My two allowed questions at tonight’s Council meeting – Princes Gate and Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Behaviour

When will this Game – Changer; get Game – Changing?

Mr Mayor, my first question tonight concerns the latest developments or lack of them at Princes Gate.  When plans for this site at Oldham Mumps were first unveiled in November 2014, former Council Leader Jim McMahon described them as a “game-changer for the new Oldham”.

Now we are three years on and we have yet to hear the details of who will replace Marks and Spencer as the flagship retailer on this gateway site.  Embarrassingly there are still many graphics in the town centre and elsewhere on display showing Marks and Spencer at the heart of this development.

This saga seems to be lasting as long as Game of Thrones – but it is not so captivating, bloody or exciting.  Businesses in the area, local residents and many others want and need to know what is happening – the silence is deafening.

Earlier this year we were promised an announcement in the near future and that was five months ago.

Has a commercial deal has been struck?

Did Cabinet approve a deal for Princess Gate in June?

So why such a long delay in making an announcement?

Now five months on from the Cabinet meeting earlier this year and still no news.

I am sure lots of people in our Borough will be keen to hear what is going on and what the plan is?

It is long overdue some “game-changing” on this site started to happen would the Leader of the Council agree.

 Q2 – Sexual Harassment and inappropriate behaviour

Mr Mayor, for my second question tonight I would like to turn to another issue that is currently of great public interest and concern.

I am sure that colleagues in this chamber will have been as unsettled as I was to hear news of seemingly widespread instances of sexual harassment in Parliament.

Such reprehensible behaviour will bring Parliament further into disrepute; something we as Councillors should very much regret as this will also further undermine the electorate’s overall faith in the functioning of any aspect of British democracy – including that of local government.

Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that she will be instituting a new code of conduct in Parliament and we must hope that this will help address the issue.

But Mr Mayor, tonight I would like to ask the Leader for reassurance that here at Oldham Council we are one step ahead of the crowd in having robust and exemplar policies regarding sexual harassment in place.

Policies that enable and encourage those amongst our staff, or indeed our elected officials, who suffer this indignity to report such incidents.

That we have a support network in place for victims.

All such reports will be rigorously investigated.

Offenders will be swiftly disciplined.

But we also provide protection from malicious allegations.

Apparently in Parliament an idea is being explored that staff will be able to report concerns to an external, independent body.

I would suggest to the Leader that perhaps to make our own procedures even more robust this might be worthy of consideration?

But above all, Mr Mayor, I would like the Leader tonight to strongly affirm that we at Oldham Council have a policy of zero tolerance for such behaviour, whether it is by an employee, senior officer, contractor, partner or councillor.

Liberal Democrat Call for Action to Combat Acid Attacks

Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Planning Councillor Dave Murphy is proposing a motion to the next meeting of full Council (Wednesday 8 November) proposing Oldham Council establish a voluntary scheme asking local retailers not to sell acid and other corrosive substances to under-age customers to help reduce the likelihood of attacks.

Councillor Murphy is very concerned about the increase in such attacks elsewhere in the UK, especially in London, and does not want to see these horrendous attacks in Oldham:

“Tragically the evidence suggests that attacks are on the up, with victims often being horribly disfigured and traumatised for life as a result. The Liberal Democrats support government proposals to introduce new legislation to create new offences for carrying acid or corrosive substances in a public place and in situations where retailers make sales of these substances to under-age customers. However, this will take time and in the meanwhile we would like to see the Council taking action.”

He is backed by his Liberal Democrat colleague, Councillor Garth Harkness:

“In our motion, we are calling for the Council to establish a voluntary scheme in which local retailers agree not to sell acid and corrosive substances to young people. The National Police Chiefs’ Council identified in a survey that over one fifth of all attacks were carried out by offenders aged 18 or younger. This is one practical measure in advance of the legislation that the Liberal Democrats are proposing that could make a real difference in our Borough.” 

 The motion reads – Combatting Acid Attacks

 This Council notes, with great sadness, that:

  • There is growing evidence that the use of acid and other corrosive substances as a weapon in violent attacks is increasing.
  • Victims of these crimes are often left with life changing injuries as well as long-term psychological and emotional damage,

Data collected by the National Police Chiefs’ Council covering a six month period between November 2016 and April 2017 identified 408 attacks involving corrosive substances across 39 police forces. 21% of offenders were found to be 18 years or under.

Council welcomes:

  • The recognition by the British Government that the law is currently unsatisfactory as the products are legal for anyone to purchase, but shops are required to report suspicious sales.
  • The recent Home Office consultation on proposals to enact new legislation in which retailers will be committing a criminal offence if they sell products containing harmful corrosive substances in shops or on-line to persons under 18 and where a new offence will be created of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place.

