The last 12 months have seen some genuine highlights and progress for Oldham.
A personal favourite was confirming all the funding is in place for our exciting plans for a new Arts and Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre. Work starts imminently on-site and – alongside Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library – this will give us a fantastic Cultural Quarter we can all be proud of and enjoy.
Oldham has had a cultural quarter for fifteen years which has consisted of the Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre since 2006 and the Gallery Oldham which opened in 2002. Despite having no additional developments since then Oldham continues to have the highest per capita spending on culture in all Greater Manchester just £1 per person less than it spends on public health. The current Oldham Coliseum receives huge grant subsidies from central government and the GMCA we have no idea whether they will continue we suspect GMCA will cease or reduce as they have already stated in the past it should change and be run as a business.
Another highpoint was opening our Digital Enterprise Hub as home to Wayra UK – backed by an £8m investment fund to help tech sector companies grow here – and Hack Oldham.
The digital hub cost the Oldham public £1.2 million some six times the agreed cost of £200,000 and Wayra which is a hub for the North West not Oldham joined Oldham’s expanding roster of deprivation management companies after it announced its first accelerator scheme was to tackle “the poverty premium”.
We’ve also unveiled the stunning Maggie’s Oldham cancer care centre and welcomed many new faces to our Independent Quarter, including Stocco and Furniture by Lauren.
We also lost Card & Party, Scoots Suits & Boots, The Squire Knott and many other independent quarter businesses and created fake news when we called The Tooth Place new to the area when it had actually moved just 161 meters from its previous premises.
Oldham showed great resilience this year responding to all kinds of events from flooding to police incidents and wintry weather with brilliant partnership working across all sectors and communities. We will need more of the same in 2018.
Despite having a sizable marketing and press team Oldham Council spent £61,411 in the first eleven months of 2017 with a Devon based brand marketer to promote its coop partnership agenda. In every single case from the town hall cinema to the Oldham masterplan the entire cost has been funded by the public sector. Less of a partnership and more a business relationship of developer and contractor, landlord and tenant in fact not a partnership at all.
Looking ahead my priority is continuing the job of making this a place where everyone has a fair chance to access new opportunities and improve their lives. Better living standards, wages and skills are key to becoming an inclusive economy where nobody is left behind.
2017 was the twelfth consecutive year Oldham average pay was the lowest in all Greater Manchester even the Odeon cinema who moved into a £39.4 million bespoke development funded by the Oldham public purse decided to pay staff just the minimum wage.
Get Oldham Working (GOW) made fantastic strides in 2017 having now created around 7,000 work-related opportunities, including more than 4,500 jobs, which is partnership working at its very best.
Get Oldham Working does not create jobs it is a broker between businesses and people, not particularly any different than a job centre other than having a more amenable attitude. Assuming the 4,500 jobs are all permanent sustainable jobs, which they are not, that works out at 900 jobs per year. Oldham has had 7,792 adult migrants register as living in Oldham since the Get Oldham Working scheme commenced that is 73% more adult migrants arriving in Oldham than jobs brokered by the scheme.
Many new businesses have also opened or relocated here including the Audi showroom for Jardine Motors at Chadderton, which is a high-end brand committed to GOW and working with local colleges and supply chains.
And there’s plenty more to come in 2018.
A DPD delivery depot at Greengate with 350 new jobs is on-track and work is also starting at Hollinwood Junction, a hugely important strategic site, on a development creating new employment, retail, leisure and homes with 760 jobs.
Logistics and warehouse businesses such as DPD deliver the lowest GVA of any UK industry while simultaneously paying low wages and requiring long working hours, GVA is the measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area, industry or sector. As for Hollinwood junction Jean Stretton once again makes unsubstantiated claims about outcomes, previous predictions at Hotel Future, Prince’s Gate, Foxdenton, Our House and the old town hall development all failed to deliver Oldham Council’s predicted economic outcomes most before work had either started or reached completion. Hotel Future failed to get off the ground costing the Oldham public £418,670. Prince’s Gate has had four years of public money spent on preliminary work and buying assets the current architectural plans can no longer be used after the anchor tenant bailed and the site has been downscaled by two thirds. Foxdenton was only granted planning permission because it was primarily an employment site, the job number estimate has now fallen by 52% and two housing developments are to be built before any employment development begins, the development has the lowest GVA of any in Oldham. Our House rent to buy store was bankrupt and closed down just three months after opening. The Town Hall Cinema cost the Oldham public over £29 million more than the original £10 million the project was supposed to cost.
