Dave Conway Elected Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Independent Group

Ex Labour Group member Cllr Dave Conway has today been elected the Leader of the City Independent Group.

Cllr Conway resigned from the Labour Group in 2009 and immediately joined the City Independent Group where he has served under former Leader Brian Ward until the recent Council Elections on 5th May.

The vacancy for CIG leader was caused when Brian Ward lost his Blurton seat at the election, losing out to Labour’s Neil day in the newly formed ward of Blurton West & Newstead.

The decision to elected Cllr Conway was unanimous and was taken at a meeting of the CIG at the civic centre today.

Cllr Conway has confirmed that Cllr Ann James will be Deputy Group Leader.

Cllr James was elected to serve the Great Chell and Packmoor ward after a 12month absence from the council chamber.

CIG Leader Cllr Dave Conway also confirmed that his group had made the controversial decision to accept Cllr Lee Wanger as a group member. This takes the number of his group to 7.

Cllr Wanger was elected to serve in the Tunstall ward.

Cllr Wanger has always divided opinion among his colleagues and the electorate as to whether he should be accepted in any group on the city council. He has a past conviction for subscribing to a child porn website and had to sign the sex offenders register.

He was previously a member of the Conservative & Independent Alliance before he narrowly failed to win elected to the council in 2010.

New Conservative Group Leader Cllr Abi Brown had already ruled out offering Cllr Wanger a place in her group.

Un-aligned Councillor Paul Breeze has confirmed that he will not be joining any group on the City Council.

Listen to the Audio Interview with new CIG Leader Cllr Dave Conway below. He tells us what is priorities are and how he will go about leading the opposition to the 34 member strong Labour Group.

He also gives his reaction to the new City Council Media Protocol which was withdrawn pending further input from elected members.

The Political Potteries Circa 6th May 2011 Part 2

The council chamber has lost some big characters as a result of the elections, one of the biggest losses was political heavyweight and City Independent Group Leader Brian Ward.

Brian knew that he and his group would have a mammoth task to overcome a resurgent Labour Party. He has put his defeat down to two factors:

1] The Governance Commission who wanted the three mainstream parties to “Ëœman up’ and become more accessible to a wider cross section of the electorate.

2] The recent Boundary Review which Brian felt was all designed to favour the mainstream parties and to rid the political arena of the BNP and Independent politicians.

He was also concerned that the emergence of another Independent candidate in the form of Cllr Roy Naylor’s mother-in-law, Nina Hulse would dilute the independent voters and allow Labour to romp home.

Labour did romp home and if you add the 104 votes Nina Hulse received to Brian Wards total, he would have still been 44 short of a victory.

The City Independents are now in limbo, they have a possible group of 6, but can they swell their numbers to be an effective opposition? Paul Breeze has made it clear that he will plough a lonely furrow, he was elected as a un-aligned councillor and it appears that his mind is made up to go it alone.

The more interesting quandary is whether Lee Wanger will be welcomed to the CIG bosom? Lee has a past conviction and has had to sign the child sex offenders register. Many people are amazed that Lee has been re-elected to the council chamber. The people of Tunstall have had their say and they have chosen Lee, as is their democratic right.

The CIG will be meeting soon to choose a new leader; the favourites are Dave Conway and Terry Follows. Randy Conteh is very able but has health issues that need sorting before he can plan his next political moves.

The Conservatives have been reduced to 2 councillors from the 8 they had under the old Conservative & Independent Alliance.

Abi Brown has confirmed that she and new guy 19 year old Jack Brereton will not enter into any formal agreement with the Independents. Neither will she welcome Lee Wanger into the fold. She has her reasons and she will no doubt receive plaudits for the stance she has taken and rightly so.

Abi has been one of the rising stars of the past 12 months. She has forged a strong reputation for being a hardworking and dedicated ward councillor who is not afraid to speak her mind in the chamber. I know that she felt constricted at times and was unable to speak out against some of the anti Conservative rhetoric spouted from the Labour benches. Coalition was not an easy place for a character like Abi, she is forthright in her views and now she has the opportunity to speak out and spread her proud Conservative values, whilst nurturing a new, fresh, group member.

The chamber also lost one of its true gentlemen.

Ross Irving has served this city for 4 decades. His demise came at the hands of a team of activists from the remnants of the Trentham Action Group.

They delivered leaflets that “Ëœreminded’ the electorate in Trentham that Ross backed a new Academy for Trentham and Blurton.

