Dan Barton to leave Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has announced today that Assistant Director –Communications, Dan Barton, will be leaving the local authority on 31st January 2012.

He leaves to pursue his role as a broadcaster, media consultant, trainer and PR advisor.

As part of the City Council’s budget plan for 2012 one of several proposals is to delete the post of Assistant Director – Communications albeit that this is subject to consultation with the Trade Unions.

Dan joined the city council four years ago from Head of News at ITV Central and was responsible for the Press Office, PR, website, branding, print, design, advertising, translation and interpretation and corporate events.

Under his leadership, the team won a series of accolades in the Good Communications Awards with Dan being nominated as PR Communicator of the Year in 2010 and the council being highly commended as Local Authority of the Year this year. He helped put Stoke on the map with work on the Staffordshire Hoard and the Tour of Britain and was chair of the Stoke Olympics 2012 community task force.

He said this week

I feel I have been through some of the most challenging years in local government and in the country with Stoke and have enjoyed the enormous challenge of helping them navigate the way through. I am now looking forward to new challenges of my own. I will miss the great team I have worked with but will take with me invaluable experience in local government and PR in one of the toughest environments in the country.

John van de Laarschot, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council said

Dan has steered the council through some turbulent years with a calm head, a sharp understanding of the political environment and always with commitment and enthusiasm. On a personal level I will very much miss his professional and supportive approach. I wish him well and thank him for his excellent work which has contributed significantly to our aim to make Stoke-on-Trent a great working city.


SOTCC Press & Comms Dept IS Value For Money!

A draft report sitting on the former Interim Assistant Chief Executive’s desk states that the Press & Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council is value for money.

Chair of the Transformation and Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Roger Ibbs expressed his surprise that the report had never been finalised and published.

Head Of Communications Dan Barton shared Mr Ibbs’s concern and said that he would welcome the report being published and made public.

Mr Barton presented a short power point presentation to the assembled Overview & Scrutiny meeting which showed that the staffing numbers had not changed.

There were 24 staff prior to Mr Barton’s appointment in 2008 but they were spread over a large number of Directorates.

Since Mr Barton’s appointment, all the staff have been relocated to the 4th floor of the Civic Centre and as such gives the impression that the department has expanded. But Mr Barton confirmed that his department has not employed any extra staff apart from specialised staff to oversee the translation services and the Olympics etc.

Mr Barton pointed out that there were only 4 actual press officers including the Chief Press Officer.

During presentation it was revealed that the stoke.go.uk website has around 150,000 visitors a month and it was widely accepted that the website is in desperate need of a rebuild. The Press & Comms dept is not responsible for this.

The presentation also showed that 84% of the Council Coverage in the Sentinel is positive. It was pointed out by several councillors that it was probably the 16% of the negative stories that hit the front page.

It was demonstrated that the Press and Comms department had saved the council money and had also made some money on services that it sold to other departments and outside bodies.

Mr Barton conceded that the internal communications with back bench councillors was probably the weakest part of his departments performance.

He said he was committed to improving this and he will consult with the elected members to make sure they were kept informed in the way they preferred. IE by mail or by text message. This was especially relevant in the example of a ‘bad’ news story.

It was pointed out that often the first thing a councillor knew about a bad news story was when it was in the press. The elected members felt that they were sometimes compromised by receiving calls from the press on stories that they had no prior knowledge of.

Mr Barton explained to the meeting that emails and text warnings had been offered to councillors but his department had received a large number of complaints about the numbers sent.

Mr Barton welcomed the suggestion of a ‘spotlight review’ on the Press & Comms department and said that he would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how his department operated. He also confirmed that he and his department would welcome a new protocol on dealing with new forms of media.

Dan Barton is already in discussion with us on the best way of working with large new media sites like Pits’n’Pots and so far our discussions have been very positive.

Press & Communications department gets a mauling from committee!


The Head of the Press and Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Dan Barton was heavily criticised by the Chair of the Transformation & Resources Committee Roger Ibbs, for his no show at a meeting to scrutinise his departmental strategy and 3year plan.

Head of Member Services Elaine Bates along with Terry Follows the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Communications did their best to answer members questions and grievances but both looked grossly under prepared.

The meeting room was packed with spectators and attendees and there were representatives from the Sentinel and BBC Radio Stoke as well as Pits’n’Pots.