Once legal issues are finalised, I’ll soon be able to announce next steps at the Prince’s Gate development and we’ll also be announcing another tenant at the Old Town Hall.
Prince’s Gate is a failure it was due to open in 2017 but has not started construction other than wasting £2.5 million moving the Metrolink carpark. The retail element has been cut by two thirds and the main plot originally planned for M&S has been sold outright to a supermarket which appears to be Aldi. The council has no developers on board willing to invest in the housing element as the council’s own report stated margins did not deliver any returns for developers.
Our young and growing population is one of our biggest strengths and we must do everything to help them shine.
Statistics for 2016 released in 2017 show that a minimum of 55.2% of the increase in child numbers in Oldham was a direct result of immigration when you add the increase in foreign born school aged children arriving in Oldham to the number of births to foreign born parents. Oldham now pays out the fourth highest average tax credit payment in the UK after Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Birmingham, more than one in four working age households in Oldham receives more in tax credits than it pays in income related taxes and Council tax contributions. In Oldham’s most overpopulated OA (E00168627) which is in the Oldham area which currently receives the most migrants a massive 38% of the areas population are under 16 and this and other areas are a huge drain on benefits, resources and infrastructure the cost of which Oldham Council will never publish or even discus openly. In just two years the number of foreign born children in Oldham schools increased by 372%.
That’s why we’re working closely with Government, local education leaders, voluntary organisations and employers as one of six new Opportunity Areas in the UK. This focusses on social mobility and means extra funding from early years up to lifelong learning which we are determined will make a difference.
Like all things Oldham this initiative is not borough wide and is concentrated on central Oldham and the usual suspect high-crime, low-expectation areas further afield that Oldham Labour Council have failed to culturally change despite decades in charge of local government. More than 80 first languages other than English are now spoken in Oldham. It is no wonder schools struggle to cope educating and bringing the entire world up to UK education expectations while treading softly on cultural sensibilities that promote inequality and hinder children’s progression as rounded tolerant adults.
We’re also progressing well towards targets from the Oldham Education and Skills Commission. Having pledged that every child must attend a school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted by 2020 we now have 98 per cent of primary and 81 per cent of secondary pupils doing just that.
Oldham already has the highest spend per capita on education in all Greater Manchester yet continues to linger behind the City region, the Oldham Education and Skills Commission is another of those token faceless bodies chaired by those who have zero context of living in Oldham or similar areas. These politicos have delivered Oldham the lowest pay, the highest birth-rate, per capita benefit dependency and the highest adult obesity rates in all Greater Manchester and a local economy whose largest employer is the health sector stretched to breaking not by OAP’s but by uncontrolled mass immigration, lack of exercise, poor diet and over indulgence and the highest fertility rates in the region. This is 21st century England you socialist self-righteous failures have no excuse for the uneducated, introverted borough your benefits for votes policies have created.
Much work remains to be done but alongside proactive schemes like the £4m Oldham Enterprise Fund, the Skills for Employment programme and our Career Advancement Service, we’re deadly serious about helping people of all ages to get on in life.
That’s not easy when we’re continuing to take harsh funding cuts – with almost £25m to save next year – and uncertainty about the future from Government, but we’re unwavering in our ambition for the borough.
Key to all our futures is the amazing co-operative work we’re doing with partners and residents.
When the council foots the entire cost these schemes are not partnerships these companies are contractors who may or may not take on a few apprentices from Oldham Council to maintain their multi-million contacts. When the council enters PFI deals these are not partnerships because the council meets all the expense once again which currently stands them at the original cost plus an additional 125% of the original cost in interest.
An 8 per cent increase in recycling rates this year is all down to you doing #your bit: and schemes like Warm Homes Oldham, #1Pieceofrubbish, Get Oldham Growing – plus our work to integrate health and social care into one system – all point the way to a brighter future.