To cut a long story short, Trentham High was eventually saved. But it wasn’t saved due to the support of TAG darling Terry Follows; it was saved after intervention from Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello. He was the reason that the school will now be refurbished and will remain open.

Had he not got involved and convinced the schools minister to review the case and to write to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, make no mistake, TAG campaign or not – that school would have closed.

The anti Ross Irving leaflet that was put out in Trentham was wrong in my opinion because although it did not favour any candidates it seemed to suggest that Ross was to blame and it urged folk not to vote for him. What it blatantly omits to inform people of was that their precious school was saved because of the actions of a Labour politician.

The anti Ross leaflet was orchestrated by Nick Davis, who uses every opportunity to criticise and project her hatred for the Labour Party. Not once have I ever seen her reference the work that Labour MP Rob Flello put in to save Trentham High. Yet she champions Terry Follows who was aboard the TAG wagon train, but went on the vote to close Mitchell High school.

Ross’s crime warranted a leaflet delivered to every household in Trentham apparently, to remind folk of what he did.

Yet even though Terry was a part of the process that spelled the end For Mitchell, he is the darling of Nicky Davis and the TAG. No mention of the fact that Mr Follows had done exactly the same as Ross but to another school, in another part of the City.

This whole episode is distasteful, selective, hypocritical and reeks of NIMBYism.

Apparently it is OK for Terry to back Trentham High but then a year later vote to close a wonderful school like Mitchell.

I wish Ross a happy retirement and I for one would like to put on record my thanks for the service he has given to the City over the past 4 decades. He never ducked a question or refused an interview and he is a guy who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.

I hope that Ross’s long service and dedication is recognised officially in some way.

The Trentham issue was not the council’s finest hour and was not down to the actions of just Ross, but no one will convince me that without Rob Flello’s intervention ““ the school would remained open.

We also need to acknowledge the loss to the chamber of all those serving councillors who will not return following the election, either through defeat, retirement or de-selection.

Hazel Lyth, Joanne Powell-Becket, Clive Rigby, John Daniels, John Davis, Mark Davis and Alan Rigby among others will not return.

We should also spare a thought for Mohammed Matloob who lost out in Tunstall and will therefore miss out on being the City’s next Lord Mayor. Matty is a really good guy and is a sad loss to the council.

Finally what does the future hold for our fine City?

That is a question that I will be seeking the answers to from our new Labour administration.

Labour imploded a few years ago. They were torn apart by in-fighting, jealousy, bitterness and arrogance. They must not allow this to happen again or the city will once again suffer the consequences.

I want Pervez, his new deputy [my belief is that it will be between Sarah Hill and Paul Shotton] to be open to true public scrutiny.

The “Ëœnew’ Labour Group must engage with the public. Here at Pits n Pots, we want open access to the Labour councillors and particularly the cabinet members so that we can ask the questions that the public seek the answers to.

Pits n Pots have proved that we have dedicated our time energy and resources into this site so that the public have a portal into the council chamber.

Our stats have gone through the roof over the last few months. Me, Mike have resigned from the board of 6towns Radio to solely concentrate our efforts on making Pits n Pots a vital part of this City.

With the engagement and participation of the politicians of this city, over the coming months, we will be bringing you live Question Time broadcasts so that the public can ask politicians about the direction of the city. We will be interviewing Cabinet members in depth and then podcasting them on this site. We will also be hosting live events.

We have big ideas and ambitions. We have the audience; all we need now is the participation of the politicians that we have just elected to serve us.

Labour Group, Conservatives, City Independents, un-aligned councillors – Are you up for the challenge?

Drug House Closure, Meir ““ A Tale of Stoke-on-Trent Community Spirit

Broadway is a leafy part of the Meir Park & Sandon ward, bordered by Longton High and its grounds, the A50, and the shops on Weston Road.

It is comprised largely of privately owned terraced and semi detached houses, Broadway has a very active Residents Association and long time residents will tell you how not so many years ago, properties in this area were put up for sale and sold within the week, so desirable an area was it.

However in recent months, an issue of growing concern has been festering away in Broadway ““ and today saw it finally burst. Just after 10am this morning, District Judge Taylor granted permission for Staffordshire Police to close a property on Broadway Place for two months, following a catalogue of statements from local residents and others about activities at the property since the beginning of the year.

