By Matt Taylor
On March 13 Pits’n'Pots reported that national government would definitely be stepping in to control Stoke-on-Trent city council. Now it emerges that the move is about to be formally announced.
We have received information suggesting that Elected Mayor Mark Meredith, Councillor and Deputy Elected Mayor Mohammed Pervez, along with interim council manager, Chris Harmon, have already been to Westminster to film an interview in which the decision will be revealed.
And it is believed that the statement will be broadcast by tomorrow at the latest, before the start of the Easter break.
It is not yet apparent what exactly the intervention will consist of, although it is clear that such an action in which the running of an entire authority is subject to the interference of national officials is virtually unprecedented. It is believed, that in its initial stage, national government will be putting its foot down to insist upon all-out elections, a motion which the council recently voted against.
In Walsall, back in 1995, the Labour leadership cracked down on the council following division from within the local Labour group. There, intervention also stemmed from a Governance report which found the authority wanting and at the time was only the second occasion in which a council had been referred for government interference after Hackney, London. Many of the local representatives condemned the move as a disproportionate “centralisation of power”.
And there is no doubt that the step will be received with equal scepticism from councillors in Stoke-on-Trent ““ many of whom believe that current issues which have led up to this situation have been beyond their control.
If the intervention is such that the authority is put under the heavy-handed control of outsiders, it will be disappointing for those of the 60-strong members who feel that if there could have been agreement and consensus between them, the council has the strength and quality to go forward.
However, unfortunately we are in a position in which there is a coalition of councillors on the executive board, who seem more interested in holding on to power than admitting that the present arrangements are inadequate. We have an Elected Mayor who is continuing his title but not the job, an acting Elected Mayor who was not elected into his position, and a chief executive who has similar powers who was only supposed to be a temporary fix-it and, of course, wasn’t elected either. So, sadly, the fact that Westminster wants to have a say, doesn’t really come as a surprise.