About Nicky Davis

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Opinion: Gove the Bully

We are seeing a transformation of schools, for the worse in my personal opinion, from local community schools to academies controlled by central government. Tragically both the previous Labour government and the current Conservative government are imposing this on us, there has been little choice for the electorate as the two major parties both promote it. Democracy is eroded in academies because in many cases parent and staff representation on governing bodies is minimal.

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Labour confirm Willfield closure at Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Tony has written an account of this focused mostly on Sheila Pitt, but invited my blog also.

On 21st July 2011 the Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee met to consider the cabinet decision to close the Willfield centre, gym and pool.
The committee membership was Bagh Ali (chair), Sheila Pitt (vice chair), Kath Banks, Randy Conteh, Matt Fry (late), Ann James, Shaun Pender and Debbie Wheeldon. Gurmeet Singh Kallar sent apologies for absence.

Gwen Hassall attended as portfolio holder and Dave Conway attended as he, Ann James and Lee Wanger had called in the decision. The public audience included gym campaigner Carol Harrison and a good turn out of others campaigners. Councillors in the audience were Olwen Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Paul Shotton, Lee Wanger and Alison Wedgwood. Ex-councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis were also there.

Council Officer Tony Oakman acknowledged Carol Harrison’s passion and the uniqueness of Willfield. Then came the “”¦however”, he said there were other alternatives, primarily at the Wallace centre. He also said in 18 months time the Discovery Academy would be built and have gym, sports hall and dance facility, but no pool. He said Willfield should close because of the council decision in February for £36million budget cuts and £20million more next February.

Dave Conway then gave reasons for the call-in; that the closure had not been properly costed, had not included the cost to decommission the pool, partnership funding had not been considered and it was contrary to the Sports and Physical Activity Strategy 2009-16. He said of the 4 options “Ëœconsidered’ options 2, 3 and 4 were essentially the same as they all closed Willfield. He said goal posts had moved, the academy was not mentioned in the February budget but was now being used as reason to close Willfield and the Sports Strategy at Willfield to help people become healthy and active was being taken away.

Legal officer Carmaine Whitehouse said 2 rounds of O&S had considered the detailed impact of the proposals.
Randy Conteh questioned the decision making process and asked if the decision had already been made in procedure or law and they were all wasting their time. He said councillors are there to represent communities, so as well as discussions on value for money, “what about value for people?”

Carmaine Whitehouse stated that the decision had not yet been made.

Randy Conteh contended that already users had been moved out, the pool emptied and the site handed over to contractors.

Council officer Tracy Penrose said contractors had been allowed onto the upper site, funded by BSF, but the council had to “Ëœmake good’ the lower site, funded by the council – highways, not BSF.

Tracy Penrose stated that the pool had not been emptied!

Ann James questioned why they were all there if the closure process had already been started. She asked if the closure was occurring before August so demolition costs could be included in BSF. She said she was annoyed; council should provide a service and council tax payers should have a say. She said she was most upset we have a constitution not being upheld.
Bagh Ali asked if the centre had been closed.

Tony Oakman said the Willfield Fitness Centre was still running and no equipment had been removed. It was my impression that a group of members of the public were stifling apoplectic rage at this point, but of course were allowed to say nothing.
Ann James asked who was responsible for the swimming pool but appeared to get no answer.
Tracy Penrose uttered her usual spiel that the new schools, although they hadn’t done so “Ëœyet’, would “Ëœsoon’ be signing a community use agreement. (This “Ëœsoon’ has been going for years – I have been hearing this from the BSF board since 2008/9 and the Trentham High campaign.) She said contractors had been allowed on site early for a 2013 academy opening date and if O&S uphold the cabinet decision their contract can be extended to “Ëœsave’ the £31,200 it would cost to demolish the Willfield gym and pool at a later date.

Ann James reported that the Willfield working group had a business plan to continue running the centre for far less than the costs reported to the meeting. The accountant (Tom?) said £90,000 would be needed to transfer costs currently in the CYP budget and £60,000 accounts for falling usage over the past 18 months (because of the planned closure!) He criticised the business plan primarily because he thought about £0.5million start up costs would be needed.

Ann James and Randy Conteh both asked if officers had talked to the group about the business plan. Tony Oakman conceded this was a point well made but the business case had been given “Ëœserious consideration’ and the realities are that demolition will have to take place.

Sheila Pitt then spoke, Tony covers this in detail in his article.

