Liberal Democrats propose investment for better roads, cleaner streets and safer communities

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council will propose that in this year’s budget more money is invested on improving highways, tackling fly tipping and litter, and addressing anti-social behaviour and crime to make the Borough’s streets better and cleaner and our communities safer by finding further savings in Civic Centre bureaucracy.

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, said:

“Local government finance has been massively, and disproportionately, hit by this Conservative Government’s so called continued adherence to austerity.  Over many years, Oldham has really felt the pain.  This year has been no different.  The Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement announced in December contained no surprises, it was simply more of the same, no additional funding, do more with less and more cuts.”

“Unfortunately, a rise in Council Tax will be a further burden for struggling households to bear.  I am only glad that there is cross-party support to maintain the Council Tax Support Scheme at its current level to help those on the lowest incomes to reduce their bills.”

Whilst the Oldham Liberal Democrats recognise that cuts are necessary, in their Budget Amendment proposals they have identified further savings which cut money from the Council’s bureaucracy rather than taking money from services.  Some of the money released through these savings they propose to reinvest to make real improvements to the Borough’s roads and communities to make them better, cleaner and safer.

Councillor Sykes commented:  “The Liberal Democrats believe that we should be waging a ‘War on Waste’ by constantly identify savings in bureaucracy to free up money to support the services that are most valued by our ratepayers.  This year, we have identified over £420,000 in further savings from the so called back office that can be put back into front-line services.”

The Liberal Democrats have identified a further £423,000 in savings each year by improving disciplinary procedures, tackling absenteeism, reducing staff car allowances for low-mileage users, cutting spending on agency staff and consultants, significantly reducing expenditure on communications and marketing, and scrapping Borough Life.

The Liberal Democrats also propose investment on enforcement so fines can be applied against drivers who selfishly and illegally use bus lanes; whilst this will cost money in the short term, over time this will be revenue raising with no impact on the responsible drivers.  This cash will then be used to fix our crumbling roads.

Councillor Sykes said:  “We recognise that our savings represent only a relatively small amount compared to the many millions that this Council has been forced to save, but this modest amount would nonetheless be significant.”

“We are proposing to spend £400,000 this year to restore the cuts Labour propose to our youth services, so helping to address the anti-social behaviour that can result from young people having nothing to do, and to invest in tackling the fly-tipping that blights our communities and in the alley-gating and CCTV schemes that help keep people safe in their homes and streets.”

“Next year, we would spend £422,000 to fund an additional £5 million investment on much needed improvements to our roads and infrastructure, and to sustain our work in public safety.  This is a practical set of common sense proposals that takes money wasted on bureaucracy and invests it in the services that matter to people.”

“The Labour Administration has recently announced a £6.2 million investment in road improvements, including £5 million this year.  Whilst this is a welcome announcement, it is disingenuous of them to claim that this was their idea as in each of our last two annual Budget Amendments we have proposed a £5 million investment; these were  investments that Labour failed to support.  If it is suddenly right to do this now, why was it not right to do it then?  How much better would our road already be if we have invested in them as we suggest two years ago?”

“The Liberal Democrats however want to go one better as, through the savings we have identified, we can fund an additional £5 million in highway and infrastructure improvements in 2019/20, sustaining the level of investment for one more year making more of our roads smoother and safer.”

Councillor Sykes also spoke about his Group’s continued commitment to funding youth services:

“The Liberal Democrats are concerned that the £100,000 in cuts that Labour are proposing to our youth services will lead to more instances of anti-social behaviour and increased pressure on our already over-burdened Children’s Social Care Services and on the Police.”

“We would restore the funding but on one condition – that a new Service Level Agreement be drawn up to ensure that funding is focused on providing youth services within each of the Districts, not simply at Mahdlo, which is a town centre venue that many young people are unable, or reluctant, to travel too.”

The Liberal Democrats are equally committed to crime prevention and public safety.

