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Council Leader in Attempt to Silence Critics

Does this deserve an apology?

In one of our September newsletters we claimed that Council Leader Roy Oldham had made a misleading statement to the Council about the sensitive issue of Councillors’ expenses.  He was so upset with us that he and his Borough Solicitor demanded a forced retraction and that we issue a full apology.

We consider that Roy Oldham chose to raise the issue to gain political capital; to show how he rules his Council with his iron fist.  He wasn’t responding to a question on the spot, he chose to raise the issue and chose to contrast his Council’s performance with the scandal at Westminster.

As he no-doubt expected, his boastful claims were carried in detail by the Tameside Advertiser (click the link to read their story and the comments left by their readers who also questioned the validity of the £529 total bill).

Now when his political opponents question his claims, he tries to intimidate them.

“The figure just looked wrong from the start” says Conservative campaigner Rob Adlard.

“Clearly if all of the 57 Councillors were fulfilling their roles properly, they were going to run up bills more than the £529 TOTAL figure chosen by Roy Oldham.   For example, Conservative Councillor Richard Ambler has an important job scrutinising health services for Tameside, and is required to attend meetings all over the country.  If he wasn’t incurring reasonable expenses, he clearly wouldn’t be fulfilling that role as he wouldn’t be travelling to meetings. Cllr Oldham has been selling short the hard work of councillors”.

Peter Hayes goes on to explain: “We understand how he arrived at his figure, but we assert his £529 is far from accurate in the comparison he chose to draw with the Westminster scandal.  A like-for-like comparison would for example have included almost £7000 claimed by 29 Councillors for internet expenses.  In dealing with exactly the same issue in Oct 09, the BBC chose to include the centrally procured travel costs, not just out of pocket cash expenses.  The same comparison would have added a further £5000 to Cllr Oldham’s  chosen number of £529.

Peter concluded “The ridiculous thing is,  no one was suggesting any misuse of expenses.  If Councillor Oldham had presented the total bill, I don’t think anyone would have been shocked by the figures.

Because of his position as Leader, he regularly stands-up and speaks for an hour unopposed, tossing about many figures about how well the Council performs under his leadership.  With our stance, we are just demonstrating that his carefully chosen statements may not always be as representative as he would like to have us believe.

“Politicians have long-since mastered the art of using figures to present their argument in the best possible light.  It is what we’ve become used to.  However, last time I checked, I still lived in a democracy, and a functioning democracy allows us to question the performance of the Council Leader ” concluded Peter.

Footnote 24/11/09:  At tonight’s Full Council Meeting, the Conservatives proposed a motion that was passed with an amendment, binding the council to greater transparency on the matter.

Footnote 17/12/09:  The Reporter/Chronicle carried a story which detailed Cllr Oldham’s anger at our story.  We stand by our allegation that it was misleading to contrast his £541 number with the Westminster scandal, and the newspaper were kind enough to allow us a right of reply (right):

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