Agenda item

Leader and Cabinet Question Time

(time limit 30 minutes – maximum of 2 minutes per question and 2 minutes per response)


The Leader of the Main Opposition, Councillor Sykes, raised the following two questions:


Question 1:    Who decides on the GMSF Plan?


“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:

‘Before we go out 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 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 contrary to the one 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 to clarify the current position as he sees it?”


Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council, advised the meeting he stood by his response to that question when it was previously asked at a previous Council meeting.  It was not intended to bring the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) prior to consultation to this meeting as the consultation needed to be undertaken.  It had been delayed too many times.  People were getting frustrated at the number of times GMSF had been delayed given that it was such a significant strategic plan that affected so many residents across the borough.  What was the case and had not changed was that the deposit version of the plan would be coming forward for consultation and voting on by members of the Chamber and in all other Council Chambers across Greater Manchester.  Councillors would have the opportunity to debate GMSF and for it to be considered by all elected members next summer before the plan was deposited with the Government.


Question 2: Coping with Brexit


“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 on 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.  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.  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 VIII 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?”


Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council, responded that since the referendum had taken place, all there was, was uncertainty.  There was uncertainty on anything related to Brexit.  The Leader responded that the only certainty was the nation in this situation was going to face national humiliation.  The Leader referenced three possible outcomes. 

1.   With the Prime Minister’s deal or whatever had been cobbled together after having run off to Brussels, the UK effectively remained in the EU but relinquished a seat at the table to determine the rule to be governed by which the people so objected to and were vocal in saying that they disagreed and led them to vote for Brexit. 

2.   The second option was to be faced with national humiliation of no deal which Councillor Sykes had raised. National humiliation was faced from the economic calamity that would come from no deal.  Planes would not be able to fly, inflation out of control with jobs going offshore, particularly from an already decimated manufacturing industry which would be a disaster and humiliating for the country. 

3.   The third option was to drop it all, forget it, call a second referendum and it could go the other way or drop it without a second referendum but that would be humiliating.  Two years would have been spent negotiating, economic growth would have been lost and the relationship with our partners in Europe lost. 


Councillor Hudson, Leader of the Conservative Group, expressed concern related to the continued withdrawal of funding from the Revenue Settlement Grant to Saddleworth Parish Council. Councillor Hudson had received a letter from the Secretary of State with the explanation that it was for the billing authority to pass down an appropriate level of funding.  Oldham Council had withdrawn £16,000, with a further £23,490 to be withdrawn and £10,000 in 2019/20 which could result in losses in jobs and to the community.  Would the Leader reconsider the continued withdrawal of council funds which supported the parish council?


Councillor Fielding, Leader of the Council responded that he had concerns about the revenue support which had been withdrawn from Oldham Council which had lost £208 million and affected the services to the elderly and vulnerable, children and other vital services.  The Leader suggested lobbying the Conservative party to reinstate funds taken from the Council.


The Mayor reminded the meeting that the Council had agreed that, following the Leaders’ allocated questions, questions would be taken in an order which reflected the political balance of the Council.


1.         Councillor Ali asked the following question:


           The Cabinet Member for Employment & Skills will be aware that young people in Oldham from lower income backgrounds are less likely to have access to the networks of advice, information and work experience to enable them to turn aspiration into reality. It is very hard to aim for an opportunity that you know does not exist.  Research has shown that even when people from disadvantage areas succeed in education, they achieve poorer career outcomes than their more affluent peers with the same qualifications. I have seen young people from my ward and neighbouring ones; often graduates with fantastic CV’s yet struggle to secure employment; or in the case where they do, it is at minimum wage.  I know that no one idea or lever can resolve this issue, however, we need to do our bit as a council to ensure everyone can build a rewarding career and provide opportunities for all who want to retrain and upskill. I would like to know what additional networks, advice, information and work experience opportunities can be made available for our young people and adults other than the basics provided by schools and colleges.”


