Leaders Question 1 – Doing our bit to save our planet
My first question to the Leader tonight is on an issue that for my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I think is of paramount importance to the future of the people of our borough, and indeed the people of our planet.
I am, of course, referring to climate change and this Council’s ambitious targets to become carbon neutral in 2025 and make our borough carbon neutral by 2030.
Oldham cannot of course single-handedly save the world from climate change, but by taking practical actions to reduce our carbon footprint, and by leading by example, we can make a difference. Every little helps.
So, I was pleased to see in the recently published Covid Recovery Strategy reference to the ‘green recovery’.
But, unfortunately, when it comes to actions and targets the document falls short on specifics.
It references our intention to ‘develop plans’ for a new District Heat Network using renewable heat from disused mines underneath the town centre; to ‘start to deliver’ improvements in energy efficiency in social housing; and to ‘develop plans’ for Council corporate assets.
The mine heat project is something I personally welcome as I first suggested it to the then Leader at the October 2014 Council meeting, but sadly it must surely now be in jeopardy as the Government has failed to support the proposal as part of our Towns Fund bid?
But, in any case, this misses the real point.
In Bedford, as just one example, the Council also declared a climate emergency, identified its baseline level of carbon emissions, and by installing solar panels on its Council buildings, replacing street lighting with LEDs, and establishing a hydro power scheme in the Great Ouse River reduced its carbon emissions by 62%.
2025 is only four years away.
Would the Leader not agree that by now we as a Council should be ‘doing’ like Bedford and not just ‘planning’ and ‘starting to deliver’?
So, when are we going to start ‘doing it’?
Otherwise how are we as a Council showing leadership and providing encouragement to our public, social and private sector partners and our citizens to join us by doing their bit to stop climate change and save our planet?
Spend Local, Invest Local, Employ Local
For my next question, I want to return to a subject that I have previously raised in this chamber.
That is using the spending power of the Council and its partners to do greater good for our communities by employing it to purchase goods and services from local producers, suppliers and trades people, and to employ local people.
Of course, this creates a virtuous circle as local companies take on more local people, and both these companies and their people invest their earnings in our local economy, as do our residents who are Council employees.
Result – a more vibrant local economy and higher levels of local employment.
It is not rocket science, rather the reverse. Meerkat, TV celebrity and philosopher Alexandr Orlov would call it: ‘Simples’.
But for this to really work we need to ensure spending is placed with providers based in our district centres as well as in Oldham itself.
This strategy would reflect the new reality that I spoke of with the previous Leader at the September 2020 Council meeting suggesting now that ‘local is the new normal.’
For people are more likely to work from home, shop from home, socialise or engage in leisure activities at home, and where they venture out to spend more it is likely to be with local outlets.
They want their Council and its partners to reflect that attitude – to invest first and foremost in our borough by spending, but also investing locally, with traders and businesses in Chadderton, Failsworth, Lees, Royton, Shaw, and Uppermill amongst others to make these district centres also vibrant alongside Oldham.
Sometimes that may involve thinking ‘outside the box’, which is why I recently asked for consideration for an artisan farmers and producers’ market to be established in Shaw centre.
Can the Leader therefore please tell me?
How far off the current 60% target are we?
What this administration will do to increase our local spending by stages substantially above the current target of 60%?
What plans there are to spend and invest in our district centres as well as in Oldham?
And what plans there are to earmark more of our Council jobs and those of our partners for local people who live in our Borough?
What support are we giving local people so that can access these jobs be it at the council, health bodies, colleges and other public services?
We need to lead my example as it will be us locally who builds back better, and we need to do it for ourselves and it is clear nobody else is going to really help in a meaningful way.
Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Real Opposition, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Oldham Council.