Liberal Democrats find more cash for Highways and Environmental Improvements, and to build a New Health Centre for Shaw and Crompton by cutting Civic Centre waste

In their budget proposals for the coming financial year (2019/20), the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council have found more than £2 million more to invest in front-line services over the next three years largely by identifying more ways to save money at the Civic Centre.

This money would be used to pay for a further £5 million investment in the Borough’s highways, including a £1 million fund dedicated to restoring pedestrian footways; create a new Environmental Task Force to respond quickly and effectively to instances of fly-tipping, dog-fouling and littering; and pay to build a new health centre for patients in Shaw and Crompton.

The Liberal Democrats also want to reverse Labour’s proposals to cut the local budgets of Ward Councillors and Parish Councils to keep more money available locally to tackle the priorities of residents in the districts.

The Liberal Democrat proposals will be considered by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Performance and Value for Money Committee (PVFM) on Tuesday 5 February.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Chris Gloster, who is Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance said:  “Our amendment to the Administration budget reflects the concerns that members of the public have expressed to Liberal Democrat Councillors for better highways and safer footways; action to deal with the anti-social nuisance such as fly-tipping, dog fouling and littering that blights our local communities; and more money directed through Ward Councillors and Parish Councils to meet the priorities of local communities.”

“It is good that the Labour Administration has finally decided to adopt a previous Liberal Democrat budget proposal to fund an extra £18 million in highway improvements, but we have once more gone one better and found the means to finance £5 million more spending, and to earmark a £1 million budget to also improve our footpaths.  It is good too that Labour decided recently to follow a past Liberal Democrat proposal to invest more in additional street-cleaners, but again we have done one better in finding money for a new responsive Environmental Task Force.”

He added:  “I am especially pleased that in our budget proposals we have also found money to build a new replacement health centre for the people of Shaw and Crompton; this is long-overdue.  Liberal Democrat Ward Councillors have been calling for a new health centre for many years.  The present building is falling apart at the seams, and increasingly unfit-for-purpose.  It is inadequate to meet the current health-care needs of our constituents, let alone those of the thousands of new residents that we will see if the Labour Council approves the thousands of new homes that the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework threatens Shaw and Crompton with.  Royton and Werneth have bespoke all-singing, all-dancing health centres, and it is about time Shaw and Crompton did too.”

The Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader fully acknowledges that Conservative government funding cuts have made balancing the Council’s budget an increasingly difficult proposition so the party’s spending plans have been financed by extra saving cuts and revenue-raising in ways that do not increase the Council Tax.

In response, Councillor Gloster said:  “I do not envy the lead Cabinet Member for or our officers in the Treasury team their task.  Government funding shortfalls mean that once more £22.7 million in savings must be found from the Council’s budget in the next financial year.  Current estimates are that in subsequent years the budget will need to be trimmed by £22.883m for 2020/21, £10.889m for 2021/22, £6.859m for 2022/23 and £4.160m for 2023/24.  So the Liberal Democrats will, with great regret, support Labour’s proposal to increase Council Tax bills by 3.99% to help balance the books, but, because we know many of our residents are hurting financially, we will not add to their burden with our plans.”

Once again the Liberal Democrat Group has found the money to pay for their extra investments through taking a scythe to back-office administration and bureaucracy.

This year’s ‘War on Waste’ has yielded over £1 million in additional savings without having a negative impact on front-line services.

Councillor Gloster explained some of the additional reductions the Liberal Democrats are proposing:  “Many of our proposals have been consistent in recent years, but this year we have discovered one or two new sources of waste.  Our cuts focus on several core areas – better workforce management practices, a reduction in the number of councillors and reduction in expenditure on communications.”

“We believe that Labour is not being ambitious enough in its proposals to manage the recruitment and retention of staff, especially agency staff and consultants.  We want to place increasingly ambitious targets year-on-year upon managers to manage their workforces more efficiently.  This year we estimate this could yield an additional £550,000 in savings.  We also want again to look at how sickness is managed in this authority”.

“Lastly we want this Administration to live up to the promise it made to review car allowances and cut lump sum payments to staff using their vehicles very infrequently on Council business.  If, as we propose, the automatic entitlement to a £500 payment is withdrawn from the 100 or so staff who use their vehicles to make journeys amounting to 100 miles per year or less – an average of less than two miles per week – we can realise a saving of at least £50,000 per annum when fully-implemented.  We also want the Administration to look again at expenditure on air travel for staff, which seems grossly excessive when compared to that of our neighbours.”

The Liberal Democrats are mindful that it is only fair that Councillors too share the pain with staff.  Councillor Gloster explained how:  “Once more, we are calling for a reduction in the number of Councillors by 20 (a third) and for a reduction in the number of local elections to two every four years.  This is consistent with our proposals in recent years.  If approved by the Boundary Commission, these changes would release a £290,000 saving in 2020-21 to spend on front-line services.”

