Borough Leader’s Weblog: Safeguarding Essential Public Amenities

By Councillor Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council In 2012, I delved into the world of politics with the aim of making a positive impact. Fueled by a desire to bring about change, I am determined to create new prospects, bolster services, level the playing field for residents and local businesses, and witness an improvement in the quality of life in my beloved hometown. These aspirations remain close to my heart and are the foundation of the Labour administration I currently spearhead at the Town Hall. However, during my tenure as a councillor, Oldham’s budget has only faced cuts. Over the past decade, we have endured over £230 million in budget reductions due to dwindling Government funding in real terms, resulting in an increased burden on residents through regressive council tax hikes and charges. This staggering amount of cuts has impacted every service, project, and, most significantly, every resident. It mirrors the national challenges and trends we are confronted with. The unfairness of the Government’s funding formula for local councils, which favours wealthier authorities at the expense of others, coupled with a failure to acknowledge the rising demand for services to support the elderly, the youngest, and the most vulnerable members of our community, has compounded the strain. Some councils have succumbed to these pressures, issuing Section 114 notices declaring their inability to balance their budget for the year – essentially declaring bankruptcy. I am determined to prevent Oldham from treading down that path. Tonight, my colleagues and I will be crafting a balanced budget for Oldham, necessitating some tough decisions. Once again, we find our hopes and ambitions dampened due to national crises and failures. Once again, we are compelled to address these national issues with local solutions. In Oldham, we are grappling with the repercussions of the national social care crisis, grappling with challenges stemming from the housing crisis, and feeling the financial impact of inflation and increased borrowing costs, resulting in higher costs for essential goods and services. Safeguarding our youngest residents is a fundamental duty of every council. The Local Government Association has warned that the cost of providing children’s services has surged by 14% compared to the previous year, amounting to £1.5 billion nationwide. Unfortunately, as households struggle to manage their finances, some families find themselves overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for their children, necessitating the council’s intervention. The number of children entering care is on the rise, accompanied by a spike in the cost of caring for each child in care. This ongoing issue places substantial demands on our resources to address a problem that shows no signs of abating in the long run. The social care crisis extends to adult services as well. With an aging population and longer lifespans, the demand for social services and care to ensure the well-being of our elderly residents is on the rise. Care packages have become more expensive, with costs for individuals with critical needs soaring to nearly £400,000 per year. The market’s failure to deliver affordable, quality, and sustainable adult social care has led to bottlenecks in hospital admissions and discharges, prompting Oldham Council to intervene to prevent the collapse of a major residential and nursing home in the Borough. The housing crisis is another pressing issue. Every individual should have access to a decent and affordable home, yet many residents, especially younger ones, are unable to attain this basic right. The transfer of former council and public sector homes to the private sector without adequate replacements has made housing unattainable for numerous families. Despite promises of change from the Government, landlords can still issue ‘no-fault evictions,’ depriving tenants of stability in their homes. The cost-of-living crisis has made it challenging for residents to meet mortgage payments, utility bills, or rent, leading to a 20% increase in spending on homelessness services nationwide. In Oldham, over 500 households, including nearly 500 children, are residing in temporary accommodation, a situation that is both unacceptable and unsustainable. Efforts are being made to construct new homes to address this crisis, including the development of 500 social housing units. Tonight’s focus is on crafting a balanced budget that navigates the challenges outlined above while charting a path towards a brighter future. Despite the Government’s failure to fulfil its promises or uphold its shared responsibilities, the administration I lead remains prudent in financial matters and has maintained sufficient reserves, ensuring the protection of vital services our residents rely on. This budget is not only about meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our community and upholding our core values but also about envisioning a prosperous future for Oldham, replete with new homes, enhanced infrastructure, increased educational and employment opportunities for our youth, and continued improvements to our town centre, parks, and public spaces, all of which will contribute to making Oldham an even better place to live and work.

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