Well it’s that time of year again reader. Out with the old and in with the new.
2009 was a difficult year for many people, the recession, many people on short time working or worse still losing their jobs.
A government reluctant to accept that the global economy was in melt down and the inevitability that recession would surely follow in the UK.
Locally the start of the year could not have started any worse for those people who relied on the Pottery giants Wedgwood for their livelihood.
The Barlaston based company announced that they had called in the receivers at the end of the Christmas shut down. It marked the beginning of the end for a company that had been on the City’s landscape for some 250 years.
Education chiefs announced that they would issue the closure notice for Trentham High school a whole year earlier than had previously been proposed. This move only served to further galvanise the Trentham Action Group in their fight to save their community school.
Craig Pond, then the Chair of the Stoke BNP Policy group, outraged the City by writing an article on what he claimed was the proposal to build permanent and temporary ‘Traveller Camps’ he lambasted the ‘Traveller’ community and described them as ‘lying, thieving, no good, trouble making scum!’ he went on to state that we have ‘been gifted with so many thieving pikeys from abroad, we round up ours and send them to Romania!’ This article drew a massive response and pits’n'pots was roundly criticised for publishing it. It also angered the then Stoke BNP group Leader Alby Walker.
January also saw three City Councillors reprimanded for failing to undertake a standard CRB check. Gavin Webb held out because he believed that the CRB check that his employers had undertaken on him should suffice. Lee Wanger was having problems trying to prove who he was as he had no passport or driving license. Geoff Knight had been ill and had not been well enough to go through the process. All three eventually complied.
Gav being Gav kicked up a real fuss about the CRB requirement and told the City that he didn’t agree with these kind of checks. He also gave his first clue that he was heading towards the Libertarians in a blog article.
Jean Bowers EMB for Adult Services announced that there would be changes to the Life Line service provided to the elderly. The old type pull chord system was to be replaced with pendants. There were obvious benefits to the new system such as ‘fall detectors’ but it also meant that more people would be required to pay for the service.
The 22nd January heralded D-Day for the Trentham Action Group. A meeting of the EMB descended into chaos when TAG members staged a sit down protest. The protest followed constant refusal by the Elected Mayor Mark Meredith to allow TAG Chair Daniel Jordan to address the meeting. Mayor Meredith acted like a dictator in that meeting and just before the vote to merge THS and Blurton HS, Mr Jordan made one last attempt to speak out. Mayor Meredith ordered two burly security guards to escort Mr Jordan out of the room. Mr Jordan was having none of it and promptly staged a sit in. He was joined by many TAG supporters. The EMB concluded the meeting behind closed doors. It was without doubt the most tense meeting that we have covered for PnP and we were there to capture pictures and audio from the meeting as the action unfolded.
At the Full Council meeting at the end of January, the constitution for a chamber under the Leader and Cabinet system was revealed. Outgoing EM Mark Meredith clashed with Cllr Mick Salih at the proposal to introduce a paid Chair for the NSRP for when Meredith vacated the position.
The month began with the administration of Wedgwood and finished with the shock announcement that North Staffs Race Equality Council had called in the administrators. The REC closed it’s doors after 30 years service to the city.
The beginning of February saw Mike and I attend a press launch in the snow to publicise the proposed face lift of the Potteries Way. £1.8million was to be spent on new Hundreds of new trees and hedges, 53 new street light columns and 212 colourful image panels attached to the lighting columns. This work was to be started immediately and was to be finished by April ’09. Eight months later and the work has yet to be completed.
BNP Leader Alby Walker called for an independent audit of the North Staffs REC accounts by the City Council. He added that the absence of a Service Level agreement had cast doubts on the REC’ financial dealings and he demanded to know what the money given by Stoke on Trent city council had been used for. He also suggested that the REC had been guilty of letting third parties like Unite Against Fascism, and the North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, use their building free of charge to defeat the BNP.
