Inside the civic

The big news this week, as hinted in my last column, was the resignation of Deputy Lord Mayor Khan as he prepares to once again face the Standards Committee. This is certainly an honourable decision, however why it took so long (and a Labour group meeting) to convince Khan to resign perhaps signifies how unaware certain councillors are about what the public think of their conduct. Continue reading

Inside the Civic

Those who thought all out elections would bring some stability to our Council must be feeling embarrassed this week as Council Leader Mohammed Pervez took a scalpel to his cabinet, cutting out the disobedient Gratton and challenger Hill, and carving up the other portfolios in what is quite clearly more than the ‘tweaking’ he described it as.

The introduction of Platt and Dutton is seen as a nod to the left wingers in the group, who re-emerged in 2011 to rival the modernisers who were in danger of taking over Labour. Continue reading

Former Stoke-on-Trent Councillors Cleared of Wrongdoing

Former Stoke-on-Trent City Councillors Mark Davis and Hazel Lyth today welcomed the publication of the findings of a Stoke-on-Trent City Council investigation into their conduct which categorically cleared them of any wrong doing.

The allegations, which were made public by former Councillor Mike Barnes, centred on the relationship between Mr Davis and Ms Hazel Lyth and a company called PREM Management. It was alleged that both Mr Davis and Ms Lyth used their positions as city councillors to gain advantage for the company, and that they failed to publically declare interests in the firm.

After an investigation lasting over seven months, a committee of councillors and independent members has decided that neither Mr Davis nor Ms Lyth committed any breach of the council’s strict code of conduct. The investigation into the allegations involved extensive interviews, and research into the affairs of the company and was carried out by an independent legal officer of the City Council.

Mr Davis said

My honesty and integrity are massively important to me and I am very pleased that the Standards Committee have found me completely innocent of the allegations against me. Having this shadow hanging over me and my family for the last seven months has been very difficult and I am glad that the process has come to an end. Sadly, the whole thing was made a lot worse by the decision of a now former councillor to publish details of the confidential complaint on the internet.

Ms Lyth said

I am glad that the committee have finally cleared me and that I can move on with no stain on my character. The allegations against Mark and I were without foundation and I have maintained my innocence throughout the investigation. The damage inflicted by the unfounded accusations has taken a heavy toll on all innocent parties included in the complaint and lives, businesses and careers have been deeply affected. Whilst I appreciate that due diligence must take its’ course; it is sad that it has taken so many months to reach this conclusion and that Mark and I have had to suffer in silence, long after leaving the council.

It is understood that a separate investigation is being undertaken into former councillor Mike Barnes and his conduct in publicising the initial complaint.

This is a reposting of an article from 13 October that got lost in the server update

Audio Interviews with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Newly Appointed Cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has to day named the Labour Group Councillors who are to serve on his cabinet.

The cabinet line up is as follows:

* Councillor Paul Shotton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources;

* Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance;

* Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development;

* Councillor Adrian Knapper, cabinet member for planning & transportation;

* Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration;

* Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for city services;

* Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing & neighbourhoods;

* Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for adult social care, health & commissioning; and

* Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services and life skills.

We are pleased to bring you audio interviews with Pervez, Sarah Hill, Mark Meredith and Adrian Knapper.

We will bring you more audio interviews with the cabinet members in the weeks to come.

” Well this might surprise you all – Well done Pervez.

“This seems like a good start with a clever balance of maintaining experience with new and competent faces, as well as a mix of left and not so left.

“Having a single strong group in the driving seat especially for four years does hold out some potential for sustained and clear direction.

“Key to this, firstly, will be how quickly the new political regime builds up its confidence, no longer shackled by the unpredictable coalition. No more worrying about how or if something will go through the full council.

“Secondly will be how the Labour Party in the City responds to the opportunities now open to them, for example developing a strong broad policy to direct the officers and the council over the next four years. This will be the test for the structures put in place during the more uncertain times within the Labour Party itself.

“There are many challenges to come, but despite our political differences, I know many of the new councillors and know that there is some talent there now in depth.
Give them all a chance – be more confident – take political control back from the officers – deliver.

Good Luck”.

500 Words From Mike Barnes

This year’s local elections are more important than ever for the City, as well as for Dresden and Florence. My priority is to protect and continue the great improvements in Dresden and Florence that have been achieved over the last few years by the hard working community groups, Dresden Residents Association, Florence Residents Association and the Queens Park Partnership working alongside myself.

I am extremely pleased that Lilian Dodd, from Dresden Res Assoc and Queens Park Partnership has proposed my nomination in the election along with many others including Sue Walley, chair of Queens Park Partnership and Steve Mallam who plans and organises many of the events in Longton Park.

