Monday, 13 October 2008


The 23rd October is nearly upon us, the date of the most important referendum in the history of our City. Pitsnpots has been host to some heated debate on the subject of which system of Governance would best serve Stoke on Trent. Councilor Mike Barnes (pictured) who is heading the "vote yes" campaign has spoken to us here at pitsnpots and here is what he has had to say:

"In the forthcoming Referendum, Democracy4Stoke, is asking the people of Stoke-on-Trent to vote YES for change – YES to scrap the Elected Mayor. Democracy4Stoke was formed in 2002, and has gradually grown to over 100 members from all political parties and non, and from all walks of life. Our aim is to restore democracy back into all our public services – local government, health, police and many other quangos – so that everybody has a real says in their community and how things are run. Our greatest achievement has been to effectively force the council to have a referendum, following our 10,000 name petition that was delivered to London. Make no mistake, there would never be a referendum had the petition not been done. Those that support an Elected Mayor would have carried on and we would all have been denied our right to choose. For 5½ years now Stoke-on-Trent has suffered under the Elected Mayor system. Since its creation over half of all our elderly care homes have closed with more to come; we’ve had the scandal of over £100,000 wasted on an ice rink that went bump within days of its opening; who can forget the heartache cause by the Elected Mayor and Council Manager knocking down thousands of headstones in our cemeteries, then having to dole out tax payers money to compensate them. If you want to stop these things happening vote “Yes” to scrap the Elected Mayor. More recently, for the first time in the city’s history, we have had direct government intervention in a key public service, Children’s Services, handed over to a private organisation, SERCO, who torn up previously agreed secondary school proposals, in favour of closing some of our more success schools. Dimensions would have been closed if there hadn’t been a major community campaign to keep it open: and now even our community centres are threatened with closure. The list could go on and on. Even a recent government report said that our city is “leaderless”, “fragmented” and desperate for change. Vote Yes for Change. The cost of having an Elected Mayor is spiralling out of control. The salary of the Elected Mayor alone is £1500 per week, added to which are two secretaries, a personal assistant, and ten political advisors paid over £17000 each, all costing us, the taxpayers, nearly £1/2m per year. The leader model, which we campaign for, costs just of 1/3 of this amount. An Elected Mayor, has now been proven to be distant and out of the reach of ordinary citizens concerned about their communities and their local services. Why should an Elected Mayor care when once elected, they don’t have to worry about what anybody else thinks for another four years. The leader model, by contrast, hands the decision-making powers back to local communities, through local representatives, councillors. Through councillors, once again, any leader, would have to listen to local people and councillors every second of every day, knowing that making the wrong decision could be their last as leader. This is real democracy accountable 24/7. No one system is perfect, but surely, having 60 people making decisions must be better than leaving it to one Elected Mayor. Sixty people from all over the city, from all walks of life, from Meir to Golden Hill, and from Trentham to Bucknall. 60 people or just 1 - which is more democratic? Having an Elected Mayor takes away a key plank of our local democracy. Removing the opportunity of every citizen to stand up and represent their local community, to make a difference and change things in their street, their community or their city. Instead the Elected Mayor is centralised at the Civic Centre, beyond the reach of all but the most elite and those with the money to get there. There is even the likelihood that the BNP could take it, this would be the final straw for anybody thinking of bringing jobs to the city. We want change: change that comes right from local communities - upwards. A council that takes everybody into account, and along with them, would be a council of real strength, leadership and vision. We cannot continue along our current path – leaderless, no direction and ridiculed by those outside with little chance of outside investment. Five years has already left us well behind other great cities. If we fail to act now we have an Elected Mayor forever, the law says we can never have another chance to get rid of this dictatorship of a system. Bring this government experiment to an end! I urge everybody to vote, and vote “Yes” for change – “Yes” to Scrap the Elected Mayor."

The three city MP's have come out in favour of the Leader and Cabinet system over the past few weeks.
Look out for an article by Paul Breeze the Chairman of the "Peoples Choice Campaign (vote NO) in the next few days.
Over to you what do you make of Mikes Blog?.........
Follow this link to the Sentinel article:


nita said...

Ever since the news of the Referendum was released, I was always going to vote for the Mayoral System, simply because the people would at least have the choice.

