Stoke-on-Trent City Council Answering Questions About Their Mandate For Change Budget

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have announced that the Cabinet will be taking to various venues across the city over the next two weeks to answer questions from the public on its ‘Mandate for Change’ budget proposals for 2012 to 2013.

The public consultation will be launched on Thursday 1 December during late night shopping outside the Potteries Shopping Centre between 6pm and 8pm. Members of the Cabinet will also be attending events across the city to answer questions on their budget proposals. The events will take place in the North, South and central parts of the city and will include daytime as well as evening events.

Public consultation on the proposed budget closes on 23 December.

Councillor Mohammed Pervez, Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council said

Over the next few weeks, we will be seeking feedback on the budget proposals from the public, elected members, staff, partners, MP’s and businesses in the city. We will be listening to their concerns and answering questions. We will also welcome any further suggestions on how the council can save money.

We are committed to our Mandate for Change to make our city a great place to live and bring business. Last year we were faced with making £36m worth of cuts, and now we are faced with another huge task. However, this year our budget is not all about cuts; we are also saving to invest in our city to create the right conditions to stimulate the local economy.

It is absolutely vital that the private sector kick starts the economic regeneration of our city. Businesses, small and large, need to stimulate growth through expansion and job creation. The recent government cuts to local authorities mean that public sector will not have the means to do this. We therefore need to give business confidence to invest in Stoke-on-Trent through our ability to manage large projects such as the £250m Building Schools for the Future scheme. The additional £5m savings will give us the resource we need to further build confidence and attract businesses willing to invest in our city.

I have no doubt that year two of cuts is going to be very painful and tough with some extremely difficult decisions to be made on some equally worthy competing priorities.

A full list of the consultation events can be found using the links below.

Pits n Pots reader & regular commentor, Ian Norris E-mailed the council leader to ask some questions about total spending on, PFI schemes, landfill tax, waste disposal, energy, vehicles & capital investment for this year & last year as well as the council prediction for next year in the budget so he could respond to the consultation.

Mr Norris from Tunstall did not recieve a response from the Council Leader or Officer, he was sent a standard E-mail from the Freedom of Information office explaining that he had sent in a Freedom of Information request and he should expect a response by 22 December, just one day before the consultation closes.

Mr Norris said

I am greatly concerned that the Council Leader was unable to answer a simple question about his budget. This information should be readily available as part of the budget consultation. I am appalled that he has submitted the question as a Freedom of Information request in my name.

I have since recived a phone call from the council who want to speak to me about the request, I have responded to say I want a written reply to my question and not just a phone call.

So although the Council Leader welcomes and further suggestions on how the couuncil can save money, it seems that you can only do this if you don’t ask too many questions about the budget.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Good With Our Data?

An investigation by Big Brother Watch has shown the true extent of data loss and misplacement by local authorities in the UK.

Every Local Authority in the UK was issued with a Freedom of Information request asking about data loss for the three years up until July 2011, from the information gained from the 132 local authorities who did respond, BBW found there were 1035 incidents of data loss including evidence that more than

  • 244 laptops and portable computers
  • 98 memory sticks
  • 93 mobile devices

went missing.

According to the report in the three years of information requested Stoke-on-Trent City Council had the following breaches of data security.

  • 2 case files misplaced during an office move – Adult care information
  • Lost Blackberry device – Not recorded, device security locked and encrypted
  • Memory stick lost in Hanley – Children’s Services case files of approximately 40 individuals’ records held on device
  • Memory stick lost on car park which was found and returned – Encrypted data
  • Ring binder containing data on 3 service users were left within a secure council compound but accessible to council staff from another team – Copies of social work data

Stoke-on-Trent are not the best, as a number of authorities who responded to the requests said they had had no breaches and they are nowhere near the worst when you look at the top ten worst authorities in the report.

