Get the right deal for Port Vale and the taxpayers

Recently taxpayers have lost money on the Dimensions fiasco, £2million lost in government funding to freeze council tax and now another massive loss to Port Vale.

I can hear the groans of the Vale supporters, that rightly want to keep their club open, and yes, the council helped Stoke City and yes they paid the money back.

Many decisions like this one are driven by emotion rather than good business sense and the council should not be swayed into throwing money at any businessman wanting to buy a football club on the cheap. Continue reading

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.

SOS- Save Our Services Launch!

D4S launch our SOS campaign ““ “Save Our Services”, as Stoke-on-Trent City Council and other local public service providers warn of massive cuts in spending.

Whilst D4S recognizes the economic climate means difficult times ahead, we are not convinced local democracy is capable of maintaining the services that local people want and need.

As we have seen over recent years ““ Dimensions, Tunstall Pool, Stoke Recreation Centre, City Farm, Community Halls, Care Homes ““ all these and others have already been proposed but put on hold because of public anger and disquiet. But they have not gone away and we must presume still high on the list as the bigger axe threatens to fall, with consultants now being brought in to sharpen its blade.

So through these pages, we aim to highlight the cuts, the evidence, and where necessary assist other in any campaigns that may result.

D4S aims to support and help those that chose to defend their services. Through our members we have experience in many successful campaigns, raising funds, exploiting the media, Websites etc.

So if you need help contact us at:sos@democracy4stoke.co.uk

Difficult times lay ahead ““ only through hard work and determination, and exercising our democratic rights to protest will the services we cherish be saved.

Join our Twitter account: Democracy4Stoke

Centres of merit like Burslem Gymnastic Centre should be cherished – not destroyed

Another controversial pool-shutting idea has caused the latest in-fighting down at the Civic.

After it was apparently agreed to shelve the idea of closing Tunstall pool and Burslem Gymnastics Centre, it has now emerged that in “secret” talks which remained private to avoid the matter becoming a “political issue”, cabinet councillors have continued talks to go ahead with the unpopular idea.

Leaving aside the fact that this is the kind of civil Civic war that has led to so many mistakes in the past, with councillors spending more time battling each other and attempting to achieve political gain than serving the electorate, it worries me that the authority is considering taking away long-standing instituions to balance the short-term books.

I find it very difficult to believe that the facilities at the Burslem gym could be replicated easily within the Dimensions, which ironically itself, of course, not long ago faced closure under ‘cost-cutting’ plans.

For the many who probably were unaware of what on the outside looks a bit like the house from a Halloween film, the Burslem Gymnastics centre is actually a great facility for budding gymnasts and contains the equipment that you may only have previously seen on TV screenings of the olympics. Yes, on the outskirts of Burslem there is actually the apparatus associated with the kind of awe-inspiring athletes that you see swinging around the high bar, performing eye-wateringly painful-looking manoeuvres whilst holding onto a pair of rings, attempting somersaults and multiple backflips along a beam a matter of inches wide, and leaping along the floor to music amid twisting flights over a piece of stuffed leather they call the vault.

I know this because I was once one of the young things with the aspirations of becoming a world-class gymnast. Unfortunately, though, doing the splits didn’t agree with me and I had to admit that my body just wasn’t made for such feats of suppleness, despite the fun I had swinging around the bars.

But the point is, the setup at the centre is one of few in the country, and is something that should be being preserved as a treasure of Stoke’s sporting facilities, and invested in, rather than being destroyed and moved to a room in another sports centre. It is not just a few bits of equipment that can be set up again somewhere else. There is a fully-sprung gymnastics floor, a pit of sponge into which practising gymnasts can fall after plummeting from a missed high bar-swing-catch, the pommel-horse, beams, vaulting equipment, parallel bars, the list goes on. Such an organisation needs the space of its own building to exist.

Because the likes of this centre are few and far between, it also means that some of the country’s medal-winning gymnasts have actually learned their trade at this centre in Burslem, and without it, may never have taken up the sport.

