Sunday, 30 October 2011

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Meeting 20/10/11

I couldn't observe the meeting because I was attending a school governors meeting so I viewed the webcast later.  I refer to times in the webcast in my blog and pick out three items I find of particular interest.

Public Questions

There were no petitions but there were some public questions.  A few who had asked questions attended to ask supplementary questions.   

Sam Richardson had asked whether ward budget spends could be published and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez had said these would appear on the web site.  Sam asked (0:24:53) about the time scale for this and Mohammed Pervez was pleased to report they are online now.  I am certainly pleased by this welcome development by the council.  Ward budget spends can be found with the information on each individual councillor.

Kieran Clarke had asked two questions, the first was what the council would do to address concerns residents may have about contacting councillors on expensive mobile telephone numbers where no landline number is given.  Mohammed Pervez had said he thought mobile numbers give better access.  Kieran asked (0:25:30) whether councillors could give a landline number.  Mohammed Pervez said he cannot comment on individual councillors' arrangements but he prefers a mobile. 

Kieran Clarke had also pointed out problems with 'Our City' magazine, such as poor content, for example not informing the public of full council meetings changing to the evening and poor distribution and had asked what the net cost of publishing it is.  Mohammed Pervez had said the magazine referred to the web site for further details.  This to me is a poor answer because for people who access the web, the magazine is not needed.  He also had said distribution is good and it costs about £25,000 per issue.  Kieran asked (0:27:55) whether the 6 issues a year is justified but Mohammed Pervez said he believes it is the best way to communicate.  Personally I think with all the cuts being made, 'Our City' should be top of the list for the chop as it's just a big pile of spin.  If it really is needed for those who don't access the web, it could be reduced from 32 sides of A4 guff (issue 23) to one folded A3 sheet with councillor details on one side and key factual notices of meetings and telephone numbers on the other.  In Trentham I always get it delivered. 

Mick Williams had asked two questions, the first to Cllr Gwen Hassall referred to her wholly inadequate response to questions at the last full council meeting, which I mentioned in a previous blog and asked if this meant a reluctance for community engagement.  She had said they had a new team working on community engagement and were in ongoing discussions with resident associations.  Well I'm a committee member of a residents' association and such discussions have not reached me.  Mick asked (0:31:58) the same question he had asked at the last full council, where have the resources come from for the new team, especially in light of the fact that funding for the Community Empowerment Network had ceased?  Gwen Hassall yet again spectacularly failed to answer the question!

Mick Williams had also asked Mohammed Pervez if he felt portfolio holders demonstrated quality in their answers to public questions and how shortcomings are dealt with.  Mohammed Pervez had said he chooses cabinet and deals with performance as he sees fit.  Mick referred (0:35:10) to two emails where he had been mentioned by name and he felt he had been disrespected, he thought cabinet qualities ought to include respect and asked whether he should direct his complaint to the Standards Committee or the Labour party.  Paul Hackney, legal officer, said he could get a form from democratic services officer Angela Gardner to submit a complaint to the Standards Committee.  Mohammed Pervez said he can also be approached about any complaint involving a Labour councillor.  I hope Mick does both.

Parliamentary Boundaries

Cllr Martin Garner (0:56:15) proposed a motion (minutes pages 20-22), seconded by Cllr Gwen Hassall (0:58:00) opposing the BCE initial proposals; objecting to the reduction in local representation, the lack of time for public hearings and the Stoke-on-Trent boundaries, the division of Burslem in particular.  The motion called for council to authorise cabinet to submit a response and alternative to the BCE.

The debate was largely party political with no constructive suggestions, so I might as well get party political, not that I like any of the political parties.  Martin had a go at the Tory government and the BCE.  It's a bit rich him talking about reducing local representation when it was his Labour lot with support from the Tories and Libdems who reduced our democracy by scrapping our local votes 3 years out of 4 and allowing us only 1 year out of 4, contrary even to a legitimate council vote!  He wasn't a councillor then but it was his party.  I blame Labour for our lack of local democracy.  I blame local Labour for letting the governance commission in to dictate to our city. I blame the previous Labour government for dictating to us and imposing the governance commission then the transition board. I blame Labour's previous mayor and current Cllr Mark Meredith for having his strop and getting his Labour government to force whole council elections on us using that most dictatorial Local Government Act 2000.  I blame Labour for cutting short the 4 year mandate of 20 of our councillors, Labour and otherwise, denying those councillors and the public who elected them decent democratic rights.  Martin may moan about the reduction in MPs, I agree I don't want them reduced, but where is Labour's consistency?  They were instrumental in reducing our councillors from 60 to 44.  It was them who got the LGBCE review started that resulted in the haphazard mess of council wards we now have.  Then our Labour MPs wouldn't pray against the result in parliament.  I was one of the Democracy4Stoke contingent who went to see Rob Flello MP to ask him to do this, but he wouldn't, despite previously saying he thought Stoke-on-Trent needs 80 councillors.  So Labour don't like the Tory Act of Parliament and BCE initial proposals now and I agree I don't either, but the difference is they are hypocrites.  So, party political rant largely over and back to the council meeting and my views on it...

