Stoke-on-Trent City Council appoint new Assistant Chief Executive

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have announced that Charlie Stewart, currently the Strategic Director of Resources at Brighton &  Hove City Council where he is a member of the Strategic Leadership Board has been appointed as Assistant Chief Executive to John van de Laarschot. Continue reading

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service featured in a book about Vanguard

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service BadgeStaffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has been selected to feature in a book published today, entitled Public Services That Work Volume 2, the book focuses on applying the evidence-based ‘Vanguard Method’ approach to changing and improving the ways in which organisations operate.

Staffordshire is the only fire and rescue service to feature in the book, which includes eight case studies from various public sector organisations who have worked with Vanguard. Continue reading

Work to start on Central Business District

line drawing of Stoke-on-Trent proposed Central business DistrictWork is set to start on Stoke-on-Trent’s Central Business District in May when demolition work starts on the Andromeda building. The building was formerly home to Regimes nightclub and Rileys snooker club.

The Andromeda building along with 9 Broad Street, the former Job Centre building on Cannon Street and Crown Street Garage on Orb Street, was acquired by the former Advantage West Midlands and transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency as part of the Central Business District project. Continue reading

Now the dust has settled is John van de Laarschot the right Chief Exec for Stoke-on-Trent?

There have been many comments in the Sentinel recently regarding the performance of John van de Laarschot as chief exec. at Stoke-on-Trent city council.

It is interesting to see that the reader’s mood is changing now that the honeymoon period is over.

I remember my first meeting with John van de Laarschot when he arrived at Stoke. He was very keen to turn around the misfortunes that the city had suffered and gave the prediction of being able to do it in three years.

I did say to John at the time that I thought it was very optimistic but it could be done given time and the right political backing. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Increases The Number Of Managers While Cutting Front Line Services And Staff

Since John van de Laarschot became the Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council in January 2010 we have seen some of the biggest changes and cuts in a generation in the city.

John came in to the city with not only excellent Local Government credentials, having improved the rating of Torridge district council in north Devon from 3 to 5 stars but also real world commercial experience having worked in corporate finance and running the South African arm of PepsiCo.

In june 2010 barely 6 months in to the job, John was quoted as saying

I think this organisation is top-heavy with management and I can’t defend that. I will weed out those who are not up for challenge and who don’t have an appetite to serve our customers.

In 2010 you would maybe have thought that true, with too many directorates and no less than 270 managers earning £50,000 + salaries.

The axe soon started to fall, in September 2010 announcements were made that the number of directorates were to be reduced and restructured removing 14 of the 37 Directors & Heads of Service, with the new streamlined structure having to be in place on the first working day of 2011, exactly a year to the day of John VDL starting.

Shortly after this the rest of the council workforce were put under consultation and were informed that 700 jobs were to go. The consultations and redundancies have been an almost constant feature within the City Council since then with a further 300+ jobs being earmarked for redundacy as the City Council struggles to meet its budget.

With all the cuts and restructuring over the past 15 months you would expect the City Council to be a leaner more cost effective and streamlined organisation, yet figures released today show that the number of managers who earn £50,000+ at Stoke-on-Trent City Council actually increased by 24 from 270 to 294 in 2010/11.

So during his first year in charge when he promised to weed out those who are not up for challenge, it seems that John has found more people who are up for the challenge rather than doing any weeding.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council tops the league of midlands councils at £99.41 when it comes to cost per head of population for employing £50k+ managers, this is almost £16 more than second place Leicester.

Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said

It is disappointing to see so many middle managers at Midlands councils, particularly at a time when public sector pay is being restrained and low paid staff are being laid off. It’s not fair to demand that ordinary workers take a pay freeze or lose their jobs while more and more middle managers are enjoying generous remuneration. Councils need to cut back the bloated bureaucracies that have developed in town halls in recent years. Taxpayers in places like Stoke-on-Trent will be particularly disappointed that their local authority claims it has no alternative but to increase Council Tax but goes on to spend so much on employing so many high earners.

Just remember, council employees who are on a pay freeze and those that were made redundant, you‘re all in this together. Maybe his new £130k Deputy Chief Exceutive will improve the situation next year.

Update 11:50

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have issued the following statement to Pits n Pots

A council spokesman, said

The Tax Payer’s Alliance figures amalgamate staff annual salaries with one off payments, such as redundancy packages. This means that the figures do not reflect the true picture with regards to staff on an annual income of more than £50,000.

In response to the council statement, I have only detailed an uplift of 24 officers who earnt £50k+ in 2010/11 over 2009/10, the actual number of officers who earnt £50k+ in 2010/11 was 86 and as the TPA report and the Councils own accounts point out, 62 of these were due to redundancy payments moving the salary in to the £50k+ bracket.


Dan Barton to leave Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has announced today that Assistant Director –Communications, Dan Barton, will be leaving the local authority on 31st January 2012.

He leaves to pursue his role as a broadcaster, media consultant, trainer and PR advisor.

