My two allowed questions at tonight’s Oldham Council meeting -12 September – Green Belt (GMSF) and Trams

Q1 Leader Question – Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – decision for Oldham Borough should be taken by all Councillors

 Mr Mayor, my first question tonight relates to a future decision which will be one of the most momentous in its impact on many of our Borough’s residents over the next two plus decades.

Namely the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) – the adoption of a 20-year housing and industrial land use development plan for Greater Manchester.

The revised proposals have been some time coming, but I understand that they will now be available for so called public consultation in October.

I also understand that a decision has recently been made by the ten Labour Council leaders and the Mayor of Greater Manchester who have decided that the ultimate decision to adopt, or not to adopt the final plans, will rest solely with them.

There will be NO requirement to bring the plan to a full meeting of each of the ten Councils for debate and a full vote on formal adoption by all councillors.

This is a complete reversal of democracy.

Members will recall that many of our residents were outraged when the initial plans to build thousands of new homes on Green Belt land in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Royton and Chadderton were first unveiled.

Liberal Democrat colleagues, I and members from the seats opposite, joined them in opposing the proposals when responding to the consultation or attending demonstrations in Tandle Hill Country Park and in Albert Square.

Mr Mayor, public sentiment is still the same across Greater Manchester – NO to building new homes on our Green Belt and YES to local Councillors as the people’s representatives ultimately making the decision where new homes are built.

Ward members are elected to lead, but also to represent the constituents and the communities we serve.  How can we do this if we are denied the final vote on the plan?

If we get this wrong, it will represent a disaster for our communities and for our Green Belt.  Yet the ten Labour Council Leaders and GM Mayor are saying ‘leave it to us, we know what is best for you’.

It is simply not right that such an important decision can be taken by so few people.

It is certainly not what I and many others envisaged but perhaps it is a sign of things to come with so called devolution to Greater Manchester.

Mr Mayor, I would like to ask the Leader tonight, whether despite this backroom deal, he will still be doing the honourable thing by bringing the final plan back to a meeting of the full Council for debate and adoption.

Q2 Leader Question – Call for Conductors on Metrolink Trams

 Mr Mayor, my second question raises another issue that concerns a great many residents in our Borough, their safety when they use Metrolink.

Regrettably we have seen many disturbing instances of crime and anti-social behaviour on the Rochdale – Oldham line, several very violent over recent months and unfortunately the line has the highest number of incidents across the Network.

I welcome the recent actions of Metrolink staff, Police and our Council’s Youth Engagement Officers in tackling this blight, and the news that thirteen offenders have been arrested during the first two weeks of this operation is good news.

The operation may be called Infinity, but the resources are not and it will at some point come to an end.

Some time ago Oldham Liberal Democrats revealed shocking figures that one in eight Metrolink passengers are fare-dodgers, or to put it another way 12% of all journeys are not paid for.

There are 40 million tram journeys a year so fare-dodging is estimated to cost Metrolink about £9 million in lost revenue.

Oldham Liberal Democrats have also flatly opposed Labour plans (supported by the Conservatives) to put up fares for honest Metrolink passengers by an inflation-busting 19% by 2020 when one in eight passengers travel free.

Rather than hammering the honest passenger, transport bosses need to focus on tackling fare evasion.  12% non-payment is a disgrace.

Conductors on trams would help tackle this issue and should pay for its self, whilst making the honest traveling public feel safe.  It would also drive the fair dodgers and those causing anti-social behaviour off the trams.

Other tram services in the UK have on-board staff on every service, such as the Sheffield Super Tram and on the Wolverhampton – Birmingham line.

Not only does a conductor provide passengers with reassurance that there is always someone at hand should they need assistance in an emergency, but that person can also give passengers advice about services, stops and fares and help them to board and alight.

So for my second question tonight, Mr Mayor, I would like to ask the Leader if he would be willing to join me in calling upon Metrolink operators to introduce conductors on a trial basis on the Rochdale – Oldham line?

