Labour councillors can shape the future of their areas and of their party, writes Jim McMahon
LABOUR local government is at the eye of a political and economic storm. We have been selected for special treatment by the coalition government and enduring cuts in expenditure that will continue for the foreseeable future whoever wins the next general election. What makes a bad situation almost impossible is the welfare reform proposals that take money from the pockets of the hard-working poor. We seem to have an economic policy that, through quantitative easing, gives money to banks that will not spend it and yet takes money from people who will. In Oldham alone we estimate that the welfare cuts will take £20m out of the local economy – in short, less money for local traders when they really need it.
But it is precisely at times like this that as local leaders we need to provide a vision for what Labour local government can do for its residents and its party. So what does such a vision look like?
First, it is all about jobs. Even in the years of plenty Oldham lost out, shedding half its manufacturing jobs in the years between 2000 and 2010. We developed an over-reliance on the public sector that had no real long-term future and often meant that well-paid professionals came in from outside the borough to undertake these roles. Anyone who has ever been unemployed for any length of time knows how corrosive it is on work and family values. So we now have to be ruthless in attracting and retaining jobs that can be done by Oldham people both immediately and with the necessary training. Take two examples. First, we recently persuaded a major manufacturing company to relocate to Oldham rather than Brazil. Over the next five years this will generate hundreds of jobs and apprenticeships that can be filled by local people. And, second, last year we worked with the Manchester Hotels Association to create Hotel Futures – the first national training academy for the hospitality industry. This will be based in Oldham and, as well as creating hundreds of much-needed apprenticeships, will also secure a four-star hotel and conference facilities in our town centre. It is my personal mission to help create 2,000 jobs or quality training and self-employment opportunities in 2013. It is a tough call but that is what Oldham needs.
Next, it is about the town, not the town hall. Hard as it is, we have to focus on the fortunes of our towns. That means we have to be confident about what we all have to offer even in these dark times. The terms of trade are shifting and what were previously declining industries such as textiles are now seeing a viable future in the UK (cotton really is coming home). We have to be cheerleaders for our local economies and work with businesses and public agencies to provide the local leadership to challenge the failures of centralist policymaking. The current work programme is a disaster not so much because of the current government but because it is a centrally prescribed programme with little understanding of local labour markets. We have to be much more confident in leading those local coalitions to create viable local and regional alternatives. For years we tried to explain the history of Oldham and the reasons for its decline. Our task now is to change that history.
Last, respect from our party. I sometimes feel that Labour local government is still serving a collective prison sentence for the misdemeanours of a few council leaders in the 1980s. Well, I was still in my pram during the great rate-capping fiasco and it is time to move on. We currently have over 6,000 Labour councillors who, through voluntary contributions, make the biggest collective payment to Labour party funds. I suspect that most Labour councillors understand the need for the contribution we make but what is less understandable is the lack of respect we receive. As the leader of a council I know that letters to shadow cabinet members go unanswered and unacknowledged. The Labour local government unit, once a source of invaluable briefings and training, has been run down. These issues can and will improve in the future but what is evident is the lack of knowledge within senior levels of the party about what Labour local government actually does for their communities and the party. So let’s have a resolution for 2013 that every shadow cabinet member and senior party official spends a week shadowing a Labour leader in local government. I would certainly make you welcome in Oldham.
Jim McMahon is leader of Oldham council
Labour councils get on the job
How Labour councils are using their powers to regenerate neighbourhoods and get people into work
In partnership with the local college and making use of powers granted in the new city deal, Labour councillors in Leeds recently created a training agency to help young people into apprenticeships. Small businesses will get special support so the risks of taking on a new employee are shared, opening up apprenticeships to a larger body of local employers.
The Labour council outlined plans to invest £400m through its capital investment programme, and to work to make Newcastle one of the country’s most business-friendly cities. The project, known as a ‘working city prospectus’, is about creating the right conditions for investment, employment and growth and showing the city is open for business. The council has four accelerated development zone sites in Newcastle and Gateshead, which are expected to create up to 13,000 jobs by 2030. In addition an enterprise zone has been created, providing opportunities in the marine and offshore energy sectors.
In Plymouth the council’s Labour administration has put job creation at the heart of its cooperative approach to generating growth. Over the last few months it has set up a jobs task force and launched a plan to create 2,000 jobs in two years through 19 projects. Council leader Tudor Evans has launched an ambitious ‘1000 club’, with a dedicated website to get 1,000 new jobs or apprenticeships in 1,000 Plymouth businesses. The council has launched a push to kickstart stalled developments, agreed a procurement policy that supports local businesses and planned a new community economic development trust.
After years of dithering by the Liberal Democrats, Southwark’s Labour council has partnered with Lend Lease to bring £1.5bn investment to the Elephant and Castle area. This ‘shovel-ready’ deal creates 5,000 construction jobs, including apprenticeships during development and 1,250 long-term post-development jobs.
In 2008 Stevenage’s Labour council set up an economy task force to counter the impacts of the recession. This has involved mortgage rescues to prevent repossessions, the allocation of additional space for North Hertfordshire College Skills Training Facility, and the promotion of the local credit union.
economy, jobs, Labour, local government, Oldham