Is Lack Of Communication Responsible For Poor Recycling Rates In Stoke-on-Trent?

Hidden away in a press release informing residents of Stoke-on-Trent of changes to bin collections days over the festive period, if you read past the dates, you will see that cardboard can no longer placed in to brown bins.

Almost as an after thought the couple of lines reads

Residents are also being advised that from Monday 2 January 2012 they will no longer be able to dispose of cardboard in their brown bin. After this date people will need to put cardboard in their blue bin. If a brown bin contains cardboard after January 31 2012 the owner will receive a contamination notice and their bin will not be emptied.

These changes are due to a change in the quality standard of compost which can be adversly affected by the presence of printed cardboard. In light of the change in quality standards, in July the company which takes compostable waste from Stoke-on-Trent City Council informed the counil that they would no longer be accepting cardboard.

While Stoke-on-Trent City Council, pass this important information on to residents almost as an after thought, other councils who use the same company for the compostable waste have taken more high profile action to make sure their residents are aware of the changes.

Derbyshire Dales District Councils delivered leaflets to the 33,000 homes across the Dales back in August explaining that cardboard material be transferred from the compostable waste collection into the dry recycling collection.

Staffordshire Moorlands Cabinet met and agreed to begin communicating the changes to residents via leaflets to all households and roadshows  around the area with Moorlands Radio back in September.

In Stoke-on-Trent some 86,000 (76%) of households  are on the enhanced recycling scheme with grey, blue & brown bins and have had no communication about where their cardboard needs to go other than those few lines in the press release.

As for the rest of the city who have a small green box for glass and metal and a blue bag for paper. There is no mention anywhere about cardboard recycling if you are not on the enhanced scheme. In fact the instructions on the side of the green box make it very clear that you are not to put cardboard in this box. The What Can I put In My Bin page on the council website backs up this instruction not to put cardboard in your green box.

Then the Changes To Your Recycling Collections page on the council website says you can leave cardboard with your green bin.

So what do you do with plastics  if you don’t have a blue bin? Well according to the What Can I Put In My Bin page, if you don’t have a blue bin then all you can do is put it in the waste for incineration or landfill.

But if you phone the council and speak to someone in the enviromental directorate you will find out that you can in-fact put plastics in your green box as well as cardboard.

We have reported many times in the past about how poor the recycling rates are in the city and questioned the recycling method but this is something far simpler, it is just a case of providing information to people.

If you are on the enhanced recycling scheme it is easy as you have 3 bins, if your not on this scheme and only have the green box and blue bag, the chances are you have been putting plastic and cardboard in with the household waste for incineration which is why according to council figures, 51% of our household waste still goes to the incinerator and 10% to landfill.

Thanks to Ian Norris for providing some of the information in this post

Waste Management & Blue Bin Purchase Issue Referred To Police

BNP Group Leader and Chair of the Audit Committee Michael Coleman has today confirmed that he will refer the issues raised in the Internal Audit into waste management to the Police.

The Audit committee yesterday agreed to accpet the Internal Audit Report and to note the letter of support from the District Auditor for the Audit findings.

There will also be an action plans to oversee the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report.

”The matter has been fully investigated by the council’s internal audit team, and the district auditor has confirmed that he will not take further action. The recommendations in both audit reports have been endorsed by the council’s Audit Committee, which has also asked for an action plan to be prepared to ensure the recommendations are fully implemented. Any matters referred to the police will be matters for them.”

Cllr Coleman has commended the report and stated that in his opinion the purchase of the blue bins at £1.63million needed further investigation.

Listen to the Audio Interview with Cllr Coleman below.

Cllr Coleman’s decision to report the matter to the police has come as a suprise to members of the Audit Committee

Cllr Mick Salih [Community Voice] has said that Cllr Coleman’s actions are more to do with headline grabbing ahead of the local elections.

He has questioned whether it was appropiate for the Chair of the Audit Committee to refer the matter to the police when the committee accepted the findings of the Internal audit and the implementation of its recommendations.

Cllr Sailh said that he hoped that he would make the complaint to the Police as an individual as opposed to as chair of the Audit Committee as his views were not shared by the other members.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Waste Management ““ Lessons Must Be Learned.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Audit Committee have today [Wednesday] concluded that the Authority must learn the lessons from the issues raised in an Internal Audit into the Waste Management services which led to the purchase of 84000 wheelie bins without the knowledge of any elected representatives.

The committee also moved a motion accepting the Internal Audit’s recommendations in their entirety and they also noted a letter from the District Auditor which supports its findings.

