Democracy and politics, Stoke-on-Trent style

If one wants yet another small but significant piece of evidence demonstrating that we don’t live in a democracy and the political process is an utter failure, look no further than a story from early last week from Stoke-on-Trent.

For it is there, as The Sentinel reports, that council officers are running out of control and operating in defiance of the law.

More than £118,000 has been spent on a survey to review how much repair work is needed on the city’s council houses – but tenants and councillors are not allowed to see the results.

Not just tenants, but their supposed representatives who were elected (albeit by a small minority of voters) to make decisions and direct governance in the city.  The refusal was of a Freedom of Information request for which there is no legal basis at the local authority for rejection.  Taxpayers’ money has been taken (from national and local level) and spent to garner information, but no one can see the results collected by the authority’s Officers.  Well actually, as the story goes on to qualify, councillors can see the information but only after Officers have ‘briefed’ them – presumably to tell them what they must not say in public.  But ‘information control officers’ say releasing the results would cause:

… an increase in customer enquiries relating to when improvements will be carried out.

Prior to publishing the stock condition survey it will be necessary to properly brief frontline staff, elected members and other stakeholders.

Information control?  How apt a description.  Heaven forbid that the public, the majority of whom pay their taxes to fund essentials such as housing repairs to council stock, should deign to ask about the findings or draw upon the very services that they are entitled to receive.  There can be no more clear example of the inversion of the positions of servant and master.

Since then, to compound the sense of incompetence that seems to permeate the city’s halls of ‘power’, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has gone on to write off £7.5m of unpaid council tax in addition to £8.1m already wiped off the books.  Out of control and above the law, councils are gouging the wallets and purses of taxpayers with the usual raft of charges and fees in addition to the annual charge – to fund non essential boondoggles rather than essential services only – which is undoubtedly fuelling resentment at the ever rising level of council tax and avoidance of its payment.

There is a perfect storm brewing caused by the failure of politics and absence of democracy.  An alternative, positive vision is required and thankfully a group of people are developing one known as the Harrogate Agenda,  but some residents are failing to grasp this and rather than demanding the council limit its scope and activities to essential services, instead are calling for it do more to chase down non-payers, and even call in bailiffs with their often illegal and intimidating tactics, to recover unpaid council tax.

Perhaps those who thought Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘corporate logo’ was meaningless were being somewhat unfair.  The image, with its ever decreasing circles sinking lower and lower while fading away, seems somehow rather prescient.  Perhaps it was designed that way intentionally as a metaphor for the continuing erosion of illusory people power and democratic control.

5 Responses to “Democracy and politics, Stoke-on-Trent style”

  1. 1 Peejos 06/10/2012 at 9:44 am

    What you report is horrific and one is amazed that elected members are not determined to break through the staff imposed restrictions. In all fairness though all councils write off unpaid council tax each year. Tenants of council properties just leave without notice or forwarding addresses, commercial firms go bust owing large sums, the cost of trying to recover anything is out of proportion to what is recovered, once the initial chase up has been fruitless.

  2. 2 mowmeadow 06/10/2012 at 10:52 am

    It would be interesting to know also, who were the people who had not paid the council tax amounting to 7.5m pound sterling. Who are the free loaders? What makes council so obliging? Are these parasites still not paying their way? These people should have the full glare of publicity along with the opening of the books for all to see. This should be a right for all who have paid their full share.

  3. 3 Edward. 06/10/2012 at 8:18 pm

    Appalling AM truly appalling but not surprising, the councils – especially the metropolitan councils do their own thing and know well that there is no accountability – these social engineers are rampant and corrupt beyond belief.

    Pinning them down is the hard part – the local council is run by a ‘family’ and the machinations and inner workings are more secret than GCHQ.

    Where I live, the expenditure on new civic ‘amenities’ as they refer to them are inappropriate and inordinately extravagant.

    This is a small provincial urban centre [plus a smattering of local towns albeit a fairly big geographical area]. Unfathomable and unforgivably, with a Council leader claiming £200K [throw in the extras and that will come to north of 250K].

    The council has delusions of grandeur and no one but no one questions their lunatic building extravaganza.

    A new Civic centre, a newly refashioned city square and car parks galore, borrowed money spent on a new shopping centre [white elephant] which is killing off the old town shopping district, which is dying on its margins.

    A deliberate attempt to engineer a complete reshaping of the town and its inhabitants – in 10 years it has become a cosmopolitan blend of Eastern European, African faces and the inevitable inundation of Asian nations – off the scale – the demographic change has been phenomenal – older inhabitants of this unitarian chapel and very quiet staid town are amazed, aghast, angered and feel betrayed by their Labour council but still vote for them in all of the elections.

    A good example of the type of lunatic societal engineering is the push to make the town a ‘gay centre’ gay friendly but the few pubs that were gay friendly have gone, closed down by Asian disapproval and I use that descriptor euphemistically. The new town centre flats designed for the pink pound – lie empty and the whole block is [completed 3 years ago] looks derelict.
    The local college is under reconstruction – with pretensions to making it a university – ludicrous but definitely in the grand design

    Next, a £750 million recycling centre built by their friends Veolia – hey it’s global warming and it’s all good.

    There is only one problem – who is going to pay for it all – central government has [mainly] pulled the plug, so where, oh where is all this money coming from?? The cries of cuts, cuts and more cuts are perpetual but money seems to be no object, if you’re building grand buildings and road schemes.
    And, the provincial ‘in set’ are still living it large [45% of the town ‘working for the council’] – so my guess is that the government on the sly are allowing councils such as these to borrow on the international markets.


  4. 4 Edward Spalton 07/10/2012 at 7:28 am

    When I was briefly a school governor, the same thing applied. This was before league tables. The reading scores of schools were far more secret than MI5. The head teacher, a good and conscientious lady, confided in me that she was worried but no meaningful discussion could be held because the governors were not given access to the information – only the “expert” officers could know. It was actually fairly obvious that the decline was down to the politically correct “progressive” methods in which the young teachers had been trained – so it was not really their fault either. As older teachers retired, reading became poorer. But nobody outside the charmed circle was allowed to know the facts.

    Some standards were enforced though. The children had a painting exhibition and the subject was someone at work. One lad had done a very dramatic painting of a fireman putting out a fire. His caption contained many uncorrected spelling mistakes. (It would be too “discouraging” to correct them) . His correctly spelt title “A FIRE MAN” had been crossed out and replaced with the gender- neutral, PC ” FIRE FIGHTER”!

  5. 5 john in cheshire 07/10/2012 at 4:36 pm

    And there you have it – socialism at its most blatent. Keep them for analysis purposes because they seem to be quite good at that. But for goodness’ sake, don’t let them near to either public money or power.

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