In Nov 2013 @ShitChester and the then leader of the council clashed online over the name of the twitter account, resulting in an angry exchange of tweets and instant notoriety for SC. Now on better terms following a meeting during the election count, Mike remains a controversial and colourful character. Now in opposition, following the victory by Sam Dixon’s Labour party, Mike was in the headlines again with the claim the red baubles were politically motivated. On a wet and windy morning, in the shelter of the Lodge cafe in the park , Mike responded to questions from followers.
The views below are the personal views of Cllr Mike Jones and not the views of this blog, @ShitChester or any associated individuals.
What do you think about the necessity of a “Soul Kitchen” in an affluent city like Chester?
Every city, whether its affluent or not, throughout the whole of the country indeed the world, you’ll always have people who are in some way disadvantaged, or who aren’t doing very well, they’ve become very vulnerable… you’ll always have that , no matter where you are. I would actually congratulate any organisation or individual that wants to help them. When I was Lord Mayor in 2005-06 I was invited to a whole range of organisations throughout the city, and only when you do something like that do you realise how many people are doing so much good work in our communities. Every little bit of help like that to people who are vulnerable at a particular time of their life is just fantastic.
Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?
… I think , as a politician , you tend to fight an awful lot of people, an awful lot of the time. I think it’s probably 100 duck sized horses.. as a politician you’re fighting on a whole range of different fronts. If you want to make things happen in an organisation like a council you can’t just do one thing and then do another one consecutively, because it takes sometimes years to convince officers to actually make a step forward . You’ve got to get your group on board, you’ve got to get your Cabinet onboard, you’ve got to get the public on board. These decisions don’t just happen..as much as I would like an autocratic system where I say “that’s fine” and it goes… and I would like that on occasion to make things happen more quickly. You have to spend a lot of time behind the scenes to get things going….Look at the theatre, it took me 4 years to convince officers that we had enough money in the bank to build a £37 million theatre..
Did you agree with the demolition of the Ship Victory?
No didn’t. I insisted that officers redesigned it to keep the Ship Victory and they made the cafe/plaza area out of the Ship Victory. The designers said, technically “no we cant do it” because of the way the buses come off the bypass and the way the road system works. I said “we have to go out and consult on this”.. so we went out and consulted.. only 6 people responded out of 450 responses saying they should keep the Ship. So, the officers came back to me and said “you haven’t got the support out there.. there is not the support to keep the Ship Victory.”
I actually went on the radio and said “please respond to this consultation” … Even with all that, very few people came back. When you saw that Ship Victory account on the twitter.. if you look at your account in the 1000s and you’ve got one sitting there in the 400s.. there’s very little support for its retention, because they see the benefits of the bus interchange far greater than the harm of demolishing that building. I only had 3 people on the doorstep saying they wanted to keep it. I asked for support through the radio and the press, and no one came forward.
To what do you attribute the loss of the council?
I think the mistake we made as a party overall, was that we had 5 different campaigns, because there are 5 associations across Cheshire west and Cheshire. In the areas where we had a very effective campaign we retained our seats. In Ellesmere Port and Chester, there was no local campaign to speak of. I think that was a great mistake by the party. It’s out of my responsibility because I’m responsible for the political agenda. The agenda was very good… strimming out the cost, protecting front line services, investing in services such as sport and leisure activities, and of course regeneration. The stats demonstrate what a great job we’ve done.
Clearly, the fracking agenda had an influence in Upton and Newton, and you can see that ongoing at the moment. I have never stated my position on fracking , I’m starting to form my own views on it. If it does happen, which is a decision outside this council’s responsibility, how do we ensure its absolutely safe for our residents and our environment, that is absolutely paramount. It’s no different from the huge industries we have in Ellesmere Port, if one of those industries went “bang” it would probably flatten Chester.
Baublegate, what was that all about?
It was about red baubles, and I used the social media to implant a bit of fun. I cannot believe how sensitive a range of Labour party members and supporters were. I thought it was a bit of fun and I got slagged off for it, I thought it was an absolute hoot! It was a joke, I was told they had ordered red baubles, but I was aware that the BID’s colours are red and green this year, and its the BID that have paid for it.
What is your biggest regret as leader?
My biggest regret was not pushing things harder and faster in the organisation to deliver. I’m from the private sector and when you run businesses you can make decisions and get on with it, in a council its so much more difficult. Theres a whole process of building momentum to drive things forward.. but to compensate that, we have halved the number of staff in that organisation, a lot of people have left, we have reduced the cost of the council, so the capacity of the council to do things has much reduced as well.
