Liberal Democrats slam Oldham Council’s inadequate Special Educational Needs Provision

Oldham Liberal Democrats have slammed the decline in standards for students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in the borough.

A recent assessment has rated Oldham Council “inadequate” for its provision of students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities with students having to wait much longer than other areas for assessments for Education, Health and Care Plans.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Garth Harkness, Shadow Cabinet Member for Employment and Skills and an Autism Spectrum Disorder lead teacher at a Manchester school said:

“We have had a long standing problem in Oldham in providing the best start for our young people.  As someone who works in specialist Autism Spectrum Disorder provision myself and works closely with the Local Authority in Manchester on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities I know how important it is to provide the right support to our young people.

“In Oldham we are not doing that and it is unacceptable.  This has clearly been a problem for some time yet nobody has acted on it

“We have spent a fortune on the Oldham Education Commission but this Council has let the most vulnerable young people down in ensuring a satisfactory provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.”

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE has been very concerned for some time at the steady decline in educational performance at many of Oldham’s schools since the change in Administration in 2011.  Councillor Sykes said:

“We have spent a fortune on setting up the Oldham Education Commission yet we are bottom of the class for students getting the education place of their choice and we are providing an inadequate service at the Council for students with Special Educational Needs.

“As an opposition group we have been raising our concerns for quite some time.

“Young people with conditions like Autism, Dyslexia, learning difficulties or physical difficulties can often achieve great things if we provide the right support and bring down the barriers.  Sadly, too often in Oldham this is not happening.  Enough is enough – Oldham Council needs to have a hard look at itself and get these issues addressed.”

As always we are willing to work with the Labour Administration if they genuinely want to work with us in achieving this laudable objective.”

Notes

Question Cllr Garth Harkness gave notice of for Oldham council meeting on 8th November 2017 but was not called to ask:

I read with alarm in the press that the service provided by Oldham Council for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities is inadequate.

Bright Futures in Saddleworth, a specialist Autism provider, had to crowdfund for tribunals because the Council did not provide the support that was required.

We have had a long standing problem in Oldham in providing the best start for our young people.

And as someone who works in specialist Autism Spectrum Disorder provision myself, and works closely with the Local Authority in Manchester on provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, I know how important it is that we provide the right support to these young people.

Despite the Oldham Education Commission, this Council has let the most vulnerable of our young people down in failing to ensure there is satisfactory provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. What plan does this Administration have to address this issue?

I for one will be happy to offer my support in order that we may work together to ensure we get the best outcome for every one of our Borough’s young people.

Garth Harkness, Liberal Democrat Councillor Saddleworth North Ward, Shadow Cabinet Member for Employment and Skill

Liberal Democrat Leader seeks Answers on Link Centre Future

The Leader of the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Group Leader on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to Councillor Jenny Harrison, Cabinet Member for Social Care and Safeguarding, to request answers to some burning questions about the future of the Link Centre.

Councillor Sykes explained:  “Twelve months ago, in November 2016, I asked the Leader Councillor Jean Stretton at full Council whether she would consider making the Link Centre an independent living centre run by disabled people for disabled people, as exists in Glasgow.

“After almost twelve months of prevarication, during which the groups of disabled people using the Link Centre were living with an uncertain future, the Cabinet decided recently to offer these user groups use of the ground floor only, denying them use of the purpose-built, adapted accommodation on the upper floors; this will now instead be used for office space for health agencies.

“I am disappointed that the idea of an independent living centre now appears to be off the Council’s agenda, but I do want to ensure that disabled people, carers and the groups that have previously used the Link Centre continue to have a guaranteed future there with the maximum possible use of the ground floor space that remains affordable and accessible, and a say in how their space is refurnished and used.

“I have written to Councillor Harrison with these burning questions in the hope that her reply will bring the answers and the reassurance that the disabled people and groups using the Link Centre deserve.”

The email sent to Councillor Harrison.

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 08 November 2017 14:24
To: Cllr J Harrison
Cc: (A) Kay Gibson (kay.gibson@oldham.gov.uk)
Subject: Link Centre

Dear Cllr Harrison,

Following the recent decision by Cabinet and the resultant media coverage, I would like to ask you some questions relating to the future of the Link Centre.

