Gaff Prone NULBC Councillor Describes Church as a “ËœCult’

A gaff prone Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Councillor has once again put his foot it ““ this time on Facebook.

Ashley Howells, Conservative councillor for Loggerheads & Whitmore, previously described Stoke-on-Trent residents as idle and overweight on social networking site Twitter.

His latest gaff came courtesy of comments made by him on Facebook.

Councillor Howells used the world’s biggest social networking site to describe religion, in particular the Church of England, as a cult.

Councillor Howells commented on a link posted by a Facebook user to a story in the Telegraph newspaper that reports that CofE congregations have halved in the last 40 years.

He said that the demise of the Church of England would remove one more myth based cult.

”quite”¦..however it would remove one more myth based cult”

Cllr Howells comments drew this angry response form another Facebook user.

”Sorry to hijack your message, which I happen to agree with, but I fear that Ashley Howells however has given another reason by which his bigoted one sided views have been revealed.

You would think that a councillor wouldn’t cause offence to a good portion of his electorate and his comments on Twitter have caused him to make public apologies before.”

His previous comments about Stoke-on-Trent forced him to close down his Twitter account.

Will his latest gaff force him off the social networking site Facebook?

”Upon meeting many villagers, we found that the various priorities outlined by me matched their concerns and demands to a very great extent ““ for example, residents want to preserve the rural characteristic of the area whilst enhancing local services such as children/youth facilities and senior citizen activities; local folk see a police presence and rapid response rate as key in preventing crime and reducing the fear of crime; residents of all our villages are concerned about Wind Farm, Quarrying and Methane Gas Drilling threats; highway safety and speeding are worries for many ……

I know that Loggerheads Parish Council, responding to its parishioners via the Parish Plan, wants to plan for an improved village centre and I will continue to work with them and the Borough team to drive the initiative on.
I’ve met many from the various community and parish groups which do such important work for the communities of the rural area and I look forward to working with them to enhance our shared quality of life”.

It would appear that the important role played by churches in community life, especially in rural areas like Loggerheads & Whitmore, is being dismissed by Conservative Councillor Ashley Howells, despite what his blog comments say.

It is obvious that his blog article on the NULBC website misleads the electorate and his true beliefs are hidden behind the words written.

Cllr Howells Facebook comments fail to respect those members of society who a practise their faith and enjoy playing a part in church life.

Councillor Howells comments will offend some members of Loggerheads & Whitmore communities and may well affect his chances at the next election as well as seriously diminishing his chances of being invited to open any church fete in his council ward.

Consultation Started On Children’s Centres Proposed Cuts

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has started consultation on the services that will be delivered by city children’s centres from September.

The consultation was due to run from today until Thursday 30 June, but after being contacted by Pits n Pots about why the consultation document will not be available until the 26 May, the City Council have extended the consultation period until 7 July.

The views of local families, parents, carers, childcare organisations and the wider community on which services are important to local people and those that they would like to see continue. The City Council needs to save around £2.25 million or roughly 30% of the budget allocated to children’s centres.

The council has worked alongside children’s centres, local communities and partner organisations to produce a consultation document. The document will be available from 26 May from children’s centres, the council website and the children’s centres facebook site.

We are eager to seek the views of as many people as possible as to the services they want to see delivered by our children’s centres. We have worked with local people to draw up the consultation, and will be using social media for the first time, to give as many options as possible for people to give their feedback.

It is critical we get as much feedback as we can so that when hard decisions are to be made, they are done so having considered as much information and as many people’s views as possible.

We are committed to continuing to provide children’s centres and view them as integral to improving the life chances for children and families in the city. We now need feedback to help us redesign a sustainable children’s centre service for the future.

Feedback from the consultation will be presented to the council’s cabinet on 28 July. Findings and implications for the services that will be delivered, will be published on the council’s website during August, and will be available from children’s centres across the city.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Politics ““ It’s a Dirty Job But Someone Has To Do It ““ Don’t They? Part 2

Ahead of last Thursday’s Full Council meeting I got the chance to interview Cllr Roy Naylor, until recently a full and active member of the City Independent Group, now non-aligned.

I have always been impressed by Roy, he’s a man of principle and not a harder working councillor can be found.

