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Government plans for council finance watch dog will do nothing to improve frontline services say Oldham Liberal Democrats

Oldham’s Liberal Democrat Leader councillor Howard Sykes MBE has hit out against government plans to introduce new financial oversite measurers for local government spending. 

Councillor Sykes said, “We’re in the eye of a cost-of-living storm right now and what we need is a government that empowers local councils to direct funding to frontline services across social care, housing and health.  Instead, we have Conservative ministers who are making local councils jump through hoops, count beans and increase bureaucracy and red tape.”

The government announced that it would introduce a new regulator to audit council spending.  But the Liberal Democrat Leader and representative for Shaw dismissed the plans as “unnecessary red tape that will do nothing for ordinary residents and just increase costs for councils.”

Councillor Sykes argued, “Local council’s need to be given the tools to get on with the job.  What we don’t need is unnecessary red tape getting in the way and that is what too much interference from Westminster leads to.  We will end up bickering with government appointed regulator over form filling, while essential local services wither on the vine.  This does nothing to serve our citizens.”  

Burnham must face further questions

Liberal Democrats say Andy Burnham must come to Oldham to answer questions on Greater Manchester Police special measures Liberal Democrats call on Andy Burnham to come to Oldham to answer questions on Greater Manchester Police special measures.

At a meeting of Oldham’s Full Council, Liberal Democrat councillors called on Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to come to Oldham to field questions from councillors on the state of Greater Manchester Police. 

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Saddleworth West and Lees, Sam Al-Hamdani said, “Politically accountability has been lacking throughout the time that Greater Manchester Police has been in special measures.  Will the Leader of the Council write to Mayor Burnham asking him to come to Oldham to field questions from councillors on the ongoing situation affecting Greater Manchester Police – as he has done elsewhere in Greater Manchester.”

GMP has been in special measures since December 2020 after it became only the second police force in the country to require intervention from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies.

An average of 220 crimes per day went unrecorded during 2019 and 2020.  Earlier this year iOPS – GMP’s IT system for the recording of crime – was scrapped. 

In March 2021 it emerged that GMP had only managed to act on 8.5% of reported crime – the second worst figure in the country. 

Responding to Councillor Al-Hamdani’s challenge, Leader of the Council councillor Amanda Chadderton said that Mayor Burnham ‘absolutely should’ face questions from Oldham’s elected representatives.

Lib Dems Blast Barnes

Wednesday’s Oldham Council meeting was another extraordinarily chaotic affair after which local Liberal Democrats have condemned Conservative Councillor Robert Barnes who represents Chadderton South.

Mark Kenyon, Liberal Democrat councillor for Grotton, Springhead & Lees, said: “Local Conservative voters must be wondering what exactly it is they’ve done wrong to deserve a Tory councillor quite like Robert Barnes.

“I speak to voters every single day and Conservative people tend to be fierce advocates for the value of tradition and playing by the rules. They also tend to be keenly interested in the council getting things done rather than waffling on.”

He continues: “So, there must be a lot of head scratching going on after seeing Barnes’ performance on Wednesday. Barnes repeatedly refused to follow the rules, completely ignored the Mayor when she told him he’d run out of time, then shouted at the Mayor and council colleagues. You wouldn’t get away with that at work, so why does Barnes think you can in the Council chamber? He seemed to be more interested in auditioning to replace Boris as the Tory’s next bad boy rule breaker rather than getting anything done for the people of the borough.”

He concludes: “We must be able to do politics without resorting to this type of behaviour. I’ll be reporting him to Standards. I know I’m not the only one.”

Notes

Calm during Council Chaos

In another extraordinarily chaotic Council meeting last night, councillors from all parties managed to put aside rancour for a few minutes to support a Liberal Democrat motion on child safeguarding.

Mark Kenyon, Liberal Democrat councillor for Grotton, Springhead & Lees, said: ”The recent report into CSE in the borough is a challenge for the Council to do things differently. My motion, which was passed last night, is a straightforward response that we can do straight away – it will mean that every single time council makes a decision, it’ll be explicitly weighed against the potential risk to children and on the level of Council spending locally.”

He continues: “A lot of the time politics in this borough seems to be a pantomime and last night’s meeting was no exception. I’m appalled with the CSE abuse that has happened, I’m appalled with the way survivors have been treated, and I’m appalled by those using the pain of survivors as a political football to score points or worse, as a way to earn money.”

He concludes: “I’m grateful for the support of colleagues on all sides who put their differences to one side for a few moments to push this through. It’ll have a real world impact every single day and one that hopefully will be amongst the first of many positive responses to the recent CSE report”

Oldham care homes ranked in bottom 10 in the country 

A revolution in social care funding is required to address Oldham’s failing care homes according to Liberal Democrat Leader councillor Howard Sykes MBE.  Research carried out by the online care home comparison site ‘Lottie’, found that Oldham ranked within the bottom ten local authorities for care home provision in the UK. 

Councillor Sykes said, “This is a damning revelation.  The UK has an ageing population.  It’s estimated that the demand for social care will rise 50% to nearly 1.5 million people by 2039.  Yet in this year’s Queen’s Speech, the Conservative government haven’t brought forward a single measure on social care.  Nothing short of a social care funding revolution is needed if we are going to address this problem.”

“The government must act to ensure that social care does not become a postcode lottery, with those in less affluent communities always holding the losing ticket.  To get this right for future generations we need to properly support unpaid careers, fund community social care and drive-up care home standards right across the board,” added councillor Sykes.

The Liberal Democrats have called for an extra 1p on every pound of income tax, to raise £7billion each year for social care.

Oldham is currently listed as the eighth worst local authority in the UK according to Lottie. 

