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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enhanced Recycling – UPDATED

AUDIO INTERVIEW WITH KEY COUNCIL OFFICER NOW ONLINE!

Following on from the investigation by George Harvey in to the true costs of the Enhanced Recycling scheme operated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Pits n Pots sent a copy of the article to the city council asking for a response, the following statement was sent

We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years and the feedback we get from members of the public is that the system is easy to use and that they feel more compelled to recycle as a result. The new recycling system has allowed us to reach the 40% recycling targets set down by the government in 2007. In choosing which system to adopt, we had to balance the ease of use for the residents, the level of recycling we would achieve and the cost which would best support both. Materials recycled in Stoke go to plants all over the country and the resultant products are used all over the world, and around 99% of what goes into the recycling bins is reused in some way.

Given the nature of the allegations raised in the investigation we did not feel that a suitable response had been made and have asked the following questions:

It does not however, answer ANY of the issues raised in the article. I would therefore request an urgent response to the specific questions below:

  1. Given the Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation why was this report not made available to the portfolio holder and subsequent cabinet member and the the elected members of the council?
  2. Why were the ‘blue’ bins ordered before the trial? Why did they not go through the normal tendering process? Why did officers insist that blue bins were needed when the WRAP report indicated that they were no additional requirement for wheelie bins? Why did an officer of the council order these bins at a cost of £1.6million without the approval of the council executive i.e the EMB at the time?
  3. Why was the contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme told that he contract will terminate in April 2009, before the trials?
  4. It appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service. Will the CEO and the Council Leader hold an internal investigation into the conduct of this officer and a strategic review of the processes adopted in this matter and investigate whether there is a case of misconduct?
  5. Will the council now accept, that based on the evidence now before them, that they misled the public about there being £1million of savings? Will there be any action taken in relation to the fact that not only were there not savings of £1million but there were £3,498,170 of costs NOT budgeted for?

We would like to formally request an audio interview with the CEO John van de Laarschot and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez in the absence of suitable written responses to the above questions.

We also request a response from the EMB member with responsibility Cllr Joy Garner and the Cabinet Member with responsibility Cllr John Daniels [who we know had concerns in relation to this matter].

We noticed that Jane Forshaw, Head of Environmental Services was seen being interviewed on the One Show on BBC1 last night explaining how good the Stoke-on-Trent Enhanced Recycling Scheme was.

UPDATE: 23:32 Earlier this evening we interviewed Jane Forshaw the lead officer of the department concerned. Please listen to the Audio Below.

If you have any further queries/questions or concerns please contact the site. We have been promised that any supplementary questions will receive a response.

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”¦”¦..

Extraordinary Full Council Meeting Report ““ Part 2

The second main agenda item at extraordinary full council meeting of yesterday was the following motion which was proposed by Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley and seconded by Cllr Mick Salih. The motion read as follows:

“This Council deplores the lack of information regarding the absence of the Interim Chief Executive following the appointment on 29 September 2009 of the new Chief Executive, Mr John Laarschot, and the secrecy surrounding the issue and further totally opposed to the pay-off awarded to the Interim Chief Executive, Mr Chris Harman”

In introducing the motion to council Cllr Kent-Baguley informed other elected members present that this was not about the individual, it is about the fact that outside the Human Resources Committee, there were absolutely no details available relating to the absence and subsequent departure of the Interim Chief Executive. He had observed the HR committee meeting, but was not able to gleam the relevant information because he was not given access to the bundle of paper work provided to the HR Committee. He felt that this prevented him from scrutinising or understanding how this committee reached the decision that it eventually came to. PKB argued that the secrecy issue indicates that there is something seriously and radically wrong within the Authority. He pointed out that elected members were taking flack for the poor leadership of the Council. he deplored the lack of information given to non executive councillors who’s duty was to scrutinise the decisions of the council. He indicated that all was not well with the officers of the council and he cited to incident relating to the failure to increase car parking charges when the decision had been ratified by Full Council.