Having had various debates on this, I have now decided that the only positive way forward for the City is to choose the Leader and Cabinet. As Mike Barnes states, it is more democratic.

There are some excellent Councillors out there who are capable of taking on the Leader role. We the people have to put our trust into letting the Council choose the right person.

I do not want a BNP Mayor, so that is another good reason for choosing Leader and Cabinet.

Over the years the BNP have grown more popular in the City. People say it is because they are the only ones representing the puplic's opinion. I feel that under the Mayoral System, Councillors have lost their voices. Having heard Councillor's state they disagree with the Mayor's decisions, why do they go and agree with them? This is not democracy.

I hope the people of Stoke on Trent see sense, and choose Leader and Cabinet.

brooneyes said...

There's one major floor in Mikes argument, and it tends to be the same flaw in any of those promoting a leader and cabinet, and that is all these bad things have happened under the direct guidance of the Labour party.
In the same way that power isn't good or bad, it's how it gets used,
so it's the same with the position of elected mayor. It's not the position that's bad, just the Labour candidate that filled the position.
He says that for 51/2 years we've suffered, and we have. Meredith has been a nightmare, a egomaniac wrapped up in the thought of all that power to himself. But cast your minds back to what it was like before the mayoral system.
Absolute chaos! Corruption and incompetence at levels even higher than we have today!
But hold on a minute. Back then was controlled by Labour too, so maybe the problem doesn't lie with the system, but with the Labour
personnel who keep managing to lie their way into them!
Mike Barnes is also less than truthful about the government intervention in the shape of the governance commission. Here was a
plan aimed directly at stopping the continued success of the BNP, and in doing so tried to fob off on the people of this city the most ridiculous set of "requests",
the most stupid and damaging being
reducing the number of coucillors by either a third or two thirds!
How is one person supposed to cover such a big area, and handle
complaints and requests from so many people by themselves?? Besides which, the chair of the commission, Prof. Clarke would fall over if leaned any more to the left.
This is the real problem, and Labour cannot get away from it or sweep it under the carpet. 60 years
of rule, 60 years of complete domination, and there's nothing to show for it but trouble and negativity!
If you're really interested in setting this city back on its feet, if what you really want is a return to democracy, then get rid of Labour.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell wants a Barry Stockley back in local Government or any form of Government.Leader. Mayor or mp, adviser or any role in politics.

nita said...

Brooneyes, I cannot disagree, with you on this. We have had a Labour Mayor following Labour Policies. It would have been the same, if it was a Mayor from Con,Lib Dems,Ind, or BNP. This has been the downfall of the system. That is why I would have wanted a non political Mayor, but not sure if that could work.

I still feel that under the Mayoral System, too much power is placed in one person's hands.

This is why I keep asking the question, will the Leader have the same power? Will the final decision rest in their hands, or will Councillors have more input?

I also agree, that to reduce the number of Councillors per ward is a ridiculous suggestion, and hope that this never comes into place.

Yes, the Council was run badly, before the Mayoral System came into place, but I personally feel, that from the choice of Councillors we have now, across the City, one of them will do a good job, fingers crossed.

To be honest, I have got to the point now, that I do not care what political party the Leader comes from, as long as they take the City in the direction, it really doesn't matter.

brooneyes said...

Nita, you seem totally hacked off with it all. Just remember that after the 23rd, the pressure will be off for a while.

Kick back, put your feet up, and have a cuppa. That's the best medicine there is.

Frank Fuller said...

I cannot bring myself to vote in the referendum as I think both options are equally bad.

Both disenfranchise the vast majority of our elected representatives from the decision making process. Unless you are lucky enough to find yourself living in a ward which has a cabinet member as one of the councillors then it is unlikely that the voice of your elected representatives will be heard.

If the city does opt to return to leader and cabinet, as supported by Mike Barnes, the councillors have a very big responsibility to ensure that we do not end up with another leader as disastrous as Barry Stockley was.

brooneyes said...

Frank, there's no excuse for abstinance in this case. Neither systems are perfect, but they can be made so much better. I disagree with Tony on most things, but it is excellent what has been achieved with this site. Once the system is decided, take the candidates to task over everything it is you want to see. If you want
greater power sharing, especially for the councillors, make it a demand. This is one of the BNP's
policies, so if we say yes, others will have to say yes in order not to lose a vote.

ian norris said...