There will also be an Action Plan implemented that will ensure that officers keep elected members informed of the progress in meeting the Internal Audit’s recommendations.

4.1 It is acknowledged that many of the issues raised in this report took place at a time where the organisational structure and arrangements of the Waste Management Service was going through substantial changes; this led to a significant loss of expertise. Furthermore the staff who were in post when decisions were made/actions taken are no longer employed by the council and as a result any potential recommendations involving disciplinary action have not been made. However Recommendation 4 acknowledges that although issues have been identified within Waste Management which cannot be taken up with individuals, they highlight a need for a council-wide response. In light of the findings contained within the above report, the following recommendations are made:-

R1 That a comprehensive cost analysis is undertaken to
establish the full costs of both the enhanced recycling scheme and its predecessor. This analysis should take into account all associated costs (and revenues), for example income from saleable recyclables, achievement of savings, and costs of changing systems such as compensation arrangements. This should be reported to Cabinet and the appropriate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at a date to be agreed.

R2 That ongoing analysis and reporting of performance against government recycling targets is maintained, including an analysis of costs in the areas under scrutiny. This must take into account known variances and the impact this may have on future performance.

R3 That a cross party working group be established to review the council’s current and future waste management policy.

R4 Building upon the implementation of the council’s accountability framework, that a mandatory training programme is instigated to all council employees to strengthen compliance with regulations, including the specific requirements of the constitution.

R5 Building upon earlier requests that reports contain accurate and timely information and are clear and transparent and have been rigorously reviewed by Legal Services, Finance, HR and contain appropriate risk management information.

R6 That appropriate succession planning is implemented immediately to ensure that information is retained and appropriate handovers take place so that there is consistency in service delivery when key staff leave. This is particularly important in the current climate.

R7 That officers are reminded that disciplinary action will be taken in cases of serious breaches of Financial Regulations and Contract Procedure Rules.

Committee councillors voiced their disappointment over the
actions of officers involved in Waste Management, the procurement of the blue bins at an unnecessary cost of £1.63million and that the WRAP report had no member involvement.

They also took the opportunity to voice their anger over the city’s governance arrangements at the time of the fiasco. Councillors, Salih, Brian, John Davies and Coleman all cited the Elected Mayor/Council Manager system as being the catalyst for officers to treat elected members as if they did not exist or were of no importance.

Labour Councillors Hill, Hamer and Dillon insisted that relationship between officers and elected members must improve especially as many officers were losing their jobs and some were being relocated to different jobs and in some cases, different departments. There was a concern that some officers were taking on new duties without the appropriate hand-over period and information.

Cllr Hill said that it was irrelevant what the relationships between officer and members was like in the past but is was essential that communication between the officer core and members improved dramatically in the future as it was essential to the relationships that councillors had with the electorate and how communities engaged with the process of the city council.

Cllr Mick Salih voiced his anger that the Internal Audit did not name any officers involved but did contain the names of any elected members that were involved at the time.

He said that it was in the public interest that the officers involved in the issues highlighted in the Audit report were named even if they had left the city council and were employed in other authorities.

I do think that there have been some failings in the decision making and procurement arrangements.
I share the Internal Audits concerns about the process leading up to the decision to change recycling arrangements in 2008. As a result the City Council is not in a position to clearly demonstrate that value for money was achieved.

He said that he supports the Internal Audit’s recommendation that “Ëœa comprehensive cost analysis is undertaken to establish the full costs of both the Enhanced Recycling scheme and its predecessor’.

The Internal Audit investigation has highlighted several procedural defects including:

“¢ Failure to secure an approved Exemption Certificate for the temporary variation to the City Council’s green waste contract.

“¢ Poor record keeping in support of the blue bin purchase.

“¢ The fact that the bins were purchased before members had approved any requirement for them.

“¢ Purchase of the blue bins was not in the Forward Plan, nor it appears were urgent decision processes followed.

“¢ The lack of clarity over the decision to abandon the first composting procurement; and

“¢ The failure to ascertain why companies who tendered on the first occasion chose not to re-tender.

Clearly this situation is not satisfactory. However I am reassured that the City Council asked Internal Audit to investigate these events; their report has been made public and agreed by the Chief Executive. I do not currently believe that there is a case for a formal audit action on my part, but I will keep developments under review as I have said above and i will take these matters into account in my value for money conclusions for the relevant years.

Pits n Pots carried out a comprehensive investigation into the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling procedures at Stoke-on-Trent city Council and we conclude that the Internal Audit proved our concerns valid.