Proposals by other Councils to roll out voluntary schemes urging shopkeepers not to support sales of corrosive products which contain acid or ammonia to under 21 year olds in advance of future legislation.

This Council resolves to:

  • Ask the Overview and Scrutiny Board, with the Trading Standards team and retailers’ associations, to examine the merits and practicalities of introducing such a voluntary scheme in this borough in advance of new legislation, and to report back their findings to full Council.
  • Ask the Chief Executive to write to the Borough’s three Members of Parliament and the Mayor of Greater Manchester to request they make representations to Government ministers supporting the urgent introduction of new legislation to regulate the sale of these substances and to outlaw under-age sales.

Proposed by Councillor Dave Murphy, Seconded by Councillor Garth Harkness

Liberal Democrat Leader requests Update on Impact of Brexit for Oldham Borough

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jean Stretton, requesting an update be brought to the next Council (Wednesday 8 November) for the consideration of Councillors.

Councillor Sykes explained: “I first wrote to the Council Leader at the time of the referendum requesting an impact assessment and this was kindly circulated to elected members.  A further report then followed in December 2016, but this was almost twelve months ago and a lot of water has gone under the Brexit Bridge since then so an update is now in my view urgently needed.”

Councillor Sykes is particularly concerned to see what the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without an agreed ‘deal’ might mean for the citizens and economy of Oldham.

He added: “Although this initially seemed an unlikely outcome, recent statements by senior Conservative Government ministers and the slow progress of talks have made me more fearful that not only may this happen, but that it is increasingly likely.”

Councillor Sykes has specifically asked the Council Leader for information about the likely impact of Brexit on:

  • Oldham’s social care workforce
  • The loss of the structural investment funding that was previously secured for the Borough from the European Union; this is estimated to be £8.4 billion per annum across the whole of the United Kingdom
  • The loss of a formal means of consulting local government which is currently made available by the EU through the Committee of the Regions

He explained: “A significant number of social care workers within the UK have come to our country from other European countries to carry out this necessary and demanding role.  The vast majority of these employees work diligently, patiently and sensitively to ensure that the needs of our elderly and disabled residents are met.”

“My worry is that such workers will perceive the UK as becoming a less inclusive and more hostile environment as Brexit approaches, with requirements for them to register with the authorities to continue to work and – I regret – reports of abuse and on occasion assaults being carried out on EU citizens in increasing numbers.”

“In such an environment, I, for one, would not blame them for wishing to return home but this would result in a situation where there may be insufficient British citizens to fill these vacancies. How then can we ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable people continue to be met?”

“I have asked the Council Leader to advise me how many of the employees in Oldham’s social care workforce are from EU nations, so that we can begin to plan to meet any recruitment shortfalls.”

Councillor Sykes is also concerned about the loss of EU grants to a deprived Borough like Oldham.

He said: “Although, in the referendum, there was a lot of talk about how much EU membership was supposedly costing the United Kingdom taxpayer, there was little discussion about how much was returned to the UK by the European Union in grants. Approximately £8.4 billion per annum came back to this country as structural funding; much of it to the more economically and socially deprived areas, of which Oldham is unfortunately one.”

“I have asked the Leader to identify how much Oldham will lose in structural development funds after Brexit takes effect. We have a lot of regeneration projects going on in our Borough, and my concern is that some of these may not be able to be delivered without EU funding.”

The third area of concern that Councillor Sykes has is the loss of influence that local government will have in government decision making after Brexit.

“At present, local government is formally consulted by the European Union on its proposals via a formal mechanism, the Committee of the Regions. There currently appear to be no proposals by the UK government to replace these arrangements after Brexit. I have asked the Leader and Chief Executive if they were join me in lobbying UK government to agree to replace these consultation arrangements after Brexit takes place.  As Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Local Government Association I am also myself able to put pressure to bear on Ministers in the corridors of power.”

The text of the email from Councillor Sykes to Councillor Stretton

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 26 October 2017 17:19
To: Cllr J Stretton
Cc: Carolyn Wilkins; Paul.Entwistle@oldham.gov.uk; (A) Kay Gibson (kay.gibson@oldham.gov.uk)
Subject: Re-evaluating the Impact of Brexit on Oldham Council and our Economy

Did mean to raise this at group leaders early this week.

Dear Jean,

Re-evaluating the Impact of Brexit on Oldham Council and our Economy

In advance of Council, I wanted to write to you to request an update in the next Green Book (or at the latest for the December meeting) on the likely impact of Brexit.

