Graham Wallace

Pits n Pots is sad to report that former Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor Graham Wallace passed away on Saturday after a short battle with cancer.

Mr Wallace was a much respected across the city, as a councillor in the former Abbey Green ward, where he lived for over 60 years and as a member of the Stoke Central Labour Party.

The Wallace Sports & Education Centre in Abbey Hulton was named after Mr Wallace when it opened in 2004.

Diggers Move in For Next Phase Of The Hanley Bus Station Development

Following extensive and challenging ground stabilisation the work, today will see a team of excavators move on to the John Street site, where they will begin creating the foundations of the city’s new bus station – the first phase of the £350million new shopping and leisure complex in the city.

Over the next 10 weeks enough earth to cover a football pitch will be dug out of the new landmark bus station site in the city centre. The excavators are expected to move more than 3500m3 of earth to prepare the up to 8m deep foundations needed to support the iconic new building.

Once completed a further 3600m3 of concrete will be needed to prepare the ground for the complex 245 tonne of steelwork being fitted next as part of the build.

Councillor Ruth Rosenau, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for regeneration, said

Today is an important day in the construction of the city’s new bus station. The earth which is needed to be moved is no small feat and will create the foundations for the iconic bus station building.

 

The work is being carried out by principal contractor VINCI construction UK.

Mark Thomas, Regional Director, VINCI Construction UK Building Division – North, said

The ground breaking ceremony is an exciting event for Stoke-on-Trent and VINCI Construction UK. It represents the start of a challenging and significant redevelopment of the new city centre bus facility and will open the gates to the £350 million redevelopment of a new shopping and leisure complex in Stoke-on-Trent.

Once the foundations are complete work will start in Spring on creating the bus drivers accommodation building before work starts on erecting the station’s main bus concourse.

Attention to detail

I don’t often write blog posts on here, I generally keep my opinions away from the site other than in the odd comment here or there.

Today I am going to make an exception to my rule and ask why do Stoke-on-Trent City Council seem to have such a lack of attention to detail?

Earlier I published a piece on the consultation for bus re-routing in Hanley. The re-routing needs to be carried out to allow the new bus station to operate.

I have an issue with the way the documents are presented, when you click on the links to view the proposed inbound or outbound bus routes, the maps are presented to you sideways. Why? It takes literally seconds to rotate the files before they are uploaded.

I’m lucky that I am a reasonably technically competent person so for me to rotate the files so I can read them is not a big problem, but a lot of people have little or no technical skills when it comes to computers or the Internet and could struggle trying to do this. More importantly why should I or anyone have to rotate files so we can read them? I don’t think that it is an unreasonable expectation for documents to be orientated the right way on the council website.

Who actually checks the content once it has been published? Every time I publish content on here or on other sites I run, I immediately go and look at it on the site, just to check it and make sure that everything looks and works as it should.

I’m pretty sure that the City Council don’t plan to make things difficult for us to read, I think it is just a lack of attention to detail.

Now while I am talking attention to detail, have a look at the Proposed Traffic Management Measures map that is part of the consultation.

 

Attention to detail isn’t an issue here, everything is detailed, even things that won’t change, all on one map. This cacophony of colour covers every detail of the changes that are proposed to the roads in the city centre, but you can’t see the road names because they have been obliterated by the addition of various coloured arrows and markings.

Bizarrely whoever created the map saw fit to add large black arrows on all one way streets that remain unchanged. Surely the standard implication on a map such as this is, everything is the same unless we tell you otherwise? So why add all this extra confusing detail that isn’t needed, maybe a note on the map stating that, all one way streets will remain the same unless otherwise noted, but I see no need to make this important map even more difficult to read.

Why not make a simple interactive map on-line that shows what the changes are rather than just producing a flat PDF? Someone with half an hour or so to spare could make something like the one below.


View Hanley Proposed Traffic Management in a larger map

The hardest part of creating this map was trying to work out what the actual roads were on the council map! This isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I’m sure it could be done a lot more elegantly but it proves a point and shows all the proposed changes.

