Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader announces his new cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez has given details of his new Cabinet after the reshuffle at Monday nights Labour Group AGM which saw Debra Gratton & Sarah Hill removed.

Sarah Hill subsequently resigned her position as a Councillor forcing a by-election in the Springfields and Trent Vale ward. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group ““ The Shape of Things to Come?

You know me, I like to ponder on situations and then try to dissect them in public, as is my want you see?

I have to say that last week’s call to discuss the closure of the Willfield Fitness Centre at the Adult & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny meeting has left an nasty taste in my mouth.

I have been largely supportive of Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and his 34 strong Labour group but I hope that the actions of the Labour councillors on that particular committee and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, is not the shape of things to come.

Here we have a popular fitness centre, loved by the community, used by many from Bentilee and beyond, closed without out so much as a single comment from the Labour contingent on that committee.

Although the Labour members should not have been whipped on a scrutiny committee, by the actions of the said Labour members and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, They were absolutely told how they WILL vote.

I am in no doubt that Cllrs Sheila Pitt, Alison Wedgwood, and Matt Fry would have received a serious reprimand by the senior officers of the Labour group for, in the case of Alison and Sheila, sticking to their election pledges.

Labour whip Kath Banks had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp during that meeting and could not have looked more disinterested in proceedings if she tried.

The way the meeting was chaired by the normally amiable Cllr Bagh Ali left me in no doubt who was running the meeting, the director Tony Oakman.

He was allowed to say what he wanted, for as long as he wanted with no interruption. Cllr Dave Conway was constantly disrupted in a clear attempt to throw him off course.

Talking of the officers, the old joke of how many does it take to change a light bulb was certainly relevant here. 8 officers were present and if you were to tot up their collective salaries you would unearth a value that would give the Staffordshire Hoard a run for it’s money.

So, Labour have demonstrated that they will side with the officers over their election promises in another glaring example of taking the Cabinet dollar.

Have we been here before I wonder?

It appears not to matter who the rulers are, Labour, Conservative Independent, Liberal Democrats, or a mixture of them all, it’s the same old scene.

But what has left me even more uneasy about the situation, is the fact that not more than a week prior to the call in, CEO John van de Laarschot launched his mandate for change which placed a heavy emphasis on the Health and Wellbeing of the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

It isn’t that long ago that the place attracted the unfortunate label of being a “Ëœsick city’. And yet we close a facility that is proven to be making a difference in exactly the sort of area of the city that needs the most help ““ way to go!

Our CEO gave an inspirational performance at that gig. I and a good few others were taken in by the message that together we can make a difference. My plea to John van de Laarschot for the future success of the Mandate for Change project and the rejuvenation of the City of Stoke-on-Trent is – “ËœGet your officers on task!’

Here was a golden opportunity to prove to all that the council was up to working with community groups to find a way of keeping popular facilities open for business.

We are in unprecedented times, an era where it is clear, and for my part accepted, that the council cannot continue to fund everything and that there has to be painful cuts.

The officers of the council rubbished the Willfield Community Group’s business plan and then dismissed it out of hand.

Why didn’t any officer of the council make contact with the group to offer assistance in getting the business case more in line with what the council need and expect?

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

Where was the commitment needed to deliver a Mandate for Change?

So again I lay down the gauntlet to the council, in a no doubt futile attempt, to change and to demonstrate that our council are serious about empowering communities.

With £20million more cuts to come in the next financial year, if there is not a drastic change in the Council, it’s CEO, directors and officers what services and facilities will be left in our city?

Our Labour Group need to LEAD and not be LED. You have the opportunity to make a difference, you have the opportunity to step up to the plate ““ Take it!

The majority of the electorate voted you in the belief that you would deliver on your election promises and to work to make our city more inclusive and more progressive. It ain’t a great start guys!

Many months ago, a politician that I respect enormously told me that the decision not to allow the building of a new academy to be on the Mitchell High School site was all about academies setting the right example to the communities in which they serve.

I was told that the powers that be, politicians, officers and sponsors wanted the buildings to be in areas that were as affluent as possible in order to raise the aspirations of the young people of the area.

