Eye Spy the By-election

So the by-election has finally been called for the vacancy for Office of Councillor for the Springfields and Trent Vale ward, it’s only taken since 27 April. So now the ballot boxes are being broken out and just in the nick of time… frustrated residents in Springfields & Trent Vale are already starting to petition the council over local issues, having begun to feel the effects of no local representation for the last few months.

Despite having more councillors than they know what to do with, Labour have not fallen over themselves to ensure residents have felt looked after, which is perhaps why there are rumblings that this by-election may see upwards of 8 candidates all vying to fix the numerous potholes and clear the litter on the yellow brick road from Trent Vale to Stoke. Hardly a ringing endorsement of previous incumbents…

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LibDem propaganda in Trentham & Hanford

We have in Trentham received our first leaflet for the local election in May, from Alan Alcock the Libdem candidate.

What spin with regard to the Libdems view of Trentham High School!

“Alan Alcock is a local businessman and community activist, for Cockster Brook. He feels very strongly about the inequalities in our area, schools for one, Trentham High School,should never have been under threat. Stoke-on-Trent City Council wanted to close this school, how wrong could they be?.If elected Alan promises to support the interests of the people of Trentham and Hanford before all other interests.”

(Sloppy punctuation as printed, not mine.)

You could easily read this, if you didn’t know better, as the Libdems being on our side through the whole Trentham High School saga. They were so not!

Let us instead look at the facts and the track record.

To be fair, back on 9/7/08 at the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Dave Sutton was on our side when he voted with the City Independents and British National Party and Jean Edwards from Labour

That this Committee recommends to the City Council that it supports the soft statutory federation between St Joseph’s College and Trentham High School and that, as a consequence, Trentham High School be removed from any school closure list and placed upon the upgrade and renovation programme.

Other Labour and Tory were against us but the recommendation was carried. That was of course before Dave Sutton did an about turn and decided he thought we were snobs.

On 2/10/08 at Full Council a motion

“This City Council has no confidence in SERCO or the recent building schools for the future consultation exercise and calls upon the City Council to:
(i) instruct the Executive to reconsider all the building schools for the future
proposals and in particular give a commitment to keep open Trentham High
School.
(ii) instruct the Executive to consider, despite the potential financial costs,
termination of the SERCO contract and awarding a new contract for the
remainder of the period of Government intervention.
(iii) instruct the Executive to reconsider the proposed site (Park Hall) for the Academy
planned to replace Edensor High School, in the light of the representations made
by parents and others”.

supported by a group of City Independents was defeated by Libdems, Labour and Tories. The Libdems also voted against some amendments to the motion that commanded support from other City Independent, British National Party, Potteries Independent, Libertarian and non-aligned councillors.

On 4/12/08 at Full Council a motion

“ËœThis Council notes the widespread and deep disquiet amongst a number of communities across the City concerning the proposed sites, proposed catchment areas and proposed forms of governance, associated with parts of the restructure of the City’s High Schools. This Council further notes that it believes the disquiet, upset and controversy around these issues is having an increasingly unsettling and debilitating effect both within the schools and the wider communities.
Therefore this Council resolves that: “The Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee sets up a Task and Finish Group under the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to research the views of parents, pupils, governors, teachers, councillors and relevant officials with regard to the restructure as it concerns Trentham High, Blurton High, Mitchell High, Berryhill High, Edensor High and Longton High Schools and to present their findings and evaluations to the Executive for debate and resolution”.

supported by Potteries Independent, non-aligned, British National Party, City Independent and Libertarian councillors was defeated by Libdems, Labour and Tories.

On 26/3/09 Full Council approved the motion:

“ËœThe City Council is requested to ask the Executive to reconsider the future of Blurton and Trentham High Schools. Following the recent public meeting about Blurton and Trentham High Schools the Executive are asked to consider:
1. rebuilding the Blurton High School on the existing site and keeping a school in the
community
2. remove Trentham High School from the Building Schools for the Future programme
3. consider the refurbishment of Trentham High school
The City Council is also asked to note that Trentham High School would continue to seek foundation and co-operative trust status through the Department for Schools and Families’

thanks to the City Independents, British National Party, Potteries Independent, Libertarian an non-aligned councillors. No thanks to Libdems, Labour and Tories who tried to defeat this.