From the front door of the property, it is less than 20metres to the entrance to Longton High, and some of those who came foward to provide the evidence for the closure included teachers and others connected with the school. The sale and use of Class A drugs from the house caused massive concern for everyone in the locality ““ characterised by multiple visits, day and night, to the property, leading to arguments and shouting at all hours, causing great distress to neighbours and other residents.

The district judge commented that there was “Ëœoverwhelming evidence’ that the activities taking place at the property caused disruption and distress to local residents and the school, and also commended local residents for standing up to this serious nuisance in their neighbourhood. He said he hoped that this would be a clear example to others elsewhere in the City that there is hope for their community to be protected against such behaviour.

The court order was unopposed and hours later the house had been secured, with a number of large posters, giving details of the order, on display. Houses in the area were also leafleted to inform them of what had happened. When I visited the property this afternoon, there was an air of calm around the area, with a steady stream of local residents coming to see if what they’d all been hoping for had finally happened. Several residents I talked to spoke of their relief, explaining that they’d just had enough in the end and were more than happy to help the police with evidence to return their neighbourhood to how it had been.

As a local councillor, today has been full of ups and downs ““ to listen to the evidence behind the closure order, the day to day events residents and others lived through, was humbling, however to hear what that same community did, working with the police to turn that situation around, was truly fantastic, and I have nothing but unstinting respect for those whose statements contributed to gaining the order, and for our local police ““ led by Insp Sharrard-Williams – in achieving such a good result for the community. Local councillors’ small part in all this was supporting the Residents Association and providing money for securing the premises, something we were all more than happy to do.

Last night, the house in Broadway Place remained dark and empty, and hopefully residents will have their first night of decent sleep in quite some time, while the message goes out strongly into the local community that drug dealing and anti social behaviour are not acceptable here anymore.

What’s It *Really* Like in Hanley on a Friday Night?

As a member of the Licencing Committee (the committee responsible for issuing alcohol licences across the City), I was invited to visit the City Centre on Friday night with our licencing team and the police, on an observational visit.

I’m not quite sure what I expected to see, as I admit it has been probably 4 years since I last when out to the pubs and clubs in Hanley at night, beyond a swift drink in the Unicorn, Reardon or Chaplins whilst seeing shows at the Victoria Hall or Regent Theatre. Whilst at college and university, I’d visited Hanley numerous times, and was familiar with clubs such as Valentinos and The Place, and the many bars and pubs in the area. On reflection, a night in Hanley would probably include a lot of walking ““ maybe starting at Heaths (near the museum), with a wander up Piccadilly past the old Manhattan bar, with a stop perhaps at Flacketts, Yates or the Pig and Truffle, before heading either along to Rosie O’Neill’s and The Place, or down to Valentinos. The pavements and roads would be crammed with people, moving between pubs and from about 10pm onwards, there would be a continual throng heading towards the various clubs.

Hanley today is much different. We met at the police station at 9pm and were briefed on the Stoke-on-Trent Business Crime Initiative, a partnership that covers both the day and night time economies across the City, and which has just celebrated its 21st birthday. The objective of the Business Crime Initiative is “Ëœto help make the City a safer and more pleasant place to be, for the benefit of the business community and the people who work, live, visit and invest in the area, by reducing crime, disorder and anti social behaviour, including alchol-related violent crime and drug offences within a 24 hour economy.’ The partnership is run by businesses and membership levels are good, with many businesses seeing the value in working together to reduce business crime. A number of initiatives have been launched and it’s clear that this partnership is delivering for both the City and the businesses involved. More specific details can be found at www.businesscrimeinitiative.co.uk

We then went for a walk around Hanley, accompanied by licencing officers and several police officers. The first road we walked up was Piccadilly, which has a few smaller pubs and bars on it, which generally were quiet, as were the restaurants we passed. Part way up Piccadilly, temporary barriers had been put across the road to prevent parking, though there were still some cars parked in the area, and one foolhardy driver tried to nip past the barrier while we stood there with the police. They were soon moved off.

As we reached the top of Piccadilly, I was quite surprised by the number of taxis, all parked up waiting. We rounded the corner of Piccadilly and headed towards Trinity Street where the top of the street was now closed off, with two ambulances parked just inside the gate. The noise hit me as soon as we rounded the corner from the bars and pubs that now line Trinity Street. There seemed to be a lot of people outside the bars, not queuing but just milling about, however as the street was closed off with another barrier at the bottom and access was also resticted against Foundry Street from Hope Street, it was in effect a pedestrian-only zone. There were a number of police just watching what was happening in the street, and as one officer explained to me, having so many bars in such a small area made it much easier to police, especially in contrast to the spreadout nature of the nightlife in Hanley I remembered from the late 1990s.