Councillor Howard Sykes, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council along with his Liberal Democrat colleagues also want to revisit expenditure on marketing and communications.  He explained:  “We would cull all non-statutory spending.  There is a requirement to publish certain statutory notices to inform the public and invite comments, but there is no legal requirement to publish ‘propaganda on the rates’ like Borough Life.  We want to scrap it and in our view every penny spent on this and another staff conference is another one denied to vulnerable people receiving social care.  We want to see a saving of £150,000 on marketing this year and a further £100,000 in each of the next two financial years.  Information and messages can now be delivered almost cost free via social media, and printing less is good for our environment.”

Councillor Sykes concluded:  “Although the Liberal Democrat proposals are modest when compared to the financial challenge faced by Oldham Council, they do nonetheless achieve real savings that can be put back into front-line services that matter to people, and they are reflective of the Liberal Democrat approach to public finance – to apply common sense, an innovative approach and tough love to cut waste and squeeze the most out of every penny of our finances to deliver the best services that we can for our hard-pressed Council Tax payers.”

“I would like to thank my colleague, the new Deputy Leader and Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance, Councillor Chris Gloster, and the Council officers who have supported him, for their hard-work and commitment in putting this budget amendment together.  In the current challenging financial situation it is difficult to create a balanced budget, whether in the Administration or in Opposition, and anyone involved in this process deserves full credit for their efforts.”

A summary of the Liberal Democrat savings and spending proposals and the agenda for PVFM follow the link: Agenda details on public web site

Petrol filling station – for Asda Supermarket, Greenfield Lane, Shaw, – appeal again refusal has now been granted

The Planning Inspector has just published his decision (see link below) to grant the above filling station.  This is despite representations by local residents, local Councillors, and Oldham Council.

Below is the decision in full:

ASDA Appeal Decision – 3195812

Despite the application initially being refused by the Oldham Council Planning Committee due to the disturbance this development will cause to residents who live directly opposite, the recommendation by Council Highways Officers of  the potentially dangerous effect this development  would have on Shaw’s road system, and the loss of recycling facilities which Asda made no provision for, the Inspector has decided to allow the appeal, but has strengthened and enhanced the planning  conditions proposed  including timing and junction alterations as well as maintaining the provision of a  recycling facility.

Having spoken to local residents to inform them of the news, they are bitterly disappointed and believe that this development will undoubtedly affect their quality of life being only some 13 metres away from their homes.

The communities of Shaw and Crompton were always divided on this application, whereas some welcomed the likelihood of cheaper fuel, others recognised the detrimental effect to the neighbours and road system, as well as increased congestion at peak times.

Although Liberal Democrat Shaw Ward councillors  are disappointed at the outcome of the appeal, they are pleased that the Inspector has retained and increased the planning conditions imposed upon Asda before the development can begin.

My two allowed questions at tonight’s Oldham Council meeting – 12 December 2018 – Who decides on the GMSF Plan and Coping with Brexit

Q1 Oldham Council Leaders Questions – Who decides on the GMSF Plan?

Mr Mayor, my first question to the Leader tonight returns to a subject that I asked him about in September – who will be responsible for taking the decision in this Council whether to adopt the final proposals for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

I make no apology for asking this question again as circumstances seem to have changed on this issue since we last spoke in this Chamber about it.

On 1 October 2018, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the ten Council leaders who are the Greater Manchester Combined Authority issued a media release which stated categorically that:

Leaders also commit to ensuring that the formal draft plan is put before each Council to ensure real democratic debate and scrutiny.

The draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework must be approved by each and every local council next summer.

 The Mayor and Leaders have today made clear that regardless of the requirements, they are committed to ensuring that the formal draft Plan is put before each Council to ensure real democratic engagement, debate and scrutiny.

 Local ward councillors will have their say on this plan

 Throughout this process we have always committed to taking the GMSF through local councils.

On 30 November 2018, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority issued a further statement which stated categorically that:

  “Before we go out to consultation for a second time (in the summer of 2019) the revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will be taken to all the local authorities and councils within the city-region for discussion, debate and ultimately sign-off.”

As I read these two statements, they would appear to imply that all Greater Manchester local authority leaders, including yourself, have agreed to bring the draft GMSF plan before a full meeting of their local Council for scrutiny and debate and for ward members to vote on whether their local Council chooses to adopt the plan?

This appears to be a contrary position to the one that you outlined in your response to my question on the matter at the September meeting of full Council.  Here you indicated that you as Leader would make the final decision.

Please can I ask the Leader of the Council to clarify the current position as he sees it?

Q2 Oldham Council Leaders Questions – Coping with Brexit

Mr Mayor, for my second question to the Leader tonight I would like to turn to Brexit, more specifically the serious threat a No-Deal Brexit will pose.

The last Council presented a report which stated that: “It is looking increasingly likely that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is the most likely outcome…”

This would result in a downturn in economic productivity and growth in our region as the EU accounts for almost sixty percent of our export market.

The cost of imported raw materials and components are already increasing, in part because of the falling value of the pound.  This will also impact on employment and on wage rates which will be devastating as Oldham working families are already amongst the poorest in the UK.

But this is NOT the worst of it.  Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab admitted the Government was preparing to stockpile food.