So what did the Libdems ever do for Trentham High? Nothing! Because of that, is it any surprise that I am sceptical when Alan Alcock says he will support the interests of the people before other interests? What I think is he will do what his party tells him and past experience shows that they will put the wishes of any coalition they are in before the wishes of the people.

No, we don’t need a Libdem for Trentham and Hanford, we need an independent who can truly put us first.

Conservative Slip Up On Teen Pregnancy Numbers.

The Tory party look a bit sick today as they have seen to be out of touch and being seen to be using in Labours words “smears and distortion.”

Tories said the conception rate for under 18s in the 10 most disadvantaged areas of England was a massive 54%. But this outrageous claim turned out a figure of 5.4%.
The Conservatives then tried to point out that it made no difference and that Labour were letting down the poor.

No difference, to my reckoning its about 48.6% of difference, in other words, one hell of a difference, and a very big insult to the people living in the areas the figure covers.

The figure was used in a 20 page dossier first seen on Sunday. It attacked government for allowing the creation of two nations, the wealthy and the impoverished. Much like what was left after no less the 4 Conservative governments lead by first Thatcher and the Major from 1979 until 1987.

It turns out that the figure shows a fall 0.6%, compared to figures in 1998 of 6%, the first figures after the Conservatives left power.

Ed Balls, Children’s Secretary said the figures would be seen as a insult to the communities and called for the withdrawal of the document. He also said that this proved the fact the Tories under David Cameron would use deception and airbrushed statistics as they really have nothing to say on reducing teenage pregnancies. It could not conceal the fact the Tories had not changed.

Liberal Democrats’ chief of Staff Danny Alexander said that the Tories seemed to think half the teen girls in large cities were pregnant and invited Conservative MPs to spend less time tending moats and duck houses, lower the drawbridge and “Ëœjoin the rest of us in the real world.’

But of course, the Conservative party say they are right, always are, and being out by a massive 48.6% makes no difference at all to the conclusions of the report, with is wide ranging. 20 pages, don’t really seem that wide ranging to me, but there you go.

So what’s Mr. Cameron got to say about this, he told the BBC website that Labour had failed the poorest “Ëœin our society’.

And that of-course is the very thing that the Conservatives did for no less then 18 years, and will carry on doing so if they ever regain power.

Pits’n’Pots In Conversation With – Stoke-on-Trent North Conservative PPC Andy Large

In our ‘In Conversation’ General Election Special Series we bring you this 3 part video interview with the Conservative PPC for Stoke-on-Trent North Andy Large.

Andy gives us his open and honest views on his chances against stalwart Labour MP Joan Walley.

We also hear how, in Andy’s opinion, the regeneration of Stoke North is key to the future and the aspirations of the electorate.

Andy also tells us of his battle with cancer and how coming through a disease that has devastated so many lives, has made him a stronger person and how he hopes that it has made him a better politician.

MPs expenses, the recession, David Cameron, bankers bonuses, education are all featured in this in depth 3 part interview.

The year in review ““ April

Welcome to part 2 of our ‘Year in Review’ article.

Here we concentrate on the period beginning April through to the end of june.