Councillor Sykes added:  “Our proposals include making £650,000 available over two years for tackling environmental crime, such as the cowboy van-and-man fly-tippers who take money from householders ostensibly to responsibly dispose of their bulky waste items and then criminally dump them by the side of our highways and in our beauty spots, and to consider applications for alley-gating schemes and for the installation of Closed Circuit Television cameras.  In wards, such as my own in Shaw, we have seen that such schemes reduce burglaries and street crime and help people feel safe in their homes and communities.”

Long-term, the Liberal Democrats have still more ambitious proposals to save money. In their Budget Amendment, they have once again called for a reduction in Councillors from 60 to 40, and for two elections every four years instead of three, to realise an estimated annual saving of £190,000. They also want to see the temporary reduction in the Council staff training budget of £150,000 made permanent, and have suggested Spend-to-Save measures, such as investing in replacing conventional street lamps with LED bulbs which use significantly less electricity, and generating money from highways advertising.

Full details of the proposals can be seen by following the link below:

https://committees.oldham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=182&MId=6912&Ver=4

Temporary traffic signals at Wren’s Nest

While some disruption is expect they are not operating as per the permit granted to Electricity NW.

Peak times are chaos and I have been in touch with the Highways Department about it.

The permit conditions imposed were “signals to be manned 07.00 – 19.00”, a fine has been issued and and the site supervisor and Electricity North West Planner will be spoken to.

Hopefully the situation will improve if not they will be fined again.

Protecting Your Family from Indoor Air Pollution

When talking about air pollution, the majority of people will visualise traffic-laden streets and factories emitting clouds of thick smoke, unaware that indoor air pollution also threatens our daily well-being.  A study conducted by healthcare company Puressential suggests that indoor air quality is a grave danger and can damage our lungs extensively. While the UK records an average of 40,000 annual outdoor-pollution deaths a year, statistics pertaining to indoor pollution are harder to come by.

Professor Tim Sharpe, a researcher at the Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit stated that modern homes are increasingly airtight and are prone to containing a large number of harmful everyday chemicals and pollutants of which many have significant health effects. Moisture, heat, condensation and poor ventilation all promote the spreading of viruses and bacteria, triggering mold growth, fungal spores and dust mites. Luckily there are a number of simple steps that can be taken to reduce your risk of being exposed to indoor air pollution.

Add some indoor plants

It has been proven time and time again that houseplants help to purify indoor air. Having a plant in every living area will contribute significantly towards a higher quality of air within your home. There are countless indoor plants available to choose from with English ivy, Gerber daisies, aloe vera, azaleas and snake plants being just a few popular choices.

Check your bedroom

One of the most common sources of daily exposure to pollution can come from toxins released by chemicals in your bedroom.  These chemicals can stem from carpeting, furniture, linen, textiles, and mattresses and are produced by the components used to manufacture each product.  Ensure, where possible, that your bedroom furnishings are low-formaldehyde or completely organic.  Opt for eco-foam mattresses and non-toxic pesticide-free fleece, cotton or silk sheets.

Let in fresh air

It is surprising how many people never open their windows out of fear of outdoor air pollution, all the while allowing indoor air toxins to build up in the home. Make sure you have plenty of fresh air circulating through your house, especially when painting or flooring. It is also of vital importance to change your air conditioner and heater filters on a regular basis.

Control moisture

Keep your home dry by controlling the humidity levels to less than 60%, making use of dehumidifiers if needed. If there has flood or water damage take immediate action, removing the water and wet materials as soon as possible, drying all porous items within 48 hours. If mold starts to grow on any porous materials including wood, drywall, and ceiling tiles, remove and replace immediately.

By taking the necessary steps to combat indoor air pollution within your home you can boost your own health and that of your family significantly. Not only will everyone notice an improvement on their general well-being but you will also feel the financial benefit of spending less money on trips to the doctor and buying over-the-counter medications.

