EyeSpy Oh how the mighty are fallen!

Eye Spy Eye of HorusDavid Conway was not the only one with a big smile on his face Friday morning as Labour awoke to the short sharp judgement of the residents of Springfields and Trent Vale. Whilst it might not stop the move, the backlash against the move to the CBD was apparent, which raised the spirits of many council officers on Friday morning. Parking in Stoke may not be perfect, but the thought of a daily game of ‘musical parking spaces’ followed by a forced tutorial on how you should cycle to work rather than moan about paying £25 a year to spend 20 minutes looking for a parking spot before abandoning hope and parking in Tesco, is a step too far for some.

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Eye Spy Springfields and Trent Vale

Ever keen to promote democracy, Eye Spy feels it is his duty to bring residents’ attention to the candidates for the upcoming Springfields and Trent Vale byelection, seeing as the Council PR Department haven’t.

Anyone searching for the Statement of Persons Nominated at the end of last week could be forgiven for not finding it, tucked well away from the homepage (alongside the Masterplan for Stoke town centre no doubt…). Continue reading

Eye Spy the By-election

So the by-election has finally been called for the vacancy for Office of Councillor for the Springfields and Trent Vale ward, it’s only taken since 27 April. So now the ballot boxes are being broken out and just in the nick of time… frustrated residents in Springfields & Trent Vale are already starting to petition the council over local issues, having begun to feel the effects of no local representation for the last few months.

Despite having more councillors than they know what to do with, Labour have not fallen over themselves to ensure residents have felt looked after, which is perhaps why there are rumblings that this by-election may see upwards of 8 candidates all vying to fix the numerous potholes and clear the litter on the yellow brick road from Trent Vale to Stoke. Hardly a ringing endorsement of previous incumbents…

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Inside the Civic

Those who thought all out elections would bring some stability to our Council must be feeling embarrassed this week as Council Leader Mohammed Pervez took a scalpel to his cabinet, cutting out the disobedient Gratton and challenger Hill, and carving up the other portfolios in what is quite clearly more than the ‘tweaking’ he described it as.

The introduction of Platt and Dutton is seen as a nod to the left wingers in the group, who re-emerged in 2011 to rival the modernisers who were in danger of taking over Labour. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group ““ The Shape of Things to Come?

You know me, I like to ponder on situations and then try to dissect them in public, as is my want you see?

I have to say that last week’s call to discuss the closure of the Willfield Fitness Centre at the Adult & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny meeting has left an nasty taste in my mouth.

I have been largely supportive of Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and his 34 strong Labour group but I hope that the actions of the Labour councillors on that particular committee and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, is not the shape of things to come.

Here we have a popular fitness centre, loved by the community, used by many from Bentilee and beyond, closed without out so much as a single comment from the Labour contingent on that committee.

Although the Labour members should not have been whipped on a scrutiny committee, by the actions of the said Labour members and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, They were absolutely told how they WILL vote.

I am in no doubt that Cllrs Sheila Pitt, Alison Wedgwood, and Matt Fry would have received a serious reprimand by the senior officers of the Labour group for, in the case of Alison and Sheila, sticking to their election pledges.

Labour whip Kath Banks had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp during that meeting and could not have looked more disinterested in proceedings if she tried.

The way the meeting was chaired by the normally amiable Cllr Bagh Ali left me in no doubt who was running the meeting, the director Tony Oakman.

He was allowed to say what he wanted, for as long as he wanted with no interruption. Cllr Dave Conway was constantly disrupted in a clear attempt to throw him off course.

Talking of the officers, the old joke of how many does it take to change a light bulb was certainly relevant here. 8 officers were present and if you were to tot up their collective salaries you would unearth a value that would give the Staffordshire Hoard a run for it’s money.

So, Labour have demonstrated that they will side with the officers over their election promises in another glaring example of taking the Cabinet dollar.

Have we been here before I wonder?

It appears not to matter who the rulers are, Labour, Conservative Independent, Liberal Democrats, or a mixture of them all, it’s the same old scene.

