Smokers bemoaning the new ban on lighting up in pubs and other indoor public spaces in England have a new sanctuary: Stoke-on-Trent.
The Staffordshire city has acquired a sudden popularity among tobacco aficionados after a bureaucratic mix-up left its council unable to enforce the July 1 smoking ban.
Until this is rectified – by August at the earliest – smokers can enjoy their habit in Stoke’s pubs and clubs, not to mention bus shelters and other enclosed spaces, without the risk of a £50 fine.
The error happened because of the city’s unusual municipal structure, a council spokesman told the local Sentinel newspaper.
"We do not have enforcement powers because Stoke-on-Trent is in the unique position of having a mayor and a council manager," he said.
"We believed the enforcement powers were delegated to the director of community services, who relies on advisers from the licensing and legal department, but we found they were not."
While the situation was "unfortunate", the council had not planned to prosecute illicit smokers in the early weeks of the ban anyway, the spokesman said.
While smokers are happy, the mix-up has done little for the reputation of the council, already named by the Audit Commission as one of England’s five worst performing authorities.
"This just shows what inept people we have in power," one resident, Dave Leese, commented on the Sentinel’s website. "The city is the laughing stock of the country."
From the Guardian 11/7/07