March in Support of Willfield Gym

There was a protest march on Tuesday 28th June 2011 against the planned closure of the Willfield gym, fitness centre and swimming pool.

I have blogged before (see links below) about Labour outrages in Bentilee and the fate of the Willfield gym.
I was very pleased to see a huge turnout at this protest, organised by the City Independent Group of the council alongside gym campaigners.

We were led by Vance Reardon and his splendid contingent of bagpipers in a well organised and marshalled march from the Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre along Dawlish Drive to the Willfield gym. There was much support along the way, people at home came to their doorsteps to watch, some joined in and traffic stopped without animosity. There was some talk along the way about who voted Labour in the ward. There seemed to be very little knowledge of many who did.

Prominent gym user and campaigner Carol Harrison took part with a multitude of other gym users including Lisa Hulme and her very vociferous group of children and parents from Bentilee Happy Feet who use the building for their dance classes. The crowd also included residents’ association members and many others who care about their community facilities.

Councillors Dave Conway and Ann James joined the march as did former local councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis. Current Bentilee and Ubberley councillors Sheila Pitt and Alison Wedgwood did not join the march but Sheila attended the rally afterwards outside the Willfield gym.

Cabinet are sure to vote today 30th June 2011 to close the Willfield gym. Dave Conway’s City Independent Group are sure to call in the decision but to no avail as Labour scrutinising their own decisions are bound to apply the final axe to the gym and swimming pool.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Statement On Councillor Amjid Wazir

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have released the following statement in relation to Councillor Amjid Wazir facing the Standards Committee.

The compliant against Councillor Wazir was heard by the City Council’s Standards Committee (Hearings Sub-Committee) yesterday and it was ruled that he had breached the Members’ Code of Conduct and would therefore be suspended from all Council business, without pay, for a calendar month from to-day (June 30) until midnight on July 29. It was also decided that Councillor Wazir should send written apologies to the complainant, Mrs Mees, and two of her colleagues, within the next 14 days and retake full Code of Conduct training.

Councillor Amjid Wazir To Face Standards Committee

Amjid Wazir the Labour Councillor for Hanley Park & Shelton is to face the Standards Committee – Hearings Sub-Committee at 2PM on wednesday.

It is alleged that in July 2010 Councillor Wazir tried to use his position as a councillor to get his friends daughter in to the nursery of the over subscribed Etruscan Primary School.

The report in the Standards Committee agenda pack states that, Councillor Wazir went uninvited to the school with a Mr Ahmed and asked to see the Head Teacher, Mrs Mees. During the subsequent conversation with Mrs Mees Councillor Wazir is alleged to have said that he was there because the Etruscan Primary was a good school and that there was some money under the Capital Schools Programme and that he was going to sponsor the school.

Mrs Mees said the conversation left her with the impression that she was to do her best to get his (Cllr Wazir’s) friend’s child a place at the school.

The Standards Committee will hear evidence from both sides before making a decision as to what action if any to take.

Gary Elsby – Holiday Reflections

Taking a much deserved holiday in the Eastern Mediterranean gave me too much time to reflect on the daily goings on in my upside down Country back home.

The newspapers came through thick and fast thanks to new digital technology and what a revelation it brought.

As the West continued its bombing campaign on behalf of “Ëœdemocracy’ and the economic world of my host holiday home continued on its downward spiral of bankruptcy the one headline that grabbed my attention was: “Louis groped me!’ and then followed the next day by “ËœCowell backs Louis 100%”

Well that’s that settled then I thought, with calls probably costing 35p per minute and 10p going to charity. Is this the best the British newspapers can do? I further thought.

Then came the usual new Labour Leader speech rolled out every few years by the invisible opposition Leader wanting a headline. “We must reform and change if we want to win” pumped out the red tops on behalf of Ed Miliband (advisor of the last Leader who bankrupted us. Ho hum).

On the back of an Arab spring they die in their thousands in a people’s revolt all over Africa and the Middle-East for democracy and Ed Miliband goes the other way and wishes to remove democracy by stopping elections to his shadow Cabinet.

Oh, how I laughed out loud.

Ed uses the usual change and reform speech to get rid of party democracy to make Labour much better. If you say so Ed, but the rest of us will just laugh and laugh. Maybe Ed is secretly angry by the clumsy outburst by Ed Balls who wanted a £50bn VAT cut without telling anyone in Labour?

Not to be outdone, surely the best headline of my holiday came from the usual sensible and well respected Jack Straw MP.

