Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, has today written to Cllr Howard Sykes, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Oldham, setting out the impact that the next government is likely to have on Oldham depending on the result of next week’s general election:
Dear Cllr Sykes,
I am writing to you with a week to go until the general election on 12th December. Oldham Council is at a crossroads in this election, and I feel it is important to set out for you the implications for us as a council, and for the wider borough, of the decision facing voters next Thursday.
Oldham in recent years has made real progress in a range of areas, and there are things to be really excited about – things that are a far cry from the common national media portrayal of Oldham as grim, flat-capped and in perpetual decline. In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen the Old Town Hall development named as one of the restorations of the decade by Country Life Magazine, been named Best City by North West in Bloom, and at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority our improvements in early years child development were highlighted as the most significant in the North West and one of the best in the country. The council has achieved real living wage accreditation, and we’re spending a higher percentage of our budget with businesses in the borough than ever before.
There remain, though, huge challenges to overcome if we are to make Oldham the place we want it to be: a place where no-one has to rely on food banks; a place where people can expect to live longer and happier lives than their parents; a place that people are proud to call home.
You will be aware of the cuts Oldham has faced since the coalition government came to power in 2010. Oldham Council has lost 60% of its budget. That’s £208 million that can’t be used to fill pot holes. £208 million that can’t fund training to help get people into better paid jobs. £208 million taken from libraries, youth centres and care for older residents.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has looked at what Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have committed to in their manifestos. They note that Labour have committed “more than enough money to meet rising costs and demands, allowing increases in service provision and quality.” Labour have set out fully costed plans to return Oldham’s council funding to 2010 levels by the end of the parliament. There are specific commitments to tackle homelessness, revolutionise social care, support local health, boost youth services and fund Sure Start centres. These are all areas of vital importance to Oldham residents and, as the IFS observe, can be achieved without relying on council tax rises under a Labour government.
I imagine like me you were unsurprised by the Conservative offer to local government. They have shown a consistent preference in recent years for placing the pressure of cuts on local councils, and hiding their tax rises by forcing councils to raise more tax locally. Once again, they are offering nothing to local government beyond money for pot holes – an area where Oldham already performs well thanks to the council’s £12 million investment after I became leader. Most concerningly from the IFS is the following observation: “The funding situation would be most tricky in those typically more deprived parts of the country with smaller council tax bases.” It’s clear that a Conservative government would leave Oldham Council and our residents suffering under even more austerity.
While the Conservative commitment to austerity in Oldham was expected, I was very disappointed to see the Liberal Democrats taking a similar approach. As the IFS notes, Liberal Democrat plans will only plug the holes in local finance if council tax is increased by 2% every year of the Parliament, and even then only if some of the vaguer promises in the manifesto end up being allocated locally. £1.4 billion less than Labour for adult social care, less than half as much as Labour for youth services, less than half as much for homelessness – this isn’t good enough if we are to give Oldham the boost it needs and provide support for people facing hard times.
Voters won’t be choosing based just on which party will best support local services, of course. Some of Labour’s key policies will be massive for Oldham. To choose just a few:
While pay levels in Oldham are lower than the national average, Labour’s real living wage of £10 per hour will make a huge difference for many of our residents
With health inequality remaining a big challenge, and the Royal Oldham Hospital struggling, Labour will properly fund the NHS with increases of 4.3% per year, recruit 4,500 additional health visitors and school nurses, and create an additional 27 million GP appointments every year.
With almost all of Oldham’s schools suffering per-pupil funding cuts under the current government’s plans, Labour will bring back proper funding for schools and teachers, and scrap tuition fees for people going to university.
Crime remains a key concern for residents, with 20,000 officers gone from our streets since the start of austerity in 2010. Labour will return our police force to its previous strength and add 2,000 more frontline officers on top of that.