  1. Buckinghamshire (72 incidents)
  2. Kent (72)
  3. Essex (62)
  4. Northamptonshire (48)
  5. North Yorkshire (46)
  6. Renfrewshire (41)
  7. West Sussex (36)
  8. Tower Hamlets (31)
  9. Telford and Wrekin (30)
  10. Cornwall (25)

Senior Council Officers Shun Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent City Council launched their Mandate For Change in a blaze of glory last Wednesday, a business breakfast for 200 business leaders & stakeholders, printed brochures and a video, using the Take That track, Shine, (yes the one that is used by Morrisons supermarkets and without local lad Robbie on it).

The key points of the Mandate for Change are

  • Make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business.
  • Support and develop existing business.
  • Work with people to promote independence and healthy lives.
  • Make Stoke-on-Trent a great city to live in.

All excellent values, that if driven forward will make Stoke-on-Trent a great place to be again. If the bid for the North Staffordshire Enterprise Zone is successful this will be a launch pad to hopefully getting some businesses to relocate to the area and provide the much needed employment which in turn will help to regenerate the city.

The City Council have identified that there is not enough executive housing in the city and in a recent meeting of the City Renewal Overview and Scrutiny Committee they proposed that some council owned properties such as the old park depot in Longton park and Penkhull Farm could be used for conversion in to executive housing.

It is widely believed that businesses don’t want to relocate to Stoke-on-Trent because there aren’t many suitable houses for their senior managers. This is something that Stoke-on-Trent city Council know only too well as a recent Freedom of Information request has shown that the most senior officers don’t actually live in the city themselves. These are the people, who run the city and are currently making unprecedented cuts to your services, it must be quite easy making cuts to services that you don’t have to use yourself.

On the executive recruitment site for the City Council they go to great lengths to tell prospective senior officers how good the city is.

Living In Stoke
Affectionately known as “ËœThe Potteries’, owing to our world-class ceramics and rich industrial heritage, we’re famed for the warmth and creativity of our people. We’re also one of the greenest cities in the country, with one third of the City being green space.

You’ll discover a living, working city with a vibrant culture and friendly people, surrounded by beautiful countryside. You’ll find retail therapy and attractions to fire your imagination and set your heart pounding. You’ll discover a city that is experiencing £multi-million investment and a remarkable transformation as we revitalise and realise the potential of our people and area. You’ll find quality education and a huge range of housing options too. Put simply, you’ll discover a City with a proud past and a bright future.

Even the Chief Executive’s wife Tracy recognised the importance of living in the city where her husband was working.

We definitely want to live in the area John covers, that is the least he can do. If he lives there, he can understand the issues there.

So how many of the top officers in the City Council from the Chief Executive, Directors & Assistant Directors live in Stoke-on-Trent, where You’ll find retail therapy and attractions to fire your imagination and set your heart pounding?

According to the response given to a Freedom of Information request only one of the 22 most senior officers in the City Council lives within the city and enjoys the benefits of the services provided by their employer. One solitary senior officer, that is less than 5%. The Chief Executive and the Directors who don’t live in the city are some of the top officers who took £1.5m in salaries and benefits between them last year.

As these officers are not living in the city are also less likely to spend any significant amount of their sizeable incomes with traders in the city other than maybe the supermarket in Stoke, the pubs near to the Civic Centre and the odd sandwich shop.

The City Council would not name which officer did live within the city citing section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information act that the information being requested relates to the individuals private life rather than their public function.

We contacted a number of councillors by E-mail to ask them, To lead the way in trying to bring new businesses to the city, should senior officers, (CEO directors & assistant directors) live in the city to help promote it?

the only one to respond at the time of publication.

Personally, I think they should. Otherwise, they are, and in some cases justifiably, open to the accusation of being patronizing hypocritical. It’s good enough for everyone else but not themselves. It would also show tremendous commitment and belief.

So do you think senior officers should live within the city they serve?

