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‘This town might be ungovernable’

Oldham Council is reportedly ‘in chaos’ as a number of political groups jostle for leadership of the council after it went into ‘No Overall Control’ during last week’s election.

Independents are seeking to create a ‘mega-coalition’ to challenge the council leaders, while Labour tries to secure its governing spot with the support of other councillors. 

Election night saw Labour lose a total of four seats (on top of losing the councillor to Werneth at the beginning of the election period) while independents gained eight. The results leave the council with a political make-up of 27 Labour councillors, 16 independents, nine Liberal Democrats and eight Conservatives. 

But with many political groups refusing to associate with each other, the council finds itself in uncertainty, with many councillors claiming they had ‘no idea’ what was coming next for the local authority.

One source close to the council said: “It’s making me think this town might be ungovernable.”

Labour remain the largest political group in the council and continue to run the administration. But the Labour group are left searching for councillors who will support their administration to secure a majority vote in council.

In an interview after the election, council leader Arooj Shah said: “We might not have overall control but we are still in control. We are still the largest party.

“My message to all the opposition groups in Oldham is that now it’s about coming together and putting the people of Oldham first.”

Another Labour source said: “There’s only one party that can offer stability in this town.”

But a number of groups including the Lib Dems, Oldham Group and Failsworth Independents have already ruled out ‘formal coalitions’ with the party. 

Lib Dem councillor Howard Sykes issued a press release on Monday stating he was ‘looking forward to a future without Labour’, listing the party’s demands for collaboration with other groups – which included reviewing the Places for Everyone housing scheme, restoring Oldham Coliseum and a focus on fly-tipping. 

And Coun Sykes added: “Who’s bum is sat on which seat doesn’t matter to us. It’s about the people of Oldham and about the priorities of the council changing.”

Meanwhile, the Oldham Group are gearing up for a leadership challenge to Labour boss Arooj Shah. The independent group is seeking to create a ‘mega-coalition’ of all 16 independents, who could form an alliance with the Lib Dems and/or the Tories, according to Coun Kamran Ghafoor.

He suggested that the ‘people of Oldham have called for new leadership’ by voting in eight independent councillors. 

“We’re willing to work with anyone – except Labour,” the Oldham Group leader said, “as long as our priorities are met.” 

Their candidates ran a campaign on freezing council tax, bringing more money into local communities and demanding an independent investigation on child sexual exploitation, following the GMCA review in 2022. 

The groups have until May 22 to come to an agreement, when the first full council meeting of the year is due to take place.

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