(time limit 30 Minutes)
1. Question submitted by Syed Maruf Ali
Eating a healthy, nutritious meal supports pupils with their learning and has been shown to improve behaviour and academic achievements.
Oldham Council must act now to introduce universal free school meals for all primary and secondary school children regardless of their parent incomes. This would help build a better Oldham for everyone, saving families hundreds of pounds a year, ensuring all primary and secondary pupils are eating a healthy, nutritious meal at school.
All children should have an equal chance to thrive and be healthy, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. By making school meals free for all children the Oldham Council can deliver on its levelling up promise and help children achieve their true potential – especially children living in the most deprived parts of Oldham.
Ensuring children receive a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime will be a lifeline for many Oldhamers facing extreme cost-of-living pressures – many of whom are having to spend less on both cooking and eating at home to make ends meet.
Oldham Council should immediately prioritise the introduction of free school meals for the thousands of children who are living in poverty, but who don’t currently qualify, as a first step towards rolling out free school meals to all children in primary and secondary schools in September.
I hope the Cllrs in this chamber will support this recommendation and discuss this further in their next individual political party meeting and cabinet meetings, so that every child in primary and Secondary School receives free school meal?”
Councillor Ali, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills replied, thank you for your question. The Council provide free school meals to all pupils who are eligible via the means tested criteria, in addition we receive funding for universal infant free school meals (Years 1 and 2). We work proactively to encourage all those eligible to apply for free school meals and are keen to reach as many families as possible who may be eligible. The provision of school food is an opportunity to ensure that children and young people have healthy nutritious food. To ensure this, food served in all maintained schools and academies in England must meet school food standards. These standards help schools to provide children with healthy, balanced diets.
In addition, we also have the following initiatives to support families who maybe struggling financially:
· The Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme
· Poverty Proofing the School Day Audits
· Breakfast Clubs
More information on these are available on our website.
2. Question from Karl Bardsley
Frontline Police officers are there to keep our communities safe. They are comprised of our neighbours, friends and relatives. They face the daily dangers of patrolling our streets to keep us safe. Sadly, some Police officers do not make it home and are killed in the line of duty.
It is why many were shocked to read in the Mail on Sunday that Oldham politicians, Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council in particular have been openly photographed celebrating with a convicted criminal who was a getaway driver for the infamous 'Cop Killer' Dale Creegan.
Could the relevant Cabinet member please clarify whether such associations are appropriate and whether they agree that such public associations only damage what little trust the public have for those running the Council?
Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council replied, thank you to Mr Bardsley, the unsuccessful Conservative Candidate for Chadderton North in the recent local elections, for his question. I will refer the questioner to the answer to this question that I gave at the Full Council meeting in December 2019.
3. Question from Julie Heywood
In the lead up to this May’s Council elections, the Labour Party complained of hate speech and homophobia following a councillor's literature opposing LGBTQ+ education in schools. More recently, ZAHID CHAUHAN the new Mayor recently stated, Great Britain is called Great Britain because it has great people…who co-exist together. People from different backgrounds, people from different faiths, from different religions - they all come together.’ In a town historically divided, the Labour Party’s position should be applauded and hopefully the Council leader and her Cabinet will back up their words with actions. Therefore:
1. Will AROOJ SHAH in her capacity as leader of Oldham Council join Oldham's Pride march and support Oldham's LGBTQ+ community?
2. Will Dr Chauhan, in his capacity as Mayor of Oldham, join Oldham's Pride march and support Oldham's LGBTQ+ community?
3. Will Mohon Ali, in his capacity as Cabinet Member for Education &Skills join Oldham's Pride march and support Oldham's LGBTQ+ community?
4. Will Arooj Shah's Oldham Council confirm that every
member of her Cabinet is committed to the rights of Oldham's LGBT+
As the Mayor Dr Chauhan rightly referenced, 'Oldham is a town in Great Britain'. Great Britain is an inclusive society where we do not discriminate against people because of their sexuality. Will our town’s leaders join Oldham Pride in the fight against homophobia?
Councillor Mushtaq, Deputy Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People replied, thank You Mr Mayor! Mr Mayor I’ve never been in front of the Standards Committee, so if what I’m about to say lands me there under your watch I apologise in advance, as you are my friend and ward colleague!