We can improve safety, tackle fare evasion and increase revenue for Metrolink – a triple win – and I do not know why we are not doing it already.

Countryside Volunteer Rangers Crompton Moor 16 September 18

As there was no event on the last Sunday of last month, I thought you would be raring to go for an additional event this coming Sunday, the 16th which I hope you can attend, carrying out fence repairs on the moor.

The current weather forecast is a light rain showers and a moderate breeze, likely high / low of 16º/11º and 13 mph winds so ensure you have your favourite hot & or cold liquids, the appropriate clothing, footwear and a packed lunch if you are up for the day.

Meantime, if you have any issues that you may wish to discuss prior to Sunday, please do not hesitate to email (on either address) or text / phone me on 07961107860.

For those of you that have not already done so, please could you let me know if you intend to join us on the day, so that I can make the appropriate plan of work, and to ensure the correct material and or tools are available on the day.

I look forward to seeing you in the Crompton Moor Car Park ~ 10.30 on Sunday. Thank you.

Kindest Regards – Edward John Fulton (aka Ed / Eddie). Countryside Volunteer Ranger, (Mob) 07961 107860 [Calls may be recorded], (Text) 07961 107860, (Fax)  01706 661813, (E)  edward@edwardjohnfulton.uk , (E) edward.fulton@btinternet.uk

Call to end period poverty by Oldham Liberal Democrats

At the next full meeting of Oldham Council (Wednesday 12 September), the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group will be proposing a motion to address Period Poverty. Councillor Diane Williamson will be proposing and Councillor Hazel Gloster will be seconding the motion.

Councillor Williamson said “it is scandalous that in a country with such wealth as Great Britain young girls should be in a position where they cannot afford sanitary protects and do not want to put pressure on their parents to purchase some, and then they resort to alternatives like using a soak.  It is not right that they feel stigmatised in school and bullied for their body performing its natural function”.

“I am really pleased that Scotland is tackling this by introducing free sanitary products in all education establishments. In Wales, they have invested £1m into introducing packs that are then given out to community groups, schools and foodbanks. This kind of provision needs to be rolled out across England too,” said Councillor Hazel Gloster

“Students who cannot afford sanitary products miss days from school.and consequently their education loses out.  We want all our young people to reach their full potential both inside and outside the classroom and this funding will help to ensure they are properly supported” said Councillor Diane Williamson

In addition to period poverty a punitive taxation policy is in place whereby female hygiene products are classed as a luxury product and VAT is levied on them.

“Come on – live in the real world! When is suffering pain every month and being hygienic a luxury?  It isn’t and should not be treated as such.  So, we need to be doing something about it.  That is why I am pleased to support this motion” said Councillor Williamson.

Motion – Period Poverty

This Council notes that:

A survey by Plan International UK found that 1 in 10 teenage girls had been unable to afford sanitary products;

  • 56% of teenage girls said they would rather be bullied at school than talk to their parents about periods;
  • This is particularly problematic for girls from low-income families who see their parents struggling to make ends meet and feel reluctant to ask them to add sanitary products to the weekly shop;
  • In many cases, as a result, they may lose a significant number of days of schooling;
  • Regrettably, even women in low-income employment are sometimes unable to afford such products when struggling to meet household bills and feed their families;
  • Ironically only female prisoners have a statutory right to access free sanitary products.

Council believes in a country as well-off as Britain ‘Period Poverty’ is a scandal that should be ended.

Council commends:

  • The Scottish Government for its commitment to tackle ‘Period Poverty’ by introducing free sanitary products in all educational establishments, and notes that Scotland was one of the first countries to pilot a scheme to young women and girls in need in Aberdeen;
  • The project recently established by the 21st Oldham Friezland Rangers and the charity Red Box whereby members of the public can donate sanitary products in branded boxes located in prominent places for re-distribution to students in need attending our local schools and colleges.