Cllr Abi Brown (0:58:17) opposed the motion but didn't seem to put forward any view of her own on the boundaries.  Cllr Jack Brereton (0:59:56) asked what the council really wants but did not say what he wanted.  He put forward a crazy view that a split Burslem is good because it would have two MPs.  If he had added fairness to that it would lead to every community being split, going against the local links that any boundary review ought to consider.  Cllr Randy Conteh (1:01:53) said he wasn't going to have spoken on this.  He might as well not have done as he just said he would abstain.  Cllr Joy Garner (1:02:17) presented a good argument for the need for a united Burslem not split by a constituency boundary.  Cllr Debra Gratton (1:03:46) told us she lives in Burslem (something she is unwilling to admit on her council web entry).  She moaned about the previous LGBCE boundary review and moaned that money is wasted on a boundary change nobody voted for, but the LGBCE review she complained about was triggered undemocratically by her Labour government who imposed a whole council election system which was not voted for and an unelected transition board, all on her watch!  Cllr Andy Platt (1:04:40) has not got a clue; he accused the BCE of political gerrymandering when it is not in their remit to consider party politics and blamed them for using the old ward boundaries which the act requires them to do, so he ought to blame parliament for letting that through.  Cllr Neil Day (1:07:16) said the government has ignored common sense but he doesn't spell out whether he will be asking his MP to vote against whatever the final BCE proposal is on principle.  Cllr Tom Reynolds (1:09:01) blamed the electoral commission for using the old ward boundaries, but again this is an issue with the act of parliament.  He also moaned about the reduction in MPs and the reduction in democracy.  Agreed, but this is what his own Labour lot did to our councillors, they wreaked absolute havoc with our local democracy, on his watch!  Cllr Ann James (1:11:01) unsurprisingly (to me anyway) spoke by far the most sense of all the councillors.  She said she was concerned about authorising cabinet to prepare a response from the council and thought individual responses would do more good.  She also mentioned the failed fight against the Labour government to try to stop the reduction in councillors.

The motion was carried:

For the motion:- Lord Mayor; Councillors Ali, Aumir, Banks, Bridges, Clarke, Crowe, Day,
Dutton, Fry, J. Garner, M. Garner, Gratton, Hamer, Hassall, Hill, Hussain, Kallar, Khan,
Knapper, Meredith, Pender, Pervez, Pitt, Platt, Reynolds, Shotton, Rosenau, Walker,
Wanger, Watson, Wazir, Wedgwood, Wheeldon and Wilcox.
Against the motion:- Councillors Brereton, Brown, Conway, Hayward, James and Ward.
Abstained:- Councillors Breeze and Conteh.

If I'd been a councillor I would have voted against the motion on the basis that any council response ought to be a full council response and not delegated to the cabinet and individual responses are preferable to trusting the cabinet with it.

The Dimensions Cover Up

Legal officer Paul Hackney (1:17:33) spoke at the start.  He said that because confidentiality (cover up) had been promised in the settlement between the council and Waterworld - Mo Chaudry, he advised the questions asked in the motion should not be answered (further cover up).  This of course denies us, the public, information on the way the council operates and deals proposed using our tax payers money.  What a disgrace!  A motion (minutes page 23)  was proposed by Cllr Lee Wanger (1:22:11) and seconded by Cllr Dave Conway (1:27:00) who wanted to know:

• Whether there was any agreement, in writing or verbally between the council and any
third party to supply facilities for Dimensions users if it were closed?
• Whether any offer of financial imbursement or enhancement, in writing or verbally
was offered to any third party to cover any loss to that amenity?

Where was Dave Conway when we needed him?  It would have been better for him to put the case.  The motion was defeated.  Typical Labour 'openness'.

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