Ross Irving speaks out on the Chris Harman saga!

Audio Interview Now Online!

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

By Tony Walley

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Ross Irving today gave his exclusive thoughts on a range of issues that have effected our city over the past few weeks.

The call for voluntary redundancies, the Boundary Committee recommendations, political fragmentation and of course the issue that has created a massive public outcry, the Chris Harman saga.

I would like to thank Ross for his valued contribution and his honest opinions.

Listen to the Audio Interview:

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1109/ross-irving-11-09.mp3]

Chris Harman Press Statement

This press statement has just been released by the City Council:

Today is Chris Harman’s last working day with the Council. Chris has worked with Stoke-on-Trent City Council since February 2007, most recently as interim chief executive. During that time the Council has made significant improvements and been judged as “Ëœimproving strongly’ ““ the highest rating from the independent government watchdog, the Audit Commission.

In leaving now, Chris has agreed to waive his right to notice in his current role, delivering an immediate financial saving for the Council.

Chris also holds a substantive post of Assistant Chief Executive and the Human Resources Committee has today agreed that, to meet the Council’s contractual obligations, Chris will receive a payment equivalent to his notice entitlement for that post.

Chris said: “With a new Chief Executive coming it is time to move on and it is only fair for the new person to choose his own deputy. I have enjoyed my time with Stoke-on-Trent and have made many new friends.”

Councillor Paul Shotton, chair of the HR Committee said: “Chris Harman has worked hard for the people of Stoke-on-Trent. Today’s decision by the HR Committee gives the incoming Chief Executive the opportunity to review senior management arrangements, potentially delivering further savings.”

Tom Macartney, North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership managing director and the council’s Director of Regeneration will deputise for chief executive John van de Laarschot, until he is in post.

Mr Macartney will work together with council leader Ross Irving, the cabinet, councillors and the council’s senior managers during this transitional period.

The Statement will not have come as any surprise to people in the City of Stoke-on-Trent, and although the statement does not say how much Mr Harman was paid we think it is safe to assume that it will be the £74,000 as previously reported.  The Sentinel are reporting the final pay out to Chris Harman to be £65,616

Why I Still Say No To Harmans Pay Off – Gavin Webb

Source: gavinwebb.com

A week ago I emailed council leader Ross Irving requesting an explanation on what precisely was happening over the absence of city council Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman:

Dear Councillor Irving

I write to request from you a full briefing ““ copied to all councillors, local media and posted on stoke.gov.uk ““ on the situation regarding Chris Harman and the post of Chief Executive.  It has now been nearly three weeks since the new Chief Executive was appointed and as an elected councillor, I have yet to receive any information relating to Chris Harman and any requests he has made for payment from the City taxpayer.

I hope you’ll agree with me that it is not acceptable to keep councillors in the dark and this matter does nothing to engender trust between non-executive and executive councillors, or indeed between the City Council and the public.

Based on my own intuition and the information I’ve seen in the press, I feel that it would highly unacceptable to make any sort of payment to Chris Harman.  The matter seems very straightforward to me ““ if he wishes to leave the employ of the City Council voluntarily, he deserves no payment.  Of course, I may be entirely unfair or unreasonable in this belief, but until I and other councillors ““ and therefore the public ““ has a full understanding of the facts, the only reasonable conclusion that one can come to is to say “ËœNo’ to any payoff.

I am aware that other councillors are considering calling for a special meeting of the council to demand an explanation from you about this issue and I would happily support such a call.  However, it is not a necessary course of action if you merely provide elected members and the public with information on what is happening.  If you refuse, you are leader of nothing but a secretive cabal that is no better than what went on before.

Councillor Paul Shotton is also included in this email and, as Chair of the Human Resources Committee, maybe he could shed some light on the situation.

Kind regards

Gavin

Gavin Webb, Councillor

Libertarian for Stoke and Trent Vale

Unfortunately, Councillor Irving hasn’t seen fit to reply.

A few days later, I and twenty-one other councillors signed a motion ““ moved by Peter Kent-Baguley ““ calling for an Extraordinary Council Meeting to enable all councillors the opportunity to debate the matter:

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

Tomorrow, the Human Resources Committee will meet to discuss whether or not Harman should receive a payoff. It is speculated by the Sentinel that a compromise agreement may be met to pay Harman £74,000.

As a backbench councillor who has not been party to any of the discussions on this matter, including the Human Resources meeting on 2 October; and who has received no more information other than what I’ve read in the press, I stick by my original view that there should be no payoff for Harman.

