Salford Star interview with the Salford Labour Leader

As the controversial finance for Life in Salford was being approved by Salford Council late last year, Salford Star editor, Stephen Kingston, spent an hour with Salford Council Leader, John Merry, debating the merits of the Council magazine and Salford Star. 

Here’s the, er, highlights?…


It was late November last year when Salford Council’s own Scrutiny Committee rejected John Merry’s plans for expanding the Council’s Life in Salford magazine to 12 issues a year with a cost of £175,000.  During that period, income figures were changed from the original budget and it all seemed a bit iffy.  We’ve left out the baffling sums and will cover that at some point in the future but the actual banter was highly entertaining.  What did we think of Life, and what did John Merry think of the Salford Star?

To print the whole transcript would run into thousands of words so we’ve edited it and included the best bits. Hopefully we’ve been fair to Mr Merry and the Salford Star…

Seconds Away: Round 1
On Life in Salford…

“I think that the kids of St George’s have had rather enough publicity, don’t you?”

John Merry: You feel that Life in Salford is biased?
Stephen Kingston: It’s rubbish. And it’s biased because if you’re just giving out good news it’s like Brave New World or Pravda or something…
JM: Give me an absolute example in the latest edition of a biased article?
SK: Less is more – if you don’t put anything in it there’s nothing to criticise is there?
JM: If you’re saying it’s so bland it goes in the bin and then you’re saying it’s politically biased I find that a bit contradictory…
SK: Would you turn over two pages of Life without any editorial control, to the community to say what they really think ?
JM:  I wouldn’t turn over two pages of it to anybody to have a voice, that’s not the point of it – I don’t have a voice in it – if you’re saying do we need to find a way of involving our communities in the decision making, I’m hoping to try and find that but it’s not just about those people who shout the loudest, it’s about getting everybody involved.
SK: Would you let the kids of St George’s have two pages in Life to explain their point of view?
JM: I think the kids of St George’s have had rather enough publicity don’t you?  I don’t think they feel a lack of publicity.
SK: I’m sure they’d love to have a two page spread in there to give their point of view…
JM: If we had two pages for St George’s we’d have to have two pages for people opposing what they say.
SK: Whatever…it’s better than relentlessly bland rubbish…can we have some criticism in there too?
JM: I’ll have a think about that but there are plenty of opportunities for people to criticise us – there’s your magazine, the Advertiser…

The Advertiser will be sacking journalists who might be scrutinising the Council…”

SK: We can’t afford to print our magazine and you’re talking about withdrawing over £50,000 of advertising from the Advertiser which is the equivalent of two or more journalists. So the Advertiser will be sacking journalists who might be scrutinising the Council.
JM: First of all I’m not actually sure that the journalists they employ do actually do that particular job. What I’m concerned about is that the Advertiser doesn’t reach large portions of the readership in Salford, therefore do I want to put my recruitment advertising in there and potentially not reach large sections of the people of Salford? We’ve just taken a view that we can do a more a effective job within Life…
SK: But no-one reads it – it goes straight in the bin
JM: Now I’ve got to say we’ve got good feedback on the magazine believe it or not…
SK: Yeah from the Big Listening where 64% said it was good or very good – but 73% said they voted in local elections which is not representative of Salford at all…
JM: No it isn’t but it’s also the case that people sometimes confuse general elections with local elections.
SK: Maybe they got it confused and meant to tick rubbish, it’s the same argument
JM: I understand what you’re saying…
SK: …or maybe when they ticked `very good’ they got it confused with Star…

Seconds Away: Round 2
On the Salford Star…

“I’ve always said that the Salford Star is quite well written…just misleading and untrue in places”