Cabinet has recently agreed to a modified proposal that health agencies be located to the upper floors of the building and that existing service user groups be confined to the use of the ground floor.

This proposal appears to offer some prospect that the Link Centre retains something of its unique offer catering for the needs of this Borough’s more vulnerable residents, but it appears to fall way short of what I asked the Leader for in the Council Chamber last November.

I am sure you will recall that I asked the Leader if the Council could look to transfer ownership of the building to a charitable trust in order that it be run as an independent living centre.

Such a facility exists in Glasgow – it is a centre run by disabled people for disabled people with paid staff with their own personal lived-experience of disability – so why not here?

Sadly this now seems unlikely with the ground floor proposal approved by Cabinet seemingly the only one on the table, so I would like to ask for clarification of number of questions about it.

I would therefore be grateful if you could please tell me:

  1. Whether service user groups will be able to collectively manage this space in their own right?
  2. Will the centre be open at the times and on the days that these groups want to use it?
  3. What evaluation has been made with these groups to determine that the size and configuration of this space is appropriate for their needs?
  4. How much money will be made available by the Council to refurbish and reequip the ground floor, and will groups have a say in how this is spent?
  5. Is there any proposal to reopen the cafe – an aspiration that many service users wished to see in the consultation – perhaps as a not-for-profit, surplus food operation run by disabled people?
  6. And finally what guarantees have been or can be given to these groups that their access to this space will remain affordable to them and that it will be for the long-term?

I am sure you will agree that the disabled and vulnerable people who use the Link Centre are an especially deserving group and that they have lived with uncertainty as to its future for a very long time – I think they deserve answers and I hope therefore that you will be able to give answers to my questions.

Many thanks in anticipation.

Best wishes.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

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 Leader calls for Council to “get on” with Living Wage Accreditation

In National Living Wage week (Monday 6 to Friday 10 November), the Leader of the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Councillor Howard Sykes, MBE, has written to Deputy Leader, Councillor Abdul Jabbar, MBE, asking why Oldham Council is not yet an accredited Living Wage employer.

Councillor Sykes explained: “In March 2016, Council passed a resolution brought by the Liberal Democrat Group that we seek accreditation as a National Living Wage employer.  I am proud that the National Living Wage was first introduced in April 2015, again as a result of a Liberal Democrat motion to Council, and five hundred and fifty of our employees received a pay rise as a result.”

“We need to guarantee that we will reward our employees fairly and properly by making the commitment to pay them at least the National Living Wage every year.  By becoming accredited we are making that guarantee.”

The Living Wage Foundation, which manages the accreditation scheme and sets the National Living Wage, has reported that over 1,000 new employers have gained accreditation in the last year, with 5,300 employers now accredited in total.

A recent survey of Living Wage employers conducted by Cardiff Business School found that 93% reported they had benefited from accreditation; 86% reported that Living Wage accreditation had enhanced their reputation; over half reported improvements to both recruitment and retention; and 78%, of large employers reported increases in staff motivation.

Councillor Sykes added: “Accreditation is good for our business and good for our staff. Other employers in Oldham town centre, such as Action Together, Santander, Lloyds Bank and the Co-op Bank, have recognised this and have become accredited employers, so why not Oldham Council?”

“In National Living Wage Week 2017, isn’t it about time for the Council to get on and make this commitment?”

The email to Councillor Abdul Jabbar MBE reads:

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 07 November 2017 11:14
To: Cllr A Jabbar
Cc: (A) Kay Gibson (kay.gibson@oldham.gov.uk)
Subject: National Living Wage week

Councillor Abdul Jabbar, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance

Dear Abdul,

I am sure you are aware that this week is National Living Wage week.

I am sure that you will also recall that Council passed a resolution in March 2016 sponsored by the Liberal Democrat Group that Oldham Council became an accredited Living Wage employer.

However I have looked recently on the National Living Wage Campaign website and am disappointed to see that Oldham Council is not yet listed as an accredited employer.

I am sure that, like me, you want to see our employees fairly rewarded in their demanding jobs and paying the National Living Wage represents a big step in demonstrating we value their contribution to our Borough.

I hope therefore that this Administration remains as committed, as ever the Opposition does, to seeking accreditation for the Council as a Living Wage employer?

