Phone Lines Down At Stoke-on-Trent City Council

There currently seems to be a problem with the phone lines to Stoke On Call and the main switchboard number for Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Both 234567 & 234234 and a number of other numbers are currently not accepting calls.

We are currently trying to get information about when the services will be restored and will update you as soon as we get it.

We suggest for non urgent enquires you use the contact forms available on stoke.gov.uk if it is anything that requires more immediate action we can only suggest that you contact your local councillor.

Update
The phone lines now appear to be working again and accepting calls.

The 24 hour emergency Stoke On Call number was not accepting calls from before 0800 this morning until just before 0900.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Slammed Over Election Coverage

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been slammed for the poor election coverage on its own website during the Local & General Elections in May this year.

In a damming report from SOCITM, who surveyed a number of councils before, during and after the elections, Stoke-on-Trent City Council was singled out by the report authors who said of the council:

Communication of the results was patchy. Stoke on Trent City barely acknowledged that elections were taking place. Even on results day it still only carried an insignificant link to ‘Election notices’. Fortunately this site was an anomaly as by now elections were featuring pretty heavily on most sites

The survey was carried out on 42 council websites in 4 rounds which coincided with key dates over the election period.

  • Round 1- 10 April, the final day to register to vote
  • Round 2 – 4 May, two days before the elections
  • Round 3 – 7 May, election day
  • Round 4 – 8 May, the day after votes had been counted

The survey also looked at the use of social media by each council and finally whether they were taking part in the Open Election Data Project.

In the copy of the report seen by Pits n Pots it does not contain detailed league tables for each council surveyed but does cite good and bad practice with Stoke-on-Trent being used as an example of bad.

Pits n Pots are disappointed that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been highlighted as an example of bad or poor practice, especially after we attended a Spotlight Review with the Press & Communications Department back in March. The review was to cover a number of items such as, developing a consistant approach to dealing with all media organisations, and use of social media especially to engage with young people.

As part of the review the Press & Communications Department were asked to spend some time speaking to us about how we use social media tools and offer advice on how best to utilise them within the council. The Press & Communications department did not contact us to continue this discussion.

The City Council were also asked by Pits n Pots prior to the election if the council would be taking part in the Open Election Data Project, so that the data would be available in a standard and easy to use format. The Council did not respond until they were contacted a second time where they explained that the Open Election Data Site was blocked, so they didn’t know what it was all about and couldn’t use it. This is despite the fact that the software used by Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been updated by the suppliers to automatically provide the election data in the format required by the Open Election Data Project.

We asked the Council if they would like to provide a quote or statement in response to the quote in the SOCITM report but they have not yet responded.

More than 72 per cent increase in ‘spin doctors’

The number of press officers working in government has increased by more than 72 per cent over the last 10 years, the permanent secretary of government communications at the Cabinet Office has revealed, writes Dean Carroll.

Independent estimates put the annual spend of government public relations at around £250m. Giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee, Matt Tee said he was unable to give a precise number.

But asked if the often quoted figure of a 72 per cent increase in the number of communications staff over the last decade was accurate, Tee said: “I would say that was a slight underestimate, the growth in professional communicators would be a bit greater than 72 per cent. Some of what we are talking about here is a growth in the spend on communication as a result of government policy. Were government policy to change you could spend less on government communication.”

Outlining other reasons for the increase in PR budgets, Tee pointed to the rise of the internet as another media channel, the move from reactive to pro-active public relations and the emergence of internal communications.

Conservative Party shadow Cabinet Office minister Nick Hurd has attacked Labour for having “bankrolled a vast spin machine, politicised the civil service and created a corrosive culture of deception at the heart of Whitehall”. When these allegations were put to him, Tee insisted that he did not recognise the term spin in relation to the distribution of government information, but instead saw it as “really proper public service communication”. He added: “I do not see the people who I am the professional head of as doing spin. Spin is not something that I feel is part of the function.”

The panel of MPs suggested that it was unnecessary for the Ministry of Defence to have 242 press officers or for the Department for Work and Pensions to have 150 communications professionals. Although unable to deny the figures definitively, Tee said he thought the estimates were inaccurate. He added that he was working with the National Audit Office and HM Treasury to compile concrete figures on the total number of government press officers within six months.

Tee also said that he was unable to confirm how much the Labour government spent on marketing despite the Pre-Budget Report stating that it would cut this figure by 25 per cent. Committee member and Conservative MP David Burrowes said: “So it’s pretty meaningless for them to say there will be a 25 per cent cut.”