Ann James asked what it would cost for equipment for the disabled to be installed at the Wallace centre. Officer Michelle Adams initially said no expense would be incurred but the accountant then conceded £5,000 had been allocated for removal costs.

Tony Oakman in summing up said it was a “Ëœdifficult decision’, but there were alternative facilities, this was a discretionary area of funding, the business case for Willfield did not stack up and in 18 months time the new academy would be offering facilities.

Dave Conway summed up that people had been misled. He showed photographs taken three days earlier of items packed up at Willfield ready to go and the pool being emptied with only a small amount of water left at the bottom! He had talked to workers at Willfield who were ready to go and reported that 14 user groups had already been moved out of Willfield. He had a barrage of other criticisms; the call-in had no effect, goal posts had moved on the sports strategy, costs in children and young people’s voted on by council then moved to adults and neighbourhoods, Keir had a contract to maintain buildings but hadn’t. He said photos do not lie and he would take the matter further. Bagh Ali said he wanted more than this. So Dave Conway held up a petition signed by hundreds of people wanting Willfield kept open, mentioned the £62,500 the feasibility study had quoted for decommissioning the pool and said we can’t keep closing pools. He said “the council is doing an injustice to people”.

Randy Conteh proposed a recommendation to approve option 1 ““ retention of Willfield, that council should work with the Willfield Working Trust to assist with the business plan and external funding and that BSF should support this option. Ann James seconded the proposal.

THE VOTE to save Willfield:

3 FOR: Randy Conteh, Ann James, Sheila Pitt.

4 AGAINST: Bagh Ali, Kath Banks, Shaun Pender, Debbie Wheeldon.

Result – defeated.
Sheila Pitt was absolutely right in my view to vote against her Labour party line. Randy Conteh and Ann James made a valiant attempt to support the gym users but under such a Labour majority they can do nothing more than speak out. Kath Banks, Shaun Pender and Debbie Wheeldon said not a word, clearly there just to vote. Matt Fry said nothing and didn’t vote, why was he there?

My view

Labour was intent on closing Willfield all along. They indulged in shenanigans by introducing the Willfield closure as an urgent cabinet item supplementary to the original agenda, then made a point to allow a call-in but it seems did not pause the closure process. O&S were therefore wasting their time as Randy Conteh, Ann James and Dave Conway pointed out. A bit of theatre had Sheila Pitt voting with the independents against closure but that didn’t matter to Labour as they had enough stooges to vote it closed anyway.

I take issue with the site boundary deception described on previous occasions. I take issue with the mix and match shenanigans between children and young people’s budget and adults and neighbourhoods “Ëœscrutiny’. I do not agree with Carmaine’s assertions about clarity of the decision making process. The budget documents had no clarity for me at the time, it was not obvious whether the savings (4CYP-14) meant closing the gym and pool or just the education centre at Willfield, although I am but a mere member of the public. The Willfield closure was considered by Children and Young People’s O&S on 6th December 2010. This seemed to refer to the education centre, to be closed in August 2011, not apparently to the gym and pool. In fact it was stated “if the decision is taken to retain the lower site for community & sports use, the projected saving would need to be reduced by approx £75k”. Whilst the closure (upper site?) was supported, councilor at that time Ellie Walker required more information.

I am outraged the shutting down of Willfield continued whilst it was claimed on the one hand that the decision was not finalised before scrutiny had considered it and on the other hand it was made back in February. Although it was clear all along this was the tactic, it always is.

What really annoys me was that people were messed with and given false hope. They were incredibly upset after a lot of hard work and I think some belief they may get somewhere. I’m too much of cynic of course to have had any hope, I could see clearly all along how it was panning out. On the one hand I think if people will keep voting in these Labour councils then they are asking for this treatment and get what they deserve. Labour use the same tactics time and time again and get away with it and all the people do is vote for more of the same. On the other hand I think that Labour have a party structure, propaganda and powerful connections on their side and well paid officers working on their plans, whereas ordinary people have other jobs and lives to attend to and little resource. It’s not a fair fight.

I’m not a Willfield gym or pool user (although I have attended meetings held in the ““ rather nicely decorated ready for demolition ““ education centre). So why should I care? The reason I care is that I find the disrespect with which the Labour led council treats the citizens of the city an utter disgrace.
A very sad day for Willfield users, but I for one am not the slightest bit surprised.