I can only assume that this is an oversight so please could you tell me when I might expect to see the Council listed as an accredited Living Wage employer?

Best wishes.

Howard

The Liberal Democrat motion to Oldham Council in March 2016 read: Becoming an Accredited Living Wage Employer

 Council notes that the Living Wage Foundation:

  • Exists to recognise and celebrate the leadership shown by living wage employers in raising the living standards of workers.
  • Establishes two Living Wage rates every year for employees outside and inside London.
  • Has over 1,800 employers accredited with them, with over 1,000 having registered as payers of the National Living Wage in the past year.
  • Permits accredited employers to proudly display the Living Wage Employer Mark.

Council further notes that:

  • Oldham Council first resolved to become a National Living Wage employer as a result of a motion brought to full Council in December 2013
  • The National Living Wage was introduced as the minimum pay scale for all staff in April 2015.
  • As a result five hundred and forty staff had a pay increase.
  • In his annual statement to September Council the Leader of the Council rightly highlighted the fact that this was a commendable achievement.

However despite this achievement, Oldham Council is not currently Living Wage accredited and therefore has not yet received the Living Wage Employer Mark.

Council therefore resolves to ask the Chief Executive to:

  • Seek accreditation with the Living Wage Foundation and
  • Ensure that the Living Wage Employer Mark is proudly displayed on appropriate pages within the Council’s website and in appropriate printed materials.

Liberal Democrats seek Better Testing and Treatment for HIV Sufferers

In advance of National HIV Testing Week (which starts 18 November), Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Gloster, Shadow Cabinet Member for Health and Well-being, is seeking a commitment from Oldham Council and the NHS to improve the testing and treatment of HIV sufferers and those at risk of acquiring the condition.

Councillor Gloster has written to the Chair of the Health and Well-being Board, Councillor Susan Dearden, with a ‘wish list’ which – if it is adopted by the Council and its health partners – will help reduce the incidence of infection and lead to the earlier diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Explaining, Councillor Gloster said: “Not so many years ago, HIV would often inexorably lead to full-blown Aids, which in turn was a death sentence. Now with the effective treatments that are available, people with HIV can lead normal lives and will not pass on the virus to anyone else. But the key to this is early diagnosis and early treatment.”

“Fortunately, Oldham does not have a high rate of HIV with 1.35 persons diagnosed with the condition in every 1,000 of the population, but worryingly we do have a high incidence of late diagnosis in 42.9% of cases. This is not good and we need to do something to tackle it. My ‘wish list’ represents the key aspirations of the World Health Organisation, the sexual health charity The Terrance Higgins Trust, and NICE for the better testing and treatment for people at risk of or living with this condition.”

Councillor Gloster is asking the Council to support the national campaigns of the Terrance Higgins Trust; introduce HIV testing in GP’s surgeries; and promote access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment to those at high risk of HIV infection in the borough.

He would also like the new Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to adopt these measures as part of a campaign across the city region so that people at risk of HIV infection or living with the condition can expect high standards of care wherever they live in Greater Manchester.

The Liberal Democrats are also asking for a commitment to involving HIV patients, their partners and carers in the transformation process.

Councillor Gloster explains: “All too often medical interventions are made to the patient and not with the patient. I believe that we should work, as a Council and as the NHS, to conduct a review of current services in our borough with patients, partners and carers, and with local LGBT groups and health charities and watchdogs.”

“We need services that people will not be afraid to access when they need them and so it is better to design services that are based on the first-hand, lived experience of the people that use them, their partners and carers, and the groups that represent them.  Isn’t that the co-operative model that Oldham Council aspires to?”

The letter reads:

23 October 2017

Dear Councillor Dearden,

I am writing to you in advance of National HIV Testing Week, which starts on Saturday 18 November, about the testing of at-risk individuals in the borough and the treatment and support of residents with this condition.

Undiagnosed, or late diagnosed, HIV infection puts individuals at risk of preventable illness and death, disproportionally contributes to onward transmission and is an unnecessary burden of cost to the NHS. Unfortunately, one in seven people living with HIV do not know that they have it, which means that they cannot benefit from the early treatment which can allow them to lead a normal life and be sure that they do not pass the virus onto anyone else.