I understand that we have to tighten the purse strings right now, but for God’s sake, hands off little treasures like this of which we can be proud.

Full Council Report – Ibbs, Dimensions and the Withdrawn Motion!

One of the most interesting topics on Thursday’s full council meeting was the motion tabled By Cllr Dave Conway.

The motion had called for the following:

“That this Council resolves that an inquiry be established into the conduct of the internal investigation of the proposed closure of the splash pool at Dimensions Leisure Centre, Burslem, with the following remit:

·Ensuring that all elected members have been, and will in future be, treated fairly and properly in relation to this and similar matters; and

·Establishing a formal process to ensure fairness and openness in all dealings with elected members, such process to be incorporated in the Local Code Governing Relations between Elected Members and Council Employees set out in the City Council’s Constitution.”

When the agenda reached this item however, the motion was withdrawn by Cllr Conway and with the permission of the seconder, Cllr Ann James.

The reason for the withdrawal of the motion was because Cllr Ibbs had been advised that the quickest way of reaching a conclusion in this matter was for the new Chief Executive to undertake an independent inquiry into the conduct of the council and it’s officers into the circumstances which led to the arrest of Cllr Ibbs following a complaint that he made in relation to the proposed closure of the Dimensions Leisure Centre.

Listen to the Audio Interview with Cllr Roger Ibbs where he gives us his reasons for making a formal complaint against an officer of the City Council.

Conway calls for an inquiry into Ibbs arrest.

Leading Independent Councillor Dave Conway has today called for an independent inquiry into the arrest of fellow Councillor Roger Ibbs.

Cllr Ibbs was the first arrest of three centred around allegations of political corruption. Former Elected Mayor Mark Meredith was the second and local millionaire businessman Mo Chaudry was the third.

All three arrests made headline news locally but all three men faced no charges as the CPS claimed there was insufficient evidence to secure prosecution.

A later Standards Committee meeting accepted a report which completely exonerated Cllr Ibbs. This report also stated that Cllr Ibbs should have been classed as a victim rather than an accused.

Councillor Dave Conway has submitted a written motion to council officers which will be put to all 60 elected members at the next full council meeting on January 28.

Watch the video below, Cllr Conway explains his reasons..

Ibbs asks the Police, why?

Well this story has been scrutinised more closely than Tiger Woods’s mobile phone bill!

It is probably the story of the year, the action really started in February this year.

The story’s origin goes even further back and is now indisputably linked to the absurd attempted closure of the popular splash pool at Dimensions leisure centre in Burslem.

After making a serious complaint to the council’s executive regarding the action of certain high flying elected representatives and senior officers a low key council investigation was initiated.

The complainant, Roger Ibbs, was allowed to carry out his duties to his usual high standard [all be it in a different portfolio] until February this year. Ibbs was called to a bogus meeting by the council’s legal officer. Upon his arrival, Ibbs was abandoned by the said legal officer and subsequently arrested and taken away for questioning.

Two further high profile arrests followed and a lengthy police investigation followed. Eventually there was an announcement that there was insufficient evidence to secure a prosecution against any individual. Hardly an endorsement of innocence.

Later more details emerged about the fiasco relating to Dimensions which led to a certain amount of clearing the waters. Ibbs started looking more like the victim instead of the accused.

Then a meeting of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Standards Committee on the 9th December gave the best clue yet that there was more to this fiasco than meets the eye. The Standards Committee all but completely exonerates Ibbs which has left the issue somewhat up in the air.

Who? Why? What? When? – Those questions are still waiting to be answered. However, those answers will come as there are calls [which are councillor led] for an independent enquiry into the circumstances and facts surrounding this whole issue.

Today a new twist emerged, Roger Ibbs has released a copy of the letter that he has written to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police, Mike Cunningham. Here it is in all it’s glory:

Dear Chief Constable,

Re: Dimensions Leisure Centre – Stoke-on-Trent

On the 27th February 2009 I was arrested in connection with enquiries being made by your officers re: the above.