Chair Roger Ibbs also questioned why, if the Head of the department was not available, why his deputy could not attend either. He also stated that it was disingenuous to the committee that there was no representation from the very department that they were trying to scrutinise.

Cabinet member Terry Follows said that he was aware that many elected members were not happy with the performance of the Press & Communications Department. He said that following the now infamous ‘Brian Ward leaked email’ he has requested Dan Barton to do a presentation to all councillors on the roles and responsibilities of the department.

Cllr Dave Conway said that he was not interested in presentations and that he expected officers to attend scrutiny meetings concerning their departments.

The elected members of this committee were not happy with the report and the fact that they are kept out of the loop when something is happening in their ward. There were examples of where the Press and Communications team knew of an event taking place but had not bothered to tell ward councillors.

The chair suggested that there be an urgent single item agenda meeting early in the new year to discuss the concerns of the committee regarding the Press and Communications team and that the head of the department or his deputy must be in attendance.

Cllr Conway also proposed that there should be a spotlight review into the way that the Press and Communications Department dealt with all form of the media, including new media sites like Pits’n’Pots.

It was certainly an uncomfortable meeting for Terry Follows and Elaine Bates who at times looked like lambs to the slaughter.

Our Twitter stream from the meeting up until the recess:

-in the Transformation And Resources Overview & Scrutiny Committee. No representative from @SoTCC press office here
-For some reason this meeting is *very* popular… Committee room A is almost full.
-@averyps Not as yet. If he isn’t quick there won’t be any space.
-Cllr Roger Ibbs opens the meeting. No apologies received
-Minutes of prev meeting agreed, no interest declared
-Dan Barton not here to present report, Roger Ibbs is questioning why nobody from press & Comms is in the meeting
-Cllr Ibbs is *not* happy that press & comms are not in attendance
-Cllr Ibbs will not defer questions but understands that potfolio holder and member services won’t be able answer some questions
-29 FTE in press & Comms dept, but nobody is able to come to meeting!
-Cllr Rigby, says Press & Comms seems to be an expensive dept
-Meeting [already]put off from November because Dan was not available
-Point made that Press & Comms normally send a press officer to all meetings to take notes. Why is there nobody at this meeting?
-Portfolio holder for Press & Comms makes apologies for Dan Barton. Says meeting in Jan where he *will* be in attendance to explain what dept does
-Only 6 in press office apparently. Other FTYEs are from other departments that have merged. So does this mean that £100k per head of staff?
-Cllr Ibbs wants Jan meeting with Dan B to be after next scrutiny meeting which is 20 Jan
-Cllr Ibbs wants Press & Comms to come to committee in Jan or even a special meeting. Wants Dan to provide dates of availability
-Cllr Conway expects officers to come to scrutiny.. Not interested in presentations wants scrutiny
-Cllr Conway now questioning why Press & Comms are involved in interviewing 350 people in neighbourhood services re closure of local ctrs
-Cllr Conway, this is outside of remit of Press & Comms.. Dept can’t be here today but they managed to go out and int people!
-Member services trying to respond to Cllr Conway. Feel a bit sorry for Elaine, Dan should not put her in this position
-Clr Conway responds that it was outside of the remit of Press & Comms. Cllr Follows trying to fire fight, no point in having ago at Dan if he is not here
-Cllr Ibbs, will not stop members from expressing their disquiet. If we have to do it twice we will do it twice.
-Cllr Daniels, council needs to be run openly and transparently
-Cllr Ibbs any further questions for Dan Barton?
-Cllr Rigsby, paying for a Roll Royce service and we can’t even get a Ford banger here (Press & Comms)
-Press & Comms should be informing Elected Members of anything they are aware of that is happening in members wards..
-Cllr Ibbs, example of public meeting on contentious public meeting in members ward Press & Comms didn’t inform Elected Members
-Cllr Daniels, points out page 9 Dan Bartons report, says 2 way communication, this is not happening!
-Cllr Daniels, he is stating things in the report that he is obviously not doing. PnP also note, no dates on the key actions..
-Cllr Ibbs, saying all members need to be informed of things happening in wards.
-Member services, saying some meetings Elected Members cannot be invited to.
-Cllr Follows, “In Brian Wards Confidential E-Mail” Laughter around the room
-Cllr Salih, can Elected members / Group Leaders ask questions?
