Stoke-on-Trent Olympic Torch Relay Live Blog

We’ve linked up with My Tunstall and Knot FM to create an Olympic Torch Relay live blog so even if you can’t make it to Hanley Park for the event you should be able to keep up to date with what people are tweeting and saying on-line.

The live blog will run while the Olympic Torch is in Stoke-on-Trent on Wednesday night & Thursday morning. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent Councillor Roy Naylor Considers Legal Action Over Group Expulsion

Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor Roy Naylor is considering taking legal advice over his former Group Leader’s disclosure to the press that he has council tax and rent arrears.

Mr Naylor is now listed on the Council website as a “Ëœnon-aligned’ councillor.

Cllr Naylor broke the news of his expulsion from the City Independent Group over the weekend, but today he said that he was disgusted at how his former group leader Brian Ward and his colleagues had handled the issue.

He declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his expulsion but confirmed that he was taking legal advice about his group’s disclosure of his personal circumstances.

He was also angry about finding out that he had been kicked out of the CIG from member services instead of from his former group leader.

He also hit out at Cllr Brian Wards comments in the Sentinel that he had refused to attend the City Independent Group meeting last Wednesday to discuss a
range of issues relating to his situation.

” i am incredibly upset at the accusation that I refused to attend our group meeting.

“I had already emailed the group leader well in advance of the meeting to advise him that I was unable to attend do to circumstances beyond my control.

“To suggest I refused is just untrue.

“I have no problem acknowledging that I have some financial issues but I don’t want to comment further because me and my wife are taking legal advice about how my issues were disclosed through the press.

“I would like to make it clear that I have every intention of standing for election in the Blurton West and Newstead ward. I am confident that the hard work that I have put into helping the residents and groups in the area in the absence of any support from a fellow councilor who is a cabinet member will stand me in good stead come election time.’

”I would not have made any comment about the matter had Cllr Naylor not have contacted the local newspaper.”

“The facts are that our group are more than aware of Roy’s circumstances and wanted to discuss the ward arrangement and who stands where.

The also wanted to hear from Roy why he had not showed up to chair the Overview & Scrutiny management committee the past two meetings, a role for which he gets paid.

” I feel that our group were left with no option but to expel him. He did not walk away like he said on Twitter”

On Thursday 25th November 2010, @Blurtoncllr said:
STATEMENT from CLLR ROY NAYLOR

I have today informed the Leader of the City Independent Group, that at the May Election in 2011 I will be standing for the New Ward, which consists of most parts of the Blurton Farm Estate and Newstead.

From there I also advised him I was not intending to stand this time as a City Independent Candidate, but as a stand alone Independent. His response to this was that he would stand Head to Head with me, as an opponent.

I have worked very hard in the last 3 years for the area, and feel that I have received very little support, so that has been the reason behind my decision (sic) to stand alone, as I believe I can if re-elected do just as much if not more for the area, and not being in a Group would leave me free to be in the Ward even more than I am now. As from May 2011 there will only be one Councillor for that area instead of the present three, I feel it would be better for residents to have someone that isn’t tied up in meetings at the Civic Centre most of the week.

Until May I will continue to work hard for all the present area’s that make up the Blurton & Newstead Ward.
The changes to the Ward is due to the decision (sic) to decrease the number of Councillors from 60 to 44 and the change of Ward Boundaries to make smaller wards.

Cllr Naylor’s expulsion has also been attacked from other members in the chamber.

” Well the Independent Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council have shown their true colours yesterday.
How many people out there are struggling to get a job, pay bills, or are struggling to pay mortgages or rent?

How sad it is then that when one of their own, Cllr Roy Naylor, suffers what many ordinary residents are having to cope with, they decide to turn their back on him.

I have alot of respect for Roy Naylor, if nothing else he has worked hard for the Independent Group over many, many years. But in his hour of need, he really found out who his friends are.