Full Council Questions, Petitions And Procedures

I was not able to attend full council but we have it webcast and I did catch some of it live on the web.

There are recurring issues with questions and petitions at full councils that I think could benefit from resolution. I believe there should be clear procedures that all councillors should know and which should be made clear to the public. Such procedures should be applied fairly and consistently. I have said these things before and I say them again. Although I have views on the specifics, I think it matters somewhat less what the specific rules and procedures are, than the fact that there should be clear procedures which everyone knows and follows.

With public questions there is always the confusion regarding the initial and supplementary question. Cllr Mohammed Pervez does not seem keen for the initial question and answer to be read out but Cllr Paul Shotton said the initial question could be asked. Lord Mayor Terry Follows allowed this for one question then not for the next one. Questions are available when viewing the webcast but answers are not. Mike Barnes (webcast 0:39:50), asking a public question, moaned about the lack of openness and transparency, “it’s not rocket science and it’s not hard” he said. I agree! The information on public questions on the web site is sparse (it was better on the old web site) and does not now explain about the supplementary question. However a limit of 150 words for a question is stated. Mike Barnes was stringing his out beyond this and I think it would have been better for Terry Follows to allow all questions and answers but point out the 150 word limit (it used to be shorter for supplementary) and cut Mike off if necessary.

I think (for both public and member questions):

  1. Questions and supplementary questions should be limited to 150 words.
  2. The questioner should read out the initial question.
  3. The council leader or cabinet member should read out the answer (sent to the questioner at least 3 days before the meeting).
  4. The questioner may ask a supplementary question but would be cut off if it is too long.
  5. The council leader or cabinet member should answer the question.

It’s not hard! I also think there should be higher quality clear information on public questions on the web site and this should be easier to find from the home page.

The other recurring theme is the confusion about whether a petition referred to overview and scrutiny comes back to cabinet or full council. Well my view on that would be full council, because I would like to see the cabinet system abolished. But whatever the system is, there should be clarity about this!

There were some excellent presentations of petitions by members of the public. One on children’s centres has been reported by StokeElected (link below). I summarise the others:

Phillipa Brown (1:08:53) raised serious issues with the tendering process for the snack bar at Central Forest Park which she claimed was fundamentally flawed. She said it was biased against volunteer groups and said that competitors were emailed and invited to amend their tenders post-submission!
Sue Andrews (1:12:50) did not want parking times reduced outside shops in Bradeley because she believed it would inconvenience the public and reduce trade.

David Heap (1:21:00) reported on the anguish caused to families by cuts in services to deaf children and appealed for better support to be retained.

More Labour Lies In Bentilee

On Thursday 30th June 2011, the Labour council’s cabinet voted unanimously to close and demolish the entire Willfield centre and gym, including fitness centre and swimming pool. [1]

£925,500 was spent modernising this in 2005. The council have now betrayed their policy promise of retaining the fitness centre, set out in the approved Sports and Physical Activity Strategy (2009-2016).

History
This facility has been under threat from Labour for some time now, despite the Sentinel announcing, in line with Labour spin, that it would be saved [2].

I reported recently on the “March in Support of Willfield Gym” (blog link below), which was also reported in the Sentinel [3]. I described in “Discovery Academy on Willfield” the devious Labour tactic used to disperse previous protest against its closure.
The gym was originally included within the site to be demolished to make way for the Discovery Academy. When Labour became aware that gym campaigners were joining forces with school campaigners who wanted a school on the Mitchell site instead of Willfield, they used divide and conquer techniques. They changed the academy boundary to leave the Willfield gym apparently outside the demolition area, to pacify the gym campaigners.

But the case put to cabinet [4] centred the reason for the gym closure on the academy; “construction of the new Discovery Academy on the Willfield site under the BSF Programme will significantly affect the continued provision of the Fitness Centre”. So redrawing the boundary is proven to be the con I always thought it was.

Election deception
Before the 5th May 2011 local election, successful Labour candidates Alison Wedgwood and Sheila Pitt issued a leaflet with a huge headline “Willfield Gym Campaign Continues”. Their leaflet claimed “A decision on the Gym’s future has been postponed until the summer”. But the cabinet documents state that “The proposed closure of the entire Willfield site (Upper and Lower) was put forward as part of the budget savings, which were subsequently approved by the City Council on February 24 2011″. So they shouldn’t be having it both ways, claiming now that the closure was already approved but when it suits their election propaganda claiming the decision had been postponed! The council documents claim “Consultation has been carried out with both the staff and the public for the facility through the budget savings process.” And yet Labour are conning the public with election materials.