Don’t Persecute Honest Passengers, Prosecute Fare-dodgers, says Oldham Liberal Democrat Leader

The Oldham Liberal Democrats have been shocked by recent revelations from Labour-controlled Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) that an estimated one in eight Metrolink passengers are fare-dodgers.  Responding to a question from Bury Liberal Democrat Councillor Tim Pickstone TfGM bosses conceded that 12% of all journeys are not paid for.

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, who also serves as a representative of Oldham Council on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, stated:

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats are flatly opposed to 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.”

“Labour goes on constantly about austerity and workers having to tighten their belts when at the same time the Labour-controlled Transport for Greater Manchester is hitting these very workers in the pocket by increasing Metrolink fares by such an astronomical amount.  This will send out all of the wrong signals.  Commuters will be put off using the tram and if they do they may be more inclined not to get a ticket.”

“There are 40 million tram journeys a year so fare-dodging is estimated to cost Metrolink about £9 million in lost revenue a year.  Rather than hammering the honest passenger, transport bosses need to focus on tackling fare evasion.  12% non-payment is a disgrace.  Everyone should pay their ‘fare share’, so we say tackle the fare-dodgers.  We need more enforcement officers on the line at more times and we need to ruthlessly prosecute non-payers.”

Time for Government to Fully Fund Council Tax Relief for Dementia Sufferers

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE has written to the Minister responsible for the care of dementia sufferers calling on the Government to “provide 100% reimbursement by central government” to Councils exempting those with dementia from Council Tax.

Under Council Tax regulations, Dementia is classed as a ‘severe mental impairment’ meaning that sufferers living alone are entitled to a 100 percent exemption from Council Tax, whilst a household with a dementia sufferer and a carer will still receive a 25% discount.

A recent report by the website, Money Saving Expert, found that up to 100,000 people with dementia or similar conditions could be wrongly paying Council Tax because they are unaware that they qualify for an exemption.  Money Saving Expert found that two thirds of Councils surveyed by mystery shoppers were unable to provide accurate information about the exemption and how to apply for it.

Councillor Sykes immediately wrote to the Borough Treasurer asking for assurance that Oldham Council was following best practice and is offering every assistance to dementia sufferers to access the exemption.  In her response, Mrs. Anne Ryans indicated that, although Oldham takes a pro-active approach, Councils are not reimbursed by central government for the revenue they lose in applying exemptions.

Commenting, Councillor Sykes said:  “It is good that, as a Council committed to being dementia friendly, Oldham are ahead of the game on this, but it is perverse that Councils are dis-incentivised from promoting and applying the discount as they have to meet the cost themselves.”

“I have written to the Minister responsible asking her quite simply to match the rhetoric of former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron MP that he would make ‘England the best country in the world for dementia care and support’ with hard cash,” added Councillor Sykes.  “It is both tragic and immoral that dementia sufferers are in many instances still suffering the additional indignity of paying a charge for which they are not legally liable, whilst local Councils, whose finances are already under severe strain, are perversely dis-incentivised from offering them a helping hand.”

 The letter to the Minister below:

The Rt. Hon. Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Under Secretary of State (Care and Mental Health), c/o Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries Unit, Department of Health and Social Care, 39, Victoria Street, London SW1H 0EU

Dear Minister,

I am writing to you as government minister with responsibility for dementia issues.

Under Council Tax regulations, Dementia is classed as a ‘severe mental impairment’ meaning that sufferers living alone are entitled to a 100 percent exemption from Council Tax, whilst a household with a dementia sufferer and a carer will still receive a 25% discount.

Yet in December of last year, the website, Money Saving Expert, reported findings that up to 100,000 people with dementia or similar conditions could be wrongly paying Council Tax because they are unaware that they qualify for an exemption. Money Saving Expert found that two thirds of Councils surveyed by mystery shoppers were unable to provide accurate information about the exemption and how to apply for it.

On hearing the news, I immediately contacted the Borough Treasurer of Oldham Council to ask her to undertake a local review to ensure we follow exemplary practice. In her response, Mrs Ryans brought to my attention one particularly interesting point – that, although Oldham takes a pro-active approach, Councils are not incentivised to seek out eligible recipients of the Severe Mentally Impaired Disregard as central government does not reimburse them for their lost revenue.