Roy has fell behind wit his council tax, and rent, not a crime, nor I suspect entirly unusual at this time for many in Stoke-on-Trent. The law does say a councillor can’t deal with financial matters when in arrears (a position I would question), so the Independents, led by Brian Ward, his fellow ward councillor in Blurton, have thrown him out of their “Party”.

If this is how they treat their own, what hope for the rest of us.

With friends like that who needs enemies.

Good Luck Roy. Hope things turn around for you and your family.

Cllr Roy Naylor may not be the only councillor taking a ride aboard the political roundabout, watch this space.

LSP Quango Should Be Scrapped

Upon returning from my annual holiday, the first headline in the local media to hit me was the ConLib Governments cuts to Area Based Grants (£3.4m) administered by the LSP, but responsible to (accountable body) Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The Area Based Grant system gives government funding to priorities and targets set and agreed by DCLG and our LSP.
Area Based Grants are basically former local government funding top sliced from democratic control (£35 million) and handed to a non-elected quango to spend.

The cuts in the media seemed very detailed and it was also reported that the decisions had already been made. This struck me as odd, because, although I knew that cuts had to be made, as a councillor or residents, I wasn’t aware of any consultation or imminent decision.

So I made some inquiries and was staggered to learn what had gone on.

No councillor or Elected Member, scrutiny committee, Cabinet Member, appears to have been consulted or made aware of the proposals or decisions either prior to, or following the announced cuts.

The LSP has a Board (members listed below) but even that did not make these decisions. A body called the LSP Chairs Group decided where the £3.5m cuts would go. As of yet I have been refused a copy of the minutes nor can I obtain a list of its membership.

Absolutely no democratically Elected Members, accountable to the public were party to these decisions, even though the Chair of the LSP is none other than the Deputy Leader of the Council, Ross Irving.

The cuts will have a massive effect on those that provide them and well as those receiving the services from them, yet the impact on the City Council own budget cannot be underestimated.

Many of the services cut are provided by the City Council either on its own or jointly with partners or voluntary organisations. This will have serious implications for the City Council budgets, passing the blame onto the City Council.

Unelected Quango Bureaucrats making decisions behind closed doors ““ councillors once again carrying the can and getting the blame.

I hope the other councillors, like me take issue with the LSP and its cuts, and the the Government scraps this out of control, anti-democratic quango at the earliest opportunity.

List of LSP Board Members:

*Councillor Ross Irving (Chair) – Cabinet Member for Partnerships and Transition

*Henriette Lyttle-Breukelaar – Advantage West Midlands

*Mike Ramsey – Government Office West Midlands

*Shane Bryans – Government Office West Midlands

*Alan Turley – Local Strategic Partnership

*Councillor Roy Naylor – Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee

*Martin Chadwick – Voluntary Sector

*Carol Beardsall – Community Sector

*Asif Mehmood – BME Forum

*Lloyd Cooke – Faiths Forum

*Bryan Carnes – North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce

*Helen Pegg – Further Education

*Dr Teeranlall Ramgopal – Staffordshire University

*Kevin Mattinson – Keele University

*Sarah Robinson – Stoke-on-Trent College

*Peter Dartford – Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service

*Julie Carruthers – Jobcentre Plus

*Councillor Randolph Conteh – Staffordshire Police Authority

*Bernie O’Reilly – Staffordshire Constabulary

*Jane Sawyers – Staffordshire Constabulary

*Graham Urwin – Stoke-on-Trent Primary Care Trust

*Chris Dawes – NHS Stoke-on-Trent

*Hardial Bhogal – North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership

*Barbara Jones – Staffordshire Probation Service

*John van de Laarschot – Stoke-on-Trent City Council

*Tony Oakman – Stoke-on-Trent City Council

*Sharon Menghini – Stoke-on-Trent City Council

*Paul Simpson – Stoke-on-Trent City Council

*Jeanette McGarry – Stoke-on-Trent City Council

*Tom Macartney – Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Shabby, Sham Consultation Quiz Launched

So, here we go again. A virtually leaderless Council trying to convince residents that their ideas are important rather than admit they have no ideas themselves!

