Tonight a small gathering of strong minded individuals gathered at the Civic Centre in Stoke to mark the end of the Elected Mayor system.
D4S members and supporters also supported a call for government to re-instate the 2010 elections.
Government have intervened to force the city to adopt all out four yearly elections. At the same time a boundary review is to take place all which means that a decision to delay the elections for a year has been taken.
The crowd time the release of hundreds of balloons with the arrival of party supporters ready to witness and scrutinise the count for the European Elections.
D4S convenor Mick Williams gave a short speech outlining the reasons for the demonstrations and the future role of the cross and non party organisation.
The Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council are obviously saddened by the resignation of Cllr Dave Conway.
He has been a hard working and skilled member on the council, particularly in the area in which he is most passionate housing.
Mike Barnes said: “Dave Conway’s contribution will be sadly missed by the Labour Group. He has made his choice and I certainly respect his views and the decision he has made.
Mike Barnes - Labour Group Leader
There is a determination within the Labour Group and Labour Party to pull together and move forward for the benefit of the people of Stoke-on-Trent. I firmly believe that the core beliefs of Stoke residents are similar to those of the Labour Party – social justice, equality, democracy, educational opportunity for everyone, making sure that everybody has a roof over their head and a decent wage in their pocket, whilst taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves.
Since my appointment as Group Leader, these are the values that I am determined to keep at the very heart of the Labour Group and local Labour Party.
Nobody should underestimate the strong support that this has throughout the Labour Party at all levels, despite some events beyond our control.
In immediate matter of the Council Leadership, the Labour Group has decided to make a case to lead this City with these principles as its foundation. We have also given a clear commitment to keep all our options open throughout talks with other groups and councillors both before, and after the Council Leadership elections on Friday.
Not only does the Labour Party need to move forward together, so does the whole council, and its partners, during some difficult times ahead.
This is a sensible, mature, and common sense approach that puts the interests of the people of Stoke-on-Trent before any other.
This is an opportunity for a fresh start. It was bound to have its difficulties; change always does; but we have a clear message, we are up to the challenge to succeed.”
Mr Conway had cited ‘he did not agree with the direction that the local group was taking’ as his reason for resigning from the Labour Group.
Speaking in today’s Sentinel, Dave Conway said: “I have been a Labour man all my life and I haven’t really made up my mind about what happens now.
“I just wanted to work for the people of this city. I’m not interested in politics any more.”
Following the resignation of Dave Conway & Joan Bell, former Labour Group Leader Joy Garner has admitted that she is
contemplating her future.
She is known to be recovering from recent illness and it has also emerged that she resigned as the Labour Group whip at Mondays crucial group meeting.
Joy has strong ties with the Labour Party both locally, regionally and nationally and the decision whether to quit will be an agonising one.
Speaking in today’s Sentinel, she said: “I can confirm that I have resigned as the group whip at Monday night’s group meeting.
“I am one of a number of councillors with concerns over the way that the Labour group is now being led.
“I will be considering the best way forward, but my immediate priority is to get over the recent ill-health I have suffered so that I can represent my ward and my city.”
Children are being invited to join elderly residents in getting “Ëœdirty’ for nature in a Meir garden.
Youngsters will be able to build houses for ladybirds and bees, scatter wild seeds and enjoy the open spaces in the garden of Doris Robinson Court, a Stoke-on-Trent City Council sheltered housing centre, on Sunday 7 June.
The event is being organised to coincide with BBC Breathing Places’ “ËœDirty Weekend’ to encourage children to explore wildlife and nature.
Scheme co-ordinator Irene Slater said: “We have a beautiful big garden at Doris Robinson Court, and we want to share
it. We’ll be having activities for children aged 5 ““ 95 to enjoy. Local Brownies and Rainbows youngsters will be helping to build a rockery, and we want more children come along with their families and join in.”
The event will take place between 11am ““ 4pm and will include free refreshments. A barbeque will also take place, weather permitting, at a small charge.
