City Farm: A Tale of Council Failure

If Stoke-on-Trent City Farm in Bucknall had been an animal, the RSPCA would have turned up long ago, taken it into care, and prosecuted its owner for cruelty and neglect.

Don’t get me wrong, the staff at the farm have been excellent, both in looking after the animals and welcoming visitors to the facility. Thousands upon thousands of children, parents and grandparents have enjoyed this popular visitor attraction over many, many years.

In the summer of 2010 a national newspaper, The Guardian, placed it in their top 10 places to visit with children, describing it as a “gem”. Here what it had to say:

Poor old Stoke does not get into many top tens but in their city farm they have a real treasure. Tucked into the south-east corner of Bucknall Park, the farm is home to llamas, kune kune pigs, chipmunks and a glorious sweep of domestic fauna. There’s also a sensory garden to thrill and tantalise all five senses. For afters, Bucknall Park has a children’s playground and, in the summer, a cafe too.

The Council Leader, Pervez, would have us believe that its closure is down to the governments severe cuts in finance. Anybody that has observed or been involved in recent years with the City Farm will know that its demise is at best a case of indifferent carelessness, or at worst a deliberate, lengthy painful cull ““ starved until it could survive no more.

Regeneration has been a top priority within Stoke-on-Trent with varying degrees of success and failure. However, this obsession with regeneration must not blind us nor lead us to neglect the treasures we already possess.

Take a good look around our neighborhoods, our towns and our City. Long gone is that smokey, choking caldron of industry. In its place greenery, open spaces and our majestic plethora of Victorian Parks. Shouldn’t this be at the very core of our regeneration efforts, instead of being seen as an expensive and not needed luxury?

Far too much of the momentum for regeneration in Stoke-on-Trent is based on “demolish the past ““ build the new”. Surely good sustainable regeneration is about taking what best from the past and putting it to a sustainable, modern, relevant purpose.

In early 2008 City Farm was threatened with Closure ““ the Save Dimensions campaign was gaining strength.

A Friends of the Farm group was set up ““ a new one every year since ““ and the ward councillors paid for a consultants report to establish a sunstainable way forward for the City Farm.

In 2008 £10k from the ward budget of Cllr Adrian Knapper, Rita Dale and John Davis employed consultants from the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens to come up with recommendations aimed at keeping the facility open, enhancing it and making it a viable sustainable enterprise.

Yet this expensive and valuable report went nowhere.

Two draft reports meant for Mark Meredith’s EMB, with current Cabinet member Debra Gratton’s name on them, were blocked and never saw the light of day. The ward councillors appear to have forgotten about the report.

In essence, City Farm should have and could have been put on the road to self sustainability, and keep well out of the way of this year’s unfortunate cuts.

Instead it has now closed.

Our strategic management of this park and farm appears to have been non-existent ““ the only thing they have tried to do from an officer perspective is either close it or move it.

City Farm is not closing because of the Coalition Government cuts. It is not closing because the council has got to make savings. It is not closing because of lack of visitors or poor staffing.

It is closing because Council management have wanted it shut for years, and the three ward councillors FAILED to follow up on their initial investment of £10,000 on a consultants report. Public they spent and then wasted.

Pervez and many of his Cabinet were in senior positions in 2008 and since that should have and could have preserved the City Farm ““ so stop blaming the Coalition Government.

For me the blame clearly lies with the three ward councillors ““ Knapper, Dale, J. Davis ““ Pervez (Deputy Elected Mayor in 2008) and Debra Gratton.

Pervez Summoned to Scrutiny Meeting Over Budget

As Acting Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, regretably, I have had to write formally to summon the Leader of the Council, Mohammed Pervez, to the next meeting, in order to discuss the Budget, his strategy and the latest position.

The letter to him is below:

I am writing to you as Acting Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee to formally serve you with notice that you must attend the next Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee 17 January 2010, subject to the appropriate notice (Stoke-on-Trent City Council Constitution Part 4 ““ Para. 14 (a) and 14 (b))

The purpose of your summons is for you to deliver and present the budget update, and noting that, as leader of the council, you have failed to attend any meetings of Overview and Scrutiny since you appointment, therefore it is necessary to serve you with such notice to require your attendance. Your performance will also be considered. You are encouraged to ask your Cabinet members also to attend.

