This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.
Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.
This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.
Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.
So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.
In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.
Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.
To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.
We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.
With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.
We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.
The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.
As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.
This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.
There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.
This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.
We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.
We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.
We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.
When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.
We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.
I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.
People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.
And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.
It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.
YESTERDAY was an important day for thousands of parents and children across Oldham.
‘National Offer Day’, as it is now known, is when mums and dads find out which school their child will be starting their secondary education at next September.
In our borough, like everywhere else, we’ve seen a significant increase in the numbers of school age children needing places in recent years.
We take our responsibility to ensure that each child gets a school place very seriously, but it is no easy task.
Putting aside the reality that it is never possible to grant every parent’s preference, this legal duty (as the cross-party Local Government Association has warned this week) could soon become “undeliverable” in many areas.
Significant population growth means many secondary schools are now already at or above capacity nationwide.
Last year local authorities had to provide around 2.75m secondary school places, but that is set to rise to 3.28m by 2024. These are huge numbers and pressures.
Under the Government’s rules, all new schools to help cope with this demand must be “free schools”, created outside of local authority control.
And – to be clear – we are fully committed to working with Vicky Beer, the Regional Schools Commissioner for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, to help to find good quality local sponsors for new schools in our area.
But I also agree with the LGA’s call for councils themselves to be able to open new schools, and to require academies to expand to meet local demand, where necessary.
There are now fewer and fewer schools under the direct control of councils. It’s surely common sense that local authorities are well placed to act to ensure school places can be created on time – and in the right places. If we are to be tasked with ensuring sufficient school places we need to have more flexibility and influence in the system to have any realistic prospect of delivering that capacity.
Here in Oldham we’ve been seeing a significant increase in demand for places for some time and we have taken the necessary actions.
First, we put a better forecasting method in place looking at all available data on births, housing and new arrivals so we can plan ahead.
Secondly, we got on with an expansion programme to provide extra capacity. That includes plans to boost primary places with a new three-form entry school on the former Grange School site, plus the expansion of places in Failsworth, Hollinwood and Lees.
Last week we also saw planning approval granted for a new Saddleworth School that will increase pupil numbers from 1,350 to 1,500 – and plans are also about to go out to statutory consultation to double the capacity at Greenfield primary with a new build two-form entry school.
So, how have we done this year with the provision of secondary school places?
Out of 3,468 applications received some 2,773 (80 per cent) of applicants got their first-choice school preference and, in total, 93 per cent of all applicants got one of their first three (from six) choices.
These figures are not unusual and pretty static as a trend. The number of parents applying for certain local secondary schools as their first choice exceeds the number of pupils they can take every year.
I’ve said from the outset that the education and skills offer here in the borough is a key focus for my leadership, and every bit as vital to our future as physical regeneration.
So I was interested this week when Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, warned Greater Manchester that the region’s poor performing secondaries could “choke” the Northern Powerhouse vision.
I do hope that this was at least a recognition that local authorities need to have a strong role in school improvement, whatever the type of school, because we actually have less influence than ever before.
This is not about councils wanting to directly control academies or free schools, we know that’s not going to happen, but it is about being able to intervene for the good of local communities when schools are not performing.
It cannot be right that all the responsibility for performance can fall upon councils without us having the appropriate powers to act.
I welcome the calls now for discussion about us having a specific GM Schools Commissioner who would work with a Further Education Commissioner to give more focus on local need and deliver closer coordination between schools and post-16 education.
We are, of course, doing everything we can to meet the challenge of ensuring no child is without a school place in Oldham – but that’s only part of the battle.
The bigger picture is to implement the recommendations of the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report so that every child can not just get a place, but can get one at a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ local school – and have the best chance of fulfilling their full potential.
It’s been a good week for Oldham with the news that we’ve signed another major inward investment deal – bringing yet more jobs and money to the local economy.
Landmark deals like this one are usually the result of considerable time and effort by officers and this one is no exception.
Last year the Jardine Motors Group, a major Audi dealership, approached us about the availability of the old Westhulme Hospital site off Chadderton Way.
