We meet tonight in what for most, if not all, of the people in this Chamber will be the most turbulent political times in their life time.
We sit as a Council which has been among the hardest hit by Tory austerity – £208 million cut from our budget since 2010. We take decisions here every day over which the spectre of Brexit looms large – though for which we are unable to plan, not knowing who will be delivering it, what form it will take, or indeed whether it will happen at all. And we meet tonight at the beginning of a general election campaign for the first general election since 1923 to take place in December, the results of which are impossible to predict accurately.
It’s this backdrop which makes strong, local leadership essential.
The people of Oldham and Saddleworth need our Council to continue stepping up, not ducking the big decisions or holding the borough back. The people of Oldham and Saddleworth need a Council which fights for them locally and nationally.
I stood here last year, barely six months in to the job, setting out our plans to deliver on the areas that matter most to people.
The first was getting the basics right; investing in the services that will create a cleaner and safer Oldham.
The second was giving every child a great start, and every adult the opportunity to get on.
I was also clear in our ambitions to create places that thrive – supporting our town centres to be places to shop, have fun, work and, most importantly, if we are to deliver the homes we need, live.
Finally I said that we wanted to harness to opportunities that devolution to Greater Manchester offered us, and make sure that Oldham’s voice was being heard both on the city region and national stages. Putting Oldham on the front foot despite everything that is going on around us.
Since then, I’m proud to say that we have made huge progress.
For a cleaner Oldham we’ve invested £600,000 in additional street cleaning capacity. We’ve expanded our street scene teams, recruiting local people and moving to a 7 day service. Of course, we have also recruited Bruce Springclean and Dustin Timberlake to help us too.
We’ve invested in new refuse vehicles, reducing the number of breakdowns and ensuring bins are emptied on time.
And we’ve supported communities to hold clean ups; like My Coldhurst, Clean Glodwick and the Big Failsworth Clean Up in my own ward.
All of this has led to us being awarded 4 out of 5 from Keep Britain Tidy. And much to the dismay of our friends from Manchester, prompted a story in the Manchester Evening News about how Oldham was now “noticeably tidier” than neighbouring Manchester as a result of our investment.
Finally, it also helped us win Best City in the North West in Bloom competition for the 10th year in a row. Thank you to staff, residents and community groups for doing your bit to make this happen.
We recognise the value of entering North West in Bloom and know how much our residents like it and so that’s why, despite it being a budget reduction proposal last year, we have found the money to enter again next year.
For a safer Oldham I spoke of the need for greater investment in our roads. Having committed £12 million and changed the process to accommodate genuine local, democratic control over the highways improvement programme, we are seeing the results. The proportion of primary roads requiring maintenance is dropping, and we have been able to move on to secondary routes which have been overlooked.
It’s true that we’ve suffered from cuts to the police. With 2000 fewer on the streets of Greater Manchester as a result of Tory Government policy, we effectively have one had tied behind our back while we try to do this. But the community and Council have stepped up nonetheless.
We’ve run awareness campaigns on hate crime and child exploitation and community groups like street angels have supported our night time economy, helping rough sleepers and as a result have reduced pressure on the our stretched NHS and police, in some cases avoiding thousands of pounds of expenditure by public services.
Recently, in partnership with Tameside Council, we introduced a public space protection order to prevent fires on our moors and open spaces.
And to make housing safer and to reduce the potential for exploitation of the growing number of private renters by landlords, we will soon be consulting on the next phase of our landlord licensing scheme.
Creating a clean and safe borough is everyone’s responsibility. Labour are holding the council to account to ensure we have the cleanest and safest streets around, residents are doing their bit, and if you’re a bad landlord or a flytipper, you can be sure we’re coming for you.
Moving on to education and skills this administration set out a clear intention to expand the number of places at good and outstanding schools so that every child has access to a great education. In the last few months the latest fruits of that commitment have included:
The opening of Greenfield Primary.
Progress on a new block for Crompton House School
Expansion of North Chadderton School.
A new block at Oldham Academy North.