This is a prime example why we can’t trust Councillors call for the YES vote, Mike Barnes attempts to claim that under the Elected Mayor.

Half of all our elderly care homes have closed.

Elected Mayor and Council Manager knocking down thousands of headstones in our cemeteries.

Both complete lies both were recommended during Labours Cabinet, long before even Mike Wolfe had crossed the Door mat. Do these PROFEESIONAL politicians really expect the public to have such short memories?

And again they raise Dimensions Closure, this was pasted in the Budget by the Scrutiny Commissions whose main job is to Scrutinize, and then voted through by Full Council, if the councillors were really doing their job it would have been stopped long before Full council.

And they want us to vote back in such a Leader and Cabinet System?

Shaun Bennett said...

I would have to agree that the only positive way forward for our city now would be to vote 'Yes' next Thursday and return to a Leader and Cabinet system.

It doesn't help the debate to get bogged down as Mike and Ian have by arguments of who did what; and what policies occurred under which system as though we are to believe that the alternative would have been some miraculous saviour. The best way to approach the question is simply by following through the logic in a considered way.

First, we should not pretend that all was well before the mayoral system was introduced in 2002. The city was run appaulingly for many decades before then. But I believe that that was down to the one party state that we had created for ourselves. You can argue with some credibility that the opposition to Labour had little better idea of a way forward, but the truth reamins that no alternative was ever really given any opportunity to set out their stalls by the electorate. With more competition, perhaps things could have been different. However, the voters made their decision and they got the representation that they by and large deserved.

Unfortunately, things got so much worse once the mayoral system was introduced. The ideals of the system was to centralise all power in the hands of a visionary individual who would be directly accountable to the people and would be able to do what was necessary to move the city forward. Somehow, Stoke-on-Trent managed to get the worst of all possible worlds, mediocre individuals without vision who had the benefit of centralised power but not the guts or the wisdom to use it.

Presuming that the same group of people (by and large) would govern the city in reality under whichever system we choose, this would not change.

So if we have neutralised the ideals behind the mayoral system-and I recognise that many people cry out for a so called 'non-political' figure to be mayor; but this simply could never work. The closest we have had to a non-political mayor was Mike Wolfe and he didn't have notably greater success than his successor. In reality, such a figure would not only lack the political nouse and skills to be able to do the job, but they would find themselves without ANY support and would either blunder in regardless or else would be heavily restrained by the political groups. Either way, such a system would not assist the governance process. If we have neutralised the ideals of the mayoral system we must therefore move on to the next level of the argument, the proposition that a mayor is so much more democratic than a leader and cabinet.

Once more, this need not be the case. True, the mayoral system is theoretically the most democratic-voters directly choosing who will govern and being held to account by those same voters. If you don't like them, you can throw them out. But is a minority mayor representing a minority of the electorate (as we overwhelmingly see now) really that democratic? Aren't we just back to the old 'elected dictatorship' that we often hear people complaining about at Westminster? What possible accountability can we the electorate express on an incumbant mayor between the four-yearly elections?

The answer is that that is why we still retain local councillors, to hold the mayor to account on our behalf. So if in reality it is the councillors who are holding the mayor to account, what is the difference with an indirectly elected Leader and cabinet model? Why has this ideal of 'direct democracy'-an ideal that has never sat well within our country's political culture-come to be held up by the 'No' campaign as such a totem to be protected?

As I have said previously, the city has almost always been run badly. The problem now is that it is not only being run badly but the democratic process is in a state of collapse. This is at the very heart of the reason for my decision to vote 'Yes' next week.

Under the elected mayoral system, we are stuck in a situation whereby the elected mayor MUST be at the head of the executive until the next mayoral election. But the people have long ago expressed their desire for the mayor and his party to be swept OUT of office. And yet because of the system we have, the mayor remains, the government CANNOT be changed.