SK: The Salford Star is having problems because people are too scared to advertise with us
JM: What, they think we’re nasty and vindictive and we’ll penalise them for it?
SK: Yep, pure fear
JM: Why would we possibly not like your magazine?
SK: A lot of people won’t come near us because they’ve possibly got a contract with the Council and they’re scared.
JM: I noticed that you softened the magazine last issue and that might be its future…
SK: No chance. We didn’t soften it, we say what needs to be said.
JM: I’ve always said that I think the Salford Star is quite well written, just misleading and untrue in places
SK: It’s not untrue
JM: If you came across a story that was positive to the Council would you print it?
SK: Of course we would – we were going to do a big piece on Emmaus, that was going to be a great project for homeless people but then it got cancelled…
JM: That’s not the impression ordinary people have…I can show you examples on Salford Reds website where people say `Of course this article came from Salford Star which has always got an axe to grind’. I can tell you about community activists who say Salford Star has always got an axe to grind.
SK: We have no axe to grind whatsoever.
JM: That’s why I spend time with you.
SK: Yet the Council rips up our applications for funding from community committees..
JM: You wouldn’t want to be operating under the same lease as it were as Salford Life does, which is about being non political and all the rest of it
SK: We are non political
JM: No, you’re a-political if you’re going to argue it…Can you tell me when Paul Foot applied to the people he was slagging off to fund Private Eye? Why would the Council want to support a magazine whose mission seems to be to criticise…
SK: It’s not. Like, we all want to promote community committees but we ain’t doing it while you’re ripping up our funding applications to them – you don’t recognise us, we won’t recognise you. It’s quite simple…but we’d love to promote community committees.

Seconds Away: Round 3
Legal and Funding Stuff…

“You’ve fiddled the figures…”

SK: You’ve messed about with the figures for Life magazine, there’s no doubt about it.
JM: We’ve refined our figures
SK: You’ve fiddled them…all of a sudden you’re making a £30k profit
JM: Well, that’s good isn’t it?
SK: But it’s public money you’re playing with
JM: Of course it’s public money…I was originally informed that we were spending something like £150k in statutory advertising and I’ve now had that figure revised up to £250k. I’ve taken a view, which the officers have said is a reasonable one, that we could spend £100k of that within our own publication – that is a positive sign and it does make a big difference in terms of the figures but nevertheless what am I supposed to do, hide them from people and say no we’re going to stick with our original figures?

SK: Is it legal to withdraw advertising from local papers? There’s never been a test case
JM: Waltham Forest, Bolton and East Riding have all gone down this particular route
SK: Well they’re not in Salford are they?
JM: No but the law applies right across the board and nobody has seen fit to challenge it yet.  Of course if you want to spend your hard earned money on a high court challenge …
SK: We haven’t got any money, that’s why we can’t challenge it.
JM: The Advertiser is owned by the Guardian Media Group – no doubt if they feel we’re offending the law they’ll want to challenge it. They’ve got the resources to do so but I’ve taken the view that it’s legitimate to take £100k from the advertising budget because these are the sort of notices that can go in our own newspaper. Now I would have thought that people would welcome the fact that we’re saving the taxpayer money here…
SK: That’s a matter of opinion
JM: But my opinion is backed up by the facts
SK: Well, you’ve got the budget details…


JM: Why don’t you come and write for Life?

SK: You couldn’t afford me…


Join our campaign against Labours Id Card Scheme this from the tories well well.

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, called for the scheme to be scrapped and a senior Cabinet minister told a newspaper that it’s unlikely to go ahead.

Meanwhile, the Home Office continued to insist that the ID card scheme will go ahead.

Tory Shadow Home Secretary, accused Labour of being “all over the place” on the issue:

“They have been telling us for years that they are essential, but now it’s clear they are split down the middle over the issue.”

He called on Labour to “accept the inevitable” and scrap the ID scheme right away.

Sources within the Conservative Party told the BBC Michael Howard has always been in favour of ID cards, and tried to introduce them . Thats Tories for you change at the drop of a Hat anything to get elected and than wow you see the real side/…..

A YOUNG mum has complained to police after they took more than six hours to attend a 999 call despite being told the burglar was still in the property. Old News yesterday i was told of more of the same this time at a local school.


Emma Parry-Thorpe was the victim of a break-in last month, and was appalled by the police response.

The mum, who has a two-year-old daughter, was out at the time of the burglary, but says her neighbour saw the break-in and called police immediately, not knowing if anyone was in the house at the time.

