Cannabis convictions flood in – but is it the best use of police time?

News commentary by Matt Taylor A wealthy restaurant owner, Qi Xing Weng, has been convicted of conspiracy to produce cannabis in the latest of the successes of Staffordshire Police’s ongoing push against drugs in the city, Operation Nemesis. The 29-year-old businessman was found to have numerous large-scale cannabis factories in the city, and was also behind a plantation in Birmingham from which 1,400 marijuana weeds were confiscated last year in a raid on a former benefits office. Amid the investigations, a bin liner containing £170,000 in cash was found at Weng’s home in Ironbridge. Searches were also carried out at his restaurants in Stafford, Stoke, Telford, Ironbridge and Shrewsbury. More cash and evidence of cannabis growing was found in the raids. Det Sgt Dave Hughes, from the Serious and Organised Crime Unit, who led the investigation, said: “This lengthy and detailed inquiry led to the dismantling of an organised crime group which was behind wide-scale cannabis production across the West Midlands. “Cannabis factories are not just about drugs, they’re often linked to other serious crime, such as people trafficking and money laundering. We will not tolerate them, or the people behind them. “As well as tackling drug supply, Staffordshire Police is committed to taking the profit out of crime. A separate hearing will be heard in the near future course to order the removal of the assets of those convicted today." Photos of the cannabis factory in Ward End, Birmingham Earlier this year, Nemesis scooped an award for its successes, having totalled up 82 arrests, a 100 percent conviction rate, and a total of 160 years of imprisonment for those responsible. Since then, dozens more arrests have been made under the programme, with cannabis factories being found in disused warehouses and closed-down pubs breaking new records. But the question is, although criminals amassing significant wads of cash through these unlawful ventures have been held to account, is this the best use of police’s time and resources? We have seen the recent departure of the chief advisor to the government on drugs after ministers ignored his panel’s recommendations on retaining cannabis as a class C, with scientists saying that alcohol is actually more dangerous. The Cannabis Education Trust says that it doesn’t matter what classification it has, because the three or four million people who smoke it will go on using it anyway. So, even if you consider it worthy of the full weight of the law, it’s hard to believe that, with such demand, how a comparatively tiny police force will ever be able to close down such a thriving business. And besides, could time be better spent on cracking down on harder drugs which cause more misery and cause more crime? It’s well-known that the effects of heroin are far more disastrous on the lives of those who fall foul of it, and the number of small crimes committed by the same people who need to find funds to replenish their stocks. It’s also quite evident that the pill-popping, coke-snorting and amphetamine dabbing contingent contribute strongly to the out-of-control violence issues that exist in town centre nightlife. Seeing the news that another cannabis factory has been shut down is welcome in that I love to see someone making such a brilliant living by flouting the law being brought to account. But hearing that those responsible for importing, creating or distributing genuinely more dangerous drugs had been pulled in by the cops would have a much bigger impact and make me believe that an actual effort to improve things is being made, rather than an effort to get favourable headlines.

Breaking News: Wanger has left the….. group!

Cllr Lee Wanger

Lee Wanger and Sheila Matthews have today left the Conservative & Independent Alliance. The news won’t have come as a massive shock to Conservative & Liberal Alliance/Council Leader Ross Irving as there has been much speculation regarding Lee Wanger’s group over recent months. Today, Lee Wanger has written to Ross Irving informing him officially of his decision to break away from the group. He has also informed the Head of Member Services Elaine Bates. Cllr Meg Ryan is to remain with the Conservatives which will enable her to carry on her duties and to stay on the committees she is currently serving. Speaking exclusively to Pits’n’Pots Lee Wanger said: " We were always going to break away from the Conservatives at some stage" "The longer we left the move the more difficult it has became. At the last elections that fact that we were aligned with the Conservatives was used against us during campaigning" He added: "The Conservatives are committed to fielding a councillor in all wards. That means that they will be up against our candidates and will fight for the same votes" "People comment that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is politically fragmented but I don’t see it that way. There are five groups on the council in reality. Labour, BNP, Conservatives, Libdems and the Independents." "It is the Independents that are fragmented. If they could just put their differences aside, and all unite together they would be a very strong group indeed". Cllr Wangers new group will be called the ‘Stoke-on-Trent Independent Group’.

UPDATED: Overview and Scrutiny Management Meeting – Salih & PKB Hit Out!

By Tony Walley

Explosive PKB & Salih Audio Now Online!

Today I attended a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee and in a kind of sad way, I really enjoyed it.

It was great to see the scrutiny process in full swing. The meeting was excellently chaired by Cllr Mark Davis and there were telling contributions for Cllr Paul Shotton, Cllr Mick Salih, Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley, Mike Coleman & Cllr Tom Reynolds. Cllr John Davies was also in attendance and there were late appearances by Cllr Dave Conway and Cllr Kieran Clarke.

The officer core was represented by Tom Macarntey the Acting Chief Executive and Paul Simpson, Director of Central Services.

The meeting got off to a controversial start with the elected members expressing their disgust at the fact that they were waiting for requested information from officers that had not been forth coming for the last two months. Paul Shotton was particularly critical of this as was Cllr Mick Salih and Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley. You can here more about this in the Audio Interview below.