April

The biggest story in April by far was the ongoing saga of the Council Corruption investigation. We had already seen the arrest of Cllr Roger Ibbs and the Elected Mayor Mark Meredith. Both men had been questioned and released on Police bail. Both had stood down from the majority of their duties. In April we witnessed the third episode of this unfortunate soap opera, which was being played out before a gob smacked city wide audience. The scandal was also attracting the interest of the nationals including TV and Radio.
The arrest of prominent businessman Mo Chaudry confirmed everyone suspicions that this whole sorry episode was centred around the attempted closure of the splash pool at the popular Burlem Leisure Centre Dimensions. Mo Chaudry issued a statement through his lawyers stating that Mr Chaudry denied any wrong doing and that he had, and would continue, to co-operate with the Police Investigation.
Smoke-on-Trent re-launched their website, but it was to be very short lived. The site was to close down completely just a few months later.
While we are on smoke – Stoke-on-Trent’s first prosecution for flouting the smoking ban was successful. The owner of the Shesha Lounge in Hanley was fined £100 plus costs for failing to stop two customers from smoking a water pipe and a cigarette.
In April we also broke the news that the National Executive of the Labour Party along with their Regional Officers were descending on Stoke-on-Trent amidst accusations of in party fighting and councillors threatening to walk out on the party. This was perhaps the first clue that all was not well within the party that had once been so strong in our City.
Racism entered the University arena for the first time when University Presidential Candidate Assed Baig claimed that his opponent was using racist comments to defeat his challenge. The election was postponed whilst an internal investigation into the claims took place.
Mick Salih used the full council meeting early in April to once again hit out at the appointment of a paid chair for the NSRP. The new chair was take up his/her responsibilities in June when the Elected Mayor stepped down from the position. Cllr Salih tabled an amendment to instruct the city council’s representatives on the NSRP board not to vote for an independent chairman. Members voted 35 to 16 in favour of the amendment, despite warnings from Council Manager Chris Harman and Conservative and Independent Alliance leader councillor Ross Irving that it could damage relations between the council and its partners. Mr Harman hit out at the conduct of elected members in the press after the meeting, claiming that the amended motion was pointless because
there was no voting by the board on that matter.
Rob Flello was continuing to be a thorn in the side of Serco and was asking for the BSF proposals to be extended to 15 schools and claimed that the pupil numbers warranted this amendment. This was met with universal agreement from the Trentham Action Group who had been calling for the same for quite a period of time.
Rob went a massive step further just a few day’s later when a hastily arranged press conference held at Trentham High School revealed a letter from Schools Minister Jim Knight which indicated that the government had changed it’s view on THS closure. It was a major u-turn by the government, and one that left the City Council with a huge dilemma. Would Chris Harman and the EMB go against the wishes of government? This turn of events, down to the hard work of Rob Flello MP, threw THS a lifeline and it now seemed that the campaign to save THS was just a small matter of a council meeting away…
Meanwhile it seemed that the out going Elected Mayor was urging community activists in the Bucknall/Berryhill area to fight to retain their community school in the wake of the government u-turn on THS.
The all important EMB meeting where the issue of Trentham High was again, rightly, at the top of the agenda. The meeting was to be screened to members of the public in the adjacent Kings Hall. Only members of the Press [for once that included us!] were allowed to witness the meeting in person in the Windsor Room. The meeting went ahead but was not without controversy. Several Councillors were refused admission to the Windsor Room on the grounds of fire safety. But it turned out to be the day that the TAG had dreamed about. Trentham HS was to be removed from the schools closure list and was to be allowed to explore all possibilities for becoming a Trust type school. The meeting also decided that THS would receive none of the BSF funding. The reason for this seemed to be purely out of spite at the time and was later recinded. But there was to be no reprieve for Mitchell High School. Their campaigners were told in no uncertain terms that no further alterations to the BSF plans would be considered. That also signalled the beginning of the end for Heathfield Special School.
April also saw Cllr Ross Irving enter the race to become the new Council Leader. Mike Barnes officially left Democracy 4 Stoke which signalled his intention of challenging for the Leadership of the Labour group on the council.
Later on in the month we saw the emergence of a new community group, the Potteries Community Federation, the brainchild of former BNP member Craig Pond, Terry Cope and Sam Tunstall. They wanted members from all over the political sphere who were disenfranchised with the political system here in Stoke. The Labour Group were continuing to spiral downwards. Complaints about Labour EMB members and counter claims were going in thick and fast. The Labour Group Leader position was beginning to look something of a poisoned challice.
April also saw the local Liberal Democrats elect a new leader, Kieran Clarke. Dr Zulfiqar Ali was elected his deputy.

The final article on Pits’n’Pots in april was the prediction that there was to be an Indian Summer for our Country which just goes to prove ““ we don’t get everything right!

May will be coming shortly………

A BNP councillor – Value for money?

If you’ve read this blog for a while you will know by now that I am no fan of the BNP.

Don’t get me wrong I would fight for their right to exist and for your right to vote for them. That is what makes our country great, a democracy built on the principles of free speech.