They are meant to inspire the young to be more like the well to do of the areas in which an academy school is placed.

To give the little poor kids the opportunity of mixing with kids from a “Ëœbetter’ background.

I remember thinking at the time ‘isn’t that social engineering’?

It got me to thinking is this the real reason the Willfield gym is to close?

Do those in the BSF department, fellow officers and our elected politicians, want rid of the gym and the kind of folk who use it so they are not a blot on the academy landscape?

Stoke-on-trent City Councillors Dress Code Comes Under Scrutiny

The chosen dress code of a certain Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group Councillor is becoming the talk of the Civic Centre.

Cllr Tony Fradley who represents the Chell & Packmoor Ward has turned up to two meeting wearing a polo shirt, shorts and open toed sandals.

This has caused amusement in some quarters of the members room and an increasing number of councillors are voicing their concern at what they described as a blatant example of a lack of respect for the office of councillor.

Some councillors do not have an issue with ‘dressing down’ for committee meetings, but a large number say that it is disrespectful to the Lord Mayor to turn up for a full council meeting in such a ‘casual fashion’.

Writing on his Potteye Blog, Cllr Mike Barnes said:

Took this picture[see below] of an unnamed Stoke-on-Trent Labour councillor leaving a meeting they had just had of the Transformation and Resources Committee.

The same councillor then turned up in the very same shorts to the full council meeting last week three days later.

A number of members of the public have already commented to me and others that they thought it inappropriate and disrespectful, especially at full council with the Lord Mayor’s presence.

According to an ex councillor, who served on the council for many years, there is no written dress code that a Councillor has to adhere to. But, the understanding between members particularly in the past, was that they were to dress smartly in appearance.

Since Pits n Pots have started to cover the council meetings, we have found that most councillors dress like the officers and employee’s of the authority.

Council employees are reminded to dress appropriately but are given dispensation in periods of very warm weather.

A serving councillor who did not wish to be named told us that there is no way that former Lord Mayor Cllr Jean Bowers would have allowed Cllr Fradley to dress so casually for a full council meeting in the chamber. He said:

“you know what she was like for respecting the mace.

He would have been ordered out of the chamber and forced to go home to change.

God help him if his phone would have gone of too, he would have been banished to a rocky outcrop off the coast of North wales!”

It has been suggested that it is down to the Lord Mayor to set the standards in the chamber. and as current Lord Mayor, Cllr Denver Tolley is a lot more ‘laid back’ than previous occupiers of the office, maybe he is comfortable with councillors dressing how they wish.

Cllr Tony Fradley said today [Wednesday]:

“As a company director, when I’m at work I will dress accordingly, IE suit & tie.

But when I’m not at work I will dress in accordance with the weather. Both of the meetings in question were on very warm days so I dressed in designer shorts and a polo shirt.

I would like to point out that even though I attended full council in shorts, later that day I wore suit to the Lord Mayors dinner.

Most organisation have a ‘dress down’ day and I don’t see anything wrong in this.

I certainly don’t lack respect for the office of Lord Mayor, particularly the current one Cllr Tolley who is a good friend of mine.

Today, I am at the civic and have been in meetings and I am wearing a suit. It is all down to how I feel on the day”

What do you think?

Do you think that Cllr Barnes and others are wrong to criticise another councillors dress code?

Or, do you think it is disrespectful for a councillor to attend meetings dressed in shorts and sandals?

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….

A New Look To Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group.

Following a meeting of the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council it has emerged that Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Burslem South] will continue as Group Leader.

Pervez saw off a challenge by Cllr Adrian Knapper [Berryhill & Hanley East] at last night’s AGM. Cllr Tom Reynolds [Longton North] is the new Deputy Leader. Cllr Sarah Hill [Fenton] is the new Group Whip.

Last nights meeting was the first since the election.

The Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent gained 12 Council seats to boost their ranks from 14 to 26 Councillors. They are now the biggest Group on the Council by a considerable margin.