In seconding the motion Cllr Mick Salih highlighted the comments on media website relating to the coverage of the Interim Chief Executive’s position. He stated that the out-pouring of anger demonstrates how poor the issue had been handled in the view of the residents of the city. He urged the executive to move forward and not backward and stop stop all the secrecy surrounding the key issues and decisions that our facing the Council. He informed the chamber that not all parties were represented on the HR Committee and that it was not truly cross party. He questioned who had agreed the original Interim contract. He told the Council Leader to release all the information and remove all the secrecy if he wanted full support for the next budget that is due to be announced in the new year. He reminded the executive that this motion had the support of 22 councillors and he believed it would have been supported more if the councillors had been available at the time that the motion was submitted.

Council Leader Ross Irving hit out at PKB and said that he had been present at the HR Committee meeting as an observer and listened to the verbal advice given by one of the country’s leading employment lawyers. He informed the chamber the the HR committee was a statutory requirement and that because of the political balance it was not possible for all the groups on the council to be represented. He attacked what he described as the “Ëœmedia crucifiction’ of the Interim Chief Executive story. He attacked the Sentinel for the way the stories were written as they alluded to the fact that the Interim CE got more of a pay-off than he was entitled to, when what he received was 6months of his basic salary which was equivalent to his notice periods. He fully understood the public outcry but wanted to re-assure the residents of the city that the council acted on the best legal advice that was available. He stated that the HR committee rightly took time to deliberate on the decision and he was confident that they did what was right for the city and that the matter was handeld correctly. He accused PKB of puring oil in a river of troubled water regarding a difficult and sensitive issue.

Cllr Mike Barnes told those present in the chamber that he was glad that he did not have to sit on the HR committee. He reminded his fellow councillors that confidentiality on certain issues is essential. Barnes informed the council that the HR committee did have the right to co-opt other councillors with non-voting rights. He stated that this current issue goes way back to when the last Chief Executive departed the Authority. The panel that was set up were given a report with no Risk Assessments added and where previous Interim appointments had been made the applicants right to apply for the substantive post was removed. If this had happened in this issue the council would not be facing the outcry that it is at the moment.

Cllr Gavin Webb reminded the chamber that the amount of money paid to the Interim CE was the equivalent to 3 years salary to most people in the City of Stoke-on-Trent. He stated that the people out in the city were not happy with the amount of money paid out to the Interim CE with no apology. He is a firm believer of the facts that contracts are sacrosanct but he attacked the HR Department of the council for “Ëœmessing up’. He finished by telling the council leader that this pay off was an obscene amount of money.

Cllr Clive Bryan who is a member of the HR Committee stated that there was an open invitation to all members of the council to attend the meeting as an observer subject to them signing a secrecy clause. He told his fellow councillors that the HR committee was made up under the rules of the council constitution.

Cllr Alan Rigby informed the council that the public were under the mis-conception that all 60 councillors make the decisions in the council, when the real fact is that the vast majority are side-lined and had no vote on contentious decisions like the £2million paid in Serco pension contributions and the car parking issue etc. He stated that most of the councillors are frustrated by the systems of this officer led council.

Cllr Ann James told the Council Leader not to attack the media for the public anger at the way the issue has been handled. He said that councillors were getting it in the neck in their wards over this matter. She too was unhappy at the lack of information given to elected members, there were no briefings about the issue. Councillors are kept out of the loop. She informed the council that in her opinion nothing had changed since the Elected Mayor system.

Cllr Terry Follows attacked the BNP for jumping on the bandwagon as there representative on the HR committee voted against the pay off even though the legal advice was clear as to the entitlement due to the Interim CE. He reminded the councillors that they were all responsible for the finances of the city. He stated that the fact was the HR committee had saved the city money not cost it money. He was confident that they had done the right thing for the residents of the city.

Cllr Roger Ibbs told the chamber that this issue was not a matter for all 60 councillors. The HR committee had been delegated powers to act and they had done the best deal that they could have done based on the specialised advice given to them. He reminded the councillors that the HR committed had a duty of care to the Interim CE as an employee of the council. He said he had every confidence that the HR committee has done the right thing. He attacked Cllr Alan Joynson for his comments in the press relating to the issue and for using the matter as an excuse to have a go at Council Leader Ross Irving and Chris Harman. He stated that a contract of employment should not be discussed in public and he reminded all councillors that when they sign on as a councillor they are bound to keep confidential matters confidential.