The content of this article is my opinion, you may agree or disagree, that your choice. I am not saying I am right in this piece either, it’s just my belief. If you want to post an opposing stance, great go for it.

Great thing about a comment article is that it doesn’t have to be balanced. The balance needs to be provided by you the reader.

After a recent short lived dalliance with the Liberal Democrats, I now find myself slap bang in the middle of a political wilderness. No party based on the performance in the council chamber is floating my boat. The impact of this, at a local level, is that I often break out in a cold sweat in at the thought of getting into the polling booth, pencil poised and at a loss who’s box to tick.

I have been following local politics for years and I can’t ever remember feeling so insecure in my political beliefs.

It’s like being at a party. When the buffet opens there is so much choice your mouth waters in anticipation, that is until you pick a vol-au- vant up and you realise that you don’t like the filling. Or the Victoria sponge has butter cream in it and you can’t have any because you are allergic to it. Or the trifle has loads of sherry in and you are a recovering alcoholic!

That’s where I’m at politically I’m afraid, each way I turn there is something that does not quite sit right with me.

Now the BNP are like a sandwich at that buffet, the problem is they have a Marmite filling and you know, you either love it or hate it. Thank God there are far more people can’t stand Marmite than those who love it.

The BNP claim around £100,000 collectively in allowances per year from us the council tax payers of Stoke-on-Trent. The have 2 chairs positions and 2 vice chairs ans sit on various committees [apart from David Marfleet who doesn’t sit on a single committee], they have good attendance at full council [apart from Melanie Baddeley with some 69%], from what we are led to believe they work hard in their wards.

So why am I so against them you may well ask? Well I have to be honest and say it isn’t what they do in their wards it’s more what they don’t say in the council chamber.

All 60 ward councillors have a fairly decent reputation for getting through the case load at ward level.

Councillors Like Mick Salih firmly believe that ward work must come first, but by God when he gets into that chamber or sits on the Scrutiny Management Committee he’s like a dog with a bone. When he has hold of something he just doesn’t let go! And it isn’t all negative either. When he opposes there is always a structured reason for it. Take the new position of the paid Independent chair of the NSRP. He opposes it, he has called it in, hit out at officers for advertising the position before the call in was exhausted and all the way along he has said that he opposes it because he feels that the chair should be the political leader of our council.

Now the BNP don’t contribute at all. Alby & Ellie have taken over £32,000 in allowances and I honestly can not remember the last time either of them spoke at full council whether that is to support or oppose an issue. I have yet to hear them put anything forward as an alternative. They did not speak out about Chris Harman’s pay off, they had no opinion on councillors not being informed of key decisions before the press. They did not support or oppose the 243 redundancies that the council are about to finalise. They have simply just sat there and had their attendance mark and then left as early as they could.

It is not good enough. The people that they represent deserve better. Don’t they have a duty to try and improve the City as well as serve their wards? Are they not obligated to put fresh policy ideas and initiatives forward. Isn’t being pro-active the best way of trying to win more support?

The last time I can honestly remember them putting something before the chamber was when a couple of years ago when they opposed the budget. Their main objection was the translation service that the council provides, yet they completely forgot/ignored the fact that translation covers signing services for the deaf and CD’s etc for the blind.

We are coming up to an election year and I want to see all parties putting their manifesto before the people of this city. We should judge parties on what they will do to improve the city and front-line services. If any party fails to lay their policies before the electorate, do they really deserve our vote.

Let’s see every party campaigning hard to win our support. Let them earn our vote. Above all let’s see honest and informative election claims.

I hope that the BNP in this city do not stoop to the level displayed in Barking where the leaflets they put out claiming that the council were housing and paying African immigrants to live in a specific area. This was found out to be a blatant lie!

Let us not see mis-leading claims made on TV by high ranking Stoke BNP officers claiming to have provided CCTV to combat anti-social behaviour when in fact it was down to the dedication of normal residents.

If any party, especially the BNP, want to win our support let it be by fair methods not foul.

If the BNP want to continue this tactic of non-committal silence within our chamber then let them be exposed for it. A BNP councillor may be willing to provide luncheon clubs, dog walking and gardening services for the elderly but there is more to representing the WHOLE community and indeed the city at large.

