The Credit Crunch and Rochdale

July 20, 2009 12:00 AM

Rochdale's Finance Boss - Councillor Greg Couzens!Running a Council during these economic times is certainly a challenge. Since taking control of Rochdale Council for the first time ever in 2006, we have striven at all times to keep Council Tax as low as possible whilst delivering the best possible services. Keeping control of our budget has been a challenge especially when needs-met departments like Adult Care see a huge increase in costs. Despite these challenges, we have delivered the lowest Council Tax increase for over a decade and are fighting the credit crunch head on.

Rochdale, like all of Britain has taken a real hit in the current recession. One of the major losses was of course Woolworths but we have also lost some of the smaller traders that gave our Town character. To support local businesses and residents - our Council set up a task force to hit the new challenges head on. Unlike Gordon Brown, our Council over the last few years has been prudent and kept a significant amount of money in our reserves to deal with unforeseen problems such as this.

Our Council set up a help-line for local businesses and has organised a number of events including workshops on surviving the credit crunch, highlighting support available to local businesses and helping the council to buy local amongst many others!

As a result of these sessions and after listening to businesses, our Council has scrapped Parking Charges after 3pm from Monday to Friday - already Conservative-run Trafford Council have 'nicked' the idea after looking at our success. This has led to a 20% increase in footfall in many of our shops. In a twist to their usual role, our Traffic Wardens are now being paid from 3pm to STOP people from paying! I am sure this will help their public image enormously.

One of the major steps we took as a Council at the start of the crunch was to pay out to our suppliers quicker. We improved the cash flow of local companies by coughing up our bills within 10 days of receiving the invoice. This has been hugely popular and as our Council has a policy of giving business to as many local companies as possible, this has made a real difference.

We have also worked hard to help local residents fight the crunch. For example, due to the increasing number of jobless, we have dramatically increased the way we communicate help that we can give local people. This includes a media blitz, with radio adverts and posters for Revenue & Benefits support available. We have also sent teams to churches, mosques and community centres with information on benefits. Our mobile bus, that offers free help and advice on jobs and training has been a huge success visiting some of the hardest to reach, most deprived areas of our Borough. We have also used our Council Magazine 'Local Matters' to send out helpful information and useful contact details to help both individuals and businesses during the recession. This has been a huge success and we have had to take on extra staff to deal with the deluge of calls after a copy was delivered to over 120,000 homes and businesses.

In addition to this, we have increased the amount of events we hold to attract people into our Town Centres. For example, we have recently held a Rochdale Grand Prix, attracting Britain's best cyclists including Olympic Medalists. This brought thousands of extra people into our town and increased trade. We have also organised a 'Feel-good Festival' - attracting bands like chart-toppers The Inspiral Carpets and The Bluetones to our main stage and hosting food markets, attracting celebrity chefs like Aldo Zilli. It is important to support traders in ways like this as it means we increase the chances of attracting more investment for the future.

We have also joined forces with Lib Dem controlled Oldham Borough Council, working together with local colleges to launch the initiative - 'J21'. This has been created to help local businesses and people secure construction related employment and contracts on major developments such as the new multi-million pound Kingsway Business Park and other projects that will be delivered across Oldham and Rochdale over the next 10-15 years. This will help sustain and grow the local construction sector, and address the skills shortage. We have already helped nearly 150 local people into construction jobs and invested £300,000 in education and training.

And what about the future? Things are really looking up though for Rochdale and developers are currently vying to carry out a £250 Million regeneration scheme that will change our Town forever after decades of Labour neglect.

We have also worked hard with our MP - Paul Rowen who has spearheaded our fight for Light Rail in Rochdale. After

10 years of campaigning - 'Metrolink' will now be coming into the heart of our Town, joining up with our new bus station. Paul Rowen has also worked hard to deliver a brand new sixth form college in our Town Centre and with plans for an art's centre / conference venue in Rochdale these are exciting times.

We are not complacent during these difficult times in Rochdale and have shown a willingness not just to react in the short-term but also to build for the future. We are building during the credit and will soon see a brand new Rochdale.