Stockport Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Bredbury Green and Romiley councillor Lisa Smart proposed a motion seeking to extend voting rights to those aged 16 and over, seconded by Will Dawson, Liberal Democrat councillor for Offerton.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Smart said: “I am thrilled to have championed a move by Stockport Council to back calls for the introduction of votes at 16. As a campaigner on education, it is an issue close to my heart having met so many engaged and inspiring young people.
“I am so pleased that councillors from across Stockport voted overwhelmingly in favour of my proposal to call for voting rights to be extended to citizens aged 16 and over, as well as greater involvement of young people in community decision making.”
Cllr Dawson said: “Working as a lecturer at Aquinas College, dealing with this age group is my day job so I know how interested and engaged in politics 16 and 17 year olds can be, especially right now as our country is going through what I believe will be the huge trauma of Brexit. Many of the arguments against allowing these young people to vote were used over a hundred years ago to try to deny votes for women.
“It must be right that the people who are likely to be among the most affected by contemporary political issues and for the longest time are allowed to fully participate in our democracy.”
Stockport Council will now write to the British Youth Council, local Members of Parliament, the Greater Manchester Mayor, the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office asking them to consider extending the voting age to 16 and 17 year olds, in particular for local government and devolved elections and for referenda in England and Northern Ireland.
Following a heated debate where several Conservative and some Labour councillors argued against a people’s vote to give the public a final say on the Brexit deal, a Liberal Democrat motion calling for this was passed overwhelmingly at Stockport Council’s recent meeting.
Liberal Democrats argued that the impact of Brexit so far and the lack of a clear way forward in the negotiations with Europe meant that the public should be able to determine whether any proposed deal was good enough, or to decide to keep the many benefits Britons currently enjoy by staying in the European Union. Councillors voted 40 to 15 to back the Liberal Democrat proposals
Speaking after the meeting, Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Cheadle Hulme South councillor Mark Hunter said: “Theresa May’s government continues to fail to make headway with the Brexit negotiations and appears to be held hostage by an ultra-right wing faction within the Conservative Party and ten members of a hard-right party from Northern Ireland, with time rapidly running out.
“Enough is enough. We demand a People’s Vote on Europe so that the public can have the final say on whether the deal proposed is good enough or whether we would be better remaining within the European Union.”
Cllr Lisa Smart, Liberal Democrat Group Deputy Leader and Bredbury Green and Romiley councillor, said: “We have held several street polls where we ask residents five questions about the Brexit negotiations. Time and again people tell us they believe Brexit is not going well, that it will not be good for our NHS, jobs or the UK more generally, and they call for a People’s Vote on the final deal.
“Stockport Council is the latest to pass a motion on behalf of our residents calling for this and I hope the government soon realise the strength of feeling this issue is creating. We demand better.”
Leader of Stockport Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Mark Hunter, has described the Northern Powerhouse as “dead in the water” and challenged central government to better demonstrate their commitment to investment in the North West.
Speaking at the recent Liberal Democrat annual conference at Brighton, Cllr Hunter claimed that because the Northern Powerhouse was originally the creation of George Osborne, the current Conservative government are paying only lip service to the idea of more power for the region.
“The Northern Powerhouse exists now in name only to all intents and purposes,” said Cllr Hunter. “It is little more than a gesture to help a few North West Tory MPs to hold on to their seats at the next general election.
“Transport is a clear example of its failure. We have just seen a summer of chaos on our local and regional rail services with no practical oversight or intention from central government. Thousands of rail users have been inconvenienced and yet the minister does nothing. It is simply unacceptable that so many local people continue to struggle with over-crowded and unreliable rail services.
“The time for government intervention is long overdue,” Cllr Hunter concluded.
At a meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority last month the Labour leader of Stockport Council, the other nine Labour council leaders and the elected mayor agreed to take away the requirement for each Council to individually vote to agree the controversial forthcoming Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), which is expected to include proposals for considerable green belt development.
In an innocuous paragraph hidden away in a description of the revised timetable, brief reference was made of taking an ‘in principle’ decision, changing the approach taken from being a “Joint Development Plan” to a “Spatial Development Strategy”.
Cllr Lisa Smart, Deputy Leader of Stockport Liberal Democrats and Chair of the Greater Manchester Housing Planning and Environment Scrutiny Committee, has uncovered that this means that any decision to implement GMSF need only be approved by a vote of the 10 council leaders and the mayor. The previous approach would have required a vote in each of the 10 constituent full councils for the proposals to be accepted.
Cllr Smart said: “This is a blatant power grab by Andy Burnham and Greater Manchester Labour bosses. Power should be given to, not taken away from, local people who have real concerns about transport, school places and hospital beds that have not yet been fixed by this plan.
“We need the right homes in the right places. Labour and the developers have failed to win the argument with local people about building on the green belt. They are running scared that they wouldn’t win a vote in each council and so now they are changing the rules.
“This is an abuse of power and they must think again. Once our greenbelt is gone it is gone for good.”
The Liberal Democrat Group on Stockport council welcomed the second Pride festival last weekend and had a very popular stall manned by several local councillors and activists.
Cllrs Mark Hunter and Lisa Smart, the Group Leader and Deputy, along with many colleagues enjoyed a great community event which highlighted how open and inclusive the borough is.
Pictured are Lisa with Lib Dem activists Claire Halliwell from Cheadle Hulme North and Richard Flowers from Bramhall North.
At the most recent meeting of Stockport Council, Liberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr Mark Hunter revealed, to the surprise of those present in the chamber, that he had discovered that the council had been using consultants PWC for nearly a year to support Stockport Together.
The consultants have been employed on a rolling contract to provide additional capacity as Stockport Council and Stepping Hill Hospital wrestle with the issues involved in setting up the new Stockport Together organisation, designed to improve delivery of health and adult social care services to local residents.
Cllr Hunter cited a recent joint report of parliamentary Select Committees which had disclosed that the average fee for a senior consultant at PWC was £885 per hour.
Cllr Hunter pointed out that, despite Stockport being a balanced council, the decision to use consultants had not been discussed via the usual channels of all-party Group Leader meetings and, in the interests of openness and transparency, demanded to know which cabinet member had signed off the decision, which cabinet meeting had formally agreed it, what were the terms and conditions, and what has been the cost so far.
Cllr Hunter said: “The Leader of the Council likes to remind us on a regular basis of how committed he is to accountability and transparency, yet he appears to think he can get away with hiding what is a potentially significant expense and keep this decision secret.
“He was clearly wrong-footed at the council meeting when I asked the question and, although he promised a reply, one has not yet materialised.”