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 City Council Mistake Prevents Possible £3million Icelandic Loss

Human error at Stoke-on-Trent City council prevented the possible withdrawal of £3million that had been invested in the failed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

An email, sent by the council’s credit agency, which showed a downward review of Landsbanki’s credit rating, was not acted upon by one of the council’s officers.

The officer left the email unopened and the Icelandic banks including Landsbanki collapsed soon after.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council had a total of £5million invested in Landsbanki but only £3million could have been withdrawn due to the interest deal in place at the time.

The unopened email warned of that Landsbanki’s creditworthiness had been reduced and did not suggest the imminent collapse of the bank or the immediate withdrawal of the sum invested.

A report from the Audit Commission also accepts that the error was genuine and that there was no suggestion or suspicion of fraudulent activity.

123 councils lost money in the Icelandic bank collapse and many are still looking to recapture their losses.

There is an ongoing court case in Iceland which is hoped will lead to Stoke-on-Trent City Council recouping 95% of their losses along with the other authorities affected.

The unopened email will have no bearing on the court case.

The error occurred two years ago and was reported to the relevant director. It was referred to the Council Manager who in turn briefed the elected mayor. This was the correct procedure for the system of governance at the time.

No other EMB member or council politicians were made aware of the error.

The council insist that procedures have been amended and tightened including more staff being given access to credit updates. Treasury officers can no longer sign off investments of this size and more rules have been implemented to protect future investments.

The full Audit Report can be viewed by clicking the link below.

Listen to the Audio Interview below with the Cabinet Member for Resources Kieran Clarke, who explains what went wrong and whether the officer responsible is still employed by the City Council.

The Trials And Tribulations Of A Stoke-on-Trent MP

It’s a rollercoaster ride type lifestyle as a Member of Parliament, any doubts, just ask Rob Flello MP for Stoke-on-Trent South.

Elected to the house in 2005, re-elected on a reduced majority after a hard fought battle in this year’s General Election, he finds himself sitting on the opposition benches.

The peaks and troughs of political battle during the election campaign saw him praised and criticised in equal measures.

Praise came from those who were impressed by the battle he fought against Anti-Social Behaviour right across his constituency. The criticism came from those who were appalled by his comments that a vote for the Lib Dems was like a vote for the BNP. He was only slightly wrong on this issue however; as it turned out that a vote for the Lib Dems was indeed a vote for the Conservatives.

Post general election there was a huge upheaval in his Constituency office.

A number of redundancies to key staff, some staff forced to re-apply for a job that had been re-titled and subjected to an interview process. Only one of the original staff was left standing.

One political commentator made this observation in a

Guardian column today:

And Rob Flello, MP for Stoke South. What happened to the claims of Hazel Blears’s former PPS, whose supporters hoisted him shoulder high amid cries of “For he’s a jolly good Flello”? Many things could have scuppered his ambitions. Some, for instance, didn’t like the look of him threatening redundancies for staff in the summer and simultaneously advertising for a new assistant. They look askance at that sort of thing.

Whilst not factually accurate, there is no doubt that Rob has had his crown slightly dented in the national press circles and that bad news sure does travel fast!

Rob Flello’s mood would not have been lifted by not being elected to the Shadow Cabinet. He came 4th bottom of the results with 15 votes.

But he’s off on the crest of a wave again as he has just been appointed as a Shadow Junior Minister for Justice. He will serve in the Rt Hon Sadiq Khan’s team along with Chris Bryant MP, Helen Goodman MP & Andy Slaughter MP.

Although Rob will play a full role on the opposition front bench he will also have his work cut out here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Nationally he will, as a part of Ed Miliband’s front bench team, oppose certain cuts that will be implemented by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition and thrust upon the nation’s citizens and our local authorities following the Comprehensive Spending Review on October 20th.

Locally his role will have to be slightly different and will require a subtle approach.

Here in Stoke-on-Trent Rob’s Labour Party is in a 4 way coalition and are the biggest single group in the Council Chamber.