Jack normally keeps his senses intact by not bringing his personal animosity to the arena and usually tells a good story, but this one was a corker of immense WMD sexed up stupidity.

“ËœThe Euro is doomed and will go soon’, came the hysterical story and given more credit than it deserved by the EU rabid press.

This is the headline that gave me the most curiosity considering it came from a man who is considered to be a well considered and thoughtful man.

If we were to shove our fingers into a light socket and get a shock, should we all blame the electric company, I thought?

In a “Ëœhit and run’ crime involving a child and car arises, should we blame the car producing company or the driver? I pondered.

So why did Jack Straw blame the Euro currency and not or Portugal or anyone else whose economy goes into freefall?

I came to the conclusion that Jack must be one of those hysterical antis that pop up now and again yelping out nonsense that they know to be nonsense.

This type of person rabbits on about how useless they all are (EU) and how great we are and that we should just pull out and have done.

Let us remember and go beyond the headlines that sell newspapers galore. The pound (Sterling) is as close to bankruptcy as any useless EU Country you can think of and austere measures are plentiful to see. The US economy is just as bad and both Countries give proof that it is the economy and not the currency that is at fault. After all, both the US and GB are non Euro zone Countries and have economic sanctuary within these long established currencies and are self protected from the Euro. Not true though is it and our currency offered us no protection save an alternative way out.

The Tories have loved Europe just as much as any Labour Leader you can think of and signed up to everything put before them, but not to that awful Euro currency being used by Germany, the Country doing very well indeed and bailing everyone out in the process. Again proof if any more is needed.

I need another holiday fast.

Recall ““ parliamentary motion

There is a rather good parliamentary motion (early day motion 1253) that has been proposed by a cross party group of MPs headed by Zac Goldsmith:

“That this House welcomes the Coalition Agreement commitment to introduce a power of recall for constituents to recall their hon. Members; expresses its disappointment that a recall vote will only happen if the Committee on Standards and Privileges deems an hon.

Member guilty of serious wrongdoing; further expresses its disappointment that the Government has no plans to introduce a power for electors to recall members of the London Assembly, local councillors or Members of the European Parliament; further welcomes instead the provisions of the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill that would permit voters to recall their elected representatives if a majority has lost confidence in them, for whatever reason, and if enough voters sign a petition to trigger a recall vote; and urges the Government to incorporate these provisions as part of its legislative programme to put power in the hands of communities and individuals.”

I particularly like that this would allow more grass roots democracy by devolving decision making on our representatives to the local people they represent and would encompass a wider range of representatives such us councillors, as well as MPs. Having a recall possibility available would actually provide an improvement even if it were not used, recall being part of the framework would help to encourage our elected representatives to do just that, represent our collective view well.
Early day motions are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. Very few are actually debated. However they do at least illustrate the support of groups of MPs for the particular point of view.

The list of MPs who have signed this recall motion 1253 (to date 26th June 2011) shows that Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley has signed, well done Joan. Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello and Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt have not as yet signed. Nor have the neighbouring MPs for Stone – Bill Cash, Newcastle-under-Lyme – Paul Farrelly or Staffordshire Moorlands – Karen Bradley.

The Unlock Democracy website facilitates an easy way for you to write to your MP if you like this motion and want to encourage your MP to sign. I have written to mine, Rob Flello.

Location Stoke-on-Trent

After the success of Soul Boy, the movie that was filmed almost entirely in Stoke-on-Trent you would hope that Stoke-on-Trent City Council would embrace the idea of Location Stoke-on-Trent and try to promote the city to production companies as the ideal location for their productions.

Stoke-on-Trent has quite a history as a filming location, it is not as massive as other cities such as Manchester or Birmingham but from Dr Who to Soul Boy there have been a number of films that have used the city as a location in the past.

The Crown Hotel (Crown & Anchor) in Longton had a starring role in the 1957 film The Smallest Show On Earth, with the railway & Longton bridge (which still has the same coat of paint on it no doubt) featuring heavily in the film alongside Peter Sellers, Virginia McKenna, Sid James and more.

In June 2010 a production company working for the BBC on the show Waterloo Road, approached, amongst others, Stoke-on-Trent City Council to see if there were any suitable locations for them to use for filming series 7 of the popular TV drama starting in January 2011.

A High School in a suburban and green environment with full access required to all areas of the school

A rolling yearly lease for up to 4 years

£600 a week while the production company are on site & £500 a week when they are not.

The production company also asked for additional parking to be made available if they were not able to fit all their vehicles on site at the school location. As well as the school it would be highly likely that other locations around the city would be required, bringing valuable trade in to our city.