In order to maintain his authority, the mayor has formed his so called cross party coalition; bringing in my party and the Lib Dems to prop up his administration. Now the merits or otherwise of the coalition are issues for another day, but the fact remains that this in turn has led to voters being FORCED to turn to parties like the BNP or various shades of Independent because they are getting no other alternative from the mainstream parties. This has created an unstable and explosive situation and if the mayoral system is kept next week we may now indeed end up being governed by the BNP.

By contrast, under a Leader and Cabinet system, the administration would come from within the dominant forces of the council-ELECTED by the people. If the electorate wanted to get rid of an incumbant Leader, they need only vote for someone else for the administration to change. Under such a system, a defeated group would be replaced by a new leading group and coalitions would be more principled and logical than the coalition of necessity we have now. In short, I really do believe that by removing the elected mayor, we could see a renaissance of trust in our political system. People will be able to see that their votes count once more.

Some people have argued that only by having an elected mayor will we be able to impliment the policies needed to make the city great. For some reason, they then almost always point to examples of greatness around the country like Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Wandsworth. The one thing that all of these 'great' authorities have in common is that they are NOT governed by an elected mayor! Indeed, they almost all use a Leader and Cabinet system like the one that we now have the chance to adopt.

Unlike many in the 'No' campaign; I'm not arguing that one system or another will be the magic wand for the recovery of our city. It is not political systems that bring about greatness, it is people. But they must be people of vision, determination and commonsense. In general, that is what we have lacked over a great many years, and changing the system will not change that.

However, there are already some people of greatness already elected to the council (at least three of them, I'm pleased to say from my own party, incidentally). That is why I do have optimism for the future, despite our failures of the past. Let's begin by voting 'Yes' to abolish the elected mayor next week, and then we can look towards increasing the number of good people on the local council...

nita said...

Brooneyes, I'm back, now Ive had my cuppa, like you recommended.

I just want to ask, how many people have made a definite choice? Leader/Cabinet or Mayor/Cabinet? Not many I bet. Why does everyone keep changing their mind, why are we not confident that our choice will be the right one? Answers please....

Frank Fuller is right about one thing, and that is, there is good and bad, in both choices.

Now that Paul Breeze has put his argument forward, I for one could easily sway back to my original choice, Mayor/Cabinet.

I firmly believe the public should have the choice, but there is just one hitch with the Mayoral System, there is too much power for one person to have.

Well, only 9 more days of this deciding to go

nita said...

Shaun Bennett, Welcome to Pitsnpots. An excellent post.

brooneyes said...

Sorry Shaun, but typical of the Tories, your councillors followed the money instead of standing on principle. Of course, it would help if Tories had them!
What's with the emotive decrying of the BNP? I can assure you no-one was forced to to vote! The people of this city took a look around and decided on us because what we offer is what they want.
Labour have governed for 60 years and destroyed this city, for the past 5 years or so they have done so with the Tories at their side.
Yet, even though we haven't had our chance, here we have the Tories once again making claims about how bad our leadership would be.
Amongst all the innuendos and allegations, where is the proof that we would be bad for the city?
This is where the argument of the 3
main parties falls flat on its face. We have all seen how they run, be it local or national, and the one common denominator they share is their abject failure to produce long term, steady improvements. We have the Tory party being funded by the
greedy bankers that have collapsed the system! Are these the principles that will be brought to the table?
And what example do we have from Labour on financial responsibility?
How about the fact that although he steals £180,000 a year in salary, Gordon Brown claims £133 a
year back on his expenses, for his bloody television license!!
And these are the lessons these
councillors are learning, this is the information that is cascading down from on high to our local politicians!
Taking a look at the state of our politics it is plain to see that the problem lies with the calibre of those in charge, and not the system they abuse for personal gain. If you want to change things for the better, you know what you have to do.
Finally Shaun, I have to challenge your claim that there are three local Tory politicians imbued with "greatness?"
Who's that then, Ibbs, Irving, and Lyth? Maybe that registered
child sex offender, Wanger?
The truth of the matter is there is no-one of sufficient quality in your party to take up that post.Your problem is, most of us know it!

ian norris said...

Shaun Bennett: unfortunatly since the last mayor many cllrs have got bogged down in attempting to make the Elected Mayor system unworkable. But your right the system wont change the City untill the City changes the cllrs it votes for.

Anonymous said...

Ian Norris
Does that mean you want to come back as a Councillor ???