Get Oldham growing another token initiative concentrated in the areas already creating the biggest drain on Oldham finances small in scale and potential benefit but a huge potential to win awards. Warm Homes Oldham again another hugely discriminative undertaking that delivers new boilers and insulation governed by postcode location and not a persons economic circumstance. This scheme produced a glowing report in 2017 which was anything but all it claimed to be, failing to use clinical statistics and professional assessments of those questioned. Positive outcomes in the report are measured by asking clients about their mental health before and after receiving their free upgrades and the cost benefit figures are basically plucked out of midair after the small print revealed “it was not possible to directly assess impact of the project on health and social care costs”.
But challenges persist and we know many people are still struggling with problems with Universal Credit and welfare sanctions. We are still lobbying at the highest level for change and our Welfare Rights team have this year helped hundreds of residents to claim an extra £2million they were rightly entitled to.
In 2013-2014 Oldham had the tenth highest average tax credit payment in the UK it now has the fourth highest in the UK . The Oldham Labour party has always offered benefits for votes and for those too young to remember a converted van was once upon a time regularly parked in Oldham town centre to give advice solely to migrants on benefit entitlement. Universal credit which undoubtedly creates hardship for genuine cases was a reaction to places like Oldham which milk the benefit system for all it has. Tax credits alone cost £172,754,400 a year in Oldham and 22,600 households here receive it that’s money taken directly out of the tax system. There is such hypocrisy when people who in real terms not only pay no taxes but take thousands from the tax system every year and the socialist politicians they support criticize businesses for tax avoidance. 63 social rented homes in Oldham each receive over £250 a week in housing benefit that is minimum cumulative payment of £819,000 a year just for those 63 homes and there are a total of 17,551 homes in the borough currently receiving housing benefit.
Thriving communities also need new and aspirational homes that offer a better range and choice for families, so we’re continuing to deliver these with building work underway or due to start at sites including Broadway Green, the Lancaster Club and the former Counthill site.
Broadway Green such a contrived name for a development that is concreting over green fields a development that has been purposely manipulated away from the employment status that granted it planning permission to a site primarily housing-led. Both Broadway Green (Foxdenton) and the Lancaster Club hinge off Broadway one of the most congested roads in Oldham but as we all know regeneration and positive policy is reserved for the wards that contribute the least and give Oldham its nationwide negative reputation.
We’ve had many positive accolades for our Old Town Hall, Bloom and Grow, community energy schemes and other initiatives this year, but it is what residents think that matters most.
The Old Town Hall should win architectural accolades after going four times over budget, it eventually cost £10 million more than Manchester’s Film School and just £20 million less than the new Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre in Manchester, the Oldham Community energy scheme failed to raise 93.3% of the money required from its share deal and was rescued by Oldham Council loaning them public money another failed initiative propped up with public finances.
The defining moment in 2017 for me was launching the Town Centre Masterplan – our biggest-ever forward planning exercise.
The last masterplan is five years old and contained Hotel Future, Our House and Prince’s Gate all of which failed and should already be operational, the cinema development came in at £29 million over budget, Foxdenton central Chadderton’s last sizable green space is currently being destroyed by Oldham Council and partners while delivering less than half the promised employment outcomes that sealed its planning permission.
I thank everyone who’s taken part in the consultation so far and would encourage everyone to do the same. We certainly don’t have a monopoly on bright ideas and only you know best what kind of place you want Oldham to be in the future.
We’re doing all this because we must ensure that we are a place with a plan – and one that residents fully understand.
I’m fiercely proud of our place and will continue pushing to give us an even stronger voice within Greater Manchester in 2018.
Jean Stretton’s stronger voice delivered Oldham’s first devolution initiative which was providing places for old people to sit when tired in the Oldham ward with the lowest percentage of OAP’s in all of Oldham. Central Oldham will continue to benefit from Labour Oldham Council’s disproportionate positive policy and spending initiative at the expense of the wider borough.
Oldham is not perfect, but it is changing – and for the better.
Oldham is not changing its expanding in all the worst possible ways.