At no time was I informed as to why my questioning regards this matter was required to be made under caution.

I would therefore ask you to answer the following 2 questions:-

1. Why was I arrested when there was no evidence against me and subsequent to the conclusion of your enquiries, no evidence against me has been found ?

2. Why when you understood that my arrest would create a public outcry did your officers not act with caution rather than rushing to place me under arrest, when simply asking me to attend an interview would have sufficed ?

Finally I have tried to ascertain why it was felt necessary to place me under arrest. I look forward to your speedy reply.

Yours faithfully,

Roger M. Ibbs

I think we should now take it as a given that Ibbsy is completely innocent of all allegations.

Will those who alluded to the theory that he was up to no good now admit they were totally wrong?

Furthermore we should also consider the impact that this issue has had on the political scene of our City.

Ibbs was the leader of the Conservative and Independent Alliance. The leader that succeeded him went on to be voted in as Council Leader.

Would that have meant that Ibbs should have been the Leader of the Council should this whole sorry episode not have happened?

Would he have been a stronger leader? Would he have taken a firmer line with the officers?

I’ve known the guy for a while now and he is a cock sure arrogant son of a gun.

But the one thing I am assured of is that he loves this City and the vast majority of the officers I have spoken to privately, really think he is a very competent and fair politician.

Apart from the fact that he is a Tory he has a great deal of respect from his fellow councillors. As one commented to me a while ago:

"You either love the guy or loathe him, but what you can not deny is the fact that he is one of the most knowledgeable councillor ever to have served this City"

Well, what has happened can not be changed no matter how we would all like to turn back time. But there should now be an independent enquiry into this whole sorry affair.

Rumours are rife that the legal officers and chief executive knew that Ibbs was completely innocent way back at the start of June. So why has it taken until December for the details to start to emerge?

OK so Ibbsy might be in the clear, but there is something a whole lot more sinister about this issue and we the public need to find out the whole unedited, no spin, unsanitized details that makes up one of the darkest periods in our City’s history.

I call upon those who have the power and to those who represent every normal decent man, woman and child to not let up in the search for the truth.

After all we ALL deserve that…. Don’t we?

Standards Committee Clears Ibbs!

A Standards Committee has today accepted a report which completely exonerates Cllr Roger Ibbs from any wrong doing during the investigation into the Dimensions fiasco.

The report provided the Committee with an opportunity to consider whether there any Standards issues remaining following the conclusion of the Staffordshire Police Investigation.

There had been a number of allegations concerning the proposed closure of the Council run splash pool facilty at Dimensions Leisure Centre, Burslem. The report also confirms that the original fact finding exercise had being extended to include the removal of Cllr Roger Ibbs from the portfolio holder for Regeneration in the then Elected Mayor’s Executive and Members’ Board.

In a statement released today, Mr Ibbs said:

“I am delighted that at today’s Standards Committee meeting my name has been totally cleared of any wrongdoing regarding the ongoing saga of the Dimensions Leisure Centre. On the 27th. February of this year I was arrested by Staffordshire Police in connection with enquiries regarding Dimensions and to date I have received no explanation as to why I was arrested. I was never charged with any offence and subsequent to the conclusion of the police enquiries no charges were ever suggested. I am pleased to have been recognised "AS A VCTIM" and that I should "NOT HAVE BEEN TAINTED" by events surrounding the Dimensions saga I have today written to the Chief Constable, Mike Cuthbertson, demanding to know why I was arrested when there was not a shred of evidence against me. I was one of the leading City Councillors opposing the partial closure of Dimensions and I would have been happy to co-operate with the police and answer any questions voluntarily. The torment I have faced over the last ten months and the considerable expense I have had to face clearing my name, I would not wish on anybody, particularly on the basis that I had done absolutely nothing wrong. I have also been extremely disappointed by the way several current and past senior officers within the City Council, have dealt with matters and trust that any future report or inquiry into the Dimensions saga will show up the inadequacies of performance. I will of course be more than happy to present evidence to such an inquiry.”