Health Secretary Matthew Hancock admitted discussions on building up NHS reserves of vaccinations, blood products and medical supplies had been held.

But it is impossible to stockpile advance supplies of fresh food, as by their nature they are perishable, and many patients rely of medicines with a short shelf-life.

Essentials will therefore have to be flown into the UK at great expense, while stuff rots at our ports which become gigantic truck parks with no drivers to drive them!

I say flown, but this is of course assumes that the Government can obtain the necessary export permits, complete the necessary new bureaucracy and obtain the flight-certified aircraft to do the job.

Frankly this sounds like a scenario akin to the Berlin Airlift of 1948 rather than Great Britain in 2018.

Seventy years ago, the Western allies had to overcome the Communist Soviet military blockade of that city to prevail.

Here common-sense has yet to prevail against the bigotry, narrow-mindedness of Little Englanders and the swivel eyed loons determined to break faith with our European neighbours.

Mr Mayor, this is frightening stuff, made more so in a borough where we already have so many poor citizens reliant on emergency Food Bank supplies, a great many with chronic and long-term health conditions.

I am sorry to say that this is not the script of a post-Apocalyptic movie this is just weeks away.

The people in charge of this mess and our country; in the middle of the most important constitutional change since Henry 8 or Oliver Cromwell; now decide to have a leadership contest and oust the Prime Minister!

They have done more to damage our reputation in the world; and the Union that is the United Kingdom; at a single stroke than any event in modern history!

Words fail me.

Firstly please could the leader tell us what is being done by this Council, in conjunction with our partners in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, to plan measures to mitigate for a possible No-deal Brexit?

Secondly would he be willing to join with me in sending a joint letter to the three Members of Parliament who represent our Borough asking them to support a second people’s referendum, with the option on the ballot paper to remain in the European Union and retain the many benefits accruing from membership, before any move by this Government to take our nation over the abyss into Brexit?

Liberal Democrats Opposed to Fast-Track Fracking

The Oldham Liberal Democrats are submitting a motion to the next full meeting of Oldham Council opposing Government changes to planning procedures on fracking matters.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Dave Murphy is proposing the motion and Councillor Derek Heffernan is seconding it.

Councillor Murphy explained: “The Conservative Government is quite simply trying to circumvent established local planning procedures because they know that fracking is simply not popular with either Councils or the public.  Recent fracking activities on the Fylde Coast have demonstrated that there are public health issues with fracking activities, such operations involve many vehicle movements, ground disturbances that have led to earth tremors, and the real danger that fracking could lead to the pollution of local water supplies. It is only right that where such operations are contemplated that local people and their elected Councillors are able to properly consider them under established planning procedures.”

He added: “And this is not simply about fracking.  There is a danger that the government could decide that other contentious planning issues, such as building new nuclear power plants or housing on the green belt, could be considered at national level, denying local people and local Councillors any say in what goes on in their area.  At the end of the day they are the people who have to live with the consequences.  This goes completely against the grain of localism, which is about divesting power to local communities, and it is fundamentally undemocratic, and this is why as Liberal Democrats we are opposed to these changes.”

Changes to the Planning System to Fast-track Fracking

 Council notes:

  • With concern that the government is proposing two major changes to the planning system as it applies to shale gas extraction (or fracking) by:
  • Granting automatic planning permission for exploratory drilling prior to fracking, using ‘permitted development’ rules. This would remove the need for companies to submit a planning application and so also reduce local democratic scrutiny.
  • Including shale gas production projects in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime. This would take decision-making powers on shale gas production away from local councils and hand it to central government.
  • That wherever fracking has been proposed, it has been opposed by the public and local authorities because of real fears about noise, traffic, air pollution, the impact on the countryside, and the effects on climate change.
  • That the Cardiff Business School has produced a report that reveals that to replace 50% of the UK’s projected future gas imports for 2021-2035 would in the most likely scenario require around 6100 fracking wells to be built on well pads that could cover the area of 4900 football pitches. This would require the equivalent of drilling and fracking one well every day for fifteen years.

Council believes that:

  • The Government’s proposals completely contradict the principles of localism and set a dangerous precedent for planning authorities in denying them the right to determine certain types of planning applications locally and in denying members of the public and communities their say during the planning process.
  • ‘Permitted Development’ – the category of planning that the government wants to move shale gas exploration drilling into – which was designed for developments with a low environmental impact and is an inappropriate category for drilling which has such wide-reaching implications for local communities and climate change.
  • Bringing fracking applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime will be harmful to local communities.
  • Local authorities and local people are best placed to continue to make decisions throughout the planning process on matters that affect their locality, including fracking.

Council therefore resolves to ask the Chief Executive to:

  • Write to the relevant government ministers outlining this Council’s objections to the proposed changes and requesting that fracking applications, or indeed on any other planning matter relating to our locality and its people, be determined locally.
  • Copy in our three local Members of Parliament and the Mayor of Greater Manchester and ask for their support on this issue.

Proposed Councillor Dave Murphy, Seconded Councillor Derek Heffernan.