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council Nominated For Recycling Award

While Stoke-on-Trent City Council are languishing around the 40 % mark for recycling, our close neighbours Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have increased their rates from 27% in 2009 to more than 55% per cent in November 2010 and have been nominated for the Waste Management Award at the Government Business Awards 2011 as a result

Researchers have been looking at all collection and disposal authorities across the country to find “outstanding” schemes that are cost-effective, provide a high level of service and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

As well as Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, London Borough of Hillingdon, Peterborough City Council and Hull City Council have all been shortlisted for the award, the winner of which will be announced at Twickenham Stadium on Thursday, 17 February by BBC journalist and news presenter Bill Turnbull.

I’m delighted that we have been singled out nationally for best practice in waste management.

Recycling in Newcastle has been revolutionised. We have an efficient scheme that separates materials at the kerbside which means everything is turned into new products.

But this recognition is not possible without the effort of residents, who have really embraced recycling.

Newcastle are already eclipsing the recycling figure that Stoke-on-Trent hope to be able to achieve by 2015. Questions about recycling here in Stoke still remain unanswered after Pits n Pots were forced down the FOI route, despite the head of directorate Jane Forshaw saying she would happily answer any questions about the recycling service in Stoke-on-Trent

Can We Trust Our Council When It Comes To Rubbish?

The more time I spend researching and investigating Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the Enhanced Recycling the more I feel I can’t trust them. The more I look, and I’m not even scratching the surface right now, the more untruths and misinformation I find.

Take this FOI request for example and in particular

What is the cost to Stoke City Council forecast/expected to be under the terms of the contract with the subcontractor for the expected shortfall in waste delivered to the waste to energy plant for the FY 2009/2010?

and the council response dated 31 August 2010

There are no liabilities associated within the contract to the sub contractor. The waste disposal contract is between ourselves and the Contractor. The terms of the contract require that any potential shortfall in waste tonnage to the plant be found from other sources. Both parties have obligations in this regard and these have been met.

Yet in the briefing pack for the Transformation and Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee Thursday, 23 September 2010

Additional ongoing costs in respect of backdated claims from the Waste to Energy Plant made late in 2009/10 (£60k) were also an unexpected pressure. A claim was received in June in respect of the City Council failing to achieve minimum tonnage levels in 2009/10 for £645k. This is offset by a rebate circa £0.316m leaving a net pressure of £0.329m. This is subject to legal interpretation and contract negotiation with Hanford Waste Services and the County Council.

It is abundantly clear that regardless of ‘legal interpretation of the contract’ invoices had been received in June, at least 7 or 8 weeks before the date of the FOI response saying that there were no invoices.

Strangely, if you read the WRAP report commissioned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, there was a meeting held between the council and AEA (the report authors) on 10 January 2008 where there were concerns about available capacity at the incinerator

Currently, the Council employs an incinerator to treat refuse. This facility is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. There maybe some concerns with regard to available head space at the facility due to the high waste growth in the area; but at the results meeting on the 10th January 2008, it was confirmed that there would be sufficient space within the incinerator because the other collection authorities who use the facility are reducing their input due to changes in their collection systems mainly moving to alternate weekly collections of refuse.

Yet in the FOI request

Were members informed of the expected cost, were they merely informed that there may be a charge or were members not alerted to this risk when the enhanced recycling scheme was debated and agreed?

Members were made aware of the possibility that implementing Enhanced Recycling could result in a shortfall in deliveries to the plant in 2007 when the current Waste Strategy was agreed.

Waste Services Officers also made senior managers aware of the risk in a draft report on Enhanced Recycling in to members in 2008.

Just to confuse matters even more if you listen to the Jane Forshaw interview, in particular part two about -3:40 Jane says, when talking about the WRAP report, ‘and it also doesn’t take in to account the fact we have an energy from waste facility on our doorstep’

A little different than what the report says.

It seems that the council do not appear to be accountable to anyone and can get away with making statements with such blatant untruths in them.

We will continue to investigate the enhanced recycling scheme, the costs and the alleged savings over the coming weeks.

Image used under CC licence

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enhanced Recycling The WRAP Report

The elusive WRAP report provided to Stoke-on-Trent City Council detailing different options for enhanced recycling has emerged in the public domain thanks to the work of Councillor Michael Barnes.