Cllr Mohammed Pervez will be administering the cuts imposed on our Authority by Central Government.

Rob Flello’s job will be made more difficult as he encounters certain public outrage to some of the more sensitive cuts.

It’s fair to say that he hasn’t got off to the best of starts.

On Friday last week there was a demonstration against the cuts organised by the union Unison. It took the form of an open topped bus tour around some council sites.

Speaking to Rob today he says that he was due to meet the bus outside his constituency office. As the bus pulled up outside Fenton Day Care Centre someone hailed “Ëœsave Fenton Day Care Centre’ over the loudspeaker. This caused some concern to the users and staff at the centre who, quite rightly, asked if there was any danger of the centre closing under the upcoming cuts.

Rob Flello says he was not on the bus at the time that the loudspeaker was used but he was on hand to allay some of the concerns.

This prompted the following email to all council staff and members:

To: All Council Staff; Primary Schools; Secondary Schools; Nursery Schools; Special Schools
Subject: Message from Tony Oakman on behalf of Chief Executive
Dear colleagues

We have been informed a Unison bus with MP Robert Flello on board is touring the city’s public sector offices. This is a political campaign and is not in anyway connected with any announcement on potential spending cuts from the city council. We want to assure staff that when decisions are made on cuts to services those staff affected will receive direct communication from the council.

If staff wish to participate in any union or political activities this should be in their own time. No disruption should be allowed to normal services. If any MP wishes to enter a council building they should seek approval in advance. Staff should also be aware of the council’s media protocol that states that no member of staff should speak to the media without the permission of the Press Office and generally this should be at Head of Service or Director level.

If you have any questions please speak to your line manager.

There was also a phone call between the officer and the Member of Parliament that afternoon.

I have to question whether the council actually knew about the planned visit of the Unison protest bus and whether Mr Flello had indicated that he would be touring around certain council sites.

Some of the more cynical may say that it was down to the fact that his office is a bit short staffed at the moment.

It does highlight the difficult situation that faces both the Leader of the Labour Group/Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and the 3 Stoke-on-Trent Members of Parliament.

The electorate will want our MP’s to campaign against the loss of popular facilities and cuts in services.

Those difficult decisions that face this city’s administration may well pitch MP against council.

The issue that faces both parties is that they are of one party.

One would hope that the MP’s are included in all consultations that may result in the loss of a facility or service.

There was obvious division between the city’s MPs and the Elected Mayor over the BSF project. That division must be avoided at all costs and the only way to avoid confrontation is true partnership working.

This city faces a 25% cut to funding over the next few years. The Labour Party is the biggest group on the city council. The City is represented at national level by three Labour MPs.

All must come together to oppose where opposition is needed, but there has to be consultation and total agreement on where the axe has to inevitably fall.

The city’s electorate deserves and demands nothing less.

Stoke Labour Groups Big Decision Must Not Be A Return To The EMB Days

There has been much speculation as to whether the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council will abdicate their political responsibility and opt to remain in opposition for the most difficult period of the Authorities history.

Mohammed Pervez will meet with the rest of his group today [Monday] to discuss the views expressed by the grass roots members of the party at a special meeting convened last Saturday morning.

Other politicians and opponents share the view that the Labour Group have been mandated by the public following their outstanding showing in the recent local elections.

I think that Pervez is ready, willing and able to handle the responsibility that comes with being the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. I also think that he is intelligent enough to know that the majority of his Labour Group lack the experience required to hold cabinet places.

He will be encouraged that people like Mervin Smith have returned to the council chamber and that there is a new crop of gifted new councillors, who will for sure be, up to speed quite quickly on how the council operates.

I do think that Pervez will turn to the current council leader Ross Irving and Liberal Democrat Leader Kieran Clarke for help and assistance.

This will mean that there will need to be a coalition type of arrangement between the main three parties and whilst it is probably necessary, it is something that fills me full of dread.

