Monday, 8 July 2013

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Meeting 4/7/13

It's weather for outdoors really, but here's a shortish blog anyway. I had enjoyed a pleasant ~9 mile walk taking in Trentham, King's wood, Tittensor and Barlaston prior to arrival at the civic centre, in Stoke, to ask supplementary questions at the full council meeting. The public gallery was almost empty.


There was one speaker, Mr Taylor (00:24:00), retiring chair of 'Friends of City Farm', for a 841 signature petition asking the council to respond to the decline of the park. Unsurprisingly since the closure of the rather good city farm facility there, the state of the park had worsened, fewer people visit and there is increased “mindless vandalism”. In my view the council needs to maintain the park in good order and the police need to round up and deal with the criminal element.

Public questions

There were two speakers having supplementary questions who had asked two public questions each.

The first was myself. My first question (question 1) had followed up a previous public question on pupil numbers in the city. I am trying to understand how the council calculates its projected numbers. It is interesting to compare the responses I got in each case. Previously the cabinet member for education was Cllr Alan Dutton. He was a bit out of his depth in dealing with my questions, but given that was the case his response was very reasonable. He had talked to me about this after the meeting and had arranged a meeting for me with him and officers to discuss the issues. This was most welcome and interesting and I had got some answers on how the council is dealing with post-16 education and training from this meeting, but did not achieve very much clarity on the pupil number projections. A suggestion at that meeting that I could be sent specific reasons for figures that appear anomalous has resulted in the current public question, because I was sent no further information. The current question simply asks for the information that I wasn't sent. The current cabinet member for education is Cllr Shaun Pender, but his answer, or one that officers may have written for him, simply doesn't provide the specific answers. The 6 specific cases I list show changes in numbers, as compared with 55 similar cases for which numbers remain constant.

I made clear in asking my supplementary question that it was addressed to Shaun Pender. To be honest I was quite shocked that he did not appear to acknowledge that I was addressing him while I spoke, in fact he gave the impression of totally ignoring me. My supplementary question was (0:28:48):
The 6 anomalous cases I highlighted have not been explained, so I will turn the question around. With the exception of the years 2 to 3 and 6 to 7 transitions, in 55 out of the 61 transitions between years projected, the pupil numbers remain precisely constant. Why?”
I had hoped the instinctive reaction to this would be that of course these could easily be expected to stay constant and that this may help Shaun Pender better understand why I am asking about the few that aren't. But I was gobsmacked by the initial response. He said nothing at all. In the end the Lord Mayor Sheila Pitt had to insist (0:30:30) that he answered me, to which he just said (0:30:21) it was complex and he would email me. I await the email.

My second question (question 3) had arisen because I was amazed to see the contents of my green recycling box being emptied into my blue bin on collection. Cllr Andy Platt, cabinet member for green enterprises and clean city, had explained why, although this did highlight inadequacies in the vehicles used. I would like to see recycling done most effectively, as I'm sure the council would or should, so my supplementary question was (0:30:52):
Your answer indicates that when the right vehicles are actually working, the paper is kept separate and dry. But I have heard that wet cardboard also causes problems. So why can't small cardboard items such as cereal boxes be put in the green box with the paper to keep dry?"
Now this might actually be a good idea, or else there may be a very good reason why it wouldn't be, but I didn't get an answer to this. Andy Platt was at least polite and paid attention and said there would be new vehicles, but basically said instructions should be followed with regard to recycling. I can follow instructions fine, but I think more can be done to engage the public by way of explanation rather than just preaching. The council's web site is 2 years out of date with its waste data and contains little depth. (In fact I recently had a much more informative and interesting discussion about recycling with someone unconnected with the council.)

The second speaker was Gabrielle Hoban who had asked Council LeaderMohammed Pervez (question 4) about Stoke being broke. Mohammed Pervez had talked about their 'mandate for change'. Gabrielle asked a supplementary question (0:33:25) about why the council is selling off rather than optimising on heritage buildings in the city. Mohammed Pervez said (0:34:38) he would respond in writing.

Gabrielle asked another question (question 5), of  Cllr Andy Platt, about why the Hanford incinerator will not be re-commissioned after 2013 and where a new incinerator would be located. His reply had indicated that Hanford would continue. Gabrielle asked (0:35:16) when the Hanford incinerator is going to be decommissioned and where incineration will take place after that. Andy Platt said (0:36:05) it would stay where it is because it won't be decommissioned, but would be transferred from the private company 'Hanford Waste' to the city council in 2020.

Motion against blacklisting

I won't report on this in detail, but mention it because I think it is very important. I am a trade union member, but not of Unite and not one that contributes to the Labour party. I think trade unions make a hugely valuable contribution supporting their members at work, but I dislike the Labour party. Organisations that blacklist treat workers badly because they are union members or raise important issues such as health and safety concerns. Such targeting of individuals for doing the right thing is totally unacceptable. Health and safety at work is a hugely important issue and would be important for good employers as well as employees. Good employers treat people with respect and protect their well being. It really doesn't do anyone any good in an organisation if work and effectiveness suffer because of employee ill-health or even death, due to adverse conditions at work. The webcast of the meeting is worth a watch, from (0:42:22) onwards, as councillors of various political persuasions make good points and raise significant concerns, including discussion of Kier. The motion was carried unanimously.

UPDATE 3/8/13:

I received an email on 26/7/13, not from Cllr Pender, but from Paul Gerrard:

Response to supplementary question to Cllr Pender at the City Council on 4 July
“Why pupil numbers were constant in relation to 55 out of the 61 transitions referred to.”

The answer to this question is set out in the earlier responses. The degree of movement tolerated within year groups reflects the nature of the model used – not all transitions will show changes under all models.

So I am no further forward!  I still do  not understand the pupil number projections because they remain unexplained to me.  I would really like to know "the nature of the model used" but it seems this is to remain a dark secret.

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