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1109/PKB-MS-1109.mp3]

City Farm

Cllr Tom Reynolds and Cllr John Davies both voiced concerns over the future of the City Farm. This popular facility is under threat despite being the subject of a review and a subsequent recommendation to explore ways of helping the City Farm to be more self funding. It had also been agreed that it should be helped to generate more income. Both councillors expressed concerns that  once again there is a possibility that this popular attraction is a target for even more cuts or could ultimately be closed and they proposed a further review to see if more help could be given before the executive of the council get the chance to wield the axe. Tom Reynolds pointed out to the meeting that many of the officers who had worked on the original proposal regarding the City Farm and how it should be financed had now left the authority. This ‘nest flying’ reared it’s head on more than one of the topics discussed at the meeting.

Burslem.

The mother town came in for a fair amount of discussion at today’s meeting. Cllr Mick Salih raised concerns at the dilapidated state of what is said to be the most historical of the six towns. All elected members were disappointed at the fact that Burslem’s Indoor Market was still closed and was in a terrible state of repair. Questions were asked at why nothing had been done to get the market repaired and re-opened. Cllr Paul Shotton said that revenue from the other successful indoor markets across the city should have been directed towards Burslem Market instead of being used on ‘other council projects’. He pointed out that Hanley Market had not been redecorated since it was first opened.

Tender For the appointment of an Agency to oversee the recruitment of Agency staff!

No you haven’t read that wrong! Council officers are looking to put out to tender for the appointment of an agency to oversee the recruitment of agency staff. This is despite the Council Leader and his Executive stating publicly that the city council must cut down on the use of consultants and agency staff. Elected members questioned why, when the council have a procurement department should there be a need to employ the use of such an agency. Surely this issue must be the responsibility of the said Procurement Department. I think all the elected representatives present were quite surprised at what could be described as a classic contradiction.

Transition Board

There was a really interesting discussion on the Governance Transition Board. All the elected members present asked if the TB were obliged to publish minutes. Cllr Salih stated that as a public body, that are paid £4000 in allowances from the public purse, they should be forced to publish the minutes so that they can be scrutinised by the elected members of the council and indeed members of the public should they wish to. Cllr Conway urged his fellow councillors not to get to excited as he thought that it would be easier getting minutes fro the Freemasons or indeed ‘Common Purpose’ meetings. Cllr Kent-Baguley informed the meeting that as support staff from the council were used in relation the the TB it was essential that elected members are informed of the progress this body of people are making in relation to the brief that they have.

Budget Shortfall

The most interesting agenda item was the report given to the meeting by Central Services Director Paul Simpson. The good news was that the shortfall in the budget had reduced from £17million to just short of £11million. Many departments still faced a substantial overspend but through the non delivery of certain budget plans and strategic savings in various areas across the council, Mr Simpson was able to report on what is a healthy amount to come off the budget deficit. He also informed the meeting that officers were already working on the budget for the next financial year. Acting Chief Executive Tom Macartney stated that he was more confident with the figures for the new budget than he had been the previous ones. He voiced concerns over some department and their failure to stay on budget and he reminded the meeting that in the private sector this would result in heads of department loosing their jobs. Cllr Conway informed the meeting that the council were currently owed some £2.5million in council house rents and he warned Paul Simpson that there was no way he would support a rise in council house rents for the next financial and penalise those who were willing to pay, to subsidise those who would not pay. There was a long discussion about car parking charges across the city. Cllr Kieran Clarke, the cabinet members for resources came in for some criticism but in fairness he did not give an adequate response when questioned about his press release ragrding both the car parking issue and the voluntary redundancy programme. You can hear more about the issue of car parking in the audio interview below. The elected members scrutinised the officers on the proposed voluntary redundancy programme. In excess of 500 council employees have expressed an interest in taking this option. Departmental heads along with the various cabinet members with responsibility for those departments have assessed where positions can be cut without an impact on front-line services. The councillors present wanted assurance that services would be protected. There is a report going to cabinet this week with a recommendation that 243 council employees be offered a voluntary redundancy package and if it is agreed at cabinet, departmental heads can start to discuss the details with those employees. This scheme will only save the authority some £600,ooo in the present financial year. Cllr Shotton voiced his concerns that there was still a long way to go to achieve financial stability within the authority, a view shared by Paul Simpson the Director for Central Services and Tom Macartney the acting Chief Executive.

I was impressed with all the elected representatives present. The meeting was thorough and the officers present were questioned and their decisions scrutinised. Our council often gets criticised for being poor and fragmented, but here was an example of how good the process can be. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the elected representatives who were present at that meeting. This was local government working in all it’s full glory.

For more detail on some of the issues raised in this article, please listen to the following Audio Interviews with Cllr Mick Salih & Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley:

Garner’s Hypocrisy at the Highest Level

Source: Potteye Blog

On Thursday 12 November 2009 at 10am, at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, councillors will be discussing the farce of the Interim Chief Executive and the payoff made by the Human Resources Committee.

This item is to be discussed because a number of councillors, quite rightly, called for the item to be discussed under the motion:

“This Council deplores the lack of information from the Council Leader regarding the absence of the Interim Chief Executive following the appointment on 29 September 2009 of the new Chief Executive, Mr John Van de Laarschot, and the secrecy surrounding the issue and further totally opposed to a pay-off being awarded to the Interim Chief Executive, Mr Chris Harman”

Joy Garner

The list of councillors who have signed up to this motion reveals one incredible act of hypocrisy and incompetence, Joy Garner.