There have been many successes, top of the list is the transformation of Longton Park, which only a couple of years ago was in a terrible state, but working together it is once again becoming the Park I certainly remember as a boy growing up in the area.

Whilst I do take a prominent and active role in the council itself, my ward and community work has always been my first priority. Working with the local volunteers we have a new community hall opening shortly as well as a new community garden designed by pupils from a local high school. Notice boards have been erected to keep residents informed, new fencing in many areas to deal with anti social behaviour. We authorised £8,000 for extra policing in our area as well as £36,000 for 4 part time youth workers. The Park has had new fishing pegs, a fountain, a new playground, bridge repaired, a new adult gym, path improvements, bandstand has been painted and a bid has gone in for a cafe. Through ward funding I’ve paid for Florence Bowling Club to have a new lawn mower, the scout hall has had a new heating system and the local luncheon club for the elderly has had a new potato peeler. Three local volunteer youth clubs have been given £12,000 between them for equipment. There is lots, lots more I could list.

As your councillor I don’t claim to have made a difference to Dresden and Florence on my own. We are extremely lucky to have 3 hard working community groups without whom none of the improvements would have been possible, and its a privilege to see people who care, get up and do stuff, instead of just moaning about it. We’ve done it together and I want the chance to carry on being a part of that and hope that you will vote for me on May 5th.

I have lived all of my life in and around Dresden and Florence and would love to continue to help maintain what I think is a great place to live.

On a City level my priority will be to continue to passionately fight to protect the services that mean the most to people, particularly those that affect the most vulnerable ““ the elderly, disabled and children, which seem to be easy targets for the cuts and constantly under threat.

My no nonsense, “say it how it is” work in the council has seen plans for posh offices for officers and senior councillors costing £800,000 scrapped; the number of consultants slashed as well as countless wrongdoing and mismanagement exposed. Hopefully this means we can start to move forward in a positive way. It doesn’t always win me too many friends at the council but I never give up on an issue and this has paid dividends time and again in helping local residents with issues and changing the council’s mind on important matters that affect every one of us.

I am also very proud to have led the campaign that got rid of the Elected Mayor system, the only successful campaign of its kind in the country.

My aim is to continue to represent you, Dresden and Florence as well as the City with the same passion and commitment I have shown since last being elected in 2007.

Please consider voting for me, Mike Barnes, on May 5th. I won’t let you down.

Take the party out of politics.

North Staffs Trade Union Council Launches Anti-Cuts Campaign

I’m writing this as a blog rather than a news item because I want to select aspects of interest to me and interleave my own opinions. The NSTUC held a public meeting about the cuts on 18th August 2010 at the “ËœHope Centre’ in Garth Street, Hanley. I attended primarily as a worker and a union member but also out of general interest about people’s reactions to the cuts and planned cuts and as an occasional blogger.

Jason Hill, president of NSTUC, chaired the meeting and introduced a panel of speakers who it was stressed were expressing personal views not necessarily those of the TUC. Jason estimated that ~100 people attended but hadn’t counted, I estimated ~70 and didn’t count either. So let’s say ~85. He thought attendance was high, I thought it was not nearly enough given that thousands of jobs are likely to go.

I found, although I agreed with many points raised, that the message was largely a bit simplistic, along the lines of cuts are bad so we need to have protest demonstrations, although there were a few higher quality contributions from some.

Chris Bambury of right to work campaign said we have a nasty but weak government, he opposes increases in the pension age and VAT and wants to save money by stopping the Afghan war and trident. I agree with his preferred cuts, but I think the previous government was a bit more nasty and a lot more dishonest.

Andy Bentley of the universities and colleges union criticised Stoke-on-Trent council for agreeing to make 32% cuts and focussing on playing off much needed services against eachother in deciding these cuts. He wants to defend services and jobs and recommends a one day general strike of public sector workers. I would agree that action beyond just a protest would be good.

Mike Barnes, community voice councillor, said the council’s consultant led “Ëœlean thinking’ policy means mass redundancies and service cuts, communities and trade unions should campaign against this. Agreed.

Liat Norris of youth fight for jobs said university students having to live on very little have to juggle work and studies. He thinks EMA is needed at a higher level but will be cut out, apprenticeships should be at least at minimum wage and have a job at the end. Cuts will lead to youth unemployment and temporary contracts. I agree with him about the adverse effect of the cuts would go further, I think university students in a climate of high unemployment will struggle to find those jobs to supplement the loan plus any grant. I can’t agree on the EMA though. To me that has only ever been a temporary bribe to keep people off the unemployment figures while 16-18 education is made compulsory. I don’t agree with raising the age of compulsory education as it doesn’t suit everyone. Also, as child benefit goes up to age 19 if in education/training, why have EMA as well? I agree on apprenticeships, without having a job at the end they are nothing different to YTS.

