New Mayor in Office

It is a great honour to be elected as Mayor of this historic town in which the office dates back to 1674. Perhaps as a historian I know more than many in the room tonight about some of my predecessors in office, some I would wish to follow and others have made their mark in other ways.

Speaking of history, records appear to suggest one occupation guaranteed to see you elected to council was to be either a licenced victualler or a wine merchant. This Mayor Making event is however, enshrined in our annual calendar and it is a huge personal honour to be elected as Mayor, and I sincerely thank all my colleagues for the trust that you have offered me and I truly commit to carry out the duty of Mayor to the best of my ability, always respecting the traditions and the expectations of the position.

Twelve months ago, we came out of an election, one which resulted in a real mix of new and very experienced Members around this table. The last twelve months has seen us, in the main, work well together, and I truly wish for that to continue into my term of office. As a Council we are in a very fortunate position in having a strong asset base, revenue and capital balances, and a significant portfolio of property and land. Our common purpose, therefore, is to continue to build a strong and vibrant Oswestry working together with our many partners, including Shropshire Council.

At the outset tonight, it is my duty to confirm my Chaplain for the year and I am delighted that the Reverend Harvey Gibbons has agreed to be my Chaplain. Harvey is new to Oswestry but is quickly coming to grips with the town and its people. It is important for the Council to maintain its long link with St Oswald's Parish Church recognising the essential association required between sovereign, government and church.

A Mayor always needs a strong and reliable supporting act as a Mayoress, and it is my immense pleasure to confirm that Marilyn Taylor will fulfil that role. I know she has been really looking forward to it, and (you will be relieved to know) has instructed me on a number of occasions what I won't do or say when Mayor. Joking aside, together we greatly look forward to representing the Council out and about in our community and beyond.

In becoming Mayor, of course, I am following in the footsteps of Councillor Vince Hunt and his Mayoress, Amber. Vince has been a resolute and robust leader for this Council bringing together new Members and experienced Members after an election, as well as fulfilling his many responsibilities with Shropshire Council. Vince therefore, on behalf of everybody in this room, can I be the first to congratulate you on a successful, busy and challenging year in office. However, when it comes to following in your footsteps I draw the line at 'playing tennis and Bollywood dancing'.

I also want to be the first to congratulate a certain young lady who has been the youngest Mayoress in the long history of civic office in this town, and as such has been a role model for young people in our community. Amber has attracted interest wherever she has gone, including BBC radio and television, but at all times she has been a credit to the town, her family, and the young community of Oswestry. Having had the best experience possible of civic life at such an early age, then I hope and trust that in years to come you will consider being a civic leader in whichever community you are directed towards. I also wish you ever success in your exams which I believe start tomorrow.

A normal custom tonight is for the Mayor to talk about his or her charity for the next twelve months. I do intend to fundraise, and many of you know that saucepans have been on the boil for many months and Beresford Gardens is fast becoming a focus for the jam and preserve industry of Oswestry. There are many deserving local charities some of which have a personal resonance with me. However, given the support they have received from my predecessors I decided to choose and concentrate my efforts on just two charities. The first of which is the Lingen Davies Trust which helps cancer sufferers throughout Shropshire, Mid Wales and Herefordshire. Certainly, many people in this community, and in this room this evening, are so grateful to that unit for their treatment, care and ongoing support.

Shropshire Young Carers is my other named charity. Although they work with young carers throughout the County there are 20 of these young persons in Oswestry, and importantly, they have assured me that money raised will be spent locally giving these youngsters some respite by organising recreational space and time. This wonderful organisation to my mind appears to sit in the shadow of others and so does not get quite the publicity and support it deserves. I therefore hope in some small way to change this situation during my year in office.

The next twelve months are going to be challenging, but exciting. We are aware of the many pressures and financial constraints that are been experienced within Shirehall about the future of many headline discretionary services as provided by Shropshire Council. Without doubt we will be key to, as well as a loud voice in how local services are delivered into the future. One example is our financial involvement now in providing ongoing youth services in Oswestry. This Council believes in its young people, is prepared to invest in its young people, and I look forward to playing a lead role in that agenda in the next twelve months.

Just a few weeks ago Oswestry received the news that its business community following a referendum had voted to establish a Business Improvement District for the town. Throughout this journey the Town Council has been on-board in terms of facilitation, support when needed, and funding. The BID is now up and running, it is shaping its agenda, and I know that this Town Council want to play a supportive role in that journey over the next five years. The BID presents a real opportunity for the Town Council to get on-board with its business community, to share an agenda, and above all promote Oswestry as a centre of retail and business excellence.

