Six months down the line since Ian Stewart's coronation as Mayor of Salford and the Salford Star wanted to do an interview with him, holding him to account on his record so far.
For the first couple of months Stewart argued that he needed to get the full details of how the Council worked, so we thought we'd give him six months to get his head around it all and then do a full interview.
We wrote to him at the beginning of October pointing this out. But, like many people in Salford who have written to the Mayor, we didn't get a response. We wrote back and received a couple of e-mails (see below for full details) saying "We are extremely busy trying to protect the most vulnerable members of our Community" etc etc... "I will ask my office to get in touch with some suitable dates…"
No such dates have been offered. So we conclude that the Mayor of Salford is just too chicken to be held accountable by the Salford Star. Contrast this with former Salford Council Leader, John Merry, who would invite the Salford Star into his office on the afternoon of budget announcements to explain his decisions. Indeed, despite the Star being one of Mr Merry's fiercest critics, he never, ever, refused us an interview or comment.
Ian Stewart argues that he's too "extremely busy" to meet the Star for half an hour or so. But he wasn't too busy to write a large unchallenged diatribe in the Manchester Evening News last week, ironically, berating the media for not giving him positive headlines…
…And, even more ironically, stating that "we recognise that good communications are needed…we must improve how we communicate with local people, because the threat to public services in Salford is the most serious in our history. We need to tell them what's going on and why…" etc etc.
It's a funny way of doing it Mr Mayor! What do you think we wanted to talk to you about? Pie eating in the House of Commons?
No, no, no. We wanted to talk about cuts to public services, and cuts to services for `the most vulnerable members of our community'. We wanted to ask you how you can lead a Labour Council cutting wages for your own staff while promising a `Living Wage'. We wanted to ask whether you personally would be taking a cut to your £69,000 salary.
…We wanted to ask you about £100million cuts and £100million spending on prestige projects, like fountains. We wanted to ask you what is the point of the `ceremonial Mayor', when you seem to be grabbing his limelight, giving out certificates and lighting the bonfire at Buile Hill Park tonight….
…We wanted to ask you what your Assistant Mayors do all day, given that most of them don't hold public meetings. We wanted to ask you about your £15,000 worth of `Connecting Salford' booklet, when you appear to be disconnecting Salford. We wanted to ask you about your election night speech when you promised to "generate transparency" – when, in fact, it's been the complete opposite…
Since May, when you got elected, there has been no public disclosure of Council payments over £500. Since May, the amount of publicly accessible meetings and documents has been slashed. Since May, nine Salford Star questions to the Council have been unanswered, including…
• In June, a request for an interview with the Council around involvement with Salford City Reds.
• In July, a question on the Mayoral budget.
• In September, an explanation of over £100,000 fees paid to Peel Media at MediaCityUK.
• In September, a question surrounding affordability and the Pendleton PFI.
You complain about media coverage, Mr Mayor, but since you got elected, promising to "generate transparency", the attitude of you and your Council's towards this particular media outlet has been shocking.
We totally agree with you that the ConDem Government is to blame for many of Salford's current and forthcoming hardships. But we also have to look at our doorstep. And on that doorstep sits you and your Council, Mr Mayor. Who is holding you to account? Not your completely Labour controlled Council and committees. Perhaps you'd like your own column in the Salford Star to write whatever propaganda you want? No chance!
We're very sorry that you're too "extremely busy" to meet with us. What with lighting bonfires, giving out prizes and attending functions, we totally understand. The offer is still there for an interview. Maybe your new spin doctor can sort it out?
See previous Salford Star articles on Ian Stewart…
New Mayor Promises More Transparency - click here
Ian Stewart Meets His May Day Match - click here
Salford Mayor Salary Stunner - click here
Salford Mayor Transparency Promise In Flames - click here
Mayor Disconnecting Salford - click here
Salford Council Seeks More Accountability - click here
The Ian Stewart Salford Star Emails…
We wrote to Mr Stewart at the beginning of October requesting his anniversary interview. No response. We wrote back mid October and got a reply from his `Office' explaining that due to "work commitments" the Mayor was unable to do an interview "at present".
We replied that we found it "absolutely shocking that a Mayor who talks about `Connecting Salford' doesn't actually want to talk to the press about his current role. We do try to give the Council the opportunity to comment as much as possible on stories which go out to our 22,000 readers but we can only do this if the Council responds. Now we have to tell those readers that the City Mayor refuses an interview with the Salford Star, because this is what it amounts to. No prob."
Then the Mayor himself got a bit touchy and wrote back how we had failed to turn up for other interviews and that him declining an interview was "no different". Again, we replied saying this was "absolute rubbish" – we said we'd have a chat with him on the night he got elected but couldn't hang round waiting for the national media scrum to end. Apart from that, nothing had been formally arranged.
He wrote back again… "You will be aware that the City Council is currently occupied with dealing with massive cuts in spending imposed by the Coalition Government. We are extremely busy trying to protect the most vulnerable members of our Community. I am sure you will understand why this takes full priority for me at the moment, however, I do understand your needs and will be happy to accommodate them when time allows. If you can leave this with me I will ask my office to get in touch with some suitable dates."
We responded, explaining that we too are "extremely busy exposing massive spending cuts imposed by the Coalition Government and Salford Council …would you like to give us some new dates? If you don't want to do an interview that's fine - and we'll pass it onto our readers".
To date no response has been received so we conclude that Mr Ian Stewart, Mayor of Salford, is chicken…
See also: Salford Star Launches Countdown Clock To Get Rid Of The Mayoral System - click here