My two allowed questions at tonight’s Oldham Council meeting – 7 November 2018 – Tommyfield Market and challenge to build some council houses

Q1 Leaders Question – Giving Certainty to Tommyfield Traders

Mr Mayor my first question tonight concerns people living with great uncertainty; they are nervous about their future; or indeed if they have a future; and a Leader who is promising a plan that will deliver a ‘New Jerusalem’…

But in this case I am not talking about the people of the United Kingdom, Theresa May and Brexit, but rather the traders of Tommyfield Market, our new Council Leader, and the revised (yet again) Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

We all know that the Leader tore up the old £350 million masterplan – not good enough said he; it ‘falls far short of what is required to give a compelling vision for Oldham.’

I am sure the traders at Tommyfield were at that time grateful that he described the market as ‘much-loved’ and ‘a significant feature of Oldham town centre…in need of investment.’

It must have filled them with hope for the future.

But since that time the same traders have been living with more uncertainty, made worse by the fact that the new revised, better-than-the-old-one masterplan is now not scheduled to be unveiled until at least March 2020.

Yes not March 2019, but March 2020 – in at least 18 months-time. 

Most citizens of this Borough will wonder why it will take so long and why urgency is not put into the process!

With our recent experience of town centre regeneration projects falling behind schedule or just failing to happen; think Hotel Futures and Princes Gate.

Traders are right to ask questions and they deserve some answers.

At present traders report that when their leases are up for renewal they are being offered new agreements in which they could be given as little as three months’ notice to quit.

Many of these traders have been in the market for decades, with a loyal customer base to match, and one – Levers – has its own blue plaque celebrating Oldham as being the historic home of fish and chips!

So how can it be right that they can be out on their ear in only 12 weeks?  I ask you is this any way to treat traders who were recently described as ‘much loved’!

Giving them so little notice means they have no incentive to invest in their business or premises.  Some say that in any case a three month notice period makes their business now practically worthless.

It causes difficulties with recruiting and keeping staff and impacts on the well-being of the owners and their families let alone their pockets!

So I would like to ask the Leader tonight if he will rethink the Council’s offer to the traders.

Will he do the right thing and agree to requests that they be at least granted five-year automatically renewable leases as a way to guarantee them some future for their businesses and staff?

Will he promise traders that they will be consulted regularly as stakeholders as plans for the new market hall (or not) develop and be offered spaces in or around the new market hall which meet their needs and on terms that are affordable to them?

Q2 Leaders Questions – Can We Build It?  Yes We Can!

Mr Mayor, for my second question to the Leader tonight I would like to look at another important issue – the shortage of social and rented housing in our Borough.

In Oldham, we have a huge housing waiting list.  We have a particular shortage of larger houses, as these are the homes most frequently lost due to sales under the misguided policy of Right to Buy.

We are also desperately short of homes that are built to meet the needs of disabled people or future proofed for an ageing population.

I know that the Leader will join me in welcoming the announcement by the Prime Minister that, for once, represents good news for this Borough – the lifting of the borrowing cap which has prevented Councils from investing in much needed social and affordable housing.

Following pressure from many voices speaking common sense, including those of myself and my fellow group leaders in the cross-party Local Government Association, the cap on the Housing Revenue Account is finally being abolished.

In their hey-day, councils were building four in every 10 of the nation’s homes – we will now need to see a Council house building revival to build affordable and social housing if we are to meet the shortfall in new homes that we will need in the future.

Decent homes improve health and well-being, educational performance and many, many other factors other than just a decent roof over people’s head.

We need to get on with it now – with more haste than it took this Administration to recently adopt the idea of establishing an arms-length housing development company that the Liberal Democrat Group first suggested three years ago.

The children’s TV character, Bob the Builder, famously said: ‘Can we build it?  Yes we can!’

Mr Mayor, I would like to ask the Leader tonight if he is going to adopt Bob’s mantra by ensuring the Council works with our social housing partners and supportive housing developers to quickly rise to this challenge and build the affordable homes that we so desperately need as soon as possible.

In short, have we got a plan in place, have we got sites ready to build on and will we see diggers on the ground very soon?

Liberal Democrats seek renewed action on pot-hole danger roads

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council have tabled a motion for discussion at the next full meeting (7 November 18) of the Council calling for greater action in tackling damaged road surfaces that represent a danger to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.  This is part of an ongoing Liberal Democrat campaign to raise the dangers of poor road surfaces with the current Labour Administration and to call for a change in policy so damage can be repaired if it is dangerous.