Under the terms of the constitution you have a duty to attend the above meeting.

I hope to see you there.

Mike Barnes | Councillor
City of Stoke-on-Trent
Civic Centre Glebe Street Stoke-on-Trent ST4 1RN
t 01782 870065 m 07850939611

Vice Chair | Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee

As you can see from the letter, despite challenging the leader about O+S preiously, he has failed to attend one single meeting since his appointment.

Overview and Scrutiny is the only formal channel for non Cabinet councillors to scrutinise, challenge and make recommendation to the Cabinet with regards to any council matter.

How sad it is when the only way you can hold the Leader of the Council to account is by having to use, for the first time, the consitutional powers of Overview and Scrutiny to force attendance.

New Years Commitment

2011 promised to be a challenging and momentus year for Stoke-on-Trent.

I have already said that I am standing as a candidate in the local elections in May which alone carries a heavy workload and that will be a judgement for those of the ward that I stand in. However, I want to convey a further message to those on PitsnPots, campaign groups etc.

I am deeply concerned about the governments cuts and our local councils compliance to this effect.

I am Community Voice and I will now be working 9-5 from the CV office in the Civic Centre and 24/7 from my mobile.

Democracy, equality and protecting vulnerable people are my priorities for the next 4 months that I am certain to be a councillor (and cetainly beyond if I am elected).

I am therefore, available to anybody, and I mean anybody from any area, ward, political persuasion (except BNP), for advice, for information, for election advice etc whether through the pages of PitsnPots, via email or phone. Make me work. Make a difference. Save our services.

I don’t pretend to be pefect. Far from it. But if I can help I will.

Its time to make Stoke-on-Trent punch its weight.

My email is:

My phone is: 07850939611


Mike Barnes

Potteye: Laarschot’s False Dawn

At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, it is worth considering what the future may hold for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, its residents and local public services.

Over the last 2 years many instances of financial irregularities and officer misinformation to elected members have come to light, often only with the persistence of certain councillors and a small section of the local media.

The latest of these is the waste managment function with regards to enhanced recycling and the Icelandic Banks disaster. The usual results arise in that, yes, things went wrong, but those involved have moved on, this is all in the past, time to move on, new CEO (12 months in) etc etc etc”¦.

I beleive that what all these revelations expose is that, no matter what governance structure we have in place, the real failures in Stoke-on-Trent City Council, stem from a culture, built over many, many years of complete contempt for elected representation, the truth and incompetence on a grand scale ““ not always politicians ““ but within senior management.

Worst of all is that many of those I accuse above left our Council, not with the shame of their misdeeds, but to move onto greener pastures, often with a handsom payout at the expense of long suffering taxpayers.

Some heralded the appointment of a new Chief Executive from the private sector and a tinpot town of the south coast as the second coming of the Lord, and that all would now be well in the former land of pits and pots.

12 months in are things any different? Can we see the changes in the culture of the council? s The hope for the future any brighter?

In my view the answer is a resounding NO.

Whilst our new CEO is quite happy to be “open and transparent” about information related to past issues of previous council employees, his attitude to current information, openess and transparency is rather a different matter altogether.

Closed agendas items galore ““ councillors can’t even get the reports ““ constant delays and deliberations regarding questions and requests for information. Floor One is a prime example ““ getting to the crux of the matter has been almost impossible, even getting the council to give me public documents about the tender was like pulling teeth with constant delay and misdirection. Even now, as a councillor, I still do not know what is happening with Floor One, even though under the consitution, it must go through a set process.

More recently, the restructure of the council appears to be being conducted like an MI6 undercover terrorist operation. If anything this council is more sensitive, more secretive and more media controlled than ever.

Am I just being critical for politics sake? Am I paranoid? Well I think their are enough out there with their own recent experiences of FOIs etc to know exactly what I mean.

If the government is serious about localism the very first thing it has to address is the old boys network in local government and making clear legislation that puts the honesty and trustworthiness of senior council staff at the centre of democracy.The public and elected representatives should expect no less than to receive all the relevant information they need to make decisions, and that it be accurate, and where individual fail in their duty to do this they should be put before the courts ““ not paid off for their silence.