Our last update was in December last year, and I would particularly like to receive an update of the impact on our economy of the worst-case scenario – where the United Kingdom exits the European Union without an agreed deal.

Although this initially seemed an unlikely outcome, recent statements by senior Conservative Government ministers and the slow progress of talks have made me more fearful that not only may this happen, but that it is increasingly likely.

I am particularly concerned about the impact of Brexit on local government in three regards:

–      The impact on our social care workforce

–      The loss of £8.4 billion in structural investment funding

–      The loss of a formal means of consulting local government which is currently made available by the EU through the Committee of the Regions

So I would like to raise three specific questions with you that relate to these:

–      What percentage of the social care workforce in Oldham are EU citizens?

–      How much structural impact funding will be lost to Oldham and what will be the impact?

–      Assuming Brexit happens, will you and the Chief Executive join me in lobbying government to ensure that post-Brexit, the government will give local councils a formal consultative role?  I will of course also do my best through the Local Government Association to pursue this agenda.

Many thanks for your attention to these matters

Best wishes.

Howard

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition.  Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Oldham Council.  Member for Shaw Ward.  Member for South Ward Shaw & Crompton Parish Council.  Office: Room 343, Level 3, Civic Centre, West Street, Oldham OL1 1UL.  T: 0161 770 4016  F: 0161 770 4026  E: howard.sykes@oldham.gov.uk  W: http://howardsykes.mycouncillor.org.uk Twitter: @Howard_Sykes  Facebook: /Councillor Howard Sykes  Home: 5 Ballard Way, Shaw, Oldham OL2 8DU

CAGED FOOTBALL EVENT – WESTWAY CAR PARK, BEHIND TESCO – SUNDAY 29TH OCTOBER 2017 11:00 TO 17:00 HOURS

This is a non-contact, no tackling event safe for children and young people (Under 17’s) arranged by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue in partnership with Greater Manchester Police.

Why not come along and join us for a game of footy.  No need to bring a team you can play with a mate or have a kick around with the Fire Crew and Police.

Warm up and join us for some fun.

Work With Us To Improve Life On Crompton Moor

Your Shaw Councillors have been working closely with volunteer groups to improve Crompton Moor over many years, but are sometimes hindered by anti-social behaviour.

This ranges from people going up to the moor to camp, light fires, use drugs/alcohol.  With this in mid, we have been working over the past twelve months to activate new powers to enable Oldham Council and Police to take action when people damage and mis-use the moor.

These new powers are activated using a Public Space Protection Order.

What will the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) do?

Agencies have raised concerns, echoed by the local community regarding the behaviour of some individuals using Crompton Moor who are setting fires, littering, injuring wild life, allowing dogs to run wild and causing damage to plant life.  There have also been a number of incidents which are Anti-Social in nature including verbal abuse and threats to legitimate users of the Moor.

Local Councils now have the power to put in place Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) to help manage such issues and we completed the first round of consultation earlier this year.

Why are we consulting again?

The PSPO then went to a panel at the Council who made a number of small but significant recommendations primarily regarding dogs during the nesting season.

The panel have asked us to consult again as they have recommended we include a clause regarding dogs on leads during the nesting season to protect our nesting birds.

We have also become aware of issues around nitrous oxide usage and psychoactive substances by young people, which have also now been incorporated into the order.

How can you get involved?

You can tell us your views about the order by taking part in the consultation in any of the ways below:

At Crompton Library from Monday 16 October 2017.

On line at:

https://www.oldham.gov.uk/info/200321/crime_and_safety/1720/public_spaces_protection_orders_-_proposed

There will also be volunteers out on the Moor from the Friends of Crompton Moor Group and the Volunteer Countryside Rangers, talking to people about the PSPO, so if you are a moor user – why not keep your eyes open and have a chat if you are approached!

Dunwood Park tennis courts and MUGA surface – update

I have now received dates from the contractor regarding both the painting of the tennis courts/MUGA at Dunwood Park Shaw and defect repairs to the wall.

  • Painting of the tennis courts – 02/10/2017 weather permitting.
  • Defect repair to stone wall -16/10/2017.
  • The large amount of graffiti in this area has also been reported.

Universal Credit and Sanctions – my comments from Oldham Council Meeting 13 Sept 17

Actually agree with the motion (see below), but the instances of sanctions can be reduced by our raising awareness amongst local claimants as to why sanctions occur and how they can be mitigated, in essence:

Turn up to appointments

Keep evidence of job search activity

Most claimants are sanctioned because of:

Failing to show at an interview with the Job Centre or a Work Programme provider without giving “good reason.”