Let’s go right back to the beginning, right back to where all this started ““ the departure of the previous Council Manager and Chief Executive, Steve Robinson.

Following his announcement of his imminent departure, the City Council appointed 7 councillors to an Appointments Panel. Their remit was to appoint a new Chief Executive AND appoint an interim to cover the intervening period.

Those councillors were:

Joy Garner (Chair/ Labour Group Leader), Roger Ibbs (Vice Chair/ Leader CIG), Jean Bowers (Leader Libs), Terry Follows, Mark Meredith, Ian Mitchell, Alby Walker (BNP Leader).

They met on the 21 August 2008 to decide on the process of the Chief Executive’s recruitment and to decide on the interim.

The Interim arrangements report (Item 6) was closed agenda (secret!).

However, their decision was made public in the minutes:

Resolved that:
(i) ““ The Committee unanimously agree that the Assistant Chief Executive, Chris Harman, be appointed the interim Council Manager and Chief Executive, on the terms and conditions of the current post-holder, to commence 1 October 2008, and to hold the post until a permanent Chief Executive took up post.
(ii) ““ The Head of Human Resources be granted delegated powers to draw up and agree a Contract of Employment for the post of interim Council Manager and Chief Executive with the successful candidate, Chris Harman.
(iii) ““ The recruitment consultants with which the City Council currently hold a contract be requested to consider and submit to the Committee a set of proposals for the process of the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive, at an appropriate time taking into account the ongoing consultation on the future governance of the City.

COUNCILLOR JOY GARNER (CHAIR)

These decisions, including the appointment of Chris Harman, were not taken to the Full Council for all the councillors to agree.

This is the decision that directly and ultimately led to the farce of Chris Harman’s departure.

Firstly, they keep the report secret.

Secondly they did not appoint the Interim with the condition that they not apply for the post of Chief Executive, WHICH HAD BEEN DONE PREVIOUSLY when Steve Robinson was appointed, precisely to avoid the situation we now find ourselves in.

Thirdly, they unanimously agreed to delegate the contract arrangements to an officer!

This whole mess could have been avoided in the first place.

For Joy Garner to sign a motion about secrecy and about the pay off is nothing short of incompetent and hypocritical when she Chaired and led the meeting that made the decisions and sealed all our fates.

It will be very interesting to see what the others who sat on the Appointments Panel, who voted unanimously, say on Thursday morning.

Charlotte Atkins MP urges Government to help thalidomiders

Source: Politics.co.uk

“As a child, I used to visit the local Dr Barnardo’s home with my parents. That is where I first came across thalidomide: the home was looking after a baby with no arms or legs,” Staffordshire Moorlands Labour MP Charlotte Atkins said during a debate on thalidomide.

“That image has stayed with me for more than 40 years. I am proud to follow in the footsteps of the fantastic disability campaigner, Jack Ashley “” his old constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South adjoins mine “” by initiating a debate on the support provided for persons disabled by thalidomide.

“The thalidomide survivors are a unique group. They were disabled by the National Health Service. They are the survivors of a catastrophe that claimed the lives of many not so fortunate,” said Ms Atkins, a member of the Health Select Committee.

“However, the fortune of the thalidomiders is a bitter pill; they are now in their 40s and 50s, their deformities are causing increasing pain and they are having difficulties with advancing age. Many thalidomiders have never been able to work.

“Those who have been able to work have, over the last few years, started to retire early. That is because they have had to use their limbs in ways for which they were not designed. Many victims have needed hip replacements and even shoulder replacements.

“A medical survey by the Thalidomide Trust revealed that, on average, each thalidomider had more than six complex and chronic health conditions “” for example, ear, nose and throat problems, poor vision and palsy; they also had internal problems with the kidneys and the heart and gastro-intestinal troubles.

“They also have arthritis, osteoporosis, sciatica and problems such as epilepsy and obesity. The result is that thalidomiders are living in bodies 25 years older than their age.

“Why is this a problem for the Government? It is simply because the Department of Health is implicated in the tragedy. The World Health Organisation warned the Government in 1957 that unless safety measures were tightened before new drugs received permission to be sold in the United Kingdom, disaster was increasingly likely.

“Before a drug could enter the UK, the Cohen committee, a Government agency, had to scrutinise the medicine’s effectiveness. In 1962, in an oral answer to a Parliamentary question asked by Maurice Edelman, the then Minister of Health, Enoch Powell, said that the remit of the Cohen committee was to decide whether a drug had been tested satisfactorily.

“Thalidomide was described by the Cohen committee as a drug of proven value and it was granted purchase tax exemption in December 1958. That was a highly sought prize, as it encouraged the NHS to use the drug as a prescription medicine, widely used for morning sickness.

“Distillers made the remarkable claim that thalidomide was completely safe for pregnant women. The Cohen committee never asked the company to prove that statement, despite the fact that all major pharmaceutical companies regularly tested new drugs on pregnant rats and rabbits.

“In America, Frances Kelsey, an official in the US Food and Drug Administration, picked up warning signs of the dangers that thalidomide posed to the foetus from the August 1960 edition of the British Medical Journal.

