I want my town to prosper, but I’ve only ever seen cuts… there’s nothing left to slice off

webnexttech | I want my town to prosper, but I've only ever seen cuts... there's nothing left to slice off
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Arooj Shah has a mountain to climb.If she doesn’t, the people of Oldham will suffer – more than they already have.
Greater Manchester’s council leaders have watched in horror and frustration as town hall budgets have been cut to the bone year after year.
Coun Shah is no different.
This year is no different.
Once again, she and her colleagues are trying to balance the books.
But the budget outlook is bleak.
“There’s nothing left to slice off,” she tells the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Try MEN Premium now with our amazing New Year offer… just click here to give it a go Services across the board have been trimmed endlessly.
There’s not an ounce of fat left.
Coun Shah needs to plug a £30m black hole in the council’s £275.5m budget over the next two years.
Local authorities have seen a 27 per cent real-terms cut in spending power since 2010, the Local Government Association says.
Energy prices are still pushing families to the limit, with the cost of living crisis continuing to leave an increasing number of households on the breadline.
People rely on council services more than ever – but every town hall department is under pressure to find yet more savings.
All the while, bosses are trying to maintain a respectable level of service for its citizens.
“Councils across the country are in difficult circumstances at the moment,” Coun Shah said.
“National crises – like housing and social care – are being passed down to us and we have to pick up the costs and respond to those locally.
Ever since I was first elected in 2012, I’ve only seen cuts.
And every year it becomes harder to make those cuts.
“All the fluff is gone and now we’re facing really difficult decisions to balance the books, while still trying to lay foundations of a secure and prosperous future for Oldham.” Coun Shah – the first Muslim woman to take charge of a council in the north – was first elected to the chamber in 2012, representing Chadderton South.
She was elected leader in 2021 after her predecessor Sean Fielding lost his seat at the local elections.
Coun Shah lost her seat in 2022 to Conservative Robert Barnes.
She was back following the 2023 elections, winning in St Mary’s.
And when leader Amanda Chadderton lost her seat – becoming the third ousted leader in three elections running – Coun Shah was back in the top job.
She told the LDRS among the toughest choises is raising council tax – though it’s not really a choice at all.
It’s a necessity.
She confirmed the charge, which accounts for around 40pc of council income, will need to go up by the full 5pc in the financial year 2024/25.
Of that, 2pc is ringfenced for adult social case.
“My hands aren’t just tied on this,” Coun Shah added.
“They’re tied behind my back… my feet are tied, my ankles are tied.
Everything is tied.
“Council tax is a regressive tax.
The places that are most in need are impacted by it most.
But because the government bases all your other funding on the assumption that we will increase it by the maximum amount, we have no other choice or we’ll risk losing out for services in Oldham.” The extra cash raising the levy will bring in will merely scratch the surface.
Cuts will need to be made on day-to-day spending and services.
Some senior staffing positions could be axed.
Coun Shah said unfilled vacancies will be first to go.
“We’ll be looking at where we can reduce members of staff or types of contracts,” she added.
“It’s going to be horrible.
We have to accept that it’s going to have an impact.
“But I refuse to be in a position or go down the route of where we’re facing bankruptcy, I’d rather make those difficult decisions now.” Charity services will play a massive role supporting the council and residents, Coun Shah said.
Oldhamers can have their say on budget proposals until Febuary 9.
Coun Shah is encouraging people to tell her where they think money could be saved – and which services should be protected.
Some 60 pc of council spending is on adult and children’s social care; 25pc on environmental services including bins and parks; and 6pc on public health.
The remaining 9pc cover all other services such as libraries, leisure and customer services.
Coun Shah added: “I’m really passionate about the consultation.
I want people to be able to feed in what they think their communities need, because ultimately, we’re serving them.” “At the same time, the principles that we’re basing this budget process on is making sure that we’ve looked after the most vulnerable in our society.
That’s our duty.
“Unfortunately, everything’s on the table because of the financial crisis councils are facing across the country.
But we will be protecting our local services and the universal services that people expect the council to deliver.” Despite the difficult decisions ahead, Coun Shah is optimistic about what the council can achieve.
She refuses to compromise on large-scale regeneration projects, emphasising the importance of creating ‘hope and opportunities’ for Oldhamers.
Redevelopment projects in Spindles and Oldham town centre will continue apace.
“We’ve also got major new housing developments taking shape all across the borough, including affordable housing and social housing,” she added.
“We’re investing and opening up family hubs in the community, and we will continue to make sure we can help people at the most vulnerable points in their lives.” The final decisions about the budget proposals will be made by the council on February 28.

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