Cllr Mohammed Pervez informed the council that he had every sympathy with the public feeling over the matter, but he believed that the motion is redundant because of the necessity for confidentiality. He stated that the whole of the Labour Group was not satisfied with all the information that was given in relation to this issue. He felt that prolong the debate on this matter would not achieve anything and he urged the council to move on to other matter.

Cllr Dave Conway give the HR committee his vote of confidence as they were appointed by the council to handle such matters. But he found it frustrating that he can’t divulge why such a pay off was agreed to the public due to confidentiality. He posed the question of why it was reported in the media that the Interim CE was absent due to illness and then it was also reported that the Interim CE had claimed that his position was untenable, which was the real truth?

The Chair of the HR Committee Paul Shotton paid tribute to his committee. He said that they had delegated powers to act on behalf of all 60 councillors. He totally refuted that the officers of the Council HR Department had made a mistake with this issue. He reminded the chamber of the fact that Chris Harman deserved to be treated the same as every other employee of the council. He also revealed that it was Chris Harman who agreed to making the sum of money he received public. He also informed the council that the legal advice they had received should only be extended to members of the HR Committee. He confirmed that his committee had done the best job that they could for the city in what were difficult circumstances.

In summing up Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley dismissed claims that he had used the issue to have a go at the Leadership and he attacked Cllr Follows for his amazing turn around given that he had no trust in the old EMB and officers when he was fighting for Trentham High School. He accused the executive of operating a bunker mentality. He questioned the current rules and stated that the public are all grown up, intelligent and clued up and deserved more information. He called for total openness and transparency. He reminded the chamber of the need to develop a robust local policy that engages with the residents and treats them with respect. He said he was under the impression that thing would change with the removal of the Elected Mayor system and he pleaded with the council leader to make that change happen.

This motion was lost. There were 19 for and 27 against.

Ibbs lifts the lid: the future for a councillor smeared by corruption claims [Video]

By Pits’n’Pots Team in association with Stoke’s number one film company, Junction 15 Video Productions.

Roger Ibbs

Roger Ibbs

An ‘In Conversation’ Special – Tony Walley Speaks exclusively to Roger Ibbs

We are pleased to introduce the first of our video interviews produced with Junction15 video productions.

You will hear about the effect that the period after being arerested in relation to the council corruption case had on Roger’s life both professionally and privately. And we learn about the day of his arrest, who supported him but more importantly who did not.

We hear his thoughts about the way the council executive and communications department handled the affair.

Also, Roger tells us about his plans for the future, his reflections on Trentham High and lifts the lid on those on the ‘EMB2’.

We welcome your opinions.

Are SERCO the saviours of education?

By Tony Walley.

After being involved in the most controversial period in our city’s education, Serco may be awarded a further long term contract.

Serco, led by Children Services Director Ged Rowney were originally given a £5.2million three year contract but ruled out a further 12 month extension.

Chris Harman has stated that it is the council’s preference to keep our city’s Children & Young Peoples Services Department under the management of a private company.

Under Serco our city’s education and children’s services department has been given a clean bill of health  and has been removed from what was effectively ‘special measures’.

But, in my opinion, the decision of whether our kid’s education should be run in house or placed in the hands of a private company is one for the whole council chamber and not just the Interim Chief Executive and his band of merry officers.

There is not one single ward councillor that has not been effected, criticised, vilified, sometimes praised but often slated. These ward councillors were at the front line facing the public while the Council Manager, Elected Mayor and his paid henchmen/women were left sniping and stirring from the sideline.

I am very concerned that once again something that has caused such an outcry in our city from the ‘Hands off Haywood’ to the ‘Trentham Action Group’. From Heathfield Special School, to the urgency of the James Brindley rebuild, once again it is non elected officials that are loading the gun and they expect our new Council manager to fire the bullets and ride roughshod over the other 50 or so elected peoples representatives.

This decision and process must be handled with sensitivity and we must learn the lessons from previous botched so called ‘consultations’ and ‘call-ins’.

