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:

Ross Irving speaks out on the Chris Harman saga!

Audio Interview Now Online!

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

By Tony Walley

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Ross Irving today gave his exclusive thoughts on a range of issues that have effected our city over the past few weeks.

The call for voluntary redundancies, the Boundary Committee recommendations, political fragmentation and of course the issue that has created a massive public outcry, the Chris Harman saga.

I would like to thank Ross for his valued contribution and his honest opinions.

Listen to the Audio Interview:

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1109/ross-irving-11-09.mp3]

Councillors’ credibility confirmed

Source PKB Blog

Outraged by the shoddiness of his report and the authoritarian manner in which it was presented with planned compulsory redundancies, councillors called an Extraordinary Full Council meeting on 6th August to to express their opposition to the Interim Assistant Chief Executive’s totally inappropriate report that planned the destruction of effective local neighbourhood management. Members unanimously agreed:

“to establish a Task and Finish group to consider the implications of the report and to review options for the structure of neighbourhood management and community engagement and requests the Cabinet not to implement the proposals until the Task and Finish group have reported their findings.”

Several weeks ago the Interim Assistant Chief Executive left the Council. That Task & Finish Group has made an excellent start on its work. It has been greatly encouraged today with the announcement by Denise Grant, Head of Neighbourhood Services, that the whole sorry saga has been ended:

“Having considered the feedback from staff and customers submitted in response to the restructure proposals and as there can be no implementation of the proposals while they are being reviewed by the Task and Finish Group, we believe that the best course of action is to withdraw the current restructure proposals. Therefore, a Chief Officer Report has been submitted to withdraw the proposals and the report has been agreed and signed by Jeanette McGarry (Director – Housing, Environmental & Neighbourhood Services).  This means that the threat of compulsory redundancies, as detailed in the proposals, is removed from all staff within Neighbourhood Services.”

So, congratulations for commonsense, and increasingly, councillors’ control.

Council hit out at audit report on Regeneration.

Audio Interview Now Online!

By Tony Walley.

Hazel Lyth

Hazel Lyth

Stoke on Trent City Council cabinet member for economic development and culture, councillor Hazel Lyth has hit out at an Audit Commission report which grades the council’s regeneration programme as ‘fair’.

Cllr Lyth said that the audit which was conducted back in February was outdated as the concerns that were raised at the time were in hand and have now been addressed.

The audit questioned whether projects might be effected by funding shortages. There was also concerns over the NSRP’s website.

On Thursady I caught up with Cllr Lyth and discussed the Audit Commissions report and her response to it. Listen to this Audio Interview:

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/hazel-lyth.mp3]

Wilkes is back to play “Dick” in the Panto

By Matt Taylor

Updated with audio interviews by Tony Walley

The cast on the balcony of Longton Town Hall

The cast on the balcony of Longton Town Hall

So’s who’s in this year’s panto at the Regent? I’ll give you one guess…yep, you’re right, it’s “I’m Robbie’s bestest mate” Jonny Wilkes. I must admit, when the news hit my ears I hardly jumped for joy. But then again, nor would I have been likely to have done for the likes of any other panto-star coming to town since I am not the first through the door to shout ‘oh yes he is’ in the inanely repetitive manner. At least this start of the small stage doesn’t need to come far or give up his part in an equally inane family soap to grace Hanley’s boards.

But, so it seems, in the luvvy world, his face being persistently pasted on the theatre walls at Christmas is a welcome addition to the stage calendar. And judging by the rapture of applause he got at today’s launch, there are many who think Wilkes and the panto are welcome survivors of the oldest of family outings. So, I guess I’ll just have to leave personal grumblings aside.

This year’s show is Dick Whittington, and as he put it, Wilkes is coming back after playing other roles in the last four pantos to play Dick. And as someone heckled from the audience, he looked a proper one. But he came on in his own cocky style at today’s launch and won over the crowd, promising to change the traditional ‘hello everyone’ as he walks on stage to ‘ay up duck’ before launching into a song which he performed at the same time as wandering around the room looking for women to serenade in a club style that would have made special guest Pete Conway proud. And I’m sure come November, he’ll be winning over panto audiences from all over with his cheeky chappie charm.

But so they tell us, it’s not the cliched and outdated charade some like me might claim. The video that welcomed guests portrays the show as something that can equally entertain the whole family, something most shows are unable to do, in what is often kids’ first visit to the theatre. And apparently, the backdrops, the costumes, and also the script have been embellished – now with a fully Stokified script. Now, it seems, Dick travels along the Trent and Mersey rather than the Thames, and ends up in Longton rather than London, and the Dame has been renamed Fairy Oatcakes from whatever she was known as before.