They had identified it as a perfect fit for their plans to build a 17-car showroom with a 24-bay service workshop and to create a hub that can support all of their existing businesses across the region.
The site was owned by the NHS Trust and we knew it was surplus to requirements so officers in our regeneration team set to work with them to see what could be done.
The upshot – subject to planning permission – would be a new Audi dealership that will represent an investment of around £8 million into the borough.
Not only does that mean another major brand has chosen to have a presence in Oldham, it’s also good news in so many other ways.
It will mean the creation of around 87 new skilled jobs and Jardine have also signed up to our Get Oldham Working campaign which means they’ve committed to working alongside our colleges and supply chains to create even more new local opportunities.
That makes this a ‘win win’ for everyone – and every extra bit of business rates income will, of course, also help the council in the face of our ongoing financial pressures.
That is timely as Monday saw the release of the final Local Government finance settlement, which is official confirmation of exactly what funding we will get from Government for the 2016/7 financial year.
Tomorrow night (Thursday) we will be taking the final proposed tranche of cuts for that year of around £16.1m to Cabinet.
Getting to this stage has meant making a series of tough decisions: the vast majority of which neither myself nor my colleagues would willingly want to make.
Part of the final proposals also mean that your Council Tax will increase next year.
Two per cent of that rise is because the Government – by its own admission – simply isn’t giving us enough to help tackle the spiralling costs in social care.
Their solution to this has been to conveniently give all councils a new option to put their Council Tax up by 2 per cent to fund that gap (it doesn’t do that at all, by the way).
I understand every Greater Manchester council – like the vast majority across the country – will be taking this option, but it is still a bitter pill.
Essentially the Government is passing the blame for this funding cut and problem down to us – and then leaving us to pass it on to your bottom line.
Since 2009 we’ve now had to find a total of £176 million in cuts from our budget and February has become a time of year that we all dread.
The decisions get harder each time and so, undeniably, does the impact on residents and your frontline services.
Our final proposals will go next to Full Council (Budget) on Wednesday, February 24, for approval.
The meeting will, as usual, be broadcast live on our website, but I can’t promise it will make for happy viewing(!).
Although the day of rest had its origins in religion many people with no creed at all greatly value the time they get to spend with their families – or simply to relax away from the pressures of work.
The devolution of Sunday trading powers was a surprise to those of us involved in Greater Manchester’s deal with government.
We hadn’t asked for it and therefore we couldn’t carry out any kind of local consultation about how the power might be used before the announcement came.
With the devolution machine moving quickly the range of powers, responsibilities and the very important fair funding settlement hasn’t been clearly laid out.
The speed and nature of devolution locally has also led many people to ask who is making these decisions and what say do they actually have in it?
Extending Sunday trading opening times has the potential to be contentious even though, by and large, it has not been much of an issue over the last decade.
When council leaders met to discuss the proposed devolution of Sunday trading there wasn’t a big appetite for change, but there was an agreement that the economic case must be clearly demonstrated: as well as taking into account the wide range of views for and against.
This could be a good opportunity for Greater Manchester to show that there is a real difference when powers are devolved away from Whitehall to a more local level.
So what might that difference be?
Well, GM has already begun the process of commissioning independent research to explore the economic case of extended Sunday trading. It would have made sense for this to be a wider review from the outset, but it still isn’t too late to build on this.
There’s a chance the review will simply conclude that there isn’t a compelling economic argument to extend trading hours at all. In which case I suspect the matter won’t go any further.
But there is also a chance, of course, that the review will suggest there are economic benefits and those need to be considered.
The GM difference, however, must be that we fully consider community, society and the rights of workers in this debate. This is not part of the assessment remit so far, but it simply cannot be ignored.
Usdaw, the respected trade union which represents many shopworkers the length and breadth of the country, is keen to make sure that those people working in shops have a voice in the debate too.
They have carried out important surveys which show the strength of feeling of many staff who don’t want to be pressured into working hours which will further impact on family life.
There’s a real opportunity here for Greater Manchester to show that there is a positive difference in how we tackle important issues and decisions like this.
