Surface water Buckstones Road

A number of people have been in contact regarding the surface water on Buckstones Road, Shaw (above and below 300 Buckstones Road).

I have pursued the matter with the Highways Department and I have the following to report.

Highways have been on site a few days ago and opened up the channel behind the kerb line and cleared all gullies.

There is an issue lower down with water coming off private land that Main Drainage Department is dealing with but does not appear to be the main reason for the current surface water in this area.

The opened channel is now capturing any water coming from the embankment before it reaches the highway.

The Drainage Section are due to start their investigation on the 16 November.

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.

Change to Mortgage Support represents homelessness risk, say Liberal Democrats

The Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor John McCann, is proposing a motion to the next meeting of Oldham Council (8 November 2017) that condemns the government for withdrawing a financial support scheme for older benefit claimants who are homeowners.

Councillor John McCann explains:  “The current Support for Mortgage Interest or SMI scheme administered by the Department of Work and Pensions is being scrapped on 5 April 2018.  It will be replaced by a repayable loan.”

“Until now, homeowners on a qualifying benefit, such as income support, income-based Job Seekers’ Allowance or Pension Credit, have been able to get some help towards the interest charges levied on a mortgage or home improvement loan, and this help has not had to be paid back.”

“From April, such claimants will be asked to sign up for a loan scheme where they will continue to qualify for support, but this support will be in the form of loan payments that have to be repaid when the home is sold or if ownership is transferred.”

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats do not feel that this is right. Such homeowners may be deterred from signing up for the loan scheme and this may mean that they start to get in arrears with payments and their home could eventually be repossessed. However if they sign up for the scheme they will be building more debt that will eventually be recovered from them when they give up their house.”

Councillor McCann is backed by his colleague, Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Howard Sykes MBE.

Councillor Sykes said: “These changes are being brought in for both new and existing recipients. There is no proposal to offer existing claimants transitional support which is grossly unfair.”

“The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated that of the 140,000 households currently receiving SMI around 50% are of pension age,” stated Councillor Sykes.  “We are keen to champion their cause to fight for the continued existence of the current SMI scheme and the abandonment of a proposal that could make older people homeless.  In our motion, we also call on Council officers to bring forward a report identifying the impact these changes will have.”

The motion reads – Ending of the Support for Mortgage Interest Scheme

 This Council notes that:

  • The Government have recently announced that the Support for Mortgage Interest Scheme (or SMI), administered by the Department of Work and Pensions, will come to an end on 5 April 2018.
  • Homeowners who are on a qualifying benefit for long enough can currently receive help towards the interest charges on a mortgage or eligible home improvement loan.
  • From 6 April 2018, new and existing claimants will instead be offered SMI loans; there will be no transitional protection.
  • If a loan is not accepted, SMI will end and claimants will start to accrue mortgage arrears, putting their home at risk.
  • If the loan is accepted, homeowners will have to repay the loan, including accrued interest if there is sufficient equity, once the property is sold or ownership is transferred.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated that of the 140,000 households currently receiving SMI around 50% are of pension age.

Council is concerned that:

  • Such claimants will end up being in further debt should they choose to participate in the new scheme.
  • Other claimants who do not take up the loan may find themselves in mortgage arrears and be evicted.
  • There is no transitional protection scheme for existing claimants.
  • As claimants fall into more debt, or are faced with homelessness, they will make a greater call on Council services and those provided by partner agencies (such as the Oldham Food Bank) placing these under greater strain.

Council believes that the proposals are grossly unfair as:

  • Tenants living in social or private rented housing can receive housing benefit payments that are greater that those made to homeowners through SMI.
  • Existing claimants are immediately affected without being offered access to transitional protection.
  • Older homeowners with an interest-only mortgage will be hardest hit.

Council resolves to:

  • Ask the Chief Executive to write to the Minister responsible outlining our concerns and objections, and to our three local MPs asking them to make representations on this matter.
  • Ask the Cabinet Member responsible to ask officers to draw up a briefing paper for Councillors identifying what the impact of these changes will be in Oldham and what actions can be taken by the Council and its partners to mitigate them.

Proposed by Councillor John McCann, Seconded by Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

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