There is no doubt that there have been improvements under Serco particularly the Children Services side of the department and many people forget that Ged Rowney came into post way after the secondary schools re-organisation plans were announced. But whether it is right for Serco to continue or there is an argument for bringing this service back in house is a matter for the whole council and not just the chosen few.

Even now there is no decision on where the so-called ‘Parkhall Academy is to be sited. Berryhill and Mitchell supporters are campaigning hard to get the new school sited on the grounds on Mitchell High, which is something I would have supported if Edensor and Blurton had have been merged.

Council Leader Ross Irving

Council Leader Ross Irving

There is no way anyone can expect kids that live in Edensors catchment area to travel all the

Chris Harman - Interim Chief Executive

Chris Harman - Interim Chief Executive

way to Bucknall, it is a nonsense.

The new school need to be on the Springfields site so that it is accessable from all the communities involved. But where are the voices of Harman and Irving on this pressing matter?

There are leaving it to the relevant ward councillors to fight it out.

Where is the Leadership Ross?

I want to see Ross Irving take ownership of these difficult decision and to be his own man. To many times he has looked like he is Chris Harmans puppy.

Our Council Leader is the master and our Chief Executive should follow.

We as an electorate need to see our Council Leader take control and lead. The dog should wag the tail and not the other way round, which is the way it looks to many at the moment.

March for a Community School at Bucknall

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Adrian Knapper - Deputy Labour Group Leader

Adrian Knapper - Deputy Labour Group Leader

Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Adrian Knapper will be waving off a protest march on Sunday 12th July 2009 that is being organised by residents of Bucknall, Bentilee, Berryhill, Townsend and Eaton Park who aim to highlight their concerns over the City Councils plans to build a new School to replace Mitchell High outside of the local community at the outer edge of the area at Parkhall or at Springfield’s off Anchor Road that is even further away.

Councillor Knapper said “Residents want a new secondary school to be located within the community at Bucknall.”

“During my time on the EMB, I have always been on record that the Parkhall was the wrong site and I am still concerned that revised plans been presented to the public by SERCO, will result in no community secondary school to be located that serves the neighbourhoods  around Bucknall and the regeneration area of City Waterside.”

“The plans will result in a doughnut effect of children within the central part of Stoke-on-Trent having to travel outwards to remote areas to gain an education and their will be no provision of out of school time activities within the local area.”

The march will start at 1pm from the Parkhall Golf Course, Hulme Lane and will progress down Dividy Road and end outside the Mitchell School, it will be joined by many concerned residents of the area, local city councillors and its hope that Mark Fisher MP will be able in attendance.

The aim of the march is to highlight that local residents want a new community school to replace Berryhill High and Mitchell High upon the Mitchell Site that is within the heart of the community.

Now that Trentham High has won its right to remain open, the executive of the City Council needs to get on and build new schools especially at James Brindley. But action needs to take place to ensure investment is given to Trentham and that a solution is brought forward around Edensor/Blurton and Mitchell/Berryhill to delivery new community schools.

Wol on the week!

Comment By Tony Walley.

Tony Walley

Tony Walley

Well let me start by saying something that some of you will not like!

I like Ross Irving and I think if he is given a chance, he will make a very good council leader.

I also like and have respect for Roger Ibbs and I’m sorry that he isn’t able to be considered for a cabinet position.

Now, that may go down as well as a fart in a space suit to the people of Trentham, but it’s time to look to the future and what’s best for our city and an administration with Irving and Ibbs is no bad thing.

I don’t base this judgement on politics, I base it on their capabilities and their years of experience. If as expected Ibbs is given the all clear I fully expect him to return to a full and active role in the council and I would not at all be surprised to see him in the cabinet very shortly after.

Irving and Ibbs are very unpopular in the ward they were elected to represent, there is no doubt about that! There is very little hope of them being elected the next time there is a local election but they have a chance of repairing some of the collateral damage to their careers in the next two years before the public have the chance to have their say via the ballot box.

There are many calls for an election next year. Some people are feeling robbed at being denied their chance of having their say in who does or does not represent them.