We went into this investigation to highlight that under the Elected Mayor/Council Manager system of Governance there was a culture among certain high ranking officers that the individuals that we, the people of Stoke-on-Trent, elect to serve us were treated appallingly and were considered irrelevant in certain instances.

We believe that this reports that the WRAP report was “Ëœburied, and its recommendations never discussed with elected members.

We believe that 84000 blue bins were purchased at a cost of £1.63 million when there was not member approval and were not necessarily required.

We believe that there were never budget savings of £1million as stated by the City council.

We also believe that under the new system of Governance and under the direction of the new Chief Executive Officer there has been a considerable move to great openness and transparency. We feel that this internal audit is evidence of that.

We would like to thank those councillors who met with us and talked to us and gave us the help and assistance to bring this matter out into the open.

Please now take the time to read the Internal Audit Report and the letter from the District Auditor which can be found by clicking the links below.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council Nominated For Recycling Award

While Stoke-on-Trent City Council are languishing around the 40 % mark for recycling, our close neighbours Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have increased their rates from 27% in 2009 to more than 55% per cent in November 2010 and have been nominated for the Waste Management Award at the Government Business Awards 2011 as a result

Researchers have been looking at all collection and disposal authorities across the country to find “outstanding” schemes that are cost-effective, provide a high level of service and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

As well as Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, London Borough of Hillingdon, Peterborough City Council and Hull City Council have all been shortlisted for the award, the winner of which will be announced at Twickenham Stadium on Thursday, 17 February by BBC journalist and news presenter Bill Turnbull.

I’m delighted that we have been singled out nationally for best practice in waste management.

Recycling in Newcastle has been revolutionised. We have an efficient scheme that separates materials at the kerbside which means everything is turned into new products.

But this recognition is not possible without the effort of residents, who have really embraced recycling.

Newcastle are already eclipsing the recycling figure that Stoke-on-Trent hope to be able to achieve by 2015. Questions about recycling here in Stoke still remain unanswered after Pits n Pots were forced down the FOI route, despite the head of directorate Jane Forshaw saying she would happily answer any questions about the recycling service in Stoke-on-Trent

Newcastle Lead The Way Over Recycling – Stoke Bring Up The Rear!

For those who have questioned Pits n Pots motivation in raising the issues surrounding Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Enhanced Recycling and Waste Management procedures, we thought that you would be interested in reading the following article.

This article is from the Lets Recycle Website:

Recycling rates in Newcastle-under-Lyme more than doubled in the eight months after weekly food waste collections were introduced in March 2010, according to the Staffordshire council’s kerbside recycling collection contractor, Acumen Distribution.

The Northampton-based company has been running the Staffordshire council’s recycling collection contract since 2003 and began a new seven-year collection deal in February 2010. It has expanded the range of materials that householders can recycle at the kerbside to include plastics bottles and cardboard – a change introduced in April 2010

Together with an extension to its garden waste service to cover all properties with a garden, Acumen claims the changes increased Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council’s household recycling rate from the 26% recorded for 2009/10 to 55% for the period March to November 2010.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council are currently achieving just over 40% recycling.

This equated to 1,900 tonnes of food waste and 4,250 of dry recyclables being collected over the period, using a source-segregated approach, with Acumen operating nine trucks, four days a week to run the service.

The company also opened a new waste transfer station, at Burslem, in November 2009 to handle the recyclables collected. And, Acumen’s efforts were welcomed by Trevor Nicholl, head of recycling strategy and fleet services at the council.

“We have worked closely with Acumen Distribution over the past year to improve our recycling rates,” he said. “Towards these ends, Acumen has made a significant investment in specialised vehicles to enable us to expand our kerbside recycling collection service.”

Newcastle-under-Lyme’s kerbside recycling system involves householders separating dry recyclables, with sacks or bags being used for: cardboard; plastic bottles; paper; and, mixed glass, cans, aerosols and foil.

Residents can also recycle textiles using a bag, food waste in a caddy and garden waste in a wheeled bin, while residual waste is collected by the council’s in-house collections team using wheeled bins.

The food waste is then sent to the nearby Lower Ruele Bioenergy anaerobic digestion facility, which opened in May 2010 (see letsrecycle.com story) and paper is sent to UPM Shotton to be recycled into newsprint, while a spokeswoman for Acumen noted that “in the main everything is sold locally”.

