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 <>
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.


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.”


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.

Save our Local Cash Points, say Shaw and Crompton Liberal Democrats

With the announcement that traditional banking services in Shaw and Crompton will come to an end in January 2019 with the closure of the local Royal Bank of Scotland Branch, Shaw Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, who is the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, has written to the Chairman and Head of Consumer Affairs at the LINK organisation seeking reassurances that residents and visitors will be able to access ready cash from a network of local ATM machines, especially during busy bank holiday and holiday weekends.

LINK is the UK’s largest cash machine (or ATM – Automated Teller Machine) network.  . Effectively every cash machine in the UK is connected to LINK, and LINK is the only way banks and building societies can offer their customers access to cash across the whole of the UK. All the UK’s main debit and ATM card issuers are LINK members.

Councillor Sykes commented:  “We have already lost cash machines at the Yorkshire and Barclays Banks, and at Martins Newsagents with the closure of these outlets.  Liberal Democrat Councillors have sought to put pressure on the Royal Bank of Scotland to retain the cash point at the old branch when it closes in the new-year, but they have only so far committed to maintain the machine outside the Tesco supermarket on Market Street.  We estimate that we have suffered a net loss of at least two machines, and with the Royal Bank of Scotland closure this will represent a third.

He added:  “An additional problem is that during busy bank holiday weekends, cash machines are only replenished, at the latest, the Friday before, and local people report real difficulty in accessing their cash as the weekend goes on as demand is so high. These machines are not refilled until the following Tuesday.  So not only will my constituents soon be unable to go into a high street bank, but they are more than likely to be unable to access cash from a high street cash point at the times when they most need it.”

Councillor Sykes has written to LINK senior staff seeking their assurance that efforts will be made to persuade the Royal Bank of Scotland to at least retain the cash machine at the branch once it closes and that LINK partners will replenish properly those local machines for which they are responsible in time for busy weekends.

He also has one more request:  “Crompton Ward has a high percentage of retired residents, and is poorly served by public transport in the evenings and weekends despite being some way from Shaw centre.   There is presently only one ATM machine in High Crompton at the Londis mini-market on Rochdale Road, but this store closes at 8.30pm at the latest.  I have also asked LINK if we can explore other possible sites for ATM machines in parts of Shaw and Crompton that are either currently poorly served, or not served at all so everyone, wherever they live, can easily access their own money.”


Oldham Liberal Democrats have welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the borrowing cap which has prevented them investing in much needed social and affordable housing is to be lifted.

“The Prime Minister has finally yielded to the many voices speaking common sense in urging her to abandon the borrowing cap to enable new affordable homes to meet increasing need and those lost through Right to Buy.  This decision reflects the position of the Liberal Democrats and the Local Government Association, who have been seeking an end to the cap for many years. In their hey-day, councils were building 4 in every 10 of the nation’s homes, and we now need to see a Council house building revival”, said Crompton Councillor Diane Williamson, Shadow Cabinet member for Policing, Community Safety and Housing on Oldham Borough Council.

“All Parties and councils, regardless of whether they were Liberal Democrat, Labour or Conservative, have been calling on the Government to lift the borrowing cap, so councils can once more help deal with the significant problems people face in getting a home of their home.  While, as always, we will need to wait to see the detail behind the Government’s announcement, this is a good news day for local councils and more especially for people waiting to get onto the housing ladder.”

Councillor Williamson added: “I shall look forward to seeing whether Oldham’s Labour Council will now quickly rise to the challenge and look to take advance of the change of rules by building new affordable homes in our borough as soon as possible.”

Oldham Liberal Democrats call for End to Bailiff Action against Poorest Council Tax Debtors

The Deputy Leader of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, and Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance, Councillor Chris Gloster, has today written to the Council Deputy Leader, Councillor Abdul Jabbar, asking the Council to sign up to best practice standards in debt collection identified by the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and Money Advice Trust. These include ending the use of bailiffs and enforcement agents to collect debts from the poorest Council Tax payers.

Councillor Gloster explained: “on the 6th September 2018 the National Audit Office published a report highlighting the fact that the debt collection practices in local and central government fall in many instances well behind the standards applied in the commercial lending sector. I want to see Oldham Council become a standard bearer for good practice in this field, especially as many of our residents are amongst the poorest in the country, being forced to live on a very limited income day-by-day whilst facing multiple debt problems.”