In contrast, PnP team member Tideswellman penned an article that exposed his thoughts on ‘Who the BNP really are’. This article drew a massive response and to this day remains one of our most viewed.
February also witnessed an attempt to save Wedgwood by members of the Wedgwood family. This campaign was backed by Stoke South MP Rob Flello and after a valiant attempt, the move was doomed to failure.
The TAG announced that some of their members would cycle to Strasbourg to deliver a petition to the European Parliament.
EMB Member Joan Bell announced that after taking the views of the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, she had decided to revise plans for the raising of car park charges. Originally, charges were to rise by up to 40p per hour. Bell went with the scrutiny recommendations and opted for a staged rise in parking charges. Ironically, these rises were never implemented and would come back to bite officers in the rear later in the year.
The Coachmakers Arms featured predominately in the news in February. The campaign to save the popular city centre watering hole was gathering pace. Plans for a proposed visit to the pub by councillors were altered at the 11th hour to avoid a demonstration by pub regulars and supporters.
They opted instead to view the pub from the relative safety of the balcony of the near by Victoria Hall. Then it was back to the Civic to wield the expected axe over this award wining pub.
The proverbial hit the fan with our decision to publish another article from Stoke BNP policy group Chair Craig Pond. This one was entitled ‘Wasted Money’ and essentially it was a list of council funded projects and groups. Many of the groups were ethnic minority or disabled groups and Craig left us in no doubt of what he and the BNP thought of this use of public money. The article gab=ve the local BNP a few problems, and it emerged that Ellie Walker [wife of group Leader Alby] had relatives that had benefited from the work of one of the groups that Craig had slated. There was trouble ahead…
February also saw the announcement that the Audit Commission were to investigate the selling of the shares owned by the City Council to Stoke City FC. We are still waiting for the result despite repeated calls for information from Cllr Mike Barnes.
Trentham Gardens also announced that they were to charge for the Lake Walk. The walk would also take in the Italian Gardens. A Facebook group was formed and within weeks a large number of people had joined the campaign against the charges.
The BNP, the CIG and some other members of the council had walked out of the council chamber ahead of a vote to implement a series of measure designed to help businesses through the recession. The unrest was caused by what was perceived to be a lack of detailed information on which companies would qualify for the assistance. Officers of the council would have the ultimate say in which companies would benefit from these measures.
It was also agreed in February that the Mitchell Memorial Theatre would get a complete refurbishment.
Sunday 22nd February saw a 1000 demonstrators descend on Trentham Gardens in protest at the implementation of charges for the Lake walk. To his credit Trentham Director Mike Herbert was in attendance and faced his critics. He also conducted media interviews. The decision to implement the charges was largely vindicated as visitor number increased over the year 2009.
The City Council accepted the Corporate Plan with the exception of the BNP. They failed to table any alternative, but did say the plan would be very different if they were in charge. That response drew widespread condemnation for all sides of the council chamber.
Well March started with a bang! The arrest of Roger Ibbs right at the end of February hit the headlines, but the details were sketchy.
Here at Pits’n'Pots our legal team advised us to report that a prominent councillor had been arrested but no more. This was a move that paid off, as we were the first to get an exclusive statement from Roger Ibbs. His statement said: “I am sure everyone realises that this is a most difficult time for me and my family, particularly because I cannot go into detail as to the reasons why I am helping the Police with their enquiries. As I have explained it is impossible for me to comment in detail on an ongoing police enquiry but I do believe that some broad explanation should be made before people jump to the wrong conclusions. These enquiries came about following a complaint I made to the council. It is nothing to do with the BSF proposals for Education. It is about actions that started over 12 months ago when I held a different responsibility but has nothing to do with that area of responsibility either. I willingly helped the Police on Friday and will willingly continue to do so”.
This was enough to start the speculation. People very quickly formed the opinion that this was all to do with the attempted closure of the Dimensions leisure pool. This was confirmed by the arrest of the Elected Mayor Mark Meredith exactly one week later.