Some may think that my aim is at Stoke Council, yet the revolving door of local government officers suggests to me that this goes on in most if not all councils ““ some are just better at hiding it.

In the last 3 weeks alone I have been informed of several large “deals” or “payoffs” all hush hush of course with secrecy clauses in the agreements.

Well I have 4 months left as a councillor before the elections and yes I am standing.

As a councillor for 11 years, what has been revealed to the public about mismanagement is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of what I have seen would make some people hair curl, and sadly, to my shame, I have kept my head down at some critical moments, if only to survive for another day.

My first committment for the next 4 months is this ““ to expose and reveal the scale of payoffs and golden handshakes past and present.

My second is to help and support anybody new that is prepare to stand up and be counted at the elections in 2011.

This council will not change until there are enough councillors in it to say enough is enough, and to ask the right questions.

There are plenty of you out there better than me and certainly better than the coalition led by Pervez ““ I have read your blogs, your comments and letters in the newspapers etc.

So I urge those of you that care, those of you that have taken to time to read or comment on fate of Stoke-on-Trent, to stand at the elections, regardless of your politics. Take a chance and make a diffrence.

Question: What Do You Do After You Tell 700 Staff They Might Go? Answer: Spend Hundreds of Thousands on a New Office and Garden!!

Staff Moral at Stoke-on-Trent City Council is taking a further battering following the proposals to axe 700 staff over then next six months.

As work on Floor 1 of the Civic Centre in Stoke begins, which sees the Chief Executive relocate his office, and we understand all Directors and Pervez and his Cabinet.

New decking is being laid over the central courtyard patio stones so that the officer elite have a nice view reputed to also include a fountain when complete.

Several members of staff whose jobs are at risk have told Community Voice “We can’t believe a week after threating 700 with job losses, a new garden is going in which nobody is likely to use, its a kick in the teeth”.

This is the first stage in the First Floor Refurbishment expect to cost hundreds of thousands to house Van der Laarschot and his team, as he moves from his palatial wood panelled office on the ground floor.

“Can we really take Pervez and his Cabinet seriously with this “I alright Jack” attitude. It shows little compassion or sensitivity to those staff and their families now worried sick about their jobs and future.

Just take one example in the proposed cuts ““ Weekend respite for Disabled Children axed ““ or decking etc for comfort.

Its simply not on; not on at all”!

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Staff Settlements and Disputes Soar!

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s costs for departing staff who agree a settlement, sometimes used to stop a claim or for the council to buy their silence has already exceeded last year’s total figure by over £30,000 in the first six months of this fanancial year.

The figure already stands at £551,394.14 covering 49 former staff compared to £517,226.93 for 71 staff in 2009/10, my investigations have brought to light.

These costs are soaring at a time when the council is considering the Cabinet’s proposals to cut £33m from its budget and 700 staff, and it does not include the imminent legal claim being brought by the former Director of Neighbourhood Services, Jeanette MaGarry, for unfair dismissal, which could see this figure rise substantially in the near future should the claim be successful.

Cost of Staff Leaving the Authority are highlighted below.

The figures also reveal redundancy and early retirement cost the City Council £7m last year for 300 staff leaving giving some indications of the costs of losing a further 700.

Claims for Injuries at work at the city Council have already double last year’s total figure of £200,000 where 2211 days of work were also lost, adding to the cost.

CostNo. of Staff
a) Ill Health Retirement21
b) Agreed Settlements & c) disputed settlements517,226.9371
d) tribunal or court awards
e) early retirement4,818,513.63116
f) redundancy2,183,572.33184
Injury or Ill Health Claims214,695.02 
Days lost due to works related ill health NOT AVAILABLE 
Days lost due to injury 2,211
2010/2011 to Date  
CostNo. of
a) Ill Health Retirement1
b) Agreed Settlements & c) disputed settlements551,394.1449
d) tribunal or court awards
e) early retirement194,397.4515
f) redundancy464,847.81101
Injury or Ill Health Claims502,836.89 
Days lost due to works related ill health NOT AVAILABLE 
Days lost due to injury 278

Pervez’s Budget Sham!