The City Independent Group have 11 Councillors, The Conservative & Independent Alliance have 7, the British National Party have 5, the Liberal Democrats have 4. There are currently 3 non-aligned councillors, but one of them, Cllr Mike Barnes is expected to join the Non-Aligned Group who have 2 councillors following the defeat of Alan Joynson. There is one Libertarian Councillor. Stoke-on-Trent City Council Stoke-on-Trent  Central Constituency Labour Party will hold an AGM in the next few weeks to elect new officers following some high profile resignations.

The Regional Officers had declared the pre-election AGM null and void. Sources indicate that there will be no shortage of willing volunteers now that the Labour Group have swelled the number of their councillors in the Central Constituency from 2 to 8.

Newly elected Labour Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt has also stated publicly that he wants to unite the constituency and to bring ex members back to the fold.

Concessionary fares – How about Free Travel for Young People & Jobseekers?

Under Labour the introduction of free bus transport for the elderly and disabled has maximise citizen mobility to use public transport.

Due to the scrutiny of Councillors to stop plans by the Conservative/Independent Lib Dem cuts within its budget plan to reduce Bus Service Council Subsidy and use of free travel prior to 9am, people with Concessionary Bus Passes have retained the rights to use this service.

Whilst Councillors have protected the existing scheme for pensioners and disabled people, Councillor Adrian Knapper would welcome the extension of this scheme for all young people in full-time education or training up to the age of 18, as well as for all jobseekers.

The current Conservative/Independent Lib Dem Administration is now planning to review all Council Services via a Root & Branch review that will result in Stoke-on-Trent City Council making policy changes on the way in which services are delivered.

If the City is serious about ensuring that we meet the challenge of climate change, the City Council must work to ensure that the Potteries has a reliable Transport Network that is accessible to all and that the cost is reduced to a reasonable level to encourage more people to use the service.

Free Travel extended to young people will allow the next generation the rights to access education and leisure facilities that will allow them to explore their full potential across the North Staffordshire Region.

Councillor Knapper would welcome serious expession of debate on how people think Public Transport needs to be improved and made more accessible.

Will Councillors Empathise With The Public Sector Pay Freeze?

It was announced today that the Leader of Staffordshire County Council is recommending that all County Councillors accept a freeze in allowances for the coming year.

I think this is a very noble gesture given the recent news that public sector workers pay is to be frozen this year.

Many private sector workers are also facing the prospect of no pay rises and some are even facing pay cuts or worse still reduced time working as the Country struggles it’s way out of one of the worse recessions in global history.

Next week sees the Annual Budget meeting of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and there have been murmurings of the Labour Group tabling an alternative budget.

It would seem that the Labour Group are against cuts to front line services and I think they should be applauded for this. But will they be tempted to do the really socialist thing and propose a freeze for councillors allowances in empathy of all those whom they serve?

Now, I have often said that I have thought that the pay of our councillors excludes a wide range of society and I still stand by that 100%. But, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Cllr Joy Garner reacted angrily to the then BNP Group Leader Alby Walkers suggestion the Councillors ought not vote themselves an increase last time round.

Perhaps that isn’t surprising considering the fact that Cllr Garner pulled a healthy sum of over £26000 for her duties in her ward and the Council chamber in the previous financial year. Which is a whole not more than some of those public sector workers who will not see a salary increase this coming year and a damn site more than many private sector workers who live everyday in fear for their jobs.

The Labour group have made quite a lot of the possible closure of Tunstall pool and in a Sentinel article today Cllr Garner and Cllr Gratton hit out at the Cabinet member for Sport and Leisure Derek Capey, for holding ‘private’ meetings about the Pool and the transfer of Burlem Gymnastic Centre to Dimensions.

It has already been announced that the Pool is safe for this year and in all probability the discussions were centred around the long term viability and the options available in the future.

How interesting though that these two councillors in particular should be so vociferous in their objections to the closure of a pool that is in desperate need of refurbishment. I would think that they understand that is is right and proper that the Cabinet look at all the options for providing provisions such as these and assessing the long term viability. The possibility that the council may look to provide better swimming facilities at Dimensions to cater for all the existing users of Tunstall Pool should not be dismissed out of hand.

