CoRE conference to bring big hitters to Stoke-on-Trent

Some of the most influential names in UK construction and green technology fields have been lined up for a major conference in Stoke on Trent.

Delegates at the 17 May event will be given a chance to debate a major new piece of research commissioned by CoRE on how the UK construction industry can respond to the need to make our homes greener and meet higher carbon reduction standards.   Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Asked To Delegate CCTV Decisions To Officers

Decisions about CCTV in Stoke-on-Trent could be made by officers rather than councillors, if the cabinet accept the proposal being put forward to them on Thursday.

The recommendation, if approved, will see that all public space CCTV decisions will be made by Hardial Bhogal, Director of City Renewal along with a yet to be created CCTV Strategy Group and not the councillors.

The recommendations of the report are:

2. Recommendation(s)

  • 2.1 That Members approve and adopt the Community CCTV Strategy, and that officers review that Strategy in 2015.
  • 2.2 That Members agree a CCTV Strategy Group is established to oversee and implement the Strategy.
  • 2.3 That delegated authority be award to the Director of City Renewal in consultation with the CCTV Strategy Group to determine the future provision of public space CCTV in Stoke-on-Trent.
  • 2.4 That Members agree that regular monitoring reports are submitted to the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

If the cabinet approve this recommendation then decisions about CCTV in the city could be made behind closed doors without the same level of public scrutiny they would receive if they were made by councillors at open meetings.

Should councillors allow the delegation of decisions of things like CCTV to an unelected officer and group?

Photo credit Andy Roberts on Flickr

Public Questions About City Farm At Next Weeks Full Council Meeting

After the Pits n Pots investigation in to the City Farm Tender earlier this year, which caused the suspension of the tendering process by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, there are still a number of unanswered questions.

Two of which are going to be asked at Thursdays Full Council meeting by John Taylor on behalf of Friends of Bucknall Park City Farm.

Question 4 TENDER ARRANGEMENTS FOR BUCKNALL PARK CITY FARM – From Mr John Taylor on behalf of Friends of Bucknall Park City Farm, addressed to the Cabinet Member for City Services (Councillor Janine Bridges):-

On 21 January 2011 the tender process seeking expressions of interest for the City Farm site was suspended and bidders were told:

‘We are reviewing our approach to the procurement and for a temporary period this has been suspended. A further communication will be sent to you shortly. Thank you for your interest in the City Farm and your patience while we review our approach.’

Is this procurement process now abandoned? If yes please say who took the decision and the date thereof and what bidders were told and the date thereof.

And

Question 5 FUTURE OF BUCKNALL PARK CITY FARM – From Mr John Taylor, on behalf of Friends of Bucknall Park City Farm, Stoke on Trent addressed to the the Cabinet Member for City Services (Councillor Janine Bridges):-

When City Farm closed we were told; The City Council remains committed to finding a new operator for a similar venture for the future.  Is this commitment now binned? If yes please say who took the decision and the date thereof and outline the alternative uses now being considered for the site. If no please outline plans for procurement in terms of specification, lease and timing.

I’m sure there will be many people who will be waiting to see what the answers to these questions are after almost 11 months.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council Nominated For Recycling Award

While Stoke-on-Trent City Council are languishing around the 40 % mark for recycling, our close neighbours Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council have increased their rates from 27% in 2009 to more than 55% per cent in November 2010 and have been nominated for the Waste Management Award at the Government Business Awards 2011 as a result

Researchers have been looking at all collection and disposal authorities across the country to find “outstanding” schemes that are cost-effective, provide a high level of service and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

As well as Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, London Borough of Hillingdon, Peterborough City Council and Hull City Council have all been shortlisted for the award, the winner of which will be announced at Twickenham Stadium on Thursday, 17 February by BBC journalist and news presenter Bill Turnbull.

I’m delighted that we have been singled out nationally for best practice in waste management.

Recycling in Newcastle has been revolutionised. We have an efficient scheme that separates materials at the kerbside which means everything is turned into new products.

But this recognition is not possible without the effort of residents, who have really embraced recycling.