Failing to demonstrate that they have carried out sufficient job search activity to meet the requirements to actively seek work.

So our front-line staff should emphasise in their dealings with claimants that:

  • They should never ignore letters from the Job Centre.
  • They should always go to appointments on time.
  • And if they cannot, they should let the Job Centre or Work Programme Provider know beforehand why they cannot go or contact them as soon as possible thereafter with their “good reason” for failing to attend.
  • They should keep any evidence relating to why they haven’t got to appointments.
  • Where claimants are struggling with job search or keeping insufficient evidence of job search they should be encouraged to
  • Book support sessions with a Work Coach at the Job Centre
  • Attend a work club or more than one regularly to get the help they need

We should build additional support for vulnerable claimants who are more likely to be sanctioned.

This is why the Liberal Democrats have been working with DWP to introduce additional safeguards for vulnerable claimants.

 These are defined as claimants with “mental health conditions or learning disabilities or any conditions affecting communication and/or cognition”.

Problems experienced negotiating the benefit system can result in them ending up destitute.

Many of these people only find out they have been sanctioned when they have checked their bank balance and found out they don’t have any money.  The number of disability claimants who have had their benefits sanctioned is soaring.

This is why we want to see the safeguarding model for vulnerable claimants in Oldham work and Oldham Council needs to be pressing and co-operating with DWP staff to make it work.

Vulnerable claimants would be encouraged to nominate a health or social worker to act on their behalf as an advocate or contact person with whom Job Centre staff will work before a sanction is considered, proactively identifying customers who may need safeguarding preventing them getting into rent arrears.

Our motion in March called for this initiative to be actively promoted by the Council and for front-line staff in a range of agencies to receive training so that they understand how they can best support these clients.

We also called for a Vulnerability Guide to be created as a ready source of information for these workers and for a liaison group to be established with representatives from all of the relevant agencies to ensure that the initiative works.

These suggestions are NOT solutions or panaceas to Universal Credit – we support the objectives of the motion – but they are practical measures that we can adopt as a Council with our social partners to reduce the incidents of sanctions amongst UC claimants in our Borough.

Labour’s Motion is below:

This Council notes that Universal Credit (UC) is a single monthly payment which replaces six working age benefits (known as legacy benefits).These are Housing Benefit (HB), Income Support (IS), Working Tax Credits (WTC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), Employment and Support Allowance (Income-related) and Job Seekers Allowance (Income-related). It supports residents on low incomes who are both in and out of work.

Oldham has been a pathfinder for Universal Credit since 2013. However, the numbers of residents moving onto Universal Credit from 2013 have been restricted to new claimants and straightforward cases. The roll out of the full service of Universal Credit which commenced in Oldham on 26 April 2017 is a new entirely online-based system and claimants must apply for and manage their claim online. It also brings in a wider range of claimants including more complex cases. It affects claimants when they make a claim for the first time or have a change in circumstances that means their existing claim for one of the legacy benefits has to be cancelled.

Oldham is one of the early boroughs subject to the rollout of Universal Credit full service. The delivery of the new service has been an area of particular concern across the country and was subject in the last parliament to an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

As a result, and while the DWP and Job Centre Plus are the agency responsible for managing the change, the Council is committed to pro-active and continued work with key stakeholders and partners to ensure that as much support is provided to residents as possible to help achieve a smooth transition to the new service.

However, this Council has a number of concerns about Universal Credit

  • The wait times between the date of application and date of assessment. There is a built in waiting period of 6 weeks before Universal Credit is awarded and this creates hardship for residents. Any delay in DWP processing times exacerbates this hardship still further.
  • The level of deductions applied to monthly payments to clawback advance payments and sanctions can be high leaving residents with little money to cover basic income needs for their families for the weeks ahead.
  • The high number of Universal Credit claimants that have been subject to sanctions in Oldham
  • That the provision of housing  costs support for short term temporary accommodation for Oldham’s homeless population is not an appropriate fit for Universal Credit and should be returned to and covered by Housing Benefit at the earliest opportunity

This Council resolves to:

Instruct the Chief Executive to write to the following to register these issues and request that solutions are explored which would improve the design and delivery of Universal Credit which would mitigate impacts for low- income, working age residents in the borough;

  1. The Rt. Hon David Gauke MP Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
  2. Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, Jim McMahon MP for Oldham West and Royton and Angela Rayner MP for Ashton Under -Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth
  3. The Local Government Association (LGA)