“It warned of the damage that the drug caused to nerve endings. As a result, thalidomide did not receive a licence in the USA. Members of the Cohen committee should have been aware that thalidomide could pose a risk to the foetus.

“Rather than engage in the blame game, I believe that it is important to look to the future. The Thalidomide Trust is grateful for the constructive engagement that it has had with Health Minister Mike O’Brien. The trust is also grateful that the Department of Health has sought to work with it.

“However, the 463 thalidomide survivors have complex needs, which are constantly evolving and unpredictable. Their case is unique and unprecedented in medical history. The Government’s response, therefore, needs to be innovative. It must recognise the pioneering work done by the trust which, against all the odds, has found life-enhancing solutions for its members.

“As children, thalidomiders were experimented on and were strapped into cumbersome prosthetic arms and legs, in order to “Ëœnormalise’ them. Hopefully, we now live in more enlightened times.

“When we engage with thalidomiders, we should look at ways to meet their real and changing needs, rather than fit them into an established care framework that is ill-equipped to respond quickly and flexibly to everyday challenges.

“The Thalidomide Trust has developed a health support service for thalidomiders. It was made necessary by the NHS’ failure to provide relevant and adequate health care. The trust has developed peer-to-peer volunteer support networks.

“It has experience in dealing with the full range of health and social problems and it is better equipped than statutory bodies to meet the complex needs of its beneficiaries. It also has its own mechanism for reclassifying an individual’s degree of disability.

“It is called the individual beneficiary review. It is highly complex and was developed in conjunction with the Leeds University school of medicine. However, the trust has the capacity to conduct only 10 to 20 such reviews a year.

“I am pleased that the Department of Health has taken on board the real challenges presented by the thalidomide survivors and the requirement to base support on the needs of each individual in a way that puts people in control of their own care.

“However, there are concerns about the Department’s proposal to develop personal budgets for thalidomide survivors and to set up a pilot study. It would help if the Minister clarified a number of points.

“How will the personal health budgets be calculated? Many thalidomiders receive no health-care support, so it is not possible to base such budgets on existing spending. How can the personal health budget team make commitments about the level of funding available from local authorities for thalidomide survivors?

“Given the dispersed location of thalidomiders, how can one Primary Care Trust and one partner local authority lead a pilot study with 20 survivors? In reality, more PCTs and local authorities will need to be involved, increasing the liaison and management costs for the Thalidomide Trust.

“Who will ensure that there are appropriate health services locally for thalidomide personal health budget holders to spend their money on?

“The Department suggested that the trust should deal with one Primary Care Trust and one local authority. However, the trust and thalidomiders say that because they are so dispersed, they would need more than one PCT and more than one local authority, which would put quite a burden on the Thalidomide Trust.

“How can we ensure that appropriate health services are available locally for thalidomide personal budget holders? Given that the Thalidomide Trust set up its own health link because of the difficulties in obtaining appropriate local health services, how can we ensure that thalidomide survivors are not short-changed?

“A powered wheelchair can cost something like £18,000 and adapting a car can cost a staggering £60,000. Obviously the car has to be new. The whole cost is something like £60,000 and that is just for a fairly basic car that is large enough to accommodate everything that a thalidomider might need.

“What will happen if the pilot programme is terminated in 2012 and how will the Department of Health ensure that the pilot programme does not create inequalities within the thalidomide population?

“Thalidomiders have had to fight every step of the way for justice. In 1973, after a decade of legal wrangling and with the help of The Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans, they secured from Distillers “” the company that distributed the drug in the UK “” £20 million, which was paid into a trust for the future care of survivors.

“In the mid-“Ëœ90s, that sum was topped up, as the fund was predicted to run out in 2009. In 2005, an improved deal was signed with Diageo. However, even after all those rises, the average pay-out to thalidomiders is just £18,000 a year. That is barely enough to pay for an electric wheelchair, which will last just two years.

“It will go nowhere near paying for adapting a car, or for comprehensive adaptations at home to allow some dignity and independence, such as a walk-in shower, a stair lift or a computer with voice activation. Poor investment returns, inflation and the medical and social care burdens of survivors have sharply eroded the value of the original settlement.

“Other Governments, such as those in Germany, Italy and Ireland, have agreed payments to thalidomiders. I urge the UK Government to do the same, as many survivors are now in dire need.

“Justice is not time-limited. These totally innocent victims must have Government help now. The most cost-effective way of ensuring that is for the Department of Health to make an annual ex-gratia payment to the Thalidomide Trust, which has a proven record of acting on behalf of all its beneficiaries.

“That should be overseen by a steering group, involving the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Treasury, survivors, staff and the Thalidomide Trust’s trustees. Please help the thalidomide survivors to live out the last third of their lives with dignity, independence and security,” Ms Atkins pleaded.

“I am not surprised that Charlotte Atkins has brought the matter before MPs, considering the campaigner she is. It was a pleasure to serve with her on the Select Committee on Health,” Shadow Health Minister Tory MP Mike Penning told MPs.

In replying to the debate, Health Minister Mike O’Brien said: “Let me begin by joining in the general congratulations to Charlotte Atkins on securing the debate on this enormously important issue.

“We need to clear the decks a little regarding what the issues are. We can argue about the money, but that is not the issue, frankly. The issue is whether people have health and care needs that must be addressed.

“The national advisory council of the Thalidomide Trust has put to me its views about thalidomiders’ concerns about their health. I accept that many of their health needs are changing and increasing.