Council resolves to:

  • Ask the Overview and Scrutiny Board and Health and Well-being Board, working with relevant Cabinet Members, officers and partners, to explore with local secondary schools and colleges how sanitary products can be made available free to students in their establishments;
  • Ask the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Education and Chancellor asking the Government to scrap the VAT levied on female hygiene products as soon as is practicable and in the meantime to use the VAT collected on these products to fund the provision of free sanitary products for girls and women in need.

OLDHAM LIBERAL DEMOCRATS CALL FOR OLDHAM MARKETS TO BE ‘FUR FREE’

Liberal Democrat Councillors Julia Turner and Chris Gloster will be proposing a motion at the next full meeting of Oldham Council (Wednesday 12 September) calling on the Council to outlaw the sale of real fur from all markets in the Borough.

Councillor Turner, who is proposing the motion, said: “Regrettably customers often have no idea that they are buying products which contain real fur as they are often sold under the guise of ‘faux fur’. Real fur is sometimes used for trims on hats, gloves, and footwear, and pom-poms on hats and clothing. Although the UK banned domestic fur farming in 2000, it is still legal to sell products containing some types of real fur that have been imported. Imported fur can be very cheap, but it comes at a price of extreme cruelty to the animals it came from.”

“100 million animals every year are killed for fur. Much of the fur we import into our country comes from China, where there is practically no animal welfare legislation. It comes from animals raised in deplorable conditions and killed by gassing or anal electrocution. There have even been instances filmed of animals being skinned alive. Other animals are cruelly trapped in the wild by steel jawed leg-hold traps. Once caught, many go to great lengths to try to escape, often breaking teeth as they bite the steel trap, sometimes even chewing off their trapped limbs in their desperation.”

The Oldham Liberal Democrats want the Council to become a signatory to the Fur Free Markets campaign of the animal welfare charity, Respect for Animals, the UK’s leading anti-fur organisation, and to work with the charity to ensure that no products containing real fur are sold at the borough’s markets.

Councillor Turner added: “I am sure that the vast majority of shoppers would be horrified to find they had accidentally purchased a real fur product knowing the abominable cruelty that these animals suffer. By working with the charity Respect for Animals, we can ensure that real fur products are banned in Oldham.”

The motion reads:

 This Council notes that:

  • The United Kingdom has outlawed the farming of animals for their fur on ethical grounds since 2000 and that the use of one of the most common traps used to catch animals for their fur has been illegal for many years.
  • Nonetheless fur products are imported from overseas nations, particularly China, where such bans do not operate and where there is virtually no animal welfare legislation in force.
  • Real fur comes from animals raised in deplorable conditions or trapped in the wild and killed inhumanely.
  • Regrettably these products are often found for sale on public markets in the UK and customers can inadvertently buy them thinking them to be made of imitation fur.

Accordingly Council resolves to:

  • Prohibit the sale of any product wholly or partially made with real animal fur on Council owned land and at Council run or Council leased markets. This ban to cover such items as fur coats, vintage fur, fur shawls, garments with fur trim, fur pompom hats, and fur accessories and trinkets.
  • Support the Fur Free Markets campaign of the animal welfare charity, Respect for Animals, the UK’s leading anti-fur organisation, by:
  • Becoming a signatory to the initiative.
  • Seeking the advice and assistance of the charity in the enforcement of this ban.

Liberal Democrat Leader Seeks Council Action to Reduce Male Suicide

In advance of World Suicide Prevention Day, Monday September 10, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to the Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE, urging the Council to advertise local and national services that help prevent those contemplating suicide from taking their own lives on its own website and in public buildings.

Councillor Sykes has previously raised his concerns about this issue, particularly on preventing instances of male suicide, at meetings of the full Council.  He said:  “Every suicide is shocking, but the scale of male suicide is especially shocking.  Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – it is the single biggest cause of death of men under 45.  One of the tragedies of this situation is that there are many agencies out there, both local and national, that can help prevent this happening – just recently in Oldham, a branch of the charity Andy’s Man’s Club opened in the Oldham Leisure Centre for just this purpose.  I have asked the Chief Executive to publicise these services in Council buildings and on our website, because this is a practical action that we can take that may well save someone’s life.”

