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

Politician reveals how he was brought under the party’s influence

People join political parties for a variety of reasons, usually because of political views or sometimes because family and friends are members.

However former councillor Ross Irving joined Stoke-on-Trent’s Conservative Party because the beer was better.

He had also been a member in Newcastle to help out in the 1966 General Election, before moving to Stoke. He then decided to stand for council. Continue reading

The Political Potteries Circa 6th May 2011 Part 2

The council chamber has lost some big characters as a result of the elections, one of the biggest losses was political heavyweight and City Independent Group Leader Brian Ward.

Brian knew that he and his group would have a mammoth task to overcome a resurgent Labour Party. He has put his defeat down to two factors:

1] The Governance Commission who wanted the three mainstream parties to “Ëœman up’ and become more accessible to a wider cross section of the electorate.

2] The recent Boundary Review which Brian felt was all designed to favour the mainstream parties and to rid the political arena of the BNP and Independent politicians.

He was also concerned that the emergence of another Independent candidate in the form of Cllr Roy Naylor’s mother-in-law, Nina Hulse would dilute the independent voters and allow Labour to romp home.

Labour did romp home and if you add the 104 votes Nina Hulse received to Brian Wards total, he would have still been 44 short of a victory.

The City Independents are now in limbo, they have a possible group of 6, but can they swell their numbers to be an effective opposition? Paul Breeze has made it clear that he will plough a lonely furrow, he was elected as a un-aligned councillor and it appears that his mind is made up to go it alone.

The more interesting quandary is whether Lee Wanger will be welcomed to the CIG bosom? Lee has a past conviction and has had to sign the child sex offenders register. Many people are amazed that Lee has been re-elected to the council chamber. The people of Tunstall have had their say and they have chosen Lee, as is their democratic right.

The CIG will be meeting soon to choose a new leader; the favourites are Dave Conway and Terry Follows. Randy Conteh is very able but has health issues that need sorting before he can plan his next political moves.

The Conservatives have been reduced to 2 councillors from the 8 they had under the old Conservative & Independent Alliance.

Abi Brown has confirmed that she and new guy 19 year old Jack Brereton will not enter into any formal agreement with the Independents. Neither will she welcome Lee Wanger into the fold. She has her reasons and she will no doubt receive plaudits for the stance she has taken and rightly so.

Abi has been one of the rising stars of the past 12 months. She has forged a strong reputation for being a hardworking and dedicated ward councillor who is not afraid to speak her mind in the chamber. I know that she felt constricted at times and was unable to speak out against some of the anti Conservative rhetoric spouted from the Labour benches. Coalition was not an easy place for a character like Abi, she is forthright in her views and now she has the opportunity to speak out and spread her proud Conservative values, whilst nurturing a new, fresh, group member.

The chamber also lost one of its true gentlemen.

Ross Irving has served this city for 4 decades. His demise came at the hands of a team of activists from the remnants of the Trentham Action Group.

They delivered leaflets that “Ëœreminded’ the electorate in Trentham that Ross backed a new Academy for Trentham and Blurton.

To cut a long story short, Trentham High was eventually saved. But it wasn’t saved due to the support of TAG darling Terry Follows; it was saved after intervention from Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello. He was the reason that the school will now be refurbished and will remain open.

Had he not got involved and convinced the schools minister to review the case and to write to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, make no mistake, TAG campaign or not – that school would have closed.

The anti Ross Irving leaflet that was put out in Trentham was wrong in my opinion because although it did not favour any candidates it seemed to suggest that Ross was to blame and it urged folk not to vote for him. What it blatantly omits to inform people of was that their precious school was saved because of the actions of a Labour politician.

The anti Ross leaflet was orchestrated by Nick Davis, who uses every opportunity to criticise and project her hatred for the Labour Party. Not once have I ever seen her reference the work that Labour MP Rob Flello put in to save Trentham High. Yet she champions Terry Follows who was aboard the TAG wagon train, but went on the vote to close Mitchell High school.

Ross’s crime warranted a leaflet delivered to every household in Trentham apparently, to remind folk of what he did.

Yet even though Terry was a part of the process that spelled the end For Mitchell, he is the darling of Nicky Davis and the TAG. No mention of the fact that Mr Follows had done exactly the same as Ross but to another school, in another part of the City.

This whole episode is distasteful, selective, hypocritical and reeks of NIMBYism.