Sheila Pitt is quoted in the leaflet as saying about the Willfield gym “there is a clear need for this much loved facility to remain where it is”. This follows on from last year’s equally disingenuous statement from successful Labour candidate Mervin Smith’s election leaflet, where he said about Willfield; “shutting it is madness”, “we need to get the message over loud and clear; HANDS OFF!” I commented previously on his campaign in “Labour campaign in Bentilee ““ an outrage”. These are indeed most outrageous but predictably familiar Labour practices.
Alison and Sheila’s leaflet claims “Both Labour Council candidates, and MP Tristram Hunt are supporting the campaign to secure the long term future of the Willfield gym on its current site”. Well clearly Labour does not support the gym! The local election on 5th May 2011 resulted in a clear Labour majority on the council and success for Alison and Sheila. And yet in under 2 months Labour betrayal the public is proven (some of us realised all along this would happen). Issuing this leaflet is despicable deception of the voters at large.

Bizarre council claims
Incredulously the council documents claim that closing Willfield will result in “increased customer choice given the availability of several viable alternative facilities”! This sounds like typical Labour speak. How stupid do they really think we are? (Well”¦ I will come back to that one.) They mention other gyms at the Wallace Centre in Abbey Hulton, Fenton Manor and what they call “Body Base Gym” which they claim to be in Bentilee (Base Body Fitness actually declares itself to be in Longton [5]). But even taking these 3 existing gyms as relevant to the Bentilee community, going from 4 to 3 facilities for anyone with a grasp of basic arithmetic is a reduction, not an increase!

Other bizarre claims in the council document include one that they are somehow doing a good thing, “Ëœsaving’ demolition costs by including it within the academy work. This is the academy that school campaigners didn’t want on the site they didn’t want it, in the nonsensical merger of 2 schools 5 miles apart. So how about saving by not demolishing anything instead? How about keeping the gym and pool?

Cabinet meeting
The 30th June 2011 cabinet meeting was packed with public observers who wanted the Willfield gym kept open. The Willfield closure was not put on the original agenda but instead introduced late as a supplementary item. At least the public were not fooled by this and got wind of it anyway. This item was dealt with early in the agenda.

Mohammed Pervez opened the meeting by telling us that no public could speak and he would not tolerate any disturbance at all.

Gwen Hassall thanked the public for their interest and claimed their concerns had been taken on board! She said the public would be aware that a new academy is to be built on “this site”. (Well with all the shenanigans over the site boundary I’m not so sure.) She said there would be a sports hall and gym in the academy that would provide some public use. She said cost implications of retaining the gym included moving the plant room and continuing subsidy. She said the city as a whole is being considered and sports facilities provided. “We have got to watch the budget” she said, then moved a motion to close Willfield. There was a statement of support from Paul Shotton, who referred to the building as dilapidated and said there will be dance, fitness and gym facilities in the new school available in the evenings and holidays. There were further statements of support from Sarah Hill and Debra Gratton.
Mohammed Pervez said as the item was urgent there would normally be no call-in but he was minded to allow this, Mark Meredith agreed.

Cabinet agreed unanimously to close Willfield.
The gym campaigners were well behaved and quiet during the proceedings although there were some angry comments made as they left after the decision.

Summary
Dave Conway and the City Independent Group will call the decision in but with Labour scrutinising their own decisions with such a majority, nothing can be done.
I learned some time ago about Labour’s lies and wrote about these last year, but many of the electorate have not realised how devious they are.

Sheila Pitt said in the election leaflet about herself and Alison Wedgwood “We are two strong women who will get the job done”. They did a job on the electorate all right. And what strength is there in allowing their Labour party to close the gym they were supposed to be supporting?

Furthermore former mayor Mark Meredith and the former Labour government stole away our democracy and reduced our local elections to only 1 every 4 years. So there is no early chance to change this despicable Labour council.

In Bentilee and Ubberley the turkeys voted for Christmas and are now well and truly stuffed!

Picture Credit Steve Birks

March in Support of Willfield Gym

There was a protest march on Tuesday 28th June 2011 against the planned closure of the Willfield gym, fitness centre and swimming pool.

