Questions to the Leader of Oldham Council – from the Leader of the Opposition – Cllr Howard Sykes – 18 Dec 13

Honouring our Spanish Civil War Dead

I was pleased to see that as part of Democracy Week an exhibition was staged in Gallery Oldham about the ten men from the Borough of Oldham who fought as part of the International Brigades against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

April 2014 will mark 75 years from the ending of the war – the tragedy for Spain is that the Fascists won, immersing the country in a stifling dictatorship that only ended in 1975.

Oldham has recently rightly honoured its dead from both World Wars with a refurbished war memorial.

It would therefore also seem appropriate to ensure that the men who served in this lesser known, but critical, conflict receive their due recognition.
In 1986 former Mayor Alwyn McConnell unveiled a memorial plaque to these unsung heroes in the Local Studies Centre.

Unfortunately this is now sadly languishing somewhere in the vaults – available for inspection only upon request to the curator.

Can I therefore ask the Leader if he will commit himself to ensuring that this plaque is placed on display in a prominent position in a town centre public building as was intended in time to mark the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war?

And can I also ask him to ensure that there will be a re-dedication ceremony to be held on a date agreed with the International Brigade Memorial Trust to which relatives, representatives from the Trust and veterans organisations, and local civic leaders can be invited?

Public Investment in Renewables

Climate change is of increasing concern to the public – as inhabitants of this Earth every one of us has a personal responsibility for ensuring we cause no harm to the planet – but as local leaders, elected members also have a collective responsibility for showing the way.

I was therefore very pleased to hear that the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities has set ambitious targets for reductions in carbon emissions for each of the ten authorities and that Cabinet has recently discussed how Oldham Council will contribute to these targets.

One way that other local authorities have done this is by supporting the development of local renewable electricity generation schemes, whether hydro, solar or wind, often in conjunction with a specialist commercial operator, and these schemes have been part-financed through a community share offer to the public.

Such schemes are revenue-raising as they provide a long-term income stream to the authority, but they also embody the co-operative agenda as local authorities and communities work together to achieve a common goal.

There are some factors in Oldham’s favour.

We have a track record with the establishment of a community-owned hydro scheme at Dovestones Reservoir, new Passivhaus carbon-neutral homes at St. Marys, and our electric-charging points.

We also have local expertise in this field – a splendid Regional Science Centre and The Oldham College Green Technology Centre.

So there is no reason why Oldham cannot be ambitious.

Can I therefore please ask the Leader if he will agree to convene a renewable energy think-tank – rather along the lines of the recent successful Feeding Oldham Event – with key partners and players, to identify future renewable energy projects for our borough?

Developing a Municipal Bond Market

Given the significant level of public investment proposed by this Council in the coming years, I am sure that the Leader and the Cabinet Member for Finance would welcome any opportunity to access cheaper money to finance infrastructure projects.

The Chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Merrick Cockell, has recently stated that the revival of a municipal bond market would help local Government access finance at a lower cost than the Public Works Loan Board.

It was Sir Merrick’s view that this would also provide local Government with greater independence from central Government.

Sir Merrick has issued an invitation to Councils to participate as partners in a new agency to work up a practical proposition for municipal bonds and so far 18 Councils have expressed an interest in joining such an agency.

Given that this proposition could save our Borough’s hard pressed Council tax payers money from servicing reduced interest payments, can I ask the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance to consider taking up Sir Merrick’s invitation, or can they inform Council that they have already done so?

Milnrow Road Zebra Crossing tragedy – statement given at Full Council 18th Dec – posted for information purposed only

18 December, 2013

A statement was given at tonight’s Full Council meeting about the tragic death of a local schoolgirl in Shaw.

Annalise Holt, 12, was fatally injured following a collision with a van in the incident on Milnrow Road, Shaw, at about 4.30pm on December 17.

Full Council observed a minute’s silence as a mark of respect at the start of proceedings.