When Emma and husband Stephen returned to their property, in The Westlands, Swinton, they called police again but they did not attend until 7pm.

The family were told that a police officer would be there within an hour but when that time elapsed, they phoned again.

Emma, 37, said: “This whole experience has been made extremely distressing for all my family members due to the lack of attendance and support by the police.”

The family say their distress was worsened when they heard their neighbour had called the police as the property was actually being broken into.

Emma said: “Our neighbour saw three youths acting suspiciously on the park opposite our home.

“After watching them for a while he felt that they were eyeing up our property and immediately dialled 999.

“While he was on the phone to the operator he talked them through what the youths were doing.

“He advised the operator that it was obvious they were looking to break-in and could they send someone as soon as possible to deal with this crime.”

Emma, who works from home one day a week, said: “On a normal Tuesday I would have been in my office in the loft.

“If I heard this smash then I would no doubt have confronted the burglar as he made his way up the stairs.

“As no one bothered to deal with the call, I could have been left injured, dying or worse no thanks to GMP.”

Inspector Stephen Gerrard, of Swinton police, said: “At about 1pm on Tuesday, March 3, police received a report of three suspicious youths seen on The Westlands, Swinton.

“The caller stated they had seen three youths wearing dark clothing with their hoods up in the area, but no further description or details of an offence was given.

“At about 3.25pm that same day, police were called to a report of a burglary on The Westlands, Swinton.

“The burglary had happened between 11.15am and 3pm that day. There was no suggestion the offenders were still at the scene.

“Due to a large number of emergency calls received by police in that area at that particular time, an officer wasn’t able to attend the scene immediately.

“Greater Manchester Police operate a graded response system, which means that incidents where there is an immediate threat to life are given a higher priority than other calls.”

Comment is this same stock answer, i have heard this time and time again, Question how many emergency calls did you recieve?

Question do you not have enough officers to cope with demand.

Can this council get any thing right, wife wrongly told huband is dead.

Wife wrongly told husband dead

AN elderly woman was wrongly told by town hall bosses her husband had died in a care home.

Barbara Flinton, 73, burst into tears as she read the Salford council letter expressing condolences.

Her husband John, 77, had moved into the home weeks earlier after suffering a mild stroke.

Mrs Flinton, who requires daily medical treatment, said: “I read the first line and started crying. It was such a shock. I thought, if anything had happened to John the home would have told me. But seeing the letter I didn’t know what to think.


“I didn’t know whether it was true or not – it was a bombshell.”

She only found out her husband was still alive when her son Nick phoned the council. The council has now launched an investigation into the `appalling’ error and apologised.

Mrs Flinton, who is recovering from major surgery at her home in Lords Avenue, Weaste, received the letter on headed notepaper from the council’s community health and social care department.

The letter, signed by an M M Barley, said: “Dear Mrs Flinton, I was sorry to hear about the death of Mr Flinton, please accept my condolences.

“I understand that you will have a lot to deal with at this time but I am writing to confirm that the direct payment agreement will now end and what needs to be done to finalise the account.”

Nick, said: “All of the family went to see him in the home and he seemed fantastic, then we got this letter from the council.

“I saw my mum just after she opened the letter. It knocked her for six.”

Appalling mistake

Nick contacted the council to query the letter and the mistake was confirmed. It is understood the error was made by Suggest, an agency which administers care payments on behalf of the council. It is thought the agency mixed up Mr Flinton’s case with another.

Coun Bill Hinds, of the council’s customer and support services, said: “A human error resulted in Mr Flinton’s situation being confused with another person in a message received from one of our partner agencies.

“The council was wrongly informed that Mr Flinton had died when, in fact, he had been taken into permanent residential care.

“My heart goes out to the Flinton family. It is an appalling mistake and we apologise unreservedly to them.

“We will be making strong representations to the agency concerned and will review procedures to prevent similar mistakes in future.”

Gas Main Replacements in your area, i wonder does any one from the council talk to the people laying the pipe?reason what is the point of laying down a brand new road to see it ripped up twelve month down the line by the Gas Board?