Neil Singh of the communication workers union wants nationalised industries and thinks there is no point talking to the likes of David Cameron and Vince Cable. I agree some services are best nationalised but disagree about refusing talks just for silly party political reasons.

Tony Conway of the public and commercial services union rattled on about all sorts of bodies that would be cut, many of which I had never heard of and sounded a bit like unnecessary labour quangos introduced to give jobs to their mates. He actually began to convince me the tories are right about some of the cuts anyway. He said “Phillip Green is a tax dodger who has a personal wealth of billions”. I do agree that bringing in such a person to inflict cuts on the poor is “Ëœa bit rich’.

Kassem Al-Khatib, labour councillor, said it would be crazy for labour councillors to vote against the budget. He did not go down well, largely we thought he was the one who was crazy if he would vote for cuts against the wishes of the electorate. I did agree with him that there should be no redundancies for any business in profit though.

Jenny Harvey from unison in the health service made an excellent point I thought, that the biggest threat was not the cuts, but under the guise of choice and freedom the door being opened for global companies to get control of NHS money. Public services should be accountable to us, not shareholders. Bank taxes would be an alternative to cuts. I liked the comments she made the best of all of them.

The general discussion was along the lines that everyone should work together to campaign against cuts to services and facilities that we want, but at the same time some took the chance to have a go at each other.

I will pick just some comments from the general discussion that I thought particularly stood out, most people did not state their names.

Someone from the probation service union said labour, tory and libdems are all to blame and reminded us how rich Blair has become.

Someone else suggested anti-cuts alliances should involve both private and public services. There can be successes. DHL workers had campaigned successfully when redundancies had been targeted specifically at union members.

Paul Sutton said he was terrified to lose his job as who will employ him, over 50, there shouldn’t be age discrimination but it happens. He specifically had a go at Tristram Hunt, who was there, for the previous labour government having got us into debt and started the cuts and asked him if he would now support a campaign against cuts in pay and jobs in the civil service. Tristram Hunt said nothing.

Someone said we need to establish whether our elected representatives are with us or against us, a broad union of left winged and nationalist parties is needed.

Someone else said our councillors should vote against cuts as we need a voice in the council chamber. At the next election we should vote out councillors who support the cuts and vote in those who vote against the cuts. An answer is needed from MPs and councillors. The MP and councillors there not on the panel said nothing in response.

Arthur criticised the trade unions themselves and said left to union leaders the campaign would focus on the public sector, but a wider campaign is needed. The state is also the enemy. Instead of striking a good idea is to occupy facilities planned for closure.

Someone from the department for work and pensions who is losing his job and can’t find another said we should go back to the workplace and encourage involvement in campaigning. He talked about action and hope, but I also award him the prize for the emotive quote of the evening, referring to David Cameron’s policies, “he wants his big society shoving up his arse”.

The panel made some final comments, the best from Chris about approaching young workers to rebuild the trade union movement, grass roots activity and a general strike. There are closures and privatisations now, we can’t wait for the TUC or it will be all over. I award him the prize for the best summing up comment of the evening “the TUC has done nothing over the last 30 years”.

Group Leaders Interviews RE: Coalition Agreement

Following the news that Stoke-on-Trent is set to be run by a 4-party coalition, we are pleased to bring you some exclusive Audio Interviews with the group leaders concerned.

Mohammed Pervez [Labour], Kieran Clarke [Lib Dem], Brian Ward [City Independents] and Mike Barnes on behalf of one of the parties likely to be in opposition, the Non-Aligned Group, all give their thoughts on this pioneering move to share the responsibility for the running of the council in what is thought to be one of the most difficult periods in the Councils history.

Listen to the Audio Interviews below…

DA’s Report into the Britannia Stadium Sale Descends into Farce!

The Audit Committee for Wednesday 19 May, already delayed from Monday 17 May, has now been cancelled because the report from the District Auditor on the Sale of Stoke-on-Trent’s City Council’s shares in the Britannia Stadium to Stoke City Football Club, still could not be made ready in time.

The report has now been put back to the 20 June 2010. Sorry to be suspicious or cynical but by the 20 June ““ Mick Salih, myself and PKB could have been removed from the Audit Committee by the new “coalition”.

It was October 2008 ““ yes 2008! ““ when I first submitted my complaints to the District Auditor.

This raises the question of the effectiveness and competence of the DA’s office in Stoke-on-Trent, and I know a number of us are considering an official complaint.

Little did I know then, that such simple questions as “who decided on instalments” and “why weren’t the councillors told of the instalments plan” would take so long to answer that we have had 2 new chief executives in the intervening period.

Farce almost seems like an inadequate description: little wonder that many councillors or the public have no faith in the accuracy of information from the council, or the ability of our democratic system to hold decision makers to account.