Councillor Dave Hibbert, Cabinet Member for Environment and Housing, then gave the following statement to the Council Chamber:

“I am sure that everyone here tonight in the Council Chamber and people from across our Borough are united in a sense of sadness and shock after hearing news of yesterday’s tragic events”, he said.

“We have had a number of public questions submitted for our Question Time event this evening about this tragedy and that is only right because we all want information and answers.

“Firstly, I want to pay tribute to the emergency services who responded to last night’s incident in a typically professional manner and did all they could to assist.

“At present we are now assisting the police investigation which aims to find out exactly what happened. That means we are somewhat restricted in what we can say because we must take very great care not to prejudice the outcome of that investigation in any way.

“There have been some misleading reports about the crossing site which I would like to correct. Some of the data that has been quoted in relation to accident figures does not refer to this site at all. They refer to a stretch of Milnrow Road (A663) running north towards Milnrow.

“Our records at this crossing site since 1999 show that – prior to yesterday – there have been three incidents in 14 years. Two of these simply involved ‘shunting’ – where one vehicle has gone into the back of another giving way to pedestrians.

“The other case was the tragic incident in January 2012 when Lynn Steele was one of two pedestrians hit by a car and subsequently died.

“The police report into that accident stated that the glare of the sun low in the winter sky was a contributing factor in this incident – not the condition of the highway or the crossing. We understand the Coroner held an inquest in late-October but the Council was not called as an interested party and nor has the Coroner’s report been released to us.

“Some reports have also speculated that the lack of a school crossing patrol may have been a contributory factor in yesterday’s incident. It is true that this crossing used to have a patrol for two local primary schools, but at the time of day when this incident happened the patrol would not, in any case, have still been on duty given that they finish at around 4pm.

“We fully recognise that a petition that has been launched by the public asking the Council to consider replacing the zebra crossing with a pelican crossing and we understand the concerns being raised.

“This site is eligible for either a zebra, pelican or puffin crossing. Although we are still far from a conclusion to the police investigation, what I will say is that we will consider this in consultation with the local community when we have the full facts before us. We are certainly not dismissing this request, but the existing zebra crossing does meet all our highway safety obligations.

“That is as much as we can say at this stage without prejudicing the ongoing investigation. We all have a duty to allow that to proceed in a fair and responsible manner.

“In that context I have tried to address as many of the questions submitted to us as possible by the public as we can but we must now wait for the police to report their findings to us.

“I pledge to continue to liaise with local Ward Members, who have raised this issue as a matter of urgency, as we get more information in the coming days. The Council is also supporting Royton and Crompton school in their efforts to deal with these tragic events.

“I will issue a further public update on this matter as quickly as I am able to do so.

“Finally, I would again like to express my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Annalise Holt, and also to wish her school friend a full recovery.

“I know I speak for the whole Council Chamber when I say that they are all in our thoughts and prayers.”

Milnrow Road Zebra Crossing tragedy

I am horrified as others have been about the most recent accident on the Milnrow Road Zebra in Shaw.

As you can appreciated lots of people have been in touch about this matter and this email will attempt to cover the points people have raised.

Obviously this is extremely devastating for the families especially at this time of year.

There are people to consider here – the family of the young girl who sadly died the family of the young girl who has been seriously injured and the driver and his family.

Local Councillors have for more years than we care to remember been asking for this crossing to be made safer and traffic signals (pelican) be provided.

Only a couple of weeks ago Highway Engineers stated that apart from some re-lining and improving the lighting, there was nothing else they were prepared to do.

Concern about this crossing has, and is, regularly and continually expressed by local elected Councillors (in meetings and via direct correspondence).

There is a meeting today at 4.15pm about this matter.

There is a meeting of the full Oldham Council tonight at 6pm when depending upon the outcome of the 4.15pm meeting, this matter will be raised again if we are not satisfied or assured enough by the earlier 4.15pm meeting.

If you have not already done so please sign the petition:

This will help me and other local Shaw and Crompton Councillors press home the case.

