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Liberal Democrat Leader Seeks Council Action to Reduce Male Suicide

In advance of World Suicide Prevention Day, Monday September 10, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has written to the Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE, urging the Council to advertise local and national services that help prevent those contemplating suicide from taking their own lives on its own website and in public buildings.

Councillor Sykes has previously raised his concerns about this issue, particularly on preventing instances of male suicide, at meetings of the full Council.  He said:  “Every suicide is shocking, but the scale of male suicide is especially shocking.  Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – it is the single biggest cause of death of men under 45.  One of the tragedies of this situation is that there are many agencies out there, both local and national, that can help prevent this happening – just recently in Oldham, a branch of the charity Andy’s Man’s Club opened in the Oldham Leisure Centre for just this purpose.  I have asked the Chief Executive to publicise these services in Council buildings and on our website, because this is a practical action that we can take that may well save someone’s life.”

The letter to Dr Wilkins reads:

Dear Dr Wilkins,

Monday September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day.

The statistics of male suicide are particularly shocking.  Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – 84 men every week.  It is the single biggest cause of death amongst men under 45 years of age.  Every single suicide impacts on 135 other people – and the relatives of anyone who commits suicide are themselves statistically more likely to take their own lives.

Male suicide is an occurrence that is not talked about enough – and we must talk about it more often.  Men frequently commit suicide because they are unable to express their feelings, anger and frustration.  Yet there are agencies out in our community that can offer a listening ear and support to these desperate individuals, including those at the point of ending their own lives.

Many are the helplines operated by local and national organisations, but recently a local branch of Andy’s Mans’ Club opened at the Oldham Leisure Centre and men can self-refer to this service which meets on Monday’s at 7pm.

In my view, as a local authority with a public health duty, we should be publicising these agencies as much as possible to those who need them.  Yet, regrettably, there is NO mention of or links to any of these agencies that I can find on the Council’s website.

I would therefore like to request that as a matter of urgency this information is made available on the Council’s website and on public notice-boards in our key public buildings as soon as possible.

This is one positive practical act that we can do that might help save someone’s life!

I shall look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes.

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

Leader of the Opposition.

Help for suicidal thoughts

These agencies are open to those who need help.

Andy’s Man Club meets at Oldham Leisure Centre on Mondays at 7pm.

The Club can be contacted via

You can also emailed me at

Unless it says otherwise, they’re open 24 hours a day, every day.

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123 – this is free to call

The Oldham and Rochdale Branch is located at 5, Caton Street, Rochdale OL16 1QJ. It is possible to go to the Branch for help, but phone first. Opening times for face to face visits are:

Monday 15.00-20.00
Tuesday 18.00-22.00
Wednesday Closed
Thursday 18.00-22.00
Friday 18.00-22.00
Saturday 09.00-12.00
Sunday Closed

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page

Papyrus – for children and young adults under 35 or anyone concerned about the well-being of a young person
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697

Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill

The Silver Line – for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

Backroom deal by Labour on 20-Year homes plan threatens Green Belt

Oldham Liberal Democrats have discovered that the Labour Council leaders of the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester have made ‘a backroom deal’ with Labour Mayor Andy Burnham that only they will need to sign off on plans to build new homes and factories across the city region as proposed as part of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF).  Each of the 10 authorities need to agree to the plans but previously it was the councils (and all their councillors) that agreed such matters, this has now all changed.

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

“Local Councillors and local residents deserve a say in how many homes are built, and where and when.  The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, when it is finally approved, will be the plan to build homes across Greater Manchester for the next twenty years.   This is one of the most important decisions that will affect the lives of everyone living in Oldham Borough for the next two decades.  If we get it wrong, it will represent a disaster for our communities and for our Green Belt and green spaces.  Yet the ten Labour Council leaders are saying ‘leave it to us, we know what is best for you’.”

Councillor Sykes believes he knows why the agreement has been reached:

“When Labour’s initial plans to build thousands of new homes on Green Belt land in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Royton and Chadderton were first unveiled, they were bitterly opposed by local Liberal Democrat Councillors in these areas and by many thousands of local residents.”

“Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, Liberal Democrat Councillors and residents’ groups have led the charge against these proposals.  Such was the strength of local feeling that there was a demonstration in Tandle Hill Country Park and residents from our Borough joined others from across Greater Manchester to protest in Albert Square outside Manchester Town Hall.”