The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Chris Gloster, is proposing the motion: “This issue is of great concern to Liberal Democrat Councillors on Oldham Council.  My Shaw colleague, Group Leader Councillor Howard Sykes, has written to the Council Deputy Leader about this and my Crompton colleague, Councillor Dave Murphy, raised it as a question at last Council.  We are just not satisfied by the lack of action so have decided to bring our proposals for proper debate at full Council.  Put simply, we want the Council to be able to repair any road surface that is dangerous, not just those roads where surface erosion is at least forty millimetres deep.  At the moment the Council just says no if the holes are less than 40mm.”

Government guidance issued to all local authorities in November 2016 states that Councils must ‘investigate’ instances where road surfaces have been eroded by at least 40mm, but there is no legal requirement placed upon Councils even then to repair them promptly.  In Oldham, the current Labour Administration policy is to only consider potholes deeper than 40mm to be eligible for repair.  By way of constant, the threshold for the repair of pavements is lower at 25mm.

Councillor Gloster explained why this is problematic: “One practical issue is that many roads in my own district of Shaw and Crompton do not even have a top surface that is 40mm thick; they can be worn away to the cobbles and present a real danger to cyclists and motorists, but as the ‘threshold’ can never be reached no action is taken.  This cannot be fair or right.”

The Liberal Democrats want the Council to ensure that any road surface that becomes hazardous can be repaired.  Councillor Gloster added:  “I fully appreciate roads will still have to be prioritised and not all will be able to be repaired with the resources the council has, but we should look to address the danger that any worn road surface represents to the public, and not simply operate to some arbitrary ‘threshold’.”

The motion is being seconded by Councillor Gloster’s colleague, Saddleworth Liberal Democrat Councillor Garth Harkness, who said: “Another issue addressed in our motion is the lack of real finance made available to local government from central government for road repairs.  This present government talks a lot about the additional resources given from time-to-time to local authorities to tackle the backlog, but this is never enough and it is always too late.”

“The Local Government Association, which represents Councils of all political persuasions across the country, has estimated that there is a £9 billion backlog of repairs on Britain’s roads.  We want the government to give local authorities some of the Road Fuel Duty that is raised so we can get on with the job of making our roads fit-for-purpose.”

Notes motion reads: Oldham Council 7 November 2018 – Notice of Opposition Business – Motion 2 – Tackling Dangerous Potholes

This Council notes that:

  • Residents are greatly concerned by the unsatisfactory state of highways and the prevalence of dangerous potholes in our Borough
  • Elected members are aware of these are high-level public concerns because of the many complaints they receive from their constituents on these matters.
  • Poor road surfaces and footpaths also harm the reputation of Oldham Council and the Borough, and can lessen the appeal of coming into the borough by these routes.
  • The guidance issued to all local authorities by the Department of Transport in October 2016 required Councils to ‘investigate’ any potholes or instances of road surface erosion of at least 40mm depth, but did not necessarily require them to repair it.
  • The threshold fails to take account of circumstances in which the top surface of a road is less than 40mm in the first instance, which can lead to this surface becoming completely eroded and dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, yet ineligible for repair by a local authority under the Department of Transport guidance.
  • The threshold for the repair of public footpaths is much lower at 25mm.
  • The Local Government Association has estimated that there is a £9 billion national backlog of repairs to potholes and damaged road surfaces.

This Council reaffirms its commitment to:

  • Ensure that any pothole or eroded surface, whatever the level of damage, which poses a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists is repaired as quickly as possible
  • Fight for greater resources from Government to tackle the road repair backlog.

Council therefore resolves to:

  • Repair any pothole or eroded road surface within the Borough that represents a danger to members of the public, regardless of whether the arbitrary threshold of 40mm is met
  • Ask the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Transport:
  • Supporting the call of the Local Government Association that a significant portion of the Road Fuel Duty raised by the UK Government be allocated to local authorities to enable them to tackle the estimated £9 billion backlog
  • Requesting the guidance issued to local authorities be revised to place an emphasis upon the prompt repair of any pothole or road surface representing a danger to the public.