As you will appreciate matters concerning this tragedy are moving quickly, others will and are planning things to again demonstrate our community’s anger about this matter and to ensure something gets done about it, and quickly.

Hopefully by working together we will get some action.

Many thanks for contacting me about this matter.

I can assure you I share your frustrations and concerns. My family and I use that crossing and that stretch of road on a daily basis.

As and when I or my colleagues have any updates I will attempt to share them with fellow concerned residents as soon as we can:

Once again thanks you for contacting me about this issue.

Liberal Democrats welcome increase in support for poorest Oldham Council Tax Payers

Liberal Democrats welcome increase in support for poorest Oldham Council Tax Payers

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council welcomes the recent recommendation outlined in a report to next full Council on Wednesday 18th December 2013 to increase the level of support from 75% to 80% that will be made available to the poorest Band A Council Tax payers in our borough. (Presently this is capped at 75% of a bill for Band A payers).

This is line with the one of the recommendations made by Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Howard Sykes, in a letter to Borough Treasurer Steven Mair in October of this year.

Cllr Sykes said: “The Liberal Democrats have always believed that the original discount scheme was not generous enough. It was based on what we felt was an overly pessimistic projected collection rate of only 50%.”

“Whilst the increase from 75% to 80% is modest, to the poorest Council Tax payers every penny saved will make a big difference so the Liberal Democrats are happy to endorse this.”

The Liberal Democrats now hope that the level of support for the poorest will increase further in line with increased collection rates.

“We would support further increases in line with improvements in the collection rate, added Cllr Sykes, “so long as the overall scheme remains affordable.”

However, disappointingly, the report’s recommendations do not include establishing a discretionary hardship fund rather like that of other Greater Manchester Councils, as suggested by the Lib Dems.

Cllr Sykes said: “The hardship fund was one of a set of practical measures that the Oldham Liberal Democrats proposed to the Council to support the poorest citizens of our borough, particularly those who are disabled or other vulnerable. Gratifyingly, after talking with us, the Labour Administration has taken up many of our suggestions – but in this particular case they have chosen not to do so”.

“The hardship fund would have been used to support first time Council Tax payers in arrears who are making some payment, yet face, because of exceptional circumstances, undue hardship in discharging their total debt. Liberal Democrats wanted particularly to target this help to claimants with disabilities and long-term debilitating health conditions.”

Cllr Sykes added: “I suggested to the Leader at September Council that the bumper Manchester Airport Group dividend could have be used to support the establishment of this fund – but Labour have chosen not to do so. So my overall verdict of the performance of the Administration on this issue is – making progress but could do better”.

Autumn Statement – Good news for Oldham

Cllr Howard Sykes, Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, has welcomed several of the key announcements made in last Thursday’s Autumn Statement as “good news for Oldham”.

Cllr Sykes said: “Oldham’s Liberal Democrats were particularly happy to hear that a free midday meal will soon be provided to every primary school pupil and disadvantaged college student; that local employers taking on young people will get a break from National Insurance contributions; and that small business and retailers will receive more support.”

“These measures will be especially welcomed by families on low-incomes, young adults who are seeking work, and small businesses, especially those that are newly established.”

“These practical measures have been brought about as a result of the influence of Liberal Democrat ministers in Government.”

“Access to school meals has been proven to lift the performance of pupils, which in the long-term must improve the employment prospects of these children when they become young adults, and support for employers and small businesses will help reduce unemployment in Oldham and boost our local economy.”

“Together, they represent a significant investment that will help ‘Get Oldham Working’”.


1. Free School Meals: The Government announced additional funding of over £1 billion over 2 years to provide free school meals for all infant school pupils and also for disadvantaged college students from Sept. 2014. 9,800 infant school pupils in Oldham will benefit from the free school meals provision. £150 million will also be made available to ensure that schools can build new kitchens or dining rooms where necessary.