If he is “Ëœcompensated’ as per his contract, then there are very serious questions to be answered as to who was responsible for drawing up and agreeing that original contract.

The big question then will be, how many other contracts like Harman’s have been agreed upon by city council officials?

City Council To Pay Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman £74,000 To Leave

The Sentinel is this morning reporting that Stoke-on-Trent City Council are offering absent Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman £74,000 to leave his post! The recommendation that the city council ‘reach a compromise’ with Mr Harman is being made by Dawn Hewins head of Human Resouces at the City Council. Dawn Hewins was given the delegated powers of the Human Resources Committee to reach a compromise with Mr Harman at their meeting on 2 October. Lawyers working for the City Council have been speaking to Chris Harman, who is to ill to come to work, privately to agree this ‘compromise’ since then. The compromise of £74,000 is expected to be agreed by the Human Resources Committee when they sit tomorrow.

The City Council Human Resources Committee is made up of:

Clive Brian (Conservative and Independent Alliance)
Derek Capey (City Independents) (Vice-Chair)
Kieran Clarke (Liberal Democrat)
Michael Coleman (British National)
Terence Follows (City Independents)
Ross Irving (Conservative and Independent Alliance)
Mohammed Pervez (Labour)
Margaret Pyatt (City Independents)
Paul Shotton (Labour) (Chair)
Mr Harman who is currently paid around £157,000 as interim Chief Executive is contracted to 3 months notice which would be a severance / redundancy payment of £39,250 so why offer him nearly double that to leave?

Chris Harman & his wife Sue Brelade are renowned, published authors in the world of HR & Knowledge Management with their books selling for excess of £100 each.

Should Mr Harman be given a pay off to leave the council? Let us know your thoughts

Interim exec should come back to complete the job

Comment by Matt Taylor

Nothing’s ever simple in Stoke-on-Trent, is it?

The job at the helm of the city council had been advertised with many quipping at the seemingly extravagant amount of cash available to the successful applicant. The next thing we know, the HR committee appointed John van de Laarschot following his successes at Torridge council in North Devon. But, he wouldn’t be coming right away, since he’d have to complete his responsibility to his current employer.

And in the meantime, the man in charge in Stoke, interim Chief Exec Chris Harman, in a seemingly toys-out-of-pram move, suddenly went off on the sick the next day, which has left the authority in a fine old mess at the decision-making end of things.

Mr Harman was, as his title suggests, a temporary replacement in the position, as well as one of those who was considered for the permanent post before plumping for Van de Laarschot.

And now the council is locked in a legal procedure in which Harman attempts to secure a pay-off in order to leave without notice.

But should it not be the other way around? If he is not going to complete the period of notice shouldn’t he be paying money back rather than receiving it? Not having the contract of employment at hand, we cannot be sure of the specific details involved here. But it has been reported that he needed to give three months’ notice to leave immediately. One could assume then, that he would have to be receive the same deal vice versa and the council would have to give him three months’ notice before terminating his employment.

It would make sense that Harman returned to serve a final quarter, which would fit in perfectly with the new man’s arrival after Christmas.

But since he is evidently not willing to do this, and the city council has been left without a leading officer. Since a legal fight is under way to allow him to leave without fulfilling the period, Mr Harman appears to have no intention of coming back to work for the city council, and in the meantime remains on a full salary on sick leave.

From the timing of his disappearance, and the circumstances of having just been beaten to the post by the Van De Laarschot, it seems a very convenient time to become ill the next day.

What it does seem to show is that Chris Harman appears to hold his own personal circumstances high above the needs of the city council which he was directing. If he indeed cared about the fate of the city, and the people of Stoke, surely he should simply come back and complete the job and then allow his successor to take over in January as those on the commitee decided, rather than battling against one of the few decisions he was not actually in control of.

SUNDAY DEBATE: Nice work – if you can get it!

We published this article a few days ago, but we thought we would push it up the page and use the contents as a topic for a good old fashioned debate.

Comment By - Tony Walley

Tony Walley

Comment By Tony Walley.

We published this article a few days ago, but we thought we would push it up the page and use the contents as a topic for a good old fashioned debate.

Something for the weekend -ahem!

Transition Board.

There has been some confusion as to whether the members of the Transition Board are being paid or not.

I can reveal that the answer is some are and some are not.

There is an allowance of £4000pa which has now been paid to those members who have filled the appropriate forms in. One person who has chosen not to take this allowance is former Labour Group Leader Mike Tappin. I think he should be applauded for this.

Now you either love or loathe Mike Tappin but as I have said on this site before, if the Transition Board were made up of Mike Tappins, I for one would have no issue with it.