The Council’s press statement released this morning states: “Residents are to be asked what they would like Stoke-on-Trent City Council to prioritise its spending on for the next financial year, on the back of stiff government cuts. The authority, which has a budget of £209 million, needs to save approximately £30 million next year ““ a 14 per cent reduction. The consultation which starts today and continues until 20th August will include:

â— Face-to-face surveys carried out in local centres, shopping centres, markets, libraries, museums and bus stations
â— An on-line survey via stoke.gov.uk/letstalk
â— Billboard advertising to inform people about the consultation
â— A dedicated phone line ““ 01782 235104 ““ where people can give their views in person.
It appears all very democratic and proof that we have a “listening” council. But wait a minute, just look at what people will be asked to “say what is important to them”:

â— Encouraging more jobs and businesses
â— Reducing anti-social behaviour and fear of crime
â— Looking after the environment and tackling climate change
â— Improving health and well-being
â— Repairing and maintaining roads and pavements
â— Keeping streets clean
â— Improving educational achievement
â— Supporting and protecting vulnerable adults and children
â— Increasing recycling
â— Providing sport and leisure facilities
â— Providing decent and affordable housing

This is the same list used six months ago. It was heavilly criticised then and the criticisms remain. Who would say no to any of the 11 areas? And, from the Councillor who has always maintained that redundancies and cut backs would not adversely affect front line services finally admits the truth:

“Councillor Kieran Clarke, cabinet member for finance, performance and governance, said: ‘Residents views are always important to us, but are even more so given the cuts that need to be made. Saving £30 million is a very hard task and will simply mean that we will not be able to deliver some of the services that we have been doing.

‘The government’s emergency budget made it clear that we will not be allowed to raise council tax next year to help pay for services, so it is crucial to know what services are important to residents to help identify where the savings must be made.

‘I urge as many residents as possible to respond to the consultation. By getting a good range of views from across the city, we will be able to take their views into account when setting the budget.’

Cllr Clarke should be ashamed of himself for uttering such platitudinous rubbish. Why doesn’t he, along with his Cabinet colleagues and his near-invisible Council Leader, set out a policy framework clearly showing potential, if not already decided actual, service CUTS? They don’t because they lack the capacity and backbone to provide political leadership.

This is a shabby, sham exercise. How can anyone sensibly respond to such questions without the answers to scores of questions each of those areas raise? If I say yes to jobs, will that necessarily mean no to swimming pools? What has rasiing educational standards got to do with money? Do I know that the government expects the Council to recycle more not less so that is not an area for cuts? Who doesn’t want clean streets? What is the cost of improving health and well being?

I hope Cllr Clarke is flooded with questions demanding to know the cost of each of these areas and how the Cabinet propose to provide them more efficiently and effectively without cutting any of them. People may also like to know how responses to the questions will remotely affect the outcome of next year’s budget.

Council Consultation Failure

Stoke-on-Trent City Council launches its consultation today in attempt to get public views so that it can decide where to make the huge savings necessary to make the budget balanced next year.

On first glance this seems like a noble attempt to include the public in a very difficult exercise. Yet on closer inspection this is little more than a box ticking con, a waste of public money, and worst of all, of little value to councillors when it comes to swinging the axe on public services.

Why do I say this?

Consultation is about quality not quantity. This proposed consultation is fundamentally flawed as it will not identify residents honest views on the cuts that people are willing to accept for the benefit of the services people really want protecting.

The consultation proposes (once again!) to ask “What are your priorities?”, and the answers coming back will likely be a list, based on their experiences ““ lets say street cleaning, pot holes, etc. At the end this is what will be presented to councillors.