Roy dedicates his life to his Blurton ward and is committed to helping the residents of the area.

He has embraced new media and the people of Blurton are regularly updated on his activities through his impressive blog site, FaceBook and his informative Twitter feed.

The ward of Blurton used to be represented solely by members of the City Independent Group until the surprise election of Labour’s Margaret Barber this summer.

There is no doubt following my discussions with people who live in the area of Blurton that Roy is the man on the beat, which is understandable given his former Group Leader’s Cabinet responsibilities.

The duo complemented each other until their recent parting of the ways.

Cllr Roy Naylor was unceremoniously booted out of the City Independent Group for being in arrears with his council tax and the rent on his council home.

Roy doesn’t deny the claim, far from it, he openly admits to having financial problems. I myself have been aware of rumours surrounding Cllr Naylor’s financial predicament for some 12 months now.

Those rumours have been circulating around the corridors of the Civic Centre for even longer according to some sources.

So it really does beg the question, why expel him from the group now, after all this time? Other members of his group knew that Roy had difficulties, including Group Leader Cllr Brian Ward.

The answer may lie in the fact that just before his undignified expulsion; Roy informed his Group leader that it was intention to fight the election in the newly formed Blurton West & Newstead Ward, an area that he is both known and enormously well respected.

This has allegedly angered Cllr Ward who wants to fight the ward himself and sources have informed me that as Group Leader, he believes that the “Ëœpecking order’ allows him first choice.

Now, if as the CIG claim, that the reason that Roy was shown the door was down to his financial differences, why did his group not do their best to help their mate and valued group member out?

Cllr Randy Conteh has recently vacated the Police Authority Committee, a position that pays handsomely, why was Cllr Naylor not considered for this position? Surely the financial reward would have help his position greatly and would enable him to clear his arrears faster.

Cllr Naylor liaises with the police particularly well and has a great understanding of how the Police operate within our city.

So, who did replace Cllr Conteh on the Police Authority? Non other than CIG Group Leader, Cabinet Member and fellow ward Councillor Brian Ward. How much does all that earn Cllr Ward?

Over £33,000 per year. Not bad all things considered.

How much does Cllr Naylor now earn for holding the fort in the Blurton ward and working tirelessly for the residents of his ward?

Just over £11,000 per year.

I feel a little uncomfortable talking about another man’s finances, but do you know what? Not as uncomfortable as Cllr Ward should feel for disclosing a fellow councillors personal circumstances to the media.

A council source has informed me that the matter may be referred to the Standards Committee and that it doesn’t have to be Cllr Naylor that makes the initial report.

As the same source said to me on the phone this week, “Ëœwith friends and colleagues like that, who needs enemies’?

It has also been suggested to me that Cllr Naylor may well be priced out of fighting the next election due to the cost of mounting a campaign.

I have been assured by a number of sources that Roy will not be short of offers to help, or indeed of offers of membership to other groups.

Now that would be an interesting ““ top of the bill clash ““ between Roy and his former group leader Brian Ward.

Especially if the full weight of a mainstream party is behind the former CIG member. But that is just me speculating, although, I may just nip to the bookies to put a couple of quid on.

What isn’t speculation however is the rise and substantial fall of the City Independent Group.

Once the second biggest group in the chamber with some 16 councillors and now reduced to just 8 and 1 of those constantly rumoured to be on the move.

There are those in the city that champion Independent politicians/groups, but the present crop isn’t that independent when you consider that they are part of a 4 way ruling coalition.

There is no doubt that the CIG are in political melt down and with the election campaign season about to start more divisions could come to light.

As for Cllr Roy Naylor, I’m sure he will keep on doing what he does best and that is to passionately represent the area of Blurton and to continue to champion causes like the Save Our Children’s Centre campaign as the kind of true Independent we can all remember.

Where’s Ann James’s number…..

Staffordshire Computing Expert Liz Helps Champion UK Internet Safety

A Staffordshire computing expert is helping to spearhead a UK wide campaign aimed at keeping people safe on line.

Liz Thursfield, former Associate Dean of Computing, Engineering and Technology at Staffordshire University, is heading the social media campaign for Get Safe Online.

Liz, of Stafford, runs social media consultancy Ariadne’s Thread which helps many public and private sector organisations to use tools such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook to promote themselves online.