Apparently it is OK for Terry to back Trentham High but then a year later vote to close a wonderful school like Mitchell.

I wish Ross a happy retirement and I for one would like to put on record my thanks for the service he has given to the City over the past 4 decades. He never ducked a question or refused an interview and he is a guy who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.

I hope that Ross’s long service and dedication is recognised officially in some way.

The Trentham issue was not the council’s finest hour and was not down to the actions of just Ross, but no one will convince me that without Rob Flello’s intervention ““ the school would remained open.

We also need to acknowledge the loss to the chamber of all those serving councillors who will not return following the election, either through defeat, retirement or de-selection.

Hazel Lyth, Joanne Powell-Becket, Clive Rigby, John Daniels, John Davis, Mark Davis and Alan Rigby among others will not return.

We should also spare a thought for Mohammed Matloob who lost out in Tunstall and will therefore miss out on being the City’s next Lord Mayor. Matty is a really good guy and is a sad loss to the council.

Finally what does the future hold for our fine City?

That is a question that I will be seeking the answers to from our new Labour administration.

Labour imploded a few years ago. They were torn apart by in-fighting, jealousy, bitterness and arrogance. They must not allow this to happen again or the city will once again suffer the consequences.

I want Pervez, his new deputy [my belief is that it will be between Sarah Hill and Paul Shotton] to be open to true public scrutiny.

The “Ëœnew’ Labour Group must engage with the public. Here at Pits n Pots, we want open access to the Labour councillors and particularly the cabinet members so that we can ask the questions that the public seek the answers to.

Pits n Pots have proved that we have dedicated our time energy and resources into this site so that the public have a portal into the council chamber.

Our stats have gone through the roof over the last few months. Me, Mike have resigned from the board of 6towns Radio to solely concentrate our efforts on making Pits n Pots a vital part of this City.

With the engagement and participation of the politicians of this city, over the coming months, we will be bringing you live Question Time broadcasts so that the public can ask politicians about the direction of the city. We will be interviewing Cabinet members in depth and then podcasting them on this site. We will also be hosting live events.

We have big ideas and ambitions. We have the audience; all we need now is the participation of the politicians that we have just elected to serve us.

Labour Group, Conservatives, City Independents, un-aligned councillors – Are you up for the challenge?

Ashley Howells ‘Apologises’ – But I’m Still Not Happy!

I was incensed to read the comments made by Newcastle-under-Lyme Councillor Ashley Howells in today’s Sentinel.

He said:

“I am extremely sorry that I made a personal response on Twitter which has been misinterpreted and then sadly misrepresented by others.

“My comments were in response to reading a highly political anti-Coalition Government comment about public expenditure cuts, which alleged that Stoke-on-Trent has been and will be disproportionately affected.

“I would say that there is indeed an obesity problem, together with a benefits dependency and worklessness problem amongst a minority ““ I stress a minority, some might call it an underclass ““ in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire which all councils and politicians of all shades are trying hard to rectify.”

Now while this may seem a grovelling apology to the people of Stoke-on-Trent, to me it is a double edged sword.

On one side, of course I accept his apology for the hurtful, inaccurate, insulting and incredibly arrogant comments he made about the people of the City of my birth.

On the other side his apology left me fuming at his insinuation that he had in some way, been ‘misrepresented’.

Our story was picked up and written by my good friend and colleague Mike Rawlins. I had the task of getting the reaction from both the public and our politicians.

Now I realise that our politicos are busy, busy people, but Mohammed Pervez [who works full time too], Ross Irving, Tristram Hunt MP [who was in a meeting when I called] all had the decency to get back to me fairly promptly. Rob Flello MP got back to me the next morning to voice his disgust and relay the hope that someone would refer the matter to the Standards Board.

Ashley Howells has not returned any of the 12 calls that I made to him and the numerous messages I left on his answering service.

At PitsnPots we pride ourselves on our balanced approach and fairness to all.

We give all parties and their politicians/representatives equal treatment, yes even the BNP.

We asked Mr Howells to give us his side of the story, we offered him, as we do with all others a completely unedited interview which would have given him the opportunity to set the record straight.

His silence is deafening!

I am left frustrated that he chose to speak to the Sentinel who picked up the story off this site and I can’t help but think that there was a veiled swipe at us in his ‘misrepresented’ comment.