I have blogged before (see links below) about Labour outrages in Bentilee and the fate of the Willfield gym.
I was very pleased to see a huge turnout at this protest, organised by the City Independent Group of the council alongside gym campaigners.

We were led by Vance Reardon and his splendid contingent of bagpipers in a well organised and marshalled march from the Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre along Dawlish Drive to the Willfield gym. There was much support along the way, people at home came to their doorsteps to watch, some joined in and traffic stopped without animosity. There was some talk along the way about who voted Labour in the ward. There seemed to be very little knowledge of many who did.

Prominent gym user and campaigner Carol Harrison took part with a multitude of other gym users including Lisa Hulme and her very vociferous group of children and parents from Bentilee Happy Feet who use the building for their dance classes. The crowd also included residents’ association members and many others who care about their community facilities.

Councillors Dave Conway and Ann James joined the march as did former local councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis. Current Bentilee and Ubberley councillors Sheila Pitt and Alison Wedgwood did not join the march but Sheila attended the rally afterwards outside the Willfield gym.

Cabinet are sure to vote today 30th June 2011 to close the Willfield gym. Dave Conway’s City Independent Group are sure to call in the decision but to no avail as Labour scrutinising their own decisions are bound to apply the final axe to the gym and swimming pool.

Recall ““ parliamentary motion

There is a rather good parliamentary motion (early day motion 1253) that has been proposed by a cross party group of MPs headed by Zac Goldsmith:

“That this House welcomes the Coalition Agreement commitment to introduce a power of recall for constituents to recall their hon. Members; expresses its disappointment that a recall vote will only happen if the Committee on Standards and Privileges deems an hon.

Member guilty of serious wrongdoing; further expresses its disappointment that the Government has no plans to introduce a power for electors to recall members of the London Assembly, local councillors or Members of the European Parliament; further welcomes instead the provisions of the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill that would permit voters to recall their elected representatives if a majority has lost confidence in them, for whatever reason, and if enough voters sign a petition to trigger a recall vote; and urges the Government to incorporate these provisions as part of its legislative programme to put power in the hands of communities and individuals.”

I particularly like that this would allow more grass roots democracy by devolving decision making on our representatives to the local people they represent and would encompass a wider range of representatives such us councillors, as well as MPs. Having a recall possibility available would actually provide an improvement even if it were not used, recall being part of the framework would help to encourage our elected representatives to do just that, represent our collective view well.
Early day motions are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. Very few are actually debated. However they do at least illustrate the support of groups of MPs for the particular point of view.

The list of MPs who have signed this recall motion 1253 (to date 26th June 2011) shows that Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley has signed, well done Joan. Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello and Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt have not as yet signed. Nor have the neighbouring MPs for Stone – Bill Cash, Newcastle-under-Lyme – Paul Farrelly or Staffordshire Moorlands – Karen Bradley.

The Unlock Democracy website facilitates an easy way for you to write to your MP if you like this motion and want to encourage your MP to sign. I have written to mine, Rob Flello.

The Campaign To Defeat Ross Irving in Hanford and Trentham: Stoke-on-Trent Local Election 2011

Saved Trentham High

Trentham High School was saved from closure due to a massive community campaign with the support of one of our three councillors – Terry Follows, while the other two; Roger Ibbs and Ross Irving, were against us.

Terry Follows was re-elected in 2008, Roger Ibbs did not dare to stand in the ward in 2010 and was defeated elsewhere, but Ross Irving had the audacity to stand for election in Hanford and Trentham in 2011.

Local Campaign

After weighing up the issues and after discussions involving various concerned people, Trentham Action Group endorsed a “Ëœlocal campaign’ I was considering against Ross Irving. We did not imagine it was likely Ross could win but nevertheless felt we should follow through with having our say. Besides, if we did nothing and by chance he did win, we would be inclined to blame ourselves for our apathy.

A number of us covered the cost of 5,000 leaflets and we shared the distribution amongst at least 12 people. Everyone did whatever they could within their other commitments and I am grateful to all.

The 5,000 leaflets were nearly but not quite sufficient for the whole ward. Apologies to residents in a few pockets of Hanford who did not get a leaflet.

The leaflets were black and white A5. The one distributed had my address and the printer’s name and address included to comply with local campaign rules, although I have omitted these now for the web.

The campaign was not party political. We decided not to suggest who people should vote for and we did not target the other conservative candidate. This was just a campaign against Ross Irving, a reminder of his failure to support the overwhelming wishes of the community over Trentham High.