Just spent some Time walking around the ward and on Barton Road we had a new road surface put down about twelve months ago. This week it’s being ripped up to put Gas mains down. My question what would happen if they leased with each other saving us time in traffic and Money.

Brown defeated over Gurkha rules


Joanna Lumley, David Cameron and Nick Clegg react to the vote

Gordon Brown’s government has suffered a shock defeat in the Commons on its policy of restricting the right of many former Gurkhas to settle in the UK.

MPs voted by 267 to 246 for a Lib Dem motion offering all Gurkhas equal right of residence, with the Tories and 27 Labour rebels backing it.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg called the government’s position “shameful”.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas told MPs new proposals would be published before Parliament’s summer recess.

In a statement, he said: “This government respects the will of the House of Commons.”

He added that all outstanding applications for UK residence by Gurkhas would be dealt with by the end of May.

Mr Brown’s first significant defeat as prime minister came despite last-minute concessions being offered to rebel Labour MPs.

‘Immense victory’

The Commons vote is not binding, but it represents an embarrassment for the government.

It comes at a time when Mr Brown is facing criticism over other issues, including his reform plans for MPs’ expenses, which will also go to a vote on Thursday.

It is the biggest Commons victory achieved by the Liberal Democrats since their formation two decades ago, and is the first time a government has lost an opposition day debate since James Callaghan in January 1978.

Gary O'Donoghue
The real worry for Gordon Brown and his whips is that this could merely be the warm-up for Thursday’s vote on expenses

There were shouts of “resign” as the numbers were announced. The Lib Dems said 28 Labour MPs had voted for their motion – although that is thought to include one Labour MP who voted both for and against the motion.

After the vote Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron joined actress Joanna Lumley, who has been campaigning on the issue, and Gurkhas outside Parliament.

Mr Clegg said: “This is an immense victory on a series of fronts: for the rights of Gurkhas who have been waiting so long for justice, a victory for Parliament, a victory for decency.”

He added that it was “the kind of thing people want this country to do”.

Uncomfortable episode

Mr Cameron said it was “embarrassing” for the prime minister because his efforts to strike a “shoddy deal” with Labour rebels had failed.

He added: “Today is a historic day where Parliament took the right decision. The government have got to come back with immediate proposals so that the Gurkhas can have an answer.”

MPs reject Brown’s Ghurka policy

Among Labour MPs voting for the Liberal Democrat motion were home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz, ministerial aide Stephen Pound and former cabinet minister Andrew Smith.

Mr Pound said he had resigned as a parliamentary private secretary to vote against the government.

Labour MP Martin Salter, chairman of the Parliamentary group on Gurkhas’ rights, abstained.

He told the BBC he refused to support the government but wanted to acknowledge the concessions made.

‘Major changes’

He added: “It is the amount of abstainers that did it. Comparatively few Labour MPs actually voted for the Lib Dem motion but an awful lot of people sat on their hands as a way of showing their determination to finish this issue.”

Some 36,000 former Gurkhas have been denied UK residency because they served in the British army before 1997.

Ministers had introduced new rules allowing more soldiers to settle here based on long service, medals received, and those injured in battle.

David Cameron, Joanna Lumley and Nick Clegg surronded by campaigners

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg said the policy should be changed quickly

The Home Office said that new rules would allow about 4,300 more to settle, but the Gurkha Justice Campaign said it would be just 100.

Defending the policy at prime minister’s questions earlier, Gordon Brown said: “Since 1997 we have taken the first action to give justice to the Gurkhas.

“During that period of time the first ever Gurkhas to have rights of settlement in Britain has been agreed and 6,000 have now applied successfully and come into the country.”

He said they had created equal pay and pensions for the Gurkhas and doubled the pensions of people staying in Nepal.

But he said: “We have got to balance our responsibilities to those who have served our country with the finance that we need to be able to meet these obligations – and not base our offer on money we cannot afford.”

Ms Lumley said the campaigners were “elated” as they had expected to lose the vote.

“When it came through we saw it on the screen and I can’t tell you the sense of elation,” she said.