‘…..the circus has a ringmaster’

Harry Catherall speaking into microphone

Following two articles published on Neil Wilby Media over the past four days, more information has emerged over a controversial decision by beleaguered Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council to change a long-arranged start time of a meeting in favour of the possibility of a clash with a football match.

The first of those two articles was headlined ‘Football trumps democracy in downtrodden borough‘ (read here) and the second: ‘This council is being run like a circus full of clowns‘ (read here).

Cllr Lewis Quigg, himself never far from controversy and whose social media output provided the headline for the second article, has since posted the following statement on the Oldham Conservatives Facebook page. Doubtless, aided by the exclusive content of those articles.

“Following on from the Council changing the meeting to 2.30pm [from its regular slot of 6pm], it seems a few things have finally been clarified.

“1. Group Leaders were verbally told. In our case [the Conservative Party] by a Council officer passing the Group Leader who was on the way to another meeting. Not the proper or correct format, nor was a further communication made until the email [notifying the change] went out.

“2. Despite Labour claims and disinformation there was no agreement because “no discussion took place” and the Group Leaders meeting is “not a decision making forum”. Those are direct quotes by the way. Comrade Chadderton’s politiburo is alive and well!

“3. The CEO [Harry Catherall] made the decision, as he claims in line with the constitution, a day before it was communicated on 6th December. The Officer Party is in power whilst Labour is in office…

“4. Given the World Cup moved a Council meeting to the afternoon, can the Council and Administration confirm who they will be officially supporting: France – Argentina – Morocco – Croatia?

“So, finally, the Circus has a ring master”.

Picking through the familiar hyperbole associated with Cllr Quigg, whose politics, one might say, appear more aligned to UKIP or Britain First than the Tories, there are some inescapable, and uncomfortable truths, that align with the investigations into this matter by the author of this article, Neil Wilby:

– Firstly, the Leader of the Opposition (also Group Leader of the Liberal Democrats), Cllr Howard Sykes MBE, was presented with a ‘done deal’ over the start time of the meeting and a counter-suggestion to open the meeting and adjourn if a majority agreed and if, of course, the England football team had in fact reached the semi-final stage of the men’s World Cup was rejected.

– Cllr Sykes also says: “I got a phone from a council officer seeking my view at Monday 5th Dec at 17:45 asking my views about this as the agenda needed to be issued that day/night”.

– The Constitution is a movable feast for the present administration, as played out, excruciatingly and embarrassingly, during a recent televised Full Council meeting when rules were, very arguably, bent to defeat an opposition motion.

– The press office has not responded to this uncomplicated request, which is usually journalists’ code for a ‘cover-up’ being in train:

“The Council [is] asked to provide a rationale for the decision – and a timeline that will assist the public (and media) in understanding how, when and who made the decision to change the start time of the meeting – and why soundings from such as the author of this article, Neil Wilby, whom routinely live blogs these gatherings, were not taken”.

– On any independent view, these are not difficult questions and it is overwhelmingly in the public interest for answers to be provided promptly, and unambiguously, if the Council’s leadership is to avoid adding to its growing, and highly damaging, list of recent ‘cover-ups’ and spectacular own goals.

– The Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton has not responded to a request for a statement. Similarly, and from one so vocal and forceful on a wide range of issues, a fairly safe indicator that all is not well in the Labour Cabinet or senior paid officer camp.

With the 2023 local elections drawing ever nearer, she may well find that such reticence, and notably poor judgement, as well as alienating those whom society, and Oldham’s long suffering residents, trusts to hold power to account, costs her the Royton South seat she presently holds – and with it the top job at Oldham Council.

UPDATE: Despite a reminder, the Council press office was unable to provide the answers to the questions put to them. A deadline of 5.30pm on 13th December, 2022 came and went . There will be a further article published tomorrow morning ahead of the Council meeting which will start, of course, at the revised time of 2.30pm.

Page last updated Tuesday 13th December, 2022 at 1920hrs

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Picture credits: Oldham Council

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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