            Councillor Mushtaq, Cabinet Member for Employment and Skills responded that social mobility was key issue for Oldham’s communities.  It was a complex area for which there was no single solution.  The Social Mobility Commission had published 5 annual reports which consistently pronounced the lack of progress made by the Government in improving social mobility.  The key issue was being the lack of progress out of low wage employment as well as poor educational attainment the development of zero hour contracts.  The Social Mobility Commissions Great Escape report found that just 1 in 6 low-paid workers (17%) managed to permanent escape from low pay in the last decade.  A key aspect to address social mobility was to improve access to business sectors outside of a potentially limited circle of friends and family.  What the Council had done to support social mobility was the Get Oldham Working Programme which had filled over 7,550 opportunities since May 2013.  The Council launched the Career Advancement Service in 2016 as an extension of the Get Oldham Working to improve social mobility.  This provided individualised support, offered mentoring, further learning pathways, confidence building, etc.  To date 423 residents had engaged with the average citizen earning over £6K per annum after being on the programme.  The team had been instructed to do some targeted work in communities which included Glodwick, Coldhurst and Shaw targeting those from lower income households.  In addition, there was support for young people in school and colleges.  Careers Education was a statutory duty for schools to provide careers education, information advice and guidance (IAG) for all students.  As from September 2018, all schools had a named careers lead to drive the agenda in schools.  Through the Opportunity Area Programme, the Council supported social mobility through the work of the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) – working with all secondary schools in Oldham, each had a CEC advisor who worked with leadership on careers strategy, advisors were professionals from different employment sectors who supported schools to address any gaps in their Careers Education offer (as per Gatsby Benchmarks).  Bridge GM aimed to close the gap between boardroom and class room.  It brought employers into schools, offered mentoring support to increase individual access to the right networks which was kay to breakdown down access to network barriers.  The Council was committed to reviewing how it could develop the co-ordination and identification of appropriate quality work experience placements for school and college students and adults, using the public and private sector networks which would support citizens to engage with new networks.


2.         Councillor Akhtar asked the following question:


            “I welcome the Council’s decision to create extra school places at Crompton High school. As you will know, Crompton High school is a Church of England school and thus priority will be given to pupils of this particular faith. Could the cabinet member inform the Council if any changes have been made to the admissions criteria for Crompton High and if so will they benefit the pupils from high demand neighbourhoods. If no changes have been made to the admissions policy then why not?”


            Councillor Jacques, Cabinet Member for Education and Culture responded that the Admissions Policy for Crompton House would be considered and reviewed at the school’s Governing Body meeting in January.  The local authority would feed into that process.  More information would be available once that process had been finalised.


3.         Councillor Shuttleworth asked the following question:


           Hollinwood tram stop has a park and ride facility, and in recent months for those arriving just after 9.30 can have difficulty in finding a parking bay. From personal experience I have managed to occupy the last available one while on other occasions, none at all and I have not been in a position to use the service. Obviously I would not be the only one in this situation.   It has even got to the stage where vehicles are being parked immediately outside the car park.  TfGM do of course have a parking restriction at their tram stops, with parking being limited only to those using their service.  While it is to be welcomed that so many residents appear to be using public transport may I request that the appropriate Cabinet Member seeks clarification from TfGM on the following points:

·                  how many parking bays are that at the Hollinwood stop?

·                  what is the midweek daily average number of tickets sold for travel in both directions between the hours of 7.30a.m - 9.30a.m?

·                  what action do TfGM take to ensure that the disabled bay facility is used only by those displaying a blue badge?

            and finally, what action do TfGM take to ensure that those using the car park are in fact using it in accordance with their rules and regulations?”


            Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services responded that TfGM had been contacted and provided the information requested.  There were 190 bays in total at Hollinwood which included 12 blue badge spaces.  The midweek daily average number of tickets sold for travel in both directions between the hours of 7.30 and 9.30 a.m. was around 100 (figure accounted for 94% of tickets sold as it excluded purchased tickets for travel at anytime.  In terms of parking enforcement the contractual warning signs through the site stated – ‘A Parking Charge will be issued when parking in a disabled bay without clearly displaying a valid disabled badge’.  The signage also included a pictogram of a wheelchair and stated ‘Only vehicles displaying a current Valid Disabled badge may park in these Disabled Bays’.  The operatives visited the site on a daily basis and checked all vehicles parking within a Disabled Bay were displaying a valid blue badge.  Any vehicle which did not display a valid blue badge would receive a Parking Charge Notice (PCN).  The signage also states that the car park is for the use of Metrolink Passengers only and that ‘If you park on this land contravening the above parking restrictions you are agreeing to pay a parking charge to the sum of £100.00’.  TfGM acknowledged that it was difficult to enforce the condition of ‘non Metrolink users’ as they operated free park and ride facilities network wide which were all inspected on a daily basis.  Whilst the operatives were on site, proof of tickets would be sought and the necessary fines issued if there was a breach.  TfGM also carried out random inspections whereby teams were posted to car parks and would challenge people heading away from the tram stop.  They were looking to introduce barriers to car parks in the future once the smart ticketing system had evolved there was no timescale for this at present.


4.         Councillor H. Gloster asked the following question:


            “One of the first issues I encountered after election was dog fouling.  I was asked for signs in May and was advised that they were on order.  I have chased the signs on pretty much a fortnightly basis.  I was told in November that the signs had arrived but I was also told that the fixtures for them had not.  Can the Cabinet Member clarify why the signs are manufactured on Mars and the fixings on Venus and which space shuttle will be delivering them as we are still waiting for them on site?”


            Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services confirmed that the signs were ready for installation.  Officer had to redesign the signs due to legislative changes and then unfortunately the wrong fixing brackets were delivered with the newly designed signs.  The correct fixings had now been received and so were ready for installation.  An officer has been asked to liaise with members regarding the location.


5.         Councillor Garry asked the following question:


            “How many freedom of information requests have been submitted this year to the Council, and what is the approximate cost to the tax payer for each request?”


            Councillor Jabbar, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Resources responded that the Council had received 1,428 freedom of information requests to date in 2018 and had managed 13 appeals.  The requests varied quite significantly in complexity and the time needed to prepare a response.  Response times varied from a few minutes to many hours where requests were more complicated.  The Council did not record the time taken to prepare individual FOI responses or consideration of appeals.  The law required the Council to answer FOI requests that could take up to 18 hours to complete.  An average cost of £25 per hour to determine a response to a request had been assumed to date which resulted in a maximum cost of £450 per FOI.  However, this came with a caveat because of the wide range of and complexity of FOI request and therefore did not give a full picture of the range of costs by request type. 


6.         Councillor Davis asked the following question:


           Could the member responsible for housing give an update on the Burnham bed initiative for rough sleepers? I work very closely with various departments council voluntary and the housing sector on this and after some teething issues there seems to be significant progress being made and can I personally thank all  because there are a lot of people in Oldham with somewhere warm to sleep and have a wash.”


            Councillor Roberts, Cabinet Member for Housing responded that since the launch on 1st November, ‘A Bed for Every Night’ has accommodated 30 people who were either sleeping rough, or at risk of doing so, in Oldham.  A dedicated night shelter run by DePaul, which could accommodate up to 10 men, had been set up at Oldham Fire Station providing a bed, food and hot shower.  The opening of this facility had been delayed by a few days whilst health and safety checks were carried out, but it was now fully operational and being well used with approximately 9 men sleeping there each night.  A local housing provider, Yale Housing, were also opening up their town centre office as a hub people accessing the shelter could use during the day.  For female rough sleepers, provision was made available in existing supported housing schemes and for couples, bed and breakfast accommodation was being provided.  Feedback about the night shelter and the support offered had been positive and it was report that 10 people had already been successfully supported to move out of ABEN into more previous accommodation.


7.         Councillor Heffernan asked the following question:


            “Taxi and private hire drivers convicted of serious offences could be banned across Yorkshire, under proposals that could see Bradford, Calderdale, Leeds, Kirklees, Wakefield and YorkCouncils agree a common legal position. Does the relevant Cabinet Member feel that this is a good idea in Greater Manchester and, if so, would this Council be prepared to lead on this proposal with other GM local authorities and the GM Mayor’s Office?”


            Councillor Shah, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services noted the work that Yorkshire Authorities were doing and commended their proposals.  Oldham already had a robust policy and Licensing Members regularly refused applications for licences from applicants with convictions.  The Council’s Licensing Manager chairs the Greater Manchester Licensing Network which was embarking on a project early next year to unify its approach to a policy on convictions.  It was hoped that this piece of work would strengthen the Greater Manchester position and that all members would endorse the work when it was published next year.


At this point in the meeting, the Mayor advised that the time limit for this item had expired.


RESOLVED that the questions and responses provided be noted.