I'm from Stoke-on-Trent and I can promise you that, despite your comments in Stafford, the local labour party is NOT listening to the electorate, in fact it takes great pride in ignoring us!
I have spoken to many of the councillors and especially the leadership. Cllr Pervez, when asked by me to take a cut in his expenses in order to help keep open a few facilities, and show solidarity with the tax paying voters simply asked me, "What good would that do?" I reiterated that if all councillor expenses were cut by the same 30% cut they're asking of their lowest paid staff, then at least one, possibly two, community centres could stay open. He then proceeded to change the subject.
We've asked for a public enquiry into the Dimensions scandal, where Cllr Meredith publicly lied to the chamber, the public and the police about secret deals with a private businessman to close a well used and valuable public facility, (Dimensions Leisure Centre), to pay an annual subsidy to the businessman of £100,000 so that he would then offer cheap deals for schools to use his, similar, facility. Cllr Pervez and the CEO, John van der Laarschott, also denied any knowledge and have subsequently been caught out in the same lie.
We have a perfectly fit for purpose Civic Centre, housing most of the council staff, right on the A500, (the main thoroughfare through the city), with links at each end to the M6, less than a mile from the A50, with a direct link to the M1 and a 5 minute walk from the ONLY railway station in the city. The Labour controlled council want to move the Civic Centre, which is less than 20 years old and has recently had £1m of refurbishment, including solar panels on the roof, just over a mile up the road, where the parking, which they currently enjoy for free, will cost the staff over £1000 a year each.
In order to do this, they're going to borrow a MINIMUM £40m to "kick start" the Central Business District, which has so far just 3 potential tenants despite being marketed for almost 3 years. Those tenants are the council, the library and the police station. Not one business. I'll repeat that for emphasis - NOT ONE BUSINESS has shown even the remotest interest in moving to that part of the city. Mainly because the road and rail infrastructure, so vital in any business decision, is better where it is. The public opinion, and various petitions and consultations with the public have been carried out, is over 90% AGAINST this move, for many reasons, not least of which is the credit rating of the developer, which is exceptionally poor. However, the main reason is that we're making cuts all over the place, except of course at senior level, and the public is having to endure the consequences of those cuts, and now we're going to have to endure a rise in council tax and other inventive "fleece the public" schemes to pay for this loan.
Cllr Pervez and his Chief Financial Advisor (Mr. Peter Bates), are both on record as saying that they don't actually know the full cost of the loan because nothing has been signed yet, and it will be paid back over 25 years! Some advice he's giving!
This is an appalling admission, and scares the hell out of the electorate. My grandchildren are at primary school and they're already in debt! This cannot be right!
Furthermore, they're building this white elephant on the same site where the previous, failed, council office was demolished. It was unsafe as it was built on top of old mine shafts, which they're now discovering are even more widespread, (the new build is covering a greater area), and will therefore cost more to fill in. Yet, they're determined to go against all public opinion, and even two very expensive consultations they commissioned advising them against it, one of which gave it only an 11% chance of succeeding!
We held a very public march against the move and they even disputed the police's official figures about the number on the march! This is a city where political apathy is rife, yet we had about 1000 people on a freezing day marching against this move.
They've also been warned, by us, other local politicians, and now Eric Pickles, that the "City News" free paper is being used as a propaganda broadsheet for the Labour party, which is a misappropriation of public funds for political use. This is not the first time this has happened. Their arrogance is beyond belief because, despite being warned about another incident regarding a £25,000 "consultation" into what was reported as being necessary to "improve the city's image", Cllr Pervez let the cat out of the bag with his comment that "We need to understand why we lost the local bye-election", following the resignation of Cllr Sarah Hill, who dared to stand against him for being a part time (24 meetings out of at least 70) leader. For this, she was kicked out of the cabinet and the party. Some democracy!
This is a precis of what could be a small book regarding this "listening" council, who are increasingly making ALL decisions at cabinet level, aided and abetted by Ian Riley at District Office, and merely having them rubber stamped at council level by the overuse of the whip. It's an abuse of authority and we've even been kicked out of the public gallery for daring to express disapproval at the budget meeting. Far from listening to the public - they don't even want to acknowledge us!
The march involved residents from all over the city and was deliberately a single issue, non-political event. The MPs knew about it, yet none contacted us. Their silence speaks volumes.
Chair, March on Stoke