Jim McMahon Published: Friday, 21st December 2012

I'd like to wish all our residents a very happy New Year.

As 2013 begins I want to reflect on an eventful year when our Borough faced many challenges but also made progress.

Austerity affected every part of society in 2012.

It’s been uppermost in my mind over the festive season how tough things really are for so many local families: especially with the next round of Welfare Reform, including cuts to a range of benefits, to come.

Oldham Council is also not immune and must find around £31 million in savings in our latest budget round with no ‘fat’ left to cut.

These difficult decisions inevitably mean reductions in services, and staff, and measures that will impact on people’s lives.

But in 2013 – and beyond – I’m also very clear that our role can’t be to simply ‘manage decline’.

We must focus on a better future. That means jobs and that’s why next year will see a huge co-ordinated effort with our partners to create new employment opportunities for residents and ‘Get Oldham Working’.
In 2012 we moved forward on important schemes to capitalise on Metrolink – like transforming the Old Town Hall into a new cinema/restaurant facility; Hotel Future, the first national training academy for the hospitality industry; and a new Heritage Centre and Coliseum site on Union Street.

We also took our proactive campaign to change perceptions of Oldham out to investors nationwide. More positive news will emerge in the coming months, but we’ve already attracted new investment with retailers like BHS coming to the town centre, plus attracting developers like Dransfield Properties into Royton, and new industrial partners like NOV Mono to the old BAE site in Chadderton. 

Iconic new secondary schools like the Waterhead Academy opened their doors this year, as did Mahdlo, our state-of-the art youth centre, and our vision for better leisure facilities are gathering momentum.

We also saw some notable boosts to civic pride.

Oldham was named ‘Most Improved Council’ in the country by the Local Government Chronicle, crowned ‘Best City’ at Britain in Bloom, and we capped a year of memorable events – including the Olympic Torch Parade and Diamond Jubilee celebrations – when 14,000 people enjoyed the return of the Civic Bonfire.

Sadly 2012 also had its moments of tragedy.

Nobody here will ever forget the heartbreaking death of Jamie Heaton in the Shaw gas explosion on June 26, nor how a community united in grief showed an overwhelming generosity of spirit in response. This was epitomised most memorably, for me, by a little girl donating her own teddy bears to help those children who lost their toys in that scene of utter devastation.

The Borough also united to remember PC Nicola Hughes, from Diggle, who was killed alongside PC Fiona Bone in a gun and grenade attack in September. This shocking incident served as a timely reminder to us all of the everyday danger faced by officers of the law working hard to protect and serve.

We also lost three inspirational Councillors with the sad deaths of Barbara Dawson, Glenys Butterworth and, most recently, Phil Harrison. All made lasting contributions to our Borough and its people as community leaders, and that will never be forgotten.

Finally 2012 has been a successful year of campaigns and direct action.

I’m hugely proud that our Fare’s Fair campaign achieved a 28 per cent reduction in First Bus fares; that almost 9,000 residents joined our Energy Switching scheme saving on average £171 a year each; and that we have delivered further discounts to members of the Oldham Credit Union.

It’s precisely because of the financial austerity at this time that we were determined to work hard to try and put some money back into residents’ pockets.

I promise you now that work – and in particular the drive to do it through delivering new jobs alongside regeneration – will be at the top of my priority list for 2013.

But we also know the basics are still as important as ever.

That’s why the work to keep our finances in order – the Audit Commission says they are ’top of the league’ amongst public bodies – and delivering good services that you can rely on remains our bread and butter.

It’s also why we've committed a further £2 million over the next two years to tackle potholes across the Borough using high-tech velocity patching equipment.

There remains a national funding shortage on this and work will still need to be dealt with on a priority basis, but we’re doing our utmost to meet the challenge.

Finally, if you have any ideas or suggestions that you wish to put me about Oldham and our priorities, please send me an email direct to leadersoffice@oldham.gov.uk.

All the best for 2013.

Jim

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