But what has left me even more uneasy about the situation, is the fact that not more than a week prior to the call in, CEO John van de Laarschot launched his mandate for change which placed a heavy emphasis on the Health and Wellbeing of the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

It isn’t that long ago that the place attracted the unfortunate label of being a “Ëœsick city’. And yet we close a facility that is proven to be making a difference in exactly the sort of area of the city that needs the most help ““ way to go!

Our CEO gave an inspirational performance at that gig. I and a good few others were taken in by the message that together we can make a difference. My plea to John van de Laarschot for the future success of the Mandate for Change project and the rejuvenation of the City of Stoke-on-Trent is – “ËœGet your officers on task!’

Here was a golden opportunity to prove to all that the council was up to working with community groups to find a way of keeping popular facilities open for business.

We are in unprecedented times, an era where it is clear, and for my part accepted, that the council cannot continue to fund everything and that there has to be painful cuts.

The officers of the council rubbished the Willfield Community Group’s business plan and then dismissed it out of hand.

Why didn’t any officer of the council make contact with the group to offer assistance in getting the business case more in line with what the council need and expect?

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

Where was the commitment needed to deliver a Mandate for Change?

So again I lay down the gauntlet to the council, in a no doubt futile attempt, to change and to demonstrate that our council are serious about empowering communities.

With £20million more cuts to come in the next financial year, if there is not a drastic change in the Council, it’s CEO, directors and officers what services and facilities will be left in our city?

Our Labour Group need to LEAD and not be LED. You have the opportunity to make a difference, you have the opportunity to step up to the plate ““ Take it!

The majority of the electorate voted you in the belief that you would deliver on your election promises and to work to make our city more inclusive and more progressive. It ain’t a great start guys!

Many months ago, a politician that I respect enormously told me that the decision not to allow the building of a new academy to be on the Mitchell High School site was all about academies setting the right example to the communities in which they serve.

I was told that the powers that be, politicians, officers and sponsors wanted the buildings to be in areas that were as affluent as possible in order to raise the aspirations of the young people of the area.

They are meant to inspire the young to be more like the well to do of the areas in which an academy school is placed.

To give the little poor kids the opportunity of mixing with kids from a “Ëœbetter’ background.

I remember thinking at the time ‘isn’t that social engineering’?

It got me to thinking is this the real reason the Willfield gym is to close?

Do those in the BSF department, fellow officers and our elected politicians, want rid of the gym and the kind of folk who use it so they are not a blot on the academy landscape?

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.

Chief Exec Must Draw on His Experience to Generate Income for Stoke-on-Trent City Council

I thought long and hard before writing this article as I have always been a massive supporter of John van de Laarschot.

The recent settlement between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the former Director Of Housing Environment & Neighbourhood Services Jeanette McGarry has dented JVDL’s halo significantly.

It’s OK to say that the council has insurance that indemnifies them against claims of this nature, but you have to ask yourselves whether this should have been a claim at all?

Pits n Pots broke the story back in April 2010, the very next day, we received a press statement that on the first read we kind of knew it would come back and bite someone on the bum at a later stage and we guessed that somewhere along the line, it would cost the City Council a large sum of money.
This bit:

Without admission of liability, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and its insurers have paid Jeanette an undisclosed sum in settlement of her employment and libel claims. The Council wishes Jeanette well in her future career.

admits liability, if there is no liability on the Council’s part then why the hell pay it?

We pay our chief executive in the region of £195,000. I can remember the council officers and elected representatives defending this huge sum of money by saying that if we are to attract the best, we have to pay for the best.

At a time when a significant number of CEO’s across the country are taking a voluntary pay cut, highly paid public sector executives need to show that they are in touch with the reality of life in the cities in which they work.

Staffordshire Moorlands CEO has just taken a 7.5% cut in his salary; his basic salary is in the region of £45,000 less than his counterpart in Stoke-on-Trent. I think this action shows that those at the top are aware of the difficulties facing the citizens out there on the mean streets. Services and amenities are being lost, people are feeling the strain. This gesture, albeit token in nature, tells Joe Public that in a small part, he is feeling the pain too.