I sincerely hope that all three parties have learned the lessons from the old Elected Mayor type of coalition [EMB] which robbed this city of the individual party voices which led to a sharp rise in the popularity of the BNP.

The far right party was able to fill a void and portray itself as the only real opposition to the coalition parties. They were able to convince the electorate that they would never make difficult decisions that would have a negative impact on the people of this City should they ever make it into power.

I was a massive supporter of the Elected Mayor system and sincerely believe that it is right for this City.

But, I did vote against it when given the opportunity which was brought about through the Democracy4Stoke campaign.

I felt it all went terribly wrong under Mark Meredith. He demanded a loyalty from the EMB that transcended party policy. The three main parties all but became one.

This is something that the Liberal Democrats are rightly concerned about at a national level. They are worried that their party could become consumed by the Conservatives.

Im my humble opinion that is what happened here in Stoke.

Mark Meredith is a good bloke and a clever politician and I am sure that he now knows where it all went wrong and if he had the chance to do it all again, I bet he would do a lot of it very differently indeed.

Sometimes even the great politicians just get it wrong. It is more important for any politician to admit to getting it wrong and then make sure they never repeat that mistake again.

So if the Labour Group do enter into a coalition they must make sure their agreement with the other parties is only on a set number of policies.

These parties must agree to deliver a range of policy ideas based on the difficult decisions that face this City over the next few years. There will be massive cuts to local government funding and no matter what party is in charge, services will be affected.

The coalition agreement must only cover the agreed policies and should then politically fight each other tooth and nail on everything else and not resort to nodding their heads like Donkeys as we all witnessed in the past.

The Labour Party have been given a massive second chance. The Conservatives have committed rank and file members who are taking their party in a new direction, The Lib Dems are… well they are the Lib Dems really.

Coalition is essential in the short term. The only alternative is a minority administration which will do nothing for stability in these most uncertain times.

I hope that Pervez puts himself forward and I hope everyone in the City realises that, with all the hard times to come, this new coalition must prove that it is very different to the last one which became very unpopular with the public.

I urge the coalition leaders to take the electorate with them and to be open and honest about the difficulties that surely await our City.

But above all I urge them to demonstrate that they can retain the parties identity, core beliefs and values.

If this goes wrong they might not get another chance.

Labour – Dead As A Dodo!

Well done Gary Elsby, Barry Stockley and Mick Williams for finally taking a stand in that they are taking legal action against their treatment by the local Labour Party.

I only wish I had done so when I could, and should have done.

Needless to say, any assistance I can give, I will gladly do so. I know with the meetings I went to that there was no way Gary Elsby was going to be Labour candidate.

This action is a sad consequence of a party with a great chasm between itself and local party members, let alone ordinary citizens of Stoke-on-Trent. A party that wants to bulldoze its own agenda through whilst ruthlessly bullying and crushing any other opinions leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Those that now run the local party have little experience and a totally lack of understanding for politics, Labour, social justice, Stoke-on-Trent and its people.

Yet they are right ““ everybody else is wrong ““ only in their blinkered minds.

Without doubt this is one of the most dramatic and spectacular collapses of a local Labour Party in history.

Only 13 years ago Labour had 60 councillors out of 60. Its complete dominance the envy of many throughout the country. Now its collapse in almost total: down to 13 councillors, struggling to find 20 candidates willing to have their names associated with Labour, and a membership average of just 20 per ward (some are down to less than 10). This could drop even further as I know a number of members who have contacted me asking me to set up an alternative which they would join. Even some trade unions that have left the Labour Party are sounding out for an alternative. There is now even the possibility that Labour will lose an MP.

The bad news just keeps on coming:

* Disastrous mishandling of the Budget
* Accusations of racism
* Accusations of bullying and intimidation
* Legal Action
* Weekly revelation about secrecy and financial irregularities under Labour’s Elected Mayor and his caucus within the council

Some good news however, in that Martin Garner, husband of Cllr. Joy Garner, has had to withdraw as a candidate ““ apparently he forgot to tell or ask his employer whether it was ok or not!