And the expansion of St Herberts Primary.
The long awaited Saddleworth School has taken further steps forward now we know that the planning approval will not be called in for judicial review and is anticipated to open in the 2021/22 academic year.
We are also working with the Cranmer Trust to open a new secondary school in the Town Centre and construction of Oasis Academy Leesbrook is underway and scheduled to open in September 2020.
These developments alone represent over 4,000 additional places for Oldham students at state of the art schools located around the borough.
But it’s not just about buildings. School results are improving at an exciting rate too. From the last academic year we saw:
- 68% of children reaching the expected level of development in early years – up 4 points on the previous year.
- 79% of students reaching the expected level on phonics, up 2 points on last year when the national figure has fallen.
- 71% hitting standards at Key Stage 1, up 1.5%, again while national levels have fallen.
- A 99% pass rate at A-Level, above the national figure.
We still have plenty of work to do on education, but there are clear signs that things are moving in the right direction, despite the stresses put on school staff and pupils by government cuts to school budgets.
But education is only half the battle. We have to ensure that once those young people grow up there are well paid jobs for them, and that they have the skills to access them.
To make that a reality we’re about to become an accredited living wage employer, ensuring the council jobs that predominantly go to local people are paying people a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
We’re one of the founding signatories of the GM Good Employment Charter, and encouraging other large employers in the borough to take the same step, helping create more and better roles for residents. I’m proud that wholly owned Council care company, MioCare, is the first care company in Greater Manchester to become a signatory too.
We’ve put a focus on spending more of the council’s money with local businesses. That means millions of pounds more are staying in Oldham every single month, retaining wealth and creating jobs.
We’ve just held a Get Oldham Working jobs fair. We saw over 1,200 people attend along with 66 employers with nearly 2,500 job opportunities. That builds on the over 6,500 work related opportunities created by the Get Oldham Working service.
Our Sixth Form College continues to go from strength to strength, and Oldham College has also recently achieved a good rating from Ofsted. This is on top of announcing plans for a new £9m construction skills centre part-funded by the GMCA. This will provide the vocational training opportunities that we know residents want and which we know can provide routes to just as many quality jobs as a traditional academic route.
Oldham Labour will continue investing in education facilities, drive up standards and use our scale and position as a large employer and investor in the Borough to set an example that we hope others will follow.
Now, I think it’s fair to say that, whatever our politics we all come here and stand for election because we want to make Oldham a better place.
And that’s really happening in Oldham Town Centre, where we’ve made enormous progress since my last annual address.
We’ve produced a new vision for the town, based on bringing homes, jobs, and culture into the town centre and making it clean, green, healthy and friendly.
Individual projects within that vision are progressing well, such as the new Heritage and Arts Centre which is on track to open late next year; and the new supermarket and hotel development at Mumps, which will kickstart the redevelopment of that entire area; including new homes, leisure facilities and office accommodation.
Plans for the Coliseum, Tommyfield Market and Egyptian Rooms are moving forward, and I expect to be able to make some exciting announcements on these very soon. And our night-time economy is beginning to pick up, in part thanks to the support of Sacha Lord, the mayor’s night-time economy advisor and my night-time economy taskforce – a group of officers, businesses and local stakeholders working together to improve our night-time offer.
And our political commitment is being reflected in enthusiasm from the private sector. New independent businesses like the Cob and Coal in the market and Eatery in Manchester Chambers are taking a punt on Oldham, and some old friends are coming back too – this Friday The George Tavern is relaunching, and Tokyo Project will also be back at the end of the month.
But it’s not just about Oldham town centre.
Places like Royton and Uppermill are going from strength to strength, becoming real destinations in their own right for people from across Greater Manchester. And investment as part of the Mayor’s Challenge Fund in Royton will build on this.
Our business improvement grants have seen businesses in Shaw, Lees and Failsworth co-investing with the council to improve shopfronts and get that important leg up as they get started.
