Welcome to part 2 of our ‘Year in Review’ article.
Here we concentrate on the period beginning April through to the end of june.
The biggest story in April by far was the ongoing saga of the Council Corruption investigation. We had already seen the arrest of Cllr Roger Ibbs and the Elected Mayor Mark Meredith. Both men had been questioned and released on Police bail. Both had stood down from the majority of their duties. In April we witnessed the third episode of this unfortunate soap opera, which was being played out before a gob smacked city wide audience. The scandal was also attracting the interest of the nationals including TV and Radio.
The arrest of prominent businessman Mo Chaudry confirmed everyone suspicions that this whole sorry episode was centred around the attempted closure of the splash pool at the popular Burlem Leisure Centre Dimensions. Mo Chaudry issued a statement through his lawyers stating that Mr Chaudry denied any wrong doing and that he had, and would continue, to co-operate with the Police Investigation.
Smoke-on-Trent re-launched their website, but it was to be very short lived. The site was to close down completely just a few months later.
While we are on smoke – Stoke-on-Trent’s first prosecution for flouting the smoking ban was successful. The owner of the Shesha Lounge in Hanley was fined £100 plus costs for failing to stop two customers from smoking a water pipe and a cigarette.
In April we also broke the news that the National Executive of the Labour Party along with their Regional Officers were descending on Stoke-on-Trent amidst accusations of in party fighting and councillors threatening to walk out on the party. This was perhaps the first clue that all was not well within the party that had once been so strong in our City.
Racism entered the University arena for the first time when University Presidential Candidate Assed Baig claimed that his opponent was using racist comments to defeat his challenge. The election was postponed whilst an internal investigation into the claims took place.
Mick Salih used the full council meeting early in April to once again hit out at the appointment of a paid chair for the NSRP. The new chair was take up his/her responsibilities in June when the Elected Mayor stepped down from the position. Cllr Salih tabled an amendment to instruct the city council’s representatives on the NSRP board not to vote for an independent chairman. Members voted 35 to 16 in favour of the amendment, despite warnings from Council Manager Chris Harman and Conservative and Independent Alliance leader councillor Ross Irving that it could damage relations between the council and its partners. Mr Harman hit out at the conduct of elected members in the press after the meeting, claiming that the amended motion was pointless because
there was no voting by the board on that matter.
Rob Flello was continuing to be a thorn in the side of Serco and was asking for the BSF proposals to be extended to 15 schools and claimed that the pupil numbers warranted this amendment. This was met with universal agreement from the Trentham Action Group who had been calling for the same for quite a period of time.
Rob went a massive step further just a few day’s later when a hastily arranged press conference held at Trentham High School revealed a letter from Schools Minister Jim Knight which indicated that the government had changed it’s view on THS closure. It was a major u-turn by the government, and one that left the City Council with a huge dilemma. Would Chris Harman and the EMB go against the wishes of government? This turn of events, down to the hard work of Rob Flello MP, threw THS a lifeline and it now seemed that the campaign to save THS was just a small matter of a council meeting away…
Meanwhile it seemed that the out going Elected Mayor was urging community activists in the Bucknall/Berryhill area to fight to retain their community school in the wake of the government u-turn on THS.
The all important EMB meeting where the issue of Trentham High was again, rightly, at the top of the agenda. The meeting was to be screened to members of the public in the adjacent Kings Hall. Only members of the Press [for once that included us!] were allowed to witness the meeting in person in the Windsor Room. The meeting went ahead but was not without controversy. Several Councillors were refused admission to the Windsor Room on the grounds of fire safety. But it turned out to be the day that the TAG had dreamed about. Trentham HS was to be removed from the schools closure list and was to be allowed to explore all possibilities for becoming a Trust type school. The meeting also decided that THS would receive none of the BSF funding. The reason for this seemed to be purely out of spite at the time and was later recinded. But there was to be no reprieve for Mitchell High School. Their campaigners were told in no uncertain terms that no further alterations to the BSF plans would be considered. That also signalled the beginning of the end for Heathfield Special School.
April also saw Cllr Ross Irving enter the race to become the new Council Leader. Mike Barnes officially left Democracy 4 Stoke which signalled his intention of challenging for the Leadership of the Labour group on the council.
Later on in the month we saw the emergence of a new community group, the Potteries Community Federation, the brainchild of former BNP member Craig Pond, Terry Cope and Sam Tunstall. They wanted members from all over the political sphere who were disenfranchised with the political system here in Stoke. The Labour Group were continuing to spiral downwards. Complaints about Labour EMB members and counter claims were going in thick and fast. The Labour Group Leader position was beginning to look something of a poisoned challice.
April also saw the local Liberal Democrats elect a new leader, Kieran Clarke. Dr Zulfiqar Ali was elected his deputy.
The final article on Pits’n’Pots in april was the prediction that there was to be an Indian Summer for our Country which just goes to prove ““ we don’t get everything right!
May will be coming shortly………