As part of the City Council’s budget plan for 2012 one of several proposals is to delete the post of Assistant Director – Communications albeit that this is subject to consultation with the Trade Unions.

Dan joined the city council four years ago from Head of News at ITV Central and was responsible for the Press Office, PR, website, branding, print, design, advertising, translation and interpretation and corporate events.

Under his leadership, the team won a series of accolades in the Good Communications Awards with Dan being nominated as PR Communicator of the Year in 2010 and the council being highly commended as Local Authority of the Year this year. He helped put Stoke on the map with work on the Staffordshire Hoard and the Tour of Britain and was chair of the Stoke Olympics 2012 community task force.

He said this week

I feel I have been through some of the most challenging years in local government and in the country with Stoke and have enjoyed the enormous challenge of helping them navigate the way through. I am now looking forward to new challenges of my own. I will miss the great team I have worked with but will take with me invaluable experience in local government and PR in one of the toughest environments in the country.

John van de Laarschot, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council said

Dan has steered the council through some turbulent years with a calm head, a sharp understanding of the political environment and always with commitment and enthusiasm. On a personal level I will very much miss his professional and supportive approach. I wish him well and thank him for his excellent work which has contributed significantly to our aim to make Stoke-on-Trent a great working city.


2012- the year of delivery

With the New Year just hours around the corner, Bill Cawley looks towards 2012, the year of delivery.

Its two years since John Van Der Laarschot became Chief Executive of the City Council and it will be 12 months from May since the Council was in Labour majority control. This year will need to see both parties delivering on the objectives that they set themselves. Residents of the city will need to see progress on a number of projects and some way out of the encircling gloom that has gripped the area since 2008. Currently over 8,000 citizens of Stoke are unemployed, local economic activity appears sluggish and the outlook nationally seems uncertain. Something needs to happen but what?

However there needs to be seen to be progress and actual completion in a number of key projects and top of the list must be Hanley Bus Station. My understanding was that the station ought to be finished by next autumn. There is work going on site and one hopes that finishing the bus station is very high on the agenda of the City Council. I wonder whether there is any recognition of the need to ensure that local projects like this do generate local jobs. It will be essential for local projects to deliver tangibly local jobs otherwise The City Council will be neglecting their responsibility.

Secondly linked to the Bus station is the need to attract investment and interest in the Sentral development in Hanley. News has reached the local media that Marks and Spenser amongst others are interested in the development but in my opinion that M & S interest only means displacement from an existing site in the centre of Hanley. Again a benchmark will be an increase in take up from leading brand shops and a timetable for completion of the project.

Another area of concern is a resolution of areas like Middleport and the difficulties faced by the reduction in funding for RENEW. The blight that is Middleport needs to be seriously addressed in the coming year.

The bid for the Green Investment Bank locally has been made although I would personally like to see a strong case made for putting this developments with its promise of excellent jobs and potential for the green economy having a more central role in the local economy. A decision is likely in March.

Another conundrum for 2012 will what to do with the Spode site in Stoke. Just before Christmas a press report indicated that Tesco were not interested in developing the site. What to do with the site will be a question that will require some resolution in the coming year.

The desire for more ” localism” will also dominate political discourse. There has been interest in both Penkhull and Fenton for more self-government and patience with the City Council has become stretched especially over such issues as the future of Fenton Library and other civic amenities in the area.

Which brings me to another topic which will again command debate in 2012 and that is turning former civic assets over to community groups to run independently. Perhaps the first acid test will be the future of Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston. There is a strong desire to retain the facility for educational use and a group of interested individuals have put together a business case to take over the facility.

On a more certain note 6 of the City’s new schools school be completed and ready for occupation by the autumn term including the new and interestingly designed Brownhills school although the costs of PFI are still a subject worthy of future investigations.

On a more equivocal note the debate and questions over the Dimensions debacle still remain and must cast doubts on the future of the officers and councillors involved in this matter.

Another policy change, which will have serious implications for the City Council in terms of its social and health care services, will be the rapid changes to the NHS Primary Care with GPs taking more control over commissioning decisions. I have serious doubts whether the Health and Wellbeing Board- a function within the City Council- is fully aware of the centrality of their role in ensuring equity in accessing services is maintained.

1 hope of mine in terms of delivery of a service will be the reopening of the railway line between Leek and Stoke which is projected to happen in the autumn of 2012. I went to a public meeting in Leek and the speed in which this project is happening makes me optimistic that this will be a project that does see fruition in the coming year.

2012 will be the year I feel in which reputations at the Civic Centre especially the senior officers in post will be made or broken.

Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group ““ The Shape of Things to Come?

You know me, I like to ponder on situations and then try to dissect them in public, as is my want you see?

I have to say that last week’s call to discuss the closure of the Willfield Fitness Centre at the Adult & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny meeting has left an nasty taste in my mouth.

I have been largely supportive of Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and his 34 strong Labour group but I hope that the actions of the Labour councillors on that particular committee and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, is not the shape of things to come.

