Stoke-on-Trent City Council Pay £567,084 To Suspended Workers

The Tax Payers Alliance have released a report this morning detailing the cost of staff suspended on full pay across West Midlands councils.

The report shows that Stoke-on-Trent City Council, since April 2009 to date:

  • Came 7, 13 & 19 out of 20 for the highest individual pay-outs while suspended on full pay, totalling £155,552
  • Hold 13, 14 & 15 place in the top 20 lengths of individual suspensions by days each with 504 days (over 2 years)
  • Are 5 in the top 20 councils by total cost of suspended staff salaries, having paid £567,084

You can download the full report below or visit the Tax Payers Alliance website for more information.

Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group ““ The Shape of Things to Come?

You know me, I like to ponder on situations and then try to dissect them in public, as is my want you see?

I have to say that last week’s call to discuss the closure of the Willfield Fitness Centre at the Adult & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny meeting has left an nasty taste in my mouth.

I have been largely supportive of Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and his 34 strong Labour group but I hope that the actions of the Labour councillors on that particular committee and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, is not the shape of things to come.

Here we have a popular fitness centre, loved by the community, used by many from Bentilee and beyond, closed without out so much as a single comment from the Labour contingent on that committee.

Although the Labour members should not have been whipped on a scrutiny committee, by the actions of the said Labour members and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, They were absolutely told how they WILL vote.

I am in no doubt that Cllrs Sheila Pitt, Alison Wedgwood, and Matt Fry would have received a serious reprimand by the senior officers of the Labour group for, in the case of Alison and Sheila, sticking to their election pledges.

Labour whip Kath Banks had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp during that meeting and could not have looked more disinterested in proceedings if she tried.

The way the meeting was chaired by the normally amiable Cllr Bagh Ali left me in no doubt who was running the meeting, the director Tony Oakman.

He was allowed to say what he wanted, for as long as he wanted with no interruption. Cllr Dave Conway was constantly disrupted in a clear attempt to throw him off course.

Talking of the officers, the old joke of how many does it take to change a light bulb was certainly relevant here. 8 officers were present and if you were to tot up their collective salaries you would unearth a value that would give the Staffordshire Hoard a run for it’s money.

So, Labour have demonstrated that they will side with the officers over their election promises in another glaring example of taking the Cabinet dollar.

Have we been here before I wonder?

It appears not to matter who the rulers are, Labour, Conservative Independent, Liberal Democrats, or a mixture of them all, it’s the same old scene.

But what has left me even more uneasy about the situation, is the fact that not more than a week prior to the call in, CEO John van de Laarschot launched his mandate for change which placed a heavy emphasis on the Health and Wellbeing of the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

It isn’t that long ago that the place attracted the unfortunate label of being a “Ëœsick city’. And yet we close a facility that is proven to be making a difference in exactly the sort of area of the city that needs the most help ““ way to go!

Our CEO gave an inspirational performance at that gig. I and a good few others were taken in by the message that together we can make a difference. My plea to John van de Laarschot for the future success of the Mandate for Change project and the rejuvenation of the City of Stoke-on-Trent is – “ËœGet your officers on task!’

Here was a golden opportunity to prove to all that the council was up to working with community groups to find a way of keeping popular facilities open for business.

We are in unprecedented times, an era where it is clear, and for my part accepted, that the council cannot continue to fund everything and that there has to be painful cuts.

The officers of the council rubbished the Willfield Community Group’s business plan and then dismissed it out of hand.

Why didn’t any officer of the council make contact with the group to offer assistance in getting the business case more in line with what the council need and expect?

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

Where was the commitment needed to deliver a Mandate for Change?

So again I lay down the gauntlet to the council, in a no doubt futile attempt, to change and to demonstrate that our council are serious about empowering communities.

With £20million more cuts to come in the next financial year, if there is not a drastic change in the Council, it’s CEO, directors and officers what services and facilities will be left in our city?

Our Labour Group need to LEAD and not be LED. You have the opportunity to make a difference, you have the opportunity to step up to the plate ““ Take it!

