

We’ve also just seen the launch of our first-ever student market in the Hilton Arcade last weekend.

This fine covered walkway, which takes shoppers from High Street to Tommyfield, has always had the obvious potential to offer something different to our town centre and, on Saturday, it showed that in spades.

One of the pupils involved in this is Eric Bishyika who I had the pleasure to meet on my ‘round the town tour’ of all our secondary schools.

Eric took part in the conversation at the new Oasis Academy School on Hollins Road and I was convinced then that this is a young man likely to be a star – and possibly millionaire – in the making.

Having secured a place at the Peter Jones Academy, Eric was already selling clothing from a stall at Afflecks Palace in Manchester.

This is also an idea which came to us by Twitter from a local resident. We then took it to Oldham College, who were already looking at responding to student calls for better facilities in the town centre, and what you see today is the outcome of that.

Thanks to those who are part of the O Project we now have our very own piece of arts, crafts and specialist trading right here in Oldham.

What makes this so important – apart from creating a fantastic reason to visit our town centre – is the spirit of enterprise that it encourages amongst our young people.

Both these stories are evidence that Oldham is beginning to shake itself off and really step up to the mark.

This is going to be an exciting year for our town centre with Metrolink construction completing and works beginning on our flagship cinema and restaurant complex in the Old Town Hall.

And there is much more to come.

Finally – please note –  because of the Alexandra Ward by election taking place on Thursday, May 9, my next blog update will now be posted here on Wednesday, May  15.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Potholes and financial holes

Potholes
POTHOLES: Oldham Council has made repairs to  more than 4,500 highways defects like this in the last year alone.

SOME MONTHS ago I reported on the work that we are doing to address the number of potholes on our Borough’s roads.

Since becoming Leader I have been determined to drive forward our regeneration agenda, but I am also a stickler for getting the basics right too – the everyday things that you and I are paying our Council Tax for.

It’s no surprise whatsoever that potholes continue to dominate any survey that we do of local concerns.

Why? Well, we all feel them. Whether you’re a driver or passenger the smallest bump can irritate and larger ones can drive people mad: myself included.

I’ve made it my business to find the money needed to help us catch up on this, but also to find out why the Council does some things which to normal folk seem, well, odd.

On the money front we knew we needed to find extra funding because the number of potholes has been growing, not reducing – especially with the extreme winter weather we’ve been having.

To address this we made an extra £2 million available. That hasn’t been easy but it was the right thing to do if we were to stand any chance of catching up.

In the past 12 months we’ve now carried out repairs to more than 4,500 highways defects.

That says two things to me. The first is the sheer scale of the challenge, with even more to do, and secondly that our investment is slowly beginning to pay off.

But we also need to be realistic.

We simply don’t have the money to keep throwing millions at potholes.

Once we get on an even kneel with this we need to give more clarity on what we can and cannot do with the dwindling resources available.

As it stands we try and please everyone everywhere – even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes – but spreading limited resources so thinly that nobody sees the benefit doesn’t help anyone.

So as we work to get even on the potholes situation we’re now looking at a new approach whereby we give overall priority to main roads (A and B roads) as our Priority Routes.

The level of service on these routes should be first class because the vast majority of the public are using them on a daily basis.

But I also know that we shouldn’t just be looking at potholes. We should include in this programme works to signage, road markings and street furniture, including basic maintenance like painting and replacing damaged sections. These roads are our ‘shop window’ and we need to get them right.

We will then ensure those potholes which are causing a danger or could give rise to a compensation claim are prioritised. It makes no sense to ignore those potholes which cost us far more in the end through other costs.

We will, of course, aim to repair all potholes. We can’t just leave roads in a state of disrepair, but if we do prioritise main routes we will need to accept that smaller roads and cul de sacs will take longer to sort. That’s not ideal, but it is sensible and it makes the most of a limited budget.

We also know that residents get infuriated when reporting a series of potholes only for the Council to come out and just repair one or two; leaving others which don’t quite meet the required size or depth to warrant immediate action.

I’ve been firm that this is neither efficient nor good for the Council’s reputation and have been assured that staff are now directed to use their discretion and ensure we don’t tie ourselves in rules and red tape when residents simply want a smooth road to drive on.

We’re also not going to let the utility companies off the hook here. Most of them do a good job in fairness, but a sizeable minority don’t and the reinstatement works they leave behind can often cause angst to motorists.

We’re well on with tackling this now with them and have undertaken a system of ‘core sampling’ whereby we drill the repairs to ensure it was completed to the required standard. If it isn’t, we do take action.