The regeneration of Hanley as the ‘city centre’ for Stoke-on-Trent and the badly named City Sentral development is allegedly going to put us in the top 5 shopping cities in the UK I heard a few weeks ago. Well if this is the case then we need to be in the top 5 with everything else as well to support it, administration included.

200 years ago Stoke-on-Trent was at the forefront of the industrial revolution & manufacturing, world leaders in ceramics and known across the globe, now we can’t even get a PDF the right way around. Can you imagine Josiah Wedgwood allowing something to go out of his factory with the decoration on sideways?

Whinging about a couple of PDF’s that are not rotated may seem a bit petty, but I think the lack of attention to detail and the, that’ll do attitude, puts us in a bad light. When you see little things like those PDFs or the City Farm Tender document (remember that gem?), it makes you wonder why are we over looked for investment, why don’t we succeed with the bids we put in, is it the lack of attention to detail in the bid documents and presentations?

I want Stoke-on-Trent to improve, I want it to succeed, I want the council to be better. 

We deserve better.

Ben Gummer MP to introduce Statements of Taxation Bill

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer will introduce his Statements of Taxation Bill after Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow. The proposal is that each year Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs should send every taxpayer a statement detailing:

  • how much Income Tax and National Insurance they paid in the previous year
  • how much Income Tax and National Insurance they can expect to pay in the current year
  • how that money is being spent, broken down by areas of government spending.

Jonathan Isaby, Political Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said

We have always campaigned for greater transparency from the Government about how much of our money it takes in tax and how it then spends it, so this Bill is long overdue. Not only would an annual tax statement make clear how much of our annual income is taken in combined Income Tax and National Insurance contributions, but it would set out proportionately how much of that money funds the benefits system, the police, the NHS and so on.  

It is a simple and cheap proposal, but one which would give taxpayers far more information as we seek to hold the Government to account over how it spends our hard-earned cash. In the interests of transparency and accountability, MPs owe it to their constituents to give this Bill their support.

 

Bullying

I was working at my till when the person arrived with two children. The individual was exhausted and fatigued was etched into the face. They were very tired and told me that they were unable to sleep. They had tried all the remedies such as lavender on the pillow, not drink caffeine and exercises. The real problem was the atmosphere at work. They worked in a big NHS building project in North Staffs. The atmosphere was terribly bullying. People were yelled at for getting the tiniest thing wrong, The CMT were the worst behaved and the men and the women were equally badly behaved.

Bullying at work seems to be endemic. My partner in a catering post at Kerrygold equally had a bad time and it had a very damaging impact on our relationship as she suffered from insomnia and became very angry. She eventually left after a few months of this ordeal.

I gather from one and two sources that the atmosphere at the City Council is equally poisonous. I am told that no dissent is countenanced and the working environment is not a healthy one.

This seems to fall into a national pattern according to the recruitment agency Monster
Britons are among the world’s most bullied workers, with seven in 10 admitting to being bullied by bosses or colleagues.

A survey by recruitment company recently questioning 16,517 workers in 53 countries, discovered a quarter of Britons find the bullying and cruel jibes so upsetting it dramatically affects their performance at work.

Some 10% admitted they had even been physically attacked in the workplace.

The research also found that our European counterparts also suffer badly from workplace bullying, with a staggering 83% claiming to be victims of physical or emotional bullying at work at some point in their career.

This compares to 65% of bullied Americans and 55% of harrassed Asian workers.

The survey also discovered that Spanish workers are most likely to be physically attacked while sensitive Dutch workers are the most likely to shed a tear due to work bullying.

Belgium had the lowest rate of workplace bullying, with 38%

Special General Meeting Called for Stoke-on-Trent City Council UNISON members

There are reports coming from inside Stoke-on-Trent City Council that UNISON have called their members to 2 Special General Meetings on Thursday to discuss terms and conditions that they feel are under threat.

