Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have had their funding cut by £22.5million by this national coalition government.

Next year our city council are likely to face further cuts of around £20million.

The ConDem coalition always rolls out the old nugget of “Ëœwe’re dealing with the mess left by the last Labour government’, every time they are challenged on the severity of their austerity measures.

I wish Stoke-on-Trent City Council had £1 for every time that old nugget is used by coalition members in interviews with the media. You never know we might have even been able to save the City Farm.

Of course there has been no explanation forthcoming as to why the traditional Labour led authorities have had to bare the brunt of these cuts.

Here in Stoke-on-Trent some 800 City Council employees have applied for the Voluntary Redundancy programme currently in operation.

The programme is offering an enhanced redundancy package of 1.5 weeks salary for every year worked as the finance chiefs encourage as many carcasses as possible, out of the front door of the Civic.

Now it is unlikely that all 800 applications will be accepted, indeed my information is that some 600 will be nearer the number that will be able to take the money and get the hell out of Dodge.

A Sentinel article claimed this week that the City Council had spent some £17.7million on making 599 people redundant since 2007. This is an average pay out of around £29500 per person.

This figure is likely to include payouts made under Compromise Agreements. Some of which would have been paid to expensive senior officers who would have been “Ëœencouraged’ to leave the employment of the City Council. They would have had to sign confidentiality clauses under the terms of their Compromise Agreements.

But if, as the Sentinel article claims, an employee who earns £15000 per year with 10 years service will receive an enhanced package of just £4350. That does indeed give you an indication of some of the ludicrous amounts that have been paid out to rid the City of some big earners who have simply failed in their duties and as a result of their failure have walked away with a small fortune.

I am no stranger to compromise agreements; I have come across them in my professional career. They are used as a tool when an employer and an employee come to the end of a relationship where there needs to be a parting of the ways but there is no case for terminating the employment or a desire just to walk away from the employment.

Under these circumstances the pay out is a generous one and the employee, after taking legal advice, is happy with the settlement and signs a confidentiality agreement preventing him/her from disclosing the details of the said agreement.

I believe that a confidentiality clause is necessary in the private sector but I have my reservations whether it can ever be so in the public sector.

Furthermore I was astounded to discover this week that all City Council employees that are granted Voluntary Redundancy are being forced to sign confidentiality clauses or they will not be eligible for the VR scheme.

I ask, why the need for a veil of secrecy for these employees of the council to sign away their right of free speech without having the benefits of the kind of pay outs that some failed senior executive officers of the council have been awarded under compromise agreements in the recent past?

It begs the question of the kind of service we can expect from a City Council with 600 employees less over the coming financial year. It also worries the heck out of me what our city council infrastructure will look like in the financial year 2012/2013.

If government, as expected, reduce the City council’s funding by another £20million for the next financial year we could see a similar amount, or even possibly more, council employees shown the door and a further massive hit to front line services. More popular attractions will be forced to close down and life will be a miserable one for the people of this fine City.

This national coalition government have stuck the proverbial two fingers up to the local coalition. The Leader of the Conservatives in Stoke Ross Irving and his Lib Dem counterpart Kieran Clarke must be feeling a little more unloved by their national party hierarchy. They must also be bracing themselves for oblivion at the ballot box in May.

Ross and Kieran, along with Labour leader Pervez made a trip to London to plead Stoke-on-Trent’s case. Local Government and Communities Minister Eric Pickles couldn’t be bothered to even meet up with them and his underling showed what an impression they had made by refusing their request for a £4.5million loan to help towards the cost of making 600 council employees redundant.

Yes folks, the ConDem Government have shown their love for the good people of Stoke-on-Trent by granting the City Council the grand sum of a £1.5million loan to help with the costs incurred by the forced reduction of the Council workforce and the instruction that the difference can be made up out of the reserves held for PFI initiatives [this money must be put back at some time] for the City.

Our local politicians are fearing a backlash in May. Sources are telling me that Tories are preparing for the loss of a number of their group. The Lid Dems are fearing oblivion and the City Independents are in total melt down at the fear that they are being tarred by the Coalitions brush. The CIG leader is refusing to play ball over the budget not for fear of doing the right thing however hard it may be, but for the fear of how that looks politically to the electorate.

There is even talk of a new group to challenge those who purport to be standing on and Independent basis. This group will include prominent ex councillors and are expected to feature a couple of current Labour Councillors in their ranks as well as a former councillor who is big in stature if not big in reality.

Community Voices preparations are going well according to sources. But whether they can muster the necessary number to be considered major opponents remains to be seen.

So finally the Governance Transition Board can be rightly proud that they made a difference to what the Government of the day considered to be a “Ëœpolitically fragmented council’ ““ with the realisation that there will be candidates from Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems, City Independents, BNP, Community Voice, New Independent Group, English First, Non ““ Aligned and Libertarian ““ they did a job well done!

Welcome to the “ËœPolitically Fragmented’ Stoke-on-Trent circa 2011!

Government Dissolve Stoke-on-Trent’s Governance and Transition Board

The national coalition government have confirmed today [Thursday] that they have dissolved the Governance and Transition Board.

The board have often been described as controversial by some sections of the political active in the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The board was set up as a Transition Board for Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 2008 following a report that said politics in the city was “broken.” In 2009 it became a Governance and Transition Board with powers over how the council delivered its services.

Increased confidence has been shown in Stoke-on-Trent City Council however following the Government’s decision to dissolve the city’s Governance and Transition Board.

The move comes in light of comments from Local Government Minister Bob Neill today, who says it’s now the right time for the authority to move forward independently.

“I know the council let its residents down and has faced a number of challenges to its governance and service delivery in recent years,”

“We now agree it’s time to return power to Stoke’s elected officials. Local problems need local solutions and the people of Stoke need democratic and accountable leadership.”

“I want to thank the board and its chair Professor Michael Clarke for their efforts in helping to return stability. Stoke’s councillors now need to prove that they can take the city forward by working together to give local people the local services they deserve.”

It is believed that the board has told the Government that the political situation in the city has stabilised and has improved in areas such as interaction with residents, other local organisations and neighbouring authorities.

“We have worked extremely hard with the Governance and Transition Board to address the issues that were highlighted to us in 2008.

“Today’s decision is proof that we have made significant progress in reforming the way the city council works.

“The Government feels we are now in a position to move forward on our own, and we must continue to build on the improvements we have made.

“I will continue to work with other elected members to provide effective leadership to pull our city through these difficult economic conditions.

“The decision to dissolve the Governance and Transition board is welcomed by the city council.

“We have worked hard to get our house in order and are confident that we have the political and managerial leadership to successfully steer the city forward in an open, honest and transparent manner.

“We still have a lot of challenges to overcome; the recent reductions in government funding will put immense pressure on council services and we still have legacy issues to deal with, but the council is now equipped to deliver continuous and rapid improvement.”