“For some of the people who have survived thalidomide and received compensation

in the past, through Diageo, Distillers and the Thalidomide Trust, and who are receiving some payments, their life expectations have changed substantially since those agreements were reached.

“I accept that entirely and we must now look at the implications of the situation. We must look at their health and care needs and consider how they can best be addressed.

“We can argue about history and about money, but the main issue is working out the main health-care needs of thalidomiders. The issue is one of liability. The Government could set out its position at some length, but I do not propose to do that, because I want to concentrate on the future, rather than the past.

“Let me make it clear that I accept that there are increased health needs that now need to be addressed. Some of my proposals would probably cost more than what the NAC is asking for in its discussions with me, so I repeat that the issue is not money.

“Let me just explain what the issue is about. It is about how we can best address people’s needs. I do not have a fixed view on that. I have had a couple of meetings with the NAC and I am grateful to it for coming along and putting its case for ex-gratia payments to me clearly.

“I am considering its case, but the issue is difficult “” I shall not go into all the arguments “” and I have put an alternative proposal to the NAC. My proposal would involve similar amounts of money to those that are likely to be paid, but they would be paid somewhat differently.

“I have asked the NAC to work with us on my proposal “” to work through the iterative process of identifying the detail and how we could help. It might be that my proposal would not work, or there might be more to consider regarding the NAC’s proposal.

“We need to find some way of dealing with the matter together. I want to go through that process of looking at the detail; I want to examine the health-care needs of thalidomiders, consider how those needs can best be addressed and look at the best way of doing that.

“I will come on to the various concerns that Charlotte Atkins expressed and deal with them in detail. First, however, I want to be clear that we are not proposing that only 20 people should be involved in the pilot.

“I want to find a way of using the considerable skills and knowledge of the Thalidomide Trust to ensure that the health needs and care needs will be addressed financially and with regard to provision.

“We can use its historical knowledge, the knowledge of the individuals in its database and the trust that it has won from thalidomiders to ensure that needs are properly addressed.

“I propose that we work with the Thalidomide Trust to consider individuals who have particular needs, to assess those needs, and to identify a project that will enable those health and care needs to be met.

“I accept that those needs will include a need for care hours, help with cleaning and gardening, adaptions to homes and cars and a range of other things. We must find out how we can best address all those needs.

“We need to ensure that needs are properly assessed. The Thalidomide Trust has a mechanism and I want to assess the sort of help that its beneficiaries need. I want to work with the trust to see whether that is a good way, for our purposes and those of public funding, of assessing the needs of individuals.

“It may well be that it is, but we need to look in detail at how the trust assesses needs and distributes funding, because we might learn something from that; there might be a mechanism that, with some work from my officials, we can use.

“With regard to the proposal, we are looking at whether we can use the current legislation for social care and the legislation that is going through the House for individual budgets for social and health care.

“We are looking at joining them together and then identifying about 20 individuals, across a range of disabilities, whose needs would be assessed for a pilot. We could then put funding in place. The detail is still to be worked out, but the idea is to work with the trust and direct funding through it to ensure that individuals’ needs are met in an agreed way.

“Those needs can be various; they can range from adaptions to vehicles and help with musculoskeletal problems to assistance with particular health-care needs. Long-term conditions often entail particular kinds of health-care needs. All those requirements could then be identified within a budget.

“That would not include admissions to hospital; they would continue to be covered separately, but health-care needs that do not involve admission to hospital can still be considerable.

“I have identified the figure of 20 because that might enable the University of York, and the other institutions that are assessing the pilot, to determine whether it is a success and adequately delivers what we want it to deliver.

“I am clear that the figure of 20 is not a maximum; it could increase to 400 or beyond, if necessary. The figure of 20 is used only for the purpose of the assessment. We would want to work with the trust to determine whether the project shows the best way to help people with their conditions.

“Charlotte Atkins asked how the level will be calculated for individuals. We hope that it will be calculated by an agreed assessment and we want to work with the trust to see what it identifies as the individuals’ needs, how they can best be helped and how much that will cost. We will then identify a sum.

“It will come from the place where individual budgets will come from: from the money that will be identified for social care and the money that will be identified for the health needs of individuals. The cost of meeting health-care needs will come out of Primary Care Trust budgets and the cost of meeting care needs will come out of social services budgets.

“We want to identify individual budgets as a national project on which we will engage with the Thalidomide Trust, if that is the right way to proceed. With regard to health, the funding will be led by one Primary Care Trust, which will work with the others to bring the funding together and ensure that it is directed into the appropriate channel.

“We would work with the various local authorities to identify the social services budgets and bring them into a central pot that would be directed through the Thalidomide Trust, if that is what is agreed “” I say that because there is still much negotiation to be done.

“Charlotte Atkins asked whether we will help with the costs for the trust and the answer is yes. I have already identified a particular sum that would be available and that would be a matter for negotiation.

“The legislation being taken through the House in respect of the health budget “” not the social care budget “” deals with pilots and enables us to run a pilot to identify the issues. Although the circumstances of thalidomiders are, in many ways, unique, the project “” if it works “” need not be unique.

“Other groups that work with organisations might benefit from an extension of it in the long term. I give no guarantees about that; we will have to see how it works.