The importance of the new service’s success was highlighted by Acumen’s managing director, Chris Doughty, who said: “Due to innovative recycle collection services set up by Boroughs like Newcastle-under-Lyme, the Government last month announced that it will meet the EU 2010 Landfill Directive.”

“Partners like Acumen are proving invaluable to councils as they provide local authorities with value for money and access to their extensive experience and cost-effective solutions,” he added.

The key fact regarding this article is that NULBC HAS achieved a recycling rate of 55% between March and November 2010.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council can only estimate that they MAY achieve the recycling target of 45% for 2015 and 50% by 2020.

NULBC had commissioned WRAP to produce a report at roughly the same time as SOTCC did.

The difference between the two was that Newcastle’s decision making process had FULL member involvement as opposed to SOTCC who had NO member involvement.

Elected members at NULBC were given the WRAP report, in Stoke it was buried and was never put before councillors.

Newcastle did not waste £1.6million of public money whereas Stoke duly purchased 84,000 blue bins that if elected members had had the opportunity to consider all the options of the WRAP report, chances are we would not have needed them.

NULBC are trend setting in this area SOTCC are bringing up the rear as the poor relation often does.

Cllr John Daniels has called upon the District Auditor to carry out a full investigation into this matter as he has even more concerns over certain aspects of the Waste Management and Recycling issue, particularly over the awarding on certain contracts and the price per tonne paid.

Potteye: Laarschot’s False Dawn

At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, it is worth considering what the future may hold for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, its residents and local public services.

Over the last 2 years many instances of financial irregularities and officer misinformation to elected members have come to light, often only with the persistence of certain councillors and a small section of the local media.

The latest of these is the waste managment function with regards to enhanced recycling and the Icelandic Banks disaster. The usual results arise in that, yes, things went wrong, but those involved have moved on, this is all in the past, time to move on, new CEO (12 months in) etc etc etc”¦.

I beleive that what all these revelations expose is that, no matter what governance structure we have in place, the real failures in Stoke-on-Trent City Council, stem from a culture, built over many, many years of complete contempt for elected representation, the truth and incompetence on a grand scale ““ not always politicians ““ but within senior management.

Worst of all is that many of those I accuse above left our Council, not with the shame of their misdeeds, but to move onto greener pastures, often with a handsom payout at the expense of long suffering taxpayers.

Some heralded the appointment of a new Chief Executive from the private sector and a tinpot town of the south coast as the second coming of the Lord, and that all would now be well in the former land of pits and pots.

12 months in are things any different? Can we see the changes in the culture of the council? s The hope for the future any brighter?

In my view the answer is a resounding NO.

Whilst our new CEO is quite happy to be “open and transparent” about information related to past issues of previous council employees, his attitude to current information, openess and transparency is rather a different matter altogether.

Closed agendas items galore ““ councillors can’t even get the reports ““ constant delays and deliberations regarding questions and requests for information. Floor One is a prime example ““ getting to the crux of the matter has been almost impossible, even getting the council to give me public documents about the tender was like pulling teeth with constant delay and misdirection. Even now, as a councillor, I still do not know what is happening with Floor One, even though under the consitution, it must go through a set process.

More recently, the restructure of the council appears to be being conducted like an MI6 undercover terrorist operation. If anything this council is more sensitive, more secretive and more media controlled than ever.

Am I just being critical for politics sake? Am I paranoid? Well I think their are enough out there with their own recent experiences of FOIs etc to know exactly what I mean.

If the government is serious about localism the very first thing it has to address is the old boys network in local government and making clear legislation that puts the honesty and trustworthiness of senior council staff at the centre of democracy.The public and elected representatives should expect no less than to receive all the relevant information they need to make decisions, and that it be accurate, and where individual fail in their duty to do this they should be put before the courts ““ not paid off for their silence.

Some may think that my aim is at Stoke Council, yet the revolving door of local government officers suggests to me that this goes on in most if not all councils ““ some are just better at hiding it.

In the last 3 weeks alone I have been informed of several large “deals” or “payoffs” all hush hush of course with secrecy clauses in the agreements.

Well I have 4 months left as a councillor before the elections and yes I am standing.

As a councillor for 11 years, what has been revealed to the public about mismanagement is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of what I have seen would make some people hair curl, and sadly, to my shame, I have kept my head down at some critical moments, if only to survive for another day.

My first committment for the next 4 months is this ““ to expose and reveal the scale of payoffs and golden handshakes past and present.

My second is to help and support anybody new that is prepare to stand up and be counted at the elections in 2011.

This council will not change until there are enough councillors in it to say enough is enough, and to ask the right questions.