I may well live Stoke-on-Trent, but I pay a substantial amount of money to Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council in business rates.

I think that puts me in a position whereby I deserve an explanation as to why this excuse of a politician is claiming that this site ‘misrepresented’ him or his comments.

Ashley Howells has now terminated his Twitter Account. I wonder if this is because he can not trust himself not to say the wrong thing.

Apparently he was once a Labour Party supporter who failed to reach the status of group leader and so defected to the Tories. Maybe he is having a problem justifying the policies of the ConDem government having seen the world through socialist eyes.

My old Dad used to say that all men make mistakes but only true men with integrity admit to making those mistakes.

His apology is of course welcome to all of us ‘unfortunate’ Stokies, but at the same time it is full of buts, misinterpretations and claims of misrepresentation that attempt to pass the blame and not accept the responsibility.

Why do some people have a problem with holding their hands up and saying ‘I screwed up and for that I am truly sorry’ – full stop.

Rob Flello MP thought that the matter should be reported to Standards and as someone who contributes to NULBC I am seriously considering whether to report it myself, for no other reason than I think that Ashley Howells has tried to shift the blame and claim that we have in some way treated him unfairly. So much so that he could not speak to us and explain his comments even though we published the matter in it’s entirety to avoid claims that we have misrepresented the issue.

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

Labour Attacking Democracy Again

The newly appointed Cabinet have already decided to extend (not) public scrutiny on there decision making. by cutting the number of meetings of the Cabinet by a quarter, and will be held in the evenings at 6pm so that this part time crew don’t have to have any time off work.

No matter what you think about the previous leaders of Stoke-on-Trent Council ““ all of them that I can remember have given the Leadership position their fulltime attention, and sacrificed their own careers and often been financially poorer for their commitment to high public office.

So credit to Ross Irving, Mark Meredith, Mike Wolfe and Geoff Davies ““ you might have been crap – but you were fulltime crap.

Where does that leave this lot? Well the new Leader doesn’t appear to be setting a good example to his appointments. A City like Stoke deserves a little more respect than a part time Leader – (although, to be fair, half a Pervez is worth 10 Merediths).

On a more serious note ““ within days of the election there is a big push by this new coalition to crush the little amount of scrutiny left in the council by slashing the number of Scrutiny Committees to two, yes two! But just the keep the trough full for those snouts in the coalition that are chairing the current scrutiny committees ““ they want to carrying on paying them the same allowance as if they were chairs even though they wouldn’t be chairs any more at nearly £8000 each!!!!!!!

If this goes through as planned by the next full council meeting ““ the unaligned group will be reduced to having 1 member on each of the scrutiny committees.

Not only does Pervez want nodding dogs on the inside ““ he doesn’t want anyone to hold him to account on the outside.

Councillor Ross Irving Elected Vice Chair Of Staffordshire Fire Authority

Cllr Ross Irving was elected as the new Vice Chairman of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Authority to support Cllr Len Bloomer who was re-elected as the Chairman.

Conservative Councillor Len Bloomer enters his second year as Chairman whilst Conservative and Independent Alliance Councillor, Ross Irving, will take over as Vice Chairman from Cllr Barrie Mycock.

Ross Irving has been elected in to the position of Vice Chair of the authority, 12 months after the jointly accepted protocol of a Chair from Staffordshire County Council supported by a Vice Chair from Stoke-on-Trent City Council was broken and Cllr Barrie Mycock was elected as Vice Chair.

Cllr Ross Irving said, ‘I feel very honoured to be nominated into the position of Vice Chairman and I look forward to embracing the opportunities that this new role will bring. I join the Authority at a very exciting and busy time, particularly with the opening of the first new community fire stations later this year.’

Cllr Len Bloomer said, ‘I am delighted to be re-elected as Chairman of the Fire and Rescue Authority. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past year and I look forward to another exciting and challenging year with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

I also have the pleasure of welcoming onto the Authority, Cllr Ross Irving who will take up the position of Vice Chairman. His predecessor, Cllr Barrie Mycock did some fantastic work and I have every confidence that Mr Irving will do an equally good job.’