Chancellor promises end of austerity, but no end to Oldham Council funding cuts

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has welcomed the promise by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in today’s Budget that ‘austerity is coming to an end’ and his recognition that local authorities have ‘significantly contributed’ towards the UK Government in addressing austerity, albeit through being forced to accept swingeing general cuts to their funding.

Councillor Sykes has also welcomed the promised extra funding to tackle potholes across the country and for new services to help those in mental health crisis, contemplating suicide, or living with infirmity or disabilities; however the Chancellor was short on detail when it came to rolling back the massive funding cuts that local authorities have faced since 2010.

“Some of this so called funding will not happen for a couple of years so is very much a promise of jam tomorrow,” stated Councillor Sykes.  “Also all bets are off budget wise if Brexit negotiations do not go well.”

He added:  “It is easy to promise an end to austerity, but the ‘hard working British public’ that Mr Hammond spoke so warmly of rely on the council services that have been cut to the bone, and in some cases just stopped providing them under this Conservative Government.”

“Our green spaces, cemeteries, parks and alike will continue to look even more unloved.  Streets will be dirtier, basic maintenance stopped in places our libraries and community centres some time ago.”

“The Chancellor failed to pull out a ‘promised rabbit’ for local government and other public services like police and fire.  He talked a lot about councils gaining ‘greater control’ over finances by allowing them to retain business rates and by lifting the housing cap, but the rate support grant that councils rely upon is being phased out by 2020.  For us, austerity does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon in fact it just took a turn for the worse in our Borough.”

Liberal Democrat Leader welcomes extra funding to help tackle Winter Health Crisis

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition, has welcomed the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, that over £1 million in extra money will be provided to Oldham this winter to help patients get home quicker from hospital after medical treatment and improve care that might prevent them being admitted to hospital in the first place.  Mr Hancock recently announced that Oldham will be receiving £1,122,354 in extra winter funding.

Commenting Councillor Sykes said:  “Any extra funding from government to help support adult social care at the time of year when there is the greatest demand must be welcomed.  I am sure patients would much rather have more support to be discharged so they can recover in the comfort of their own homes than spending any more time in hospital than is necessary.  This investment will also help save the NHS money as this so-called ‘bed blocking’ represents a big drain on spending that could be better spent on treating more patients.”

Councillor Sykes did however add a cautionary note:  “I have to say though that the Minister does only get ‘one cheer’ from me rather than the ‘three cheers’ he would if this money had been allocated or notice given as part of the budget settlement last autumn.  That would have given both the Council and the Hospital the maximum amount of time to plan how best to use this money.  Late notice and the element of stop/start is not the best way of getting maximum value; making this cash go as far as possible; and helping as many people as possible.”

The letter from Mr Hancock: 20181017_ASC winter care letter_FINAL

Liberal Democrats propose radical measures to tackle air pollution

Air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, making it the biggest environmental killer.  It also results in health costs of between £8.5bn and £18.6bn a year, according to Public Health England (PHE) and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

The Oldham Liberal Democrats are particularly concerned at the impact of air pollution in the Borough, especially amongst the young, the elderly and those residents who have heart conditions or respiratory illnesses.  In a Borough like Oldham air pollution is a major contributory factor in the premature deaths of some residents and in the recurrence of poor respiratory health in many others.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition, has raised this issue before in the Oldham Council Chamber and has demanded the Council take action to tackle this problem.  He said: “In November 2017, the Council finally agreed to establish an Air Quality Sub-Group from the Health and Well-being Board to look at measures to reduce air pollution.  No one from the Liberal Democrat Group has been invited to join despite our obvious interest in this issue and nothing has so far come of it, so eleven months on I have made my own proposals for action.”

Councillor Sykes has written to the Chair of the Health and Well-being Board, Councillor Jenny Harrison, proposing:

  • Taking action on vehicles idling, particularly outside schools, at bus stops and at taxi ranks
  • Piloting road closures outside schools during school drop off and pick up times
  • Promoting Walking to School schemes
  • More air pollution monitoring, with at least one fixed monitor in every electoral ward across the borough and mobile monitors for use in monitoring air pollution at schools
  • A campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of exposure to air pollution
  • More electric vehicle charging points across the borough
  • More tree planting, and
  • The installation of anti-pollution bus stops like in central London

Councillor Sykes said: “All these measures are yet more examples of the common-sense proposals that the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group provides in response to the problems our Borough, and its citizen’s face.  Air pollution represents a real danger to public health, and it is only getting worse.  Why it has taken eleven months so far without a plan of action being produced by this sub-group is beyond me.  The Council asked them to ‘move as quickly as possible to produce an Air Quality Improvement Plan’, this is movement at a snail’s pace.  I only hope that Councillor Harrison and this Labour Administration will take these proposals on board, as the time to act is now.”

