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Tom Stannard: Consultation is key to driving growth

Tom Stannard
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Numerous examples of councils failing in public engagement responsibilities have hit the headlines recently, often masking some of the great work that unsung heroes delivering our services undertake day-to-day.

In a new era of dynamic pubic engagement via social media and the decline of print media, the premium on innovative consultation and engagement mechanisms is higher than ever. What is critical is that product remains key: what we are consulting and engaging people on, and why.

In Oldham our overall co-operative council ethos goes to the heart of this activity. This is about working with and for residents, with their active engagement being a key feature of service reform. This means working in line with co-operative values and principles (e.g. paying our staff the living wage); residents actively informing decision making and co-producing services with communities; and aiming to deliver services through co-operatives and mutual approaches.

Two other recent examples show this cooperative ethos in practice. In September we hosted the annual Get Oldham Working jobs fair in town. This is a major engagement event for our local employment support programme that has now found work for more than 3,000 local residents. Actively promoted via social media, we saw footfall of more than a thousand people at the event, offered more than 500 of them jobs, and increased engagement with the programme and our pioneering career advancement service for working-age adults. This is proper engagement with strong results on employability for local people.

We have launched a major new public consultation on our town centre masterplan for Oldham. In 2018 we intend to procure partners to redevelop 20 acres of the town centre in a £350m scheme, delivering a new market and retail, office and residential buildings. It is one of the biggest town centre projects in Greater Manchester. The public engagement is happening now, in an extensive borough-wide programme, putting resident priorities at the heart of the design. We will be able to shape the procurement around this and design employment priorities into the project next year as a result. Initial results have seen very high levels of public engagement.

Putting public engagement and consultation improves the business case for these programmes. This is not about window dressing, but improving outcomes for residents and the council. In our employment programmes this has underpinned engagement helping us fill over 3,000 jobs, apprenticeships and work experience placements. In our town centre programme, resident engagement is helping us agree the best phasing for development, contributing to design and density considerations, and making the town work better for the people who live here.

As public servants we should be proud of our product, and of its interest to local communities. Employment and skills, and redevelopment and renewal of our town centres are great examples of this. The more we can have the public voice designed into the heart of these projects, the better.

Tom Stannard, director of economy and skills, Oldham MBC

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