Newcastle are already eclipsing the recycling figure that Stoke-on-Trent hope to be able to achieve by 2015. Questions about recycling here in Stoke still remain unanswered after Pits n Pots were forced down the FOI route, despite the head of directorate Jane Forshaw saying she would happily answer any questions about the recycling service in Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent Waste Management & Enhanced Recycling Saga Latest

We are continuing our investigation into Stoke-on-Trent’s Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling

Our efforts have been thorough, our attempts to get to the truth, stifled at times by council officers.

Our motives and integrity called into question by some including the occasional mis-guided Councillor.

We will not halt our attempts to bring the facts out about what we consider to be an incredible mismanagement of this policy.

We can now reveal our latest findings which we hope will convince those councillors who are wavering about whether there needs to be an inquiry into this debacle and potentially embarrassing episode for our City Council.

In a recent article which outlined what we believe was the sequence of events regarding the Enhanced Recycling scheme we wrote:

One source tells of an EMB meeting where the then interim Council Manager demanded that members of the EMB nod this policy through.
The EMB refused due to the lack of substance to the report. There was absolutely no detail or information put before members so that they could make an informed decision on this matter. There was quite a heated row over the issue.
The Interim Council Manager stormed out of the meeting threatening to “Ëœcall the government for intervention’ allegedly.
To my knowledge this was never put before that particular EMB again.

We can now reveal that we have reason to believe that the report’s lack of substance and detail is because the originalthorough report prepared by an officer of the council was pulled and deliberately not presented to that now infamous EMB meeting which descended into a very public row between senior executive officers and the EMB.

This 13 page report made reference to the WRAP report and contained a full copy of it as an appendix.

Have a look at the attachments below. It shows that am actual offcer authored the report and it proves that the WRAP report existed and was meant to be presented to the EMB.

There is no blame on the officer who authored this report, we believe the decision to pull it came from higher up.

This report never saw the light of day and was buried along with the WRAP document. This categorically proves that Elected Members were denied the information that would have enabled them to make a balanced and INFORMED decision about the future methods of handling and disposing the City’s recyclables.

We believe on the evidence that we have seen, that the reason that this report was pulled and not presented to the EMB was because the Blue Bins had already been ordered ahead of the executive agreement to trial the Enhanced Recycling Scheme.

The officer’s report recommended the Enhanced Recycling Scheme but the WRAP report clearly stated that option J [adopted by NULBC] was the most effective.

As a result of this report being withheld from the EMB, it never made the agenda or was published along with the reports pack on the City Council’s website which prevented it from being scrutinised by non executive councillors.

This is the last article we will publish on this matter ahead of the Full Council meeting on Thursday 21st October.

We hope that this latest piece of evidence convinces any elected member who may have any remaining doubts and further strengthens the call for an Inquiry into the whole sorry and potentially embarrassing saga regarding the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling system.

See the attachments below, a sample of the buried report and the WRAP Report.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Waste Management ““ The Saga Continues

When I interviewed Jane Forshaw, the Head of Environmental Services at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on behalf of Pits n Pots, I was impressed by her straight talking and her willingness to be “Ëœopen and transparent’.

My optimism grew further when she confirmed that she would be willing to answer any follow up or supplementary questions.

My optimism was snuffed out however when I supplied a list of questions to the Council’s press and Communication Department to be forwarded on to Jane Forshaw. They replied that the request was too “Ëœresource heavy’ and we were guided down the Freedom of Information route. This came as quite a surprise given Jane’s comments in her interview ““ that questions asked under FOI tend to be one dimensional and as such can be answered in a one dimensional fashion.

So much for openness and transparency!

Today Pits n Pots submitted the following questions under

FOI through “ËœWhat Do They Know’:

Dear Stoke on Trent City Council,

I am being asked by your Press & Communications Department to make
FOI requests to gain answers to the following questions.

1] Why was a ‘collection only’ remit given to WRAP for their report
[dated 4/3/08 ref ROT019] and not ‘collection and disposal’

2] Is the remit given to WRAP the reason that, in Jane’s view, it
was flawed?

3] The report gave various solutions, one of which was option j.
This option recommended a solution close to the process adopted by
Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council who are now achieving a
recycling rate of 50% as opposed to the current rate of 40% in
Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Were all the options put forward to
the EMB, the rest of the elected members, or appropriate overview
and scrutiny committee, for consideration?