Doris Robinson Court, named after a former city Lord Mayor, has 35 residents aged between 55 ““ 95 years old.
Councillor Mohammed Pervez, deputy elected mayor and portfolio holder for community engagement and diversity, said: “This is a great chance for children to explore nature and to join in an inter-generational day with older residents.”
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been successful in its first prosecution against people who leave their wheelie bins out after collection for an unreasonable amount of time.
On 22 May, Fiona Knapper, of Wileman Street, Fenton, was fined £315 by Newcastle Magistrates Court for leaving her wheelie bin out on the street after 7pm on the day of collection, causing an obstruction on the road.
Councillor Joan Bell, portfolio holder for community safety and neighbourhood management, said: “There had already been several complaints made to the city council by residents of Wileman Street about persistent obstructions caused by people leaving wheelie bins in the street.
“The majority of offenders were dealt with by a £50 fixed penalty notice, after we had written to them to advise them of the correct time to bring in their bin. The city council felt it appropriate to take Miss Knapper to court after she continued to leave her bin out, and refused to pay the fine.”
The prosecution has been hailed as a success for both the city council and people who were finding the bins a major obstacle.
Councillor Bell added: “Although it may not sound like a major problem within the city, it is surprising how many complaints the city council receive from disabled members of the public and people with children in pushchairs who struggle to use the footpaths and end up having to use the road.
“If this means prosecuting the people who continue to ignore the requests of the city council then unfortunately there is no alternative.”
Well despite government intervention it seems the people that are in charge of the running of our city just can’t help shooting themselves in the foot!
At last Wednesday’s EMB certain councillors were accused ofÃ‚ ‘playing to the gallery’ for speaking out on the political assistant issue and the transfer of council employees to the proposed business quarter under the control of a private company.
In fact these councillors, Mick Salih, Peter Kent-baguley, Alan and Pauline Joynson and Roger Ibbs no less, were doing what we as citizens elected them to do – i.e. represent us and to scrutinise the decisions of the executive.
As we all know under the present EMB, all decisions are made at the PRIVATE EMB on Tuesday evening. Then there is this Hollywood type act out for the rest of the councillors, the press and any members of the public to make it look as if the decision has only just been reached having heard all the representations presented by the councillors.
It seems that on Wednesday the executive could not be arsed to play the game that they themselves have invented! Don’t get me wrong here, 99% of the councilors who do make representations at theses cherished EMB meetings know that their words will fall of deaf ears. They know that it is already a done deal. But it seems that the Deputy Elected Mayor was not going to even allow discussions on the more sensitive issues and he denied several councillors their right to express their opinion.
What makes it even worse is that it would appear that Pervez was having his strings pulled by none other than Chris Harmon. He was, it would seem to be taking orders from the Interim Council Manager who was heard to say something likeÃ‚ “don’t allow them to speak, move straight to the vote!”
How is this democracy? How can this be right for our city? Just who the hell is Chris Harmon? and what gives him the right to treat the councillors we have elected to serve us with such a lack of respect?
How can it be right that an officer, all be it the top one, is getting involved with the political process?
Maybe Mr Harmon should be reminded that he is a paid employee our our city [an expensive one at that!] and as such doesn’t he have a moral obligation to treat the people that we elect to serve us with more dignity and respect that he showed towards them on Wednesday?
Maybe Mr Harmon needs reminding that our councillors are there to scrutinise and to ask questions on our behalf and they have the right to be answered, because we demand answers from our councillors. And it is them that will answer to us through the ballot box.
Yes some of our councillors are known to give the officers a hard ride but to be honest as long as our councillors treat the council manager and his officers with respect and courtesy they deserve the answers that they seek.
The Council manager and senior officers are on vast amounts of salaries which comes from public money and it is only right that they come under strict scrutiny. How will we ever stop another Worldgate, Cultural Quarter or Brittania Stadium fiasco if our councillors are prevented from questioning decisions.
Another issue that has left me feeling incredibly frustrated is that someone, and as yet I’m unable to find out who, has taken the decision that the planned councillor ‘hustings’ meeting is now to be held in private.
