This week mark’s the last instalment payment by Stoke City Football Club to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
It seems incredible that over 18 months ago councillors found out about the instalments arrangement and began asking questions. When they got no answers I wrote to the Audit Commission to investigate.
It started out with simple questions:
- Why were councillors not informed of the instalments plan at the council meeting that discussed the sale?
- Who agreed the plan on behalf of the City Council?
- Who actually signed off the agreement?
Yet today we still have no answers.
Firstly, let me say there is no question of wrongdoing by Stoke City Football or Peter Coates – that is absolutely clear.
This sorry saga has now delayed the City Council’s Annual Report which should have been delivered in October/ November 2009. An update from the Commission reveals that this has been delayed by the investigation into the sale of shares in the Britannia Stadium and will not be expected until January/ February 2010.
Since I requested the Audit Commission intervention, more serious questions have been raised by Cllrs Pauline and Alan Joynson – as the sale of share was agreed by councillors with the proceeds going to the regeneration of Stoke town centre. Their questions remain unanswered – their requests for minutes of meetings ignored.
Councillors have been under the spotlight for many many months now with much criticism. Yet time after time councillors are asking the right questions and getting no answers. We are being given misleading and incomplete reports with little or no action when this is challenged.
Dimensions rumbles on – tendering process undermined – misleading report on savings and proposed reorganisations.
Councillors cannot make the right decisions without having the full and accurate facts that cover the issues at hand.
I am extremely disappointed that the Audit Commission has not been able to get to the bottom of this particular issue. But more worryingly appears to have missed some of the other issues like failures in our tendering processes – yet a BBC investigation can spot it.
My confidence in the council and its reports is at the lowest since being elected in 1999. If a council report said it was sunny outside – I would have to have a look armed with an umbrella – and that’s really sad, because I think that most officers don’t deserve that, but this lack of openness, this omission of important information eats away at everybody’s trust. Is it deliberate or is it just genuine human error?
So come on Transition Board, Rosie Winterton etc – if you have to stick your nose into Stoke-on-Trent’s affairs, when are you going to intervene so that councillors get the information they need from the officers?