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Oldham council truly remarkable - report

Reporter: Richard Hooton
Date online: 11 December 2013

AN independent review has hailed Oldham Council’s “remarkable transformation” that has seen it become “an ambitious and effective council”.

The local authority asked the Local Government Association to carry out a comprehensive “Peer Challenge” — a voluntary assessment to check how it is performing and to test its future plans.

A six-strong team of experienced politicians and senior officers visited Oldham in October, speaking to employees, partners, elected members and residents.

They looked at a series of guiding questions testing whether the Co-operative Council has clear priorities, a viable long-term financial plan, effective leadership, governance and decision-making arrangements, plus the capacity and resources to deliver its plans.

The report says: “There has been a remarkable transformation in Oldham in recent years, both in terms of the place and in having established an ambitious and effective council. The authority can be proud of what has been achieved.”

Back in 2008 a highly critical Audit Commission inspection had revealed Oldham Council “felt itself to be on the verge of government intervention” but the new report finds that provided a “wake-up call” to improve.

“The challenge of turning around the council was clearly immense with significant issues in relation to its organisational culture, ways of working, governance, financial management and the performance of its services,” the report says.

“The council is now seen to be a disciplined organisation that is competent and effective — which in turn generates the confidence and credibility for it to do more challenging and difficult things.

“The organisational culture feels positive and performance management is effective.

“The council’s political and managerial leadership has been integral to what has been achieved. It is respected internally and externally and galvanises support from staff and partners.”

Council leader Councillor Jim McMahon said: “The report recognises that Oldham is now an effective, efficient and respected council. Its publication marks a new chapter in our history — the past is firmly behind us.

“We voluntarily asked for an independent assessment because we wanted validation that the progress we’re making is real - not just something we believe to be true.

“The 2008 Audit Commission report was damaging, but unfortunately it was accurate, and there was a realisation that a cross-party response was needed to put Oldham first and politics second.

“I pay tribute to Councillor Howard Sykes whose time as council leader saw vital work done to get our house in order, especially in terms of financial organisation, and we’ve since built on those foundations to foster the credibility and confidence that is now helping us attract the inward investment we need to regenerate and create new jobs.

“No scheme is more iconic in our journey than the old town hall.

“Work is now under way to convert it into a multiplex cinema with cafes, restaurants and retail outlets which will complete its transformation from a symbol of civic neglect and failure to one of hope and aspiration. That is what the new Oldham is all about.”

Oldham Council chief executive Charlie Parker said: “This report recognises Oldham Council has successfully risen to the challenge of transforming itself at a time of great change across the public sector.

“The financial challenges will get harder and harder, but it’s clear that we can never go back to the days of being an inward facing organisation lacking the vision to lead on behalf of our residents and business.

The report — and Oldham Council’s response to it — will be discussed at the next meeting of full council on Wednesday.

ON LEADERSHIP “THE leader’s style and approach is both exceptional and unique in nature and the council has benefited enormously from having a driven chief executive with an entrepreneurial outlook and who has provided strong corporate direction and achievement around organisational change and improvement. There is also good managerial leadership at executive director and assistant/associate executive director level.”

“The ability of the council to secure the involvement of Sir Howard Bernstein to advise on and support the authority’s regeneration and economic development activities and projects is both extremely positive and a reflection of how far the authority has come in recent years.”

ON STAFF “THE staff that we met at all levels of the organisation demonstrated passion, enthusiasm and commitment, are really bought in to the council’s agenda and both understand and support the vision that has been established. The council is now ‘punching above its weight’ and is one of the most highly respected and influential in Greater Manchester.”

ON THE ECONOMY “GETTING people into employment is recognised by the council as the key to turning round the fortunes of the borough. Oldham is a place with a proud history and industrial legacy that is seeking to create a new and more vibrant economic future. There is a clear and balanced economic strategy — connecting Oldham to the wider city region as a source of employment and enabling local people to gain the capabilities, through education and training, which are necessary to secure those employment opportunities.”

ON FINANCE “FINANCIAL management within the council is seen to be highly effective, with a dramatic improvement. The council has secured £100million savings since 2009/10, with a further £20million on track to be delivered in the current financial year.”

THE CO-OPERATIVE “THE concept of a co-operative approach has a real resonance among the people we spoke to, both within and outside the council. The approach can be seen to be concerned with a spirit or ethos regarding the way citizens conduct themselves and the contribution they make to society. There are still significant challenges in linking the Cooperative concept to the wider public service reform agenda.”

THE DISTRICTS “THE emphasis placed on districts within a borough context is valued by many of the people we spoke to. Examples include an increased responsiveness on the part of council officers and more engagement by citizens. Ward councillors are seen to be more involved and demonstrating increased leadership. We would suggest that any further development requires careful consideration. It could become a source of tensions as resources are reduced in line with the need for the council to address the budget gap.”

The Peer Review team were: Barry Quirk, chief executive of Lewisham; Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council and elected member on Hertfordshire County Council (Labour); Councillor Paul Tilsley, Birmingham City Council (Liberal Democrat); John O’Brien, chief executive of London Councils; Andrew Lewis, assistant chief executive of Newcastle City Council and Chris Bowron, Peer Challenge manager of the Local Government Association.