Six years ago Labour in Stoke had a temporary revival, bucking the national trend and regaining a majority on the council.

This was quickly destroyed with the election of a Labour Elected Mayor. Worst still an Elected Mayor with no respect for other people’s views, no time to listen and absolutely no political understanding whatsoever. Secrecy, personality politics, mistrust, bullying, clichés and in-fighting consumed the party.

The blame for the demise however, does not rest with the rather dislikeable Mark Meredith, but with the regional officers of the Labour Party and the NEC.

Why do I say this ““ because its is their complete inconsistency in the treatment of local party members that has led us to this point, and still continues to this day.

There is no doubt that these bodies made decisions totally biased towards the Elected Mayor and his supporters, regardless of the consequences. They joined in and fed the personality politics of Stoke on Trent. The saddest thing of all is that Stoke-on-Trent and its people are the ones that suffered the most.

For example complaints about bullying, threats and intimidation put forward by non elected mayor supporters were ignored, forgotten or lost.

Complaints made by the elected Mayor and his entourage ruthlessly pursued at every level.

Region and the NEC should be the place where every member feels that they can go when things go wrong. Where they will be treated equally regardless of position. It just does not happen as the legal action now demonstrates.

Take Democracy for Stoke ““ through the Labour Party, indeed many other parties, special interests group and organisations are the norm.

D4S’s main initial objective was to get rid of the Elected Mayor system ““ not personal ““ it was set up long before Meredith’s arrival. There were other organisations like the New Local Government Network, who campaign and support Elected Mayors, and were invited to participate in the debate locally even attending a Labour City Party meeting.

Yet the only people pursued by the NEC and region were D4S members. In an interview with representatives from the NEC just prior to my elevation to Group Leader I was left in no doubt that D4S had to go, that membership would banned by the Labour Party ““ to take the pressure off other members I publicly left D4S, not because I wanted to, but because they thought it would die without me, and therefore other Labour members could continue to be in D4S. If I had not then I am sure they would have taken action.

But does the Labour Party raise the same concerns about the pro Elected Mayor NLGN ““ an organisation packed with Labour members and funded by businesses to the tune of millions ““ the same businesses bidding for local government contracts. Of course not.

The message is clear.

If you want a council that is secretive and closed vote Labour.

If you want to be ignored, bullied, intimidated, manipulated and not supported, join the Labour Party.

Be warned all who crave elected mayors

Stoke-on-Trent got rid of its notoriously undemocratic elected mayor and council manager system last June.

The abysmal legacy of that ruinous system will blight the City for some time to come. Effectively totalitarian in practice, M&M survived within a culture of secrecy and a public diet of misinformation if not at times downright lies.

The latest costly legacy of that system to be exposed in all its expensive incompetence is the so-called “strategic partnership”. In fact it was never strategic nor a partnership! The notion was to outsource, privatise, off-load hundreds of our staff into a private company whom we would pay to run our key services.

Why would we want to pay a profit to a private company to do something we should be able to do perfectly well ourselves?

Well, we were supposed to believe that we couldn’t afford to purchase vital, modern IT but that a private company would do it for us! Also, getting rid of our staff to a private company, relocating them in a brand new office block on the site of Unity House in Hanley, envisioned as the “business district”, would in fact kick-start the developement of that vision.

In other words, we could only have a business district if we sacrificed public servants in a public service on the altar of private enterprise.

Some of us said at the time that these two issues had nothing in common and that the whole sorry business was a mismanaged fudge. Interestingly now, those very same councillors supported the elected mayor and council manager’s push for privatisation are now agreeing that the farce has gone far enough!

The farce? Almost £2m of Council money spent on a series of teams of consultants who have actually produced nothing wothwhile except the very first consultant’s report back in 2005 which concluded that privatisation would at the very best POSSIBLY produce savings of 3% at the END of 15 years!