2. National Insurance Breaks: Employers’ National Insurance Contributions (NICs) will be abolished in April 2015 for under 21-years-olds earning up to £16,000 per annum. For example, companies will save £1,000 each year for every young employee earning £16,000. There are currently 5,460 employees under 21 working in Oldham.

3. Support for Businesses: The business rate rise in 2014-15 will be capped at 2 per cent instead of 3.2 per cent (the increase in the September 2013 Retail Prices Index). Small business rate relief will be extended an extra year to 31st March 2015. There will be a discount of up to £1000 against business rates bill for retail premises such as pubs, cafes, restaurants and charity shops with a rateable value of up to £50,000 in 2014-15 and 2015-16. There will be a 50 per cent discount from business rates for new occupants of previously occupied retail premises for 18 months. Businesses will be able to pay rates over 12 months rather than 10 from 2014.

Highway chaos Oldham Road, Manchester Road, Shaw Road – trying to get in and out of Shaw beyond the Big Lamp roundabout end of Crompton Way

My latest correspondence on this matter to highway bosses in Oldham.

Can I assure residents my colleagues and I are doing all we can to stop totally avoidable matters like this happening.

The above works do not feature in the weekly highway works bulletin yet are causing chaos to all users.

Who decided last week to undertake works on both roads, in connection with the recent resurfacing?

I have been contacted by many angry residents about this matter.

There is no information about the works, their duration or purpose.

People have been late for work, college/school, medical appointments and similar. It is impacting upon all road users be they car, commercial or on public transport.

Can we have some answers for why these works are needed now, who agreed them and how long they might be continuing?

Also can I have an assurance that works will not be undertaken simultaneously on the two main roads out of Shaw (accepting emergency works), again?

This is, I regret, not the first time the above has happened I have raised it before which once again have turned out to be empty promises.

I am sure with a little thought and planning I it can be avoided and thus avoid such a negative impact on thousands of users.

I await your comments with interest.

Oldham Lib Dems welcome 30 Million in Work Figure

Oldham Lib Dems welcome 30 Million in Work Figure

Liberal Democrats on Oldham Council have welcomed the latest news that employment levels in the UK have reached a new 30 million record high, whilst unemployment continues its downward trend in Oldham and across the UK.

The Office of National Statistics has just released the latest figures on the levels of employment. Over the last year, the number of people in work has increased by 378,000 to a record breaking 29.95 million.

Commenting, Cllr Howard Sykes, Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, said: “This is another encouraging sign that both the national and the local economy is recovering.”

“Britain now has a whopping 30 million people in work. Liberal Democrats are determined as a party to build a stronger economy and a fairer society that allows everyone to get on in life – and having access to a job is a key component in full participation as an active citizen. “

“In government, the Liberal Democrats have so far helped private businesses create more than a million private sector jobs – and we continue to campaign nationally for a million more.”

Meanwhile, figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that in Oldham in October 5,739 people were unemployed and claiming job seekers allowance, a fall of 2,317 since the start of 2013.

Cllr Diane Williamson, Shadow Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Employment added: “Oldham’s figures reflect the national picture with unemployment figures in our borough continuing to fall. However there is no room for complacency – every one of these 5,739 claimants still represents an individual without an opportunity to earn a wage. So locally Oldham’s Liberal Democrats continue to play our part in helping to Get Oldham Working.”

“Recently we have championed initiatives to ensure that Council jobs go to local people and to establish a guaranteed interview for former armed services personnel who apply for Council jobs after returning to civilian life. We look forward to doing more – and these figures provide the encouragement to continue do so.”

JSA Claimant Count – Oldham
Date Number %age

January 2013 8,056 5.7%
March 2013 8,187 5.8%
April 2013 7,985 5.6%
May 2013 7,900 5.6%
June 2013 7,487 5.3%
July 2013 7,477 5.3%
Aug 2013 7,078 5%
Sept 2013 6,244 4.4%
Oct 2013 5,739 4.1%

Vanquis banished from Spindles following Second Lib Dem Campaign

Vanquis banished from Spindles following Second Lib Dem Campaign

Vanquis Bank, a sub-prime lender targeting those with a poor credit rating and multiple debts, has vanished from the Spindles Shopping Centre after a second successful campaign by the Oldham Liberal Democrats.