4] In the absence of any EMB/Councillor involvement, who took the
decision to adopt the current enhanced system of recycling? Please
supply documentary evidence to support your response.

5] The composting was put out for tender twice, the first time the
tender was pulled, why was this?

6] Can I have the exact date that the ‘Blue’ Bins were ordered?
Please back this up with documentary evidence such as purchase
orders or order forms.

7] Can I have the name of the supplier of the ‘Blue Bins’?

8] Can you supply the date that the EMB gave its approval for the
scheme along with copies of the briefing pack, meeting minutes and
any documents which are pertinent to this action.

9] Did the NSRP commission an Independent report into suitable
composting sites in the City of Stoke-on-Trent?

10] If a report was commissioned please supply a copy of the
report.

11] If a report was commissioned was it taken into consideration
before placing the contract with a company from outside of the
area? Please supply evidence

12] Our current system for collecting food waste means that
potentially only 50% is collected. [once fortnightly in brown bin]

That 50% potential success rate will be further affect by the number of households that do not have the 3 bin system. Will this prevent the city achieving the government target of 45% for 2015 and the 50% target for 2020?

These questions are supplementary questions which have come to light after an interview with Jane Forshaw about the enhanced recycling scheme.

Background information on why these questions are being asked can be found here

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2010/09/stok…

and here

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2010/10/wast…

If the work required to provide answers to these questions will take you over the prescribed limit of £450, please use the context of this request but treat each of the questions, numbered 1 – 12 inclusively, as a separate request.

If one part of this request can be answered before any of the others please respond to that part without further delay, waiting until the whole request has been dealt with is not necessary.

My preferred method of receiving your response is electronically, if all or any part of this request is not able to be responded to by my preferred method, please contact me to arrange alternative delivery methods.

If you need clarification on any of the points in this request or if anything is unclear please do not hesitate to contact me as soon as you require the clarification rather than waiting until the last date that this request is due to be answered by (12 November 2010).

Yours faithfully,

I am pleased to see that Councillors from Stoke-on-Trent’s newest political group have taken the initiative on this issue.

They, like us, want to see a complete, thorough and urgent independent inquiry into the whole system of Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling.

There have already been calls for the District Auditor to launch an investigation into the department and the methods used to inform elected members and the way contracts were awarded.

The issue is as clear as a muddy puddle on a black tarmac pavement.

The following motion will go before the next Full Council
Meeting on the 21st October:

“Stoke-on-Trent City Council expresses its deep concern into allegations regarding our waste management services.
In particular, the allegations that councillors have been misled, reports of consultants altered and circumvention of the City Council Procurement Policy and Tendering Processes.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, therefore, shall set up an urgent independent investigation into the carrying out of its Waste Management functions over the last 3 years, in particular:

“¢ The work undertaken by officers
“¢ Members’ Information and Reports
“¢ Procurement

The final report shall be submitted to the full Council meeting following completion of the report, subject to any legal/criminal proceedings that might arise being dealt with separately and according to due process.”

It has been suggested we are in collaboration with third parties over this issue.

I had been contacted by sources inside the council and external of it, to tip me off that there is a suspicion that we are being used to further a HR claim against the City Council by an ex employee.

I wish to make it absolutely clear that we are working with no other individuals in the investigation of this issue and most certainly not any ex employee who may, or may not hold a grudge against the City Council.

We have used other FOI requests alongside information given from a range of sources who have a real concern about the way this whole issue has been handled.

Pits n Pots sole motivation for bringing this into the public domain is that we have real concerns that elected members did not receive the information that would enable them to make a balanced judgement on the proposals for handling the City’s waste.

We are confident that NO elected member, EMB or Overview and Scrutiny had sight of the WRAP Report dated 4/3/08 [ROT019] before the decision was made to adopt the current system of Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling.

Some may say that this is all in the past and not on the present CEO’s watch but we feel strongly that our elected members were kept out of the loop by former executive officers of the council.