So why did the M&M, with the support of the pseudo-cabinet members force the Council coffers to hand over a further £2m to consultants? Those councillors who are in the present Cabinet should resign immediately and the others kept well away from key decision making.

NSRP ““ Breaking All The Rules!

Documents recently released through a Freedom of Information request, reveal irregular tendering and recruitment activities within the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership.

A KPMG Audit report of the NSRP, commissioned by Advantage West Midlands, reveals:

“Our review of the NSRP’s procurement and recruitment arrangements has identified several cases where consultants have been procured without following the Council’s ‘Contract Procedure Rules’, AVVM’s funding conditions or European
procurement rules. The issues identified mainly relate to appointments made prior to January 2009.

Consequently, our findings suggest that the process in place pre-January 2009 has lacked transparency and scrutiny and has also failed to demonstrate how value for money has been achieved. For example, contracts were awarded without going to tender, at high day rates and in one case a single tender contract was extended for work which was covered in the original specification”.

The reports can be found Here on What Do They Know

Embarrassingly this comes hot on the heels of the recent fiasco of the tendering for the demolition of West Cliffe Hospital by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The report and correspondence also seem to indicate that AWM are witholding £500,000 of funding for the NSRP directly relating to this report and its conclusions.

The North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership (“NSRP”) is based in Stoke on Trent and was established to address regeneration issues within the region.

The NSRP during the time of the irregular contracting was chaired by The Labour Party’s Mark Meredith, the Elected Mayor of Stoke on Trent and headed up by Tom MaCartney.

The NSRP’s accountable body is Stoke on Trent City Council (“The Council”) and the NSRP is based within the Council’s offices. The NSRP Board is unincorporated and includes the housing regeneration function of Renew North Staffordshire Pathfinder. Until recently the Board was chaired by the elected Mayor of Stoke on Trent.

The NSRP manages a regeneration programme of approximately £280m. Funding is provided by various organisations
including Advantage West Midlands (“AWM”), the Homes and Communities Agency and local authorities within the region.

Interestingly, the Audit Commission do not seem to have picked these issues up in any of their reporting.

Once again this kind of information has had to be dug out rather than being openly available and scrutinised, by an organisation that tries to portray itself as open and transparent, and spends a fortune on communication. Councillors kept in the dark ““ complete lack of democracy.

I call for this to be fully scrutinised and investigated.

Ross Irving In Conversation

We are delighted to bring you the latest offering in our “ËœIn Conversation’ series.

Earlier today we caught up with Council Leader Ross Irving and sought his reaction to the last full council meeting and the issues that were raised.

We also asked Ross for his insight on the Dimensions saga and the ongoing accusations that the Authority is officer led.

The issue of the £2million 106 money and the possibility of a Council Tax rise next year are also discussed.

The interview is in 2 parts, and each part is around 7 minutes long.

Who will step up to the plate?

I was tipped off yesterday that the Sentinel were about to publish an article about the Dimensions fiasco.

Publish they did and what an article it was!

An example of fantastic journalism by Iain Robinson & David Johnson has lifted the lid on this whole sorry saga. But what it does highlight is the complete disregard for the elected representatives of this city and the public at large by this officer led authority.

Deals done in secret, officers saying that they didn’t have to include councillors in the process, a contract put into place and then a complete denial from the Elected Mayor that such a deal had been agreed.

Mo Chaudry did what any businessman would do ““ he attempted to protect his interests, no blame there.

Neither should there be any blame attached to Roger Ibbs in this. This man has suffered every bit as much as Mr Chaudry and he should now be applauded for arguing against the closure of Dimensions knowing that the public would be fiercely opposed to it. He has always maintained that there was more to this issue than the £60,000 savings that were promised and I think that the Sentinel article proves that beyond doubt.

Astonishingly Mr Ibbs has yet to be officially cleared of any wrong doing and there is an ongoing “ËœStandards’ enquiry. Surely enough is enough, why have this hanging over his head in light of the information that has now been brought into the public domain by the Sentinel article?