“Public sentiment is the same across Greater Manchester – NO to building new homes on our green belt and YES to local Councillors and people playing their part in deciding where the new homes are built.  This agreement represents a backroom deal to make it easier for Labour to push through their plans and prevent opponents from being able to block unsuitable developments or safeguard the green belt.”

Councillor Sykes will be demanding answers: “I will be asking the Leader of Oldham Council to explain this decision and to find out whether he has any plans at all to allow local councillors to have a say on the proposed sites for development and I will let you know how he responds.  It is simply not right that such an important decision can be agreed by leaders and the Mayor rather than the 10 councils themselves.”

Liberal Democrats call for Council Action to Tackle HGV Gridlock

At the next full meeting of Oldham Council (Wednesday 12 September) Liberal Democrat Councillors Derek Heffernan and Garth Harkness will propose and second a Motion asking for action to tackle the traffic chaos caused by HGVs using inappropriate roads in the Borough’s smaller villages and rural areas.

Both Councillors witnessed this earlier this year when on April 26 in their own ward of Saddleworth North a large articulated lorry blocked the junction of Grains Road and King Street in Delph for four hours.

Commenting, Councillor Heffernan said: “Garth and I saw then the chaos that a HGV driver can cause in a village when trying to navigate a tight road junction in a small village. These situations usually occur when drivers ignore displayed weight or width restrictions or use satnavs designed for cars instead of those specifically designed for HGVs and large vehicles. We want the Government to change the law so that these vehicles have to be equipped with the appropriate commercial version. They may cost a little more, but they will help reduce the price paid in inconvenience by local residents, such as our constituents in Delph, and other road users.”

The two Councillors also want the Council to support a call by the Local Government Association that Government give local authorities new powers to enforce traffic restrictions against HGVs.

Councillor Heffernan added: “The Police are often too overstretched to enforce these regulations. If the Government enacted Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, this would grant Councils the necessary powers to carry out enforcement action.”

Finally, the motion calls on the Council to co-operate with the two Parish Councils, with local residents’ associations and the Police to introduce Lorry Watch schemes in areas of the borough where HGV holdups may happen.

Councillor Heffernan concluded: “Lorry Watch scheme rely on local residents to record vehicles flouting weight and width restrictions and report them. Like Home Watch, this is about empowering local residents to take positive action to help keep their villages and rural areas HGV free. If we all do our bit, we can keep the traffic flowing.”

Council 12 Sept 2018 – Notice of Opposition Business

Motion 1 – Keeping Our Villages and Rural Areas HGV Free

Council notes that:

  • HGVs and large vehicles can bring small villages and rural areas to a standstill when these vehicles are too large to navigate smaller roads.
  • This has happened most recently on April 26 in Delph when a large articulated lorry blocked the junction of Grains Road and King Street bringing chaos to the village for four hours.
  • These situations often occur because drivers of these vehicles chose to ignore displayed weight or width restrictions or fail to use a satnav system specifically designed for lorries.
  • The Police do not always have the resources to enforce these restrictions, yet Councils outside London and Wales are currently prevented from doing so because the Government has failed to bring Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 into force for Councils in the rest of England.
  • Lorry satnavs are like normal car satnavs, but they include bridge heights, narrow roads, and roads unsuitable for trucks. In addition, they allow the driver to enter the lorry’s dimensions – height, width, weight and load – so they are only guided along suitable roads. Their cost is slightly more than that of a standard car sat-nav.

Council further notes that, in several parts of England, Lorry Watch schemes have been established. These are run by local residents who record instances of vehicles flouting weight and width restrictions, and report them to a Parish Council Coordinator, the Police or their Council Trading Standards Department.

This Council:

  • Supports the position of the cross-party Local Government Association that the Government should bring Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 into force for all relevant English councils with immediate effect and legislate so all HGVs and large vehicles are required to install suitable satnavs designed for lorries and large vehicles.
  • Believes that establishing Lorry Watch Schemes in various parts of the Borough is worthy of consideration.

Council resolves to:

  • Ask the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Transport requesting the Government bring Part 6 of the 2004 Traffic Management Act into force and legislate to make the use of suitable satnavs for HGVs and other large vehicles mandatory.
  • Ask the Chief Executive to seek the support of our three local MPs and the Mayor of Greater Manchester for this position.
  • Ask the Overview and Scrutiny Board to examine the merits and practicalities of establishing a Lorry Watch scheme in various parts of the Borough, in conjunction with the District Executives, the Parish Councils, residents’ associations, and the Police.

