Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Stoke on Trent City Council Meeting 5/7/12

This was the first council meeting I had been able to attend in months.  It was a little disappointing that there appeared to be some background noise, possibly from the projector, which made it difficult for me to hear well.  However it was very pleasing as a member of the public to be given a copy of the ‘red book’ of papers for the meeting. As usual I shall make some observations on the council meeting and refer to times in the webcast.


There was one speaker (0:15:27) for a petition to demolish the ‘Hancock’s’ building in Summerbank Road, Tunstall.  He made his case well and cited 8 years of vandalism and antisocial behaviour including an incident on 8th May when a gang got onto the roof and were throwing debris at cars and houses.  He also reported perpetual fly tipping which, despite the council saying there were fortnightly inspections, nothing seemed to be done about.  Really, residents should not have to put up with all of this.  As this council is well used to demolition, I would hope that they could arrange for this in a case where it is much needed. 

Under council procedure the next step is that this petition goes to the relevant council officer, Pete Price, Assistant Director, Technical Services, who is responsible for responding to it.

It is interesting to note that the government’s localism act repealed the duty on councils to respond to petitions.  To me this seems to be a backward step for local democracy.  Currently the council is still responding to petitions.  It will soon be reviewing the petitions scheme.

Public Questions

There were 7 public questions for which questioners attended to ask supplementary questions for 3 of these.

Marcin Musial had needed to resort to instruction from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to require the council to release an audit report on the demolition of the Boothen Methodist Church.  He had asked for the name of the officer who had tried to hide the report from the public and what disciplinary action would be taken.  Cllr Mohammed Pervez had named Paul Hackney, Louise Kelly and Julie Savage but said there was no wrong doing, just that the ICO had taken a different view.  Marcin (0:18:48) asked if Mohammed Pervez was telling the electorate that the Labour Party is happy to tolerate incompetence in officers.  Mohammed Pervez (0:19:59) said the officers had complied with the ICO so there was no wrong doing.  Marcin attempted to argue further with encouragement from some people in the public gallery.  Whilst I can certainly sympathise with Marcin’s frustration, as I would agree that obtaining information from the council is usually difficult, but I do not personally condone his outburst as it is too disruptive in a council meeting.

Kieran Clarke had asked about ‘Groupon’ offers (I have not got a clue about this) and Cllr Mark Meredith had said 130,000 emails had been sent and 96 had been redeemed.  Kieran (0:23:24) asked if Groupon could be promoted in ‘Our City’ magazine, Mark Meredith (0:24:27) said a written reply would be sent.

More importantly Kieran Clarke had asked why it was necessary for the council to move lock, stock and barrel out of Stoke to occupy two buildings in the Central Business District (CBD).  Kieran had reported that the Strategic Partnership had involved retaining a strong staff presence in Stoke whilst moving some staff to be located throughout the city, but when it was stopped the Chief Executive had made it clear the council would not rescue the CBD.  Kieran had asked, why the u-turn?  The response by Cllr Ruth Rosenau had been, in my view, typical of Labour, with stock phrases such as “driver for change”, “moving forward”, “major impact”, “key signal”, “clear focus”, “master plan”.  Kieran (0:25:21) asked if Ruth Rosenau would agree that transfer of staff from Stoke to Hanley will affect footfall and retailers in Stoke.  Ruth Rosenau (0:26:00) denied that it would be detrimental!

Member Questions

I haven’t tended to blog about councillor's questions but this time feel that they are of particular community interest.

Cllr Jack Brereton had asked about the future of community centres.  The response by  Cllr Ruth Rosenau  had indicated that many will be closed down well before Christmas.  Jack Brereton (0:26:35) asked why the 3 ward councillors weren’t involved in the discussions about Norton community centre.  This is a widely relevant question to which he did not get an answer.  Ruth Rosenau (0:27:44) said discussions had taken place with committees.

CllrAbi Brown had asked what is being done about increased roadside car sales.   Cllr Ruth Rosenau  had indicated they can be reported to the environmental crime unit but that this does not seem to be an increasing issue.  Abi Brown (0:28:33) asked how many fixed penalty notices had been issued.  Ruth Rosenau (0:29:10) said complaints have decreased dramatically but she would let Abi Brown know the numbers.

Moving the Council from Stoke to Hanley

The main motion of the council meeting was to approve an extra £40,727,000 for the Central Business District to enable construction of new offices in Hanley for council staff.  Cllr Paul Shotton (0:32:20) proposed this “bold” move and  Cllr Ruth Rosenau  (0:36:13) seconded it “to make our city strong”.  I for one am not taken in by this Labour spin and think it is an outrage to squander money in this way, leaving Stoke in the lurch, when services and facilities are being drastically cut across the city. 

I won’t report on the entire sickening debate but will pick out a few ‘highlights’, the most gobsmacking of which is the lack of a risk assessment, as pointed out by Cllr Dave Conway (0:42:19) and the fact that Labour do not seem bothered by this.   Cllr Mohammed Pervez  (1:03:15) seemed to think it is fine to do the risk assessments later, after the decision!   Cllr Jack Brereton  (0:50:12) said the business district should be about new jobs, not moving them and said building new civic offices is a waste of money.   Cllr Mark Meredith  (0:45:45) supported the move but astoundingly admitted that the private sector had failed to deliver jobs to the city because there was too much risk!  Cllr Paul Breeze (0:51:09) supported the motion, of course, as councillor for Birches Head and Central Forest Park ward in Hanley.  It is worth watching Cllr Andy Platt (0:53:53) on the webcast, pausing in an apparent struggle to find the words to tell his electorate in Boothen and Oakhill ward in Stoke that he must support this Labour idea.  Amongst his excuses was that the Spode site would be renovated, but we have been hearing that for years and all we are doing is paying for security for it.  Cllr Terry Follows (1:08:02) suggested nothing should be signed without reading the small print.  Of particular interest was his question asking whether the Chief Executive thought the move was a good idea, during which John van de Laarschot was markedly shaking his head.

The motion was of course passed.  As far as I could tell from the show of hands, Labour plus Paul Breeze were in favour with the rest of the independents and Conservatives against.

Councillors on Twitter: @AbiBrown1 @BurslemCentral @button1001 @debra_gratton @MarkMeredith01 @pervezstoke @CllrAndyST4 @longtontom @CllrRuthRosenau @paul_shotton @CllrActional22 @mattwilcoxstoke

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