Hotels & taxi firms would also benefit from having such a production in the city, after all the cast & crew need accommodation & transport.

There were also employment possibilities for local people, 24 hour security is required for the site, cleaners & extra production staff were also required. Seeing as Staffs Uni has a faculty of Arts Media & Design there would have been some fantastic opportunities for students.

The production company also stated that they have a policy of sourcing as much of the equipment, materials & props locally which would have benefitted local businesses.

I asked the City Council what they had done with the request and had they put any possible sites forward and they were unable to confirm if they had entered in to any dialogue about any possibly suitable locations in the City.

It isn’t possible to say if Stoke-on-Trent would have met the all criteria of the production company or if its proposal would have been successful but as it isn’t ringing any bells within the Civic Centre the chances are we were never in the running.

That said I find it a bit strange that the City Council cannot confirm they corresponded with the production company as Pits n Pots have been given a copy of a Corporate e-bulletin, which is distributed by E-mail to all council staff, the copy we have shows that someone managed to publish the whole letter from the production company in it, so somebody has seen it and done something with it.

Tony wrote a few weeks ago about the Chief Executive drawing on his commercial experience to draw income in to the city and opportunities like getting a large BBC production in to the city for up to 4 years, generating around £30,000 in rental alone cannot be over looked.

Oh So Quiet

Tony and I have had a bucket full of e-mails & calls from people over the past month asking what is going on with the site. Everything from, have you given up, to have you been warned off has been said to us.

Just to put your collective minds at rest, no we haven’t given up, sold out or been warned off by anyone. People have tried to say to us that life would be easier if we did X or Y, but Tony and I make the decisions as to what goes on to Pits n Pots. As you are aware, we made a decision before the elections in May, that we were going to focus solely on the politics of the city which cut down the amount of content that appears each day.

We fully expected that the new Council would come out of the gates on May 9th after being sworn in to office with all guns blazing, fired up and ready to do business.

We were wrong.

After the full council meeting in March, the Purdah period started and no meetings were held until the Annual Council Meeting on 26 May. Annual Council is different to Full Council as no real business is transacted, the out-going Lord Mayor hands over to the new Lord Mayor. There is then the election of the Council Leader, the results of the election are reported and various other administrative tasks, you can read the agenda here basically the meeting is just setting the council up for the following 4 years. There is time for urgent or non contentious business to be transacted but really the Annual Council is mutual back-slapping for the elected members.

Tony and I expected that after this we would be back on to the schedule of monthly Full Council meetings.

We were wrong.

There was no meeting in June, this time last year, there had been an Annual Council meeting a Full Council meeting and they were 2 days away from their second Full Council meeting. The first Full Council Meeting this year takes place in July then september. It seems that the council have very quietly slipped back to the 6 weekly meeting cycle as written in the Constitution.

This with a reduction in Overview & Scrutiny committees and allegations of meetings be held behind closed doors as reported by Potteye recently it looks like the Labour Party majority in the Civic Centre are going back to the old ways of running this city. I seriously hope we are really not heading back to the days of pre meeting meetings behind closed doors to agree what is going to be voted through democratically at the public meetings.

I hope we are wrong.

Local MP leads seafood campaigners to victory

Joan Walley MP has joined campaigners in welcoming the announcement that the Coalition Government has committed to using sustainable fish in all of its catering for , Whitehall, Government departments, prisons, and some parts of the armed forces ““ improving the meals of nearly 400,000 people.

Joan spearheaded a campaign in parliament to achieve these standards, having previously joined campaigners to highlight that fish served in Whitehall and Number 10 Downing Street had worse seafood sustainability standards than the cat food served to Number 10′s Larry the Cat, because leading pet food brands such as Whiska’s had already made the switch to sustainable fish.

“These new standards mean that for the first time, over £16 million of fish bought with taxpayers’ money every year will now be covered by compulsory sustainability standards. We have had to fight very hard to get these standards, but they would never have been introduced without Joan’s tireless support for the campaign”.

Stoke-on-Trent Residents Treated Like Mushrooms

Democracy4Stoke at its meeting last night, Thursday 16 June 2011, took the unprecedented step of altering its annual work programme following serious concerns about revelations of secret meetings taking place at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

D4S has now taken the monitoring and scrutiny of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s compliance with its own constitution and relevant legislation as its new priority for the foreseeable future.

This appears to totally fly in the face of the Chief Executive’s, Mr Laarschot promises of openness and transparency within the local authority. D4S are deeply concerned that the interests of the public are being ignored, and potentially the legal requirements of the City Council being broken.