The leaflet being handed out to UNISON members states that

  • Essential Car Users Allowance
  • Reduced Mileage Allowance to .45p per mile
  • Charge for car parking
  • Removal of subsistence allowance
  • Removal / Rationalise shift / weekend/ unsocial allowances

are all under threat.

So if you are lucky enough to escape the on-going threat of redundancy then the City Council want to reduce your Terms & Conditions of the staff.

All this on the day that it was reported that the number of officers earning £50,000 or more at Stoke-on-Trent City Council had increased by 24 in 2010/11.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Increases The Number Of Managers While Cutting Front Line Services And Staff

Since John van de Laarschot became the Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council in January 2010 we have seen some of the biggest changes and cuts in a generation in the city.

John came in to the city with not only excellent Local Government credentials, having improved the rating of Torridge district council in north Devon from 3 to 5 stars but also real world commercial experience having worked in corporate finance and running the South African arm of PepsiCo.

In june 2010 barely 6 months in to the job, John was quoted as saying

I think this organisation is top-heavy with management and I can’t defend that. I will weed out those who are not up for challenge and who don’t have an appetite to serve our customers.

In 2010 you would maybe have thought that true, with too many directorates and no less than 270 managers earning £50,000 + salaries.

The axe soon started to fall, in September 2010 announcements were made that the number of directorates were to be reduced and restructured removing 14 of the 37 Directors & Heads of Service, with the new streamlined structure having to be in place on the first working day of 2011, exactly a year to the day of John VDL starting.

Shortly after this the rest of the council workforce were put under consultation and were informed that 700 jobs were to go. The consultations and redundancies have been an almost constant feature within the City Council since then with a further 300+ jobs being earmarked for redundacy as the City Council struggles to meet its budget.

With all the cuts and restructuring over the past 15 months you would expect the City Council to be a leaner more cost effective and streamlined organisation, yet figures released today show that the number of managers who earn £50,000+ at Stoke-on-Trent City Council actually increased by 24 from 270 to 294 in 2010/11.

So during his first year in charge when he promised to weed out those who are not up for challenge, it seems that John has found more people who are up for the challenge rather than doing any weeding.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council tops the league of midlands councils at £99.41 when it comes to cost per head of population for employing £50k+ managers, this is almost £16 more than second place Leicester.

Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said

It is disappointing to see so many middle managers at Midlands councils, particularly at a time when public sector pay is being restrained and low paid staff are being laid off. It’s not fair to demand that ordinary workers take a pay freeze or lose their jobs while more and more middle managers are enjoying generous remuneration. Councils need to cut back the bloated bureaucracies that have developed in town halls in recent years. Taxpayers in places like Stoke-on-Trent will be particularly disappointed that their local authority claims it has no alternative but to increase Council Tax but goes on to spend so much on employing so many high earners.

Just remember, council employees who are on a pay freeze and those that were made redundant, you‘re all in this together. Maybe his new £130k Deputy Chief Exceutive will improve the situation next year.

Update 11:50

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have issued the following statement to Pits n Pots

A council spokesman, said

The Tax Payer’s Alliance figures amalgamate staff annual salaries with one off payments, such as redundancy packages. This means that the figures do not reflect the true picture with regards to staff on an annual income of more than £50,000.

In response to the council statement, I have only detailed an uplift of 24 officers who earnt £50k+ in 2010/11 over 2009/10, the actual number of officers who earnt £50k+ in 2010/11 was 86 and as the TPA report and the Councils own accounts point out, 62 of these were due to redundancy payments moving the salary in to the £50k+ bracket.

 

Dan Barton to leave Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has announced today that Assistant Director –Communications, Dan Barton, will be leaving the local authority on 31st January 2012.

He leaves to pursue his role as a broadcaster, media consultant, trainer and PR advisor.

As part of the City Council’s budget plan for 2012 one of several proposals is to delete the post of Assistant Director – Communications albeit that this is subject to consultation with the Trade Unions.