We appeal to elected members on all sides of the Chamber to back the calls for an independent inquiry, to leave party politics outside the chamber door, and to do the right thing to ensure the public are aware of the full facts surrounding an issue that has probably cost much, much more than the £1million worth of savings that had been claimed.

Waste Management ““ What Have Stoke-on-Trent City Council Got To Hide?

A while back, I wrote a very dismissive comment regarding waste management and recycling. It was along the lines of “Ëœme and my wife take recycling very seriously, but to be honest, I don’t care what the Council do with my rubbish once they have collected it’. I know now that I was very, very wrong to say this.

Over the past year or so, Pits n Pots have been urged to investigate Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s decision to move to the present method of Waste Management including Recycling.

We have stumbled along, asking here and there. We have read the Freedom of Information requests from Ian Norris and others and we could sense the frustration at the lack of information coming forward from the council.

Our interest was pricked further when a contributor wrote this comment article.

We thought that the claim in the article that the enhanced recycling scheme has incurred £3.49million of cost not budgeted for warranted further investigation so we requested an interview with head of Environmental Services Jane Forshaw which can be heard here.

Now if you listen to the audio clip at the bottom of this article you will clearly hear Jane Forshaw agree to answer any follow up questions that may arise out of her interview. “Just come back and talk to us” she said.

She also said that questions that are asked through Freedom of Information tend to be one dimensional and as a result receive one dimensional answers.

Pits n Pots as requested, submitted the following supplementary questions, expecting Jane Forshaw to keep to her word and offer detailed answers:

1 Why was a ‘collection only’ remit given to WRAP [their report dated 4/3/08 ref ROT019] and not ‘collection and disposal’

2] Is the remit given to WRAP the reason that, in Jane’s view, it was flawed?

3] The report gave various solutions, one of which was option j. This option recommended a solution based on collection and disposal close to the process adopted by NBC who are now achieving a recycling rate of 50% as opposed to our current rate of 40%. were all the options put forward to the EMB, the rest of the elected members, or appropriate overview and scrutiny committee, for consideration?

4] In the absence of any EMB/Councillor involvement, who took the decision to adopt the current enhanced system of recycling?

5] The composting was put out for tender twice, the first time the tender was pulled, why was this?

6] Can we have the exact date that the ‘blue’ bins were ordered?

7] Was this date before the EMB gave its approval for the scheme?

8] Did the NSRP commission an Independent report into suitable composting sites in the City of Stoke-on-Trent?

9] Was this report taken into consideration before placing
the contract with a company from outside of the area?

10] Our current system for collecting food waste means that only potentially only 50% is collected. [once fortnightly in brown bin] That 50% potential success rate will be further affect by the number of households that do not have the 3 bin system. Will this prevent the city achieving the government target of 45% for 2015 and the 50% target for 2020?

Imagine our surprise when we received the following email fro Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Press & Communication Department in response to our request.

Tony,

On returning to this and given the extensive detail of
your questions I am inclined to recommend you forward it as an FOI.

It is beyond a standard media enquiry now and beyond our resources here to keep chasing it. Happy to forward this for you or if you want to take time and consider the parameters of your questions you may want to submit it direct to the Councils FOI team.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful but we do sometimes have to prioritise resources and make decisions on what the press team deal with and what departments deal with through FOI route.
Kind regards

So, what exactly have our City Council got to hide?

I have spoken to numerous verifiable sources over recent days, elected members, former elected members, the great and the good and a picture is starting to form.

I suspect that the smoke screen that now clouds this whole issue is all a cover up.

My sources lead me to believe that there was absolutely NO elected member involvement in the decision to move to the current enhanced recycling method.

One source tells of an EMB meeting where the then interim Council Manager demanded that members of the EMB nod this policy through.

The EMB refused due to the lack of substance to the report. There was absolutely no detail or information put before members so that they could make an informed decision on this matter. There was quite a heated row over the issue.

The Interim Council Manager stormed out of the meeting threatening to “Ëœcall the government for intervention’ allegedly.

To my knowledge this was never put before that particular EMB again.

There was a WRAP Report commissioned by the Council [WRAP ref ROT019 dated 04/03/08]. It was never produced to an EMB, elected councillors, the relevant Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Indeed I suspect that the Portfolio Holder at the time did not know about the WRAP report.

