Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Stoke on Trent City Council Meeting 2/2/12

I did actually turn up to observe this meeting, having thought I had the time to get to at least part of it.  But I had missed all the best bits, including petitions and public questions, arriving during the item on solar panels, which was nothing more than party political posturing on a topic over which the council has no jurisdiction.

I have since looked at the webcast.


Dennis Woolley (0:20:07) gave a very good presentation of a 1,668 signature  petition against the closure of St. Michael’s care home.  He was very critical of the council’s behaviour, saying people were told before the consultation that St. Michael’s would close.  This is the usual story with council ‘consultations’.  He told councillors they are there to support citizens and people would remember when they come to vote.  Well, I wish they would, but in my experience too many people go out and vote Labour when it comes to it, regardless of what they have inflicted on the city.

Kieran Clarke (0:23:46) thanked the council for accepting a petition to save the Lord Mayor position.  I have mixed views on this.  There are many far more worthy uses for council money but on the other hand the council squanders large sums.

Janet Smallwood (0:26:42) presented an enormous 6,725 signature petition asking for a review of home care services, giving examples of poor care and saying people had no confidence in the service.  What on Earth are Labour playing at here?  Apparently they were going to do a review then decided not to.  What riles me is the way they are messing people about.  The Labour council withdraw the review then they have Labour MPs campaigning with the petitioners.  (Labour have form on this, we had the Labour MPs campaigning with the community over BSF while the Labour council tried to impose ludicrous closures and mergers on the community.)  So here we have it, Labour causing the problem so they can make it look like Labour are solving it!  (They did the same over children’s centres too.)  Why couldn’t they just do the review without a fuss and without the petition?  This was a point made by independents Cllr Paul Breeze (0:35:19) and Cllr Ann James (0:26:53)Ann James also added that the review should be done properly.  Other councillors spoke but it was largely more Labour propaganda with the tired old claim by CllrJanine Bridges (0:39:40) that they have consulted and listened.  The review will go ahead.

Public questions

There were many public questions at this meeting, the numbers given correspond to those in the document.

1.  Marcin Musial (0:47:31) essentially asked the same question already asked, why are the people responsible for the Renew degeneration mess still employed by the council?  But he posed it passionately, saying a Sentinel survey showed 90% of the electorate think Renew has failed.  HHHe said communities have been ripped apart.  Cllr Mohammed Pervez (0:48:54) blamed the government.

10.  Marcin Marcel (0:49:46) again essentially repeating the question asked, said he had asked the council for an internal audit report about the illegal demolition of a privately owned church paid for by the tax payer.  He wanted to know if this was mismanagement or worse and what the council are trying to hide.  Mohammed Pervez (0:51:18) said he would await a report from the information commissioner.

2.  Gabrielle Hoban (0:52:08) also essentially asked the same question already asked, why do planning allow building of unwanted luxury dwellings that then stand empty?  Cllr Adrian Knapper (0:52:46) stated that they have no power!

3.  Gabrielle Hoban (0:53:25) having asked what measures are in place to support families having to be moved compulsorily and been informed by Cllr Gwen Hassall that the Housing Standards Team provides support, asked how the current action is different from the USA historically shifting indigenous people.  Gwen Hassell (0:54:58) just did not get it and said she was incapable of answering.  That just about sums up the situation at the council I think.  Gabrielle tried to prompt further but she was banging her head against a brick wall.

4.  Adam Colclough had asked about sustainability and environmental policy, suggesting the approach was too ‘top down’ and asked how the public are being engaged. Cllr Janine Bridges had completely missed the ‘top down’ point and said the public could see strategy when it is ready.  Adam Colclough (0:55:08) asked how the problems of the demise of the Community Empowerment Network and Neighbourhood Forum would be overcome in consultation.  Janine Bridges (0:55:59) claimed to be in favour of ‘bottom up’ involvement but contradicts this by operating a top down approach.  She said new ‘locality working’ proposals are being developed to empower people.  This is the problem, they cut off people’s opportunities without telling them what will happen next.  I have experience of this as a residents’ association committee member.  The council got rid of ‘Area Implementation Teams’ that had assisted us.  They have now given us ‘Local Matters’ representatives who have been very helpful, but I for one wasn’t even informed, much less asked about the changes before they were in place.

5.  Adam Colclough (0:57:00) expanded on his question about local sourcing, wanting this in procurement policy.  Cllr Janine Bridges (0:58:24) made a valid point that the sustainability criterion of transporting over short distances could favour local sourcing.

8.  Mike Barnes (1:02:02), having asked about repayment details of a council loan to Port Vale Football Club, wished to clarify whether the loan period had been extended.  Cllr Sarah Hill (1:03:19) stated that it had not changed.

9.  Mike Barnes (1:02:02), having asked about Housing Revenue Account expenditure details, asked how the ring fencing operated for items such as the call centre and grass cutting.  Cllr Mohammed Pervez (1:05:34) said he would provide the information.

11.  Kieran Clarke (1:06:12) had asked about BSF spending and said given that originally a council contribution of £10million had been planned and now this is £60million, is this under control?  Cllr Sarah Hill (1:07:07) claimed £50million had always been expected but now an extra £5million is needed.  I notice this does not total £60million and she did not address the question of whether the spending is under control and how it impacts on other spending.

12.  Mick Williams has asked questions at previous council meetings, see my blogs 8/9/11, 20/10/11, 8/12/11, which have not been properly answered.  He had proposed an appeal procedure which Cllr Mohammed Pervez doesn’t see the need for, but will ask the constitution review group to look at.  Mick (1:08:38) suggested satisfactory answers would be better than many questions.  Mohammed Pervez (1:09:49) said he cannot use Mick’s satisfaction as a performance indicator!  Mohammed Pervez just doesn’t get it; if the council were open and transparent and engaged properly, then people would not need to ask so many questions.  I find if I ask questions I often need to progress it to a complaint or FOI before I get an answer, it would be better if that weren’t necessary.  I think whenever I can get to a full council meeting I should ask a public question, doubtless that would add ‘proof’ to Mohammed Pervez that he is doing well.  I think someone should lock Mick and Mohammed Pervez in a room until Mohammed Pervez understands and Mick gets his answers.  They could be in there for a long time!

13.  Mick Williams had asked where council agreement to Mr Van de Laarschot becoming ‘champion’ for Vanguard Consultancy is minuted.  Incredibly (or not) Cllr Mohammed Pervez had failed to answer this question.  So Mick (1:10:27) asked again where, constitutionally, has this arrangement been sanctioned?  Mohammed Pervez (1:11:55) simply launched his usual politician’s blether.  You have to wonder if he really is clueless or whether he does this deliberately.

6.91% Council Rent Rise

I won’t discuss much the council rent rise debate in which Cllr Gwen Hassall (1:19:30) proposed a 6.91% rise, Cllr Mark Meredith seconded it and it was voted through.  Except to say that, a point made by Cllr Dave Conway (1:28:21), although the council had an easy chance to raise just one of rent or council tax, they have decided a significant rise in both.  This cannot be easy for working families on low wages, some of whom have to pay both these costs.

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