I have supported John on bringing Vanguard into the City Council to implement their “ËœLean Systems Thinking’ model which will reduce the layers of bureaucracy and increase efficiency. This simply had to be done, had it not been, the recent cuts would have been far harsher.

I don’t think that the 700 job losses are the last either. With £20million worth of cuts still to come in the next financial year, even more council employees will be for the push. I have said before on this site that I can see the council workforce 20% lighter than before JVDL started here in Stoke-on-Trent.

That said; JVDL needs to start delivering more than just cut, cut, cut for this city. We could well do with no more loose tongue mentality [or should that be loose keyboard syndrome?] that don’t result in another astronomical pay out to a disgruntled officer of the council.

I think I am more upset that the media release about the recent pay out didn’t contain anything that acknowledged any regret for the release of a statement that cost our council dear. Moreover, Mr van de Laarschot has not come out with any statement either apologising or expressing regret to our elected members. He had the perfect opportunity at the annual council meeting.

Our council leader or the leader of the opposition did not broach the subject either, now maybe that was because the Annual Council tends to be a ceremonial event as opposed to a full blown political debating opportunity. Time will tell as the next full council meeting is scheduled for early July and Dave Conway may choose to land a few telling jabs and a right hook during the exchanges.

The reason that I am calling for John van de Laarschot to draw on his considerable experience to help the City generate income is , as the ex head of Coca Cola Europe, he will have the ideas and commercial experience to help the council maximise their revenue potential.

An example is the number of commercial council properties that are lying empty across the city. Can these be used by people who want to start up businesses but may have a problem finding the funding or getting the banks to lend? Leases can contain rent free periods and certain other inducements, but if we have someone who has commercial experience and can think out of the box, instead of chargeable rent maybe there could be a share of profit with the council instead.

That way empty units can be filled. Revenue could be earned. Business start ups can get the help and support they need and more importantly cash could be rung through the council till.

Real entrepreneurial skill is required to facilitate the kind of regeneration that is needed in a city like Stoke-on-Trent. Fill those empty units, help the 6 towns to regenerate and to become more vibrant, encourage money to stay within the local town centre economy.

The city council needs to encourage social enterprises and to transfer assets to worthwhile, credible ventures.

I believe that in a City that is lacking in skilled job opportunities, those at the top of the City Council including the CEO, the council leader and his cabinet have to meet the challenge to get people back into work head on.

Other cities have proven officer type, career public servants at the top of their authorities. We chose to employ someone with a different skill set, with more to offer and a real commercial brain to head up our authority.

That person needs to step up to the plate and deliver now.

Pervez and his cabinet think that they have a mandate to carry on cutting ““ they don’t!

They have a mandate to bring wealth creation, prosperity and opportunities to our city over the next few years.

Yes there may be a few difficult decisions to make along the way, but the city and more importantly the electorate, will judge them on their achievements.

I believe that cuts are not an achievement – bringing a brighter future, full of hope to our citizens, is.

Stokie Terry Follows Denver Into Lord Mayors Parlour

Stokie lad Cllr Terry Follows was today [Thursday] voted in as the City of Stoke-on-Trent’s next Lord Mayor.

Fenton born and bred, the son of a miner and a pottery worker, Terry was nominated by Labour Councillor Tom Reynolds and was seconded by his City Independent Group Leader Cllr Dave Conway.

In nominating Terry, Cllr Tom Reynolds told the chamber that he had tremendous respect for him and for the work he does in his ward.

He also reminded the chamber of the work he carried out in helping to save the secondary school in his ward, Trentham High, from closure.

Tom Reynolds said that he remembered the time just days after the sad passing of his wife Christine, Terry was back in the chamber fighting on behalf of the school and the TAG. A fight that would eventually be won.

Terry Follows signed the declaration of acceptance for the office of Lord Mayor in a packed council chamber and told the councillors and members of the public present that he had waited a long 15 years to receive the honour of being the City’s first citizen.

He promised to do his best to promote the city at all times and to show the same commitment in his time in office as he shows to the electorate of Hanford & Trentham.