Each political group on our council should submit a mission and vision statement for the city so that we can see how good their intentions are.

If they can not be bothered to share their aspirations with us then I ask you honestly ““ will they be good value for money and more importantly should they be allowed to get away with it?

BNP take note, we will be watching and listening..

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”¦”¦..

Stoke Libdem’s turn to Jack!

Exclusive Audio Interview Now Online!

Stoke-on-Trent Liberal Democrats have today entered a new era with the appointment of David Jack as Chairman of the party.

Jack is also the Perspective Parliamentary Candidate for Stoke-0n-Trent North.

He takes over from Christine Grocock who retires from the post having served for three years. She will now revert to the role of Vice-Chair. Paul Billington will takes on the responsibility for press and media.

Jack faces a considerable task to expand the party membership over the coming months. He will also co-ordinate the party election campaigns for both City Council and the General Elections.

Earlier today I caught up with David and put several tough questions to him about his appointment and the task that faces him in turning the Libdems into a force in the political scene of Stoke-on-Trent.

Listen to this exclusive Audio Interview:

UPDATED: Overview and Scrutiny Management Meeting – Salih & PKB Hit Out!

By Tony Walley

Explosive PKB & Salih Audio Now Online!

Today I attended a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee and in a kind of sad way, I really enjoyed it.

It was great to see the scrutiny process in full swing. The meeting was excellently chaired by Cllr Mark Davis and there were telling contributions for Cllr Paul Shotton, Cllr Mick Salih, Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley, Mike Coleman & Cllr Tom Reynolds. Cllr John Davies was also in attendance and there were late appearances by Cllr Dave Conway and Cllr Kieran Clarke.

The officer core was represented by Tom Macarntey the Acting Chief Executive and Paul Simpson, Director of Central Services.

The meeting got off to a controversial start with the elected members expressing their disgust at the fact that they were waiting for requested information from officers that had not been forth coming for the last two months. Paul Shotton was particularly critical of this as was Cllr Mick Salih and Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley. You can here more about this in the Audio Interview below.

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1109/PKB-MS-1109.mp3]

City Farm

Cllr Tom Reynolds and Cllr John Davies both voiced concerns over the future of the City Farm. This popular facility is under threat despite being the subject of a review and a subsequent recommendation to explore ways of helping the City Farm to be more self funding. It had also been agreed that it should be helped to generate more income. Both councillors expressed concerns that  once again there is a possibility that this popular attraction is a target for even more cuts or could ultimately be closed and they proposed a further review to see if more help could be given before the executive of the council get the chance to wield the axe. Tom Reynolds pointed out to the meeting that many of the officers who had worked on the original proposal regarding the City Farm and how it should be financed had now left the authority. This ‘nest flying’ reared it’s head on more than one of the topics discussed at the meeting.

Burslem.

The mother town came in for a fair amount of discussion at today’s meeting. Cllr Mick Salih raised concerns at the dilapidated state of what is said to be the most historical of the six towns. All elected members were disappointed at the fact that Burslem’s Indoor Market was still closed and was in a terrible state of repair. Questions were asked at why nothing had been done to get the market repaired and re-opened. Cllr Paul Shotton said that revenue from the other successful indoor markets across the city should have been directed towards Burslem Market instead of being used on ‘other council projects’. He pointed out that Hanley Market had not been redecorated since it was first opened.

Tender For the appointment of an Agency to oversee the recruitment of Agency staff!

No you haven’t read that wrong! Council officers are looking to put out to tender for the appointment of an agency to oversee the recruitment of agency staff. This is despite the Council Leader and his Executive stating publicly that the city council must cut down on the use of consultants and agency staff. Elected members questioned why, when the council have a procurement department should there be a need to employ the use of such an agency. Surely this issue must be the responsibility of the said Procurement Department. I think all the elected representatives present were quite surprised at what could be described as a classic contradiction.