He added: “We all want to ensure that the Council’s Council Tax revenue is collected, but aggressive Council Tax collection practices have a cost to local authorities and to the individuals concerned. The use of bailiffs and collection agents rapidly add costs to debts and debtors are then likely to experience a decline in their mental or physical health, which in turn means they are more likely to call upon local authority or public health services. They are also increasingly likely to resort to more risky behaviours to settle the debt, for example, by taking out costly payday or door step loans.”

Councillor Gloster is asking Oldham Council to sign up to Citizen Advice Bureaux’s and LGA’s Council Tax Protocol to reduce the use of bailiffs and improve collection practices, and also to the ‘six steps for local authorities’ outlined in the Stop the Knock campaign of the Money Advice Trust.

Councillor Gloster has also asked Councillor Jabbar to look specifically at the example of best practice set by Lambeth Council when dealing with the debts of its poorest residents.

“In 2015/16, Lambeth chose not to use bailiffs or enforcement agents where debtors were in receipt of Council Tax Support.  In 2016, a report from the Child Poverty Action Group found that Lambeth’s collection rate for Council Tax Support claimants went up by 13%, taking Lambeth from being a borough with one of the lowest collection rates to one of the highest!”

Small cash grants for local groups and people

The grants have been made available through the Thriving Communities programme which focuses on building on the strengths, people and groups that already exist within our communities. It highlights how by using our community resources we can tackle problems earlier, rather than dealing with the symptoms later. It helps residents make better choices about their health and wellbeing by linking them to community groups and networks at a grass roots level.

Fast grants enable access to smaller amounts of funding for good ideas without the red tape.

Amounts available range from £50 – £500 and can be spent on:

  • Improving a local area
  • Running activities such as stay and play groups, and arts and craft groups
  • Developing local talent and skills
  • Encouraging the community to be fit and healthy

Fast Grants Flyer 2018 V7 NCM

These grants are designed to bring communities together and anyone with an idea which will have a benefit for Oldham residents can apply.

Applicants can apply for a Fast Grant by visiting or by emailing

Liberal Democrats publish plans to cut taxes for businesses by 26% in Oldham

The Liberal Democrats have published a comprehensive blueprint for replacing the broken business rates system, cutting taxes for businesses by 26% in Oldham.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, has described the plans as “exactly the sort of policy we need to boost local investment and ensure businesses in Oldham thrive”.

The report – Taxing Land, Not Investment – calls for the abolition of business rates and its replacement with a tax on land values, the Commercial Landowner Levy (CLL).

The levy would remove buildings and machinery from calculations and tax only the land value of commercial sites, boosting investment and cutting taxes for businesses.

Liberal Democrat members, including councillor Sykes, voted to support the proposals at their party’s Autumn Conference in Brighton last week.

Councillor Sykes added:  “Time and again I have heard concerns about the devastating impact of business rates is having on struggling high streets and the wider local economy.

“It is the responsibility of the current Conservative Government to ensure that our businesses are able to thrive, but ministers are not doing anywhere near enough.

“Liberal Democrats demand better.  That is why we are campaigning to create the environment needed for local businesses to grow and create jobs in Oldham.

The full report can be found at

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Business rates should be abolished and replaced by a Commercial Landowner Levy based on the value of commercial land only
  • The levy should be paid by owners rather than tenants
  • Non-residential stamp duty should be scrapped to improve the efficiency of the commercial property market
  • Commercial land should be taxed regardless of whether the buildings above it are occupied; the tax should also apply to unused and derelict commercial land

The report also finds:

  • The manufacturing and technology sectors would be the most significant beneficiaries of the CLL, receiving tax cuts of over 20%. Retailers in struggling areas would also receive a boost.
  • The CLL would represent a tax cut initially, but is likely to be at least revenue-neutral in the long-term. Redistribution between local authorities would be adjusted to ensure no change in local funding.

By taxing landowners rather than businesses, half a million SMEs would be spared the bureaucratic burden of property taxation. With far fewer plots of land than individual businesses, the CLL would save councils both time and money.

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.

Petrol filling station – for Asda Supermarket, Greenfield Lane, Shaw, – appeal again refusal


ASDA planning appeal details

Shaw and Crompton Liberal Democrat Councillors are disappointed that Asda have proceeded to appeal their plans for a petrol filling station.

This is despite the recommendation of Council Highways Officers that this development is unsafe, and the strong objections of local residents in relation to traffic congestion as well as the concerns of residents living directly opposite the proposed site who’s right to a peaceful life will undoubtedly be disrupted by a petrol station literally on the doorstep of the terraced houses.