I think politics to one side, Mike is probably on of the most experienced politicians ever to represent this city. A former MEP and councillor who was one of the few of his kind who truly understands local government finance. Mike has come in for a bit of criticism on this site particularly from the members of the far right and that is fine as long as we concentrate of political differences rather than the personal attacks. This is what often brings this site down, the meaningless, frankly boring personal stuff rather than focusing on the policies and political issues.

Never the less this £4000pa paid to those who have chosen to accept it. For a board that is not obliged to publish official minutes of their meetings [they publish notes]. The burning question about the TB is as before. How were these people selected? Did they apply and if they did, who did they apply to? What selection criteria was used to ensure the right people were appointed?

The board is made up of the following people:

As I say I have no issues will those on the Board with the experience of the Mike Tappin’s of the world but, I have yet to be convinced that some of the characters on there can make a real difference, or am I being unfair?

The funding for paying this allowance comes from the West Midlands Regional Efficiency Partnership and as such does not come out of the city council budget.

Links

Stoke-on-Trent Governance Transition Board

NSRP Chair.

Another post that would be attractive to those who are seeking maximum return for minimum commitment is the creation of a paid Chairman for the North Staffs Regeneration Partnership [NSRP] It seems that this is to go before the cabinet at their next meeting.

This successful applicant is to be paid £24,000 per year for just 4 days work per month!

Now I know that Cllr Mick Salih raised this issue several times in the council chamber. He mentioned that this post could pay £20000 per year, well I can’t imagine that he is too happy to learn that this paid position will carry a salary of some £4000 above that!

Mick has always argued that the chair of the NSRP should be the political leader of our council chamber and that it should not be a paid position as it should come under the responsibility of the council leader’s remit.

The report going before the cabinet will recommend that:

The Cabinet is asked to note the arrangements for the recruitment and appointment of an independent Chair of the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership (NSRP), and (acting in its capacity as Accountable Body for the NSRP) to endorse the following
NSRP Boards decisions:-

a) That the Chair will be appointed for a term of between 3 and 6 years;

b) That a stipend of £24,000 per annum will be payable provided that the successful candidate is not an elected Member or an Officer of a Local Authority;

c) That the partners share the recruitment costs and the annual cost of the stipend as set out in the report, and;

d) That an appointments panel be established to oversee the recruitment process, to conduct interviews and to appoint the Chair of the NSRP for such term and upon such conditions as it considers appropriate (having regard to recommendations (a) and (b) above) . Such appointments panel shall comprise the Interim NSRP Chair, Mr Ian Dudson, and representatives of the following partner organisations – Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, Staffordshire County
Council, Advantage West Midlands, and the Homes and Community’s Agency.

It would appear that the recruitment process will cost in the region of £30,000 and will be carried out by Penna [the company that handled the appointment of the chief executive]. The position will be advertised in the Sunday Times and Regeneration and Renewal, [so it’s no good looking in the Sentinel on a Wednesday]. The job is advertised on the Penna Executive Recruitment  website but with no publicly available details

It is suggested that the cost of recruitment is borne by the City Council [from NSRP budget] and that the stipend is shared between key partners, on a third each basis between the City Council, HCA, and AWM as set out in the report.

I have a couple of questions, who came up with the salary level for this position? And did it take into account that the commitment in relation of time is just four days a month?

You can bet that this will cause a stir at the next full council meeting.

Interim Chief Executive.

Now a lot has been made of the fact that out-going Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman is not at his desk holding the reigns while the new CE John van de Laarschot’s release from Torridge is being negotiated. Indeed a source has informed me that Chris is actually away on leave in Dubai.

There has been an outcry at the fact that he is looking for a pay off to go. This all comes down to what is written in the contract that covered Chris whilst he was Interim CE. Contracts of this nature normally have a clause built into them that would stipulate a notice period and I would guess that could be in the region of 3 months.

Chris will also have a contract as the deputy CE and again, depending on what this contract requires there will be a clause which will allow either the authority or the individual to leave with some period of notice.

Now, I’m not saying it is right or wrong whether Chris gets a pay off, I am saying that whatever members of the public and indeed elected members of the chamber feel Chris will be remunerated inline with the terms and conditions of his contract[s].

It is common place for people in executive positions not to work their notice period and then to negotiate a severance package based on their contracts.

When a company and an individual decide that the position of a person is untenable there may be what is called a ‘Compromise Agreement’, which is normally drawn up between lawyers and often contains a ‘gagging order’ to protect both parties.

