Oldham Council's leader-elect has vowed to prove she is on residents' side after Labour lost five seats -including her former boss – at the local elections.
Councillor Amanda Chadderton – deputy to the deposed Arooj Shah over the last 12 months – was voted in as her group’s new leader on Monday night. Her position as new council leader will be ratified at the authority’s annual meeting later this month.
But while the 35-year-old describes the opportunity to lead her home town as the ‘honour of my life’ she is under no illusions it will also be her biggest challenge.
Labour remains by far the largest group on the council, but it has now lost two leaders in successive elections. And a net loss of five seats at last week’s poll suggests change could be in the air at next year’s ‘all out’ local elections, where all 60 seats will be up for grabs.
“It’s been a difficult two years for the Labour group in Oldham,” admits Coun Chadderton.
“When Arooj came in as leader last year she was quite clear about residents feeling the council had moved away from them and wasn’t focusing on issues that mattered to them.”
She adds that ‘12 years of austerity’ have ‘inevitably had an impact on frontline services’ and shaken people’s faith in local government.
“I think that a lot of people felt that the council was not on their side and, as a point of that, Labour wasn’t on their side,” the Royton South councillor says.
But despite a bruising election, Coun Chadderton believes she and her predecessor have created a ‘solid foundation’ to build on.
“It takes time to regain trust and prove we are on their side,” she says.
Foremost in her mind will be helping people through the cost of living crisis – an issue she says was brought up by the ‘vast majority’ of residents during the election campaign.
And with energy prices set to rise again in October the issue it is very much among her top priorities.
“Inevitably that is playing on people’s minds,” she says.
“As a council we need to be geared up to support those residents and ensure there is investment in officers to ensure we can do that.
“Too many people live in poverty – we don’t want more people to be pushed even further into poverty over the next 12 months.”
And she is confident that the resident-focused approach she has pioneered with Arooj Shah will continue to have positive impact – describing the ‘Don’t Trash Oldham’ campaign as ‘massively successful’.
“The response we have had was overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “We need to do more of that – that’s got to be ramped up at pace going forward.”
However, she acknowledges slow progress with some of the larger regeneration projects – including the redevelopment of Spindles and the old library – had become a ‘stick to beat’ the council with.
“We need to make sure over the next 12 months they do come to fruition,” she continues.
“We have to ensure we are seen as a competent council that is on people’s side and can deliver the big regeneration projects.”
Another key priority will be the publication of the report into alleged Child Sexual Exploitation in Oldham, which Coun Chadderton says has ‘hung over’ the council for two and a half years.
But despite undoubted confidence in her ‘vision’ for Oldham, Coun Chadderton knows she will ultimately face another tough election campaign in just under a year’s time.
Former leader Arooj Shah accused the Conservative of ‘jumping into the gutter’ and conducting a smear campaign after losing her seat to Tory candidate Coun Robert Barnes last week.
Twelve months earlier, then-leader Sean Fielding also lost his seat, later claiming he had fallen victim to fake news and social media disinformation.
Coun Chadderton believes both were subject to ‘appalling’ treatment during the election campaigns.
“Some of the tactics of the local Conservative party over the last few months have been disgusting – the literature put out has been beyond the pail – we need to be more robust, responding to that and calling it out for what it is,” she says.
“If it’s racist and misogynistic, it’s racists and misogynistic – and we have to say that.”
The Conservative group says it ran a ‘robust campaign’, but would not be making any further comment having issued a statement on the matter recently.
While Coun Chadderton intends to build on the ‘foundations’ laid by herself and Ms Shah, she acknowledges she will have her own style and approach.
“I’m ready and able to take that on going forward. But of course there will be differences – there are difference with every leader,” she says.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m ready to do that work.”