Press & Communications department gets a mauling from committee!


The Head of the Press and Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Dan Barton was heavily criticised by the Chair of the Transformation & Resources Committee Roger Ibbs, for his no show at a meeting to scrutinise his departmental strategy and 3year plan.

Head of Member Services Elaine Bates along with Terry Follows the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Communications did their best to answer members questions and grievances but both looked grossly under prepared.

The meeting room was packed with spectators and attendees and there were representatives from the Sentinel and BBC Radio Stoke as well as Pits’n’Pots.

Chair Roger Ibbs also questioned why, if the Head of the department was not available, why his deputy could not attend either. He also stated that it was disingenuous to the committee that there was no representation from the very department that they were trying to scrutinise.

Cabinet member Terry Follows said that he was aware that many elected members were not happy with the performance of the Press & Communications Department. He said that following the now infamous ‘Brian Ward leaked email’ he has requested Dan Barton to do a presentation to all councillors on the roles and responsibilities of the department.

Cllr Dave Conway said that he was not interested in presentations and that he expected officers to attend scrutiny meetings concerning their departments.

The elected members of this committee were not happy with the report and the fact that they are kept out of the loop when something is happening in their ward. There were examples of where the Press and Communications team knew of an event taking place but had not bothered to tell ward councillors.

The chair suggested that there be an urgent single item agenda meeting early in the new year to discuss the concerns of the committee regarding the Press and Communications team and that the head of the department or his deputy must be in attendance.

Cllr Conway also proposed that there should be a spotlight review into the way that the Press and Communications Department dealt with all form of the media, including new media sites like Pits’n’Pots.

It was certainly an uncomfortable meeting for Terry Follows and Elaine Bates who at times looked like lambs to the slaughter.

Our Twitter stream from the meeting up until the recess:

