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.”