Here we stand at the dawn of a new day in our city’s political history and yet someone has taken the decision to exclude the public and the press from the meeting where we could all learn the vision that the contenders have got for our city. We will be denied the opportunity of hearing and reporting on how the candidates handled being questioned by a jury of their peers.
This is a very important event in this years city calendar and because our decision makers have the desire to shoot the city’s big toe off again we will be denied access to report on the events of this most important meeting.
What makes it worse in some ways is that try as I may, I just can’t find out who is behind this most absurd of all decisions. Which half wit is responsible for denying our city the right of hearing what the front runners have in store for our city. Just on what basis has this ludicrous decision been taken?
Is it any wonder why our city’s electorate are completely disenfranchised with politics here in Stoke on Trent? This was a real opportunity for us to say: “our city has a new start, see what we can do for you and your families”
Instead what message does this decision send out to those of us who care passionately about our city and want to see unity in the council chamber?
Simple! You are not worthy or important enough and we can do as we please with your city.
The latest I have from my sources on the Council Leader is that we are likely to see a coalition of Labour/Tory/ Libdem/Independents.
The rumour going round is that it would be Barnes for leader with two deputy leaders, Irving and Ward.
But it would also mean that PKB and Salih will be left out in the baron wastes. Not that it would detract them from their cause of scrutiny and questioning.
It seems that there was a group leaders meeting called by Chris Harmon [!] and PKB and Salih were not included even though they are group leaders. When I asked why they were left out I was told that it was only for those who may be successful in the battle to become leader.
An interesting footnote to all this is that the Labour Group will have a meeting on Monday night to decide whether they will enter a new coalition with Barnes as leader, or to go into opposition if Barnes is rejected as leader by other members of the coalition. Apparently the decision will not be made by the group….. No, no it will be made by the West Midlands regional director.
I wonder what Gary Elsby and the rest of the rank and file grass root Labour Members will make of this. How often are we told that Labour is a bottom up led party? This one dear friends may well be a continuation of the grossly unpopular policy of light the blue touch paper and…………………..
Your comments, thoughts and observations are welcome in the usual way. Let’s all enjoy the sun while it’s here. Wine and alfresco dining here I come!
A scheme to create the country’s biggest extra care housing private finance initiative in Stoke-on-Trent has taken a major step forward, a leading councillor has revealed.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has submitted an outline business case to the government to create 560 new homes which would offer older people independent living with access to a wide range of care and support.
A project review group, appointed by the Treasury, will make a decision on the bid over the summer, and will determine the level of funding available for the initiative.
Councillor Joan Bell, portfolio holder for community safety and neighbourhood management, said: “I’m delighted
that the outline business case has been submitted, it is a major step forward in our plans to provide our city’s older people with the best possible accommodation, support and care.
“We have a growing older population ““ by 2021, 42 per cent of Stoke-on-Trent residents will be over 50 ““ and it is crucial we provide accommodation to meet residents’ needs.
“We already provide more than 300 extra care houses across the city, and they are proving very successful in offering modern, self-contained accommodation and on-site care and support.”
The 86-page outline business case document has been compiled following months of detailed planning and research. It has pulled together the skills of council housing, adult social care and health, legal, financial, planning, procurement, estates management and communications officers. External advisors, and officers from the Homes and Communities Agency have also helped to develop the scheme. Site visits to similar extra care housing schemes in the city and in Cheshire have also been carried out to identify best practice.
Under the proposals, a total of 390 homes for rent and 170 homes for sale or shared ownership would be built in Abbey Hulton, Blurton and Chell. Draft planning statements have been approved for each of the sites, and public consultation on the plans is now taking place.
Once approval for funding has been received, the council will enter into a two-year procurement exercise to select the preferred private finance initiative contractor. The homes would then be built between 2012-2014.
Ross Irving - Conservative & Independent Alliance Leader.
In the penultimate leadership interview of this series we have pleasure in bringing you this conversation with Councillor Ross Irving.