Tony and I will be reading this report tonight and will be publishing a more detailed article in the morning.

The report is subject to an FOI request by Pits n Pots so it will be interesting to see if that is dealt with inside the 20 working days”¦

FOI Request Shows Real Cost Of Consultants To The City Of Stoke-on-Trent

A recent request under the Freedom of Information Act shows just how much Stoke-on-Trent has, and is, spending on the use of consultants.

In light of the task of saving millions of pounds to balance a massive budget deficit, Stoke-on-Trent City Council will now surely look to drastically cut the number of highly paid consultants.

One example alone shows that the former Interim Assistant Chief Executive Mike Maunder cost £100,225 in the financial year 2009/10 for a 6 month contact, putting him on a salary comparable to that of the new Chief Executive John van de Laarschot.

The FOI request asked the following questions:

1. How many Consultants currently work for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, including NSRP?

2. How much is the total estimated cost of these consultants for this financial year 2009/10?

3. How many individual consultants or interim officers are currently paid more than £500 per day (or equivalent based on a normal officer hours) by Stoke-on-Trent City Council or the NSRP? Please include those employed for doing only 1 day (example) per week and earning more than £500 for that week.

4. How many individual consultants or interim officers have been paid more than £500 per day (or equivalent based on a normal officer hours) by Stoke-on-Trent City Council or the NSRP and have now left, and what is their total cost?

In response to the FOI request the City Council said:

1. At 31st December 2009, there were 33 individual consultants working in directorates and 52 firms of consultants commissioned to provide services to the General Fund, Housing Revenue Account, Capital Programme and the NSRP. Many of the 52 firms of consultants do not provide dedicated staff to work within directorates, instead a range of experienced and suitably qualified professionals work together to provide the service commissioned. For information, the costs of consultants who are providing advice and support to schools have been excluded as they are funded through the Dedicated Schools Grant.

These commissions are being funded by a variety of sources. Services for projects within the Capital Programme are funded by government and European grants and City Council capital resources. It must be noted that conditions of external funding providers frequently instruct the use of independent consultants. The majority of funding for consultants within the NSRP is obtained from external sources such as the Homes and Community Agency, Advantage West Midlands, lottery funding and European monies. The Housing Revenue Account consultants have been engaged to deliver the Round 6 PFI programme that is funded externally by the Homes and Communities Agency. Other consultants will be funded by the General Fund.

Consultants are commissioned to provide a range of specialist advice and support when the City Council does not have the expertise in-house and the requirement for the advice and support is either only for a specific period of time, or the need for the service is such that it would not be possible to apply the recruitment and selection process within the timeframe available.

2. The estimated cost of the current consultants is as follows

Funding Source £

Capital Programme ** £3,601,580
NSRP ** £2,163,750
HRA ** £148,000
Sub-total £5,913,330
General Fund £1,796,130

Total £7,709,460

Note: ** As is outlined above, the majority of the funding for the above cost estimates is from external sources

3. As at 31st December 2009, there were 14 individual consultants out of the 33 individual consultants stated in the answer to question 1 and 4 interim officers earning more than £500 per day who are providing services to the General Fund, Capital Programme and the NSRP. The forecast cost to the end of March 2010 for the aforementioned 18 individual consultants and interim officers is as follows

Consultancy | Forecast cost to 31/03/10 | Reason for employment
NSRP
AECOM Ltd |£64,000 |To provide support and advice on the Street Car project
Davis Langdon LLP | £44,800 | Public Realm Project management
Glen Howells Architects | £77,000 | To provide advice and support on the City Centre Master Plan, Hope Village
Martin Tonks | £10,000 | External legal advice in respect of public inquiries.
Robert Maguire Consulting Ltd | £150,710 | Project Director – Stoke Central Business District & Public Realm
Solace Enterprises | £10,000 | To provide advice and support on the Planning Service Improvement Plan
Solace Enterprises | £166,190 | Interim Manager – supporting the NSRP business plan & delivery planning. Also heading up the External Funding & Bidding Team & advising the Strategic Partnership
Stuart Gulliver Ltd | £36,000 | To provide assistance with the Inward Investment – ERDF Strategy