Transition Board

There was a really interesting discussion on the Governance Transition Board. All the elected members present asked if the TB were obliged to publish minutes. Cllr Salih stated that as a public body, that are paid £4000 in allowances from the public purse, they should be forced to publish the minutes so that they can be scrutinised by the elected members of the council and indeed members of the public should they wish to. Cllr Conway urged his fellow councillors not to get to excited as he thought that it would be easier getting minutes fro the Freemasons or indeed ‘Common Purpose’ meetings. Cllr Kent-Baguley informed the meeting that as support staff from the council were used in relation the the TB it was essential that elected members are informed of the progress this body of people are making in relation to the brief that they have.

Budget Shortfall

The most interesting agenda item was the report given to the meeting by Central Services Director Paul Simpson. The good news was that the shortfall in the budget had reduced from £17million to just short of £11million. Many departments still faced a substantial overspend but through the non delivery of certain budget plans and strategic savings in various areas across the council, Mr Simpson was able to report on what is a healthy amount to come off the budget deficit. He also informed the meeting that officers were already working on the budget for the next financial year. Acting Chief Executive Tom Macartney stated that he was more confident with the figures for the new budget than he had been the previous ones. He voiced concerns over some department and their failure to stay on budget and he reminded the meeting that in the private sector this would result in heads of department loosing their jobs. Cllr Conway informed the meeting that the council were currently owed some £2.5million in council house rents and he warned Paul Simpson that there was no way he would support a rise in council house rents for the next financial and penalise those who were willing to pay, to subsidise those who would not pay. There was a long discussion about car parking charges across the city. Cllr Kieran Clarke, the cabinet members for resources came in for some criticism but in fairness he did not give an adequate response when questioned about his press release ragrding both the car parking issue and the voluntary redundancy programme. You can hear more about the issue of car parking in the audio interview below. The elected members scrutinised the officers on the proposed voluntary redundancy programme. In excess of 500 council employees have expressed an interest in taking this option. Departmental heads along with the various cabinet members with responsibility for those departments have assessed where positions can be cut without an impact on front-line services. The councillors present wanted assurance that services would be protected. There is a report going to cabinet this week with a recommendation that 243 council employees be offered a voluntary redundancy package and if it is agreed at cabinet, departmental heads can start to discuss the details with those employees. This scheme will only save the authority some £600,ooo in the present financial year. Cllr Shotton voiced his concerns that there was still a long way to go to achieve financial stability within the authority, a view shared by Paul Simpson the Director for Central Services and Tom Macartney the acting Chief Executive.

I was impressed with all the elected representatives present. The meeting was thorough and the officers present were questioned and their decisions scrutinised. Our council often gets criticised for being poor and fragmented, but here was an example of how good the process can be. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the elected representatives who were present at that meeting. This was local government working in all it’s full glory.

For more detail on some of the issues raised in this article, please listen to the following Audio Interviews with Cllr Mick Salih & Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley:

Report on Overview and Scrutiny Management Meeting”¦

Audio Interviews Now Online!

Today I attended a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee and in a kind of sad way, I really enjoyed it.

It was great to see the scrutiny process in full swing. The meeting was excellently chaired by Cllr Mark Davis and there were telling contributions for Cllr Paul Shotton, Cllr Mick Salih, Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley, Mike Coleman & Cllr Tom Reynolds. Cllr John Davies was also in attendance and there were late appearances by Cllr Dave Conway and Cllr Kieran Clarke.

The officer core was represented by Tom Macarntey the Acting Chief Executive and Paul Simpson, Director of Central Services.

The meeting got off to a controversial start with the elected members expressing their disgust at the fact that they were waiting for requested information from officers that had not been forth coming for the last two months. Paul Shotton was particularly critical of this as was Cllr Mick Salih and Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley. You can here more about this in the Audio Interview below.

City Farm

Cllr Tom Reynolds and Cllr John Davies both voiced concerns over the future of the City Farm. This popular facility is under threat despite being the subject of a review and a subsequent recommendation to explore ways of helping the City Farm to be more self funding. It had also been agreed that it should be helped to generate more income. Both councillors expressed concerns that once again there is a possibility that this popular attraction is a target for even more cuts or could ultimately be closed and they proposed a further review to see if more help could be given before the executive of the council get the chance to wield the axe. Tom Reynolds pointed out to the meeting that many of the officers who had worked on the original proposal regarding the City Farm and how it should be financed had now left the authority. This “Ëœnest flying’ reared it’s head on more than one of the topics discussed at the meeting.