There are plenty of you out there better than me and certainly better than the coalition led by Pervez ““ I have read your blogs, your comments and letters in the newspapers etc.

So I urge those of you that care, those of you that have taken to time to read or comment on fate of Stoke-on-Trent, to stand at the elections, regardless of your politics. Take a chance and make a diffrence.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

I trust this article finds you fit, well and full of festive cheer.

This New Year needs to see a new start in Stoke-on-Trent.

I was out of action for a while pre Christmas, due to a back injury which prevented me from spending my usual amount of time at my PC. During that down time, I found myself ponderings the goings on at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

I think that it is fair to say that the end of year report on our public servants down at the civic is the classic “Ëœmust do better’.

The two stories that rocked the 6 towns just before the festive break [was it a case of the best time to air our dirty laundry?] were the audit finding on the Icelandic bank fiasco and the release of the report, forced by a Pits n Pots investigation into waste management and recycling.

Both issues raised serious concerns about the way our City is being administered and has called the integrity of a number of officers into question.

It was nice to see other media outlets pick the recycling issue up and run with it when they showed little or no interest in it previously. Mind you we did hand it to them on a plate following the extensive hours burning the midnight oil researching an issue that literally cost our city millions of pounds.

Let’s focus on the Icelandic issue first shall we. This was all about an unopened email warning the City Council that the creditworthiness of the Icelandic Bank Landsbanki had been downgraded. Note, it did not say the bank was going to collapse so get your money out now.

That email was left unopened which prevented the senior officers from assessing the risk to the city’s investment in light of the new information. I have information that the officer concerned who did not open that email offered to resign. The offer was declined.

The issue was reported to the appropriate Director, the Council Manager was informed, the then Elected Mayor was “Ëœbriefed’.

Why the Elected Mayor chose not to inform other elected representatives only he can say.

The shameful fact is that no other EMB councillor or any other councillor in the chamber was informed. Effectively the issue was covered up and hidden from our elected representatives and therefore out of the public domain.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, it was only down to the fact that the information was to be included in the Audit Letter that we got to heart of it at all.
Now let’s turn to the Recycling issue.

Pits n Pots had been aware of some of the issues relating to the Waste Management and Recycling for a good few months before we had the time to investigate the matter as thoroughly as we would like.

Our suspicions proved to be right. Officers withheld vital information from our elected representatives. The recycling trial was a sham as £1.6million of blue bins had already been ordered.

A report conducted by WRAP was effectively buried and kept out of sight of the prying eyes of those councillors who see it as their duty to scrutinise the decisions made by the executive and highly paid officers.

Our whole point in investigating this issue was to prove that a massive amount of our money has been spent without the involvement and knowledge of those who we elect to serve us.

The Audit report claims that WRAP gave a series of recommendations on how best to collect our waste and maximise our recycling. It did not, it gave a series of options which the council needed to debate.

That debate would have had input from all sides of the chamber and would not just focus on the least cost option which officers opted for.

There were a number of councillors that were unhappy at the quality and lack of substance in the reports put before councillors both on the EMB and within the chamber.

We reminded the Leader of the City Independents that he had called in the decision to go to a trial of the new recycling scheme.

The reports that were submitted to any committee were poor at best and deliberately lightweight at worse.

Those officers made a square peg fit into a round hole and spent a huge sum of our money in the process.

One of those options put forward from WRAP was the exact same model that Newcastle opted for [they had a WRAP report at around the same time]. Newcastle had full member involvement; they showed how mature they are as an authority and selected the best option for their residents. NULBC now realise 52% recycling as opposed to SOTCC’s 42% at best.

Furthermore NULBC did not go out and spend a stupid amount of money on blue bins that if our city council had have been more open about the options, we would not have needed to purchase them [originally they were to be leased, who changed their mind?]

Cllr Joy Garner did not come out of the Audit very well at all.

She was the EMB member at the time and people have said to me that she must have been in on the cover up.

People are thinking that she was working in tandem with officers and deliberately keeping councillors out of the loop.

Well let me tell you what I believe, Cllr Joy Garner, in my humble opinion, was as much as a victim as the rest of the councillors in the chamber.

I spoke to Joy on several occasions when gathering information for our investigation. It was Pits n Pots that informed Joy about the WRAP report that was buried and kept away from elected representatives. She was not aware of this report and as someone who is passionate about green issues and knowledgeable about waste management services she would have been as upset as anyone that she the as the portfolio holder was not given all the facts on which to base her support on.

