Stoke-on-Trent City Council Waste Management ““ Lessons Must Be Learned.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Audit Committee have today [Wednesday] concluded that the Authority must learn the lessons from the issues raised in an Internal Audit into the Waste Management services which led to the purchase of 84000 wheelie bins without the knowledge of any elected representatives.

The committee also moved a motion accepting the Internal Audit’s recommendations in their entirety and they also noted a letter from the District Auditor which supports its findings.

There will also be an Action Plan implemented that will ensure that officers keep elected members informed of the progress in meeting the Internal Audit’s recommendations.

4.1 It is acknowledged that many of the issues raised in this report took place at a time where the organisational structure and arrangements of the Waste Management Service was going through substantial changes; this led to a significant loss of expertise. Furthermore the staff who were in post when decisions were made/actions taken are no longer employed by the council and as a result any potential recommendations involving disciplinary action have not been made. However Recommendation 4 acknowledges that although issues have been identified within Waste Management which cannot be taken up with individuals, they highlight a need for a council-wide response. In light of the findings contained within the above report, the following recommendations are made:-

R1 That a comprehensive cost analysis is undertaken to
establish the full costs of both the enhanced recycling scheme and its predecessor. This analysis should take into account all associated costs (and revenues), for example income from saleable recyclables, achievement of savings, and costs of changing systems such as compensation arrangements. This should be reported to Cabinet and the appropriate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at a date to be agreed.

R2 That ongoing analysis and reporting of performance against government recycling targets is maintained, including an analysis of costs in the areas under scrutiny. This must take into account known variances and the impact this may have on future performance.

R3 That a cross party working group be established to review the council’s current and future waste management policy.

R4 Building upon the implementation of the council’s accountability framework, that a mandatory training programme is instigated to all council employees to strengthen compliance with regulations, including the specific requirements of the constitution.

R5 Building upon earlier requests that reports contain accurate and timely information and are clear and transparent and have been rigorously reviewed by Legal Services, Finance, HR and contain appropriate risk management information.

R6 That appropriate succession planning is implemented immediately to ensure that information is retained and appropriate handovers take place so that there is consistency in service delivery when key staff leave. This is particularly important in the current climate.

R7 That officers are reminded that disciplinary action will be taken in cases of serious breaches of Financial Regulations and Contract Procedure Rules.

Committee councillors voiced their disappointment over the
actions of officers involved in Waste Management, the procurement of the blue bins at an unnecessary cost of £1.63million and that the WRAP report had no member involvement.

They also took the opportunity to voice their anger over the city’s governance arrangements at the time of the fiasco. Councillors, Salih, Brian, John Davies and Coleman all cited the Elected Mayor/Council Manager system as being the catalyst for officers to treat elected members as if they did not exist or were of no importance.

Labour Councillors Hill, Hamer and Dillon insisted that relationship between officers and elected members must improve especially as many officers were losing their jobs and some were being relocated to different jobs and in some cases, different departments. There was a concern that some officers were taking on new duties without the appropriate hand-over period and information.

Cllr Hill said that it was irrelevant what the relationships between officer and members was like in the past but is was essential that communication between the officer core and members improved dramatically in the future as it was essential to the relationships that councillors had with the electorate and how communities engaged with the process of the city council.

Cllr Mick Salih voiced his anger that the Internal Audit did not name any officers involved but did contain the names of any elected members that were involved at the time.

He said that it was in the public interest that the officers involved in the issues highlighted in the Audit report were named even if they had left the city council and were employed in other authorities.

I do think that there have been some failings in the decision making and procurement arrangements.
I share the Internal Audits concerns about the process leading up to the decision to change recycling arrangements in 2008. As a result the City Council is not in a position to clearly demonstrate that value for money was achieved.

He said that he supports the Internal Audit’s recommendation that “Ëœa comprehensive cost analysis is undertaken to establish the full costs of both the Enhanced Recycling scheme and its predecessor’.

The Internal Audit investigation has highlighted several procedural defects including:

“¢ Failure to secure an approved Exemption Certificate for the temporary variation to the City Council’s green waste contract.

“¢ Poor record keeping in support of the blue bin purchase.

“¢ The fact that the bins were purchased before members had approved any requirement for them.

“¢ Purchase of the blue bins was not in the Forward Plan, nor it appears were urgent decision processes followed.

“¢ The lack of clarity over the decision to abandon the first composting procurement; and

“¢ The failure to ascertain why companies who tendered on the first occasion chose not to re-tender.

Clearly this situation is not satisfactory. However I am reassured that the City Council asked Internal Audit to investigate these events; their report has been made public and agreed by the Chief Executive. I do not currently believe that there is a case for a formal audit action on my part, but I will keep developments under review as I have said above and i will take these matters into account in my value for money conclusions for the relevant years.

Pits n Pots carried out a comprehensive investigation into the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling procedures at Stoke-on-Trent city Council and we conclude that the Internal Audit proved our concerns valid.

We went into this investigation to highlight that under the Elected Mayor/Council Manager system of Governance there was a culture among certain high ranking officers that the individuals that we, the people of Stoke-on-Trent, elect to serve us were treated appallingly and were considered irrelevant in certain instances.

We believe that this reports that the WRAP report was “Ëœburied, and its recommendations never discussed with elected members.

We believe that 84000 blue bins were purchased at a cost of £1.63 million when there was not member approval and were not necessarily required.

We believe that there were never budget savings of £1million as stated by the City council.

We also believe that under the new system of Governance and under the direction of the new Chief Executive Officer there has been a considerable move to great openness and transparency. We feel that this internal audit is evidence of that.

We would like to thank those councillors who met with us and talked to us and gave us the help and assistance to bring this matter out into the open.

Please now take the time to read the Internal Audit Report and the letter from the District Auditor which can be found by clicking the links below.

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.

Stoke-on-Trent Ward Councillors Present Cheque To City Farm Support Group

On Friday August 6, the three Ward Councillors for Berryhill & Hanley East, Councillors Rita Dale, Adrian Knapper and John Davis presented a cheque for £5,000 to the “ËœFriends of the City Farm’ support group.

This was a donation from the Ward Budget towards fund raising to help improve the facilities at the farm. The support group formed in February this year with the objective to promote the city farm and raise funds to renovate the facilities.

“All ward members got together with the support group and agreed this was an appropriate way to spend the ward budget. We feel it is a valuable resource for local people it is loved by children and older people alike. It is a real asset to our ward.”

Any member of the public can join the Friends of the City Farm support group by contacting Jeff Johnson the Chairman of the group on 01782 212976.