Notes to Editors:

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 11 October 2018 17:37
To: Cllr J Harrison <CllrJ.Harrison@oldham.gov.uk>
Cc: howard.sykes@oldham.gov.uk
Subject: The Development of an Oldham Air Quality Improvement Plan

To Councillor Jenny Harrison

Chair of the Health and Well-being Board

Dear Jenny,

The Development of an Oldham Air Quality Improvement Plan

 In November 2017, Council passed a resolution which included a proposal:

‘To ask the Health and Well-being Board Air Quality Sub-Group to move as quickly as possible to produce an Air Quality Improvement Plan which should include what we as individuals can do, as well as by Oldham Council and Greater Manchester bodies.’

Air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, making it the biggest environmental killer.  It also results in health costs of between £8.5bn and £18.6bn a year, according to Public Health England (PHE) and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

In a Borough like Oldham air pollution is a major contributory factor in the premature deaths of some of our residents and in the recurrence of poor respiratory health in many others.  Accordingly, the Liberal Democrat Group was pleased to support the motion, in the hope that we could work on a cross-party basis to agree some early action.

Despite enquiries lodged with several officers, including the Chief Executive, I have been unable to establish who constituted the Sub-Group, when it actually met, and what its findings have been.  I have also been disappointed that, given the cross-party support for the motion, that the Liberal Democrat Group was never invited to contribute to its deliberations.

After eleven months, no proposals appear to have come forward for consideration by the Board; a rate of progress that, I would suggest, is hardly ‘moving’ as quickly as possible.’

There are plenty of positive ideas for tackling air pollution from other local authorities, and here are some that I would like the Board to consider:

Action on Idling:

 New guidance issued from PHE and Nice recommends that no idling” zones should be used outside schools, care homes and hospitals.

We could look to copy ideas proposed by my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Bury to:

  • Introduce, over the next two years an enforceable ‘no-idling’ zone outside every school in the Borough, with at least four pilot zones in the next year.
  • Where practical, to extend the number of ‘no-idling’ zones to cover areas outside children’s play areas where parked traffic is an issue.
  • To work with our NHS partners, to look at extending ‘no-idling’ zones outside Medical Centres, and in hospital ‘pick up’ areas

We could also:

  • Discourage, through our licensing powers, idling by taxis and private hire vehicles, using enforcement powers when necessary.
  • Require drivers of Council operated vehicles not to idle, and ask the same of our public sector partners and our public transport providers with respect to their own vehicles.
  • Conduct an information campaign to influence driver behaviour by urging motorists to turn off their engines if they think they are not going to move for around two minutes and asking them not to manually override ‘stop-start’ systems.  These are fitted to some vehicles to automatically switch off the engine when the vehicle is stationary and restart it as soon as the accelerator is pressed.

Shutting Off Streets Outside Schools:

 Like Hackney, with its School Streets pilot, we could initiate some trial projects to shut off streets outside schools to traffic at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times, with the imposition of a fine of up to £80 for those caught on camera flouting the ban.  In this scheme, local residents and businesses will be able to apply for an exemption, free of charge.

  • Other local authorities are introducing ‘bus gates’ outside schools to reduce vehicular through traffic to cycles and local buses with a fixed penalty for transgressors.

Walking to School Schemes: 

  • We should be encouraging every school whenever practical to establish Walk to School initiatives in conjunction with Living Streets to discourage school drop offs / pick-ups and to promote walking for personal health.

More Air Pollution Monitoring: 

  • Can I suggest this Council looks to investigate the introduction of air pollution monitors in each and every ward throughout our borough, and particularly as a priority introduce mobile monitors for testing each and every school, especially nursery and primary schools?

Raising Public Awareness of Air Pollution: 

  • We can look to get children involved in air quality monitoring as part of Science curriculum.
  • Healthcare professionals should be encourage to routinely advise vulnerable patients to reduce strenuous activity when air pollution is high and to use less polluted routes in our borough.