CYPS
Computer Futures Solutions Ltd | £24,400 | Building Schools for the Future ““ academies
Hydrogen | £92,800 | Building Schools for the Future ““ advice on ICT specifications
Permanent Futures Ltd | £116,480 | Building Schools for the Future ““ advice on ICT specifications and preparation of overall business case

Central Services
Badenoch & Clarke | £62,000 | Preparation of the People Strategy
Badenoch & Clarke | £21,420 | Specialist in the requirements of the International Financial Reporting Standards
Badenoch & Clarke | £114,240 | Cover for the CYPS Group Accountant post as recruitment has proved unsuccessful
Hays | £69,000 | Implementation of the Civica Financials development
Microgrip Ltd | £160,000 | Provision of advice and support to the Strategic Partnership
Russam GMS | £54,000 | Cover for the Schools Finance Officer as recruitment has proved unsuccessful
Zon Ltd | £90,000 | Interim Head of Procurement. Leave date agreed as post filled from January 2010.

Total £1,363,040

4 In the current financial year, 6 individual consultants and 11 interim officers have left who were being paid more than £500 per day from budgets within the General Fund, the Housing Revenue Account, the Capital Programme and the NSRP. Not all invoices have yet been received and processed, consequently the total cost, analysed below, is an estimate.

The reasons for employing the 17 individual consultants and interim officers who have now left were as follows
Consultancy | Estimated cost to 31/03/10 | Reason for employment

Chief Executive’s
K Mistry Ltd | £77,470 Developing the City Council’s programme management arrangements and Programme Manager for Partnership & Programme Assurance/ Corporate process / NSRP database and Single Status Project Manager.
Mike Maunder Management Ltd | £100,225 |Interim Assistant Chief Executive
Tribal | £45,472 | Provision of media training to officers and elected members.
Tribal | £50,000 |Support to the NSRP Board

NSRP
David Pywell Consulting Ltd | £5,433 | Advice on the Street Car Project
Faber Maunsell Ltd | £13,320 | Interim Director of Planning & Transportation
Robert Maguire Consulting Ltd | £29,538 | Interim Director for Business District
Turner & Townsend | £35,333 | Interim Director for University Quarter

Central Services
Badenoch & Clarke | £91,800 | Interim Head of Finance
Badenoch & Clarke | £17,887 | Interim Head of HR
Badenoch & Clarke | £52,958 | Finance support to the Strategic Partnership
Badenoch & Clarke | £47,640 | Cover for the HENS Group Accountant
Badenoch & Clarke | £129,280 | Cover for the HRA Group Accountant
Bruton Knowles | £34,000 | Interim Head of Asset Management
Plan Procure Management Ltd | £95,850 | Procurement support to the Strategic Partnership
Select Financial Ltd | £18,150 | Cover for the Schools Finance Manager post, then CYPS Group Accountant
Select Financial Ltd | £64,850 | Cover for vacant CYPS accountant posts

Total £909,206

Auditors To Monitor NSRP

North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership are being monitored by auditors KPMG

Freedom of Information requests put in by Stoke-on-Trent man Trevor Jones uncovered a report by auditors KPMG that criticised the tendering process that North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership used to award contracts totalling almost £500,000.

In the report KPMG wrote ‘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 had been achieved.’

The report also says that some contracts were awarded without going through a tendering process and decisions were made without clear reasoning. It also stated that high daily rates were also approved by NSRP.

These problems and more have forced Advantage West Midlands to withhold funding from NSRP until such a time as the auditors have approved the new processes drawn up by NSRP to ensure that they meet European and Council rules.

KPMG are currently reviewing the new procedures & processes to ensure they were properly implemented and will report back to AWM in due course.

Speaking to Regen.Net Brian Ward Portfolio Holder for Regeneration and who also sits on the board of NSRP said that, ‘no projects had been delayed while waiting for funding to be released’