“How would things be organised, given that thalidomiders are so spread out geographically? It is certainly true that we would involve various PCTs and social services, but the Thalidomide Trust currently provides help to many thalidomiders directly, so we would use the trust to deliver many of the services to individuals.

“Services could be purchased from various sources. They could be purchased privately, from the voluntary sector, or from local authorities, using available funding. It will be possible to provide services on a diverse geographical basis, just as it is possible now, for many thalidomiders.

“I was asked what happens in 2012 when the pilot ends. If the pilot works, I hope that the project will continue. If it does not work, we will have to identify the problems and try to address them. We will have to try to ensure that a project is put in place that does address the health-care needs of thalidomiders.

“Let me be clear about this: I am talking about a pilot. I want to see how it works and whether it could help other groups, too. I do not yet know all the answers. However, I am not arguing about money.

“The figures that are generally used range from £8 million to £12 million “” I have seen various figures “” and the scheme that I am suggesting could be in that realm, if it applied to all thalidomiders.

“When the thalidomiders came to me, they said: “ËœWe have increased health-care needs. We want the Government to address them.’ That is a perfectly straightforward and completely legitimate point of view for them to take and it is one that I accept.

“The issue is how that can be done and how quickly we can put a scheme in place. We do not need long reviews of three months or whatever. We need to be able to put a scheme in place as soon as possible “” in the early months of next year “” and we need a clear way of discussing with the Thalidomide Trust how we will take it forward.

“Fairly soon, I want to reach an agreement to commit to something. I want to do that now, or in the coming months, not over a longer period. I do not want to leave things vague. MPs have rightly said that the issue has dragged on for too long and I agree with that. I want to find a way to deal with it.

“The amount of funding would have to be agreed over a period of several years and then, as circumstances changed, it would have to change. As individuals develop different health-care needs, the amount of funding would have to address that.”

Charlotte Atkins intervened to say: “I want to make a point about the so-called independent review. The Thalidomide Trust has been independently reviewing the issue for 40 years and it is the organisation that has all the knowledge.

“There is no need for an independent review. The trust has the information, it has its finger on the pulse and it knows exactly what the needs of its beneficiaries are.”

“Which is why we need to access the Thalidomide Trust’s knowledge,” Mr O’Brien replied. “I hope that my officials can have constructive discussions with the NAC. I met its representatives on 16 July and 22 October and I hope to meet them again soon for further discussions.

“My officials plan to visit the trust later this week and I hope to have a further meeting with the NAC a week or so after that.

“The NAC has been clear with me: it wants ex-gratia payments. It has set out its case with force and eloquence. I had the pleasure of meeting a range of thalidomiders just before this debate and, as I said, I have met with the NAC; they make their points forcefully and persuasively.

“We need to talk to each other in an honest and straightforward way. I have a view about how we might be able to deal with the matter and am happy to say that it might work. I hope that it will, but it might not, in which case, if the trust has clear arguments against the proposal, we may have to go back to the drawing board and look at the matter again.

“The trust has put forward proposals, but I have concerns about them. For example, if funding is to be directed through the trust, how will we get verification of how it is spent? By and large, we are happy that the trust is a good organisation and we want to work with it.

“There is constructive dialogue between it and the Government, but I do not want to drag it out, which is why I said a few weeks ago that I wanted a meeting fairly quickly.

“I do not know whether we will get a deal before Christmas, but the NAC said that it would like to reach an agreement by then. I do not know whether that is possible, but I would like to do that, if we can.

“Individual budgets will come from PCT budgets, but additional assistance for the Thalidomide Trust to administer the system will not. It is clear that direct payments come from existing budgets in any event.

“The question for me is how we ensure that the increased health-care needs of thalidomiders are met. I accept that they need to be met. How are we to do it, and how do we ensure that power remains with individual thalidomiders?

“If the funding goes to them, they should have some choice about how it is directed and if they want to direct it through the Thalidomide Trust, we should discuss with the trust how that can best be done,” the Minister concluded.

School Children Hope Garden Will Help Chum Get Over Her Loss.

By Warren Lloyd.

Caring youngsters in Newcastle under Lyme were inspired by a school visit to the National Memorial Arboretum. So much so that they got together and designed their own memorial garden to aid fellow pupils and members of the local community who suffer bereavement.
With the help of committed staff the young pupils of Seabridge Primary have designed their garden to help a school friend to come to terms with the loss of his sister.

The staff at the school said they were shocked to find out just many children had been affected by bereavement.

Teacher Sandra Mitchell told BBC Stoke: ” We became quite surprised at the number of children affected by loss and bereavement. We started to refer some of our children to Tracey and then we saw the benefits.”

A garden will now be based at the school but they would welcome its use by the neighbouring community.

Source: BBC Stoke and Staffordshire Webpage.