What a pity that these two particular councillors did not make more of a fuss when they voted for the closure of Dimensions just two years ago when they were part of the EMB. Where were the loud calls then ladies eh?

Everyone knows that the true Dimensions heroes were Cllr Jean Edwards and of course Cllr Dave Conway. Dave so so dismayed by the actions and behaviour of the then Labour Group that he ultimately left to join the CIG.

I can’t help wondering whether their silence was more down to the fact that they were drawing a healthy remuneration package from the Elected Mayor for their compliance in one of the most misjudged and ill-conceived decisions ever to be attempted in this City.

I for one will look to next weeks Annual Budget meeting of the Full Council for an example that true socialist principles are not dead in this City.

I hope Mohammed Pervez and his Labour Group show some empathy with those public and private sector employees who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and their kids clothed and fed.

Joan Back With Labour!

Longton South City Councillor Joan Bell today announced that she had re-joined the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council and was now back in the Labour fold.

The news follows her previous departure from the group because she “couldn’t work in the current structure”. But now that leader Mike Barnes has stepped down, she has reconsidered her position.

Joan said

I was very reluctant to leave the Labour Group, but was unable to work with the leader elected at the Annual General Meeting in June.

Throughout my time outside the group I remained a member of the Labour Party and supported it’s national policies. Now that circumstances have changed and a new leader is in place I have decided to re-join. I am confident that the Labour Group is now moving forward in the right direction and will put behind it the past few months. I look forward to working with the new leader, and am pleased to once more be a Labour councillor.

Labour Group Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez said

I am delighted to welcome Joan Bell back into the Labour Group. She is an experienced and valued colleague who is respected both in the Civic Centre and the Longton South Ward she has represented on and off for over 20 years. Having Joan back in the group will further strengthen Labour’s position as we prepare to go out and listen to the views of the people of Stoke-on-Trent and engage with them.


By Tony Walley.

New Labour Group Leader Mohammed Pervez

New Labour Group Leader Mohammed Pervez

The Stoke-on-Trent Labour group have tonight named their new group leader!

Mohammed Pervez will take over with immediate effect following the resignation of Mike Barnes following recent allegations that he posed as someone from the BBC and this site while trying to find out information from another local authority.

Councillor Pervez, who was elected in 2006 to represent the Burslem South Ward, is a Research Scientist involved in the development of life-saving drugs.  Pervez is a family man who was born in Walsall and has lived in Stoke-on-Trent for the last 18 years. Â  Pervez is a respected councillor and an effective chamber speaker. He will now hope to bring some stability to the role as Leader.

In a statement this evening Councillor Pervez said  “I am delighted that the Labour Group has given me the opportunity to serve the people of Stoke-on-Trent in this way.  Over the next few months and years the Labour Party and I will be talking and listening to residents about what matters most to them and how we can make this happen.  Our focus will be on the people of this City and improving their lives.”

He becomes the latest in a long line of Labour Group Leaders. Over the last decade there have been names like the following:

Barry stockley- lost his seat
Terry Doughty- lost his seat
Mike Tappin- lost his seat
Mick Salih- lost his seat and resigned from Labour Party
Joy Garner- removed as leader and temporarily left Labour Party before going back
Mike Barnes- suspended and now resigned from Labour Party.

Pervez will now surely work to unite the group which may now also see the return of Joan Bell who was known to have issues with Barnes but always worked well with Pervez.

Adrian Knapper was also a frontrunner but he was defeated in the vote, but will, however, carry on as deputy leader.

Mike Barnes resigns from the Labour Party Breaking News!

By Mike Rawlins

We have just heard that Councillor Mike Barnes, who is currently under suspension from the Labour Group in Stoke-on-Trent, has dramatically resigned from the Labour Party with immediate effect.  This now means that he will not face any internal party investigation or disciplinary action.

This will not prevent the ongoing inquiry from going to the council’s Standards Committee.

Reports suggest that he is unlikely to try and rejoin the Labour Party at any time in the future.

Councillor Barnes who is currently away on holiday was not available for comment.