The majority of the electorate voted you in the belief that you would deliver on your election promises and to work to make our city more inclusive and more progressive. It ain’t a great start guys!

Many months ago, a politician that I respect enormously told me that the decision not to allow the building of a new academy to be on the Mitchell High School site was all about academies setting the right example to the communities in which they serve.

I was told that the powers that be, politicians, officers and sponsors wanted the buildings to be in areas that were as affluent as possible in order to raise the aspirations of the young people of the area.

They are meant to inspire the young to be more like the well to do of the areas in which an academy school is placed.

To give the little poor kids the opportunity of mixing with kids from a “Ëœbetter’ background.

I remember thinking at the time ‘isn’t that social engineering’?

It got me to thinking is this the real reason the Willfield gym is to close?

Do those in the BSF department, fellow officers and our elected politicians, want rid of the gym and the kind of folk who use it so they are not a blot on the academy landscape?

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

I trust this article finds you fit, well and full of festive cheer.

This New Year needs to see a new start in Stoke-on-Trent.

I was out of action for a while pre Christmas, due to a back injury which prevented me from spending my usual amount of time at my PC. During that down time, I found myself ponderings the goings on at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

I think that it is fair to say that the end of year report on our public servants down at the civic is the classic “Ëœmust do better’.

The two stories that rocked the 6 towns just before the festive break [was it a case of the best time to air our dirty laundry?] were the audit finding on the Icelandic bank fiasco and the release of the report, forced by a Pits n Pots investigation into waste management and recycling.

Both issues raised serious concerns about the way our City is being administered and has called the integrity of a number of officers into question.

It was nice to see other media outlets pick the recycling issue up and run with it when they showed little or no interest in it previously. Mind you we did hand it to them on a plate following the extensive hours burning the midnight oil researching an issue that literally cost our city millions of pounds.

Let’s focus on the Icelandic issue first shall we. This was all about an unopened email warning the City Council that the creditworthiness of the Icelandic Bank Landsbanki had been downgraded. Note, it did not say the bank was going to collapse so get your money out now.

That email was left unopened which prevented the senior officers from assessing the risk to the city’s investment in light of the new information. I have information that the officer concerned who did not open that email offered to resign. The offer was declined.

The issue was reported to the appropriate Director, the Council Manager was informed, the then Elected Mayor was “Ëœbriefed’.

Why the Elected Mayor chose not to inform other elected representatives only he can say.

The shameful fact is that no other EMB councillor or any other councillor in the chamber was informed. Effectively the issue was covered up and hidden from our elected representatives and therefore out of the public domain.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, it was only down to the fact that the information was to be included in the Audit Letter that we got to heart of it at all.
Now let’s turn to the Recycling issue.

Pits n Pots had been aware of some of the issues relating to the Waste Management and Recycling for a good few months before we had the time to investigate the matter as thoroughly as we would like.

Our suspicions proved to be right. Officers withheld vital information from our elected representatives. The recycling trial was a sham as £1.6million of blue bins had already been ordered.

A report conducted by WRAP was effectively buried and kept out of sight of the prying eyes of those councillors who see it as their duty to scrutinise the decisions made by the executive and highly paid officers.

Our whole point in investigating this issue was to prove that a massive amount of our money has been spent without the involvement and knowledge of those who we elect to serve us.

The Audit report claims that WRAP gave a series of recommendations on how best to collect our waste and maximise our recycling. It did not, it gave a series of options which the council needed to debate.

That debate would have had input from all sides of the chamber and would not just focus on the least cost option which officers opted for.

There were a number of councillors that were unhappy at the quality and lack of substance in the reports put before councillors both on the EMB and within the chamber.

We reminded the Leader of the City Independents that he had called in the decision to go to a trial of the new recycling scheme.

The reports that were submitted to any committee were poor at best and deliberately lightweight at worse.

Those officers made a square peg fit into a round hole and spent a huge sum of our money in the process.