Why don’t we set up a GM Sunday Trading Commission with representation from all of those who are affected by it? By including civil society, religious groups, trade unions and other retailers – like convenience store operators – we would have a much more active and representative debate: and better decision making.
We can’t go on repeating the mistakes already made by a disconnected – and often disinterested – Whitehall.
We can and must show that we will involve all those affected by the decisions we take and will give people a genuine voice in debates like this.
PUBLIC sector cuts are biting and hurting the very fabric of our community.
When all that drives decisions is the rush to cut costs there will be consequences for residents and other public services.
Consultation has now ended on the Government’s proposals to close 91 courts and merge a further 31 across England and Wales.
This includes plans to close both Oldham Magistrates Court and Oldham County Court.
The rationale is narrow and focused solely on the departmental budget of the Ministry of Justice with little or no thought given to the knock-on effects this will have.
Firstly, access to justice and the right to be judged by our peers is a fundamental right of British citizens.
The more that the legal system removes itself from the communities it is there to serve the less likely you will be judged by your peers.
Secondly, the cost of our justice system is not met solely by the Ministry of Justice.
The judges and courts might be the supporting infrastructure but the impact is far wider.
For the police and local councils supporting victims, giving evidence and delivering well-informed and fairly balanced verdicts, the costs are considerable.
Relocating the court from Oldham to Tameside or Manchester adds significant travel and waiting times.
This is not free time but a real cost to the public purse. It also means officers will be tied up longer meaning either more resources will be required or cases and investigations backlog – or even worse cases begin to collapse.
Looking at a judicial system solely from an estates point of view is wrong and misjudged.
Group Leaders in Oldham across all political parties have come together to fight the proposal.
We don’t believe that closing the two courts has been properly considered and of course we have an eye on the wider economic impact: the loss of public facilities, the loss of footfall in the town centre and the potential that some legal firms may also choose to relocate.
We know more than most about the pressures to balance your books and that’s why we offered a counter proposal, which you can read here.
By bringing together the County and Magistrates courts into one building they can reduce operating costs and dispose of the redundant building but continue to offer access to justice to our communities.
We hope this plan is considered properly, but I fear it may not be.
Will a Whitehall official really take the time to look at a little town like Oldham?
Will we get lost in the consultation that covers the whole of England and Wales?
If the consultation is a genuine one then our counter proposal should hold weight.
We aren’t being stubborn here – we are showing maturity.
There is a wider question that in the new ‘Northern Powerhouse’ surely we locally should be making these decisions, not someone locked away in Whitehall?
Devolution can only work if it rests on strong foundations. With the cuts coming much quicker than the cash promised through devolution the very foundations it relies upon may quickly give way.
OLDHAM town centre is continuing to grow in confidence with an impressive and growing range of new shops, restaurants and attractions for people of all ages.
If Marks & Spencer signing the deal to come to Oldham last November was a symbolic pointer towards a brighter future then T J Hughes’ welcome return is another big boost to our morale.
For too long local people could only watch on helplessly in recent times as the town centre they knew started to change and the doom and gloom of decline set in.
As with many other towns, the new world of online retail, changing shopping habits and national economic pressures meant far too many stores were closing and leaving large gaps on our High Street.
I’m not trying to suggest that Oldham is sorted yet – not at all – but I do think there is enough happening now to give us all grounds for hope.
This all makes me think back to the time when I visited a small town on holiday and started speaking enthusiastically about it to a local resident.
I began the conversation by saying how envious I was of them having the view they enjoyed every time they open their front door.
But the conversation quickly turned into a busman’s holiday as he began telling me all the problems he perceived with the place: from bins not being emptied to the water charges soon to be introduced.
I have the same perspective problem myself at times; and perhaps more than most given the job I do.
I too tend to notice the shop that has closed, rather than the surrounding units which are open. I also tend to notice the broken paving slabs, not the metres of perfectly finished surface I’ve just unconsciously strolled across.
Taking time to pause and reflect on that can be good for the soul. It gives you a clearer sense of perspective about what is good and clarity about what actually needs to improve.