Leafletting

All postal voters in the ward were leafleted before they received their ballot papers. In fact a large part of the ward was completed by that time. In some cases leafleters were able to deliver completely to their areas on that time scale. For others who could not, I delivered to the postal voters to allow the rest to be done at leisure. A particular importance of postal voters is they are likely to have a high probability of voting than the usual ~25% turn out.

I personally delivered 2,048 leaflets. The first ~600 were effortless because they were so close to where I live, then I took on some areas a bit further away, accessed by canal path and other footpaths. I preferred leafleting the open plan areas having main roads and loops with cul-de-sacs off them. I didn’t like Hanford so much because many of the areas I did have garden gates, which slows the process down. Barlaston Old Road was the most time consuming as the houses are mostly huge with large grounds and long drives.

The most amusing thing that happened was when I bumped into Ross Irving himself.

“Hello Ross” I said and smiled pleasantly/smirkingly and covered the leaflets poking out of my leafleting bag with my hand. “Hello” he said pleasantly/smirkingly “how are you?” “Fine” I replied, grinning rather manically. “It’s confusing with these postal voters mixed in all over the place” he said, “it is” I agreed.

Feedback

I received a lot of positive feedback including a congratulatory “Ëœphone call and letter. Only one resident I met was negative, without looking at the leaflet he wanted nothing to do with elections.

I enjoyed the campaign, noted what went well and learned a few things also, especially that this sort of effort is quite manageable and is not a daunting task.

The ward

Hanford and Trentham is a two member ward in which 11 candidates were standing; two independent, two Conservative, two Labour, two Liberal Democrat, two UK Independence Party and one British National Party.

This gives 55 possible combinations of two candidates and with one vote also being permitted, a total of 66 combinations excluding blank or spoilt ballots

The count took place in the Jubilee room at the Civic Centre and was very interesting to watch.

The result

The result for Hanford and Trentham was as I had hoped for.

I think the campaign was certainly a good idea. Furthermore even Ross Irving attributes the outcome to our success:

“There was quite a strong campaign by the remnants of the Trentham Action Group to persuade people not to support me”, he told the Sentinel.

Conclusion

Goodbye Ross Irving ““ Well done TAG!

Congratulations to Councillors Follows and Hayward on their election.

Wildlife, Countryside, Sunshine and Wind

Pits’n’pots is doing a good job on the election campaign but some comments indicate an interlude may be welcome… so now for something completely different.

I’m a prolific walker. One such trip was the ~8 mile walk I took yesterday (1st May 2011) over the Weaver Hills and down into the village of Wootton. The wildflowers and rocky outcrops in the little valley near Cauldon make that area idyllic. There were fantastic views, especially from the hilltop, with deep blue sky above and looking down into the Churnet Valley. I was literally blown away by it!

Wildlife abounded, many butterflies, rabbits of course, many birds including skylarks over the grassland on the hills, buzzards and a very tuneful chiffchaff singing from the top of a tree.

Other interesting wildlife I have seen over the last few weeks include lapwings, curlews, kestrels, a marlin, many buzzards – one of these spotted from my kitchen window, chaffinches, goldfinches ““ these just on the street in Trentham and foxes ““ again these in the city.

What wildlife have you seen lately?

The Count – accuracy must be paramount!

The local elections this year present a new situation at the count.

In the past we have had elections by thirds with three member wards. This means annual elections for only one of the three candidates each time for three years out of every four.

Except of course that a third of our councillors have had the fourth year of their term cruelly and undemocratically stolen by the previous Labour government and we voters have had our democracy assaulted and our chosen councillors removed a year early.

Now we have all-out elections only once every four years and a mix of one, two and three member wards.

Elections by thirds meant that at the count, votes were sorted into piles, with one pile for each candidate, for example 5 piles for Trentham & Hanford last year. (In addition there will be piles for spoilt and uncertain ballots.)

Now for the current single member wards the situation will be the same at the count, for example Hollybush & Longton West will have 4 piles for the candidates.

For the two member wards it is more complicated. For example there are 11 candidates for Hanford & Trentham but we vote for two, giving 55 possible combinations. In addition, it is permissible to vote for just one candidate, so another 11, giving a total of 66 possibilities, excluding the spoilt and uncertain ballots. Clearly the ballots will not be sorted into that many piles. I am guessing the election officer may choose 6 piles (my guess ““ I may be wrong), 5 for two each of independent, tory, labour, libdem, ukip and a sixth for all other combinations. (I would imagine there may be a lot of Mark Wright plus another on that pile as the ward’s conservative voters reject Ross Irving on the basis of past betrayal.) That sixth pile has to be gone through carefully to count the votes for the individual candidates. This aspect of the count needs to be done with a focus on accuracy rather than speed.

Abbey Hulton & Townsend and Bentilee and Ubberley wards tend to get a large number of bnp votes but only have one bnp candidate in each, so all those are likely to be counted from a mixed pile. On top of that there will likely be a small number of libdem votes in that pile for Bentilee & Ubberley because one of the two libdem candidates was withdrawn.

Now, for the three member ward Baddeley, Milton & Norton there are 16 candidates. This gives 560 combinations of three, 120 combinations of two and 16 of one, a total of 696 possibilities! I expect it is possible there may only be 3 piles for labour, libdem, tory and a fourth pile for the other seven candidates and combinations with any of the others. That pile again has to be gone through carefully.

So in conclusion, count with care and no matter how long it takes, get it right!

The last 60 member full council of Stoke-on-Trent

I decided to observe the SOT full council on 24th March 2011 as it would be the last this year before the first local all-out election. Plus assuming they continue to be on Thursday afternoon, I won’t be free to attend another until ~July.

It was pleasing again to note a huge public gathering outside when I arrived, largely there to oppose loss of bus services. They were waiting to be let in the back door so I slipped in at the front. I’m so often at the civic centre that nobody bothers to question my presence. The public gallery could not accommodate the people who had turned up so many had to pack like sardines into a committee room and watch on screen. I sat with Tony Walley at the “Ëœpits’n’pots’ table in the council chamber.

Public Questions

The first main item to interest me following initial announcements was public questions. The council really should reform this in my view. It is still only councillors who get the answers to public questions, as supplementary papers to their “Ëœred book’ of meeting papers. For these questions, which are after all public questions, to make sense to any public observer the question and the answer should be stated in public at the meeting, as well as any supplementary question and answer. Rules should either not exist or be adhered to, such as the 50 word limit on a supplementary question.

The situation currently is not acceptable, as highlighted by former councillor (and possibly future councillor if anyone is willing to elect a Libdem these days) Paul Billington who asked two questions (webcast 0:35:18). He complained about the lateness of the answers and got Cllr Mohammed Pervez to actually state his answer. His first question was about why a promised scheme including upgrade of play equipment in Trent Vale had not happened. In Mohammed Pervez’s answer (0:37:27), aptly described by Paul (0:40:53) as “flannel”, a new word for “Ëœcut’ was coined ““ “Ëœreprofiled’! Mohammed Pervez says (0:39:32) “projects have had their budgets reprofiled”¦” Paul’s second question was about when the assured “Ëœconsultation’ over community use of the Reach school in Trent Vale would take place. He was fobbed off by Cllr Debra Gratton (0:42:38) who said this is for the head teacher and governors to arrange. This shows how the council (mis)sells new schools as providing wonderful facilities for the community, which they may do, but the council should not be making such promises if they actually don’t have any power themselves to uphold them!

Timmy Rees asked a question (0:43:11) about a tiny house repair taking years and scaffolding according to Kier. Cllr Brian Ward (0:44:43) used an excuse that Kier is a private company and council can not dictate to them. Now we all remember don’t we that Kier was introduced to us as Kier-Stoke, a “Ëœpartnership’, so this is another misrepresentation and buck passing exercise. Cllr Mick Salih very rightly pointed out that the council has a share in Kier Stoke and should be giving accurate information to the public. Timmy’s second question (0:46:44) was whether there was a local site involved in the distribution of nuclear waste, she had suspicions that there is, Cllr Mohammed Pervez (0:47:36) said she could pass the information on to the council for investigation.

Members Questions

Cllr Mike Barnes then asked a number of questions. He has his own potteye website and there is the webcast discussion (0:50:20) so I won’t comment in detail. Some key points though, he complained (0:51:10) he had to submit questions 3 weeks in advance but only got answers 2 hours before the meeting and he complained (0:59:30) about lack of communication from the communications department! In response to his question (1:01:28) on who decided a funding opportunity for Tunstall and Shelton pools should not be applied for, incredulously Cllr Hazel Lyth (1:06:05) could not answer that and did not seem bothered that a “departmental decision” could be made without councillor involvement.