Ross has been a serving city councillor for 35 years and has served the residents of Trentham and Hanford for a good proportion of those years.
Ross is described by many as being one of the most experienced and skilled councillors in the council chamber. He is also widely acknowledged as an expert on council procedures.
Ross has served in the present EMB since Mayor Meredith was elected and currently holds thePortfolio for Partnerships and Transformation.
Ross’s popularity in Trentham has suffered over the ill fated BSF Proposals, which originally called for the closure of the secondary school in his ward Trentham High School. Following a concerted and steadfast campaign by the Trentham Action Group and fellow ward councillor Terry Follows, and with high level negotiating of MP Rob Flello the school earned a reprieve.
Ross knows he has a hard task ahead of him to win over the electorate that he has served for so many years.
In this ‘In Conversation’ special Ross gives us his honest opinions and visions on a wide range of issues like: BSF, Regeneration, Housing, Government Intervention and much more.
As usual the interview is completely un-edited and has been broken down into six parts to make it easier to listen to.
Part 1: Labour Control – A Tory Leader – Vision of Leadership – Jobs, Business & Enterprise.
Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Neighbourhood Management Cllr Joan Bell yesterday resigned from the Labour Group.
Joan Bell has been a Labour Party member for 35 years and a city councillor for 17 years.
Mrs Bell, talking to Pits’n’pots this morning, said: “I haven’t taken this decision lightly, it has taken a lot of soul searching”
“The main reason for my decision is that I don’t feel that I can work under the new party structure”
“I will continue to work to the best of my abilities. My decision to resign from the Labour Group will obviously mean that I will also leave the Labour Party”
“I have always been an will remain a Labour Party supporter”
It was widely known that Joan Bell and new Group Leader Mike Barnes had un-easy relationship recently. There had been suggestions of a rift between the two following the media article by Mike Barnes and Dave Conway about the housing shortage in Stoke On Trent.
Mrs Bell had been in support of and involved in the planning of the Elected Mayors green paper on housing. It has been suggested that she took exception at the timing of Barnes’s article and had taken it as a personal insult. Their relationship had deteriorated from there.
In an official statement to Pits’n’Pots, Labour Group Leader Mike Barnes said:
Mike Barnes - Labour Group Leader
“I am sure you have been aware that over the last week or so that Joan Bell has been considering her position with the Labour Group.”
“I know many of her friends and colleagues inside and outside the Group have been trying to persuade Joan to reconsider, and, I am sure I speak for the whole Labour Group in thanking them all for their efforts.”
“Joan has been a committed, hard working and loyal member of the Labour Group over many years, and personally, her contribution will be sadly missed.”
“Her work, particularly over the last 12 months, having responsibility for Housing and Community Safety, has been of considerable benefit to the whole of Stoke-on-Trent.”
“On behalf of the whole Labour Group, I would like to thank Joan, for the many, many years of hard work, commitment and dedication to the community that she represents, the Labour Party and the City Council.”
“I wish her and her husband Denis all the best for the future.”
Joan Bell has been involved in some of the less controversial policies of the EMB and some of the most successful.
She worked on the very successful RESPECT days, which encouraged community engagement in some of the most deprived areas of the city.
Mrs Bell was also responsible for a PFI bid to provide extra care housing, she worked with representatives from local and national housing associations, construction companies, developers and architects. These outside bodies worked with Stoke-on-Trent City Council officers to develop the scheme. The plans were to provide up to 560 homes for older people.
The government intervention in our election system was discussed at the full council meeting today (21st May 09).Ã‚ In this blog I will start by recording the key points made during the council debate as accurately and impartially as I can.Ã‚ Following that I will separately take a bloggers prerogative and tell you my views on what was said.
My own ward councillor Terry Follows (I don’t count the other two as representative) decided not to contribute to the debate as he felt that the views were better sent to the minister by the group leaders rather than aired in the public domain.
Mike Barnes: Doesn’t like intervention but does like what it is aiming to achieve politically.
