Warm tributes paid to retiring public service ‘legend’

It has been another tough municipal year in the troubled history of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council but the final Full Council meeting of 2022/23 was lit up by the warm tributes paid to stalwart public servant and Labour Party politician, Cllr Riaz Ahmad.

Riaz was first elected to the Council in 1992 and has served his local community tirelessly since then with his trademark dignity, quiet determination and efficient, businesslike approach to priorities, disbursement and disbursement of councillor’s allocated funds.

Led by another long-serving Member and ward colleague, Cllr Peter Dean, and ably backed up by Waterhead colleague, Cllr Ros Birch, the high praise, amusing anecdotes and genuine appreciation came thick and fast.

Peter compared Riaz to former Oldham Council stalwart, Ellen Brierley, a ‘legend’ whose name was displayed on honours boards above the Mayor’s seat and described them both as ‘truly, truly great’ public servants. Cllr Dean also made glowing reference to the role of Riaz in ‘settling down’ communities after the Oldham riots in 2001 where his efforts in making peace, restoration and reconciliation top priorities were recognised. Particularly, in the light of his own family home being petrol-bombed and burned down in the aftermath.

More recently, said Peter Dean, the same ‘bravery, strength and will of his family’ had seen Riaz successfully defend his impeccable reputation, in the High Court, against appalling, grotesque accusations made against him (read more here).

Attention was also drawn to the role of Riaz Ahmad in turning NHS Oldham into ‘the best performing in the country’ during his ten year tenure as Chair. Part of his ‘immense contribution’ to public life in Oldham.

Ros Birch signed off her tribute to Riaz by describing him as ‘a superhero in disguise’ balancing family life with a wife, children and grandchildren with his accountancy practice and very considerable public service portfolios. ‘Never letting the grass go under his feet’ she added. Cllr Birch also drew attention to Cllr Ahmad’s support of her education and training portfolio and noted his roles as governor or chair in many schools and colleges across the Borough over a long period.

Liberal Democrat and retired police officer, Cllr Chris Gloster, enthusiastically joined in the tributes by bringing best wishes from the Chair of the local magistrates and pointing out that Riaz Ahmad had served on the bench for approaching 30 years. Chris also drew attention to the contribution made by Riaz in scrutinising the Council’s accounts and budgets: ‘Nobody challenged audits in quite the same way, asking awkward questions and always the consummate professional’. He also emphasised the points made by Cllr Dean that Cllr Ahmad was ‘a man of the utmost integrity and impeccable reputation’. But, perhaps as important as all that, was the observation that Riaz would be well remembered for doing everything, however simple or difficult, with his trademark smile on his face.

The Conservative Group Leader on Oldham Council was not to be left out, either. Cllr Graham Sheldon completed the glowing picture by drawing attention to his ‘thoughtful, diligent approach’ in whatever field he was operating. Being ‘fair, thorough and well-researched’. Cllr Ahmad’s recognition by the Queen in 2008 by awarding him an OBE was richly deserved.

Those speeches made in recognition of Cllr Ahmad’s immense contribution to Oldham Borough, including his term as Mayor, can be viewed in the eleven minute video clip at the top of the page.

At the same Council meeting, the Annual Member’s Report of Cllr Ahmad was included within the agenda. It is worth repeating here to give, if nothing else, an insight into the work the more diligent local councillors do on behalf of their ward constituents.

Ward Priorities
· Ward priorities are aligned with the Council priorities which are to make the ward a clean, green and safe place for the residents.
· With COVID 19 continuing to impact communities, we have worked hard with the Council to ensure that the residents have access to good health and food provision, children’s education is maintained, and the Council services respond quickly to the changed circumstances.


I have attended several training sessions on Finance, Audit, Safeguarding, Prevent, Environment, Planning and other similar subjects.

Work in the community

This being my final Council report, I would summarise my role as a Councillor throughout my career. Since first getting elected in 1992, I have enjoyed this role immensely and I have worked tirelessly to make improvements in Oldham.

I have served on most major committees, have chaired Finance, Audit, Scrutiny and Environment Committee at various times. I have been a member of Cabinet for Finance and Human Resources portfolio. As a front bench I oversaw many major developments e.g. bringing Refuse Collection in-house by getting rid of SITA and thus improving cleanliness in Oldham, clean-up of Huddersfield Canal and Rochdale Canal, building footbridges over Oldham Way and many other major initiatives.

I became Mayor of the Borough in 2002 which was probably the most difficult time of Oldham’s recent history following the civil disturbances. I worked tirelessly, involved all sections of the community and various organisations to bring peace, harmony and cohesion on the streets of Oldham.

I have served as a governor at many schools, Freehold, Greenhill, Kaskenmoor, St Patricks R.C., Waterhead as well as Oldham College. At Freehold School and Greenhill School, I was appointed chair of the governing body when both school were put into Special Measures. Under my leadership, both schools improved immensely and came out of Special Measures. Greenhill School was judged to be one of the top ten schools in the country.

My work was not limited to Oldham Council only as I wanted to make improvements in all walks of life. I served as a Magistrate for 27 years till Oldham Court was closed. My proudest and most notable achievement has to be my chairmanship of NHS Oldham from 2002 to 2013 which was, by any means, a golden period in the history of Oldham NHS. We built a number of new health centres, Failsworth, Moorside, Werneth, Glodwick and biggest and the best Integrated Care Centre next to the Civic Centre with easy access for all Oldhamers. We recruited a number of new GP’s and you could see a GP on the day and time of your choice. That golden period unfortunately ended and we now live in an era where seeing a GP face to face is like winning a lottery ticket.

Council responsibilities

I chair the Performance, Overview and Scrutiny Committee which monitors council’s finances, human resources, and performances. It plays a huge part in ensuring that any expenditure provides value for money, capital projects are fully justified and affordable, staff performance and attendance is of good high standard and council is meeting its targets and public expectation. It regularly calls Chief Officers and Cabinet Members to answer any areas of poor performance.

I am also a leading member of the Audit Committee which provides a system of control over Council finances, income and expenditure, capital, and revenue. It ensures that the finances are fully safeguarded and expended in a justifiable and transparent manner.

In addition, I am a member of Traffic Regulations Order committee.

The future

My time at Oldham Council is coming to an end in May 2023 and I thank every one who has helped me over the years, my constituents, members of public, Council staff, my colleagues, Labour Party and all fellow Councilors.

I wish very best for the future to everyone and I will remain loyal to Oldham and its people.

The author of this article, Neil Wilby, adds:

“In the thirty or so months I have reported on the political scene in Oldham, two names have stood out in terms of the personal and professional regard in which they are held by their councillor contemporaries and by paid council officers: Arooj Shah, the immediate past Leader of the Council, and Riaz Ahmad. His name, when I first visited Oldham, being spoken of in almost reverential terms everywhere I went. The reasons behind that huge professional and political respect and high personal regard were made very clear at Full Council last week.

“Riaz (as, indeed, did Arooj during her term of office) has always dealt with my press enquiries in a prompt, courteous, professional manner, even in some very difficult circumstances. It would be impertinent to attempt to add, substantively, to the glowing tributes that were heard in the council chamber last Wednesday. That is best left to those who have known and worked with him over the four decades of his truly outstanding public service.

“What I will say is that he leaves boots that will be very hard to fill. But the signs are, already, that he will be around to willingly, and carefully, give wise counsel to those who wish to call upon his huge reservoir of patience, humility, wisdom and knowledge.

“Otherwise, may you have a long and happy retirement, sir”.

Page last updated Monday 20th March, 2023 at 1450hrs

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2023. 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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