In March 2012, then Prime Minister David Cameron MP launched a national challenge to fight dementia stating that: “I want England to be the best country in the world for dementia care and support.”

Minister, I am sure that you will agree with me that, almost six years on from that bold statement, it is both tragic and immoral that dementia sufferers are in many instances suffering the additional indignity of paying a charge for which they are not legally liable, whilst local Councils, whose finances are already under severe strain, are perversely disincentivised from offering them a helping hand.

Can I therefore please ask you to do the right thing for dementia sufferers and make representations to your Treasury colleagues to provide for the 100% reimbursement by central government to local Councils of all of the Severe Mentally Impaired Disregards they award, so we can then go ahead and identify those persons that are eligible?

I shall look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

Time to Tackle Oldham’s Shocking Teacher Stress Levels, say Liberal Democrats

Oldham has the highest number of teachers on long-term leave for stress in Greater Manchester.  According to figures sourced by the Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act, during 2016 – 17 there were 61 teachers absent for more than one month for stress.

The Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, is especially worried because the trend is increasing with the figures up from 42 in 2015-16.

He has written to the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Education, Councillor Amanda Chadderton, and the Director of Education, Andrew Sutherland, asking them to identify the urgent measures necessary to address this issue.

Councillor Sykes said:  “At a time when Oldham still faces a great many challenges to put into place an education offer that ensures that our young people can do their best, we are faced with a new crisis in our classrooms – teachers who are so stressed that they can no longer face another day at the chalk-face.”

“Across the UK we are seeing older, more experienced teachers leaving the profession in despair and newly-qualified younger professionals finding themselves unable to cope with the long hours and the relentless pressure,” added Councillor Sykes.  “In Oldham we also appear to have a particular problem with stress; contrast our figure with that of neighbouring Rochdale where there were only 37 teachers on long-term absence for stress.”

“Without motivated teachers in place, our children will be failed once again by our education system and the improvements promised from the Oldham Education Commission and Opportunity Area initiative will most likely come to nothing,” he added.  “We need to take action and the time to do so is now.”

From: Howard Sykes
Sent: 26 January 2018 16:12
To: Cllr A Chadderton; Andrew Sutherland
Cc: (A) Kay Gibson (kay.gibson@oldham.gov.uk)
Subject: Oldham has the highest number of teachers on long-term leave for stress in Greater Manchester

To Cllr Amanda Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Education, and Andrew Sutherland, Director of Education

 Dear Councillor Chadderton and Mr Sutherland,

I am sure that you are aware of the recent figures published that show that Oldham has the highest number of teachers on long-term leave for stress in Greater Manchester.

According to figures sourced by the Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act, during 2016 – 17 there were 61 teachers absent from our Borough’s schools for more than one month for stress.

The trend is especially worrying because the figures are increasing – being up from 42 in 2015-16 – and far higher than neighbouring Rochdale – where there were 37 teachers effected.

As we all know, Oldham still faces a great many challenges to put into place an education offer which will ensure that our young people can do their best, but these figures reveal that we are faced with a new crisis in our classrooms – teachers who are so stressed that they can no longer face another day at the chalk-face.

Across the UK we are seeing older, more experienced teachers leaving the profession in despair and newly-qualified younger professionals finding themselves unable to cope with the long hours and the relentless pressure, but in Oldham we also appear to have a particular problem with stress.

My real fear is that, without motivated teachers in place, our children will be failed once again by our education system and the improvements promised from the Oldham Education Commission and Opportunity Area initiative will largely come to nothing.

It is therefore my contention that we need to take action to tackle this head-on and the time to do so is now.

I am therefore writing to you to ask what urgent action is being proposed by this Administration, and, if one is not already in plan, to suggest that an officer group should be charged with creating and managing an action plan specifically to tackle stress amongst our teachers.  The Oldham Liberal Democrats stand ready to support you in this.

I shall look forward to receiving your reply.

Best wishes

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE