Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Giving it back to the community is the only right thing to do with Fenton Town Hall.

Direct action has come to Stoke in the shape of campaigners occupying the former Fenton Magistrates court citing article 61 of Magna Carta, the ancient guarantee of English liberty in support of their actions.

The group moved in on Sunday and have pledged to stay until Justice Minister Chris Grayling agrees to meet with them to discuss the fate of the building. They have received strong support from the local community with people stopping by to drop off food parcels and books.

Speaking to the Sentinel Cheryl Gerrard, co-owner of the town’s Artbay gallery said ‘we will occupy the building for as long as it takes until the Ministry of Justice listen.

That could be a long time, in a response, also reported in the Sentinel; a spokesperson for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service said they were ‘currently considering a number of options for the future of the building.’

This is a reaction so chilly and dismissive it could have been sneered by wicked King John himself. The subtext reads, ‘go away you ghastly peasants and don’t presume to ask awkward questions of your betters;’ and tells you everything you need to know about the attitude of Whitehall mandarins to the great unwashed.

No wonder the campaigners led by Alan and Cheryl Gerrard have been driven to direct action, it was about the only course open to them when faced with an officialdom that doesn’t want to listen and thinks ordinary people shouldn’t have a voice anyway.

Giving Fenton Town Hall back to the community is the only right thing to do with an iconic building that might otherwise suffer the fate of so many others by being torn down and replaced with something uglier and less useful. It is certainly a better option than that put forward by vote chasing Stoke South MP Rob Flello, who suggested it be handed over to the council that would just mean swapping a set of out of touch bureaucrats with cut glass accents for the same sort of people with local ones.

It looks like what used to be spoken of as the ‘forgotten town’ of the Potteries is now showing the rest of the city the way when it comes to clawing back power for local people.

Former deputy leader of the council Paul Shotton, who was forced to resign in June when it was revealed that he had been sending texts in which he defended the council’s policies under several false names, the scam was exposed when someone noticed they all came from the same phone number, has been welcomed back into the Labour group.

Last month an internal committee ruled that he had should be censured for bringing the party into disrepute, it also recommended that he be given extra ‘training’ and be barred from holding a cabinet position until after the election.

Speaking to the Sentinel Mr Shotton said he had ‘made a mistake which I apologised for at the time and still regret.’ His actions, he said, were an attempt to counter the ‘incessant negativity’ towards the council expressed in the local media.

As political scandals go it was more like something out of a Brian Rix farce than Watergate, we shouldn’t though let the tears of laughter blind us to what was really going on.

Mr Shotton seems to have operated on the principal that if you can’t persuade the people you’re right using reasoned arguments, then you might as well try and dupe them instead. That isn’t comical it is deeply cynical.

No doubt he regrets what he did, most people doing wrong do when they get caught out. What he needs to understand is that their nature means he shouldn’t be given a ticket back to the top table of local politics any time soon.

Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis has described the 2010 move of Staffordshire Police headquarters from Blaswich to its current location of Weston Road as ‘a monumental misspend of money.’

The move cost £16million and recouping this outlay has been given urgency by the announcement last week that the force will face a £22.9 million drop in its funding over the next five years.

To his credit, and I’m not his biggest fan, Mr Ellis does not seem to be intent on rushing into a deal to redevelop the Baswich site, preferring to hold out for the right combination of a fair price and a project that will be ‘something positive’ for Stafford.

Speaking at a meeting of the police and crime commission reported by the Sentinel this week he said he had ‘not a clue’ why the police had gone through all the cost and complication involved in moving their headquarters.

Am I the only person who sees in this situation a certain similarity to the one we are in regarding the council’s decision to move the Civic Centre from Stoke to Hanley? Where it differs, of course is that Matthew Ellis is willing to admit, perhaps because the decision was taken before he came into office, that the move might have been a costly mistake.

What chance is there of Mr Pervez making a similar admission at some stage? Not much would be my guess; none at all in fact.

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