The 64-year-old lifelong “ËœStokie’ has represented the city on three separate occasions, the first spell starting 24 years ago in 1987. Following a year long break between 1991 and 1992, Terry returned for his second spell of four years before leaving the council in 1996. He has served the city continuously since returning as councillor in 2004.

Terry has also served as a cabinet member for the past two years holding, until earlier this month, the portfolio for environment, waste management and neighborhood services.

His career saw him start work at the age of 16 as an apprentice plumber for Seddon. He then went on to run his own plumbing and central heating business from the ages of 26 to 60, when he retired.

He has a son and three grandchildren – an 18 year old girl, 16 year old boy, and a new nine month old baby boy who Terry is looking forward to spending the coming years with – and says he is overjoyed to represent the city and its residents.

Terry takes over the civic chain of office from former councillor Denver Tolley. He will be accompanied in his civic duties by Jacqueline Pearson, who will be the Lady Mayoress. The council also decided that Councillor Majid Khan would become Deputy Lord Mayor.

Listen to Terry’s first interview as the new Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent below.

Dave Conway Elected Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Independent Group

Ex Labour Group member Cllr Dave Conway has today been elected the Leader of the City Independent Group.

Cllr Conway resigned from the Labour Group in 2009 and immediately joined the City Independent Group where he has served under former Leader Brian Ward until the recent Council Elections on 5th May.

The vacancy for CIG leader was caused when Brian Ward lost his Blurton seat at the election, losing out to Labour’s Neil day in the newly formed ward of Blurton West & Newstead.

The decision to elected Cllr Conway was unanimous and was taken at a meeting of the CIG at the civic centre today.

Cllr Conway has confirmed that Cllr Ann James will be Deputy Group Leader.

Cllr James was elected to serve the Great Chell and Packmoor ward after a 12month absence from the council chamber.

CIG Leader Cllr Dave Conway also confirmed that his group had made the controversial decision to accept Cllr Lee Wanger as a group member. This takes the number of his group to 7.

Cllr Wanger was elected to serve in the Tunstall ward.

Cllr Wanger has always divided opinion among his colleagues and the electorate as to whether he should be accepted in any group on the city council. He has a past conviction for subscribing to a child porn website and had to sign the sex offenders register.

He was previously a member of the Conservative & Independent Alliance before he narrowly failed to win elected to the council in 2010.

New Conservative Group Leader Cllr Abi Brown had already ruled out offering Cllr Wanger a place in her group.

Un-aligned Councillor Paul Breeze has confirmed that he will not be joining any group on the City Council.

Listen to the Audio Interview with new CIG Leader Cllr Dave Conway below. He tells us what is priorities are and how he will go about leading the opposition to the 34 member strong Labour Group.

He also gives his reaction to the new City Council Media Protocol which was withdrawn pending further input from elected members.

Full Council Report – Ibbs, Dimensions and the Withdrawn Motion!

One of the most interesting topics on Thursday’s full council meeting was the motion tabled By Cllr Dave Conway.

The motion had called for the following:

“That this Council resolves that an inquiry be established into the conduct of the internal investigation of the proposed closure of the splash pool at Dimensions Leisure Centre, Burslem, with the following remit:

·Ensuring that all elected members have been, and will in future be, treated fairly and properly in relation to this and similar matters; and

·Establishing a formal process to ensure fairness and openness in all dealings with elected members, such process to be incorporated in the Local Code Governing Relations between Elected Members and Council Employees set out in the City Council’s Constitution.”

When the agenda reached this item however, the motion was withdrawn by Cllr Conway and with the permission of the seconder, Cllr Ann James.

The reason for the withdrawal of the motion was because Cllr Ibbs had been advised that the quickest way of reaching a conclusion in this matter was for the new Chief Executive to undertake an independent inquiry into the conduct of the council and it’s officers into the circumstances which led to the arrest of Cllr Ibbs following a complaint that he made in relation to the proposed closure of the Dimensions Leisure Centre.

Listen to the Audio Interview with Cllr Roger Ibbs where he gives us his reasons for making a formal complaint against an officer of the City Council.