Star date: 1st September 2010  


Accountability, transparency and democracy seem to have ground to a halt in Salford as no public body seems to want to answer questions in the public interest…about school buildings, about MediaCityUK, about the University of Salford, about half a million pound costs in Bexley Square.

Neither the Council, nor the University, nor the Information Commissioner himself appears to want to let the taxpayers of Salford know what is happening with their hard earned money…

We ask `Who is running Salford – an accountable council or a flock of ostriches?'

Click here for full story…

 It was way back in April that John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, put out a Labour Party election leaflet stating quite clearly that "Approx 1500 Salford residents have worked on the MediaCity (his mis-naming, not ours) development".

And it was even further back, in March, when Mr Merry told us this incredible fact during the Peter Mandelson visit to MediaCityUK. We asked him to prove it. We wanted to see the raw data. It's now September, six months later, and we're still waiting to see the proof that "1500 Salford residents have worked on MediaCity"…

Why make such statements in public if they can't be backed up immediately, if the data isn't there for anyone to see?

In May the Salford Star also made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner about MediaCityUK info requested from the University of Salford under the Freedom of Information Act. Four months later and we still haven't received any info at all.

Over the last month we've asked Salford Council's press office about what is going to happen to all the primary school buildings that have been shut over the summer – no response.

We've asked questions about transport at MediaCityUKno response.

We've asked a question about Her Majesty's Court Service chasing Salford Council for over £500,000 costs for Bexley Square – again, no response.

We've sent e-mail after e-mail to the Council – to John Merry himself and his flock of press officers - asking if anyone is actually there – and explaining that it's no use knocking back Salford Star funding requests to the community saying we're "not balanced" in our coverage when they won't answer any of our questions…

To us this seems like ostrich democracy – bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away.

The Salford Star certainly won't go away. And the real nasty cuts in public spending haven't even started yet…

Meanwhile Salford Council's head of press, John Carberry, is leaving this week to go to the more glamorous climes of the bus company GMPTEWhat on earth is going on at the Civic?

Stop Press: 2nd September 2010

At 5:30pm tonight we finally got answers to our questions - they will be included in Salford Star features over the next week or so.