Last week I joined the hundreds of folk who visited the re-opened TJ Hughes and – yes, after leaving with the mandatory Vax Carpet Cleaner (!) – thought to myself that I hadn’t seen the shopping centre feel that busy for a long time.
TJ’s are also not alone in showing faith is what is now happening in our town centre.
We’ve recently welcomed the likes of the Entertainer Toy Store, Warren James Jewellery, Pep & Co and Ethel Austin in joining our line-up of main brand shops – and that’s as well as fantastic new independent retailers such as Suits Scoots and Boots.
The thing that excites me most though is when Oldhamers themselves set up shop here.
They know more than most people about our town centre and clearly many are recognising that something really positive is happening.
Right now we have potential clients literally queuing up for assistance to join the Independent Quarter – to the extent that we need extra staff just to deal with the enquiries and grant support.
Newly-opened restaurants like Jack’s Smokehouse and The Smoke Yard are the latest additions heading what is going to be an impressive list of people who believe that now is the time to invest here.
I can also tell you that ahead of the opening next year of the Old Town Hall with its seven cinema screens we’re getting some fantastic interest from national and local restaurant operators. Watch this space…
What I hope everyone will do in the meantime is to continue to get behind Oldham town centre and back it: from our indoor market with over 100 stalls, to the traditional outdoor market – and from our High Street to our Independent Quarter. And when people moan to you that “there’s nowt in Oldham”, please challenge them back.
We’ve already got big names like Debenhams, Next, River Island, H&M, BHS and others – and we’re soon to welcome a new M&S.
The town centre is now clean and well cared for, it has improved facilities like our play area where you can spend family time – oh, plus up to three hours of free parking on weekends – so why not give us a go?
I HAVE spent some of this week down in Brighton at the Labour Party Conference, but my thoughts are never far from Oldham.
One of the biggest challenges we face in the borough is encouraging residents to become foster carers and open up their homes.
It is a serious struggle – especially in the case of teenagers – to find those people who can play a vital role in helping young people to get a stable life, achieve the best they can at school and prepare them for adulthood.
It requires foster carers who are prepared to get involved in the emotional development of young people – which can bring its own trials and tribulations – but the rewards for doing it can also be absolutely fantastic.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have met some of the many inspiring and proud people that already do this work in Oldham.
They set a fantastic example and make a great contribution to our communities which is why this week I asked our Fostering Team to ‘guest blog’ and explain more about fostering and the opportunities on offer…
Oldham Council believes that the best place for children to live is with their own family. Sadly for some children, this isn’t possible.
When a child cannot live at home, the next best alternative is usually for them to live in a foster family.
Fostering is caring for someone else’s child in your home and doing all the things any good parent would do including making sure their health is good, helping them do well at school, and to maintain links with their family and friends.
Here in Oldham we have more than 140 households that care for around 230 children and young people, each doing a fantastic job. However, our greatest challenge is finding foster families for teenagers and children with complex needs. Sadly some of these children live in residential homes or out of borough in independent foster families, away from family and friends.
In order to bring these children back into the borough we have developed a new scheme called One2One fostering. This new service is for children or young people who have experienced significant neglect or trauma; and who are in need of specialist foster care.
One2One fostering provides a child or young person with a supportive family where they can build a trusting relationship with a foster carer whilst they receive therapy to help them to overcome traumatic experiences.
This is where we need your help and support. Maybe you have been considering fostering for some time, or know others who are interested. Equally, you may have not given the matter any thought – but please do so now.
Fosters carers in Oldham consistently tell us that fostering is life changing, not just for the child or young person but for themselves too.
Here’s what local carers Danny and Marie (pictured right) have to say:
“Rather than fostering younger children we wanted to foster teenagers. Teenagers are at the most important phase of their emotional and educational development. This is a traditionally tough time for them, but more so for those in care.
“The most rewarding experience so far has been helping a teenage girl to realise her full potential. She was mixing with the wrong group of peers and she was regularly excluded from school. After spending some time with her we discovered that she was incredibly bright and with support and a lot of determination she went from achieving U grades to A’s and B’s.