I challenge the premise, the origins, the ideology and the genesis of this question. It names only Muslim councillors in a pathetic and failed attempt to divide. Let’s be clear this question does NOT stand up for the LGBTQ+ community, it does NOT stand up for Oldham Pride but most importantly it does NOT stand up for the values of a liberal democracy.
Mr Mayor, you speak of Great Britain of Britain being great and that is exactly what this question is directly attacking, the greatness of this great nation! Why are we referred to as the Western world, as a nation seen as a leader of the Free World and a leader in the free world? It is because questions like this can be asked, it is because people that look like me can stand up in chambers like this and speak freely without fear of torture or death!
One of the things that makes Britain Great Mr Mayor is that we live in a society where everyone one of us is innocent until proven guilty! This question Mr Mayor is a direct attack on that fundamental premise upon which our free society is built!
Mr Mayor this question is effectively accusing you and others of being guilty insinuating that because of your faith, culture, appearance and way of life you are homophobic and asking you, no demanding that you prove your innocence! It’s a direct attack on the very foundations upon which our society is built!
They know Mr Mayor that when you treat your patients in your capacity as a GP you do not treat them on the grounds of their race, gender or sexuality you treat them all equally based on their need. They know that Councillor Arooj Shah leads a borough that is proudly diverse and represents ALL communities within the borough!
This is what they don’t like, this is what they don’t want to accept.
The intolerance and hate is what they THINK makes their Britain great, in actual fact Mr Mayor it is our differences, our diversity and our acceptance, not tolerance, our acceptance of these differences that scares these people and leads to the creation of questions like this targeting people like you!, like councillor Shah and councillor Mohon Ali!
I reject the premise of the question and I reject the question!
Thank you, Mr Mayor!
4. Question from Denise Leach
The previous Council leader confirmed that an individual can self-identify their gender and that a woman can have a penis. With this in mind, and the Labour leader Kier Starmer also of a similar mind, will the Council leader, please confirm if the Councils position is that an individual can self-identify gender whereby not only can a woman have a penis, but a male can also breastfeed babies?
Furthermore, Will the relevant Cabinet member for Education please confirm whether Oldham schools will be promoting transgender education to primary school children, including providing sexual instruction? And if so, will this Council allow parents to withdraw their children from lessons where this takes place?
Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council, replied, thank you Mr Mayor and thank you to Ms Leach for her most recent contribution to public questions.
I have to say I was surprised at some of the statements made in this question as I can find no evidence of them being true. For example, I can’t find any reference or recording that shows any previous council leader confirming that women could have a penis. I find it interesting that the statement has been made with such confidence and can only imagine I must have missed something and that the evidence for this will be provided by those who are spreading this latest culture war narrative online.
As to the main body of the question, as the questioner well knows there is a difference between someone’s sex and someone’s gender identity. Our policies here in Oldham are that we comply with the Equality Act in offering the required protections for both the characteristic of sex and separately of gender reassignment.
On the issue of transgender education I will ask my colleague and Cabinet Member for Education Cllr Ali to answer.
Councillor Ali, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills replied, that to be absolutely clear primary schools in Oldham do not ‘promote transgender education’ as is stated by the questioner.
Children at primary school are taught about a range of issues to help them understand the diversity of British society in the spirit of respect and tolerance.
The Government's guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education is freely available online for any parents who are concerned about what children are being taught. It makes clear that individual primary schools can opt out of the sex education element of that curriculum. In addition, parents can also withdraw their children from the sex education element should their primary school choose to teach it.
I must be absolutely clear that there is no school in Oldham providing sexual instruction to either primary school pupils or secondary school pupils.
I do not know where this misinformation has come from but it is both incorrect and very damaging.
Schools in this borough work really hard to build relationships with parents around sensitive issues such as these and it is disappointing that we have people willing to damage that work for their own divisive reasons.
5. Question from Lynne Kovacs
I have heard personally from many Oldhamer’s who read with shock and also a sense of shame, the story in the recent Mail on Sunday where Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah was reportedly celebrating her victory with the convicted heroin dealing getaway driver of the Oldham cop killer Dale Cregan.
This career criminal has posted multiple photographs of himself on social media alongside Arooj Shah whilst abusing members of the public.
Contrary to being rehabilitated, I heard that this gangster’s most recent conviction was on the very morning of the voting count, 5th April, and who was actually at the count in the civic chambers.
Arooj Shah has previously described Mohammed Imran Ali, or Irish Immy as he likes to call himself, as a childhood friend and then later changed her reply to knowing him as a family friend.