I’ll continue updating you on the battle with the potholes in the coming months as we have more information and news on what is a massive national problem.

Study Money
STUDY MONEY: Jim McMahon, Oldham Council Leader pictured at the launch of Oldham College’s excellent ‘Study Money’ scheme

Finally this week I wanted to welcome a fantastic new initiative by Oldham College called Study Money.

This means that from September students from the poorest families will be able to claim £20 a week to help them study and pay for equipment, travel, lunches and stationery.

Since the Education Maintenance Allowance was scrapped we know that young people are finding the costs of education increasingly prohibitive – especially in the current economic climate.

The Study Money offer gives children from low-income families another affordable route into education that otherwise would not have been there for them.

Oldham College is a great partner in terms of our ambitions for Oldham – and how we are actively trying to improve access to the best education opportunities for all our residents – and this is an excellent scheme.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

We don’t just empty your bins…

REGENERATION: Cllr McMahon in Royton this week with Mark Dransfield of Dransfield Properties - this new Co-operative partnership aims to revitalise the District Centre.
REGENERATION: Cllr McMahon in Royton this week with Mark Dransfield of Dransfield Properties - this new Co-operative partnership aims to revitalise the District Centre.

I’M STRUCK by the scale and range of important policy announcements either underway or pending here at present.

One of those is our new Oldham Mortgage scheme which got quite a few responses last week on this blog.

Before tackling specific points raised it’s important to note that some submitted comments weren’t published on here.

To be clear, I take personal responsibility for deciding what is published, and what is not.

Posts are filtered – they don’t automatically just appear for obvious reasons – and there can be a gap of a day or two between me checking them, so please be patient and bear with me.

It’s also important I clarify again that this blog’s function is not a battleground for party political pointscoring. I’m writing here purely as Oldham Council Leader. I’m not allowed to do that, nor do I think it would help.

I’m also not daft enough not to expect criticism, but I do just ask that it is constructive, not party political, and isn’t slanderous or offensive.

There’s plenty of discussion boards available where people can knock the town or swap conspiratorial theories about politicians of all creeds, but I’ve always maintained that’s not the purpose of this site.

Its intention – like my first-ever video blog this week about the budget – at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/budget_speech – is to try and make decision-making more transparent.

On the Oldham Mortgage itself, I first want to explain this is very different from the Government’s own scheme – which is specifically to help people to buy new build homes.

Secondly, some people said we should instead use this money to pay for more social housing.

We’re already on-site now with the delivery of 1,200 such properties, and a further 28 – at the former North House site – were also approved at Monday’s Cabinet meeting.

But we need a range of proposals here because the housing market is very complex and there are several different issues and problems to tackle.

Social housing is just one part of that jigsaw. Everyone’s circumstances are different and there’s no simple ‘one size fits all’ answer that gets the market moving again. We must look across the whole picture to find the right mix of  solutions.

I sensed that some comments submitted on here probably came from a standpoint that basically thinks Oldham Council should restrict its activity to just emptying bins and clearing litter.

But I think that is wrong.

Your Council needs to fulfil a civic leadership role that helps bring partners, businesses and residents together to act for the greater good. If it doesn’t, then who would fulfil that function?

If you look at the agreement we’ve signed with Dransfield Properties this week – in plans to regenerate Royton District Centre – you can hopefully see what I mean.

We’re working with Dransfield to aspire to improve the area and facilities for everyone.

Royton’s a good place to live but the poor quality precinct has let that community down and we have to resolve it. It is simply not fit for a modern town centre.

We’re not rolling over here for a supermarket to just ‘take over’ the centre. Instead, we’re working together with Dransfield to try and deliver a Royton that has a town hall which is a fitting community hub and a thriving market that is the jewel in the crown of a re-invigorated precinct.

Similarly, we’re working alongside the Manchester Hoteliers Association and Oldham College to provide job and training prospects at a new Hotel and Conference centre: facilities the town centre can be proud of.

That is what Oldham Council is really about – not just emptying bins. 

We’re about trying to help get the local economy moving, building a better place to live in, providing housing schemes and assistance, and helping to improve job prospects and facilities.

In some respects we’re clearly behind other places and need to catch up fast.

The speed and scale of our announcements this year may surprise some, but it’s clear we need a major spurt of activity.

Sitting back and doing nothing just isn’t an option for me. It’s not why I’m here.

But equally – to waste time continually talking the place down and knocking it – isn’t why I’m here either.

Thanks for listening,

Jim