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Oldham councillor switches parties in row over budget

An independent Oldham councillor announced a surprise decision to switch parties following discussions about the incoming council budget.

Councillor Aftab Hussain of St Mary’s ward joined the Labour party on Thursday (January 18), suggesting the financial pressure on the council was the main reason for the switch.

The news comes as Oldham Council resolves on its 2024/25 budget, which will need to find a way to cut £30 million in the next two years because of sky-rocketing costs and historic cuts in governmental support and grants. 

Mr Hussain said: “Today the council has announced it has to find millions in cuts to its budget due to the inaction and incompetence of the Conservative government. I have watched as, over the last ten years, local services have been starved of funding and starved of support.

“I cannot in all conscience continue to sit on Oldham Council among other independent and opposition councillors who not only bring no hope and no ambition for the people of Oldham but also seek to drive division among communities at a time when people are already struggling.

“The country needs a Labour government to solve the deep-seated issues facing local government and local services, and locally we need a Labour council to deliver for local people and to deliver a solid plan for how we can improve the neighbourhoods and services that matter to local people.”

Mr Hussain was one of four independent councillors to hold a seat after the 2023 local elections and will now add to Labour’s majority in the council.

Labour will now hold 33 of the 60 council seats, while the Lib Dems hold 10 and the Conservatives hold eight. The Oldham Party and Failsworth Independent Party also each have three seats. 

Mr Hussain first ran for a council seat for Alexandra as a Liberal Democrats candidate in 2004. But he left the party to run as an independent candidate in 2016, winning with almost half of all votes in Alexandra. He first became the councillor for St Mary’s in 2021.

Cllr Arooj Shah, leader of the Council and leader of Oldham Labour Group, said: “I’m delighted that Councillor Hussain has opted to join the Labour Party and fight for the future of this borough and the country. 

“The challenge of running local services has never been more difficult but we continue to drive forward our vision for the future of Oldham through the delivery of more housing, better jobs and services that continue to support and protect people. I’d urge anyone else who is serious about the future of Oldham to join the party and be part of the solution.”

Cllr Shah also shared her thoughts about council funding should Labour, under Sir Keir Starmer, win the elections due to take place later this year. 

“Do I think they’re going to give us a blank cheque? No, and I wouldn’t want that either. But I believe I will get empathy and understanding from people that deeply care.”

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