Vanquis Bank, a subsidiary of doorstep lender Provident Finance, operates in the sub-prime lending market offering a credit card requiring a typical interest payment of 39.9% to UK residents with a ‘limited or uneven credit history’.

It has been criticised on credit forums such as Money Saving Expert, established by financial journalist Martin Lewis, for the high interest charges on these cards and the high charges levied on defaulted payments.

The Liberal Democrat Group, led by Cllr Howard Sykes, first successfully campaigned for Vanquis to be banned from having a stand in the Oldham Bus Station in the autumn after an appeal to Transport for Greater Manchester.

Vanquis then moved on into the Spindles Shopping Centre and the Liberal Democrats raised their game.

Cllr Sykes wrote a letter to the manager of the centre asking the new American owners for their support.

In the letter he stated: “Vanquis actively targets and impoverishes poor people by trapping them in a cycle of debt. I therefore ask you to withdraw permission for Vanquis (or similar sub-prime lenders) to operate from a stand in Spindles Town Square and to instead work with Oldham Council to promote access to a stand for staff from the Council’s Financial Inclusion Team and the Oldham Credit Union”.

Cllr Sykes was gratified to receive a very speedy and positive response by Mike Flanagan Centre Manager, with Vanquis denied the use of Spindles to market their products after only a few days.

He said: “I am grateful to the manager and owners of the Spindles Shopping Centre for their support. This is an example of town centre retailers acting responsibly to help us combat legal loan sharks.

I now hope that we can promote Credit Union services to shoppers in time for Christmas, but I also hope that other town centre retailers will not offer this company houseroom – we do not want to move this legal loan shark to other locations in our town centre, we want to say go away, you – and your ilk – are not welcome in our Borough.”

Copy letter below:

Mr Mike Flanagan
Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre
Unit 50 George Street

Dear Mr Flanagan,

Re: Request for Removal of Vanquis

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council is committed to driving out of the Borough the legal loan sharks who prey on the poorest citizens in our Society.

Oldham Council has tonight unanimously supported a motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat Group condemning legal loan sharks.

Vanquis Bank, a subsidiary of doorstep lender Provident Finance, had until recently had a marketing stand in the Oldham Bus Station. Following a campaign by Liberal Democrat Councillors, Transport for Greater Manchester agreed to withdraw permission for Vanquis Bank to operate from the bus station. Unfortunately, Vanquis has subsequently relocated to the Spindles Shopping Centre.

At the stand in Spindles, company representatives have been seen to be handing out promotional brochures, and a number of people consider them to be harassing passers-by entering the Centre.

The Oldham Liberal Democrats would like the new Management of Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre to ban Vanquis from the Centre, and I shall explain why.

Vanquis operates in the sub-prime lending market offering a credit card requiring a typical interest payment of 39.9% to UK residents with a ‘limited or uneven credit history’. It has been criticised on credit forums such as Money Saving Expert, established by financial journalist Martin Lewis, for the high interest charges on these cards and the high charges levied on defaulted payments.

Vanquis actively targets – and let’s be candid about this – ‘poor’ people who cannot access cheaper credit elsewhere, to put them further into debt. These individuals often already have multiple debt issues and have limited means from which to make repayments.

Vanquis effectively impoverishes poor people by trapping them in a cycle of debt.

I am sure that retailers at Spindles Town Square wish to retail responsibly and offer customers quality products at a reasonable price; Vanquis do not.

I therefore ask you to withdraw permission for Vanquis (or similar sub-prime lenders) to operate from a stand in Spindles Town Square and to instead work with Oldham Council to promote access to a stand for staff from the Council’s Financial Inclusion Team and the Oldham Credit Union.