Here we have a popular fitness centre, loved by the community, used by many from Bentilee and beyond, closed without out so much as a single comment from the Labour contingent on that committee.

Although the Labour members should not have been whipped on a scrutiny committee, by the actions of the said Labour members and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, They were absolutely told how they WILL vote.

I am in no doubt that Cllrs Sheila Pitt, Alison Wedgwood, and Matt Fry would have received a serious reprimand by the senior officers of the Labour group for, in the case of Alison and Sheila, sticking to their election pledges.

Labour whip Kath Banks had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp during that meeting and could not have looked more disinterested in proceedings if she tried.

The way the meeting was chaired by the normally amiable Cllr Bagh Ali left me in no doubt who was running the meeting, the director Tony Oakman.

He was allowed to say what he wanted, for as long as he wanted with no interruption. Cllr Dave Conway was constantly disrupted in a clear attempt to throw him off course.

Talking of the officers, the old joke of how many does it take to change a light bulb was certainly relevant here. 8 officers were present and if you were to tot up their collective salaries you would unearth a value that would give the Staffordshire Hoard a run for it’s money.

So, Labour have demonstrated that they will side with the officers over their election promises in another glaring example of taking the Cabinet dollar.

Have we been here before I wonder?

It appears not to matter who the rulers are, Labour, Conservative Independent, Liberal Democrats, or a mixture of them all, it’s the same old scene.

But what has left me even more uneasy about the situation, is the fact that not more than a week prior to the call in, CEO John van de Laarschot launched his mandate for change which placed a heavy emphasis on the Health and Wellbeing of the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

It isn’t that long ago that the place attracted the unfortunate label of being a “Ëœsick city’. And yet we close a facility that is proven to be making a difference in exactly the sort of area of the city that needs the most help ““ way to go!

Our CEO gave an inspirational performance at that gig. I and a good few others were taken in by the message that together we can make a difference. My plea to John van de Laarschot for the future success of the Mandate for Change project and the rejuvenation of the City of Stoke-on-Trent is – “ËœGet your officers on task!’

Here was a golden opportunity to prove to all that the council was up to working with community groups to find a way of keeping popular facilities open for business.

We are in unprecedented times, an era where it is clear, and for my part accepted, that the council cannot continue to fund everything and that there has to be painful cuts.

The officers of the council rubbished the Willfield Community Group’s business plan and then dismissed it out of hand.

Why didn’t any officer of the council make contact with the group to offer assistance in getting the business case more in line with what the council need and expect?

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

Where was the commitment needed to deliver a Mandate for Change?

So again I lay down the gauntlet to the council, in a no doubt futile attempt, to change and to demonstrate that our council are serious about empowering communities.

With £20million more cuts to come in the next financial year, if there is not a drastic change in the Council, it’s CEO, directors and officers what services and facilities will be left in our city?

Our Labour Group need to LEAD and not be LED. You have the opportunity to make a difference, you have the opportunity to step up to the plate ““ Take it!

The majority of the electorate voted you in the belief that you would deliver on your election promises and to work to make our city more inclusive and more progressive. It ain’t a great start guys!

Many months ago, a politician that I respect enormously told me that the decision not to allow the building of a new academy to be on the Mitchell High School site was all about academies setting the right example to the communities in which they serve.

I was told that the powers that be, politicians, officers and sponsors wanted the buildings to be in areas that were as affluent as possible in order to raise the aspirations of the young people of the area.

They are meant to inspire the young to be more like the well to do of the areas in which an academy school is placed.

To give the little poor kids the opportunity of mixing with kids from a “Ëœbetter’ background.

I remember thinking at the time ‘isn’t that social engineering’?

It got me to thinking is this the real reason the Willfield gym is to close?

Do those in the BSF department, fellow officers and our elected politicians, want rid of the gym and the kind of folk who use it so they are not a blot on the academy landscape?

When’s A Workman Not A Workman?

Pits n pots have been contacted by a concerned resident who wanted to highlight an issue they had seen with a Kier employee. Kier Stoke are the company formed as a joint venture between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and construction and support services specialist Kier Building Maintenance to take on the repairs to Stoke-on-Trent City Council housing stock in 2008.

I was going shopping on Friday in the north of the city, I went to the pay and display meter to get a ticket, while I was getting some change a Kier workman came out of a pub near the meter on his telephone. He was in his work clothes with the Kier badge on them and saying to the person on the phone that he was still on a job and wouldn’t be able to take the job they were trying to give him. Once the call had finished he went back in to the pub.

Kier Stoke seem to be going through some turbulent times at the moment. Chief Executive John van de Laarshot brought Vanguard, a ‘systems thinking’ consultancy, in to look at ways that the City Council could work smarter and save money. The first place he sent them was in to the housing directorate to look at the contract with Kier and how to provide quicker, better and more cost effective services to council tenants.

A suggestion, if I may be so bold, might be to know where your employees really are when they tell you they are still on the last job you gave them.

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?