Oswestry is blessed with individuals who are prepared to serve on local groups and organisations, and I have been pleased, in the last few weeks, to see the re-launch of the Townscape & Transport Group. This group of volunteers, working with the local authorities, is looking at public realm, traffic issues, and how the town centre and its public realm operates. I firmly believe that working together we can improve the offer that we make to our local residents, and our visitors, to make Oswestry even more attractive and accessible, and therefore encourage a greater footfall.

The Council is committed to commemorating the 100 years this year since the conclusion of World War One. Our support and funding for a statue of Wilfred Owen, the famous Oswestrian war poet, is well documented. We are also aware that the Wilfred Owen Festival, to be shared over twelve days in October and November, is already attracting huge local, national and international interest. I greatly look forward to the unveiling of the statue in Cae Glas Park, recognising that on the 4th November 2018 we will commemorate 100 years since the death of Wilfred Owen.

We all know that Oswestry is blessed with a number of excellent festivals and events. Some are provided or facilitated by the Town Council including Oswestry Christmas Live, Oswestry Youth Music Festival, Oswestry Food Festival and our Bonfire & Fireworks Evening. The Christmas Light Switch-On has grown, year on year, and this year we have a new event that I am greatly looking forward to. The Oswestry Balloon Carnival is a partnership between the Council, Nightingale House, Lindstrand, and Cloud Nine. Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, balloons will be set up from Cae Glas Park, plus there will be a significant international market in our streets, and throughout the town there will be live entertainment. This should be an excellent event to promote Oswestry, bring in visitors and thereby increase footfall in the town centre.

Economic regeneration and tourism will be high on our agenda in the next twelve months. I am therefore delighted that Shropshire Council, with whom we are in direct communication with through the Town Centre Partnership group, is currently promoting a new Economic Growth Strategy, not only for the county, but also for the market towns including Oswestry.

Another headline for the Town Council in that within the next twelve months the Future Fit Consultation process will take place, so as to determine where and what health facilities will be provided for the town and this county. Our stance has always been that we resolutely believe in an equality of services across the county in respect of A&E and that Oswestry should have the healthcare it deserves in terms of a Regional Health Centre. We have consistently been at the forefront of campaigning for the retention of local health services, and my commitment is that we will continue, as a Town Council, to lead and also support our MP, Owen Paterson, and his Health Group in maintaining this pressure.

On the national scene we have excellent relationships with the National Association of Local Councils, the National Association of British Market Authorities, and the Society of Local Council Clerks and it is important that we maintain these in the year ahead. Over many years the Council has built up a significant and respected profile within the county and beyond, and we should feel proud of this and build upon it.

Oswestry Town Council has always met change and new agendas head on. We are one of just a few local councils campaigning and acting to reduce single use plastic. We are facilitating an investigation into the setting up of a community energy programme for Oswestry and we are looking at electric charging points on our main car park. We can make a difference and I look forward to the outcome from these new topic areas for this Council.

We are, for the first time, a finalist in Britain in Bloom 2018 and this is an opportunity to impress upon the judges the way that this Council works within the community, with many partner organisations, and the pride that we take in our services, activities and events. I believe we have much to be excited about in this Council Chamber where we have a strong mixture of skills, knowledge, experience and talents.

Lastly, I want to share something which is of great importance to me. As both a Councillor and a historian there has been, on the odd occasion, when I utter the word history that I have witnessed a little sigh or roll of eyes. So now, I would like to take the opportunity as a historian to remind my colleagues (without sighs or eyes rolling), that every time you make a decision, here in this room, around this table, you are contributing to the history of this town. Good history, bad history, but history nonetheless. Which is why (if we wish for more good history than bad) it is so important to get things right, and that can only be achieved through truly understanding issues and thorough debate, and then, dare I say, having the courage to vote as our informed selves feels right. Martin Luther once said "You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you don't say"

The secret in the months ahead will be to continue to work together, and I truly mean together, to face not only local and county wide challenges but also to take advantage of the significant opportunities that are available to us.

I would like to conclude by reiterating how fortunate and proud I feel to be elected as Mayor of this town of Oswestry. I reaffirm that commitment to undertake the role of Mayor to the best of my ability and I formally thank all my colleagues for putting their trust in me and, with their support, and that of our staff team, I am sure that we can continue to build on the many successes of this Council, doing at all times what is best for this town of Oswestry.

Monday 21 May 2018

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