The people of Oldham deserve an explanation. This is in the public interest. Just what exactly is Arooj Shah’s relationship with the one-time viagra and steroid salesman so there is no confusion in the future.
Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council, replied, thank you, Mr. Mayor, and thank you to conservative campaigner and former conservative candidate Ms Kovacs for her latest public question.
Again, I would refer this questioner to the response I gave to Full Council in December 2019.
6. Question from Gary Tarbuck
During the ‘COVID crisis’, barricades were erected around the Public Gallery in the Council Chamber. However, once all COVID restrictions had been lifted by the Government, the Council, decided they wanted to leave the barricades in place. The Council then introduced draconian entrance requirements into public meetings. So draconian, that a councillor previously challenged as, “More stringent than prisons that they had visited.” Not satisfied with these two measures the Council also used Greater Manchester Police’s logo on letters issued to members of the public to try and silence dissent to the Council’s failings to protect the town’s children from the Grooming Gangs. The very toxicity that this Council wants to tackle was instigated by the actions of this very Council.
Will the new Council leader, if not apologise, at least acknowledge the completely unacceptable actions of her Council? And will she also acknowledge that waving and pointing a finger, or simply looking at someone, are completely unacceptable reasons to ban a member of the public from meetings?
Surely, if this town is to heal, then the Council must also accept its role in what it did wrong and its attempt to stifle democracy? Three leaders have already paid the price. What more needs to happen before this Council takes a look at itself and takes action against its own politicians and officers?
How is it that this Council thinks it’s right that their elected leader, Arooj Shah, is seen celebrating during an election count, inside the Council building, with someone who has been convicted as a heroin dealer, a murderers getaway driver, and who also, was yet again, convicted hours earlier that very day? Yet think it’s fine denying law-abiding citizens access to the Council chamber?
Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council, replied, thank you to Mr Tarbuck, the recently unsuccessful Independent Candidate for Saddleworth South and one time Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth candidate for this council, for his question.
Mr Tarbuck provides an interesting although not quite accurate description of the security and health protection measures that we have had in place to protect our staff, elected members and the public over the last few years.
He is correct in saying that plastic screens, which he refers to as barricades, were erected in this chamber, and in many other council buildings, during the covid 19 pandemic, in keeping with national public health guidance at the time to support ongoing infection control, especially for vulnerable members of the community. The council, at the same time implemented a number of other health protection measures including distancing and the installation of hand sanitiser dispensers across our buildings.
During this time entrance requirements and sign in procedures were also strengthened as part of enabling track and trace procedures should a further outbreak be recorded. This process also supported the health and safety risk assessment undertaken as part of installing the screens as their installation meant the introduction of different emergency evacuation procedures.
Aside from our actions to protect people during the pandemic it is incredibly unfortunate that the behaviour of a small number of people at council meetings last year have led the council to have to take firm action against those who choose to shout obscene and abusive things at elected members and staff, against those who damage public property and against those who assault council staff.
While Mr Tarbuck can make inaccurate statements about the reasons for us having to ban people from this chamber for the safety of others attending meetings, I can confirm that those who received bans have been clearly informed why they were being given, were given time to appeal against them and were told that those bans would be reconsidered at an appropriate time.
I can confirm that those decisions were made in the interest of safety. It is categorically not acceptable that people who come here to take part in the democratic process, whether as elected members, council employees or members of the public be subjected to abuse, to foul language, to threats, to acts of vandalism and to violence. Those sorts of actions will not be tolerated and we will continue to take firm action against anyone behaving in that manner.
That sort of behaviour is not democracy, we do not ‘stifle democracy’ but we do protect people from abuse and from violence.
7. Question from David Else
Don’t Trash Oldham is rightly one of the Council leader’s flagship projects. One of the key concerns of Oldhamers is fly tipping and the appalling state of some of our streets. Can the leader of the Council therefore explain why she is being photographed celebrating her election victory at the home of a man who was fined for trashing Oldham? Does she accept how this looks to those of us who care deeply about this issue and will she apologise to the people of our town for her indiscretion?
Councillor Shah, Leader of the Council, replied, thank you Mr Mayor and thank you to Mr Else for his question.
I have no idea who or what this question is referring to but would like to say that surely even I cannot be expected to know and memorise the names of every person who has ever been fined or prosecuted by the council?