“Fostering is a vital part of society and it feels good to be part of it and give something back to your community. We wouldn’t change it for the world.”
You don’t need specialist qualifications to foster. Life experience and personal qualities can make a huge difference to a young person. All we ask is that you are aged over 21 and have room in your home.
Our team works extremely hard to make sure all our carers receive specialist training and support, plus a generous financial package of up to £29,000 per year.
Finally, we want to give a quick mention to our adoption team who recently received ‘Good’ in our Ofsted inspection.
Monday 19 October marks the start of National Adoption Week and we would like to hear from anyone interested in adopting older children, brothers and sisters or children with additional needs. Sadly, there is a shortage of adoptive parents coming forward for these children.
During National Adoption Week local authorities – and everyone who works in adoption – will be working together to highlight the plight of these vulnerable children and to help them find forever families.
I HAVE written several blogs about the importance of valuing our heritage but this week the topic merits special attention.
On Monday night, Cabinet agreed to a new phased programme over 10 years to deliver our commitments to a new Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre – and to go much further and ensure a more secure future for several important heritage buildings in the town centre. Let me explain why…
I will never forget the time a few years back when I first walked around the interior of the Old Town Hall.
The building had simply gone too far. The deterioration over the past two decades had caught up with it and the mixture of damp and dry rot had eaten through most of it.
Finding a modern day use to save that building has been no mean feat. It required vision, determination and a strong stomach to say the least.
As you’d expect I’ve made it my business since then to fully understand all the land and property assets owned by the council and then to look at their long-term future: both in terms of what each is used for and the current condition and any repairs that might be required.
I’ve paid particular attention to the buildings in Oldham town centre because – if you haven’t gathered this by now – we are determined to transform it into a place we can all be truly proud of.
Heritage isn’t just about bricks and mortar, it is about culture and identity; people and society.
Buildings are just an articulation of that but they are important because long after their uses have changed and people have moved on they still tell a story: a nod to our past, if you like.
Walking around the town centre you find that some of our best buildings are just self-selecting. They stand prominently. They demand attention.
That’s why it is vital that in developing our flagship Heritage Centre we will also secure the future of the Grade II-listed Old Gallery on Union Street.
In finding a new use for it, that also has the consequence of leaving the Old Post (and Telegraph) Office, the former museum, empty.
And while thinking about future uses it became clear to me that we need to think and plan differently.
If the experience with the Old Town Hall has taught me anything it is that the cost of doing nothing is very expensive. Eventually you are forced to take action and the longer that takes the more expensive it will be to put it right, or to demolish.
We’ve now outlined a list of the heritage buildings we want to help secure the future of and I personally see these as essential if we are to have the town centre we aspire to have.
What makes Oldham stand out is that it is Oldham.
We don’t want or need an ‘off the shelf’ out of town retail park that feels like a chicken shed to replace our town centre. We want character and experience that gives people a reason to keep coming back.
We have now agreed that will we be paying particular attention to the following buildings:
Old Bank at Mumps;
Former Post Office and museum, Union Street;
Conservative Club, Union Street;
Masonic Hall, Union Street;
The Prudential Building, Union Street (pictured right);
The Town Centre Conservation Area – which includes the Parish Church and War Memorial.
In deciding to expand the Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre project to include a vision for our other heritage buildings, I hope the people of Oldham can see that we are serious about our obligations.
We are committed to making sure our future is built on solid foundations; our past.
I DELIVERED my Annual Report at last week’s meeting of Full Council.
I reflected on the eventful year we have had and the many challenges that lie ahead at local, regional and national levels – whether that is cuts to our funding as a council, Greater Manchester devolution or the state of the economy and the new measures introduced in the recent Emergency Budget.
You can watch my speech on a video link by clicking here and will need to fast forward the clip to 1 hr, 8 minutes and 30 seconds.
Alternatively, below is a summary of some of what I said about the huge amount of work Oldham Council has done in the past 12 months to help ordinary residents deal with the issues that affect them. .
We knew we needed to step up and help local residents with the financial challenges so many are facing on a daily basis.
