`Salford is now the hardest place in the UK to find a job - something is not right...'
The Salford Star has now been on strike for ten days against Salford Council's illegal withholding of information and lots more (see the previous strike article click here).
Last week, under questioning from media website Prolific North, Salford Council stated that it "does not seek to block information and rejects these allegations" (see here). Then, as if by magic, some information the Star had been waiting for, dating back nine months, suddenly arrived.
In typical Salford Council style however, the information the Star received was only that which could be construed as being illegally withheld. And nothing else. What's more, around fifty per cent of the information received was heavily `redacted' on the grounds of `commercial confidentiality'. Here's what we got…
ILLEGAL WITHHOLDING OF ACCOUNTS INFORMATION…
Each year, every citizen in Salford has the right to inspect Salford City Council's draft accounts and can ask to see invoices and contracts relating to those accounts. Blocking that information is, in the words of Salford Council's own accounts office, "a criminal offence".
Information requested by the Salford Star last August was duly blocked - until last Friday when details of over £20million of Salford Council spending at MediaCityUK, Greengate and Chapel Street finally arrived. But well over half of it was `redacted', or blocked, on the grounds of `commercial confidentiality'.
Apparently, there's been a court case (Veolia vs Nottinghamshire CC) where the `right to inspect' council accounts now falls under the same `commercial confidentiality' rules as Freedom of Information requests. The redacted information from Salford Council came with a warning from its accounts office… "The judgement on the Veolia appeal also found that information provided in response to the right to inspect under the Act should be used only for the purpose of the audit: that is, to question and to object."
The Salford Star's response would be – "How the f*ck can you `question and object' to accounts when everything's blanked out and you don't know who's being paid what?"
…And "How the hell can you `question and object' when it takes nine months for the puny information to come through and the accounts were already signed off by the district auditor last March?"
We're talking £12million worth of invoices and payments relating to Chapel Street and Greengate with absolutely no public accountability. Under this cloak of invisibility all sorts of bribery and corruption could be played out. This isn't about the Salford Star being arsey, this affects every single person in Salford. Disgrace doesn't begin to describe it…
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION – SALFORD CITY REDS AND IAN STEWART
Salford City Reds – last December the Salford Star requested details of all loans to Salford City Reds since 2009/10. Despite a call for an internal inquiry as to why no response was received, nothing was forthcoming – until last Wednesday when we finally got the information with an apology…
Since 2009/10 Salford Council has advanced Salford City Reds three loans of £1,000,000, £188,000 and £309,000. This comes on top of a loan the previous year of £350,000 – making a total of £1,847,000 in loans which have never before been made public.
There were also straight payments to the club - the £250,000 dodgy car park buy out at the Willows, the £6,000 Council sponsorship of the Reds and the £200,000 Council payments to Salford City Reds Foundation which found their way straight into the rugby club, as first revealed by the Salford Star (see here).
The full extent of Salford Council's financial stuffing of the previous Salford Reds regime still isn't known because another Freedom of Information request around time and money spent on Council staff and consultants for the club still hasn't been answered.
CITY MAYOR IAN STEWART
Last October, City Mayor Ian Stewart sent his Connecting Salford consultation magazine to every home in Salford, at a cost of over £15,000 (see here), asking views on the future direction of the city. Yet the results have never been published, so we asked for those results under the Freedom of Information Act – to which we received no reply.
Then, the day after the Salford Star strike began, we finally got a response, which stated that it was in the public interest not to release the results of the public consultation as they were being published at the end of July.
What the Council did reveal, however, was that it received a massive 256 replies – or around a 0.2% response rate, which works out at almost £60 per response.
WHY SALFORD STAR IS STILL ON STRIKE
While Salford Council very quickly conceded to the strike and sent out information it was previously blocking in order to avoid accusations that it is acting illegally, there is still lots of stuff outstanding – three Freedom of Information requests, and an explanation of what action the Council is taking over Assistant Mayor Gena Merrett's slurring of the Salford Star.
Until we get some answers we remain out on strike. Interestingly, not one single Salford councillor has been in touch with the Star, or even questioned why the Council was illegally blocking information. Obviously transparency and accountability is not their thing.
Given the huge amount of public money that Salford Council spends, the need for a functioning independent community media that holds it up to account is of crucial importance.
It gets more important every day, as figures released by job search website Adzuna show that Salford is now the hardest place in the UK to find a job - with 55 applicants chasing every vacancy in the city, compared to 3.4 nationally. And this, despite the hundreds of millions of pounds of public money that have been pumped into the city promising job creation over the past decade.
Something is not right in Salford.
This is why the Salford Star - a voluntary, community centred media with no vested interests - exists. Unfortunately that existence is under threat as the lack of information makes it harder to function by the day.
Last week we signed off with `Welcome to China on the Irwell'. This week we sign off with `Welcome to Turkey on the Irwell'…
TURKEY ON THE IRWELL
Over the past week in Taksim Square, Istanbul, thousands of people turned out to protest against a `regeneration scheme' that would see one of the city centre's last remaining green spaces replaced with yet another shopping centre.
The demonstrators were met by Turkish riot police and tear gas, in what has now become an international news story about an authoritarian government ignoring its community, spending massive amounts of public money with no accountability, dismissing protesters as extremists and imposing its will on the people.
"They can do whatever they want" spat the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan "We've made our decision, and we will do as we have decided."
Both political commentators and protesters were united in their disgust…
"Erdogan is a very confident and very authoritarian politician, and he doesn't listen to anyone any more" said a professor at Istanbul University "But he needs to understand that Turkey is no kingdom…"
So what's this got to do with Salford, UK? As if you haven't guessed. Apart from the tear gas and riot police, the issues are remarkably similar. A regime trying to impose regeneration onto an old community with no transparency ...and sticking two fingers up at anyone who questions its judgement or stands in its way.
One bar manager in the affected Beyoglu district of Istanbul said that the Turkish Government "wants to control what Beyoglu looks like, and who can live here. In the future there will be no room for alternative places like ours. All leftist opposition groups, associations and cultural spaces will be rooted out, and the only place to get a drink will be expensive luxury hotels and restaurants. It will be the end of Beyoglu as we know it."
Replace `Boyoglu' with `Salford' and you're getting there…
THE SALFORD STAR STRIKE WEEK ONE
We'd like to thank all the people who have emailed us, or put supportive comments on the site, on Facebook and on Twitter. We would also like to apologise to those people who haven't been able to get their story on the site during the strike. Hopefully some more of our issues with Salford Council can be resolved this week. In the meantime please direct any complaints to City Mayor Ian Stewart, Chief Executive Barbara Spicer or your local councillor…
See articles on the Salford Star strike…
• Prolific North – click here
• Mule – click here
• National Union of Journalists – click here
* Electoral Reform Society - click here