However, I can say that WITHOUT EXCEPTION I fully support the prosecution of ANYONE who fly-tips, litters or commits other environmental crimes in our borough – that’s why we’ve recently established our new environmental crime team so that we can take action against as many offenders as possible. My commitment to our Don’t Trash Oldham approach is absolute – we will work to clean up and transform neighbourhoods and we will work to take action against anyone who blights our great borough.
8. Question from Hannah Roberts
Data from the Rivers Trust shows that in 2022 raw sewage was discharged from 17 locations in 537 separate spills for a total of 4,703 hours across Oldham East and Saddleworth.
In Saddleworth, discharges were reported along the River Tame at Clifton Holme, Delph New Road/Station Approach, Dobcross New Road, Greenfield and Woodbrook Road.
The Conservative Government has not only allowed this to happen – it voted down Labour’s attempts to make the privatised water companies clean up our streams and rivers. United Utilities is responsible for keeping our rivers clean but despite paying out £300m to shareholders plan to add the cost onto all our water bills.
Does the Leader of the Council agree that it is unacceptable for United Utilities to continue to discharge raw sewage in our waterways and will she raise residents’ concerns with United Utilities and ask for an urgent plan to stop this happening and to pay for the clean-up out of their profits rather than asking residents to pay more?
Councillor Taylor, Statutory Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Housing and Licensing, replied, thank you to Ms Roberts for this question.
It is an absolute national disgrace that raw, untreated sewage is being allowed to enter our beautiful waterways, damaging wildlife and ruining our rivers, lakes and seas. I’m appalled that here in Oldham we are being used as a free dumping ground for the waste of private companies who, while they are destroying our waterways with sewage, continue to make exorbitant profits and pay outrageous amounts to their shareholders. And the biggest disgrace is that the Government in Westminster is seemingly going to do nothing about it.
I know that those concerns are shared and have been raised by all local MPs – including Jim McMahon – both in his local constituency role and also as Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This council will absolutely do all we can to make the Government and the companies involved aware that they cannot and morally should not be destroying our environment for profit.
9. Question from Chris McManus
The council has invested in Oldham Town Centre with events such as the Reindeer Parade, Christmas Lights Switch On, Brass Monkey's Festival, and Festival Oldham over the last few years.
Oldham Council spent £136,530 on these events last year with a further £128,910 budgeted for this year.
These events are funded by the Councils Economy Service in the Place and Economic Growth directorate.
However, outlying areas in the borough have had difficulty funding their traditional events, such as the Whit Walks, these being funded solely by the residents and local businesses of Saddleworth, and the Whit Friday Band Contest, this being funded by the residents, local businesses and contributions from local Councillors from their councillors’ allowances.
Despite the popularity of these events, and in the case of the Band Contest, International popularity, funding has become a major concern, putting these cultural traditions at risk and unless resolved, I fear for the future of the Whit Friday walks and the Band Contest.
With that in mind can the following be answered:
Is the Council committed to supporting events that benefit the wider community, not just the Town centre?
Will the council commit to allocate funds for events, outside of the sphere of the Town Centre block Labour vote, and into the surrounding areas, ensuring that the historic events, such as Whit Friday can continue far into the future
If not willing to allocate funds to ensure the Whit Friday events can continue, can you confirm that the council will be happy to see the events ended and be replaced with Festival Oldham, which so happened to take place the following day this year?
Councillor Dean, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, replied, thank you for your question, I can confirm that the Council is committed to events across the borough on an annual basis, however as with every local authority across the country, there is support for events in the town centre to boost footfall to support traders and local businesses.
The economic importance of local events is welcomed across the borough, and that is why the Council actively supports various events which cover different areas of the borough including the Tour of Britain, Half Marathon, and the Saddleworth and Oldham Band Contest.
Each year there are essential elements funded by the council to ensure that the Whit Friday Walks and Band Contests in the various villages can go ahead safely -
· Road closures, traffic management and stewards
· Toilet provision
· First Aid provision
In addition, there has been a regular contribution towards the central prize fund. For several years, local ward members have also chosen to make contributions from their individual councillor budgets.
The Council meets with the Band Contest organisers to support their various requirements and to support plans in development across the year. This year’s contribution equated to £15k on top of contributions from ward members.
Several questions, submitted by members of the public, remained unanswered at the end of the allotted 30 minutes period for this matter. The Mayor, advised that the unanswered questions would be published to the Council’s website, with written answers, in due course.