Reportergate: Standards Board Conclusion – Barnes Speaks Out!

The Standards Board for England have concluded their investigations into one of the most fascinating stories in Stoke-on-Trent’s recent political history.

Mike Barnes has today spoken out on the incident that ended his political career in the Labour Party.

He also confirms that at the time of the ‘Reportergate’ incident he was under extreme stress as a result of the Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council removing the posts of political assistants.

He has revealed that he has a history of suffering from depression.

Writing on his blog today Mike Barnes said:

The Standards Board for England have now concluded their investigation into allegations made against me and the summary is presented at the bottom of this statement.

The conclusions of the Standards Board are that I did break the Code of Code of the Council Para 5, in that I did not meet the standards expected of the office of councillor. However, they have also concluded that I do NOT bring the City Council or that of all councillors into disrepute.

The report states:

“It has been alleged that Councillor Barnes’s motivation in ringing CWCC was to spread rumours. In considering this, I note first that Councillor Barnes chose to call the CWCC press office implying he was from the media. A local authority press office is designed to ensure, first, that the release of information about the authority and its staff is controlled as far as is possible; and second, that information available to journalists in particular is accurate. The response of the officers who dealt with the call, immediate escalation and denial of the false rumour, was in my view entirely predictable. Although Councillor Barnes, through his call, contributed in a small way to spreading the rumour, my view is that those he spread it to were in the business of repudiating false rumours. I do not therefore accept that he could be reasonably seen as rumour-mongering himself.”

“No plausible motive for rumour-mongering has come to light in this investigation: no party claims that Councillor Barnes bore Mr Robinson any ill will”

“Once Councillor Barnes received information that the rumour was untrue, he moved quickly to stop its further spread.”

The Standards Board decision is that “no action needs to be taken”.

I am entirely happy with the outcome of the investigation by the Standards Board and fully expected its outcome.

I apologised and admitted my error immediately after it came to light.

I held my integrity and honest in high regard and it has deeply upset me that I let myself, my family and the public down.

I am only human though, and as such make mistakes, and only hope to learn from them to move forward.

He has also hit out at the way the matter was handled by some sections of the local media, the City Council and the Labour Party.

He wrote:

However, I am very concerned by the actions and statements made by Stoke-on-Trent City Council on this matter in my absence on the 6 October 2009, as I believe, along with BBC Radio Stoke, greatly inflated and embellished the accusations, which caused much more media hype and also greater distress to my family and myself.

I am therefore calling for a full formal investigation by Stoke-on-Trent City Council into the actions and statements made to the media and in briefing other councillors at time of the incident, by the City Council.

I lay part of the blame for my actions at the City Council and the Labour Party.

Firstly, Stoke-on-Trent City Council removed the post of political assistants just as I became leader. With the great upheaval within the council, this lead to much more work and pressure on Group Leaders, at a time of dealing with the major issues of the boundaries commission and the new Leader and Cabinet system.

Two weeks prior to the incident I spoke to the Council Leader and the Chief Executive and made it quite clear that I was struggling without a political assistant to the detriment of my health. They just laughed at me.

Secondly, it is no secret that I became leader of a split Labour Group, with many opposed to my appointment. In that six months much needed to be done, candidates, proper policies etc.

Instead, I had to answer to the NEC of the Labour Party, about allegation after allegation. From kicking the seats of other members, to “mental instability”. All absolute rubbish. In the final desperate days they even started accusations of discrimination against women. The West Midlands regional director chose not to speak to me for 3 years. Some Labour Group members were, quite frankly evil. I have no doubt that many wanted revenge for my taking a high profile part in the removal of the Elected Mayor.

Writing about his history of depression he said:

It is no secret that I, amongst many thousands of other people suffer from depression on occasion. It will be of interest to those suffers, that the NEC interviewed me about complaints of mental instability from senior member of the Labour Group. These Labour members think that suffering from the disability of depression means you are mentally unstable.

It shows how desperate they were in that rather than supporting my disability they chose to use it against me, and add to it, for their own ends.

The whole ‘Potteye’ article includes the full summary by the Standards Board of England. It can be accessed by clicking on the link at the foot of this story.

We will be recording an interview with Mike Barnes in the next few days.

Council offers help to businesses – but is it just a gimmick?

By Matt Taylor

Thousands of businesses in Stoke-on-Trent have received letters telling them they can get help paying their business rates bills during this difficult economical period.

The correspondence sent from Stoke-on-Trent City Council reassures traders, shopkeepers and manufacturers alike that “there is new help available to lighten the load”. “Great news,” I am sure most of the entrepeneurs of the city thought as they ripped open the envelope. But on delving deeper into the facts it seems is that rather than being “helped” to pay their bill, business owners are simply now allowed to defer a small percentage of the money and pay it over the next three years.

What the city council is actually proposing is that, not a portion of the actual bill, but that the amount by which the bill rose from last year to this, can be financed over the next three years. Which means that they’ll still have to pay the same as last year and, since the document states that the help is only available this year, pay next year’s bill including the annual increase, as well as the cost of the deferred amount from this year!

So, I really can’t see many business people thinking this generous offer is worth even bothering with.

Surely, considering the difficult economic times, what would have been a much more useful offer would be not to have any increase in business rates at all this year?

But don’t worry! If you don’t want to take advantage of this, you can also apply for small Business Rate Relief (SBRR), say the letters. If your business has a rateable value below  £15,000, y0u may qualify for this discount on your bill. Fantastic, you might think, and yes, you’d be right. However, this is nothing new, as the SBRR has been available since March 2005.

It is great to hear that the council is offering help to the private sector to aid its survival through the troubled times, but unfortunately, this is pretty much an empty gesture which will, in reality, help very few struggling enterprises.