One of those options put forward from WRAP was the exact same model that Newcastle opted for [they had a WRAP report at around the same time]. Newcastle had full member involvement; they showed how mature they are as an authority and selected the best option for their residents. NULBC now realise 52% recycling as opposed to SOTCC’s 42% at best.

Furthermore NULBC did not go out and spend a stupid amount of money on blue bins that if our city council had have been more open about the options, we would not have needed to purchase them [originally they were to be leased, who changed their mind?]

Cllr Joy Garner did not come out of the Audit very well at all.

She was the EMB member at the time and people have said to me that she must have been in on the cover up.

People are thinking that she was working in tandem with officers and deliberately keeping councillors out of the loop.

Well let me tell you what I believe, Cllr Joy Garner, in my humble opinion, was as much as a victim as the rest of the councillors in the chamber.

I spoke to Joy on several occasions when gathering information for our investigation. It was Pits n Pots that informed Joy about the WRAP report that was buried and kept away from elected representatives. She was not aware of this report and as someone who is passionate about green issues and knowledgeable about waste management services she would have been as upset as anyone that she the as the portfolio holder was not given all the facts on which to base her support on.

I am aware that Cllr John Daniels has called on the District Auditor to look into the matter. I also think that he is the Councillor that contacted the Chair of Audit Committee, Cllr Michael Coleman offering more information.

Cllr Coleman was prevented from allowing the councillor to come before his committee on the advice of the council’s legal officer.

In the words of my dear old dad “Ëœit’s time for him to poo or get off the pot’- well it looks as if Cllr Daniels is at last willing to force this issue out into the public domain and in doing so exposing the many issues that were caused by the deliberate withholding of the vital information needed to make the best decision for our city.

I don’t think this issue will go away, in fact I expect more revelations in the near future.

Finally let me say this; It is true that all of this happened on someone elses watch and under a very different system of governance.

I think that Stoke-on-Trent was used as some sort of crazy experiment.

Someone somewhere decided to see what how an authority would operate with an unelected officer at the helm and with the final say over every strategic decision.

This system of governance rode roughshod over our city’s democracy. It made our politics worthless and was massively disrespectful to our city’s residents.

The two issues that this article concentrates on proves that an officer led authority, where the involvement of those who are elected by the public to serve the public role is diminished to a point that they are basically useless, was an epic failure.

Our new Chief Executive Officer John van de Laarschot [yes I am a bit of a fan] says that he is committed to openness and transparency. Our Council Leader Mohammed Pervez says the same.

Well guys time to prove it once and for all.

Let the full facts on the waste management and recycling come out into the public domain. Let Councillor John Daniels have his say in a very public arena [extraordinary council meeting to discuss the audit report?] and lets put this sorry and very expensive saga to bed for once and for all.

I trust the integrity of our CEO and Council Leader. but with all that has gone on under the direction of those who have moved on to wreak havoc in other authorities, a contract agreeing the process and involvement between the officer core and elected members should formulated and signed by both parties.

The relationship between our city’s officers and councillors is at an all time low. Many councillors have told me privately that the no longer trust officers of the council. This is not conducive to a productive and progressive environment which is essential to the improvement of our council over the next few years which will be fraught with financial hardship and difficulties in providing effective services.

It is true that what has gone has gone. But we must implement measures to ensure that there is no return to the “Ëœwe will deal with the politicians IF we have to’ days.

With recent revelations it proves we are nowhere near yet and until we are there will be the leaks, the whispers and the accusations.

You can bet that Pits n Pots will be as active, no even more active in bringing issues out into the public domain.

Someone once said “print and be damned!” and you can bet we will”¦.

Happy New Year!

Stoke-on-Trent Waste Management & Enhanced Recycling Saga Latest

We are continuing our investigation into Stoke-on-Trent’s Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling

Our efforts have been thorough, our attempts to get to the truth, stifled at times by council officers.

Our motives and integrity called into question by some including the occasional mis-guided Councillor.

We will not halt our attempts to bring the facts out about what we consider to be an incredible mismanagement of this policy.

