PEOPLE living in Oldham have listed improving local shops as the most urgent issue facing the borough, a latest survey has revealed.

It comes after local traders have been hit by repeated Covid lockdowns and big anchor stores such as Debenhams have left the town centre starved of footfall.

The Oldham council is redeveloping Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre and relocating Tommyfield Market in a bid to save the borough’s battered high street.

Think tank Demos asked 20,000 adults in parliamentary constituencies across Great Britain to choose which one of nine issues most urgently needs improving in their local area.

In Oldham East and Saddleworth, 16 per cent of residents chose good local shops as the most urgent issue, followed by good transport services (15 per cent), and premises to support local jobs (14 per cent).

The views were echoed by residents in Oldham West and Royton, were 15.6 per cent considered good local shops as the most pressing issue.

Premises to support local jobs came second with 13.3 per cent of votes, and supportive communities and pleasant streets third with 13.2 per cent.

The results mirror the national picture, with the same three issues also judged to be of the highest priority across Britain.

It comes as the Government is set to outline its plan to 'level up' the country, with a £4.8 billion fund earmarked to reduce inequality across the UK.

Jim McMahon, the MP for Oldham West and Royton called the survey findings “no surprise”.

He added: “We hear so much talk from the Government about improving our town centres but then very little action to follow through and create a level playing field for bricks and mortar shops on our high streets fighting against online retail giants.”

“Government needs to do far more to deal with business rates and how expensive it can be for small businesses to operate on our high streets. We’ve lost key anchor stores here in Oldham and they’re really important for driving footfall through the high street and supporting other businesses.”

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, meanwhile called on the government to ensure Oldham has “good quality, well paid jobs” for the survival of local shops.

Ms Abrahams added: “What shops we have, what buses and trains we have, are driven by commercial interests and if local people don’t have the money to spend in these shops then they’re not viable and will close.

“Our public services have been decimated, the jobs associated with these services sustained many local shops. For example, Oldham council has had their budget halved since 2010. With their demise over the last 11 years, and now the pandemic, it means many shops such as Debenhams and Matalan can’t pay their way.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the Levelling Up Fund will regenerate high streets, upgrade local transport and invest in cultural assets.

A spokeswoman added: “Our Plan for Jobs will create opportunities for people of all ages wherever they live by boosting skills and giving them the best possible chance of getting a job."