Saddleworth councillors narrowly fail to wrestle control of Oldham authority

COUNCILLORS in Saddleworth have narrowly failed to become part of Oldham’s controlling group after forming an alliance.

Conservatives, including Saddleworth North’s Luke Lancaster and Pam Byrne and Saddleworth South’s Graham Sheldon and Max Woodvine, agreed to link up with the Liberal Democrats after the authority was plunged into no overall control at the local elections.

That would have meant them working alongside Saddleworth North’s Garth Harkness, South’s Helen Bishop and West and Lees’ Alicia Marland, Mark Kenyon and Sam Al-Hamdani.

However, the attempt to oust Cllr Arooj Shah failed by one vote as 28 representatives voted for installing Lib Dem Cllr Howard Sykes as leader and 29 against, with three abstentions.

Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani speaking at Oldham’s meeting of Full council

At a meeting of Oldham Council on Wednesday, May 22, it was proposed the leadership would consist of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, The Oldham Group and Independents, which was described as ‘an alliance that can unite our borough.’

Cllr Al-Hamdani said, after a motion brought by Tory Cllr Lewis Quigg and The Oldham Group’s Kamran Ghafoor: “It may not surprise you to know I didn’t always agree with everything they said, but I listened to them and there was enough there that I agreed with.

“I think that’s the point.

“I’ve been in this chamber for five years and I think I’ve tried to be fair throughout. That’s always been my approach, to do what I can.

“There’s a problem in Oldham in that people don’t feel that is what happens. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s what people feel.

“There’s a disconnect between this chamber and then people we represent. If you ask me, ‘Do you want the opportunity to try and change that?’ Yes, I do.

“There are too many times when choices are made badly. When incorrect things happen and we do not change tack.

“It’s really important that we recognise that. It’s not that a person has failed, we have failed because that disconnect is there. That is wrong we are not representing people properly and we have to change that.”

Despite impassioned speeches, that attempt failed by one vote, leaving Cllr Sykes pointing the finger at Shaw and Crompton Independent Cllrs Marc Hince and Lisa Navesey.

Cllr Marc Hince

He said: “It is disappointing that despite the fact that the Labour Party have lost overall control of the council, so-called Independent councillors joined forces with them to keep Labour in power.

“Our plan brought together the opposition groups who supported agreed policies including calling for a public inquiry into historic child sex exploitation, saving Oldham Coliseum Theatre, protecting Oldham’s greenbelt, and cleaning up Oldham’s parks and public spaces.

“All of that is now at risk because Labour has clung on to power with the backing of the two so-called Independents from Shaw and Crompton.

“An alternative to Labour was possible.  The Liberal Democrats did absolutely everything within our power to make that alternative a reality.

“But Labour’s offer of grace and favour positions within the Council was clearly too much for some so-called Independent councillors to resist.

“As Opposition councillors, the Liberal Democrats will continue to hold the Labour Party to account, as well as the so-called Independent councillors who now support them.

“We look forward to championing the issues that our residents care about and working hard for change.”

After narrowly holding on to her role, Cllr Shah – with boos echoing around the chamber – vowed things will change.

She said: “I’m proud the residents and electorate of Oldham, my home town, have extended their continued trust and support for Labour to represent them as the largest party on this council.

“This is a democracy and the people spoke. We do, however, still hold by far the largest number of seats – three times more than the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives.

“Things will have to change, though. Things will have to be done differently. After what seemed like years of bickering and squabbling, consensus will now be the new watchword for Oldham Council.

“I recognise we will have to work differently, every elected member will. We’ll have to listen more, seek out opportunities to support and deliver meaningful change and we’ll have to renew our efforts to reach out to all Oldhamers.

“It’s time for grown-up politics, rather than petty party point scoring. This is what the people of Oldham want.

“But individuals have made it very clear that co-operation for the good of the borough does not mean a lack of them holding this administration to account – that’s only right and proper.”

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