The main points here are these -

1. In both systems, the public vote for the leader or the mayor. The mayor directly, the leader as a councillor - both positions have to be balloted on by the people of Stoke.

2. If you have an awful or BNP mayor, you are STUCK with that choice for 4 years - no one, not even the public, who voted him in, can remove him, until the next election 4 years later.

3. If you have an awful Leader, the groups and/or the council move a motion of no confidence, and a change is made.

4. 4 years of stability under a mayor system.
True, as at the moment the councillors have been voted in by thirds (cll votes 3 years out of 4), which has led to 4 Labour group leaders in as many years.

However, the Governance Commission is making us change this to all out elections as from 2011, so the same stable strong leadership will be there as for a mayor.

The difference is that a strong leader will remain in place, a poor one will be removed. A meglamaniac mayor or a weak mayor cannot be.

Oh, and some one tell Paul Breeze, this council did not run on a cabinet system before. It ran for 2 years only a pilot scheme on cabinets, still backed up by the old committee system.

So Stoke has NOT given the modern cabinet system a proper try.

Should we ??

brooneyes said...

Anonymous, like we said earlier, you can't pick a system based on how easy it will be to get rid of members on it.
And although the leader may well be a councillor chosen by the people of this city, that's not ALL the people of this city! Only those that selected him as councillor have voted publicly for him, leader is decided by a handful
of councillors and some very iffy
The mayoral system is democratic in that at least the electorate get to vote for who they want, and not who the councillors tell them they're going to get!

I've been over this next point before, so please pay attention to stop me having to repeat myself all the time.
If there is something fundamentally wrong with the vacancy of elected mayor, change the rules! You can change the rules
by getting the candidates to tell you what they want, and how they plan to achieve it. Make them make concessions to you in order to get your vote! You are in a far stronger position than they are, so use it!
I notice that you put BNP and awful together. What is it the BNP have done that is so awful?
When did they get the chance?
How can you accuse them of being awful after the disaster this tri party sellout council has made of this city?
Comments like this are stupid unless you back them up with facts,
and you can't back up what you're saying with facts because we haven't had a chance to take the wheel yet!
As to your last point, you don't make clear what the real differences are between a committee
and a cabinet. They sound different, but they look the same.

Frank Fuller said...

brooneyes - you may feel that the elected mayor system is more democratic, but sadly it has not produced a better standard of leadership for the city.

Mike Wolfe and Mark Meredith in my opionion have been no better than Barry Stockley and Geoff Davies (remember him, he was leader of the council for 6 months before Wolfe was elected).

It all comes down to the caliber of individuals and how people with abilities and skills can be attracted to put themselves forward under either system. Where we find those people, well thats the $64,000 question...

We certainly won't get the right people whilst there are those who begrudge paying our elected representatives a fair salary. I wouldn't take on the aggravation that councillors get for the measley £9,000 a year they are currently paid!

brooneyes said...

Frank, I said a while ago that one of the things we should look at is making the role of councillor fulltime. At the minute, half of them have work commitments outside of their municipal duties, so if they're working somewhere else, then the city isn't getting a proper deal.
We want our councillors concentrating on the work of rebuilding this city, that's how we get it back on track.
I absolutely agree with the point about the calibre of candidates too. Labour have run this place for so long and have achieved nothing. The time is nigh for others to step up and take on the mantel, re-energise this city, and put some pride back in the people.
You know Frank, I think that the best people for the job will be local people with a vested interest in the success of this city, and not overpaid officers, half of whom don't even live in the city. That will most definitely be an argument for another day!

Shaun Bennett said...

Thanks for the welcome, I'll certainly try to visit the site more often in the future.

Brooneyes, I really don't know what sparked your rant about Tories like me always going on about how bad the BNP would be. If you go back and re-read my post you will find that I didn't actually make any mention of what I expect from a BNP administration-bad or otherwise. Is this a sign of paranoia on your part or just crocodile tears?