I have seen it done year after year. Officers will justify their proposals to close this, that and the other based on residents top ten priorities. (Remember Dimensions).
Surely what councillors want to know is what services people are prepared to sacrifice.

I want to know from residents, for example, “If your priority is potholes, would you want to see libraries closed so that we have no potholes, or are you prepared to put up with the potholes for a bit longer if we spend the money on say libraries instead?”

This is the kind of data I want so that when it comes to budget time, I have some idea what is really important to people. What would be even better is to know at a neighbourhood level. People in Longton may want their council tax spent on playgrounds, while Tunstall wants to keep its swimming pool.

I am concerned that this will be a typical consultation, simplistic and blunt, with little or no value to the budget process.

Cutting spending will be hard enough, but if we get this consultation wrong, I can see us blinded into thinking we have residents support, yet having demonstrations and campaigns galore ““ all because we asked the wrong questions.

Democracy Contempt In stoke-on-Trent

The District Auditor’s Report on the sale of the Britannia Stadium reveals, under independent scrutiny, why Elected Mayor’s are an attack on openess, transparency and our hard fought British democracy.

Even more shocking is the contempt with which officers, paid to serve in the public interest by the public purse, show to elected members and the public.

Make no mistake in thinking that this is a one off report. Secrecy, deceit and hidden agendas are par for the course in Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The new CEO has an enormous task in an organisation in which top heavy management is rotten to its absolute core, and colludes with equally rotten senior politicians, to cover their own arses, and pick up their salaries in shame. Many of them not even prepared to commit more tyhan a part time role but still picking up £20000-30000.

The governance commission tried to lay the chaos at the door of politics and the councillors. Yet the real source of the problems lie at a more fundamental level.

A culture driven by mistrust and now a cabinet determined to squash any debate or scrutiny, aided by an officer core scrambling to save its own skin.

Fortunately they will fail as a growing team presses them at every opportunity – the likes of PitsnPots, D4S and dedicated councillors. I urge anyone and everyone to use FOI and questions to the council meetings and help to free and restore democracy, scrutiny and honesty.

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.

Same Old, Same Old…

I write this current piece with some anger and disgust. Yet I should not be surprised.

I did not intend on writing a piece on this matter ““ but here goes anyway having just been told about Laarschot’s sarcastic dig at some absent councillors at Wednesday’s freebie celebration of 100 years of the Federation of Stoke-on-Trent.

I could not attend the event for two reasons ““ firstly, I was 200 miles away in Surrey taking my step daughter to an interview for a University (Another one!). Secondly, I take the same view I took with some of my colleagues about the umbrellas.

Some might see our stand as petty ““ that we should join in because its “just peanuts” as Ross Irving told Cllr Joynson. Just goes to show what some people think of £25,000 here and there doesn’t it?

For me the celebrations should be about the city, its people and its communities. So much of the “Celebrations” pedalled by the press office ““ incidentally, a consultant on £250 a day ““ are just rehashed annual events, many of them not even organised by the council, but presented in way as to give the impression that this has all been organised specially.

What the celebrations should not be about is councillors and senior officers filling their faces with posh nosh and ill thought out “gifts” at the tax payers expense ““ whilst we cut services and make redundancies.

I had high hopes for our new chief executive, but am deeply concerned that Laarschot decided, in our absence, to publicly poke for at us, for our small stand on our principles and mocking our gesture to give our umbrellas to the Ruby Owen cause, and “charity”. I still can’t quite believe it.

Our school children, below the age of 10 I understand, have all been given 6 small colouring pencils and a sharpener as their celebration memento, wrapped up in what one parent described to me as a “small toilet roll”.

Some of us as councillors wanted all the money reserved for the celebrations to be spend on the people of our city ““ their city ““ their money ““ their celebration ““ sorry if some think that is petty ““ but it is our view, and we are entitled to it.

Incidentally, councillors have been invited to another free knees up ““ get this ““ by the NSRP to celebrate our regeneration successes!?