-Cllr Salih, talking monthly publication of ‘Our City’ Cllr Ibbs says this will be raised later in the meeting.
-Cllr Ibbs will allow discussion of ‘Our City’ publication later
-Cllr Ibbs to Cllr Follows, do you think the Press & Comms have done a good job of managing the council reputation over the past 6 months.
-Cllr Follows, says they are fighting with the local press (Sentinel)
-Cllr Ibbs, asks why Press & Comms favour the Sentinel with private briefings
-Cllr Follows, says members & press are all informed at same time. Cllr Ibbs says this is not the case
-Cllr Ibbs, why are we spending time briefing the Sentinel, a paper who in you (Cllr Follows) words, you are fighting against?
-Cllr Follows, Dan Barton ‘wants’ to work with all press… Sniggers around the room
-Elaine now trying to differentiate between different parts of the media.. There is a list apparently..
-Cllr Ibbs, PnP have been mentioned, but this is not just about PnP but ‘other’ media..
-Cllr PK-B why can’t the portfolio holder answer questions that would have been put to Dan Barton? As a portfolio holder he should be able to
-Cllr Ibbs, we need to be fair to the portfolio holder.
-Cllr PK-B it seems we have a policy of disengaging with part of the media in this city.. We should be engaging
-Cllr PK-B we either do or we don’t engage with all the local media
-Cllr Matloob, we need the trust and the confidence of this city, we don’t have it. We don’t have the Press & PR
-Cllr Matloob, lack of information, right hand does not know what left hand is doing.
-Cllr PK-B If I were a portfolio holder, let us indulge in a bit of fantasy… Cllr Ibbs, well it is Christmas…
-Cllr Daniels, can we ask at the next meeting for the views of the Sentinel & PnP for Dan Barton to hear
-Cllr Ibbs asking Paul Hackney about legal position of bringing outside bodies in to give evidence. Need a Task & Finish / Spotlight
-Cllr Daniles, just to confirm that the portfolio holder has said Dan Barton *will* be at our next meeting
-Paul Hackney, no rule on inviting people to speak at committee..
-Cllr Ibbs wants Task & Finish to discuss all media
-Cllr Daniels, wants Spotlight review on all forms of media. Proposed & Seconded Date to be 20 / 22 Jan 10
-Cllr Ibbs, I think we have expressed our disquiet enough now, Clrr Salih wants to raise ‘Our City’
-Cllr Salih, talking about using Our City for council advertising. Does not go to all houses and will have an effect on the Sentinel, £140+k out of their income. They employ 200 people what impact will this have?
-Cllr Salih, impact on the local economy could be massive. All focus on City Life, could mean it could get used for the wrong reasons we *need* the alternative from the press.
-Cllr Salih, Using just ‘Our City’ will be a step back for democracy in this city
-Cllr Ibbs, distribution of ‘Our City’ is in the high 90% according to Smith Davis Press and is independently audited.
-Elaine, £140k on adverts is only around 40% of the advertising budget. Cllr Salih, the report is not accurate then… We can scrutinise it it it is not accurate
-Cllr Ibbs points out that Caroline Spellman agrees with Cllr Salih in the latest copy of MJ. Cllr Salih, I’ll go and throw myself under a bus..
-Cllr PK-B, the story in the original budget pack is different to the Press & Comms report. Changed from figures to %
-Cllr PK-B, we need to be given all the details of the budget, the figures do not stack up.
-Cllr Rigby, says Our City is not delivered in his area.
-Cllr Ibbs, who has control editorially of Our City? Partners are un happy that their stories are not always published/ Partners are police, PCT, Fire etc
-Cllr Follows, Dan Barton has editorial control of the ‘Our City’ publication…
-Cllr Ibbs, there is no publication schedule. Partners can’t plan their stories as we can’t tell them when we are going to publish
-Cllr Daniels, Agrees with Cllr Salih concerns. Whatever road we go down, we don’t allow openness and transparency to suffer
-Cllr daniels, we must not withhold any information.
-Cllr Daniels, says the way the budget cuts have been publicised, people think we are going to save £45m this year, not over 3 years
-Cllr Ibbs draws the crucifixion of Dan Barton to a close.
-Cllr Ibbs, special meeting will be arranged when Dan Barton is available
-Cllr Ibbs & Sutton, question why the contact officer (Tracey Harrison) was not present. Elaine did not check if she was available
-Cllr PK-B now asking questions of budgets.
-Cllr PK-B questioning the reduction of menu in council cafe, does this include the museum give that the Stafordshire Hoard will be exibited there we need to show the city in a good light.
-Cllr PK-B how are we going to save £20k on food for internal meetings? Can he have a copy of the current policy?
-Cllr PK-B, has the new Chief Exec agreed to the deletion of the DCE role? Cllr Ibbs, we will not have a decision until the New Year when new CE starts
-Cllr Ibbs, calling a recess for 5 minutes.