Her success has led to her being asked to represent the Get Safe Online campaign ““ a partnership between the Government, the police and the business community.

The social media campaign will back up a high profile media campaign and meetings with Government Ministers and other opinion formers.

“I am thrilled to be involved in helping to spread such vital safety information on issues such as identity thefts, on line scams, computer viruses and spam emails.

“Get Safe Online week ““ which starts on 15 November – will see a series of high profile events to raise awareness among computer users.

“The internet is a great way of sharing information and a wonderful educational asset.

“But, on line communication can be used to exploit people, including our children, and we must all learn to take simple steps to protect ourselves and our families.

“I will be helping to raise awareness through Tweets and on Facebook. People can follow me on Twitter @GetSafeOnline.”

Liz’s top tips for keeping safe on line:

“¢ Use strong passwords that contain numbers and symbols as well as letters

“¢ Install a Firewall and anti-virus software on your computer

“¢ Make sure your wireless networks are secure

Play Your Part In Olympic Build-Up With The Games and Me

A campaign to encourage people in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent to get involved with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics has been launched.

The Games and Me project aims to encourage people to get something positive out of the Olympics and Paralympics by volunteering or trying a new sport with a view of people then sharing their stories with others.

The campaign was launched at Tipton Sports Academy with a number of people from across the Midlands, including 12-year-old Abbie Jean-Baptiste from Staffordshire, telling how they have been involved with London 2012. Abbie played her part by singing at a Community Games event in Staffordshire.

“I love to sing and get involved in things around my area. I was really scared doing the talent show but once I started singing some of my friends started cheering and that helped me feel more confident. I was really shocked when I won, everyone was clapping and yelling. I am lots more confident about singing in front of people now, if you want me to sing my song I will.”
“It’s tremendously encouraging to hear stories like Abbie’s about how people across Staffordshire are getting involved in our 2012 activities. I know that there are so many more people out there with similar stories and I encourage them to spread the word through The Games and Me.”
“Recording these individual stories of new personal bests will provide Staffordshire with an invaluable living archive of the difference the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is already making to people’s lives. I am very impressed with the early contributions to the Games and Me and urge everyone with a story to tell, to get involved and showcase their endeavours.”

The Games and Me launched at Sandwell Leisure Trust’s Sports Challenge Day at Tipton Sports Academy. During the event 500 young people tried out a range of Olympic sports delivered by Sandwell Leisure Trust including Judo, football, athletics and tennis.

Anyone who has been involved in a London 2012 activity in Staffordshire can tell their story by joining The Games and Me on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. See www.wmfor2012.com/thegamesandme for further information.

Stoke’s Sexy ‘Calender Girls’ Pose To Help Our Heroes

A group of sexy Stoke-on-Trent ‘Calender Girls’ made the best of their assets to raise funds for the Help for Heroes charity.

The Real Stoke Girls 2011 calendar was launched at the end of Septembers and has already raised in the region of £2750 for the forces charity.

The calender was shot in various locations across the 6 Towns of Stoke-on-Trent including Park Hall, the Etruria Industrial Museum and Kingsland Primary School.

The 65 ‘girls’ who took part ranged from 16 – 80 in age

The calender was promoted and organised by Julie Hancock from Milton:

”I am Julie and in June 2010 I had a dream to try and do something to help our troops.

I have a friend, Fiona, who has 3 sons in the Army and recently lost her husband, only 46, to cancer. At his funeral, Colin had requested everyone donated to “Help for Heroes” instead of giving flowers, this raised thousands of pounds……..What a fantastic idea !!!!

So, I wanted to do my bit too . I asked around and through Facebook if anyone would be interested in doing a local calendar, with a sexy military theme?

Within 48 hours I was inundated with kind offers of photographers, fancy dress, vehicles, props, locations and “models”.. 65 of them, 95% of whom I had never met!

Now …we are talking REAL women – REAL curves, REAL lumps n bumps.
From 16 to 80 years old, some with scars from operations, some who have never even undressed in front of their husbands!
REAL stories. REAL problems – but nothing would stop them from “doing their bit” for the troops.

After six weekends of photo shoots in locations such as the picturesque Park Hall Pine woodlands, Etruria Industrial Museum, The Sentinel Photo Studio & Kingsland primary school, in Bucknall”.