Grass cutting

A number of residents have been in touch about grass cutting or the lack of it.

The Council suspended the majority of grass cutting due to the drought conditions but now we have hit wet and warm the grass is once again romping away. (Normal for September) The approximate cutting regime for most grass is based around a three weekly cycle.

Hopefully areas not touched for a month or so will be dealt with first and most this week.

Labour is still letting down our school leavers

Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Leader of the Opposition on Oldham Council, has praised the efforts of our Borough’s young people in achieving their GCSE’s this year, but he has also expressed his disappointment that once more they continue to be let down, and let down by the failings of the Labour Council, which is the Local Education Authority (LEA).

Councillor Sykes said:  “Congratulations to those students who have passed their GCSEs this year, and achieved or exceeded their academic goals.  This achievement is down to your hard work and dedication.  Let us hope that you go on to greater success in higher education and the world of work.  But I am disappointed that the local results show that Oldham Council continues to let down our young people by failing to deliver on the promises made by the Oldham Education Commission.  Two and a half years on and we still have a very long way to go if Oldham is truly to lead on education.”

In 2017, for the first time students received GCSE grades of 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest, instead of the more traditional A* to G.  The Government regards a Grade 4 as a Standard Pass.

Since 2016, pupils who fail to obtain at least a Grade 4 (a Grade C equivalent) in both English and Mathematics are obliged to retake the tests.  In 2017, 59.2% of pupils in Oldham achieved Grades 9-4 in both subjects; in 2018 this went down to 58.1%.  A drop of more than one percent.

Councillor Sykes added: “Although the new Cabinet Member for Education has talked up the results as good, the headline figure went down by one percent, hardly the right direction of travel.  This is far from the improvement we want and need.”

“In January 2016, at the launch of the long-delayed report of the Oldham Education Commission, then Labour Council Leader said: ‘A high-performing education system underpins all our ambitions for Oldham to regenerate and become a more vibrant place to live and work’.”

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats could not agree more.  The academic achievement of our young people at school will determine their future lives, careers, life chances and even their health and how long they will live.  It will also determine the success, or not, of Oldham as a place; so why is it that Labour continues to fail our young people, year on year?”

Street Cleaning Investment ‘Welcome but Long Overdue’ says Sykes

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Oldham Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, has given a cautious welcome to the announcement that Oldham Council will employ more street cleaners and enforcement officers.

He questions why it was not done sooner, while in recent years this service and staff numbers have been reduced and also now whether we will now see cleaner streets everywhere across the Borough.

Commenting, Councillor Sykes said:  “This decision and U – turn by Labour to invest more in street cleaners and enforcement officers is very welcome, but long overdue.  For many years now, the Liberal Democrats have been calling for more investment in street cleaning and enforcement action in the amendments that we have proposed every year in Council to the annual budget.  Labour has consistently rejected our calls for this investment.  In the 2016 budget, it was the Liberal Democrats who called for a reversal of a specific Labour proposal to cut the enforcement team by three officers, but Labour refused.  Now we are going to recruit such officers – hiring and then firing staff is very expensive for council tax payers and bad news for staff and their families.”

“If we don’t have clean streets and tidy neighbourhoods, our Borough looks unattractive and neglected, and some residents will be more likely to engage in fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.  Poor street cleanliness also hampers regeneration, for who is going to invest in a Borough that looks dirty.  It is a major reason for the very poor image of Oldham which we are still working to dispel.”

“During my Administration, I was proud when Oldham Council was the recipient of an award from the Tidy Britain Group for having the cleanest streets in Greater Manchester.  We need to get back to that, by getting back to basics, and one of the basics that we need to get right is cleaner streets.”

Councillor Sykes added one note of caution to his comments:  “In the proposals adopted by the Cabinet last week, the emphasis is about investing in cleaner streets in East and West Oldham.  Whilst I would not deny that there is a need for urgent action in Coppice, Glodwick and Hathershaw, ratepayers have the right to expect cleaner streets wherever they live, so I will be seeking assurances that the streets and neighbourhoods of my own constituents in Shaw & Crompton and in other districts like Royton, Lees and Chadderton, will not been neglected.”