CoSocious is not a scandal…we have tried an idea, because we had an organisation that was owned by Cheshire East/West we decided not to split it. It has done a great job in reducing costs. We inherited as a county council something like 600 people involved in IT.. we have reduced that to about 100 and they can still deliver the services. The losses were against their predicted budget, the costs are less than they were 12 months ago.. the net cost is what the council pay, but the losses were against what they expected. The pension loss, well we have a pension deficit across the whole thing of about 100 million pounds, so when you transfer a few hundred people into an organisation they carry the deficit with them.
Would you ever consider shaving off your trademark moustache?
I have offered for the Lord Mayor’s charity , I wont do it for anything less than a £1000. The Lord Mayor at the time didn’t pursue it. They were put off because a reporter at the Chester Chronicle tried to make something off it and I think that’s quite sad.
Recent comments have labelled you as “unhinged” and a “vile man”. Why do people hate you so much and does that affect you personally?
There are one or two people that hate me, you’ll never please everyone in politics.. The Hitler comment was an incorrect comment, reported incorrectly by a certain reporter, and three months later they had to produce an apology. But like all these things, the apology is on page 5 and its only about 4 lines.. it was completely wrong.
Do things like this contribute to your public image?
You have to accept that if you are going to be the leader of the council, or in a senior political role.. then you are going to upset some people and they are going to take it personally. They shouldn’t, its about policy. Yes, they blame me, that’s fine I understand , but the more rational people understand its a council decision, and you make decisions based on a majority vote. You have to respect people, if they’re affected by council decisions. Take HS2, if that’s 100 yards from your house you’re going to be pretty emotional and pissed off , because that’s your home. You can understand why people take it personal. I think people say things in the heat of the moment they don’t mean, but most of these people are really nice people.
On the other hand, you look at why you’ve made the decision. The reason I can live with myself is : I do what I believe is right, and for the greater good. I compare what happened to the city 50 years ago, when we demolished some fantastic buildings, but it was the right decision in terms of moving forward… For 15 years from when I was first elected.. little was invested. Now, look at this great park! 3.5 million we spent here, and now its beautiful … and then this building, we’ve refurbished (Park lodge).. this organisation ARC.. they work with people with alcohol and drug problems.. they run it. When you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons for the greater good of the borough, my conscience is clear so I can sleep at night. I sleep very well at night.. I cant think of anything that I’ve done that I’m not happy with….
What one change would you make to Chester to improve the area?
The one I’m really up for is the bypass from the Wrexham road area across the river, that’s essential. We have that on the agenda with Flintshire. It would provide a massive improvement into Airbus, it would take so much traffic out of Chester. Its the heavy traffic that’s got all the pollution and rattles the old buildings. If we can take them off the inner ring road, then I think we can do something more imaginative with the road.
If there was a second thing, I’d like to see more public art in the city. We have a steel horse in Tattenhall, paid for out of my members budget, it looks fantastic. It brings that sense of civic pride, people feeling very proud of where they live. I’d like to see the statues celebrating the Cheshire regiment from Roman times to when they were dispersed with, down city road. You look down , from the station, you see the Roman Centurion to the last Cheshire fighting in Afghanistan
What are your thoughts on Chester market?
I tried very hard to work with the market traders and its very difficult. Theres three factions, the Market Federation, the Market association, and some who aren’t members of anything, and they’re always bloody arguing. They’re reporting each other all the time. We subsidise their businesses because they only pay half the service charge.. I find the market incredibly frustrating. What I’d like to see is a more appropriate building as part of the new development, that is properly designed, with a real focus on regional food. We have some fantastic food around here, but it has to be well designed, has to be able to be cleaned every day, for meat and fish etc. We only have one fish trader, we’re only a few miles from the sea! We have a great cheese place, its bloody brilliant… we need more of that. We’ve gotta change it and make it a more attractive place to be
DO you have a personal physiotherapist- re Cllr M Jones , Cheshire East
I don’t. ..I try to be careful what I eat and exercise. I went to his house to encourage him to stand , five years ago… I’ve made significant efforts to make the councils work together when he became leader… We have worked closely with them, and other councils, it doesn’t matter if they’re red blue or yellow, its really important councils work together to share services.
What is your view on the Tattenhall retirement village ?
It was brownfield site, the proposal was put forward, there was quite a lot of consultation. When it came to the public meeting, only 4 people spoke against it. We need proper facilities in the rural areas for elderly who require care. There was a huge level of support, therefore I supported it . I’m really please they are on site and building. Theres a number of one bedroomed affordable dwellings , that frees up a lot of houses in the area. It means they keep their own friendship groups, and that’s so important, otherwise you end up getting isolated, and isolation causes low level mental health problems, the costs of care goes up for the council. Its a win, win all round…
Thanks to Kate Northcott