The Sentinel article and the comments posted to it may well strengthen Chris Harman’s case that his position is untenable in my opinion. Not that I disagree with the article or think that it should not have been written.

When people take their salaries from the public purse, they are to some extent accountable to every man and woman in the city. I am no lover of reading personal criticisms and in my opinion it has got personal in the case of Chris Harman, some members of the public want to hit out and to be fair maybe that’s what the extortionate salary levels attract.

I am not saying this to be controversial, far from it but I do think that this matter needs bringing to a close as soon as possible. If I were at the civic and negotiating this I would pay a reasonable sum to secure a positive outcome for both parties.

There is no advantage in keeping someone in place who doesn’t want to be there and has lost the confidence of those who are around him and indeed the public at large.

Pay out as little as we can get away with and let’s move on.

Residents’ associations – where are they?

By Nicky Davis With the next stage of the boundary committee’s consultation due to run from 27th October to 18th January and no evidence of much action being taken following the 8th September council meeting, I have today (14th October) submitted the following complaint to the council, to try to get something moving! I have made a number of telephone requests to ask for the details of residents’ associations on the council’s web site: http://www.stoke.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/community–people-and-living/residents–associations/ which is woefully out of date, to be corrected. This is because I am a firm believer in grass roots democracy, wish to see residents’ associations thrive and believe this would be good for residents, communities and the city. It would help to facilitate this if the list of residents’ associations on the web were accurate! Unfortunately the response I have had to my polite requests has been non-existent. This is why I am now regrettably submitting this complaint to the council. At the full council meeting on 8th September on the council report to the boundary committee, Cllr Joy Garner also pointed out inaccuracies in the list of residents’ associations. She said the boundary committee should have a full and correct list. The Lord Mayor Jean Bowers actioned Chris Harman to do this. This gave me some hope that something would be done, but I have lost that hope now. If the boundary committee have been given a full and correct list, why can’t this list be made available to the rest of us on the council’s web site? If the boundary committee have not been given the correct list, that is even more of a disgrace. With the next stage of the boundary committee’s consultation http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/boundary-reviews/all-reviews/west-midlands/staffordshire/stoke-on-trent-electoral-review due 27th October to 18th January, it is especially important to have a proper list of residents’ associations and what areas they cover. It is my view that when new ward boundaries are decided they should not split residents’ associations. There are potential complexities, especially if neighbourhood zones might be important in deciding ward boundaries. Where I live, the residents’ association crosses the boundary of two neighbourhood zones. In order for a proper consideration of ward boundaries to take place, I would make a further request, that a map is made available on the web site showing the exact areas, to street level, covered by all the residents’ associations. This information exists, for example see the map on: http://www.trenthampeople.co.uk/Map.htm It just needs someone in the council who has this for all associations to put it together. In summary, what I am asking in order for my complaint to be properly addressed is for (a) a full and correct list of residents’ associations and (b) a map showing the exact areas covered by all residents’ associations, to be made available on the council’s web site, prior to 27th October when the next stage of the boundary committee’s consultation commences. I thank you in advance for your help.

Residents’ associations – where are they?

By Nicky Davis

With the next stage of the boundary committee’s consultation due to run from 27th October to 18th January and no evidence of much action being taken following the 8th September council meeting, I have today (14th October) submitted the following complaint to the council, to try to get something moving!

I have made a number of telephone requests to ask for the details of residents’ associations on the council’s web site:

http://www.stoke.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/community–people-and-living/residents–associations/

which is woefully out of date, to be corrected.  This is because I am a firm believer in grass roots democracy, wish to see residents’ associations thrive and believe this would be good for residents, communities and the city.  It would help to facilitate this if the list of residents’ associations on the web were accurate!

Unfortunately the response I have had to my polite requests has been non-existent.  This is why I am now regrettably submitting this complaint to the council.

At the full council meeting on 8th September on the council report to the boundary committee, Cllr Joy Garner also pointed out inaccuracies in the list of residents’ associations.  She said the boundary committee should have a full and correct list.  The Lord Mayor Jean Bowers actioned Chris Harman to do this.  This gave me some hope that something would be done, but I have lost that hope now.  If the boundary committee have been given a full and correct list, why can’t this list be made available to the rest of us on the council’s web site?  If the boundary committee have not been given the correct list, that is even more of a disgrace.

With the next stage of the boundary committee’s consultation

http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/boundary-reviews/all-reviews/west-midlands/staffordshire/stoke-on-trent-electoral-review

due 27th October to 18th January, it is especially important to have a proper list of residents’ associations and what areas they cover.  It is my view that when new ward boundaries are decided they should not split residents’ associations.  There are potential complexities, especially if neighbourhood zones might be important in deciding ward boundaries.  Where I live, the residents’ association crosses the boundary of two neighbourhood zones.