AN AUDIENCE WITH THE ROYAL AIR FORCE

The Royal Air Force will be visiting Stoke Town Hall, Glebe Street, Stoke On Trent on Tuesday 24th November 2009 as part of their tour of the UK to demonstrate the vital roles that the RAF plays in providing security and acting as a force for good around the world. The Presentation aims to illustrate the roles, equipment and personnel of today’s RAF. Wing Commander Jason Appleton leader of the team said: “These events are a great opportunity for the local community to learn more about what the RAF do and how we have built an enviable reputation around the world. We always enjoy meeting local communities and these events offer a platform for the public to meet our dedicated and professional personnel and to ask any questions that they may have”. Although the event is an ideal opportunity for anybody who has an interest in Defence and Aviation or perhaps sees the RAF as a potential career opportunity, the evening is open to anybody who wishes to learn more about their RAF. The evening starts with a drinks reception at 7pm followed by a 30 minute thought-provoking multimedia presentation beginning at 7:30pm. The evening will conclude with an opportunity to meet RAF personnel in an informal and relaxed atmosphere over light refreshments. Entry and refreshments are free.

Anyone wishing to attend can either register by using the link below or by calling the team on 01494 497742.

We need real action to tackle alcohol fuelled violence

By Matt Taylor

Last night was one of those nights when I started to lose faith in the belief that, generally, pretty much everyone is, at heart, a good person.

I’ve seen the ‘real cops’ TV shows in which drunken hedonists get wrestled to the ground by officers who don their riot gear ready for a night at work on the town. But I didn’t realise quite how similar it could be in our own Hanley.

Having caught the jazz band and had a couple of pints with a few of the Unicorn regulars, I went off on my travels to the top of town at two this morning, only to get disturbed by some shouting coming from behind me. When I turned around, I could see in the distance some kind of scuffle going on down towards the ‘Pink’ bar. “Do I get involved?” you ask yourself in these situations. And after a few moments of indecision I started walking back down the road. But by the time I got to the scene of the crime, some poor bespectacled guy was cowering on the ground with blood eminating from somewhere and running down his face.

I called the police, who turned out to be already on their way, having seen some of the action on their CCTV. And they evidently knew who the culprits were (although they weren’t exactly hard to spot in their bloodstained T-shirts) since they had them rugby-tackled, nailed to the ground and cuffed in seconds. Oddly, they didn’t seem to be too concerned about the victim in the process of their efforts, but I’m sure they got around to him as soon as they’d got the neanderthals in the back of the van.

The guy managed to drag himself up from the floor, and told me how he had done nothing to attract the attention of the lads who decided to bravely gang up on him and give him such an unceremonious kicking.

The whole episode was really pretty nasty and proved a few things; a) the police, assisted by Big Brother, are able to deal with these kind of incidents very efficiently, b) relaxation of the outdated alchohol laws has had none of the impact that politicians promised it would on reducing such loutish behaviour and c) something very definitely needs to be done about it.

The problem is “what?” The evidence that there is a need for something to change is there for the viewing. Hiking taxes on beer and spirits doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference, stopping people putting all their efforts into getting as much down them before the old last orders bell rang by letting bars open longer has had, if anything, a detrimental effect on yobbish behaviour, and bars continue to propogate an atmosphere in which people want to quaff as much as is humanly possible and end the night with a kebab and a scrap, whilst decent people avoid the town centre at night like the plague.

One of the short-term insurmountable issues is of course that this is what people want to do. For whatever reason, we create these monsters who think that as soon as they can get away with procuring a pint of the finest Stella with the aid of a fake ID is the pinnacle of their teenage years. And the only way of changing that is to attempt to educate them out of it. I certainly don’t remember much in the way of lessons detailing the dangers of over consumpion of alcohol, though you could argue, if they did so then kids would be even more likely to rebel. But it’d be a chance worth taking.

And the other way of looking at it is to make bars behave more responsibly. After all, licensees are not supposed to serve anyone who is actually ‘drunk’. A hard thing to ascertain, for sure, but the problem is as many of you are aware, that the bars which serve up endless cocktails of inebriation until the male contingent can no longer suppress the need to prove their manliness in the form of violence are usually staffed by undertrained and underpaid youths who couldn’t give a damn whether the pint they’re serving is likely to tip the drunken punter over the edge. And the licensees are usually locked away in a cosy office.

Trust me, I am no stranger to a pint or six, but this kind of abhorrent behaviour needs to addressed in a pragmatic way, because aside from anything else, as a demonstration of English society today, it’s a complete and utter embarrassment.

Weekend Comment – I have a dream…..

Comment By - Tony Walley

Comment By - Tony Walley

By Tony Walley.

It’s a bit more Abba than Martin Luther really…….

A few weeks ago I had a coffee with a well known much respected member of the Stoke-on-Trent community.

We were talking about this site and the national recognition that it is getting and how that all came about. The political state on the city, the fragmented council chamber, divided local political parties and representation by the politically extreme. All this made for an interesting debating platform and hey-presto, along came Pits’n’Pots!

We discussed where it had all gone wrong here in Stoke-on-Trent and what it would take to restore our city’s pride and political enthusiasm.

As my associate is a fair bit older than me, he could tell me the potted history of the good times in politics in our city right up to the not so good present day.

No matter what party you look at here in our great city, there seems to be unrest and division.

Labour with the recent ‘reportergate’ fiasco, the crossing of the floor of three of their councillors, the old EMB members acting on behalf of a Labour mayor who was not popular with the grass roots Labour members.

The recent split in the CIG with four of their members joining the Cabinet [or EMB2 if you prefer] and how they have become the very thing that they opposed under the old EMB.

The Conservative and Independent Alliance about to break up and go their separate ways. The rumours of unrest in the Tory element of that group spell troubled times ahead for our council leader.