Meanwhile, all was not well with Stoke BNP. Craig Pond announced his shock resignation from the party. He cited a difference of opinion with the local party hierarchy. There were rumours abound that the party leadership was less than impressed with Craig’s articles on PNP which had outraged Alby as these articles were not in keeping with the image that Alby was trying to portray of the BNP.
Back to the Roger Ibbs saga. It was announced that Ross Irving would take the party helm following Roger’s decision to step down from all council duties apart from his attendance at full council meetings. This meant that EM Mark Meredith would take over the responsibility for the BSF process. This move however, was to be very short lived, following Meredith’s subsequent arrest in the same police investigation. Ironically Meredith had heralded Ibbs’s decision to step down.
We had aired our first ‘Leadership Special’ interview with Mike Barnes which had massive viewing figures. We were planning many more and committed to putting them on the site unedited. The uptake was fantastic, with one exception ““ Alby Walker! He blatantly refused to allow us to film or record an interview with him. We decided not to ask him again.
The TAG were still fighting strongly to save their school and there was talk of legal action. I knew at this stage that Rob Flello MP was working in the background lobbying ministers in Parliament.
Following the arrest of Mark Meredith, our very own Matt Taylor wrote an article calling for the EM to follow the precedent made by Roger Ibbs and resign. Exactly two days later, Meredith resigned and stepped down from all his political duties including overseeing the BSF project, Chair of the NSRP and he was temporarily suspended from the Labour Party. Amazingly he held onto the position of Elected Mayor and the salary that came with it!
Mohammed Pervez, as Deputy Elected Mayor, stepped in to fulfil the duties vacated by Mark Meredith. There was a media gathering organised to allow the press to put questions to Chris Harman and Pervez. Pnp were not allowed to interview the pair and were barred from the press gathering on the instruction of Dan Barton Head of Communications. This really set the tone for our tempestuous relationship with the media department at our city council.
March was the month that PnP started to get some national recognition. Several national dailies picked up PnP contributor Plane Jane’s article of the mis-use of the Spitfire by the BNP. We remain truly proud of this article.
It was during March that our sources started indicating that Government were about to intervene in the running of this city as they were becoming completely frustrated at the failure to reach a clear cut decision on the implementation of all out elections.
March also witnessed the official merger of Pits’n'Pots and the Radical Press. An upgrade to the web site followed and the site was again receiving recognition for the quality it was producing.
Towards the end of March we saw the very sad announcement of the death of former councillor and wife of Terry, Christine Follows.
Nationally the Mps’ expense scandal was gathering momentum. Revelations were coming thick and fast. We had an inkling that this fiasco would run and run. It followed perhaps the best example of investigative journalism seen in this country from reporters at the Telegraph.
The TAG were still fighting tooth and nail for their community school. At a council organised consultation meeting at the Brittania Stadium both communities universally rejected the proposed merger of the two schools and called for an Academy to be built on the Blurton site and a refurbishment of THS. It seemed a plan was coming together…
Details of our local Mps’ expenses were revealed at to be fair they did not show anything too untoward. Collectively Rob Flello, Mark Fisher and Joan Walley claimedÃ‚ more than £450k in the main for travel, second homes and the running of offices. Out of the three Stoke South MP Rob Flello claimed the largest amount. He ranked as the 75th highest claimant out of the 645 MPs’ with a total of £162,116. Flello claimed £150,405 for running a second home and a constituency office.
Stoke North MP Joan Walley claimed a total of £146,719 in expenses. This amount included £134,210 on allowances and £12,509 in travel expenses. This put her in 325th place out of 645 Mps.
Stoke Central Mp Mark Fisher claimed a total of £147,664 which included £139,360 in allowances and £8,304 in travel expenses. This put Fisher in 309th out of the total of 645 Mps.
That’s the first quarter of the ‘Year in Review’ stay tuned for the next instalment coming very soon…….