Gavin Webb: Agrees with many of the governance commission’s recommendations.Ã‚ He thinks that councils around the country are not representative of people but all the talk about involving local people is guff.Ã‚ The council had voted and decided against whole council elections.Ã‚ Whilst he personally prefers whole council elections he believes what council has decided according to the rules should stand.Ã‚ He does not like morally corrupt individuals in government dictating to us.Ã‚ He doesn’t want decisions to be officer led and he believes decision making should be at the lowest possible level.
Peter Kent-Baguley: Thinks there should be more openness and transparency.Ã‚ He wants more meaningful dialogue with government and much more communication between ministers and local councils, rather than nods and winks between officers.Ã‚ He prefers the system of whole council elections but had previously voted against because of the cancellation of the 2010 elections that had been included in the vote.Ã‚ He was keen for the council to send the message back to government to allow the 2010 elections to go ahead.Ã‚ He also dislikes that the minister wishes to widen the remit of the transition board into a monitoring body.Ã‚ Officers, overview and scrutiny and local auditors are already monitoring, so why widen and dilute the transition board?Ã‚ Originally it was there to tackle the level of perceived disenchantment and disengagement with the political process.
Brian Ward: Thinks there is much guess work in the minister’s report, it is not really a science and we do not know if it will create more stable political leadership.Ã‚ He is worried about the proposed expansion of officer support and worries this may mean more consultants and councillors won’t know what they do.Ã‚ Wallsall and Hull had government intervention because of poor service.Ã‚ But in our case it is for political reasons.Ã‚ He described the fragmented political system as a result of the failure of the mainstream parties to connect with people at grass roots level and said we can’t expect government to come in and solve this.Ã‚ He was glad government had agreed Stoke-on-Trent should have more money as we have been under funded for years.Ã‚ He thinks if the transition board must be here at all, they ought to be a critical friend, not here to dictate to us.Ã‚ He thought it unfortunate we can not legally challenge them.Ã‚ The City Independent Group had made their views clear by writing to and emailing Hazel Blears and John Healey and had not had a reply, which is a sad state of affairs.Ã‚ He can not see why Stoke-on-Trent is singled out for intervention; government should not be a dictator who wants to change our political system.
Kieran Clarke: Can see why government is intervening, this gives us an opportunity for discussions with the electoral commission and he wants to work together in unity.
Ross Irving: Disagrees with Brian Ward, claims that the 27/27 vote on whole council elections is not a decision and blames the CIG and BNP for this.Ã‚ He considers the reason for the intervention is political instability; he wants to accept the intervention and get them off our backs in some months or years.
Peter Kent-Baguley: Suggested an amendment to add an expression of concern about increased monitoring by the transition board and request that the minister considers allowing the 2010 elections to take place.
Ross Irving: Described Peter Kent-Baguley’s point as superfluous and claimed it was normal practice to drop the 2010 election.
Paul Shotton: Likened the government to a gorilla, said he preferred not to poke it with a stick instead of smiling and throwing bananas at it.
Mohammed Pervez: Regards the 2010 elections as petty and wants to accept the government minister’s view.
Mike Barnes: Has sympathy with Peter Kent-Baguley but does not agree with everything in the amendment and said concerns will be sent to the minister.
Alby Walker: Thinks politics in general is damaged, especially by the current government.Ã‚ He regards the 2010 election to be essential.Ã‚ He would like to say to the government from the BNP group that before trampling over democracy in our city they should get their own house in order.
John Davis: Said a decision against whole council elections had been taken in the council chamber but Mark Meredith had not liked it so had asked the minister to intervene, causing a democratic decision to be overturned.Ã‚ He regards the mayor as having used underhand means to undermine the democracy of council.
Roger Ibbs: Was of the opinion that the council did not make a decision because the vote was 27/27.Ã‚ He thinks the council is not mature enough and the 2010 election is petty.Ã‚ He wants to discuss how many councillors there should be.Ã‚ He wants the recorded views of all groups to go forward to the minister.