I am of course happy to discuss this with you in more detail.

Yours sincerely

Howard Sykes

Shaw and Crompton Parish Councillors call for Oldham Council to abandon £40 Charity Poll Tax

Shaw and Crompton Parish Councillors are proposing a motion to next Monday’s (11th November) full meeting of the Shaw and Crompton Parish Council calling for Oldham Council to abandon a £40 fee levied against charities holding fairs and car boot sales to raise money for worthy causes.

Cllr Sykes said: “In the week that leads to the annual Children in Need event, it seems especially mean for Oldham Council to be imposing a fee against charity fund raisers doing their all to raise money to support those who are less fortunate in our society.

The minimum £40 fee will wipe out much, if not all, of the ‘profit’ made, and must discourage volunteers from organising future events and the public from supporting them.

Furthermore the tax represents a charity poll tax as it is based on the assumption that each event has at least 20 stalls and that each stall justifies a minimum £2 fee, whether there are 20 stalls or not and whether at least £40 is raised”.

Cllr Sykes added: “The decision by Oldham Council to impose this arbitrary fee is contrary to its professed ideals to be a co-operative council.

In taking money from charity fundraisers in the busy period towards Christmas, this Labour administration is demonstrating a singular lack of goodwill to all men”.

The motion reads:

“Shaw and Crompton Parish Council regrets the decision by Oldham Council to remove the exemption previously given to charities from the paying of fees for holding temporary markets and car boot sales. The fee, amounting to at least £40, means that in many cases, there will be little or no “profit” made for the charity.

We feel that this decision goes against the spirit and principles of the Co-operative Council when not-for-profit groups are being urged to take on more and more services. We therefore call on the Council to reverse this decision as soon as possible”.

Parish objects to disposal of green open space – Crompton Way/Milnrow Road/Siddall Street

I am pleased to report my colleagues on the Parish Council have backed my calls to oppose the sale of this green public open space in the heart of Shaw.

Below is a copy of their objection letter.

Oldham Council has now published its so called ‘public notice’ to let the people know about its plans to sell this land.

It was buried in the small print on page 25 of the Oldham Evening Chronicle, along with other disposals (called plot 3) on the 21st October 2013.

People have 28 days to object i.e. by NO LATER than the 18th November.

Objections need to be sent to:

Ref. Bernard Summers, Executive Director of Neighbourhoods Oldham Council, PDI Division, Level 6, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham OL1 1UH

If YOU feel strongly about this issue please do object by the deadline, I need your help to save/protect this key green space in the heart of Shaw

Copy of Parish letter:

Chief Executive
Oldham MBC
Civic Centre
West Street

17 October 2013

Dear Sir/Madam

Site of the Former Matthias Pilling House and Adjoining Land at Milnrow Road/Siddall Street, Shaw

At a meeting held on 14 October 2013, the Parish Council discussed a report by your Council’s Executive Director, Commercial Services, dated 9 September 2013. The purpose of the report was stated to be to seek authority to advertise an intention to dispose of land comprising the site of the former Matthias Pilling House and adjoining land at Milnrow Road/Siddall Street, Shaw, which had been identified as Public Open Space. A copy of the report is attached for ease of reference.

The Parish Council resolved to express to your Council:
• its opposition to the disposal of the Public Open Space that is not, and never has been, part of the former Matthias Pilling House site (for clarity, the area on the site plan which is not hatched), and
• its view that sale of the land comprising the site of the former Matthias Pilling House be restricted to social landlords, preferably those providing for older people. Members pointed out that this end use had been agreed previously with the then Metropolitan Borough Councillors for Shaw Ward and Chairman of the Housing Committee.

I look forward to receiving your confirmation that the views of the Parish Council will be taken into account when reaching a decision about the future of these two pieces of land.

Yours faithfully

Dr Ray Hughes
Clerk to the Council

cc Oldham MBC Executive Director, Commercial Services,
Oldham MBC Councillors for Shaw Ward