”The cast of the Calender Girls, who recently starred in the show at the Regent Theatre, thought our Calender was great. The all signed a copy for us which was a fantastic gesture”.

The calender can be purchased from the website below and would be great to fill many of the stockings on display in the beautiful images that celebrate the female form. It is priced at just £10.

Raoul Moat And Class Pride

As if the world needs one, it’s time for another Raoul Moat post.

Since his expiration on a rain soaked bank in the early hours of Saturday morning, the surreal media circus surrounding Moat’s pursuit and stand off will not let him rest.

Moat the man is dead, but his ghost is very much abroad. You can’t move for tabloid tales about his failed relationships, his separation from his kids, and how he had developed paranoid tendencies. Every aspect of his life has been picked over, chewed up and spat out as lurid copy. Editorials rhapsodise about his misogyny and condemn him for his actions, but gleefully perform necromantic rites over his life to feed the insatiable demand for more, a demand they cynically contrived in the first place for ratings and paper sales. But when people outside the Fleet Street bubble take the media’s lead and voice positive things about Moat on the internet, bewilderment strikes followed by hypocritical denunciation.

And so it is with the defunct Facebook page, ‘RIP Raoul Moat you Legend’. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the story by now. A page expressing sympathy for Moat appears, it attracts some 35,000 people who “likes this”. Some of them pay tribute, and a media shit storm ensues. This prompted the intervention of the PM who rang up Facebook to voice his displeasure. He then was quoted by various media outlets saying he couldn’t understand why anyone would sympathise with a “callous murderer”. Well Dave, it’s the same reason why many Tories got the hump over General Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in 2000 while the rest of us were bemused. It’s because it’s a class thing.

I’m not about to argue Raoul Moat is some sort of working class hero. He was a misogynistic social inadequate whose inability to deal with a lifetime’s accumulation of disappointment and failure saw him lash out violently. True, there are suggestions of psychological problems and drug abuse but no one is suggesting he was mad or didn’t realise what he was doing. While questions must be asked about the extent to which the authorities suspected Moat was dangerous, and if the three shootings could have been avoided by early interventions, Moat was still conscious of his actions. He set out in the early hours of a week last Saturday with the intention to kill.

How the hunt for Moat was framed during his week on the run was crucial for him going viral as a glamorous outlaw. We found out Moat had sent a long letter to the police that said “The public need not fear me but the police should as I won’t stop till I’m dead.” This was a serous media management faux pas because it allowed the portrayal of Moat to assume a folky aspect. Rather than being a manhunt for a dangerous killer, coverage of the operation degenerated into a Smokey and the Bandit-style farce. With a Facebook following, Twitter spoofs and a range of T-Shirts feeding off the frenzy it was only a matter of time before the half-sympathetic media profiles of Moat elicited support from some quarters. And no, this time it wasn’t bleeding heart liberals: it came from a small layer of the white working class.

For the people who joined the Facebook tribute pages and left flowers outside Moat’s house, the sentiments expressed in his letters and recordings condense a confused but widespread consciousness common among the more deprived sections of our class. It’s a barely coherent sense of dislocation, frustration, and despair that impotently kicks against ‘official’ society. It is the social reservoir from which the BNP and EDL fish, that gave us Kerry Katona and Jade Goody. They are the dangerous class that keep politicians awake at night, repulse the arbiters of good taste, and earn the ire of ever-so-superior middle class columnists. It doesn’t matter that Moat killed someone. He had been abandoned by society and left to rot like so many others, and for a brief moment he was the lightning rod for lumpen anger and defiance. He is their Taxi Driver, the man who couldn’t take any more.

The sympathy for Moat does seem perverse, but it is rooted in that section of the working class the rest of society loves to bash. The publicity around Siobhan O’Dowd’s Facebook group is an unwelcome reminder of the social refuse British capitalism produces generation after generation. But that this strata exists without prospects or hope is the real perversion, not some daft commentary on the internet.

Fly The Flag Or Ban The Burkha? ““ Beware The Far Right Internet Warriors

Here we are on the brink of one of the greatest sports events, the football World Cup and the far right just can’t leave us alone to enjoy it can they?