Joy Garner: Doesn’t mind whether the next election is 2010 or 2011 and said the boundary commission will be in.
Roy Naylor: Thinks elections won’t happen next year and wants to stop talking politics.
Ann James: Said residents associations and people who have stopped her in the street don’t want whole council elections and is concerned that the government is not listening to the people of Stoke-on-Trent.Ã‚ She pointed out the minister says interested parties should make representations.Ã‚ She asked how residents will be consulted on this intervention.
Peter Kent-Baguley’s amendment was narrowly defeated, 24 votes against, 21 for, with one abstention.Ã‚ I can’t be sure of every councillor but from the show of hands it seemed to be most labour, tory, libdem and some CIG against and most PIA, NAG, BNP and CIG for.
The main motion was carried by a large majority that Derek Capey didn’t bother to quote, with in the main BNP against.
A plea to councillors here; for the benefit of the public observing, as well as to fellow councillors I believe, when you are having a vote on a motion, could you please clearly read out the motion before the vote.Ã‚ That is what would happen in most other organisations and meetings.Ã‚ I’ve looked at the online reports pack and I’m still not all that clear what exactly the motion was, was it just to follow the minister’s intervention instructions?
So what appears to be going to happen next is John Healey will receive representations – so get writing to him you ordinary people who have not already done so – and make a final decision on what to do after June 18th.
Now I’m going to get to say what I think.Ã‚ In brief, my preference is to retain the system of thirds with three councillors per ward because it allows people to exercise their democratic right more frequently and allows prompt voting for young people reaching voting age, thereby encouraging political engagement.Ã‚ Three councillors per ward means that there is more chance of having a good representative one.Ã‚ I do not want to see too much of a decrease in the number of councillors, 20-40 is recommended.Ã‚ Whilst I’d prefer to retain 60, reducing to 40 may be just about ok but 20 is far too few.Ã‚ Regardless of what I think on elections, I would not have protested the introduction of whole council elections if it had been decided by the council according to proper process.Ã‚ I think they should have published all the views we sent in on this.Ã‚ However I am outraged by government undemocratically imposing whole council elections on us and removing our democratic right to vote in 2010!
In terms of what the councillors said, I was most disappointed that not a single councillor pointed out the hypocracy of government insisting that the governance commission’s report is followed, whilst removing the 2010 election that the report states we should have.
I strongly disagree with Kieran Clarke, Ross Irving, Mohammed Pervez, Joy Garner and Roy Naylor, far too compliant and unwilling to stand up for local people.Ã‚ I disagree with most of what Roger Ibbs said except I agree I would have liked to see discussion of the number of councillors and single member versus three member wards.Ã‚ I disagree with Paul Shotton but at least his contribution was good for a giggle.Ã‚ I disagree with Mike Barnes who was doing the usual, trying to sound sympathetic with the other view but I don’t agree with his view.Ã‚ I was disappointed Terry Follows did not contribute to the debate given that others did, though of course there were others who did not contribute also.Ã‚ Whilst I don’t have the same preference for election system as Gavin Webb and Peter Kent-Baguley, the rest of their contributions I very much agree with, points well made.Ã‚ I wholeheartedly agree with Brian Ward, Alby Walker, John Davis and Ann James.Ã‚ Government can hardly engage people in politics by behaving dictatorially and undemocratically removing our elections.Ã‚ If it does engage us it certainly won’t be in the direction of labour, well not for me anyway. Just to end on a completely different subject, as a result of a petition there was considerable discussion of the Westcliffe Hospital building and desire from the petition and amongst many councillors to try to retain at least the front facade of the building for its architectural merit when the site is redeveloped.Ã‚ However there were implications about decisions already made and plans in motion, unfairly it sounded as a previous petition to preserve the building seemed to have been ignored.Ã‚ Now I do not know this building at all, but to use a ministerial term which seems to be in vogue at present, I am ‘minded’ to pop up to Chell and have a look at what sounds like a beautiful piece of heritage, before the bulldozers move in and create one more pile of rubble amongst the many across the city.