And aside from this, there is some genuine talent in the show. The cast apart from Wilkesey includes Sheila Ferguson who remembers singing her lungs out at Jollies for the Three Degrees, and proved she still has the voice today, Amy Diamond, a singer/actress/model who satisfies any of bored dads’ needs for a bit of eye-candy, and hell, she can sing a note as well. Plus there’s Su Annagib, the winner of Stoke’s Top Talent who not only has a part in the panto, but also teaches at Stoke College.

One of the guest piped up: “It’s great to see that someone from Stoke is in the show, and to celebrate the number of talented people in Stoke that was shown in Stoke’s Top Talent.”

Too right, let’s have more of them on stage next year. In fact, why can’t we have one of them playing the lead?

Then, from a young man who evidently had a disability, came a question which, unfortunately for Wilkes, was indecipherable. But Jonny answered the guy with the pretty offensive “yes, I agree with everything you just said” – hardly the most tactful response one could have come up with.

Dick Whittington, I am sure, will be a success, at least in the eyes of those who think the thigh-slapping fun is still worth the price of the ticket. I am one, I am afraid, who is not quite yet convinced.

Interview with Sheila Ferguson

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/sheila-ferguson.mp3]

Interview with Jonathan Wilkes

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/jon-wilkes.mp3]

Joan ‘Reach’es into the heart of the community.

Joan Walley MP

Joan Walley MP

Audio Interview Now Online!

By Tony Walley.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the ‘Reach 4 it’ project in Burslem.

The project is a 10 week programme aimed at helping 16-18 year old who fall into the Not in Education, Employment or Training [NEET’s] category decide what the next step in their lives will be.

Reach 4 it has a 92% success rate and has an excellent participant/staff ratio.

The staff on the project were enthusiastic and made sure everyone was included in the activities and discussions – even Joan Walley MP!

During my visit I was fortunate to catch up with Joan Walley MP, a tireless worker for her constituents and always eager to help and listen to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North.

It was a pleasure to watch her interact with the young people on this programme and I am sure that they appreciated Joan’s interest in what they had to say.

She displayed a ‘I’m on your wave length’ attitude and instead of appearing to be superior she showed that she could interact with them on a level. She was really interested in their thoughts on a range of issues like drinking in public, anti social behaviour and youth facilities.

Joan gave me her views  a range of issues such as the ‘Reach 4 it’ project, young people, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the General Election, listen to this Audio Interview:

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/joan-walley.mp3]

‘BARNES’torms – ‘ROSS’reacts

By Tony Walley.

Audio Interviews now online!

We have two fantastic Audio Interviews for you to start this  this week!

Full of party angst and debate. The subjects covered by both Mike Barnes [Labour Group Leader] and Ross Irving [Council Leader] will be of interest to everyone.

The new chief executive, the fire authority debate, the Springfield Academy, the BNP and the possibility of compulsory redundancies within the City Council workforce are all discussed in detail by these guys in no holds barred straight talking interviews.

Look out for some very interesting comparison from Mike Barnes over the BNP governor issue and Cllr Lee Wanger!

Listen now:

Mike Barnes:

Part 1

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/mike-barnes1.mp3]

Part 2

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/mike-barnes2.mp3]

Ross Irving:

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/ross-irving.mp3]

Make your points in the usual way……

Leader speaks out – The half term report!

Audio Interview Now Online!

By Tony Walley & Mike Rawlins.

On Friday Mike Rawlins and myself went to interview Council Leader Ross Irving, it is a little over 3 months since Ross was voted in to the position of Council Leader.  We wanted to ask him  how he thought things were going and what the future holds.

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

Since the council chamber reconvened after the summer recess, two very big stories have hit the news.

Earlier this week the news broke that Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman and his officers are to recommend that the responsibility for Children & Young Peoples Services, be taken back in house.

This would mean an end to Serco’s involvement in education and the care of the vulnerable children in our city.

In this special audio interview, council leader Ross Irving pays tribute to the work of Ged Rowney and his team reveals the councils plans to build on the success of the Serco team.

Ross also gives us his thoughts on the location of the new Parkhall Academy which will give hope to the Springfield Action Group, but will also bring despair the the campaigners fighting to save Mitchell High School.