Dan joined the city council four years ago from Head of News at ITV Central and was responsible for the Press Office, PR, website, branding, print, design, advertising, translation and interpretation and corporate events.

Under his leadership, the team won a series of accolades in the Good Communications Awards with Dan being nominated as PR Communicator of the Year in 2010 and the council being highly commended as Local Authority of the Year this year. He helped put Stoke on the map with work on the Staffordshire Hoard and the Tour of Britain and was chair of the Stoke Olympics 2012 community task force.

He said this week

I feel I have been through some of the most challenging years in local government and in the country with Stoke and have enjoyed the enormous challenge of helping them navigate the way through. I am now looking forward to new challenges of my own. I will miss the great team I have worked with but will take with me invaluable experience in local government and PR in one of the toughest environments in the country.

John van de Laarschot, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council said

Dan has steered the council through some turbulent years with a calm head, a sharp understanding of the political environment and always with commitment and enthusiasm. On a personal level I will very much miss his professional and supportive approach. I wish him well and thank him for his excellent work which has contributed significantly to our aim to make Stoke-on-Trent a great working city.

 

Stoke-on-Trent City Council To Trial Cabinet Meeting Webcasts

Stoke-on-Trent City Council plans to extend the city council’s webcasting facilities will be given a trial run this month when the cabinet meeting is broadcast online for the first time.

The webcasting system which reportedly cost £100,000 to install and has annual running costs of around £15,000 has so far only been used to webcast the full council meetings.

Councillor Paul Shotton, cabinet member for transformation and resources, said

This would be another step towards making the city council a clear and transparent organisation. We want local people to know how we make the decisions and give them a greater understanding of the systems in place at the city council. Obviously not everyone is able to attend these meetings in person so if we get to a position where we can broadcast more important meetings it will be good for local democracy.

It has not been reported how long the trail period of broadcasting Cabinet Meetings will be but if successful the council will decide if all meetings that are to be webcast will take place in the council chamber or if there is the potential to include webcasting facilities in other rooms.

It has long been alleged and previously confirmed,  that cabinet decisions are made at the secrative & private Cabinet Agenda Planning meetings with the public Cabinet meeting merely being a thinly veiled attempt at trying to look transparent.

 

The next cabinet meeting will take place on Thursday January 26, 2012 at 5:30pm.

1981 Shelton Riots

The showing this week of the biopic on the life of Mrs Thatcher will now doubt present her achievements in a rosy glow. Anyone living through that period who was on the left and politically active will almost certainly have a different view.

A seminal moment locally occurred on the weekend of the 11th ““12th July 1981 when the riots came to Shelton.

Rather like the events of last August the disturbances were born out of resentment and an intense disenchantment with the failure of authority. Like 2011 unemployment amongst the young was climbing and the consequences of Tory Chancellor’s Geoffrey Howe budgets of 1980-1 was to rapidly increase the jobless total. It is calculated that over 2 million jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector in the early years of the decade.

The riots began in Toxteth and spread as did the events of last summer to other major cities quickly. The list is a roll call of the great urban centres as Manchester, Leeds and London followed Liverpool. I was living in London at the time and can clearly recall walking over Greenwich Park and seeing the flames and hearing the disorder in Lewisham.

That weekend the troubles came to Shelton.

A party held at 45 Ashford St began to get too noisy and depending on whose side you believe the police responded or exacerbated the situation. One person in the house said that the police released dogs and batoned many of the party goers in a very heavy handed approach.

Predictably views were divided.

The chairman of the Police Authority a Labour Councillor called Harry Brown from Norton defended the police actions some community activists felt that there was an over-reaction. It was not racial as people at the house included black and white. Among the arrested were people from a wide area including parts of Abbey Hulton and it was the first time that Randolph Conteh’s name became known to a wider public.

The disturbances did not achieve much and rather like last summer authority were able to label those involved in the disturbances as hooligans and overlook the core issues of wasted lives and unemployment.