In order for a proper consideration of ward boundaries to take place, I would make a further request, that a map is made available on the web site showing the exact areas, to street level, covered by all the residents’ associations.  This information exists, for example see the map on:

http://www.trenthampeople.co.uk/Map.htm

It just needs someone in the council who has this for all associations to put it together.

In summary, what I am asking in order for my complaint to be properly addressed is for
(a) a full and correct list of residents’ associations and
(b) a map showing the exact areas covered by all residents’ associations,
to be made available on the council’s web site, prior to 27th October when the next stage of the boundary committee’s consultation commences.

I thank you in advance for your help.

SERCO ““ time to go!

By Nicky Davis

Source ““ Sentinel

It is reported that children and young people’s services could now be brought  back in house as a result of cash shortages.  I hope SERCO really are on their way out now!  Like Rob Flello says, “I won’t be sorry to see them go.”  He also says they set back BSF by several years.  Good old Mick Salih goes even further and says they failed miserably on BSF.  Well said Mick!

The Sentinel says there were “damning reports on the council’s treatment of vulnerable children in care and declining educational attainment levels”.

Chris Harman now wants to bring children’s services back under council control.  Well good for Chris, I agree with him in this case.  What is worrying though is this makes it crystal clear who is in charge of the council.  Chris Harman says they have  “made a recommendation TO the council cabinet that management of children and young people’s services comes back in-house from April”.  So Ross Irving and Ian Mitchell are just going along with Chris.  Well good, because I agree with children’s services being under council control.  But I don’t agree with the general point of the leader and cabinet just doing what officers tell them.  We should have the councillors we elected making the decisions.

Anyway, let’s hope we will be waving goodbye to SERCO from April.

Are SERCO the saviours of education?

By Tony Walley.

After being involved in the most controversial period in our city’s education, Serco may be awarded a further long term contract.

Serco, led by Children Services Director Ged Rowney were originally given a £5.2million three year contract but ruled out a further 12 month extension.

Chris Harman has stated that it is the council’s preference to keep our city’s Children & Young Peoples Services Department under the management of a private company.

Under Serco our city’s education and children’s services department has been given a clean bill of health  and has been removed from what was effectively ‘special measures’.

But, in my opinion, the decision of whether our kid’s education should be run in house or placed in the hands of a private company is one for the whole council chamber and not just the Interim Chief Executive and his band of merry officers.

There is not one single ward councillor that has not been effected, criticised, vilified, sometimes praised but often slated. These ward councillors were at the front line facing the public while the Council Manager, Elected Mayor and his paid henchmen/women were left sniping and stirring from the sideline.

I am very concerned that once again something that has caused such an outcry in our city from the ‘Hands off Haywood’ to the ‘Trentham Action Group’. From Heathfield Special School, to the urgency of the James Brindley rebuild, once again it is non elected officials that are loading the gun and they expect our new Council manager to fire the bullets and ride roughshod over the other 50 or so elected peoples representatives.

This decision and process must be handled with sensitivity and we must learn the lessons from previous botched so called ‘consultations’ and ‘call-ins’.

There is no doubt that there have been improvements under Serco particularly the Children Services side of the department and many people forget that Ged Rowney came into post way after the secondary schools re-organisation plans were announced. But whether it is right for Serco to continue or there is an argument for bringing this service back in house is a matter for the whole council and not just the chosen few.

Even now there is no decision on where the so-called ‘Parkhall Academy is to be sited. Berryhill and Mitchell supporters are campaigning hard to get the new school sited on the grounds on Mitchell High, which is something I would have supported if Edensor and Blurton had have been merged.

Council Leader Ross Irving

Council Leader Ross Irving

There is no way anyone can expect kids that live in Edensors catchment area to travel all the

Chris Harman - Interim Chief Executive

Chris Harman - Interim Chief Executive

way to Bucknall, it is a nonsense.

The new school need to be on the Springfields site so that it is accessable from all the communities involved. But where are the voices of Harman and Irving on this pressing matter?

There are leaving it to the relevant ward councillors to fight it out.

Where is the Leadership Ross?

I want to see Ross Irving take ownership of these difficult decision and to be his own man. To many times he has looked like he is Chris Harmans puppy.

Our Council Leader is the master and our Chief Executive should follow.

We as an electorate need to see our Council Leader take control and lead. The dog should wag the tail and not the other way round, which is the way it looks to many at the moment.