Can our Council be dragged kicking & screaming into the 21st century?

There has been some really interesting Council Meetings in recent times when you think about it.

In fact, whilst this blog has been in existence we have covered some good stuff.

The Dimensions fiasco, the mayoral referendum, the arrest of Mark Meredith, Roger Ibbs & Mo Chaudry, the transition board, the European elections, the council leader election and much more.

The actual Full Council Meetings can go on and on sometimes, but amidst all the boring bits there is some lively debates, great contributions from some councillors, some outrageous comments from certain characters and some funny contributions made from some of the more comedic in the chamber.

I like to see the political games playing out in front of me. The way the whips work [in those groups that have them] the seizing of the opportunities for political point scoring and the hard-line defence of those who face scrutiny.

What a shame it is then that this spectacle is only available to those who attend these meetings, those who sit in the public gallery, the press, oh and me [I’m sort of suspended in mid air in no man’s land on a table all of me own, neither a flag or a balloon!].

Councils all over the country are grasping the opportunity of reaching out into their communities and finding new ways to interact.

Here in Stoke we have the Council Website and the “ËœOur City’ magazine.

Many other authorities have websites that are pleasing on the eye, give more information and are far easier to navigate your way round that the Stoke.gov one. Have a look at this one from Torridge,[John Van De Laarschot current authority] how much better does that look? And a lot more user friendly too.

What about this one from Bristol, not only does this site look great but you can also watch important meetings and Full Council LIVE or watch an archived webcast at a later date.

A recent live webcast covering a particularly contentious issue was viewed by over 5624 people live and online! Not only could you watch the debate but you could click on the name of the speaker and access their biography.

Imagine that ““ that’s nearly as many people that go to the Vale to watch a game. That number would fill 25 average size council chambers.

Now that is community engagement!

But it isn’t only council’s like Bristol that are leading the way. Staffordshire also streams audio and video footage of their meetings and also broadcasts important meetings live.

Here back in Stoke, we don’t look even close to getting a make over of the council web site. We are nowhere near being able to access audio or video footage of council meetings. We have an electronic voting system in the chamber that I have yet to see in operation. The public address system is pants too! Most Council meetings are disrupted by the hissing and farting noises emanating from the speakers to the point that officers have to run around the chamber with radio microphones that most councillors can not be arsed to wait for.

It is relatively easy to stream audio over the net now. We have the technology at Pits’n’Pots to do this. The council PA system needs a drastic make over before anything can be done to improve things.

One of the Governance Commission recommendations was to get more people involved in local politics, well what better way than a web site that can actually show the public what goes on in these meetings. Better still these webcasts can be archived and accessed and viewed online at a later date.

I have been accused of constantly having a go at the BNP and I would admit this to a certain extent. But I feel they are duping the public into believing that they are hard at the “Ëœcoal face’ when indeed they bring very little to the debate.

I made a comment in an article a few days ago that they had made two contributions [both by the incomparable Cllr Batkin] in some 9.5 hrs of council debate. If that wasn’t bad enough they also failed miserably to see the meetings through, walking out way before the end, indeed a number of them [including Alby Walker- the leader] left half way through.

They get a tick in the school register for attendance but then play truant just after break-time! No finer example of their performance to date was the Council Leader debate when they marched out of the chamber when their man got knocked out, taking their bat and ball with them!

If these meetings were webcast or audio streamed the public would know this right away.

Yet to the public it looks as if they are fulfilling their obligations when in real terms they are far from it. A chair of a committee should be present in the chamber to move the minutes of their meetings. This is normally done at the end of the Full Council Meeting, but most of the meetings where I have been in attendance the y BNP chairs have been long gone when the time comes for the chairs to move their minutes.

We the public in this city are fed on scraps by local government. We are constantly accused of being negative, having “Ëœlow aspirations’ and being politically fragmented.

But is it any wonder that people don’t seem interested in what goes on in our city when the information is so hard to obtain? People rely on the Sentinel and this website to find out what is going on in our Council Chamber and what our officers are up to this week.

Our council have to invest in better communication tools that promote real public engagement. Let us see how our elected representatives perform in the arena of the Council Chamber. A webcast would show who the best orators are and who stays the course.

We could always go to a commercial break when Cllr John Davies gets to his feet and manages to make 5 minutes seem like half an hour. Only joking ““ honest!