-in the Transformation And Resources Overview & Scrutiny Committee. No representative from @SoTCC press office here
-For some reason this meeting is *very* popular… Committee room A is almost full.
-@averyps Not as yet. If he isn’t quick there won’t be any space.
-Cllr Roger Ibbs opens the meeting. No apologies received
-Minutes of prev meeting agreed, no interest declared
-Dan Barton not here to present report, Roger Ibbs is questioning why nobody from press & Comms is in the meeting
-Cllr Ibbs is *not* happy that press & comms are not in attendance
-Cllr Ibbs will not defer questions but understands that potfolio holder and member services won’t be able answer some questions
-29 FTE in press & Comms dept, but nobody is able to come to meeting!
-Cllr Rigby, says Press & Comms seems to be an expensive dept
-Meeting [already]put off from November because Dan was not available
-Point made that Press & Comms normally send a press officer to all meetings to take notes. Why is there nobody at this meeting?
-Portfolio holder for Press & Comms makes apologies for Dan Barton. Says meeting in Jan where he *will* be in attendance to explain what dept does
-Only 6 in press office apparently. Other FTYEs are from other departments that have merged. So does this mean that £100k per head of staff?
-Cllr Ibbs wants Jan meeting with Dan B to be after next scrutiny meeting which is 20 Jan
-Cllr Ibbs wants Press & Comms to come to committee in Jan or even a special meeting. Wants Dan to provide dates of availability
-Cllr Conway expects officers to come to scrutiny.. Not interested in presentations wants scrutiny
-Cllr Conway now questioning why Press & Comms are involved in interviewing 350 people in neighbourhood services re closure of local ctrs
-Cllr Conway, this is outside of remit of Press & Comms.. Dept can’t be here today but they managed to go out and int people!
-Member services trying to respond to Cllr Conway. Feel a bit sorry for Elaine, Dan should not put her in this position
-Clr Conway responds that it was outside of the remit of Press & Comms. Cllr Follows trying to fire fight, no point in having ago at Dan if he is not here
-Cllr Ibbs, will not stop members from expressing their disquiet. If we have to do it twice we will do it twice.
-Cllr Daniels, council needs to be run openly and transparently
-Cllr Ibbs any further questions for Dan Barton?
-Cllr Rigsby, paying for a Roll Royce service and we can’t even get a Ford banger here (Press & Comms)
-Press & Comms should be informing Elected Members of anything they are aware of that is happening in members wards..
-Cllr Ibbs, example of public meeting on contentious public meeting in members ward Press & Comms didn’t inform Elected Members
-Cllr Daniels, points out page 9 Dan Bartons report, says 2 way communication, this is not happening!
-Cllr Daniels, he is stating things in the report that he is obviously not doing. PnP also note, no dates on the key actions..
-Cllr Ibbs, saying all members need to be informed of things happening in wards.
-Member services, saying some meetings Elected Members cannot be invited to.
-Cllr Follows, “In Brian Wards Confidential E-Mail” Laughter around the room
-Cllr Salih, can Elected members / Group Leaders ask questions?
-Cllr Salih, talking monthly publication of ‘Our City’ Cllr Ibbs says this will be raised later in the meeting.
-Cllr Ibbs will allow discussion of ‘Our City’ publication later
-Cllr Ibbs to Cllr Follows, do you think the Press & Comms have done a good job of managing the council reputation over the past 6 months.
-Cllr Follows, says they are fighting with the local press (Sentinel)
-Cllr Ibbs, asks why Press & Comms favour the Sentinel with private briefings
-Cllr Follows, says members & press are all informed at same time. Cllr Ibbs says this is not the case
-Cllr Ibbs, why are we spending time briefing the Sentinel, a paper who in you (Cllr Follows) words, you are fighting against?
-Cllr Follows, Dan Barton ‘wants’ to work with all press… Sniggers around the room
-Elaine now trying to differentiate between different parts of the media.. There is a list apparently..
-Cllr Ibbs, PnP have been mentioned, but this is not just about PnP but ‘other’ media..
-Cllr PK-B why can’t the portfolio holder answer questions that would have been put to Dan Barton? As a portfolio holder he should be able to
-Cllr Ibbs, we need to be fair to the portfolio holder.
-Cllr PK-B it seems we have a policy of disengaging with part of the media in this city.. We should be engaging
-Cllr PK-B we either do or we don’t engage with all the local media
-Cllr Matloob, we need the trust and the confidence of this city, we don’t have it. We don’t have the Press & PR
-Cllr Matloob, lack of information, right hand does not know what left hand is doing.
-Cllr PK-B If I were a portfolio holder, let us indulge in a bit of fantasy… Cllr Ibbs, well it is Christmas…
-Cllr Daniels, can we ask at the next meeting for the views of the Sentinel & PnP for Dan Barton to hear
-Cllr Ibbs asking Paul Hackney about legal position of bringing outside bodies in to give evidence. Need a Task & Finish / Spotlight
-Cllr Daniles, just to confirm that the portfolio holder has said Dan Barton *will* be at our next meeting
-Paul Hackney, no rule on inviting people to speak at committee..
-Cllr Ibbs wants Task & Finish to discuss all media
-Cllr Daniels, wants Spotlight review on all forms of media. Proposed & Seconded Date to be 20 / 22 Jan 10
-Cllr Ibbs, I think we have expressed our disquiet enough now, Clrr Salih wants to raise ‘Our City’
-Cllr Salih, talking about using Our City for council advertising. Does not go to all houses and will have an effect on the Sentinel, £140+k out of their income. They employ 200 people what impact will this have?
-Cllr Salih, impact on the local economy could be massive. All focus on City Life, could mean it could get used for the wrong reasons we *need* the alternative from the press.
-Cllr Salih, Using just ‘Our City’ will be a step back for democracy in this city
-Cllr Ibbs, distribution of ‘Our City’ is in the high 90% according to Smith Davis Press and is independently audited.
-Elaine, £140k on adverts is only around 40% of the advertising budget. Cllr Salih, the report is not accurate then… We can scrutinise it it it is not accurate
-Cllr Ibbs points out that Caroline Spellman agrees with Cllr Salih in the latest copy of MJ. Cllr Salih, I’ll go and throw myself under a bus..
-Cllr PK-B, the story in the original budget pack is different to the Press & Comms report. Changed from figures to %
-Cllr PK-B, we need to be given all the details of the budget, the figures do not stack up.
-Cllr Rigby, says Our City is not delivered in his area.
-Cllr Ibbs, who has control editorially of Our City? Partners are un happy that their stories are not always published/ Partners are police, PCT, Fire etc
-Cllr Follows, Dan Barton has editorial control of the ‘Our City’ publication…
-Cllr Ibbs, there is no publication schedule. Partners can’t plan their stories as we can’t tell them when we are going to publish
-Cllr Daniels, Agrees with Cllr Salih concerns. Whatever road we go down, we don’t allow openness and transparency to suffer
-Cllr daniels, we must not withhold any information.
-Cllr Daniels, says the way the budget cuts have been publicised, people think we are going to save £45m this year, not over 3 years
-Cllr Ibbs draws the crucifixion of Dan Barton to a close.
-Cllr Ibbs, special meeting will be arranged when Dan Barton is available
-Cllr Ibbs & Sutton, question why the contact officer (Tracey Harrison) was not present. Elaine did not check if she was available
-Cllr PK-B now asking questions of budgets.
-Cllr PK-B questioning the reduction of menu in council cafe, does this include the museum give that the Stafordshire Hoard will be exibited there we need to show the city in a good light.
-Cllr PK-B how are we going to save £20k on food for internal meetings? Can he have a copy of the current policy?
-Cllr PK-B, has the new Chief Exec agreed to the deletion of the DCE role? Cllr Ibbs, we will not have a decision until the New Year when new CE starts
-Cllr Ibbs, calling a recess for 5 minutes.

During a recess of the meeting we managed to catch up with the Committee Chair Roger Ibbs and he gave us his reaction to the meetings events.


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About Tony Walley

I was Abbey Hulton born and bred, now live in Meir Hay.I'm married to Nita, we have 2 kids Tom 19 & Amy 17.I'm the Managing Director of a local aluminium stockist.I'm also a radio presenter and presented sport on radio for a number of years, more recently for Focal Radio.It was on Focal that I got the chance to present a programme of my favourite music genre which is Soul & Smooth Jazz. The programme was really popular and attracted overseas listeners online.Look out for our new venture - Community Radio for the good folk of the 6 Towns!I was the original creator of the blog Pits'n'Pots which gained some credibility when Mike Rawlins joined the site and has now blossomed into this site.I love sport particularly Golf & Tennis. I packed up playing football some years ago when I started picking up lot's of fines for bookings from late tackles!I play golf at Leek Golf Club and Tennis at Draycott Sports Centre.

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