Councillor Sykes said, “This news will not reassure anyone in Oldham borough who is facing the decision of whether or not to place a loved one in an Oldham care home.  The government has kicked the can down the road for long enough and now urgent action is required.”    

Best and worst elderly care according to Lottie data

The UK Cities With The Best Elderly Care | Lottie

Liberal Democrats deliver more transparency on public decisions

Oldham Council is changing its approach to recording Cabinet decisions after local Liberal Democrat councillor Sam Al-Hamdani raised concerns over a lack of transparency when making commercially sensitive decisions.

Until last month, when decisions were made using information from reports which were not put in the public domain, the minutes of the decisions simply showed “that the recommendations as contained within commercially sensitive report be approved”.

Councillor Al-Hamdani said: “That is simply not good enough. That report is not made public, so that minute simply doesn’t tell the public what the Cabinet has agreed to do, and they have no means of finding out.

“We work for the people of Oldham, and all the decisions that we take should be transparent. No-one should have to hunt to find out what we are doing.”

Having written to Chief Executive Harry Catherall, the Council has now agreed to change their process, and from the next meeting, there will be a clear record in the minutes of exactly what decision was taken.

Councillor Al-Hamdani added: “I am pleased that the Chief Executive has responded so quickly to my concerns. There will be updated training, and the minutes will be changed from the next Cabinet meeting.

“All decisions should be being taken in the best interests of the borough, and the Council should be clear and open about decisions that are taken. There have been a lot of conversations about trust between the Council and residents – taking practical steps to build that trust, even relatively small ones like this, are needed now more than ever.”

Clean Air Zone:  More than £3 million spent on signs Liberal Democrats reveal

Information obtained by Oldham’s Liberal Democrats has revealed that Transport for Greater Manchester have spent more than £3 million on signage for Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s Clean Air Zone. 

Oldham’s Liberal Democrat Leader, councillor Howard Sykes issued Burnham’s Mayoral office with a Freedom of Information request which asked how much money had been spent on CAZ signs to date.  The £3.04 million sum was paid to the public works contractor McCann Ltd for the CAZ signs that are spread across Greater Manchester.  A further £120,000 was paid to McCann for the ‘under review stickers’ that were used after the original Clean Air Zone was paused.    

Councillor Sykes said, “It is ridiculous that such a large sum of money has already been spent on signage when we still don’t know the final boundaries if any of the Clean Air Zone and what the charge if any might be.  Labour has questions to answer over this wasteful spending.” 

The revelations come as Clean Air Zone plans for Greater Manchester have reached a stalemate.  Mayor Burnham has been forced to climb down from his original plans and the Government is considering whether it will impose a charging zone on the city region.

Councillor Sykes said, “We still don’t know the final details of the Clean Air Zone and it’s possible the final plans might limit the zone to Manchester City Centre.  What would we then do with millions of pounds worth of unnecessary signs?”

NOTES

Liberal Democrat Freedom of Information Request

Sent by Councillor Howard Sykes MBE

I am writing to request information relating to road signage used across Greater Manchester in connection with the Mayor’s ‘Clean Air Zone’ proposals.

Please can you provide information detailing the following:

  • The total costs incurred for the implementation of road signs advertising the original Clean Air Zone start date – 30th May 2022
  • The total costs incurred in correcting these original signs with the message ‘Under Review’
  • A breakdown of these two costs for each local authority area in Greater Manchester

Transport for Greater Manchester Response

Sent by TfGM 05/07/22

In July 2021, TfGM, acting on behalf of the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester (GM), contracted with McCann Ltd for the installation, maintenance and decommissioning of the circa 2200 signs required for a GM wide category C charging Clean Air Zone across 18 local authorities.

These included the ten GM authorities and 8 the neighbouring authorities of Calderdale, Kirklees, Derbyshire, Cheshire East, Warrington, St Helens, Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen. The value of the contract is £3.04m. The nature of the contract with McCann was costed on the basis of a lump sum fixed price for the installation of all the required signs across the 18 authorities and as such it is not possible to provide a breakdown of the costs on a per local authority basis.

In February 2022, after the review of Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan was announced, a further order was awarded to McCann for £120k to manufacture the 1309 “Under Review” sticker and apply the stickers to the signs in Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Calderdale, Kirklees, Derbyshire, Cheshire East, Warrington, St Helens, Lancashire, and Blackburn with Darwen.

The following local authorities applied the stickers to the signs in their own jurisdiction at the costs identified below:

  • Bolton Council £11.5k
  • Bury Council £6.9k
  • Salford City Council £14.2k
  • Stockport MBC £17k
  • Tameside MBC £3.5k
  • Trafford Council £9.3k
  • Wigan Council £6.9k

Speeding signs promised for Shaw in October after two-year delay

Shaw Liberal Democrat councillor Howard Sykes MBE has been told that Vehicle Activated Speed (VAS) signs on Buckstones Road now won’t be replaced until October at the earliest, despite funding being agreed over two years ago. 

Councillor Sykes said, “Speeding on Buckstones Road has been a major concern for Shaw residents.  These signs have been faulty for many years and the budget to replace them was agreed in the summer of 2020.  I’ve been repeatedly assured that Buckstones signs are a top priority for the council.  So why have our residents had to wait years with a dangerous road while the council once again struggles to get the basics right?”

When in operation, VAS signs have proven to be an effective way to tackle speeding in areas where speed cameras have been refused like Buckstones Road.  After repeated attempts to gain a commitment from the council, councillor Sykes has finally been assured that the signs will be replaced, but residents will have to wait until at least October for the works to be done and therefore for safer streets.

Councillor Sykes said, “This is not good enough.  Let’s see if they stick to their promise to do the works before winter.”

Notes

Anger as Shaw residents wait years for working speed signs despite the cash having been found | Howard Sykes (mycouncillor.org.uk)