The full list of members is:

Staffordshire County Councillor
Cllr John Bernard

Cllr David Billson

Cllr Len Bloomer (Chairman)

Cllr Peter Davies

Cllr William Day

Cllr Ray Easton

Cllr Terry Finn

Cllr John Francis

Cllr Bob Fraser

Cllr Phil Jones

Cllr Ian Lawson

Cllr Geoffrey Morrison

Cllr Barrie Mycock

Cllr Jeremy Oates

Cllr Steve Povey

Cllr Robert Reade

Cllr Rex Roberts, OBE.

Cllr Simon Tagg

Cllr John Wells

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Members (6)

Cllr John Burgess

Cllr John Davis

Cllr Olwen Hamer

Cllr Ross Irving (Vice Chairman)

Cllr Javid Najmi

Cllr Mohammed Matloob

Are The CIG Really Independent? – Cllr Janine Bridges Says ‘Not Anymore!’

Pits n Pots Exclusive Audio Now Online!

Since the late 90’s the City Independent Group have served the electorate and represented the communities of Stoke-on-Trent free from party constraints.

Under the Elected Mayoral system the CIG scrutinised the EMB’s every move and decisions under the Leadership of Ann James.

When the City of Stoke-on-Trent called time on the Mayoral system, a new day dawned for this popular group of independent thinkers.

Under the new leadership of Brian Ward there was massive shift in the priorities of the City Independent Group.

They went from the masters of opposition to the uncharted territories of coalition.

Adversaries of the old EMB traded tenacity for compliance. Gone was the passion and along came an new tactile approach.

Then the cracks started to appear in the coalition between the City Independents and the Conservative & Independent Alliance.

It was rumoured that Brian Ward was to mount a campaign for the position of Council Leader.

But following an outstanding showing in the recent local elections, the Labour Group boosted their numbers to a commanding 26 seats having been victorious in 17 out of the 20 available.

The Labour Party were now firmly in the driving seat and were certain to play the leading role in any Administration.

Many commentators were sure that the mainstream parties would form a coalition and govern the City for the next 12 months in the run up to the all out elections next year.

The CIG were desperate to play some part in any new Governance arrangements for the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The negotiations started in earnest. The CIG went from having 4 members of the Cabinet down to just 2. There would also be 2 CIA and 1 Lib Dem joining 5 from the Labour Group making an executive of 10.

The corridors of the Civic Centre were alive with talk of a possible split in the City Independents. It was rumoured that some members simply did not want to join a coalition where the Labour Group were calling the shots.

First to jump ship was Cllr Alan Rigby who chose to sit alone as an Independent Christian.

Then on the day that the new 4 party coalition agreement was announced, Cllr Janine Bridges elected to join the Non-Aligned Group.

It was at the coalition press conference that I first interviewed Brian Ward about Janine Bridges. It was clear that he had no idea that she had decided to leave. He hinted that she had decided to go because she had put self interest before the group.

I interviewed Brian [this is available to listen to below] again after the Annual Council meeting and he revealed that he was stunned that Jan Bridges had left as she had been offered a cabinet places or the chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee.

At Pits n Pots, our success has been based on our ethos of proving balance in our reports and fairness to all in our interviews.

Today [Friday] we went along to Leek to interview Jan Bridges to get her side of the saga that could lead to further defections from the CIG.

Jan really lifts the lid on the story behind the CIG decision to join the coalition. She also tells of the threat made by the CIG Leadership that the Government Office West Midlands were poised ready to take over unless stability was secured.

Jan’s comments will no doubt leave many people wondering whether the CIG can claim that they are truly independent.

Listen to the Audio below and make your own mind up….

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enter Into A Historic Coalition

The leaders of the 4 main political parties in Stoke-on-Trent City Council announced this afternoon that they are going to form a coalition cabinet.

The cabinet will be made up of 5 Labour members, 2 City Independents, 2 Conservative Independent Alliance and one LibDem. This gives no one party a majority in the cabinet.

Cllr Pervez, who is widely tipped to become council leader at tomorrows council meeting said, ‘the 4 main parties have put their differences aside to work together for the good of the City.’

Cllr Keiran Clarke said, ‘this is not a pick n mix it is collective responsibility.’

Cllr Brian Ward said, ‘we will face some difficult decisions over the next year and we should face them togehter. We need to put our differences aside for the good of the city.’

Out going Council Leader Ross Irving said, ‘The labour party were very strong in the recent election and the Conservative Independent Alliance Group will work together with them in the new cabinet.’

No positions in the new cabinet have been decided yet.