At the bottom of the road, we turned into Gitana Street, where we stopped to talk to the team outside the Night Church. I’d read about them in the paper, but it was quite nice to actually see them in action, handing out sweets and chatting. They offer refreshments and a chilled environment for clubbers to relax and talk about life, their worries and their problems. You can read more about them at www.nightchurch.net We then moved on past the back of the old Theatre Royal, which now houses Liquid, Envy and JJ’s before heading back to the police station.

So, what did I see and what did I learn? The 24 hour economy in Hanley is not what it was ““ despite the number of people we saw in the Trinity Street area, we learnt that a number of bars were not open (despite having licences to operate), and many were just opening for a few hours, shutting early due to lack of custom. The policing approach is now a lot more proactive than it perhaps used to be, maybe because of licencing laws that means reviews are easier to get, however 24 hour drinking and more late licences (a lot of the bars have licences until 4am) mean there is never a “Ëœquiet time’ for the police, even though the establishments themselves are not so spread out. Closing off the Trinity Street area is certainly a good idea, and perhaps the ability to therefore keep an obvious police presence reduces the amount of trouble.

One thing that always sparks conversation is the idea of a cafe culture. Just this week, someone was telling me we’ll never achieve that in Stoke-on-Trent. Granted, Piccadilly was very quiet, however the restaurants in this area seemed bright and clean and the area was relatively peaceable. Stigma is a hard thing to overcome, but maybe now the noisy bars and clubs seem to have found themselves an area they are comfortable with, perhaps a more cafe cultured area like Piccadilly can start to blossom? There are certainly bigger issues behind the decline of nightlife in Hanley, some of which can only be dealt with at a national level (the suggestion that the cheap price of alcohol means many people now drink at home before heading up to Hanley much later in the evening is one), however maybe we need to take the initiative and do more to encourage back those who visit the Regent and Victoria Hall, for a meal or a drink some other time? Certainly food for thought.

Life As A Stoke-on-Trent Councillor – So Far, So Good

By Cllr Abi Brown [Meir Park & Sandon]

If a week is a long time in politics, then six weeks seems like a lifetime.

I’ve attended two full Councils, made my first speech and started to get into the routine of Council work, though I still don’t feel any surer about the answer to the most asked question of, “So what’s it like being a councillor?”

Although I have some experience in local government and politics, I didn’t expect to be quite so busy ““ I am a fairly well organised person, but trying to run my council diary and fitting in ward work alongside my work diary and family commitments is tough at times. Prioritising what needs doing can also be difficult ““ a few weeks ago, I had to send apologies to a committee meeting as I feel that important ward meetings should take precedence. I will now never get a gold star for 100% attendance, however I was able to have a big input into the priorities for my ward over the next 12 months.

The amount of paper arriving for me has diminished, though I am still trying to get my head round the system for council post. I aim to nip into the Civic Centre at least once a week to empty my pigeon hole, yet almost without fail an envelope of council post arrives either the night before or the morning after. It is interesting to see which departments and organisations are now almost entirely paper-free, using e-bulletins for briefings, and contrast to those who must be almost solely responsible for the eradication of a rainforest each every month. Most annoying are those who email me a letter, then post it to me themselves (rather than in a bundle with other post) and finally put a copy in my pigeon hole too for good measure. I am considering setting up a system of fines for the worst offenders.

One of my election commitments was having a regular surgery, which starts in July. I’ve also set up a blog (www.abibrown.wordpress.com) and you can follow me on Twitter too (@abibrown1), though I’ve also been getting out and about at various groups. I’m still deciding whether it’s a good thing to be told, “We thought you’d turn up,” when you arrive at a small community event. I suspect some think this enthusiasm will trail off, but as Conservative members will tell you, I am this enthusiastic all the time about being out in all weathers, chatting to people and campaigning.

My family are getting used to it ““ my parents are very proud, as are the rest of my family, however for my 4 year old son, it’s just another job Mummy does, albeit one that sometimes requires him to be dragged along to strange events with strange people who want to talk to him (he is quite shy). At times, it does require some juggling and I can’t always attend things, so instead I prioritise what I go to and get individual briefings where necessary, but then the same is the case for any working councillor.

The second most asked question at the moment is, “But are you enjoying it?” Without a moment’s hesitation, the answer to that is yes. Making a difference in your community is what does it for me