My only mention of the BNP was actually to say that you COULD win if we retain tha mayoral system next week. Now, you wouldn't expect me to like that prospect, being a supporter of an opposing party, but that is a debate for another day. All I will say is that some people seem to want to make this referendum all about the BNP. I don't think that that will necessarily help either campaign in the long run and it is a cul-de-sac that is actually irrelevant to the main issues of the referendum. We can't choose a political system to fulfill certain preset PARTY political objectives or ideologies from either side. Having said that, Ian's comment about the ease of removing an 'awful' Leader as opposed to an 'awful' mayor strikes me as an indisputable fact.

As for who these 'great' local Tories are that I mentioned; I think I'll leave their names hanging in the air, as you would expect-other than to say that anyone who knows me, or the people in question will be left in no doubt as to my opinions towards those that have been mentioned.

ian norris said...

Anon: Has any poor City Leader lost that position by a voteof no confidence by the Council?

If a leader fears they could be voted out, would they take the easy option and play the game safe to keep the Cllr that voted gor them happy?

A myor has the freedom to be brave with future plans, and is the elected Cllrs feel unhappy call that decision in and make recommendations.

As far as I know, and no one has corrected me. No recommendation made by Cllrs has been ignored by Elected Mayor.

nita said...

Frank Fuller,I disagree with you on that one. The city has been better run since Mike Wolf and Mark Meredith have been in charge. The lot in charge before them, were a right shambles, and sometimes the public have short memories.

Having said that, I don't personally think that the Mayoral System has been democratic enough.

nicky said...

I agree with Mike Barnes on this. I made up my mind leader is better after reading the consultation info the council sent out and carefully thinking it through. I’m still open to thinking about the issue but nothing has changed my mind.

Nevertheless I don’t think the change to leader will suddenly mean everything starts to go well. Craig, you make the point that the quality of people you have in place is a huge factor and I agree. I do think there are some good councillors at present but they do not have enough influence. Trouble is, either way there will be this cabinet and will that work any better than the current EMB? Frank you make the excellent point that unless you have a cabinet member as your ward councillor you could still be stuck with poor representation. I would add that even if you do, will that person be representing you or just their own interests as carved up by the cabinet.

Craig you make a good point about lobbying the mayor candidates to change rules if they are wrong. I would certainly agree that this is a good course of action to take if we end up with the mayor system, but I’d still vote for the leader system in the first instance. You make some very good points I think about looking into councillors being full time. I personally don’t know how they manage to fit it in unless their other work is part time. I’m sure I couldn’t do it on top of a full time job.

Shaun, great to have your contribution to this site. And I have to say you give so many well expressed reasons why the system of leader is better. I agree with most of what you say. Including that there are some great people elected to council, but I disagree that any of those decent ones are conservative councillors. Those who I have heard open their mouths to say anything have talked such… well I don’t really know what, and are so unrepresentative of their own wards, but I expect you would probably agree with me in those cases. But as for the others, I’m seriously under-impressed by what they don’t stand up and say. Maybe under a leader system they will be un-gagged enough to do something useful but until such time they remain unproven and unimpressive.

Ian you say again “No recommendation made by Cllrs has been ignored by Elected Mayor”, but we’ve discussed that already and know that a scrutiny recommendation is currently being ignored. That is currently in Michael Coleman’s capable hands, I don’t think he is encountering a great amount of cooperation there from Meredith and his lot, but I will trust him not to let it drop.

Well my decision remains to vote leader.

ian norris said...

Nicky: I know its been covered before but some people are trying to claim the Mayor system to un-democratic, but can not prove it as so far over last 5 yrs the Elected Mayor has not ignored any recommendations.

And who is likely to be on the Cabinet if a Leader is the option? all those already on the EMB, but the D4S group refuse to voice any nominations for leader they would nominate or support let alone cabinet members

deputy mayors dead dog said...

Ian, it also allows Government to directly interfere and go against majority opinion through the Mayoral route.
The converse to this is that if that same approach was made via the leader model, a head would roll almost instantly.
Why do you have a problem with democracy and majority opinion?
There's nothing great about a 'strong' leader especially one who uses a 'payroll vote' to get things through.

ian norris said...

Deade Dog:

Why would there not be a "Payroll Vote" under a Leadr? Will the cabinet under a leader not have a special allowance?

Under both systems the Cllrs have the exact same power of call-in and scrutiny.

Thr Mayority voted against the Past Leader System, so it would appear you are going against majority opinion.