More Electric Vehicle Charging Points: 

Let’s set some challenging targets for installing charging points in our Borough as the reality is that electric or hybrid electric vehicles are the future.

Practical ideas proposed by my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Bury that we might adopt are:

  • Establishing an initiative to identify suitable locations for additional charging points within the borough.
  • Ensuring we have at least one electric vehicle charging point in every electoral ward by the end of calendar year 2018, and that this target be ambitiously reviewed every year.
  • Seeking further funding from GM Mayor Andy Burnham to seek extra money to meet this ambition under TfGM’s GMEV scheme.

 More Tree Planting: 

The Oldham Liberal Democrats have over several years made various proposals relating to the preservation and promotion of tree cover as it is undoubtedly the case that trees absorb pollution and improve air quality.  We will therefore commend any efforts that the Administration will make to reduce tree loss and to plant more trees and it would be helpful if we had a specific Tree Strategy as we have suggested with ambitious targets for tree planting, especially in our urban streets.  This is something that any planning gain that results from the Community Infrastructure Levy could be used to support.

Introduce Anti-Pollution Bus Stops: 

Lastly, I wonder if Oldham might become the location for some anti-pollution bus stops similar to those that have been trialled in London on New Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and High Holborn –

http://www.jcdecaux.co.uk/news/body-shop-introduces-anti-pollution-bus-stops-london

https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/these-antipollution-bus-stops-in-london-let-you-breathe-in-clean-air-a3554676.html

I do hope that the Health and Well-being Board will be able to look at and adopt many of these proposals to reduce the impact of air pollution on the residents of this Borough, and I will look forward to the Board’s deliberations.

Best wishes.

Howard

Liberal Democrat Leader’s concerns about proposed NHS changes in Oldham

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition, has written to the Chief Executive of Oldham Council, Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE, to raise a number of concerns and questions about the proposals being taken forward in Oldham in the provision of GP and urgent care services.

Under the proposals, urgent care hubs will be created in five health centres around the borough, replacing the town centre walk-in centre which will close.  Patients are also promised greater access to their local GP and a single telephone number to call with enquiries.

In his email, Councillor Sykes is seeking reassurances that there will be in reality a better, more accessible service for patients, particularly those that he and his Liberal Democrat ward colleagues represent in Shaw and Crompton, and that there are firm plans to finally replace the existing aging Crompton Health Centre which Councillor Sykes describes ‘frankly far from fit-for-purpose’ and a source of ‘resentment’ when local patients see ‘the facilities provided daily to their neighbours in Royton’.

The email reads

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 11 October 2018 16:26
To: Carolyn Wilkins <Carolyn.Wilkins@oldham.gov.uk>
Cc: howard.sykes@oldham.gov.uk
Subject: Questions re Proposed Urgent Care Changes

Dear Dr Wilkins,

I have several questions that I would like please to pose for you.

Will the single telephone number that is promised for patients to contact be an Oldham wide number?

My concern is that this will be overwhelmed by calls and staff will be unable to answer them promptly.

This has been the situation with the Police 101 number.

How will calls be managed – will they be answered centrally or will callers be automatically routed to their own GP surgery or their local ‘urgent care hub’?

Under current proposals, five new hubs will be designated as ‘Urgent Care Hubs’, each serving around 50,000 people.

Am I right in assuming that the Royton Health Centre will be one of the five new ‘urgent care hubs’?

Shaw and Crompton are paired with Royton.  Given that Royton has a new health centre and we do not, I am assuming this will lead to the Royton health centre being designated the hub also for Shaw and Crompton, despite the public transport links being poor or not existent?

Where does this then leave the prospects for the future replacement of Crompton Health Centre which frankly is far from fit-for-purpose?

The people of Shaw and Crompton continue to feel badly let down by the NHS and this Council because of their failure to replace this centre a long time ago and their resentment builds with every month that passes without action, especially when they see the facilities provided daily to their neighbours in Royton.

What guarantee will there be under current proposals that there will be an adequate after-hours service and that patients will have greater access to GPs, particularly outside the hours of 8-6 weekdays?

At present many of my constituents wait days or weeks before they can access a GP of their choosing at a time that suits them.  This leads them to present at the Walk in Centre or A+E.

Under current plans, the town centre LIFT walk-in centre will be closed when the new hubs are open.

As this must be one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the property portfolio of our local NHS, what plans are there to reuse part, or all, of the building and what will happen to the equipment and people that are in there.