D4S are aware of at least one investigation dropped by this meeting that affects an elderly resident who has been campaigning about home social care for over two years potentially affecting hundreds of vulnerable adults following an ombudsman’s judgment against the City Council.

“”‹Dear Mr Hackney/ Ms Bates,

D4S at its meeting on Thursday 16 June 2011 agreed D4S write to you with regards to our serious concerns that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is not acting within the public interest; in the manner of openness and transparency expected of a publicly accountable body nor potentially within the legal framework required by local authorities.

An elected member has contacted us with regards to scrutiny decisions and meetings being held in private and without public notice or records.

It is alleged that the Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee, previously notified to the public on SoT CC website as “cancelled” then subsequently removed from the list of meetings, still took place in an “informal” capacity.

However, the member concerned attended the meeting and alleges that the meeting had an agenda, discussed matters, voted and made decisions contrary to those made in good faith by previous O+S committees, specifically but not exclusively to work programme items.

These “decisions” were allegedly made on the basis of briefing papers submitted by officers and directors not disclosed to the public, and without giving notice to those members of the public who may have formally raised the items, giving them the opportunity to provide evidence or their own “briefing papers”.

D4S believes the actions of the council on this matter may be in contravention of the legislation relevant to such matters of local government and scrutiny, and we also believe that if such a meetings or others that we have not been aware of, are taking place, they are in direct conflict with the commitments previously made by the CEO and the council to up hold openness and transparency.

We would be grateful if you could provide a full explanation of the events above and include any relevant paperwork, briefing papers or other relevant documents to support your response.

We would also wish to know if any other “informal” meetings have taken place in such circumstances in the recent past and details of such
occurrences.

We reserve our right to take further action where necessary.

We also give you notice, due to the seriousness of the allegations above, D4S at its meeting, also decided to alter its full annual works programme to include as it first priority for the foreseeable future for all its members, the monitoring and scrutiny of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s compliance with its own constitution and all relevant local government legislation.

Yours sincerely,

D4S

www.democracy4stoke.co.uk”

“Openness and transparency are at the core of successful and proper democracy. Citizens cannot make informed choices or hold their representatives to account if information that should be public is withheld or meetings and decisions are made in secret. D4S is committed to continuing its work in the interests of everybody in Stoke-on-Trent and this is reflected in this new priority and its increasing membership.

Treating the electorate like mushrooms in the dark in not acceptable for this area, nor anywhere else.

We will not hesitate to highlight our concerns and potentially take legal action where we think it would be in the interests of the people of Stoke-on-Trent.”

Stoke MP Lends Support to New School For Children with Autism

Rob Flello, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South is lending his support to the creation of a new specialist school in Stoke-on-Trent for children with autism.

The new “ËœSon-shine School of Autism’ will cater for children with autism between the ages of 3-13. The emphasis of the school will be on equipping children with autism, with the social and educational skills needed to enter, or re-enter mainstream schools. The school will act as an interventionist strategy for all the pupils with autism, but will also act as a preventative strategy for those children under the age of 6, attending school for the first time.

The initiative is being led by Mr Gareth Bowen whose son William is autistic. The Sentinel covered William’s story in 2008 and supported Mr and Mrs Bowen’s fundraising activities which enabled them to travel to the US to investigate alternative therapies for children with autism.

The School will be run in partnership with IMAP (Individuals Making Autism Positive). Children will be taught in an environment that will give them the social skills to manage their behaviours, so that could then go on to learn in mainstream public schools.

Pupils at the school will benefit from one to one tuition and from specialist teaching techniques pioneered in the US, that will allow pupils to better understand the need to follow instructions in a school environment, as well as benefiting from a personalised curriculum to meet their social, educational and physiological needs.

“I fully support the efforts of Mr Bowen and those organisations behind this initiative to help provide children on the autistic spectrum in Stoke-on-Trent with the specialist support and an educational environmental that will allow local children with autism to fulfil their potential.

“Any facility that seeks to broaden the support available to children and teenagers with autism and help children with autism overcome the difficulties they face as a result of their condition, should be encouraged.

“Drawing on his own experiences with his son William, I know that Gareth has a wide and substantial knowledge of the alternative treatments and support available to children with autism, which can be adopted to help children with autism flourish.”

“I would encourage any parents with children with autism in the Stoke-on-Trent area who would be interested in learning more about the proposed school to contact myself on 01782 326066 or at garethbowen@hotmail.com.

“I genuinely believe that this school of autism will have a substantial impact on the future life chances of the children we teach.”