I am aware that Cllr John Daniels has called on the District Auditor to look into the matter. I also think that he is the Councillor that contacted the Chair of Audit Committee, Cllr Michael Coleman offering more information.

Cllr Coleman was prevented from allowing the councillor to come before his committee on the advice of the council’s legal officer.

In the words of my dear old dad “Ëœit’s time for him to poo or get off the pot’- well it looks as if Cllr Daniels is at last willing to force this issue out into the public domain and in doing so exposing the many issues that were caused by the deliberate withholding of the vital information needed to make the best decision for our city.

I don’t think this issue will go away, in fact I expect more revelations in the near future.

Finally let me say this; It is true that all of this happened on someone elses watch and under a very different system of governance.

I think that Stoke-on-Trent was used as some sort of crazy experiment.

Someone somewhere decided to see what how an authority would operate with an unelected officer at the helm and with the final say over every strategic decision.

This system of governance rode roughshod over our city’s democracy. It made our politics worthless and was massively disrespectful to our city’s residents.

The two issues that this article concentrates on proves that an officer led authority, where the involvement of those who are elected by the public to serve the public role is diminished to a point that they are basically useless, was an epic failure.

Our new Chief Executive Officer John van de Laarschot [yes I am a bit of a fan] says that he is committed to openness and transparency. Our Council Leader Mohammed Pervez says the same.

Well guys time to prove it once and for all.

Let the full facts on the waste management and recycling come out into the public domain. Let Councillor John Daniels have his say in a very public arena [extraordinary council meeting to discuss the audit report?] and lets put this sorry and very expensive saga to bed for once and for all.

I trust the integrity of our CEO and Council Leader. but with all that has gone on under the direction of those who have moved on to wreak havoc in other authorities, a contract agreeing the process and involvement between the officer core and elected members should formulated and signed by both parties.

The relationship between our city’s officers and councillors is at an all time low. Many councillors have told me privately that the no longer trust officers of the council. This is not conducive to a productive and progressive environment which is essential to the improvement of our council over the next few years which will be fraught with financial hardship and difficulties in providing effective services.

It is true that what has gone has gone. But we must implement measures to ensure that there is no return to the “Ëœwe will deal with the politicians IF we have to’ days.

With recent revelations it proves we are nowhere near yet and until we are there will be the leaks, the whispers and the accusations.

You can bet that Pits n Pots will be as active, no even more active in bringing issues out into the public domain.

Someone once said “print and be damned!” and you can bet we will”¦.

Happy New Year!

Pits n Pots Investigation Initiates Inquiry Into Enhanced Recycling At Stoke-on-Trent City Council

An Internal Audit Committee investigation in to the Enhanced Recycling scheme at Stoke-on-Trent City Council was unanimously voted for at this afternoons full council meeting.

The investigation was called for after Pits n Pots revealed a number of issues around the lack of information supplied to elected members when they were deciding on the best method of recycling in Stoke-on-Trent.

The following motion was moved by Cllr Mike Barnes and seconded by Cllr Mick Salih:

”Stoke-on-Trent City Council expresses its deep concern into allegations regarding our waste management services.

In particular, the allegations that councillors have been misled, reports of consultants altered and circumvention of the City Council Procurement Policy and Tendering Processes.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, therefore, shall set up an urgent independent investigation into the carrying out of its Waste Management functions over the last 3 years, in particular:

· The work undertaken by officers

· Members’ Information and Reports

· Procurement

The final report shall be submitted to the full Council meeting following completion of the report, subject to any legal/criminal proceedings that might arise being dealt with separately and according to due process.”

Cllr Mike Barnes [Community Voice] said that he was reluctant and disappointed to be moving this motion. He said that this issue was not just about waste and recycling but it highlighted an issue that went to the very core of democracy. He hit out at those officers who put misleading and incomplete information before Elected Member. He said that this issue effected those good councillors on all sides of the chamber who probably made a flawed decision regarding waste and enhanced recycling based on the mis-information supplied by a tiny minority of officers who may not even be with the council anymore. He ended by saying that this inquiry was essential and asked ‘what price democracy?’

Cllr Barnes said that he would support an Internal Audit Investigation as long as it was headed up by Council CEO John van de Laarschot. He also called for a time limit and a reporting mechanism to be implemented. He thanked Pits n Pots for their investigation and for bringing the issue out into the open.