Burslem.

The mother town came in for a fair amount of discussion at today’s meeting. Cllr Mick Salih raised concerns at the dilapidated state of what is said to be the most historical of the six towns. All elected members were disappointed at the fact that Burslem’s Indoor Market was still closed and was in a terrible state of repair. Questions were asked at why nothing had been done to get the market repaired and re-opened. Cllr Paul Shotton said that revenue from the other successful indoor markets across the city should have been directed towards Burslem Market instead of being used on “Ëœother council projects’. He pointed out that Hanley Market had not been redecorated since it was first opened.

Tender For the appointment of an Agency to oversee the recruitment of Agency staff!

No you haven’t read that wrong! Council officers are looking to put out to tender for the appointment of an agency to oversee the recruitment of agency staff. This is despite the Council Leader and his Executive stating publicly that the city council must cut down on the use of consultants and agency staff. Elected members questioned why, when the council have a procurement department should there be a need to employ the use of such an agency. Surely this issue must be the responsibility of the said Procurement Department. I think all the elected representatives present were quite surprised at what could be described as a classic contradiction.

Transition Board

There was a really interesting discussion on the Governance Transition Board. All the elected members present asked if the TB were obliged to publish minutes. Cllr Salih stated that as a public body, that are paid £4000 in allowances from the public purse, they should be forced to publish the minutes so that they can be scrutinised by the elected members of the council and indeed members of the public should they wish to. Cllr Conway urged his fellow councillors not to get to excited as he thought that it would be easier getting minutes fro the Freemasons or indeed “ËœCommon Purpose’ meetings. Cllr Kent-Baguley informed the meeting that as support staff from the council were used in relation the the TB it was essential that elected members are informed of the progress this body of people are making in relation to the brief that they have.

Budget Shortfall

The most interesting agenda item was the report given to the meeting by Central Services Director Paul Simpson. The good news was that the shortfall in the budget had reduced from £17million to just short of £11million. Many departments still faced a substantial overspend but through the non delivery of certain budget plans and strategic savings in various areas across the council, Mr Simpson was able to report on what is a healthy amount to come off the budget deficit. He also informed the meeting that officers were already working on the budget for the next financial year. Acting Chief Executive Tom Macartney stated that he was more confident with the figures for the new budget than he had been the previous ones. He voiced concerns over some department and their failure to stay on budget and he reminded the meeting that in the private sector this would result in heads of department loosing their jobs. Cllr Conway informed the meeting that the council were currently owed some £2.5million in council house rents and he warned Paul Simpson that there was no way he would support a rise in council house rents for the next financial and penalise those who were willing to pay, to subsidise those who would not pay. There was a long discussion about car parking charges across the city. Cllr Kieran Clarke, the cabinet members for resources came in for some criticism but in fairness he did not give an adequate response when questioned about his press release ragrding both the car parking issue and the voluntary redundancy programme. You can hear more about the issue of car parking in the audio interview below. The elected members scrutinised the officers on the proposed voluntary redundancy programme. In excess of 500 council employees have expressed an interest in taking this option. Departmental heads along with the various cabinet members with responsibility for those departments have assessed where positions can be cut without an impact on front-line services. The councillors present wanted assurance that services would be protected. There is a report going to cabinet this week with a recommendation that 243 council employees be offered a voluntary redundancy package and if it is agreed at cabinet, departmental heads can start to discuss the details with those employees. This scheme will only save the authority some £600,ooo in the present financial year. Cllr Shotton voiced his concerns that there was still a long way to go to achieve financial stability within the authority, a view shared by Paul Simpson the Director for Central Services and Tom Macartney the acting Chief Executive.

I was impressed with all the elected representatives present. The meeting was thorough and the officers present were questioned and their decisions scrutinised. Our council often gets criticised for being poor and fragmented, but here was an example of how good the process can be. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the elected representatives who were present at that meeting. This was local government working in all it’s full glory.

For more detail on some of the issues raised in this article, please listen to the following Audio Interviews with Cllr Mick Salih & Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley: