Agenda item

Public Questions

(time limit 15 Minutes)


1.    Question received from Robert Barnes

The time limit for Public Questions has been reduced to 15 minutes by this administration. Would the Council Leader give serious consideration to restoring the time limit to 30 minutes? In addition, at the moment there is no right of reply to the question that has been asked. In the interests of openness, transparency, accountability and democracy, will the Council Leader give serious consideration to allow the public a right of reply of two minutes to an answer they have been given by an Elected Member? Elected Members are servants of the people. Isn't it time that this administration acknowledged that?


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member

for Economic and Social Reform replied that it was important to say that every public question that was submitted to Full Council received an answer from the Leader or another Cabinet Member and they tried to fit as many answers into the meeting as they could. Any that they did not get to received a written response that was also published on the Council’s website.

By extending time for public questions the Council would however, have to reduce time for other urgent and important business that it had to get through or reduce time for elected representatives to raise issues or queries about their wards.

A right of reply could be considered, but this would inevitably reduce the number of public questions that could be addressed in any meeting.

Decisions about changes to Full Council timings were made by a cross-party group made up of the Leader and fellow group leaders and this could be taken to a future meeting for discussion.

As a Conservative candidate for a councillor position, Mr Barnes could also raise this with Councillor Sheldon, who could also bring it to that meeting for discussion.


2.    Question received from Julie and George Heywood

My question is to the leader of oldham council. Does she think it is OK for ombc to block and blank my dad's concerns, he is 89 yrs old has been waiting for a call back since June last year!! Also blocked from I love oldham page on Facebook. complaints had me ring my complaint then email then put it in writing to be then told "i'm out of time" do you think something needs to be done to prevent us the public from having our concerns and complaints blocked and blanked.Thankyou


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member

for Economic and Social Reform replied that the Council’s social media channels aimed to provide an informative, engaging and inclusive space for all residents of Oldham. The Council would answer questions, provide useful information, and signpost residents to the services and departments they need.

Posts that directed criticism to the Council were not usually removed. In fact, we welcomed – and encouraged – feedback from our residents. We were happy to be told where we had got it wrong.

However, there was a zero tolerance approach to racism and abuse on our social media pages, just as there would be in face to face conversations. That was why the Council had a policy on what was deemed to be acceptable use, which was published on both the Facebook page and the website.

On occasion, there were comments that did not meet the social standards and the Council was forced to remove them. If users breached this policy more than once, or if they used language that was deemed serious, then they would be blocked from commenting on posts.

On 10 December 2019, Ms Heywood was banned from commenting on posts, as her comment breached what would be deemed to be acceptable.

The policy clearly stated that anyone making abusive, discriminatory or offensive comments would have them removed and they would be blocked from posting on our channels.

George Heywood was not listed as currently, or ever, having been banned from commenting.

The Leader was aware that Ms Heywood had previously complained about being blocked from the Facebook page, and the Council had responded to her some weeks ago to explain why. It had also clarified that her father had not been blocked.

It had also been confirmed to Ms Heywood that, given the length of time that had passed, she had been reinstated on the Love Oldham facebook page, and could now engage with content in line with the social media rules.


3.    Question received from Joshua Charters

Throughout the country Young Carers are struggling with the pressures put on them as they try to balance education, work, caring responsibilities and perhaps, if possible, leisure time. Unfortunately, young people with caring responsibilities are often hidden from public view and struggle to find the help and support they need. Could the relevant Cabinet Member, please tell us how many young people in Oldham are classed as Young Carers and what services we have in place to support them?


Councillor Moores, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People replied that there were 601 young carers receiving support from Positive Steps at the end of March 2021, but this was only the tip of the iceberg, there were many more young carers out there who were hidden from view.

The Council contracted with Positive Steps to deliver a Young Carers Support Service. This provided and maintained a support service for young people with caring responsibilities who were living or educated in Oldham and to their families. They worked with schools and other support agencies to identify young people aged 8 to 18 who had caring responsibilities and assessed the needs of individuals to agree the level of support needed. They also led on delivery of targeted interventions for those young people who needed intensive care

Positive Steps attracted additional funding through Charitable Trusts and donations to support work with young people with caring responsibilities. They had recently secured a grant from Children in Need which would enable them to develop a peer support programme with some of the older young people aged 14+ and enabled them to employ a coordinator for the Service. During the pandemic, rather than furloughing staff, Positive Steps chose to provide additional support to these young people, using their own resources, as they were concerned that, with schools closed, the responsibilities and lack of respite time was increased. They also arranged for all young people active within the service to obtain an iPad so that they could continue with their schooling and use it for social contact and leisure activities.

Councillor Moores had visited Positive Steps the day before and met two young carers. He had heard how they supported members of their family and how they valued the support provided by the service.


4.    Question received from Leanne Munroe

I am very concerned about a huge increase in fuel bills at the same time that the government has cut Universal Credit by £20 a week, food costs are rising and furlough has ended. What will be the impact on Oldham residents and what can the Council do to help?