Cllr Mick Salih [Community Voice] said that this inquiry was not just about waste management. He stated that he believed it was about the processes and protocols that were essential between officers and members. He supported an internal audit under the guidance of the CEO he said he fully supported and trusted the majority of officers. He said that with the move to all out elections and single member wards coming next year that this issue had to be resolved now. He asked for the inquiry findings to go to the cabinet and then to full council. He called for the investigation to be thorough and for democracy not to be swept under the carpet.

Cllr Michael Coleman [BNP] said that he might not be around next year and so he was asking for this issue to be investigated as a matter of urgency as it could potentially be one of the most serious issues to come before the council in it’s history.

Council Leader Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Labour] Agreed that the revelations revealed on Pits n Pots were very serious and that the issues should not be swept under the carpet. He reminded the chamber that the external investigation into the Britannia Stadium issue cost the council £23,000. That investigation applauded the comprehensive nature of the internal audit and found nothing extra. He told the chamber that the council’s own internal audit was independent and he moved an amendment to the motion to call for the inquiry to be internal under the guidance of CEO John van de Laarschott.

Cllr Brian Ward [City Independents] Seconded the amendment and he reminded the chamber that it was him and his group that had first thought that there was an issue surrounding waste management and recycling. He told the chamber that the original report was very poor and that was what had brought it to their attention in the first place. ‘I don’t ever like to say I told you so…. but’ he said. He agreed that the inquiry should be carried out at speed as he was as interested in it’s findings as anyone. He reminded the chamber that this was another case of the council closing the door after the horse had bolted.

Cllr Barnes reminded the chamber that he was happy to support an amendment as long as assurances were given about how the inquiry was to be conducted. He clashed with the Council Leader over the Britannia Stadium deal inquiry and he also hit out at Cllr Terry Follows for his mind change about waste and recycling since the call in to him becoming portfolio holder with responsibility and accepting the cabinet dollar.

John van de Laarschot [Council CEO] said he was happy to give members the assurances that they were looking for over the conduct of this inquiry. He said that the audit committee would conduct their inquiry into what did or did not go wrong and that they would present their findings first to Cabinet and then to Full Council and he expected that it could be concluded within approximately 3 months.

Cllr John Daniels [Conservative & Ind All] said that whilst he had full trust in the CEO he felt that the issues raised by Pits n Pots and his own information and investigations convinced him that this was serious enough to be referred to the District Auditor. He was certain that rules and procedures were not adhered to and that councillors and members of the public deserved to know the truth.

The vote was taken on the amendment. Every councillor voted in favour apart from Cllr Daniels who voted against.

Pits n Pots have now achieved our objectives in relation to this issue. We will of course scrutinise and report on the Inquiry findings.

It was never about accusing any officer of any wrong doing. To us it was all about finding out the processes and investigating whether elected members had sufficient information and evidence on which to base their decision or invoke the scrutiny process.

To find out what,what was not, and why it was not, was presented to those who we elected to serve us.

All Articles by Mike Rawlins & Tony Walley – If you would like Pits n Pots to investigate anything, please use the contact form to get in touch, or email press@pitsnpots.co.uk

Stoke-on-Trent Waste Management & Enhanced Recycling Saga Latest

We are continuing our investigation into Stoke-on-Trent’s Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling

Our efforts have been thorough, our attempts to get to the truth, stifled at times by council officers.

Our motives and integrity called into question by some including the occasional mis-guided Councillor.

We will not halt our attempts to bring the facts out about what we consider to be an incredible mismanagement of this policy.

We can now reveal our latest findings which we hope will convince those councillors who are wavering about whether there needs to be an inquiry into this debacle and potentially embarrassing episode for our City Council.

In a recent article which outlined what we believe was the sequence of events regarding the Enhanced Recycling scheme we wrote:

One source tells of an EMB meeting where the then interim Council Manager demanded that members of the EMB nod this policy through.
The EMB refused due to the lack of substance to the report. There was absolutely no detail or information put before members so that they could make an informed decision on this matter. There was quite a heated row over the issue.
The Interim Council Manager stormed out of the meeting threatening to “Ëœcall the government for intervention’ allegedly.
To my knowledge this was never put before that particular EMB again.

We can now reveal that we have reason to believe that the report’s lack of substance and detail is because the originalthorough report prepared by an officer of the council was pulled and deliberately not presented to that now infamous EMB meeting which descended into a very public row between senior executive officers and the EMB.

This 13 page report made reference to the WRAP report and contained a full copy of it as an appendix.

Have a look at the attachments below. It shows that am actual offcer authored the report and it proves that the WRAP report existed and was meant to be presented to the EMB.

There is no blame on the officer who authored this report, we believe the decision to pull it came from higher up.