Fortunately, Oldham does not have a high rate of HIV with 1.35 persons diagnosed with the condition in every 1,000 of the population, but worryingly we do have a high incidence of late diagnosis in 42.9% of cases.

As part of the borough’s Health and Social Care Strategy, I would like to ask the Health and Well-being Board to:

  • Support and promote two core campaigns of the Terrance Higgins Trust ‘It Starts with Me’ and ‘National HIV Testing Week’.
  • Support the establishment and promotion of HIV testing services in GPs’ surgeries and other Primary Care services in the borough.
  • National HIV testing guidance, that of the national body NICE and advice from the Terrance Higgins Trust recommends testing be made available in Primary Care settings, especially in GPs’ surgeries.
  • Support and promote the take-up of, and access to, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment available to those at high risk of HIVinfection in this borough.  PrEP is a medication that can be taken before possible exposure to HIV. Studies including PRoUD and IPERGAY have demonstrated significant protective benefit from taking PrEP both routinely and “on demand”.

The World Health Organisation recommends that PrEP be made available to those at high risk and NHS England is currently running a three year national trial with the PrEP drug Truvada among high-risk patients, including patients in Greater Manchester.

  • Conduct a review of the current services available to patients living with HIV in this borough and their carers to identify how these services and the patient/carer experience can be improved.

Such a review I would suggest needs to be in consultation with patients/carers and relevant bodies (such as local LGBT+ groups, the Terrance Higgins Trust, the George House Trust and Healthwatch Oldham).

  • Make representations to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Mr. Andy Burnham, asking him to conduct a review of HIV testing and treatment services across the city region to ensure that they mirror our aspirations in this borough and to identify how best the devolved health and social care budget can be used to support them across the city region.

I do hope that the Health and Well-being Board will be able to take these ideas on board as they will reduce the number of people living with HIV, improve the lives of those who do and ultimately save the NHS money.

Yours sincerely

COUNCILLOR CHRIS GLOSTER

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Shaw Ward, Shadow Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Email: chris.gloster@oldham.gov.uk

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

Horror of inflammable Halloween costumes must end, say Oldham Liberal Democrats

 

Shaw Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Gloster is proposing a motion to the next meeting of full Council (Wednesday 8 November) calling on our local Members of Parliament to urge the government to introduce legislation making Halloween and party costumes fire-proof.

Councillor Gloster said: “Tragically three years ago the daughter of TV presenter Claudia Winkleman was badly injured when a spark lit a costume that she was wearing and her outfit went up in flames.  Party costumes are classed as toys rather than clothes, and standards for fire retardancy are lower than those for clothes.”

“Manufacturers and retailers are not required to make and sell only fire-proof ones.  This is madness. These costumes are worn by young people for fun and, the consequences of them catching fire are horrific.  We need to ensure that the law is changed to make it illegal to sell outfits that burn so easily.”

Councillor Gloster is backed in his motion by his party colleague, Crompton Councillor Julia Turner: “There are some safety standards and I would ask parents to look to buy outfits that meet the British nightwear flammability standard (BS5722 TEST 3).”

“We echo the call of the Association of Chief Fire Officers to make party costumes for children fireproof. It is just such a common sense idea that I am shocked that the government just does not get on with changing the law and so to help our children to continue to have fun whilst being safe.”

The motion reads – Halloween and Party Costumes

Council notes with grave concern that children’s Halloween and other seasonal / themed party costumes are classed in law as ‘toys’ and are not subject to the rigorous standards of fire retardancy required of other children’s clothing.

Tragically this leads to unnecessary deaths or injuries to children when these flammable items are exposed to heat.

Council notes that the British Retail Consortium has just introduced voluntary guidelines for manufacturers, to reduce the speed at which these costumes will burn, but these remain voluntary guidelines and regrettably they do not require manufacturers to make such costumes fire-proof.

Council welcomes the work done by officers of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service to raise public awareness of the risks and supports the aspiration of the Association of Chief Fire Officers that such costumes should be reclassified as ‘clothing’.

Council resolves to ask the Chief Executive to write to the relevant Government Minister and to the three MPs representing this Borough asking them to support the urgent introduction of the necessary legislation or regulations to bring this about to prevent any further needless deaths and injuries of this nature.

Proposed by Councillor Chris Gloster, Seconded by Councillor Julia Turner