lol wrote
at 17:52:13 on 03 September 2010
I worked on site-I believe the 1500 figure is inaccurate-perhaps a postcode breakdown would clear things up...m5..m6 etc? I certainly would like to see that evidence in print
Mike Skeffington wrote
at 17:52:09 on 03 September 2010
I agree with Carrie Fergus that Mr Merry's contributions to this site are valued, as are everyone's. This surely underlines the value of the Salford Star as an unbiased independent peoples magazine, if we could afford to get it into print. As for discharging your duty under the FOI act, it seems this was done with great reluctance after several months and many emails to various departments. It seems, Mr Merry, that Salford Council is it's own worst enemy in these matters and as you are ultimately responsible it may be wise to reconsider your approach to the worsening relationship between the council and the people of Salford. The Council as a whole should remember its position, you are, in effect, the servants of the people and not their masters. It is our money you administer which must be used to facilitate both our needs and our aspirations. The Salford Star has every right to question the council on matters of public concern and has the right to prompt and honest answers to those questions. I welcome your continued contributions to the Salford Star website Mr Merry, ironically you have people such as Stephen Kingston and others to thank for the opportunity. One final point, albeit a little off track. With hindsight wouldn't the money wasted on 'Salford Life' be put to better use supporting independent, unbiased publications such as the Salford Star?. I won't hold my breath for an answer to that one.
Carrie Fergus wrote
at 21:43:46 on 02 September 2010
I for one respect the fact you contribute to the debates Mr Merry so well done. I myself am totally disillusioned with people in public authority therefore more than a tad cynical, but who can blame me and nothing would make me more happy to feel I live in a country were the people I pay to uphold integrity and standards do just that instead of thinking the money and power is theirs and how dare we question those very same authorities when fantastic people like the Salford Star and Heather Brookes uncover their misdemeanours. I have read a lot of things on this site and I found your following quotation in relation to the funding of the Star very disconcerting and I quote : "Concluding the appeal John Merry said "I find myself in some difficulty, not whether or not I like the Salford Star and the issue is not whether we want it to exist or not. The fact remains that there are loads of publications which are perfectly entitled to attack councils, but they wouldn't seek funding from the organisations they are attacking…" . Surely this is the publics money and surely investigative journalism shouldnt be dismissed as launching an attack. Just my feelings on this and the fact you do contribute would indicate your a decent enough chap.
Salford Star wrote
at 20:29:35 on 02 September 2010
Isn't it funny that at 5:30pm tonight all the answers to all the questions arrive. None of them could have taken more than a few minutes to answer because the Council barely says anything in response. But why did the Salford Star have to put an article up in the first place to shame the Council into responding? Why have we had to waste our time and all the commenteers' time about something that could have been resolved by answering legitimate press questions in a reasonable amount of time? And John Merry - don't be so mard about getting a bit of criticism, we get it all the time from comments on this website. At least you get paid to take it...
John Merry wrote
at 20:19:23 on 02 September 2010
this is all getting slightly surreal as you all rush into print to defend Stephens right not to ask me questions on the grounds that I have not answered them! For the record for the last interview I did not request the questions in advance and we have we feel discharged our duty under the FOI act I get the impression that some of you would rather I did not come on here and put a different viewpoint but when someone else does you try and tear them to bits.
at 20:18:55 on 02 September 2010
The Council, like any other body, should have all information at its fingertips. Otherwise what are they basing their decisions on? Often official bodies use the FOI to delay giving you information in the hope that you will get fed up and go away. The Salford Star is like a little terrier... it won't be going away despite your efforts salford Council. Grow up and deal with it in a proper and professional manner as the people of Salford would wish you to.
Carrie Fergus wrote
at 17:24:53 on 02 September 2010
Gimp, as the Star has previously said maybe when John Merry and Salford Council fulfill their legal obligations under the Freedom of Information act and answer the questions, maybe then the Salford Star should conduct this interview you are critiscising them for. My guess is Mr Merry would want to see the questions up front and then be able to spin it out like all the other politicians I am sick of listening to. Incidentally have you finished Tony's memoirs yet, dont they make you feel proud to be labour and British.
Mike Skeffington wrote
at 14:05:55 on 02 September 2010
It seems that with every passing week Mr Merry's argument that the Salford Star is biased against the Council becomes less plausible. This is immediately apparent by the 'wall of silence' which has been ordered around the Council, Salford Uni and the Information Commissioner's office. The questions put by the Salford Star are fair and open and not designed to embarrass anyone unjustly. They rightly ask that public statements made by Mr Merry be substantiated in detail and accessible to the public. Other unanswered questions mentioned in the article seem to indicate an inability or unwillingness by the people to whom they are addressed to abide by the law and release the information requested. Another question spings to mind, that is, what are they afraid of?. I would argue that it is Salford Council, amongst others, who are biased, not only against the Salford Star, but anyone who would question anything they do.
Gimp wrote
at 14:05:45 on 02 September 2010
What's that... the Council is NOT just one man? Oh, well thanks for putting me right on that. Ahem. My point was that you're on shakey ground to complain about lack of communication when you don't take up a offer for face-to-face discussion with the one person you name. Whether or not Mr Merry would be able to answer every question is besides the point - you would at the very least have been able to ask him why his staff aren't responding to your queries. You're on even shakier ground when you obscure the fact that you were offered that opportunity from your readers, and then respond to criticism for doing so with sarcasm and insults.
Salford Star wrote
at 12:24:32 on 02 September 2010
Mr Gimp (see comments below)...We think you are missing the point entirely. Salford Council is not John Merry, and John Merry is not Salford Council. Believe it or not, there are lots of highly paid officers and highly paid councillors who are supposed to specialise in different departments. Why should we interview John Merry about 4 specific questions? We'd interview him gladly for an overview of the whole mess that Salford has landed itself in (as we did in issue 7) but not for specific questions which he wouldn't be able to answer probably. Get this. John Merry is not Salford Council - or else you might as well sack the rest and save us all some money. Gimp by name, we'd say...
Gimp wrote
at 12:15:38 on 02 September 2010
Let me make sure I've got this straight: Mr Merry agreed to an interview where he may well have been able to answer all your questions, but you failed to respond to his offer because you don't want to hold the interview yet? Did you not think it would be more efficient for him to answer your questions in the interview than for his staff to respond to every one of your email queries? That doesn't sound like the council burying their head in the sand to me. It sounds more like wilful lack of communication on your part. Unless I'm missing something? Nb I have no loyalty to the Council or John Merry, I just wish the Star would stop using such amateurish tabloid tactics when it positions itself as the champion of truth and justice for the people of Salford.
Jack Rogers wrote
at 11:05:19 on 02 September 2010
Mr Merry spends a lot of time reading the articles on the Salford Star, perhaps its the only way he can keep in the loop about what his council is doing. If you close a school down then you must know what you are going to use it's site for. Even if its just to make cheap bucks and sell the land. Perhaps Mr Merry could write a guest column!
Salford Star wrote
at 10:33:41 on 02 September 2010
Hi Mr Merry (see below)...Sorry but you must be mistaken. The last correspondance we had from you on this was 19th May when you gave an overview of what kind of jobs people had got on MediaCityUK and added "In the short space of time you offered I have not been able to break the figures down further than this (numbers of people in each trade and by employer)but work is ongoing to do this, the results of which I will be happy to pass on." That was in May. It's now September. So that's both sides of the story. Meanwhile no-one has answered our questions referred to in the article. Do you dispute that too? We will gladly do an interview with you when we know the full horror of the spending cuts. In the meantime we'd like our immediate questions answered please.Later xxx
John Merry wrote
at 10:16:59 on 02 September 2010
As usual you only give one side of the story. I have cleared the information as to the breakdown of the jobs at Media City but apparently you want more. We cannot release details of peoples private address. You requested an interview with me I agreed as yet you have not taken it up.
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