If you doubt that assistance is needed, think again. In the year to June, Oldham Foodbank has provided food for 3,716 adults and 1,620 children which shows that the pips are already squeaking in many family homes
New cuts announced in the Emergency Budget will also mean that benefit changes, changes to tax credits, thresholds, housing benefits and social housing payments and others will cost our local economy more than £58 million over the next four years. The worst-affected 2,000 families here will lose, on average, more than £3,800 a year.
We invested in our Welfare Rights Service Invested ahead of the implementation of Welfare Reform because we understood the huge impact this was going to have in Oldham.
In the last year that team has helped more than 1,100 residents with benefits advice, filling in forms, submitting appeals and representing them at tribunals.
This support saw a massive £2.3m extra brought into the borough’s economy during 2014/15 either through an increase in benefits for clients or backdated and one-off payments.
EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME
In the past year we’ve been doing our bit to stand up for people trying to find work and extra income.
Our Get Oldham Working campaign – an unprecedented scheme with partners across all sectors – smashed its original target to create 2,015 jobs, apprenticeship and trainee opportunities, and did it nine months ahead of schedule.
To date 3,025 opportunities have been created, which includes 1,672 jobs and 475 apprenticeships. More than 2,200 of these opportunities have been filled, including 1,226 jobs, 286 apprenticeships and 162 traineeships.
We were again ahead of the curve – and Government – in introducing the Living Wage at Oldham Council. We gave a new £7.86 minimum hourly rate to 540 employees from April 1. The majority of those staff are Oldham residents in cleaning and catering posts and this was worth more than £800 a year to full time employees. Even at a time of severe budget challenges we recognise those people play an important role in delivering our services and deserve the respect of being paid a fair wage for it – which will also benefit the local economy.
We also recognised that Getting Oldham Working isn’t just about the number of jobs created – it’s about the quality of them.
That’s why we’ve been signing up businesses to our Fair Employment Charter. This campaign encourages local firms to commit to creating job opportunities that are fair, ethical, responsible and sustainable – not zero hours contracts, for example – and to give people good training support and prospects. We have several big local employers already on board including FCHO and Emmanuel Whitaker. Another vital thing we’ve been doing is to embed ‘Social Value’ into all our activity.
To make every pound of the £225m we spend go even further we demand that contractors show how they will actively support the local economy in their bids, including sub-contracting. This goes from the biggest to the smallest contracts we do. Barclays, as an example, now have our banking contract and provide social value through schemes like Life Skills and Money Skills projects – all aimed at helping young people to become more employable and manage money better.
We also know that even if you are in stable employment none of us are immune to a financial ‘rainy day’.
That’s why we launched Our House in June: the country’s first-ever payment store run by a not-for-profit business. This offers fair credit to families needing to buy important goods like furniture, appliances and electrical items. The FRC Group reinvests all profits back into business and weekly prices are up to 50 per cent lower than other high street rent-to-own stores.
HOMES AND GOOD PLACES TO LIVE
We’ve introduced a licensing scheme for private landlords to stamp out the letting of poor quality accommodation. Landlords must become licence holders and meet certain standards to rent properties out.
This is to challenge poor standards and management practices, including tenants’ anti-social behaviour. Four out of five of around 3,700 respondents to our consultation on these plans said it will improve their areas.
Another issue for tenants and homeowners is Fuel Poverty. Our national award-winning scheme, Warm Homes Oldham, has now lifted more than 1,900 people out of fuel poverty in its first two years. This is a full support package that includes energy efficiency and bill advice, grants for heating updates and insulation, energy switching, emergency heating, and benefit checks.
We have plans in place for thousands of aspirational homes to be built here that give real choice and variety to communities. When I talk about aspirational homes, I mean like those on the new St Mary’s Estate – our multi-award winning affordable housing development of 90 high quality homes built to highest specification and green standards. I mean something that offers a decent opportunity to residents regardless of income, tenure or circumstance.
Through ‘Working Extra’ we now give housing priority to people in work, volunteering or caring. This is to support residents’ who ‘do their bit’ and 80 per cent of homes at a new Keswick Avenue development, Fitton Hill, were recently allocated to people on that basis.