Well, will the media and public fall for it?

PitsnPots already have, hook, line “¦”¦”¦..and sinker.

Pervez and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have released the budget cuts because of the Government and it equates to a devastating £33million.


I urge the media and the public to look at the figures very, very closely.

The actual savings that need to be made because of the government reduction in grants is £22million ““ this takes into account the £3million overspend this year that Pervez says will be achieved.

I will repeat this ““ The actual savings that need to be made because of the government reduction in grants is £22million ““ this takes into account the £3million overspend this year that Pervez says will be achieved.

So why put forward £33million of cuts. Is it political to make the government look even worse than it is?

Why announce 50% more cuts than you need?£11million more than is required!!!!

Why Pervez? Why worry people even more than they already are? Why scare more people about their jobs?

You and your Cabinet should be ashamed of yourselves.

Stoke ‘On’ Call Centre – The Facts!

At a recent Improving Communities Scrutiny Committee, councillors questioned the progress of the intervention of the consultants Vanguard into our Council House Repairs Service, delivered by Kier.

Our officers proclaim the great success so far of the pilot scheme with little concrete evidence to show for their efforts.

I have every reason to believe that the work being done will eventually lead to improvements in the services as well as better value for money.

However, the current “pilot” scheme evidence shows a devastating collapse of some services such as the call centre, and the rapid exhaustion of annual budgets within 6 months. To me this is a gross mismanagement of the transition arrangements, where current services levels should, at the very least, be maintained.

I think even I could claim an improvement of a services for the first six months if I spent 12 months worth of funding in just 6 months!

Take our call centre for an example ““ the number was unobtainable again on Monday 20 September 2010 (is this how you reduce the number of unanswered calls in the system).

“Cllr Barnes, there is nobody here to take the calls”

All this after the councillors almost unanimously called for urgent action to be taken to restore this important front line service ““ apparently ignored.

The latest figures released speak for themselves:

The combined contact centre performance figures:
Total Number of Calls Offered 16,676

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 11,813

Percentage of Calls Answered 70.8%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 151 Seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 30.21%

Contact Centre Performance per main service area:

To provide more detailed information on how the contact centre is performing, please see below performance information for the main service area’s delivered within the contact centre:-

Total Number of Calls Offered 4,884

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 3,226

Percentage of Calls Answered 66.1%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 283 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 27.15%

Total Number of Calls Offered 3,584

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 1,548

Percentage of Calls Answered 43.2%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 974 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 11.61%

Total Number of Calls Offered 4,003

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 3,351

Percentage of Calls Answered 83.7%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 108 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 41.47%

Total Number of Calls Offered 1,684

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 1,538

Percentage of Calls Answered 91.3%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 130 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 37.59%

Total Number of Calls Offered 1,580

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 1,383

Percentage of Calls Answered 87.5%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 171 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 28.80%

Total Number of Calls Offered 941

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 767

Percentage of Calls Answered 81.5%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 89 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 58.24%

The most significant figures in this list are the housing repairs stats.

“Percentage of calls answered 43.2%” – Less than 1 in every 2 calls is answered let alone resolved.

“Average wait to be connected” for the lucky one who did get an answer ““ “974 seconds” ““ that’s nearly 16 and a half minutes!

So this is what our council promotes as improvements ““ god help us if we came across their version of failure!

Our Chief Executive Laarschott, defended the call centre problems by saying that things were so successful that the number of calls had gone up. Really? Well guess what John ““
I asked for all of the weekly figures for the last 6 months and what a surprise I got.

What these figures actually show is that six months ago we were receiving 3000 calls a week more than we do now (19000) and our performance was considerably better with this higher call level! (80%)

So lets cut all the bullshit and get real and start to work together to acknowledge the problems and resolve them instead of trying to conceal them with spin and grandiose claims.

I certainly am not happy with the level of service from our contact centre, and if it doesn’t improve very very soon, I will be asking my colleagues in Community Voice, to call an emergency council meeting to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all.

Motion to Stoke-on-Trent City Council re Boundaries Commission Deferral Explanation

This Thursday (9 September 2010) I have put forward a motion, seconded by my council colleague, Cllr Brian Ward, the essence of which is to request that the government intervenes and defers the Boundary Committee’s report, due to be released shortly.

