Oldham Council’s so-called review means District Executives have been scrapped, power centralised and local spending/projects cut
The Leader of the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council, Councillor Howard Sykes, MBE, has hit out at the Labour Council’s scrapping of the seven District Executives and centralising power back to the Civic Centre.
Councillor Sykes said: “The Labour Administration claims to have a commitment to co-operative working and to empowering Ward Councillors as ‘local leaders’, yet, in recent proposals put before Councillors at the Annual Council meeting (22 May), Labour proposed scrapping all seven District Executives and return power to the Executive.”
“The Liberal Democrats have a strong commitment to devolving power and money to local councillors and local people so that they can work together in partnership to identify and address the local needs and priorities of their own community through having access to a devolved budget and a dedicated team of officers. District Executives were the public and accountable mechanism through which we did this across the Borough.”
There were seven District Executives – East Oldham, West Oldham, Chadderton, Failsworth and Hollinwood, Royton, Saddleworth and Lees, and Shaw and Crompton.
Under Labour’s plans, the District Executives and their annual budgets have been scrapped, taking away £400,000 from local areas. Instead Labour has proposed that each of the sixty Councillors receives £6,000 instead of £5,000 to spend on local priorities and that a one-off £500,000 Local Improvement Fund be created into which Districts can bid for.
“No wonder these plans were kept under wraps until after the local elections,” stated Councillor Sykes. “Put bluntly, this means Labour have abolished local control and taken a net £340,000 every year away from local communities.”
Councillor Sykes added: “Labour’s £500,000 Local Investment Fund is a one-off fund, and there is no guarantee that it will be distributed evenly across the districts. Local councillors know their patches best and are accountable to their citizens. My guess is that, as the fund will be managed by three Labour Cabinet Members, it will only go to Labour’s pet projects. Also what is the plan when the cash is spent?”
“I am not opposed to the Council taking back money from District Executives that remains unallocated or unspent. In fact it is scandal that some areas have not spent their cash. This proposal seems grossly unfair to District Executives, such as Chadderton, Royton, Saddleworth and Lees, and Shaw and Crompton, which are making prompt and proper use of the money that is allocated to them and doing so transparently by making decisions in public meetings.”
Councillor Sykes concluded: “The Liberal Democrats proposed a series of amendments to the report being presented to Wednesday’s Council – we wanted to see District Executives remain in place, with their existing budgets, but with the money that remains unallocated in some of the Districts clawed back for use elsewhere within the Council budget. We also wanted a simple date for reviewing the new arrangements. However, the Labour Council have ridden straight over that – centralising power, and not even committing to see what effect it has.”