 

Standards report exonerates Ibbs.

A report to the Standards Committee which meet on the 9th December 2009 completely exonerates Cllr Roger Ibbs from any wrong doing during the investigation into the Dimensions fiasco.

The report is to provide the Committee with an opportunity to consider whether there any Standards issues remaining following the conclusion of the Staffordshire Police Investigation.

There had been a number of allegations concerning the proposed closure of the Council run splash pool facilty at Dimensions Leisure Centre, Burslem.

The report also confirms that the original fact finding exercise had being extended to include the removal of Cllr Roger Ibbs from the portfolio holder for Regeneration in the then Elected Mayor’s Executive and Members’ Board.

It also confirms that the interim Chief Executive, Chris Harman sanctioned the formal report be submitted to the Police in November 2008, on the advice of Head of Local Government, Mark Greenburgh.

Paragraph 3.8 of the report states:

Whilst it is not the purpose of this Committee to inquire into the details of the police investigation, it has been suggested that, had matters been referred to the police earlier than they were, Councillor Ibbs’ account of events would have been as a victim and potential witness, and would not have been tainted by the events that followed.

It also confirms that the reports findings will be discussed at a Full Council Meeting at some time in the near future. It says:

Should the Committee accept the analysis set out in this report and
agree that there are no specific Standards issues remaining to be dealt
with, it should also note that the wider implications of the whole chain
of events will be the subject of a report to all councillors at a
forthcoming meeting of the full City Council. This will look at the
broader picture of how organisational lessons might be learned from
the experience with a view to putting in place processes and
procedures aimed at preventing similar occurrences in future. The
outcome of the City Council’s deliberations will be reported to the
Committee at a future meeting

If, as expected, the Standards Committee accept the report, Cllr Ibbs will have the opportunity to address the council chamber and to express his thanks for his fellow councillors support. He will also seek to bring closure to what has been a distressing period in his life.

Talking to Pits’n’Pots today Cllr Ibbs Said:

"It would be improper of me to comment extensively in advance of the Standards Committee meeting. I will however be issuing a statement after that process has concluded"

"I know of the report and am aware of and welcome it’s contents".

"I would like to say that I fully appreciate the support given to me by my fellow councillors from all sides of the chamber and from people outside the council. To be honest, that is the only thing that has got me through one of the most terrible periods of my life".

Cllr Ibbs has been particularly critical of certain council officers’ conduct relating to this matter.

In previous interviews with us he hit out at an officer for inviting him to a spurious meeting and then leaving him at the mercy of two police officers. He has also been critical about the press departments and handling of the situation.

 

The full report can be read here.

Ibbs ““ A man on his way back?

Sometimes when you broadcast or write an article you often find yourself wondering whether you should be saying or writing what you are thinking ““ if you catch my drift.

Today is one of those days, I find myself thinking, oh dear this one isn’t going to go down too well.

But do you no what? When you have a certain strength of feeilng over an issue, or a comment that needs to be aired, you just have to go with the flow and let it all out.

This weeks revelations that were published in our local newspaper regarding the possible legal action taken by multi-million aire Mo Chaudry against Stoke-on-Trent City Council has robbed us of our opportunity to get the views of one of the most respected councillors, Dave Conway.

We have spoken to Dave and agreed that an interview now that lifts the political lid on this hot-potato issue regarding the attempted closure of the Dimensions splash pool, could probably compromise any pending legal action.

That said it is all down to the conscience of Mr Choudry whether he wants to extract money from the very city that he has spent years trying to convince people that he loves. He has an incredible life story, he has many experiences to share and he is a role model for the young and ambitious in our city. The comments left on the original Sentinel article certainly seem to point towards a negative view of Mo’s legal intentions. Strangely enough those telling comments have since been removed from the Sentinel web site.