I can truly understand this stance, and I have every sympathy with this view. But equally I can see the other side of the argument.

We have just seen the dawn of a new political system for our city and 1 year is absolutely no time to make a difference to the way this city has been run. For that reason alone I support the 2011 elections. Boundary changes aside, this city needs a period of calm, and when we chose to rid this city of the mayoral system we have to accept that no new administration would have the chance of sowing the seeds of regeneration and recovery and then watching the seeds flourish.

For the most part I like the make up of the new cabinet and I think Ross chose wisely.

John Daniels [Housing] is a great choice. I have known John for a few years and anyone who has seen him in the council chamber can see the intelligence and charisma he possesses. He is also humorous, a characteristic he will need when he comes up against some of the clowns down at the civic.

Hazel Lyth is a safe pair of hands and has proved that she puts a lot into her duties.

The Silver Fox, Brian Ward will be excellent in Regeneration. He has a real passion to see the city develop. This came across in the interviews that I have done with him.

Ian Mitchell is an unknown quantity to me but as an ex teacher he will have a grip on Education and it will be interesting to see how he handles the Serco issue.

Terry Follows [Communities] is a quite brilliant choice. Terry has a rare skill in that he can converse to all people regardless of race or religion. He is well respected within the Asian community and to the good folk of Trentham he is quite simply their own peoples champion. I expect that we will see great work from Terry.
I admit the Joy Garner appointment completely threw me, never saw that one coming!

Neither did the Labour Group from what I hear. Some very, very unhappy people in that group I can tell you.

It will look to some that she has sold her party out for the leer of the cabinet dollar. I don’t actually believe that she defected and joined the cabinet for the money. Anyone who knows Joy will tell you that she is a very principled lady. It is no secret that she did not see eye to eye with Mike Barnes and this is probably the reason that she decided to leave the Labour Group. Once she was out and she was approached by Ross she must have thought well I have held that portfolio for 4 years so I may as well carry on doing the job. To be fair she did do a good job in the the role of portfolio holder for the environment.

Joy is out on a limb now, she will probably get suspended from the Labour Party. Above all though Joy has to learn how to deal with the public. Her PR skills need working on because they are a nightmare!  She must learn not to seem as if she is patronising members of the public.

I have had my issues with Joy and currently there is no dialogue between us, but I tell you this, she loves this city and it’s people. She does a tremendous amount of work in her ward and she is liked and respected by the people who come to her for assistance. I have always liked her as a person but sometimes she drives me mad how she rubs people up the wrong way. One to one she is lovely to talk to, but the sight of her addressing the public at the EMB used to make me cringe and shake my head in disbelief at what I was hearing.

One thing that does disturb me is that I have heard that Cabinet meeting are going to be more stage managed than the past EMB meetings.

Sources have told me that non cabinet councillors will not be allowed to verbally ask questions at the public cabinet meetings. It appears that councillors will have to submit questions in writing. Apparently this is to avoid the “bear pit” atmosphere of some of the past EMB meetings.

If this information is correct, it stinks of being an officer decision. I hope Ross does not go down this road. If he does all his hard work at appointing a diverse and unified cabinet could come undone. I wonder sometimes who is responsible for thinking these ‘no brain engaged’ ideas up. Whoever it is I hope he or she lands another job in another authority and follows the line of uncommitted officers OUT of Stoke-on-Trent!

I appeal to Ross to ignore this ludicrous idea and find another way of making sure these cabinet meetings don’t descend into chaos. A novel way of doing this is to actually listen and take on board the issues and ideas of the councillors who were elected to represent us the public. Of course no one expects you to agree with the normal councillors all the time, but being seen to ignore and to not listen and take on board suggestions is disrespectful and arrogant and I’m sure Ross and his new cabinet are neither of these……… are they?

This idea of written questions is divisive and inflammatory and would be an instant return to the same old, same old!

Just for once can we not have an ‘onwards and upwards’ approach to unity and each other?

Well I’m off to mow the lawn, weed the borders and to hit my golf ball round Leek Golf Club in the least amount of shots as possible!

Here’s hoping for a sunny weekend………….