The letter to Dr Wilkins reads:

Dear Dr Wilkins,

Monday September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day.

The statistics of male suicide are particularly shocking.  Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – 84 men every week.  It is the single biggest cause of death amongst men under 45 years of age.  Every single suicide impacts on 135 other people – and the relatives of anyone who commits suicide are themselves statistically more likely to take their own lives.

Male suicide is an occurrence that is not talked about enough – and we must talk about it more often.  Men frequently commit suicide because they are unable to express their feelings, anger and frustration.  Yet there are agencies out in our community that can offer a listening ear and support to these desperate individuals, including those at the point of ending their own lives.

Many are the helplines operated by local and national organisations, but recently a local branch of Andy’s Mans’ Club opened at the Oldham Leisure Centre and men can self-refer to this service which meets on Monday’s at 7pm.

In my view, as a local authority with a public health duty, we should be publicising these agencies as much as possible to those who need them.  Yet, regrettably, there is NO mention of or links to any of these agencies that I can find on the Council’s website.

I would therefore like to request that as a matter of urgency this information is made available on the Council’s website and on public notice-boards in our key public buildings as soon as possible.

This is one positive practical act that we can do that might help save someone’s life!

I shall look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

Leader of the Opposition.

Help for suicidal thoughts

These agencies are open to those who need help.

Andy’s Man Club meets at Oldham Leisure Centre on Mondays at 7pm.

The Club can be contacted via http://andysmanclub.co.uk/contact

You can also emailed me at info@andysmanclub.co.uk

Unless it says otherwise, they’re open 24 hours a day, every day.

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123 – this is free to call
Email jo@samaritans.org

The Oldham and Rochdale Branch is located at 5, Caton Street, Rochdale OL16 1QJ. It is possible to go to the Branch for help, but phone first. Opening times for face to face visits are:

Monday 15.00-20.00
Tuesday 18.00-22.00
Wednesday Closed
Thursday 18.00-22.00
Friday 18.00-22.00
Saturday 09.00-12.00
Sunday Closed

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page

Papyrus – for children and young adults under 35 or anyone concerned about the well-being of a young person
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill

The Silver Line – for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

Backroom deal by Labour on 20-Year homes plan threatens Green Belt

Oldham Liberal Democrats have discovered that the Labour Council leaders of the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester have made ‘a backroom deal’ with Labour Mayor Andy Burnham that only they will need to sign off on plans to build new homes and factories across the city region as proposed as part of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF).  Each of the 10 authorities need to agree to the plans but previously it was the councils (and all their councillors) that agreed such matters, this has now all changed.

Commenting the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, said:

“Local Councillors and local residents deserve a say in how many homes are built, and where and when.  The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, when it is finally approved, will be the plan to build homes across Greater Manchester for the next twenty years.   This is one of the most important decisions that will affect the lives of everyone living in Oldham Borough for the next two decades.  If we get it wrong, it will represent a disaster for our communities and for our Green Belt and green spaces.  Yet the ten Labour Council leaders are saying ‘leave it to us, we know what is best for you’.”

Councillor Sykes believes he knows why the agreement has been reached:

“When Labour’s initial plans to build thousands of new homes on Green Belt land in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Royton and Chadderton were first unveiled, they were bitterly opposed by local Liberal Democrat Councillors in these areas and by many thousands of local residents.”

“Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, Liberal Democrat Councillors and residents’ groups have led the charge against these proposals.  Such was the strength of local feeling that there was a demonstration in Tandle Hill Country Park and residents from our Borough joined others from across Greater Manchester to protest in Albert Square outside Manchester Town Hall.”

“Public sentiment is the same across Greater Manchester – NO to building new homes on our green belt and YES to local Councillors and people playing their part in deciding where the new homes are built.  This agreement represents a backroom deal to make it easier for Labour to push through their plans and prevent opponents from being able to block unsuitable developments or safeguard the green belt.”