Has an audit been carried out recently of all NHS properties in our Borough, whether owned or leased, to determine whether all buildings are used to the utmost for treatment or ancillary purposes or whether they can be sold off to generate capital to reinvest in remaining buildings and services?  If so can this information be shared with me?

After the Walk in Centre closure, what will prevent patients from simply presenting to A+E for urgent treatment, rather than waiting to be seen by a GP or at the hub?

Can you give a guarantee that with the establishment of the hub, the A+E Department at the Royal Oldham Hospital will not be closed or its services reduced or downgraded?

I shall look forward to receiving your responses.

Best wishes.

Liberal Democrat Leader’s Plea to help make Car Washes Slavery Free

On the eve of Anti-Slavery Day (18 October 2018), Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition, is urging local drivers, and their passengers, to be vigilant for the presence of modern slavery when they use local car washes.

Councillor Sykes said: “We have recently debated at the Council the existence of modern slavery in British society, and politicians of all parties are determined to see an end to it.  Slavery in all of its forms is totally abhorrent, but it still exists even in Britain and it is often occurring right under our noses.”

The National Crime Agency has indicated that they are thousands of people being exploited in this way in the UK, often working long hours for little or no pay, in the most atrocious conditions and with scant regard for health and safety legislation.  Some of these individuals are being coerced to work with the threat of violence.

Councillor Sykes added: “Although we may think that such exploitation may be limited to unscrupulous gang-masters herding their workers to carry out endless, menial tasks in agriculture, modern slavery is on our streets and one of the places it can be seen is amongst the many thousands of on-street hand car washes that have been established in our communities.”

The Church of England has launched a Safe Car Wash app that can be downloaded by the general public to their smart phones and devices to help the police tackle the problem.  Users are asked to open the app and complete a short survey about the working conditions for staff that they observe whilst using the car wash.  The data is anonymised and then shared with the National Crime Agency and the Labour Abuse Authority.

Councillor Sykes concurs: “Put simply, the Safe Car Wash app is one way that each of us as individuals can make a real difference.  I would urge everyone to use Anti-Slavery Day to resolve to download this app and to complete the questionnaire every time they use a car wash to help to bring the scourge of modern slavery to an end.”

The app can be found at https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/safecarwash/

SEXUAL HEALTH SERVICES AT TIPPING POINT WARN LOCAL LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group has warned that patients could have to wait longer for sexual health services with visits to clinics up by 25 per cent in five years at the same time as funding for councils to provide vital public health services has been cut.

In 2016 there were 2,456,779 new attendances at sexual health clinics compared with 1,941,801 in 2012 across England. Local Liberal Democrats recognise that it is good news more people are taking responsibility for their sexual health, but warn this is placing a significant strain on councils’ resources.

Commenting, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE said: “While it is encouraging that more and more people are taking their own, and their partners’, sexual health seriously, we are concerned that this increase in demand is creating capacity and resource issues for councils.”

“We are concerned that this will see waiting times start to increase and patient experience deteriorate.  The current Government’s cuts to councils’ public health budgets of £531 million – a reduction of nearly 10 per cent – has left local authorities struggling to keep up with increased demand for sexual health services.”

While the number of new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections fell by 4 per cent in 2016, councils are warning that it will be “extremely challenging” to maintain services at the current level.

Liberal Democrats are calling on government to recognise the importance of improving sexual health by reversing public health cuts.  The funding is desperately needed to meet the increasing demand, otherwise patients could face longer waiting times and a reduced quality of service.

Councillor Sykes added: “We are concerned that this will see waiting times start to increase and patient experience deteriorate.”

“The reduction in public health funding could also compound problems further and impact on councils’ ability to meet demand and respond to unforeseen outbreaks.  We cannot tackle this by stretching services even thinner.”

“It is obviously good news that diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections are down, but sexual health services are now reaching a tipping point where it will be extremely challenging to maintain this progress.

“Once again this is an example of councils inheriting the responsibility of public health when it was transferred from the NHS in 2013, but without the necessary resources to deliver services.”

Notes 

The Government reduced councils’ public health grant by £331 million from 2016/17 to 2020/21.  This followed a £200 million in-year reduction in 2015/16.

Councils spend approximately £600 million a year on sexual health services.  The overall public health budget for 2017/18 is £3.4 billion.