This report never saw the light of day and was buried along with the WRAP document. This categorically proves that Elected Members were denied the information that would have enabled them to make a balanced and INFORMED decision about the future methods of handling and disposing the City’s recyclables.

We believe on the evidence that we have seen, that the reason that this report was pulled and not presented to the EMB was because the Blue Bins had already been ordered ahead of the executive agreement to trial the Enhanced Recycling Scheme.

The officer’s report recommended the Enhanced Recycling Scheme but the WRAP report clearly stated that option J [adopted by NULBC] was the most effective.

As a result of this report being withheld from the EMB, it never made the agenda or was published along with the reports pack on the City Council’s website which prevented it from being scrutinised by non executive councillors.

This is the last article we will publish on this matter ahead of the Full Council meeting on Thursday 21st October.

We hope that this latest piece of evidence convinces any elected member who may have any remaining doubts and further strengthens the call for an Inquiry into the whole sorry and potentially embarrassing saga regarding the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling system.

See the attachments below, a sample of the buried report and the WRAP Report.

Terry Used To Lead – Now He Just Follows!

Back in the day Terry Follows was a very strong Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor. So just what has happened to that up and at ’em revolutionary type of ‘El Tel’ kind of guy?

He was the darling of the Trentham Action Group, not the orchestrator you understand, but he lent them support when the other councillors were reluctant.

He was the chief protagonist of the Elected Mayors Board, at the forefront of every opposition v executive clash.

He was on hand to assist the TAG in their staged sit in during an EMB Meeting. He accused all members of the executive of being ‘nodding donkeys’ and for selling out for the EMB gravy Train.

He was one of the first names on the sheet [see below] when the City Independent Group called in the EMB decision to trial the Enhanced Recycling Scheme.

He was there when CIG Leader Cllr Brian Ward questioned the officers on the evidence base to move to a new system of Waste Management.

He agreed when the CIG criticised the lack of substance in the report on Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling.

Oh how times have changed… Our Tiger like Terry has become a tame pussy cat!

Just how did he go from the old Terry who called in the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling because the report insulted members intelligence:

1. Inadequate consultation and communication with members and community interests including neighbourhood managers and police.
2. Lack of detail and analysis in to cost-benefit, risk assessment, recycling market, practicalities etc.
3. Proposed trial is unrepresentative and inadequate for extrapolation city wide long term.

To the new Terry who was responsible for this pathetic statement issued via the City Council’s Press and Communications Department:

We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years and the feedback we get from members of the public is that the system is easy to use and that they feel more compelled to recycle as a result. The new recycling system has allowed us to reach the 40% recycling targets set down by the government in 2007. In choosing which system to adopt, we had to balance the ease of use for the residents, the level of recycling we would achieve and the cost which would best support both. Materials recycled in Stoke go to plants all over the country and the resultant products are used all over the world, and around 99% of what goes into the recycling bins is reused in some way.

What a pathetic load of spin! What has changed Terry?

Terry must have a load of new evidence that counters all of the investigation that Pits n Pots have put in over the past year.

He should, without any further delay, share this new found evidence with us and people like Cllr John Daniels who has a dossier on this debacle the size of War & Peace!

Tell us Terry, as the Cabinet Member with responsibility, how you can justify the comment:

”We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years..”

You were apart of the call in in December 2008 that delayed the trial for one whole month. You had real concerns back then tell us what has changed to make you amend your views.

Did the officers want rid of Cllr John Daniels as Portfolio Holder because he was asking to many pertinent questions and ruffling too many feathers?

Is that why they wanted someone who would just go with the flow and would do as he was told?

Terry, please tell us categorically how you, as cabinet member with responsibility, will personally ensure that under the present system, the city will achieve the government target for recycling of 45% by 2015 and 50% by 2020?

I think that your change of heart is more to do with the fact that you have become the ‘nodding donkey’ you often accused former EMB members of becoming.

Is it because you now just follow the officers lead in exchange for the Cabinet dollar?

Has you complicity been brought Terry?

Will you share the evidence that has made you spout how good the council waste management and recycling system is now Terry?

Your comments contradict and seem to compromise the investigations carried out by Pits n Pots and others over the past year, so publish or be damned.

If you can prove to us that our work, investigations and concerns are unfounded then I promise that we will hold our hands up and apologise.

If you can’t do this Terry, will you back the calls for an inquiry? Or will you continue you silence and carry on nodding through officers wishes?

I am looking forward to Thursday Terry… Are you?