by Councillor Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council
As we step into 2024, councils across the UK are faced with the challenge of setting their budgets for the upcoming year. It is widely known that funds are scarce and local authorities are being forced to do more with less.
In her most recent blog post, Arooj Shah, the Leader of Oldham Council, discusses the difficulties that she and her council colleagues are currently encountering:
“The situation is clear. Our income has been cut in half over the past decade, while prices continue to rise and the demand for services keeps growing.
“Over the next few weeks, we will be asking Oldham residents and businesses for their input on how we should spend our money, what our priorities should be, and where we can make savings.
“Council budgets need to reflect the hardships that households are facing. Heating and energy bills are skyrocketing, food prices and rent are at all-time highs, and high interest rates are adding to the costs of mortgages, car loans, and credit card payments.
“For us at Oldham Council, this presents a ‘double whammy’ – our grants and funding from the central Government have been consistently reduced, and as residents struggle with the cost-of-living crisis, more families require our support and services to make ends meet.
“As the Leader of Oldham Council, our budget will allocate the available resources to the priorities that we all share. I have always been clear – our primary focus must be on protecting our most vulnerable residents. If not us, then who?
“Currently, around two-thirds of our entire budget is dedicated to providing services and support for young people, the elderly, those with disabilities, and families in crisis situations.
“As the challenges faced by households in our borough continue to grow, it is understandable that more and more people are turning to the council and our partners for assistance.
“We also aim to preserve the physical environment and infrastructure that is valued by all here in Oldham. We want to ensure that our parks and public spaces are inviting for residents and visitors alike.
“We want to provide sports facilities, leisure activities, and resources that enrich all our lives. Additionally, we understand that maintaining roads, collecting waste, keeping the streets clean, fixing streetlamps, and repairing potholes are all responsibilities that residents expect the council to fulfill.
“Delivering all these services becomes even more challenging when the grants and funding that councils like Oldham depend on are reduced. Unfortunately, some of this money has been redirected to other local authorities that Conservative ministers have deemed more important.
“Fortunately – or perhaps due to our lack of trust in the current Government to provide assistance – we have been careful in budgeting and applying stringent checks and balances to manage the resources that we do have access to.
“Other councils have not been as fortunate. Councils across the country have declared themselves effectively bankrupt, and without any relief in sight, more may follow suit.
“Oldham Council will not go down that path.
“We completely reject the failed Government’s austerity agenda of ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’ because we understand that when families and residents struggle to pay their bills, put food on the table, or adequately heat their homes, they deserve our support instead of having the rug pulled out from under them in their time of need.
“In this election year, we do not expect any last-minute support from the Conservatives in Westminster, who continue to prioritize austerity in order to fund tax cuts and other incentives, rather than supporting local services and families who are struggling to make ends meet.
“Despite their shortcomings, it is our responsibility to balance the books. We must use our available resources wisely, not only to meet the immediate needs of our residents but also to lay the groundwork for a better future for the people of Oldham.
“We will continue with our ambitious plans for Oldham – attracting new investments, supporting local businesses, and creating a town centre that residents can take pride in. We must encourage and provide new homes, education and training opportunities, and make services more accessible in our communities, both online and through close collaboration with our partners.
“Finding this balance is challenging, as we must meet the immediate needs of residents while also planning for the future. This means that we need to make bold decisions.
“In this economic climate, there are difficult choices to be made. Today, we are sharing our budget proposals with residents for their input.
“Some of these proposals may result in changes or eliminations of certain roles and positions within the Council. We will examine our management structures and seek to find efficiencies in our operations while minimizing the impact on frontline services as much as possible.
“Together, we must decide how to balance the books, meet the needs and desires of Oldham residents, and work together to build a brighter future.”
To participate in the Budget consultation, please visit the Council website here.