The far right have an army of media police who trawl the Internet looking for stories that they can put a far right spin on and create uproar on internet/newspaper forums.

No finer example of this was the recent national story relating to the urban myth perpetrated by the far right that pub landlords were to prevent customers from entering licensed premises wearing England football shirts and to prevent them being served in pubs where the World Cup matches were being shown.

The story was incorrect and eventually the police had to come out with media statements clarifying their position. By this time of course the far rights internet warriors had whipped and spun the story beyond comprehension. There was even a massive Facebook group opposing the so called ban.

Locally of course we have had the bogus story of the “Ëœmum’ who was allegedly ordered of a First Bus because her young son was wearing an England shirt. The driver was of “Ëœeastern European’ origin supposedly.

Again, no credible witness to the story was found and First Bus concluded that the incident had never happened.

The story provoked a large response on the Sentinel website and it was clear that a large proportion of the commenters were of a far right persuasion. The comments were eventually closed.

I have spoken to a fair few in the Asian communities who have absolutely no issue with people flying the flag any time let alone during a World Cup. Indeed I have also seen a few “Ëœcross of St George’ flags flying in Normacott.

I reckon most of the Asian communities are supporting England at this World Cup, especially those who were born and were educated in this country.

OK, they might support Pakistan during the Cricket World Cup but this is no different to someone who supports Wales in the Rugby Union 6-Nations because their parents were born in Wrexham [yes I know that man!]. The far right love to make out there is an issue with Asian communities being “Ëœoffended’ by displays of nationalism, but in my humble experience this is just not the case.

I have started to see the far right Internet warriors start to call for the wearing of the Burkha to be banned in public places. This follows the recent debates in France and Belgium where they are considering a law against Islamic veils.

The Burkha is not a religious requirement and I can understand that in some circumstances they could be considered inappropriate, in particular a court of law for instance.

There are quite a few examples of where, in my opinion, it would be wrong to be allowed to wear a veil that covers the whole of the face, when visiting a doctor or nurse for example. I also think that it would be difficult to conduct a job interview with a candidate who was wearing a burkha or a similar garment.

There will be a debate in this country at some point I would guess. But I would hope that the discussion would be open and honest rather than the far right being allowed to hijack the issue to attack on race or religious grounds.

I think the recent general election proved to our mainstream parties that the public demands real debate on immigration and other issues and that debates that have been considered sensitive in the past may well be forced out into the open.

Only by demonstrating that issues such as nationalism, immigration, cultural differences and diversities can be debated in a fair non inflammatory manner, can the hate fuelled and non tolerant tactics of the far right be defeated.

That said, bring on the World Cup. I for one will be shouting for my team from the roof tops”¦.. COME ON ENGLAND!!

Newcastle Council get Social

Newcastle Council website has been voted one of the best in the country, and the Communications team there continue to experiment with Social media to increase the reach and accessibility of what the Council does. As well as having their own Twitter feed, Facebook account and Flickr Photostream they now have a great Audio Podcast too.

So, if you share an interetst in the borough, or just want to know what’s going on over the coming weeks you can tune in via your computer or download the file to put on your mp3 player. 

I speak from experience when I say, Podcasts are great but the difficult thing is keeping up with them.  They have to go out on the same day of the month, without fail.  The Newcastle production is well produced with a very clean sound, so I imagine that quite a bit of work has gone into it.  They will have to work hard to ensure the quality and variety continues.  However, If they don’t try, then  no one benefits so I say well done Newcastle, this is a great initiative.

Related Links:
Newcastle Council Facebook
Newcastle Council Twitter
Newcastle Flickr Photos
Newcastle Council Podcast

Staffordshire Police Dispel World Cup Shirt Ban For England Fans

Rumours have been circulating on Social networking sites such as Twitter & Facebook that police are banning England football shirts in pubs & public places during the World Cup.

Staffordshire Police have joined police forces around the country to dispel these rumours.

Assistant Chief Constable Jane Sawyers, who is co-ordinating the force’s policing operation, said, ‘These rumours emanated from elsewhere in the UK and have spread in recent weeks through social networking sites and text messages. There is no truth in them whatsoever. We want the World Cup to be a safe and enjoyable experience for all our communities, and are urging everyone to play their part to help us reach that goal.’