Once again we have little more to do that speculate over the latest foot dragging.

I rather suspect that some mentioned in the DA’s report are very unhappy with its conclusions and are frantically pressurising him to alter its wording.

One silver lining that has come out of this cloud of a delay, is the return to high office of those that were at the helm and the centre of this scandal when all this occurred.

A primary element of Democracy’s survival is trust.

In particular, trust in those appointed to manage and facilitate its fair and proper function. Trust that information is accurate. Trust nothing is hidden away to deceive those elected by the public. Trust that accountability is held at its heart.

At the moment this is absent from the corridors and senior offices of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Reportergate: Standards Board Conclusion – Barnes Speaks Out!

The Standards Board for England have concluded their investigations into one of the most fascinating stories in Stoke-on-Trent’s recent political history.

Mike Barnes has today spoken out on the incident that ended his political career in the Labour Party.

He also confirms that at the time of the ‘Reportergate’ incident he was under extreme stress as a result of the Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council removing the posts of political assistants.

He has revealed that he has a history of suffering from depression.

Writing on his blog today Mike Barnes said:

The Standards Board for England have now concluded their investigation into allegations made against me and the summary is presented at the bottom of this statement.

The conclusions of the Standards Board are that I did break the Code of Code of the Council Para 5, in that I did not meet the standards expected of the office of councillor. However, they have also concluded that I do NOT bring the City Council or that of all councillors into disrepute.

The report states:

“It has been alleged that Councillor Barnes’s motivation in ringing CWCC was to spread rumours. In considering this, I note first that Councillor Barnes chose to call the CWCC press office implying he was from the media. A local authority press office is designed to ensure, first, that the release of information about the authority and its staff is controlled as far as is possible; and second, that information available to journalists in particular is accurate. The response of the officers who dealt with the call, immediate escalation and denial of the false rumour, was in my view entirely predictable. Although Councillor Barnes, through his call, contributed in a small way to spreading the rumour, my view is that those he spread it to were in the business of repudiating false rumours. I do not therefore accept that he could be reasonably seen as rumour-mongering himself.”

“No plausible motive for rumour-mongering has come to light in this investigation: no party claims that Councillor Barnes bore Mr Robinson any ill will”

“Once Councillor Barnes received information that the rumour was untrue, he moved quickly to stop its further spread.”

The Standards Board decision is that “no action needs to be taken”.

I am entirely happy with the outcome of the investigation by the Standards Board and fully expected its outcome.

I apologised and admitted my error immediately after it came to light.

I held my integrity and honest in high regard and it has deeply upset me that I let myself, my family and the public down.

I am only human though, and as such make mistakes, and only hope to learn from them to move forward.

He has also hit out at the way the matter was handled by some sections of the local media, the City Council and the Labour Party.

He wrote:

However, I am very concerned by the actions and statements made by Stoke-on-Trent City Council on this matter in my absence on the 6 October 2009, as I believe, along with BBC Radio Stoke, greatly inflated and embellished the accusations, which caused much more media hype and also greater distress to my family and myself.

I am therefore calling for a full formal investigation by Stoke-on-Trent City Council into the actions and statements made to the media and in briefing other councillors at time of the incident, by the City Council.

I lay part of the blame for my actions at the City Council and the Labour Party.

Firstly, Stoke-on-Trent City Council removed the post of political assistants just as I became leader. With the great upheaval within the council, this lead to much more work and pressure on Group Leaders, at a time of dealing with the major issues of the boundaries commission and the new Leader and Cabinet system.

Two weeks prior to the incident I spoke to the Council Leader and the Chief Executive and made it quite clear that I was struggling without a political assistant to the detriment of my health. They just laughed at me.

Secondly, it is no secret that I became leader of a split Labour Group, with many opposed to my appointment. In that six months much needed to be done, candidates, proper policies etc.

Instead, I had to answer to the NEC of the Labour Party, about allegation after allegation. From kicking the seats of other members, to “mental instability”. All absolute rubbish. In the final desperate days they even started accusations of discrimination against women. The West Midlands regional director chose not to speak to me for 3 years. Some Labour Group members were, quite frankly evil. I have no doubt that many wanted revenge for my taking a high profile part in the removal of the Elected Mayor.

Writing about his history of depression he said:

It is no secret that I, amongst many thousands of other people suffer from depression on occasion. It will be of interest to those suffers, that the NEC interviewed me about complaints of mental instability from senior member of the Labour Group. These Labour members think that suffering from the disability of depression means you are mentally unstable.

It shows how desperate they were in that rather than supporting my disability they chose to use it against me, and add to it, for their own ends.

The whole ‘Potteye’ article includes the full summary by the Standards Board of England. It can be accessed by clicking on the link at the foot of this story.

We will be recording an interview with Mike Barnes in the next few days.