Petitions

  1. Christine Humphreys (1:12:10), representing 108 people, gave a good talk on putting the “Ëœgolden’ back into “ËœGoldenhill’ and asked for flower tubs that had been removed to be put back.
  2. Cllr Randy Conteh (1:16:44), for Frances Mottram, representing 194 people, asked for the 58/58a bus service to be retained.
  3. Jean Colclough (1:20:25), representing 425 people, asked for the 96 bus service to be retained.
  4. John Taylor (1:25:10), representing 458 people against closure of the city farm, talked about a lack of consultation and being ignored.
  5. Bill Harper (1:29:24) representing 2093 people, gave a somewhat amusing but serious talk against the closure of Tunstall pool, making the point that too much is spent on “Ëœstreet furniture’ instead.

Constitution

Cllr Mick Salih moved and Cllr Clive Brian seconded a change in the constitution to have 4 scrutiny committees to mirror the 4 directorates, which was agreed. Mick Salih recommended for the future after the localism bill goes through parliament, the council then moves to an enhanced committee structure that the bill allows. I would strongly approve of this as it allows all councillors equivalent roles.

Buses

In an amendment to approving cabinet minutes Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley (2:15:04) proposed to establish a member and officer working group to urgently monitor use of all council subsidised bus routes as a basis for negotiations with bus operators to restructure services affected by the subsidy removal. This was seconded by Cllr Mick Salih (2:20:39) who criticised Labour for approving a budget without knowing the details, moaning about it now and being dishonest. Well said! Where I disagree with Mick is he suggested all councillors give up their ward budgets to protect bus subsidies. No, this takes away what little freedom there is left after the ward budget cuts for councillors to make a difference in their communities.

Cllr Mike Barnes (2:24:53) rightly pointed out that one of the problems is the local authority does not approve bus routes whereas some other local authorities do. He also accused Labour of not admitting to residents that they voted to stop the bus subsidies.

Cllr Randy Conteh (2:30:05) was happy with the information he had obtained about buses.

Cllr Brian Ward (2:32:32) used the typical weak argument that they are talking to people about buses.

Cllr Pauline Joynson (2:35:09) said somebody’s head should roll! She also said she is not standing for election in May. Shame, it needs people like Pauline who are willing to speak out and represent people.

Cllr Joy Garner (2:37:42) said they had to vote for the budget. Of course they didn’t!

Cllr Janine Bridges (2:39:12) backed Joy Garner up. She used the threat that government would have come in if they didn’t approve the budget. Oh what a change in Janine, she was much better before she joined the Labour group. Of course they did not have to approve that budget. They could have changed the budget while it was being formulated. They did not have to stop bus subsidies. Even at the budget meeting they did not have to approve the budget, they could perfectly well have proposed amendments to it. This is what I hate about Labour, the spin and pretence all the time.

Cllr Kassem Al-Khatib (2:40:50) raised an interesting point that he had understood no bus route would stop with removal of subsidies, they would be allocated to bus operators as packages.

Cllr Ross Irving (2:45:16) disagreed with Kassem Al-Khatib and said he thought it might mean some routes would stop and bus companies have to profit. He referred to difficult decisions but ironically this phrase seems to appear effortless to him. This is what I hate about the Tories, no social conscience, private companies matter but ordinary people don’t. Of course we know from his track record that Ross isn’t bothered about representing people’s wishes. What if Ross Irving got to the stage he didn’t feel able to drive, what if he had nobody to run him around, what if he didn’t have enough money to take taxis? Maybe none of these things apply to him but they do to some and shouldn’t we as a community care about each other?

Cllr Adrian Knapper (2:47:19) criticised Community Voice.

Cllr John Daniels (2:50:00) waffled on at length about having a nice new bus station and his hopes that the bus companies might get better buses. For goodness sake John, there is no point in having a sparkling new bus station or wonderful buses if they are useless to people because they don’t run where they are needed. Nice buses are great but people would prefer clapped out old wrecks if they at least operated the routes people need.

Cllr Jeremy Dillon (2:55:03) criticised the bus services available with a Staffordshire University student card.

The vote on the amendment was largely supported by Community Voice councillors with Labour, Tory, Libdem and City Independents largely against, so it failed. Shame.

So what justice is there for all those members of the public who turned up wanting councillors to represent their views? Not a lot from the Labour, Tory, Libdem, City Independent coalition it seems.