The one character to emerge relatively unscathed in all this sleaze is also probably one of the most controversial but respected Councillors, Roger Ibbs.

Roger has certainly gone through the mill over the last year or so.

I remember reading comments left on both this site and on other sites speculating that Roger had taken a bung, or that their was some sort of financial corruption that involved him. A fair few of these comment were made by people in Trentham and were no doubt wishful thinking given Ibbs’s stance over the Trentham High issue.

Roger stood his ground over Trentham [so did Ross Irving] and he never wavered or backed down from his stance that Trentham should close and be re-built in another part of Trentham. Give him his due he still feels the same today,but for political intervention forced by Rob Flello MP he may have been proved right.

I doubt that Roger will ever get re-elected in the ward of Trentham and Hanford and that is cool because that is down to the electorate and they have the right to choose who represents them.

But over the Dimensions fiasco, when he was in the cabinet he fought to keep the popular facility open and he no doubt uncovered something that he felt was not quite right. He stood against what he believed was not right for our city and he spoke out, put his head above the parapet, and reported what he thought was outside the realms of acceptability.

He made the original complaint, an internal investigation promised. This then sparked a police investigation, his subsequent arrest and forced an abstention from the local political scene for a long period of time. During his absence, I was probably one of the few who kept in touch with him and probably had the inside track on what had gone down.

He was forced to look elsewhere for his enjoyment and he turned to football management. He runs his the Coors League side Vodafone Stoke. They are doing really well and have just made the last eight in a major non-league cup competition which could result in a final appearance played at Vale Park.

It seems obvious to me that his complete exoneration of any wrong doing relating to the political corruption scandal that rocked the very core of our City is imminent. Questions have to be asked about why there was a need to arrest Roger Ibbs. He was the original complainant and yet he was duped into going to non-existent meeting by a high ranking Council Officer and left in the lap of the gods and at the mercy of the Police.

His forced absence resulted in him reluctantly relinquishing his role as Leader of the Conservative & Independent Alliance which meant that he was out of the running to be Council Leader. He was also forced to step down from the Conservatives, a party that he has supported for 30 years.

It is unreal that now, as more revelations emerge about this scandal, the only person that seems to have any restrictions hanging over them is Roger Ibbs.

The former Elected Mayor has confirmed that there was an intention to close the splash pool at Dimensions and that he supported the move. Yet in Labour Party meetings there was a constant denial that there was no more to this than the saving of a paltry £60k.

I welcome Mo Chaudry’s legal action only because it will out all of the facts that surround this issue. Better still would be an internal enquiry into the matter and I urge the incoming Chief Executive to take decisive action for the good of politics in this city that has been left tarnished in the wake of this issue.

But where next for Ibbsy?

I would urge Ross Irving to get the lad back into the Cabinet at the earliest convenience. Roger has a reputation for being firm and fair where officers are concerned. During my dealings with him as Portfolio Holder over Children & Young People Services he took the lead in all the meetings and above all he was accessible. He stuck to his guns over certain issues, unlike the present incumbent who supported the campaign to save Heathfield Special School and then when he was appointed to the Cabinet promptly signed it’s death warrant.

Roger Ibbs has one major fault and that is he is a Tory, [I say this as someone who has strong socialist leanings!] but in terms of political nous and as someone who knows all the in’s and outs of local government there isn’t many that can match him.

In this current period where there is a huge outcry against what is seen as officers leading politicians instead of the other way round, party politics should be put to one side and the chamber should unite. Yes I mean even the BNP, all need to come together to regain control.

For too long now the tail has wagged the dog and I’m sorry if it upsets certain people, particularly in Trentham, but Roger Ibbs is not only capable of attaching the leash, he is also able to lead the dog in a particular direction.

Let’s hope he gets the chance soon shall we? I suppose he could always try to become the next Sir Alex Ferguson”¦

Hang on, Fergie is a Labourite isn’t he?”¦.