Oldham Council has confirmed the appointment of Jean Stretton as the local authority’s first ever female leader.
The Hollinwood councillor’s selection was approved at an ‘extraordinary’ meeting of Full Council on January 27. Cllr Stretton had been provisionally selected for the role by the ruling Labour group earlier this month. She replaces Jim McMahon who is stepping aside to focus on his duties as the new MP for Oldham West and Royton following a parliamentary by-election in December. Cllr Stretton, 57, had served as Deputy Leader to Cllr McMahon since June 2014.
She was raised on Alt Estate and educated at Alt Primary and Hathershaw Comprehensive schools. She has lived in Hollinwood since 1989 and was first elected as a ward councillor for the area in 2003. She has held several Cabinet Member posts covering a wide range of areas that include housing, co-operatives and neighbourhoods, health and wellbeing, town centres, culture and tourism. She will now assume responsibility for regeneration, taking over this crucial brief from Councillor McMahon.
In 2013, Cllr Stretton was named ‘Community Champion of the Year’ at the C’llr Achievement Awards organised by the LGiU for what judges called her “inspiring work to help her community in Oldham recover following a gas explosion” in Shaw. Married to John, she has two step-children, five grandchildren and a great granddaughter but describes herself as “a very, very young great granny”.
Amongst her other commitments. Jean is also chair of Oldham Credit Union, serves on the governing bodies of Oasis Academy Oldham and Limehurst primary and has been on the Contour Estate Board since 2003. She is also a keen supporter of Oldham Foodbank.
Accepting the nominations, Jean Stretton praised the work of Jim McMahon’s administration and pledged that Oldham Council’s improvement journey would continue under her leadership – delivering a firm message that “the work goes on”. She highlighted the regeneration projects underway – like the transformation of the Old Town Hall into a cinema and family entertainment venue – as symbolising “so much about how we are moving and getting our priorities right”.
Cllr Stretton also talked about the need to focus more on “social regeneration”, pledging to do whatever is needed to implement the recommendations of the recent Oldham Education and Skills Commission report, saying that “better life prospects and fair and sustainable employment will be key to our prospects and wellbeing”. She added that being Oldham Council’s first female leader would not define her leadership and she would represent every district and deserving cause in the borough. She says, “I am an Oldhamer born and bred. I want what’s best for this town, for its people and for our young people growing up. I am not afraid of hard work and I’m not afraid of a challenge.
“I will represent every Oldhamer – regardless of gender, sexuality, religion, race, creed, class or background. And I will do it because we all share the same aspirations. From Chadderton to Royton, and Failsworth to Saddleworth, we all want this place to succeed. No problem is insurmountable. With courage, determination and teamwork – with all of us doing our bit – Oldham can overcome anything that is thrown at us.”
Cllr Stretton will start a Leader’s Blog online next week which will be updated every Wednesday and can be found via the Oldham Council website at www.oldham.gov.uk
Councillor Abdul Jabbar’s appointment as Oldham Council’s new Deputy Leader was also confirmed tonight. A Labour ward councillor who has represented Coldhurst for 21 years, he retains his portfolio as Cabinet Member for Finance and HR. Under his stewardship, the local authority has established itself as a leader in public sector finance and became the quickest local government body to publish its accounts in half a century in 2015.
Cllr Jabbar has also led on the low carbon and energy saving agenda with invest-to-save schemes designed to reduce emissions and create savings for the local authority and communities through strong partnerships. Cllr Jabbar said: “I am honoured that colleagues have put their trust in me to serve as Deputy Leader and am looking forward to getting started. These are crucial times for the borough and I will be working very closely with Jean Stretton to continue the great work that began under Jim McMahon.”
Former leader Jim McMahon OBE retains his Oldham Council seat as one of three ward members for Failsworth East.