2 years ago when I became leader of the council for the 2nd time, I vowed to make our borough an even better place to live, work and grow up in. And as I reflect on my 2nd stint as leader, I do so with a continued sense of satisfaction about our many achievements. Despite a continued government austerity programme that has seen £200 million of funding taken away and a rigid national economic straightjacket, we have created jobs, protected services and invested in all parts of the borough. Through a proud, passionate and pioneering approach, there have been many success stories on my watch over the last 24 months. These include -
- Record investment in our highways with hundreds of roads re-surfaced.
- A fantastic haul of 'In Bloom' awards with volunteers across our townships.
- One of the best library services in the north, with our 17 branches protected from closure.
- Record numbers of our kids doing the Daily Mile.
- Exceeded our house building targets.
- Increasing employment rates.
- Created and protected hundreds of jobs.
- Attracted new businesses.
- A commitment from major high street names, such as M&S, Next and H&M to invest in Rochdale's new Riverside retail development.
- One of the best council apprenticeship schemes in the country.
- Secured money for the £16 million revamp of our Grade I-listed Rochdale Town Hall.
- Hosted a stage for the Tour of Britain Cycle Race.
- Successful food and drink festivals.
- Secured a £3 million investment for regenerating the town hall square.
- The first Greater Manchester council to have a fully electric mayoral car.
- Completed the heritage initiative in Middleton.
- Fit, feed and read schemes for children over the summer holidays.
- Feel Good Festivals that hit all the right notes.
- A series of cracking half marathons.
- Brilliant Literature and Ideas Festivals.
- Our famous Rochdale Town Hall bells ringing out across the nation on BBC Radio 4.
Above: artist's impression of the upcoming Rochdale Riverside complex.
Thanks to the hard work of so many people across the council and our partner organisations, that is a record to be proud of. but standing still is not an option. Much has been done, but there is still a lot more to do. Our 2020 vision will see the borough continue to flourish and grow. And we have a treble tonic of pioneering initiatives to look forward to. In February, we welcome Dippy the Diplodocus to town, with the Natural History Museum's famous dinosaur taking pride of place at Number One Riverside. Later in the year, Rochdale's visionary Riverside retail development will open its doors to the public, followed later in the year by the start of the ambitious Rochdale Town Hall regeneration scheme. That is just a snapshot of what lies ahead, not just in Rochdale, but across our borough. Other key priorities include my ongoing campaign to get the green light for a tram service to Middleton, as well ensuring a train-tram network for Heywood remains on track. We also have exciting plans to open a new university campus in the borough.
As leader, I will be ensuring the government finally delivers on its promise for a long-term social care funding solution. After a decade of crippling austerity, I can assure residents I shall be holding the government to account on its promises to invest in the north. Our borough has been cash-starved for long enough. It's time the Northern Powerhouse lived up to its name and matched warm words with hard cash.
Despite the many challenges, the increasing pressure to do more with less and any uncertainty created by Brexit, I can see a road to a brighter future. Let's not lose sight of the bigger picture. I am never failed to be impressed by the people of this borough, a place I am proud to call home. Never were the Rochdalian values of cooperation, tolerance, equality and dignity more beautifully reflected than initiatives like Rochdale in Rainbows, with the first ever pride events held across the borough, and the council's Giving Back scheme, which again saw thousands of gifts donated to those less fortunate at Christmas.
As I often say, people can be quick to knock our borough. But as I travel around and visit businesses, enjoy a pint in some of our delightful real ale pubs, eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants, I see a thriving borough, with decent people wanting to make a positive difference and get on in life. I want to lead a borough that is at ease with itself, where anyone irrespective of age, race and sexuality is valued, welcomed and tolerated. The deep sense of community spirit, of togetherness and decency, is why I am so proud to be leader of your council.
I hope local communities can continue to come together in 2020, to share the bonds of love, as we unite around the Rochdalian values of cooperation, equality and dignity. Through progressive policies, the council has, and will continue, to make a positive difference to people's lives. I am delighted that there are now over 8,000 enterprises in the borough, a big increase in new homes, more jobs, better transport links and improved connectivity for all. We are growing all the time.
So as we end the year, and indeed the decade, let's not dwell too much on the years gone. We can't alter the past, but we can change the future. That's why 2020 promises to be a year of growth, investment and delivery, thanks to a council that is on your side and a borough that is well and truly open for business. The best of times lie ahead. On that upbeat note, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.