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0909/ross-irving-180909-1.mp3]

In the second part of the audio interview, Ross describes the difficult task ahead to balance the books after the revelation that our council faces a budget deficit of some £17million. We also get his thoughts on possible council jobs cuts, outsourcing and the prospect of a near 5% rise in next years council tax.

Ross also give us his assessment as we enter into his first winter as council leader.

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0909/ross-irving-180909-2.mp3]

As usual, your thoughts and comments on Ross’s answers are welcome………..

As we were leaving the leaders office with Ross he told us how the office used to be the Treasury Department and showed us the safe where the money used to be kept.  This is now used as the stationery cupboard, so when they say the are looking at cost savings in the council you can rest assured that even the pens are kept locked away to help save money.

Council Leader Ross Irving, the keeper of the stationary!

Council Leader Ross Irving, the keeper of the stationery!

We thank Ross for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.

Exclusive: Council Leader & Opposition Leader Speak Out!

Audio Interviews Now Online!

By Tony Walley & Mike Rawlins.

The two men were in attendance at the Civic Centre today.

Both looking tanned and ready for action, both with the interests of the City at heart, but both going in different directions.

Ross Irving - Conservative & Independent Alliance Leader.

Ross Irving - Council Leader

Council Leader Ross Irving is just back from a conference in Portugal on Healthy Cities. He gives us his reaction on the formulation of his first cabinet and his vision for the coming months. He also clears up some of the rumours that are doing the rounds.

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0609/ross-irving-23-06.MP3]

New Council Leader Mike Barnes

Council Opposition Leader Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes is just back from a family holiday in the Greek Isles. He looks refreshed and ready for action. He talks about loosing three prominent members of his group and how his group will get to grips with being the official opposition on the City Council. He also talks about his plans to re-engage with the electorate and to oust the BNP from traditional areas of Labour support.

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0609/mike-barnes-23-06.MP3]

We would like to thank Ross & Mike for taking the time out of their busy schedules to speak to us today.

Breaking News! Ross Irving Elected as new Council Leader [Audio update 1600]

By Tony Walley & Mike Rawlins

New Council Leader Ross Irving

New Council Leader Ross Irving

It has just been announced that Ross Irving has been elected to the role of Council Leader by 26 – 21 votes.

Ross who was elected in a secret ballot this afternoon will take the role of Council Leader on Monday 8 June replacing the current Elected Mayor, Mark Meredith.

Tony Walley interviewed Ross straight after the election, listen to what our new council leader had to say

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0609/friday5/ross-irving.mp3]

Ross in his speech said “its a funny old word and who would of thought it! The people of Stoke deserve better than they have had”  He called for unity across the chamber.  He said he would work with all present in the chamber, shame the BNP left after round 2 of the voting..

Brian Ward asked for the secret ballot which was passed, the BNP had asked for a named vote which failed to get any support.  Roger Ibbs put a motion forward that every candidate should speak to the councillors for 5 minutes each to outline their vision for the city.  The motion was overwhelmingly defeated, it seems that the councillors are not interested in what their new leader will be doing when he gets in office.

Peter Kent-Baguley was the first candidate to be knocked out of the election followed by Alby Walker of the BNP in round 2.  The BNP members left the chamber as soon as this was announced.  Round 3 saw Mike Barnes leave the race after the vote was held with just 49 councillors and the elected mayor.  The final round of voting saw Ross Irving leader of the Conservative and Independent Alliance up against Brian Ward the leader of the City Independents.

Listen to the reaction of the other candidates

Mike Barnes

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0609/friday5/mike-barnes.mp3]

Peter Kent-Baguley

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0609/friday5/pkb.mp3]

Brian Ward

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/0609/friday5/brian-ward.mp3]

Tony was unable to get an interview with Alby Walker

We wish Ross all the very best in his new role as Council Leader and hope that we can work together in the future to promote Stoke-on-Trent in a positive way.

Lord Mayor

Lord Mayor Jean Bowers

Lord Mayor Jean Bowers

During this mornings council meeting, Jean Bowers was elected as the new Lord Mayor of the city taking over from Derek Capey. Jean was proposed by Kieran Clarke and seconded by Alan Rigby

The new Lord Mayor in her first speech said ” I have made mistakes in the past and I can’t promise that I won’t make any in the future but I promise I will do my best!”

Denver Tolley was elected deputy Lord Mayor Proposed by Mark Davis & seconded by Ross Irving.

We all wish Jean and Denver the all the best in the run up to the 100 anniversary of the federation of the 6 Towns.