Through the Action Oldham Fund we’ve used dormant trust funds in excess of £1 million to let them be used for grassroots activities to improve neighbourhoods; like community growing schemes and projects to tackle ASB.
There is also our new Green Dividend scheme which funds allotments and tree planting projects to make communities better places to live through collective action.
THE FUTURE: YOUNG PEOPLE AND EDUCATION
Last summer I asked Estelle Morris to chair our new Oldham Education and Skills Commission. This has been looking at how we realign our education offer across the board with what the local economy needs, and testing whether what we’re doing is really supporting people into meaningful employment or future education.
Their final report is due soon and will set out a new Oldham Offer outlining what every pupil, parent, governor, teacher, business and partner should expect – and what each themselves needs to do – to contribute to improvement in young people’s prospects.
This month we have just delivered on another flagship pledge – the Oldham Youth Guarantee. That means for the first time here that every 18-year-old leaving school can access either continued education, training, apprenticeship, a job opportunity or be supported into self-employment.
We have also seen the expansion this year of Enterprise Hubs: a brilliant collaboration with schools, students, businesses and other partners to stimulate entrepreneurship and create vital networking opportunities.
SUPPORTING BUSINESS AND SKILLS
Our strategy for Oldham is ‘invest to grow’ and businesses are hugely important partners in all our plans.
Successful regeneration and a growing economy will mean that more businesses will be paying business rates and more residents in work will be paying Council Tax. This will help us to protect frontline and vital services that people depend on.
Some examples of how we’re helping local firms include:
Warehouse to Wheels: The Logistics industry faces a national shortage of drivers with only a third of the numbers needed being trained each year, so we approached and co-invested money with European Social Fund and the Skills Funding Agency. Many warehouse staff or others want to get the Category C LGV licence but can’t afford the £2,000 costs. This month more than 50 of our first trainees will graduate from this scheme – and their success promotes further mobility and new opportunities for others in labour market.
Independent Quarter: By investing £1m we are supporting a range of businesses – from bedroom start-ups to independent firms and social enterprises – into the blossoming new IQ in Oldham town centre. More than 60 applications have already been approved with a fast-growing range of shops breathing new life into the area. The scheme has been so successful that it now being rolled out to help revive district town centres in Failsworth, Shaw and Lees.
Oldham Enterprise Fund: This £1m cashpot has now processed more than 90 applications giving a range of practical funding help and expert support to start-ups and existing businesses.
THE VULNERABLE AND ELDERLY
Last October we spun out our Adult social care operation into two services.
Oldham Care and Support now delivers adult care services bought by the council on residents’ behalf and Oldham Care and Support at Home is now actively taking on and competing with private sector companies in the home care and personal assistance market. By bringing in additional business from self-funders, people who have the Independent Living Fund, and work from the health service and people switching from other private home care providers, we are protecting staff and ensuring the quality of the care they receive.
This year we’ve launched ‘Volunteering for All, a new project for residents who want to meet new friends or need help with daily tasks. This includes befriending, help with technology, shopping and everyday tasks, community clubs and travel companions. It’s a vital voluntary contribution to improving lives for all who take part in it.
And there can be few better examples of co-operative working than the Oldham Dementia Action Alliance. We teamed up with more than 30 organisations to create a scheme which had a target to sign up 500 people to agree to learn more about dementia in 45-minute training sessions.
After just three months it had created an astonishing 2,592 Dementia Friends in the borough prompting Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, to visit Oldham to see our pioneering work.
Our town is full of inspiring and amazing people that include our regular national headline grabbers like Kevin Sinfield, Nicola White, Brian Cox or Simon Wood: all of whom deserve every plaudit they receive.
But we also have so many unsung heroes in our borough. People here are industrious and selfless.
For every one flytipper or rogue landlord or tenant we have dozens of fantastic people who deserve better and will play their part in improving the place.
That’s why we’re working so hard to help them – and why we’ll continue to leave no stone unturned in making 2015/6 another successful year for Oldham.