The motion effectively leaves in place the current structure and electoral cycle in the interim period and means that Elections by thirds of 60 councillors will still take place in May 2011.
The motion is laid out below for information:

“That Stoke-on-Trent City Council welcomes the Government’s interest in local governance and will consider with interests its proposals in the forthcoming Bills that affect local democracy, some of them radical and far reaching.

In view of the proposals and the timetable set out for the changes, Stoke-on-Trent City Council expresses its concern regarding the imminent report from the Boundaries Commission regarding Stoke-on-Trent, in that some of the significant changes to local governance are likely to have implications that further require work by the Boundaries Commission.

It would, therefore be in the interest of the communities of Stoke-on-Trent, and continuity in the short term, that the current Boundary Review findings be deferred until such time as the current proposals by the Government are put into legislation, and can be considered by the Boundaries Committee and the impacts they may have on their recommendations, so as to reduce the need for repetition and instability over the short term.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, therefore, asks the Minister responsible for Local Government to consider intervening regarding the above matter in the interests of the electors of Stoke-on-Trent.”

The whole council agenda and reports can be found HERE.
Firstly, I make no secret of my view that I believe that the draft position of the Boundary Committee, that 44 councillors should govern Stoke-on-Trent City Council to be wrong and detrimental to democracy in Stoke-on-Trent.
However, I wish to make it clear that this is not the motivation for the above motion, and I would discourage and not associate myself with those that see this as an opportunity.

Some may argue “Why bother?”, “There are more important issues” or “People aren’t interested”. There is almost a sense of satisfaction that our freedom and democracy are such that the vast majority that them for granted. However, Democracy for me is at the centre of my political being. It has shaped every decision I have made, and brought me to the place I am now.

I have seen some politicians used the argument “People aren’t interested” in the past and I have to say it infuriates me. At best it’s a lack of understanding and at worst a lazy side step and avoidance of the issues at hand. Democracy is the keystone that underpins all the public decisions made on our behalf and it affects every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave. Imagine the forth coming public services cuts without democracy.
I can put my views on Democracy in a simple sentence: The more people involved in decision making the greater the strength of the democracy.

Now to the motion itself and an explanation.
The ConDem Coalition Government has put forward a draft programme of changes first set out immediately following their formation and outlined in their Government Programme.

The coalition programme affecting local government
challenges the wisdom of major ward boundary or local government restructuring in the short term as their ambitious plans will directly conflict with those of the Transition Board and the Boundary Committee devastating proposals.

Government Programme on Local Government Chapter 4 states:

The Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people. We will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we will end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.

“¢ We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance.

“¢ We will rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils,including giving councils new powers to stop”Ëœgarden grabbing’.

“¢ In the longer term, we will radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live, based on the principles set out in the Conservative Party publication Open Source Planning.

“¢ We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

“¢ We will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic,environmental and social priorities.

“¢ We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation ““ similar to SSSIs ““ to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.

“¢ We will abolish the Government Office for London and consider the case for abolishing the remaining Government Offices.

“¢ We will provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charging orders, ensure that courts have the power to insist that repossession is always a last resort,and ban orders for sale on unsecured debts of less than £25,000.

“¢ We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.

“¢ We will promote shared ownership schemes and help social tenants and others to own or part-own their home.

“¢ We will promote “ËœHome on the Farm’ schemes that encourage farmers to convert existing buildings into affordable housing.

“¢ We will create new trusts that will make it simpler for communities to provide homes for local people.

“¢ We will phase out the ring-fencing of grants to local government and review the unfair Housing Revenue Account.

“¢ We will freeze Council Tax in England for at least one year, and seek to freeze it fora further year, in partnership with local authorities.

“¢ We will create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.

“¢ We will give councils a general power of competence.

“¢ We will ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime.

“¢ We will allow councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to.

“¢ We will abolish the Standards Board regime.

“¢ We will stop the restructuring of councils in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon, and stop plans to force the regionalisation of the fire service.

“¢ We will impose tougher rules to stop unfair competition by local authority newspapers.