Fantastic news, brilliant to read the progress made since 2008. I wait with baited breath to see what the normal anti-Council brigade will make of it all on here!!

congratulations Jim McMahon as a leader of a council wanting the best for Oldham, The town is on the up and the next 10 years are exciting times for the town centre

Well when you've hit rock bottom the only way is up!
I haven't had recent experience of council 'services', but when I did it was a truly dreadful experience with the council being run for the benefit of the staff, zero accountability and a culture of inward looking.
I know some of the old guard have been removed, but I find it difficult to believe that full change has been effected.
So well done for recognising it & the award, but it's not the end of the road!

In decades gone by the council has been commended for some sort of thing here or there.

but reports like this are meaningless.

until oldham residents start to see real improvements to the borough and its facilities nothing at all has changed.

the councils image is a blinkered one.

Tosh !
5 years ago Oldham Council's annual Service deficit was only £33 million whilst net Assets stood at £368 million -
last year the Service deficit reached £ 126 million whilst net Assets had fallen into negative equity of £ 60 million .
Remarkable ?

What Oldham needs now is stability like they have in Tameside. Solid Labour for over 20 years.

So!..as Oldham Council initiated the survey to be carried out I can only assume they knew beforehand that the result would be favourable!( well things couldn't possibly have been worse could they?)...maybe they wanted a 'Pat on the back' for our Charlie Parker before he heads off to pastures new and a more lucrative next job in London.
They are only trying to reduce the damage they have inflicted on the Town Centre in failed attempts to improve it over the years, so why look for praise now?

Great to see the council is no longer on the "naughty step".
Its a step forward but there is still a way to go.
All we need now is for the council to sort out why 26% of Oldham schools aren't good, the number of council exec's who are paid more than £80k and that when they consult they take heed of what people say.

Oh dear! More good news.

What will the doom merchants and fed-up Oldhamers have to say about this?

bramble the Local Government Association.that's not independent.what residents? they asked cllrs.of course they are going to say it's brilliant.they want to get in the cabinet.bramble some of us care for the town.we pay their salaries remember.they work for us.hows the paying of removal of household rubbish doing?our are has incresed in fly tipping.they work for us bramble.

This report isn't worth the paper it's written on.
It is a peer group report & not in any way independent.
Based on five standard questions set by the LGA & carried out by six people over just 3 days.
It IS NOT an inspection, It IS NOT an audit. IT IS meaningless propaganda

Speaks volumes when people say more good news what will the moaners say. I am guessing none of you have read the report before stating this is good news or understand this is about how the council is run ie accounts, reports, structure not achievements. As for Tameside it consistently sits at the bottom of the ten GM authorities along with Oldham on health, wealth and quality employment. OMBC website states businesses should relocate to Oldham because we pay an average of 16% below average wage!

@Bramble. Remarkable as it may seem, not everyone shares the same view of Oldham council. Some elements of the Council have improved and that is a fair assessment, but let's stop denying that some bits still don't work very well!

@eccofatto - try reading the full article and you will see it was independent and it was conducted by people with no affiliation to Oldham at all. I appreciate you don't like the Council but this is a good achievement and shows things are moving forward. You need to see a bigger picture, there are more complex issues and worries than household rubbish

I also love the reaction of people on here who instantly believe that any quotes by residents must have been falsified because either they don't agree with their negative opinions or they weren't asked themselves. Maybe, just maybe, there are people out there, like me, who see things in a positive light and are not driven by a self need to find a negative in everything.I am impressed how you can all still moan at anything positive

When it comes to appointing a new Chief Executive to replace Mr.Parker let us hope that O.M.B.C. take heed of what our neighbours in Rochdale have done in appoint a C/E at a salary of £130,000 and despite a reccomendation that he receive an increase to £170,000 the full council have voted for all top executives to receive just a 1% salary increase.
This was because over a thousand residents voted against the large pay increase. Time for Oldham to also take a stand on this policy.

It makes me sad and a touch angry to see the negative comments about Oldham Council. I'm not an oldhamer but I have lived and worked here for 30 years and I love it. Look around you and appreciate what you have. Beautiful parks, clean streets and award winning floral displays to brighten our lives. I'd like to ask the moaners what do you contribute to your community? Stop moaning and help to make a difference

@ROYOLD. If there's any borough in Greater Manchester that has had Greater problems than Oldham it's Rochdale. Just bear in mind that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

Incidentally one of the reasons both boroughs have had problems is that both have been politically marginal for the best part of 30 years, weakening good governance by uncertainty and the confidence to plan a long term strategy. For Oldham that era is, for the time being, over.

@pessimist - once again I ask you the question what has your point got to do with this article? What have standings on health, wealth and employment to do with this report on how the Council operates? Last time I checked health is down to the NHS, not the Council? Funny how you always find a way to comment on something completely unrelated just to spout more negativity.

@design970 - I agree completely the Council is far from perfect but surely it is good news that it receiving praise for what's it is trying to do and where it has come from in 2008 especially during the period of biggest financial upheaval in decades? Things will never be perfect but is it not nice to know that what they are doing is being recognised as good practice?

@pessimist - just to correct you (again) on your twisting of the phrase "average wage" as it is not the full info. The website clearly says "UK average" which will include London and the Southwest who we all know pay higher wages. I would fully expect anywhere in the North would offer significant cost savings on employees than these areas. You're trying to suggest they are advertising us as low pay and low skills without giving the full info as usual


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