We can now reveal our latest findings which we hope will convince those councillors who are wavering about whether there needs to be an inquiry into this debacle and potentially embarrassing episode for our City Council.

In a recent article which outlined what we believe was the sequence of events regarding the Enhanced Recycling scheme we wrote:

One source tells of an EMB meeting where the then interim Council Manager demanded that members of the EMB nod this policy through.
The EMB refused due to the lack of substance to the report. There was absolutely no detail or information put before members so that they could make an informed decision on this matter. There was quite a heated row over the issue.
The Interim Council Manager stormed out of the meeting threatening to “Ëœcall the government for intervention’ allegedly.
To my knowledge this was never put before that particular EMB again.

We can now reveal that we have reason to believe that the report’s lack of substance and detail is because the originalthorough report prepared by an officer of the council was pulled and deliberately not presented to that now infamous EMB meeting which descended into a very public row between senior executive officers and the EMB.

This 13 page report made reference to the WRAP report and contained a full copy of it as an appendix.

Have a look at the attachments below. It shows that am actual offcer authored the report and it proves that the WRAP report existed and was meant to be presented to the EMB.

There is no blame on the officer who authored this report, we believe the decision to pull it came from higher up.

This report never saw the light of day and was buried along with the WRAP document. This categorically proves that Elected Members were denied the information that would have enabled them to make a balanced and INFORMED decision about the future methods of handling and disposing the City’s recyclables.

We believe on the evidence that we have seen, that the reason that this report was pulled and not presented to the EMB was because the Blue Bins had already been ordered ahead of the executive agreement to trial the Enhanced Recycling Scheme.

The officer’s report recommended the Enhanced Recycling Scheme but the WRAP report clearly stated that option J [adopted by NULBC] was the most effective.

As a result of this report being withheld from the EMB, it never made the agenda or was published along with the reports pack on the City Council’s website which prevented it from being scrutinised by non executive councillors.

This is the last article we will publish on this matter ahead of the Full Council meeting on Thursday 21st October.

We hope that this latest piece of evidence convinces any elected member who may have any remaining doubts and further strengthens the call for an Inquiry into the whole sorry and potentially embarrassing saga regarding the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling system.

See the attachments below, a sample of the buried report and the WRAP Report.

Stoke’s 100k Kaisers

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Do you wish that you worked for Stoke on Trent City Council? Better still, do you wish you were one of the council elite?

Seven of Stoke on Trent’s officers earn in excess of £100K per year according to the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). The information was gathered under the Freedom of Information Act by the pressure group for the year 2007/08.

They included Steve Robinson, then council manager, on £157,661, Renew North Staffordshire director Hardial Bhogal on £129,685, Regeneration director Tom Macartney on £124,449, and former director of community services, Julie Seddon, on £123,220. The city is currently offering up to £195,000 to recruit a new permanent chief executive to replace Mr Robinson.

At the moment the city council is looking to recruit eight top officers with a combined salary of £680K. This is made up of two directors and six heads of departments.

SOTCC is using the London-based agency Penna Executive Recruitment to advertise the positions. It is not known how much this agency will be paid for their recruitment skills.

The new position of Director of Housing, Environmental and Neighbourhood Services will be paid £131K per annum.

Director of Transport &Planning will receive a salary of of £100k pa.

Up to £75,000 each for the new head of environmental services and head of neighbourhood services.

About £73,000 each for the head of transport and highways, head of planning and head of human resources.

The recruitment of these top officers comes after the city council lost a number of key officers to other authorities following the resignation of the previous council manager Steve Robinson who left for the new Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Robinson took a number of key officers with him including, head of housing Alan Slater, head of human resources Euan Murdoch-Hollies, head of citywide and neighbourhood services Helen Bailey and former director of central services Julie Gill. In addition, the city’s head of highways and transportation, Stuart Davies, has gone to North Wales and planning officer Paul Feehily has moved to Cumbria.

Is the recruitment of these officers as essential as Kieran Clarke, portfolio holder for resources claims?

What do you think of the salaries on offer?

Over to you…..