Councillor Sykes will be demanding answers: “I will be asking the Leader of Oldham Council to explain this decision and to find out whether he has any plans at all to allow local councillors to have a say on the proposed sites for development and I will let you know how he responds.  It is simply not right that such an important decision can be agreed by leaders and the Mayor rather than the 10 councils themselves.”

Labour is still letting down our school leavers

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council, has praised the efforts of our Borough’s young people in achieving their GCSE’s this year, but he has also expressed his disappointment that once more they continue to be let down, and let down by the failings of the Labour Council, which is the Local Education Authority (LEA).

Councillor Sykes said:  “Congratulations to those students who have passed their GCSEs this year, and achieved or exceeded their academic goals.  This achievement is down to your hard work and dedication.  Let us hope that you go on to greater success in higher education and the world of work.  But I am disappointed that the local results show that Oldham Council continues to let down our young people by failing to deliver on the promises made by the Oldham Education Commission.  Two and a half years on and we still have a very long way to go if Oldham is truly to lead on education.”

In 2017, for the first time students received GCSE grades of 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest, instead of the more traditional A* to G.  The Government regards a Grade 4 as a Standard Pass.

Since 2016, pupils who fail to obtain at least a Grade 4 (a Grade C equivalent) in both English and Mathematics are obliged to retake the tests.  In 2017, 59.2% of pupils in Oldham achieved Grades 9-4 in both subjects; in 2018 this went down to 58.1%.  A drop of more than one percent.

Councillor Sykes added: “Although the new Cabinet Member for Education has talked up the results as good, the headline figure went down by one percent, hardly the right direction of travel.  This is far from the improvement we want and need.”

“In January 2016, at the launch of the long-delayed report of the Oldham Education Commission, then Labour Council Leader said: ‘A high-performing education system underpins all our ambitions for Oldham to regenerate and become a more vibrant place to live and work’.”

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats could not agree more.  The academic achievement of our young people at school will determine their future lives, careers, life chances and even their health and how long they will live.  It will also determine the success, or not, of Oldham as a place; so why is it that Labour continues to fail our young people, year on year?”

Street Cleaning Investment ‘Welcome but Long Overdue’ says Sykes

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has given a cautious welcome to the announcement that Oldham Council will employ more street cleaners and enforcement officers.

He questions why it was not done sooner, while in recent years this service and staff numbers have been reduced and also now whether we will now see cleaner streets everywhere across the Borough.

Commenting, Councillor Sykes said:  “This decision and U – turn by Labour to invest more in street cleaners and enforcement officers is very welcome, but long overdue.  For many years now, the Liberal Democrats have been calling for more investment in street cleaning and enforcement action in the amendments that we have proposed every year in Council to the annual budget.  Labour has consistently rejected our calls for this investment.  In the 2016 budget, it was the Liberal Democrats who called for a reversal of a specific Labour proposal to cut the enforcement team by three officers, but Labour refused.  Now we are going to recruit such officers – hiring and then firing staff is very expensive for council tax payers and bad news for staff and their families.”

“If we don’t have clean streets and tidy neighbourhoods, our Borough looks unattractive and neglected, and some residents will be more likely to engage in fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.  Poor street cleanliness also hampers regeneration, for who is going to invest in a Borough that looks dirty.  It is a major reason for the very poor image of Oldham which we are still working to dispel.”

“During my Administration, I was proud when Oldham Council was the recipient of an award from the Tidy Britain Group for having the cleanest streets in Greater Manchester.  We need to get back to that, by getting back to basics, and one of the basics that we need to get right is cleaner streets.”

Councillor Sykes added one note of caution to his comments:  “In the proposals adopted by the Cabinet last week, the emphasis is about investing in cleaner streets in East and West Oldham.  Whilst I would not deny that there is a need for urgent action in Coppice, Glodwick and Hathershaw, ratepayers have the right to expect cleaner streets wherever they live, so I will be seeking assurances that the streets and neighbourhoods of my own constituents in Shaw & Crompton and in other districts like Royton, Lees and Chadderton, will not been neglected.”