During a recess of the meeting we managed to catch up with the Committee Chair Roger Ibbs and he gave us his reaction to the meetings events.


Watch this video:

The Press Office

The Sentinel reported yesterday on a leaked E-mail from Deputy Council Leader Brian Ward about the service received from the Council Press Office for the £600,000 it costs.

We also received a copy of the E-mail here at Pits n Pots, we decided not to do anything with it as it would only serve to inflame the scant relationship we have with Dan Barton and the Council Press & Communications department.

Today Pits n Pots had sight of a document that has been sent around the council from Paul Hackney, the councils Head of Legal Services.

The letter addressed to Elected Members RE:”Press Office”, makes reference to Councillor Wards’ leaked E-mail stating the he had been written to about it and had the Members Code of Conduct highlighted to him.

The document then goes on to draw members attention to section 12 of the Members Code Of Conduct and in particular paragraph 12.4.

12. Constructive Criticism/Complaints
12.01 It is important that in any dealings between Members and Officers they should observe reasonable standards of courtesy and that neither party should seek to take unfair advantage of their position.
12.02 Members and Officers should not criticise or undermine respect for the other at meetings of the Council or in any public forum. This would damage effective working
relationships and the public image of the Council.
12.03 Members should not raise matters relating to the conduct or capability of an individual Council Officer or of Officers collectively at meetings held in public. This is a longstanding tradition in public service as Officers have no means of responding to criticisms such as this in public.
12.04 If Members feel that they have not been treated with proper respect, courtesy or have any concern about the conduct or capability of an Officer or group of Officers they should raise the matter with the Director of the Department in question.
12.05 If the Member is not satisfied that action has been taken within a reasonable period by the Director, they should raise the matter with the Chief Executive who will look into the matter afresh.

The document went on to inform elected members how the Members and Officers code forms part of the Citys’ constitution and how a breach of this may mean they may be in breach of the statutory local Code of Conduct for Members.

The closing line from Mr Hackney starts: I hope that this guidance is clear.

It seems because somebody has dared to question the accuracy and the value for money of a department and it’s officers a veiled threat is sent out trying to scare people in to silence.

From the outside looking in it does very much look like the officers are, as we have suspected for some time, running this city and not the elected members and woe betide any elected member who dares to question them.

On Friday at 1000 Dan Barton will present the Press & Communications Department report to the Transformation and Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Having read his report I find it quite interesting that almost all the key areas of activity are centred around internal communication, not one mention of the public. The Actions in his report are:

Core Brief – review effectiveness and look at improvements
Corporate Directors Board meeting (quarterly)
Email – develop new system to replace existing teamware system
Staff Forum ““ review, using staff feedback
Internal team advisory booklet
Stoke inside
Staff News
Staff and managers conferences
Internal PR and action plans
Publications and branding

I like the idea that they are going to Pod Cast the staff and managers conferences, indeed they are going to Establish group of authors able to create a publish pod cast of conferences. This from a city council that won’t let Tony and I do a webcast of a council meeting, so they could engage with the public.

Freedom of Information: spot the sidestep!

By Pits’n’Pots Contributor

Just in, hot off the PKB press:

Peter Kent-Baguley

Peter Kent-Baguley

A national newspaper’s recent F.O.I. request to Stoke-on-Trent City Council included the question: How many social workers are employed by Stoke City Council?

The answer was: There are 110 social worker posts in Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Specialist Services Division (children).