The BNP group carrying on in the same old way, putting nothing positive forward and jumping aboard everything that is negative. A well known far right tactic and right out of Nick Griffin’s little handbook -  ‘how to hide the fact that you are racist’

Other groups in the chamber made up of disgruntled ex mainstream party members that were frustrated and let down by the party machinery.

Our conversation over a coffee took an interesting turn when we explored the idea of a local system devoid of party political baggage, policies, whips and prejudices.

Under the Boundary Committee’s recommendations of reducing the number of councillors and the Governance Commissions desire for single member wards, we explored the possibility of local community activists taking control over the responsibility of representing all the residents of the natural communities that could be formed under a boundary review.

If each one of these natural communities were to form a ‘community action Group’ that had just one rule, a pure commitment to represent the community regardless of the residents race, religion, sexuality etc.

These action groups could make up or consist of, members from the local Direct Delivery Groups, school governors, residents associations, church groups and other groups and associations. Out of these groups, there could be a volunteer to stand as the councillor for that community. He/she could have a team of volunteers to help with the work load that would come with the responsibility of total representation of that natural community.

These action groups could have an impact on the needs and resources for the community. Local meetings could establish what problems the community are encountering with anti-social behavior and such like.

This dream of mine is based on the ethos of representation by the local people for the local people. Yes I know that’s how is supposed to work now but party obligations come first way before the actual electorate.

During our conversation over coffee, we wondered whether there would be enough people across the city who would be interested in capitalizing on the opportunity that these 2011 all out elections with single embers wards would present us the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

Would there be enough community minded people to form these type of ‘community action groups’ and seize back a devolved power base that would make a real difference to the lives of the people of this great city?

Look at Pits’n’Pots’s own Nicky Davis, she is a community activist in every sense of the term. She appears to support most political parties, but the reality is that she doesn’t because they frustrate her. There are little pockets of their policies that she believes in, something in every party probably, but she remains a floating voter because she knows, one size does certainly not fit all!

During our conversations, the impressions I get from Nicky is that she would welcome and really buy into the sort of system of representation I am advocating here.

Cllr Mick Salih is a massive supporter of community engagement. He believes in his community first and the city second. He believes that communities should be run by the communities. People coming together and taking collective action for the areas in which they live.

Just imagine if people just turned away from the same old, same old, and looked to embrace a new type of local government without the tainted party political establishments that consistently fail our city and the communities in which we live.

Is there enough people out there to mount a challenge for the Civic Centre, 45 natural communities, 45 community activists, all making decisions on our communities and our city’s future?

23 would give the new breed councillor a majority in the chamber and a real opportunity to put the past where it belongs, firmly in the past and gives a new hope for the future of our city.

The guy who I had the coffee with thinks that this is the way forward, a fantastic opportunity to revive the fortunes of Stoke-on-Trent. He wants to work with like minded people who want to make a change for the better in our city. He wants people to come together as soon as possible and to start to organise the revolution for 2011. He wants meetings, and he wants people of this city to have an input into improving and delivering a better quality of life through fantastic public services delivered by the people who want it the most.

I live in Longton North and I am represented by the three best ward councillors in the city. Yet there are not enough councillors as good as these guys across our city. But these three councillors have to satisfy a political party, and work with political restrictions and vote under a whipped system.

Party politics in the local communities does not work anymore. Things have to change. People have to take control.

I left the Labour Party and I joined the Lib Dems. Do I feel better? No, I feel just as frustrated if I’m honest. I think it’s because maybe I have come to the conclusion that party politics just don’t deliver in cities like Stoke-on-Trent anymore.

In 2011 we have a golden opportunity to change the system for good. Natural communities represented by community minded people who will then unite to represent the city and all it’s citizens without the obligations to a political party or organisation.

Are there enough people interested in making this dream a reality?

Have your say by leaving your comment below and if there are enough people interested I’m sure we can organise a meeting where the idea can be discussed further, over a coffee of course…….

Plans on show to reduce accidents on Longton roads

By Tony Walley

Proposed plans to reduce accidents on a Longton road will be open to consultation next week.

The event will allow residents to look at plans to reduce the accident figures on Anchor Road through Sandford Hill and Adderley Green. Proposals are intended to allow work to start in February 2010 and to be completed by April 2010.

Proposals include:-

“¢Ã‚ Anti-Skid treatment to an existing zebra crossing on Anchor Road;
“¢Ã‚ The improvement of Upper Cross Street and Anchor Road Junction;
“¢Ã‚ Narrowing of traffic lanes by use of white road markings through the centre of the carriageway;
“¢Ã‚ Closure of Wood Street to through traffic;
“¢Ã‚ The realignment of Albert Street and Anchor Road junction to give an improved site line for motorists joining Anchor Road.
“¢Ã‚ Provision of new puffin crossing on Anchor Road near its junction with Heathcote Street;
“¢Ã‚ The improvement of the Westonview Avenue, St Mary’s Road and Anchor Road junction.

Councillor Brian Ward, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “The consultation process is a vital part in make sure that the plans the city council have put together meet the needs of the public. By getting views from people who will actually feel the affects, we can make sure that the works will serve the community in the best possible way.”

The event will take place at St Mary’s and St Chad’s church hall on Anchor Road on Tuesday November 17, 2009 between 10am and 7:30pm. Members of staff will be there to answer questions from the public.