Councillor Jabbar, Cabinet Member for Finance and Low Carbon

replied that the Council was keenly aware of the financial pressures being faced by many in Oldham and the highest tax burden in peacetime falling on working people. In this regard the Council was providing support in a number of ways:

      Firstly, using Oldham’s allocation the Government’s Household Support Fund to support vulnerable families with children and young people with food over the October half term and again over the Christmas 2021 period and February 2022 half term holiday.

      Secondly, using funding from the Governments Holiday Food and Activities programme to provide a range of support including the provision of healthy food and enriching activities, for school-aged children who receive benefits-related free school meals.

      Thirdly, the Warm Homes team assist residents in need with emergency credit vouchers for electricity and gas and with new and replacement boilers as well as give practical advice on switching energy supplier or tariff, energy saving measures and reducing energy use around the home.

      Fourthly, the Local Welfare Provision Scheme was available to support those in crisis with essential household items including beds, bedding, white goods and furniture.

There was also the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme to assist residents where Housing Benefit or Universal Credit did not meet the full rent being charged and the Council Tax Reduction Scheme supported those on low incomes to pay their Council Tax. The Council understood the additional financial pressures on households in Oldham and was doing all it could to support them.


5.    Question received from Sarah Birch

I saw a report on Northwest tonight saying Oldham has a housing crisis – can the Cabinet member for Housing explain if this is true and whether the recent news that all social homes in Oldham will be available through the Housing Options service will make any difference?


Councillor Roberts, Cabinet Member for Housing responded that Oldham Council had over 6,000 households on the housing register who all had a housing need. Oldham Council operated a Common Allocation Framework (CAF) and members of the CAF (there were had 6 registered social landlords who took part) provided all of their available to rent homes through this framework. (The remaining 5 registered providers operated a nominations agreement, letting half of their available to rent social homes to households on the Council’s housing register). The Council received approximately 150 re-housing applications each week, of these approximately 80% or 120 were accepted onto the Council’s rehousing register.

When the pandemic hit there was a sharp decrease in the number of social homes becoming available to rent, with approximately 5 – 10 homes becoming available each week. The number of socially rented homes becoming available to rent was increasing, with an average for the past 4 weeks of 32 per week This meant that the numbers on the Housing Register were still increasing by about 100 households a week.

Oldham had also seen an increase in homelessness applications from 1,286 in 19/20 to 1,367in 20/21, which was an increase of over 6% over the past 12 months.

As a local authority, we were doing all we could to try and improve supply and access to affordable homes within the borough including the ambitious Creating a Better Place Programme. However, we needed a change in Government policy to provide Oldham with the funding to build social homes at the scale needed to meet the increasing demand, demonstrated by the number of households on the Housing Register.


6.    Question received from Neil Wilby

Would Cllr Shah, on behalf of the Council, please provide Members with an update on the progress of the Oldham Strand of the Greater Manchester Mayor's Assurance Review regarding Child Sexual Exploitation? Thank you


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member

for Economic and Social Reform replied that the ongoing independent review into historic safeguarding practices was being led by the GMCA and it was the Combined Authority, and report authors Malcom Newsome and Gary Ridgeway who would determine final arrangements for its publication.

She had not yet had sight of the draft report, and would not until it had been finalised, but I was assured by Andy Burnham that the report would be published by the end of the year as he indicated it would.

What she could promise was that, when it was published, we would welcome its findings, reflect on any lessons we could learn from past practice and aim to make the support we gave to victims of abuse better. At the heart of this review was reinstating trust and confidence in our safeguarding procedures, so that people felt confident reporting concerns, knowing that they would be dealt with robustly and sensitively.

As promised, as soon as we had a publication date, we would arrange a special meeting for Councillors and members of the public to ask any questions and consider the findings.


7.    Question received from Dale Rees

Please can i ask what's going on with this barrier we was promised to stop fly tipping at back of St james Church in derker where its bad for fly tipping i see all other locations have been done?


Councillor Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, replied that other barriers were now in place across Oldham in some of the fly-tipping hotspots, and to very positive effect. This one required a legal process to be undertaken, which would take between 3 to 6 months.

Officers had been asked to do this as soon as possible and if, as expected, there was a positive outcome, to install the barrier as soon as they could.


8.    Question received from Neil Wilby

Would Cllr Shah, on behalf of the Council, please inform Members of progress being made with regards to tackling on-line abuse in the darker corners of the internet in Oldham. The Hate Crime Awareness Week campaign, run by the Council, was well conceived and executed but is there any positive steps that can be taken by the Executive Management Team to arrest the problem? Thank you.


Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member

for Economic and Social Reform responded that it was known that this had been a particular issue in Oldham over the last few years with a small minority of people spreading lies and misinformation widely online in order to incite abuse both online and in ‘real-life’.

From her own experience taking steps against the abuse this incited was difficult as reporting to social media platforms often offered no response or action, even where content was clearly racist, misogynistic or part of a targeted campaign of harassment.

Where it was believed that online abuse that that had been notified was of a threatening nature or could be considered a hate crime it was always reported to Greater Manchester Police. Others subjected to such abuse were urged to also report it through the proper channels.