The question hardly threatened national security or the City’s security for that matter but remained unanswered. Why do we spend some £1m annually on our media department while we continue to undermine their positive feel good stories and further erode the Council’s credibility with such childishly evasive responses? Answers on a postcard please…if you are still engaged with local democracy.

PKB asks – Who’s the April Fool?………….

By Tony Walley

This just in from PKB…

Peter Kent-Baguley

Peter Kent-Baguley

What better day in the year than April 1st to appeal for a modicum of honesty at the City Council? Even though honesty heads the list of our corporate values with April 1st being what it is a serious appeal for a little honest dealing can easilly be met with the usual double dealing when the question concerns the elusive, under-cover Peter Hayes, PR extraordinary.

The Peter Hayes Communication organisation carried out the public relations work for the City Council on an interim basis last year. Thereafter, the current Head of Communications, Dan Barton was appointed and he rapidly built up his communications department. The interim Peter Hayes team withdrew, or at least his colleagues did, but it would seem Peter Hayes himself remained in the service of the Council, as a consultant, fulfilling such duties as being cheer-leader for the Elected Mayor at the 22nd July BBC Radio Stoke public recording at the Film Theatre of the panel discussion regarding the Governance Commission’s report and last October’s referendum on whether or not the electorate wanted to keep the elected mayor system or get rid of it.

Since I was a panel member facing the audience I could see Peter Hayes’ over-enthusiastic applause every time the elected mayor spoke! Sadly, for them both, it had little effect. However, the point is, as a paid employee in some capacity or another (and presumably not as the elected mayor’s full time cheer leader, however desperate his need for that was) his behaviour was inappropriate. I duly made an official complaint to the then Council Manager, Steve Robinson.

Robinson replied to say that he really didn’t want to say anything until he had discussed the issue with the then interim, acting assistant Council Manager (brought in by Steve Robinson) returned from leave. The complaint in fact was never answered save for a supposed verbal assurance that Peter Hayes’ temporary consultancy contract was about to end. In other words, don’t rock the boat but lets things reach their natural conclusion.

The problem with the natural conclusion approach is that it was a myth, or perhaps even a lie. It would seem that Peter Hayes has continued to be employed by the City Council as a “part-time consultant, on an as and when needed basis” carrying our “lobbying work, presenting the City Council’s case to ministers in Whitehall.”

So why do we need an elusive consultant for that? Isn’t that the kind of work that the Elected Mayor and his entourage of so-called portfolio holders should be fulfilling? But is his role confined to London lobbying? Not infrequent reported sightings crop up in tandem with the Elected Mayor; a presentation there, a speech here.

Why should it be so difficult to find out what Peter Hayes actually does, on whose orders, for whom and at what cost? Who is covering up for whom…and why?

Good Enough For The G20, But Not For Stoke on Trent City Council!

By Tony Walley.

G20Voice is holding an “open primary” to pick 50 bloggers from around the world to attend the conference and put questions to the leaders.

Political leaders are set to be confronted by questions from members of the public received online at next month’s G20 summit in London.

More than 600 were nominated by readers with many arguing blogs explained issues in a way they found accessible.

For what is believed to be the first time at a major political meeting, bloggers will have the same access as the mainstream media. Are you listening Dan Barton?

Charities including Oxfam, Comic Relief and Save The Children have joined forces to create G20Voice.

It aims to push the public’s concerns about the economy to the forefront when some of the world’s most powerful politicians meet.

They believe the global financial crisis has made people more engaged than ever.

People can call a number to record a voicemail, which will be translated into text and uploaded onto the web page by Spin Vox.

The G20 summit – a forum for the world’s finance ministers and bank governors – will be held in London on April 20.

The recession has made it more important than ever for people to be heard, according to Oxfam’s Karina Brisby who is leading the G20Voice project.

So there you have it! It’s good enough for the G2o summit and Barack Obama, but not for the Stoke on Trent City Council Media Department.

I wonder if there was a “jobsworth” somewhere who pointed out that blogs were not regulated by either Ofcom or the Press Complaints Commission?

Doesn’t this just highlight how backward thinking our city and it’s leaders are? I wonder if Obama will tell the worlds greatest leaders not to contribute to a particular blog because they may read comments that they don’t like or someone may be having a go at the UK (because after all we work together – don’t we?).

Are you listening Joy?