It isn’t just the Dimensions fiasco though is it? No, no, recently officer incompetence has led to the failure to implement a rise in car parking charges even though voted through by full council.

It now looks like there are major doubt whether the latest waste management policy will realise the £1million worth of saving promised by officers even after thorough scrutiny by certain councillors.

There is an on-going issue over the Britannia Stadium deal that was officer led, major questions are now being asked to what involvement, if any, councillors had in this decision and whether the full facts were presented.

We have the issue of the paid Chair’s position of the NSRP being advertised in the Times, even though the decision was subject to the call-in process.

Officers of this council have have had their own way for too long. The time has come for a complete change. The residents of this city are being let down and it is simply not good enough!

A councillor told the Council Leader Ross Irving that it was the public’s perception that things are no different now than they were under the old Elected Mayor system.

In many ways that [can’t remember who it was?] councillor is 100% right. We might have a new political leader but in reality what else has changed? Officers are still calling the shots and are now being found out by the small handful of councillors who are scrutinising their every move and every decision that the cabinet nod through.

Is it just me or does it seem to everyone else that there is a concerted effort by some officers to keep councillors well and truly out of the loop? But then they are quite happy to see councillors pilloried by members of the public for the goings on at the Civic.

The political groups groups are in turmoil across the chamber with on exception.

Labour rocked by another scandal, certain Stoke Central activist stopped from going on the candidates list[I don’t necessarily think they are wrong for doing this, but it is another public issue]. An uncertain start for the new Labour Group leader who faced massive criticism from across the chamber at last weeks Extraordinary Full Council Meeting. All this fast on the heels of Mike Barnes and “ËœReportergate’

The Conservative and Independent Alliance have seen a major split in readiness for the 2010 elections. There are questions about the group leadership of Ross Irving. Roger Ibbs still outside of the Conservatives and kept out of a cabinet position since his arrest.

The appointment of a controversial local party Chairman in David Jack has led to rumours of unrest within the Libdems and the possible departure of Group Leader Kieran Clarke and Lord mayor Jean Bowers. There were also rumours that Mike Barnes was about to join the group which have since been denied by both parties.

The City Independents are completely split over the conduct of the Four cabinet members and the rest of the group. This has led to attacks on Terry Follows, Ian Mitchel and Brian Ward from across the chamber for the turn around in their attitudes since the days of the old EMB. Many from inside their own group are accusing them of taking 30 pieces of silver for their compliance.

The BNP are the group that are sitting back rubbing their hands in delight and laughing at the state of the other parties in the chamber. But what are they actually doing for the people they represent and indeed the city at large? They have a policy based on the Holy Orders of the Cistercian Monks of Hulton Abbey, because they have obviously taken a vow of silence. For two full council meeting now that they not made a single contribution apart from the inane ramblings of Cllr Batkin. It should be made public that they turned up to the last meeting with 7 of their councillors, yet there were only 2 there at the end. Alby and several others left the meeting some 2.5 hours before the end. It is outrageous that this group stand to gain and grow in number because of the ineptness of the other groups in the chamber.

If the BNP do make gains at the next elections, every councillor, group leader and party should share the collective responsibility and accept that it is they that have let the city down.

Political groups have to get their act together. They must unite, put their policies forward and force the BNP to out their vision for a city with a far-right majority in the chamber.

Thank god we have PKB and Mick Salih who are not caught up in the party shenanigans and are able to operate efficiently and long may that continue.

To the council leader Ross Irving, who I respect enormously, I say this:

While the dimensions fiasco did not happen on your watch, there has been a number of incidents that are giving the residents of this city cause for concern. Officers are giving the impression that it is they who are calling the shots and doing what the hell the please, when they choose. We elect councillors Ross, who then in turn elected you as council leader. I urge you, for the long term stability of this city, take control of the situation and give political direction and an unwavering message to those officers in the council that have obviously made their minds up that you are weak.

If you can not do this Ross, for god’s sake go now and give someone else the opportunity”¦”¦..