The newly created Local Improvement Fund looks set to be a huge success. Despite resistance from opposition parties to the creation of this half a million pound fund, we’ve seen at least three bids come in from each district for projects as varied as new play areas, gyms, public toilets, community hubs, public realm improvements and skate parks. While demand for funding has outstripped supply by nearly 2 to 1, so there are some difficult choices to be made, this fund is going to make a huge difference for communities and places right across Oldham.
And Northern Roots, our ambitious new eco-centre next to Alexandra Park, promises to be the kind of project that puts Oldham on the map – a genuinely revolutionary new site that marries nature, education, leisure and business.
We’re continuing to work hard to provide the environment, districts, homes, leisure and work opportunities that will make the next generation of successful residents in our borough choose to stay, or return, here.
The last priority was to ensure that we are punching above our weight at Greater Manchester. And I am pleased to say that we are indeed doing that.
Over the last twelve months Oldham has really established itself as a key player at GM. I’ve already mentioned a number of ways in which we’re getting the best for Oldham from devolution.
- The investment in Oldham College
- Our work on the night-time economy
- The Mayor’s Challenge Fund in Royton
But we’re also seeing other benefits like Our Pass, that is giving 16-18 year olds from Oldham free bus travel and access to opportunities they otherwise might not be able to get to. And Oldham’s profile is growing, with recent visits by delegations from Fife in Scotland, Bangladesh and even China interested in the work we’re doing and opportunities here.
There’s still work to do at GM and nationally. On crucial things like the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, we must ensure that this works for Oldham. That means calling out the government for its use of outdated figures to artificially inflate our housing requirement and working meaningfully with residents to plan our neighbourhoods for now and the future.
We must ensure that the forthcoming clean air plan does not penalise small business owners or our taxi drivers; and press hard for the government to provide the resources that will help people transition to cleaner vehicles. This will be much easier if there is a Labour Government in December, because we know how the Tories don’t like to invest, and the current Conservative environment minister has indicated that they won’t be making a decision until after the election.
We must also develop the softer relationships at GM where we have common interests, particularly with Tameside, Rochdale and Bury, to resist any move by Greater Manchester to default back to prioritising investment in the south of the city region over us in the north.
We’ve been successful in changing attitudes to Oldham at the Combined Authority but we have to keep the pressure up if we are going to realise all of the benefits of devolution to Greater Manchester.
The next few months are going to be challenging. We’re still struggling under the weight of budget cuts, with 60% of our annual budget removed by the Conservatives.
Austerity doesn’t feel over, despite what the government has said, and despite the pre-election bribes from Boris when he suddenly discovered the magic money tree.
Oldham has been one of the hardest hit places in the country, and anything other than a Labour government after December will lead to a fresh round of uncertainty.
But we can’t let this uncertainty and the challenging environment we face stand in our way.
The things I’ve mentioned today are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the exciting developments and opportunities we have in Oldham and there’s loads more to come.
In the next few months we’ll be bringing forward our Oldham Green New Deal, which sees Oldham leading the way nationally in response to the climate emergency and commits the council to being carbon neutral by 2025.
We’ll have a Community Cohesion Strategy, so the council and our partners are all pulling in the same way to bring people together and build stronger communities.
Our investments in education and roads, as well as the additional funding for Children’s Services and youth activities, will continue to bear fruit.
And engagement with residents will continue to grow. The community forums we introduced as a replacement for the largely ignored district executive meetings have created a genuine platform for consultation, with hundreds of residents attending the meetings that have happened so far.
And we’ll be working hard as Labour councillors to make sure as many residents as possible have their say on improving the bus system in Greater Manchester.
The challenges we face are significant, but as a council and a community we have the capacity to ride them out.
We can’t yet rely on Government, and who knows what 13th December will bring.
We’ve not seen the back of turbulent times, but this Labour Council is showing the difference that Labour can make in power. We’re fighting for Oldham, we’re investing where others want to cut, we’re innovating where others want to rely on the old ways, and we’re showing the way forward while others stand on the side lines.
I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved in the last twelve months, and with the vision we’ve set out, and the support of our staff, partners and residents, we can achieve so much more in the next 12.