“¢ We will introduce new powers to help communities save local facilities and services threatened with closure, and give communities the right to bid to take over local state-run services.

“¢ We will implement the Sustainable Communities Act, so that citizens know how taxpayers’ money is spent in their area and have a greater say over how it is spent.

Ң We will cut local government inspection and abolish the Comprehensive Area Assessment.Ӣ We will require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new housing.

“¢ We will provide incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development, including for new homes and businesses.

“¢ We will review the effectiveness of the raising of the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers.

“¢ We will give councillors the power to vote on large salary packages for unelected council officials.

This has more recently been formalised and reinforced by the release of the document sent to councils called the “DCLG Draft Structural Reform Plan”.

The full document is here:
CLG_Draft_Structural_Reform_Plan[1].pdfThe significance of this document for Stoke-on-Trent is highlighted in many of the changes proposed and are self evident, but also in the timetable.

Most of the changes will come in the “Local Government Bill” timetabled for October 2010 and the “Localism Bill” timetable for October 2011.

The number of changes will have an enormous impact on the role of elected members, not just is Stoke-on-Trent but right across the country.

These, according to the government’s own timetable shall be in place by October 2011.

This is why I am moving the motion at full council, as I believe it would be in the interests of everyone in Stoke-on-Trent, that any significant changes in governance take into account the new governments changes.

My understanding is that the Secretary of State has the power to do this, as Parliament must consider the Boundary Committee’s Recommendation and approve them before they can be implemented.

Britannia Stadium Investigation Cost £27000

It has just been revealed that the District Auditor’s investigation into the Britannia Stadium Shares sale has cost the City Council £27,000.

The Leader of the Council, Mohamed Pervez, is rumoured to have quoted that councillors should have been happy with the internal investigation. Did he read it? He didn’t even go to the meeting, perhaps because it was in the day time.

Typical, flippant comment from a politician who doesn’t know or bother to even find out the facts, and, quite frankly, has a significant responsibility for this outrageous cost.
If we go back to the beginning, I went through the proper channels to get the answers I, and many other people were interested in.

Two simple questions:

  • Who signed off the deal for the sale of the shares in the Britannia Stadium?
  • Why weren’t councillors told at the full council held to discuss the matter, that payment was in instalments?

Six months later ““neither the Council Manager, Mr Steve Robinson nor the Elected Mayor, Mark Meredith had responded. Nobody can say I didn’t give them ample opportunity to answer, so I formally wrote to the DA for help in the matter.

He decided that an internal audit, agreed by the council, would be the best way to deal with the matter. I disagreed ““ but that was the course of action taken.

At the same time one Mohamed Pervez, Deputy Elected Mayor, now the Council Leader, took over the formal responsibilities of the council, because of Mark Meredith’s arrest. It was at this time that Mr Pervez, in his new powerful role could have released the information at no cost to the council.

We waited a month, then another and another. 12 months later the internal audit report came out ““ with still no answers to the questions. It wasn’t worth the paper it was written on and I even ripped it up at a full council meeting. Some of the key people involved had apparently refused to co-operate.

It was at this time that the District Auditor, recorded at the Audit Committee to discuss the issue, expressed his disappointment at the report as it had failed to deliver key information. The DA then decided that, in hindsight, that he should have realised that the council’s internal audit would be inadequate.

He, the DA, then instigated his own investigation, which is strongly rumoured to have been hampered by non-cooperation and legal challenges and threats.

If officers and councillors had done their jobs right and been honest in the first place, it would not have cost one penny ““ not one.

Only at the last full council did one of my questions contain misinformation ““ Cllr Follows, on the matter of the Geese Cull wrote that the City Council has a “robust wildlife management plan” ““ but then had to admit that it does not exist!

Honesty, openness and transparency cost nothing ““ secrecy and lies cost us dear, as we have learned time and time again in Stoke-on-Trent.

So if you want to know why two simple questions cost us £27,000 Cllr Pervez, take a good long look in the mirror.

I wish that the government would consider making it a criminal offence for senior officers in local government to mislead or lie to elected representatives and the public. All too often those that were at fault have gone on to greener pastures by the time their damaging actions have come to light.