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.”

Democracy Contempt In stoke-on-Trent

The District Auditor’s Report on the sale of the Britannia Stadium reveals, under independent scrutiny, why Elected Mayor’s are an attack on openess, transparency and our hard fought British democracy.

Even more shocking is the contempt with which officers, paid to serve in the public interest by the public purse, show to elected members and the public.

Make no mistake in thinking that this is a one off report. Secrecy, deceit and hidden agendas are par for the course in Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The new CEO has an enormous task in an organisation in which top heavy management is rotten to its absolute core, and colludes with equally rotten senior politicians, to cover their own arses, and pick up their salaries in shame. Many of them not even prepared to commit more tyhan a part time role but still picking up £20000-30000.

The governance commission tried to lay the chaos at the door of politics and the councillors. Yet the real source of the problems lie at a more fundamental level.

A culture driven by mistrust and now a cabinet determined to squash any debate or scrutiny, aided by an officer core scrambling to save its own skin.

Fortunately they will fail as a growing team presses them at every opportunity – the likes of PitsnPots, D4S and dedicated councillors. I urge anyone and everyone to use FOI and questions to the council meetings and help to free and restore democracy, scrutiny and honesty.

SOS- Save Our Services Launch!

D4S launch our SOS campaign ““ “Save Our Services”, as Stoke-on-Trent City Council and other local public service providers warn of massive cuts in spending.

Whilst D4S recognizes the economic climate means difficult times ahead, we are not convinced local democracy is capable of maintaining the services that local people want and need.

As we have seen over recent years ““ Dimensions, Tunstall Pool, Stoke Recreation Centre, City Farm, Community Halls, Care Homes ““ all these and others have already been proposed but put on hold because of public anger and disquiet. But they have not gone away and we must presume still high on the list as the bigger axe threatens to fall, with consultants now being brought in to sharpen its blade.

So through these pages, we aim to highlight the cuts, the evidence, and where necessary assist other in any campaigns that may result.

D4S aims to support and help those that chose to defend their services. Through our members we have experience in many successful campaigns, raising funds, exploiting the media, Websites etc.

So if you need help contact us at:sos@democracy4stoke.co.uk

Difficult times lay ahead ““ only through hard work and determination, and exercising our democratic rights to protest will the services we cherish be saved.

Join our Twitter account: Democracy4Stoke

More Labour Names Emerge For Stoke Central – D4S Will Not Field Candidates.

As well as the plethora of local names linked to the vacancy for the Labour Party candidacy for Stoke-on-Trent Central, two names from outside of the City have been linked.

Locally, Sarah Hill Chair of the City Labour Party, City Councillors Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper as well as Jane Heggie the local Labour Party Election Coordinator are the names up for consideration by the party’s Special Selection Panel [SSP].

Gary Elsby is very much out of favour with the Regional Officers and the paid enforcers of the NEC, but is known to have considerable support from within the Constituency who want his name to be on the short list of possible candidates who will go forward to the hustings in front of the entire membership of Stoke-on-Trent Central.

This weekend two names from outside the area have emerged and are considered certain favourites to make the short list.

36 year old historian, broadcaster and columnist Tristram Hunt is known to be under consideration.

He lives in Haringey and was unsuccessful in his attempt to win selection for the Liverpool West Derby ward in 2007 which was eventually won by Steven Twigg.

Hunt is said to be championed by the Labour leadership and is the friend of Lord Mandelson and has worked for both him and Alistair Campbell at Labour Party HQ.

He was recently linked to the London seat of Leyton and Wanstead.

He is married with a son and a daughter.

The other name linked is that of Byron Taylor.

Taylor has been the National Officer of the Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation [TULO], which co-ordinates union support for the Labour Party, for the past seven years.

He comes from a working class family with strong Labour Party ties. He has been involved with the party since 1994. He lived in the West Midlands whilst attending University and currently lives in London with his wife Jenefer and their daughter.

Writing on his own website he said:

I’m often asked “What do you stand for?” I’m proud to describe myself as a modern socialist ““ committed to reducing inequalities of power, wealth, and living standards, but always recognising the need to convince the public that our solutions lead towards a better society. My key political interests include the future of our economy including employment and labour standards as well as taxation, defence and quality public services for all.

Speaking on Twitter a couple of days ago he tweeted “Looking to head up to Stoke on Trent on Thursday” and then “Have decided to put myself forward for Stoke-on-Trent Central”

He also Tweeted yesterday and said “Meeting local activists in Stoke – busy day!”

We have received this Press Statement from Democracy4Stoke which confirms their future intentions:

D4S – No to Putting Forward Candidates

At a D4S meeting last Wednesday night, the organisation confirmed its non party political commitment following mounting media speculation that it would field candidates in the 2010 election.

D4S spokesman, Alan Joynson, is adamant that Democracy 4 Stoke’s strength is in its independence from political parties, he said:

“Our aims have always been to drive forward changes to improve local democracy for the benefit of everybody. That is our only agenda and the foundation of our success in bringing together a broad community action campaign that includes everyone from all parties and non. Anyone is welcome to join us and campaign with us at any time, and that’s the way it will stay.

This commitment will be reaffirmed at our AGM next month.

D4S marks the end of the Elected Mayor system.

By Tony Walley & Mike Rawlins.

Tonight a small gathering of strong minded individuals gathered at the Civic Centre in Stoke to mark the end of the Elected Mayor system.

D4S members and supporters also supported a call for government to re-instate the 2010 elections.

Government have intervened to force the city to adopt all out four yearly elections. At the same time a boundary review is to take place all which means that a decision to delay the elections for a year has been taken.

The crowd time the release of hundreds of balloons with the arrival of party supporters ready to witness and scrutinise the count for the European Elections.

D4S convenor Mick Williams gave a short speech outlining the reasons for the demonstrations and the future role of the cross and non party organisation.

Mike and I managed to get a few words with Mick:

Exclusive: Mike Barnes leaves D4S!

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Pits ‘n’ Pots were the first to tell you that Craig Pond had resigned from the British National Party in Stoke-on-Trent, now we are first to tell you that Labour councillor and leadership contender Mike Barnes has resigned from the organisation Democracy4Stoke.

Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes

Councillor Barnes has been speaking to Pits’n’Pots exclusively about his decision to leave D4S.

Mike Barnes was always at the forefront of the organisation which was credited with the success of removing the Elected Mayor system in Stoke on Trent.

It is understood that Mike Barnes believed that D4S had achieved what it had set out to do.

Mike is also thought to be considering setting up another cross party group aimed at tackling the rise of the far right BNP. There is understood to be widespread support for the initiative.

Mr Barnes said: “I have represented D4S through a period where they have achieved their main aim and objective, but now with everything else that is going on in our city, I want to concentrate my efforts on other priorities and initiatives”

“I will also support and appreciate the aims of D4S and wish them success in the future”

Democracy For Stoke convenor Mick Williams told Pits’n’Pots that Mike Barnes will be missed by the organisation but

Mick Williams - Convenor D4S

Mick Williams - Convenor D4S

they are very much still open for business.

He said: ” I wish Mike all the best and D4S appreciates the work that he has done on behalf of our organisation”

He added: ” we as an organisation are still fully committed to scrutinising every decision taken and system operated by Stoke on Trent City Council. There is still a lot of unrest in our city which the governance commission recommendations and the face over the BSF programme and we will continue to fight for the democratic rights of the people in this city”

The D4S website is currently unavailable but is expect to be back up and running shortly.

At the organisation’s recent AGM a treasurer has been appointed and they have set out a vision for what they want to achieve.

It is known that the main priorities for D4S is the opposition to government intervention and the move to all out elections.