The remit of the WRAP report was Collection Cost only, in other words the “Ëœcheap as chips’ option.

Now, I have seen this report and it gives various options and states that on a cost only basis the method that we eventually opted for.

One of the other options [J in the WRAP report] This option recommended a solution close to the process adopted by NBC who are now achieving a recycling rate of 50% as opposed to our current rate of 40%.

My sources tell me that the WRAP report was withheld from all Elected Members therefore non of the options were put forward to the EMB, the rest of the elected members, or appropriate overview and scrutiny committee, for consideration.

I have also been told by a number of sources that the blue bins were purchased before the results of the trials were known.

Our Councillors are often attacked for their actions and performance and are often described as being poor quality.

On this issue however, no one can or should accuse our councillors of not scrutinising and considering all options to find the appropriate system of dealing with our cities waste recyclables. A system that will not just achieve the current government target of 40%, but a system that will ensure that we hit the future targets of 45% [2015] and 50% [2020].

Had our councillors had the WRAP report issued to them they may well have chosen Option J which may have helped our council achieve their 2020 target now, just like Newcastle Borough.

This whole issue needs further investigation and the Council have to start giving out some conclusive answers to some very pertinent questions.

I strongly suspect that an officer or executive of the council took decision and made sure that there was no elected member involvement.

If future government targets are not achieved, I wonder who will get all the criticism. My Guess? Our councillors.

I urge all elected members to back the calls for the District Auditor to look into this issue in its entirety. Wrap report, tenders, blue bins, the whole sorry affair.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enhanced Recycling – UPDATED

AUDIO INTERVIEW WITH KEY COUNCIL OFFICER NOW ONLINE!

Following on from the investigation by George Harvey in to the true costs of the Enhanced Recycling scheme operated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Pits n Pots sent a copy of the article to the city council asking for a response, the following statement was sent

We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years and the feedback we get from members of the public is that the system is easy to use and that they feel more compelled to recycle as a result. The new recycling system has allowed us to reach the 40% recycling targets set down by the government in 2007. In choosing which system to adopt, we had to balance the ease of use for the residents, the level of recycling we would achieve and the cost which would best support both. Materials recycled in Stoke go to plants all over the country and the resultant products are used all over the world, and around 99% of what goes into the recycling bins is reused in some way.

Given the nature of the allegations raised in the investigation we did not feel that a suitable response had been made and have asked the following questions:

It does not however, answer ANY of the issues raised in the article. I would therefore request an urgent response to the specific questions below:

  1. Given the Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation why was this report not made available to the portfolio holder and subsequent cabinet member and the the elected members of the council?
  2. Why were the ‘blue’ bins ordered before the trial? Why did they not go through the normal tendering process? Why did officers insist that blue bins were needed when the WRAP report indicated that they were no additional requirement for wheelie bins? Why did an officer of the council order these bins at a cost of £1.6million without the approval of the council executive i.e the EMB at the time?
  3. Why was the contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme told that he contract will terminate in April 2009, before the trials?
  4. It appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service. Will the CEO and the Council Leader hold an internal investigation into the conduct of this officer and a strategic review of the processes adopted in this matter and investigate whether there is a case of misconduct?
  5. Will the council now accept, that based on the evidence now before them, that they misled the public about there being £1million of savings? Will there be any action taken in relation to the fact that not only were there not savings of £1million but there were £3,498,170 of costs NOT budgeted for?

We would like to formally request an audio interview with the CEO John van de Laarschot and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez in the absence of suitable written responses to the above questions.

We also request a response from the EMB member with responsibility Cllr Joy Garner and the Cabinet Member with responsibility Cllr John Daniels [who we know had concerns in relation to this matter].

We noticed that Jane Forshaw, Head of Environmental Services was seen being interviewed on the One Show on BBC1 last night explaining how good the Stoke-on-Trent Enhanced Recycling Scheme was.

UPDATE: 23:32 Earlier this evening we interviewed Jane Forshaw the lead officer of the department concerned. Please listen to the Audio Below.

If you have any further queries/questions or concerns please contact the site. We have been promised that any supplementary questions will receive a response.