Stoke-on-Trent City Council To Consider 6.69% Average Housing Rent Increase

Councillors are to consider proposals to increase council housing rent by an average 6.69 per cent, in order to meet financial restrictions imposed by central government.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee will discuss the proposals next week (Wednesday 22 December), ahead of a decision being made at the authority’s full council meeting on 27 January.

The proposals will affect around 36 per cent of council households which do not receive full housing benefit ““ around 6,300 households. It will mean an average weekly rent increase of around £4, to £65.72. The council has around 19,000 properties in the city.

The council’s proposals are lower than the average national guideline for rent increases, which is 6.8 per cent. The increase is in line with government plans to bring council housing rent to a similar level to housing associations by 2015.

“Unfortunately we have had no choice but to consider these proposals as the government has increased the amount of subsidy we have to pay by £3.5million.

“It is essential that we comply with government guidelines to allow us to maximise housing subsidy and housing benefit arrangements for the city.

“Rent rises are set to take place across the country, but a lot of hard work has gone in to ensuring the proposals in Stoke-on-Trent are applied as fairly as possible. The proposed rise in the city is below the national average, and the average rent for affordable properties in Stoke-on-Trent is still less than most neighbouring authorities.

“We remain committed to helping ensure everyone in a council property is able to have affordable quality housing as we move into 2011. I would like to reassure all tenants that we will continue to invest in housing. Our decent homes scheme draws to a close in 2010 and has played an important role in driving up the quality of accommodation, and we have put in place a planned maintenance programme to build on that.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Mistake Prevents Possible £3million Icelandic Loss

Human error at Stoke-on-Trent City council prevented the possible withdrawal of £3million that had been invested in the failed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

An email, sent by the council’s credit agency, which showed a downward review of Landsbanki’s credit rating, was not acted upon by one of the council’s officers.

The officer left the email unopened and the Icelandic banks including Landsbanki collapsed soon after.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council had a total of £5million invested in Landsbanki but only £3million could have been withdrawn due to the interest deal in place at the time.

The unopened email warned of that Landsbanki’s creditworthiness had been reduced and did not suggest the imminent collapse of the bank or the immediate withdrawal of the sum invested.

A report from the Audit Commission also accepts that the error was genuine and that there was no suggestion or suspicion of fraudulent activity.

123 councils lost money in the Icelandic bank collapse and many are still looking to recapture their losses.

There is an ongoing court case in Iceland which is hoped will lead to Stoke-on-Trent City Council recouping 95% of their losses along with the other authorities affected.

The unopened email will have no bearing on the court case.

The error occurred two years ago and was reported to the relevant director. It was referred to the Council Manager who in turn briefed the elected mayor. This was the correct procedure for the system of governance at the time.

No other EMB member or council politicians were made aware of the error.

The council insist that procedures have been amended and tightened including more staff being given access to credit updates. Treasury officers can no longer sign off investments of this size and more rules have been implemented to protect future investments.

The full Audit Report can be viewed by clicking the link below.

Listen to the Audio Interview below with the Cabinet Member for Resources Kieran Clarke, who explains what went wrong and whether the officer responsible is still employed by the City Council.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Politics ““ It’s a Dirty Job But Someone Has To Do It ““ Don’t They? Part 2

Ahead of last Thursday’s Full Council meeting I got the chance to interview Cllr Roy Naylor, until recently a full and active member of the City Independent Group, now non-aligned.

I have always been impressed by Roy, he’s a man of principle and not a harder working councillor can be found.

Roy dedicates his life to his Blurton ward and is committed to helping the residents of the area.

He has embraced new media and the people of Blurton are regularly updated on his activities through his impressive blog site, FaceBook and his informative Twitter feed.

The ward of Blurton used to be represented solely by members of the City Independent Group until the surprise election of Labour’s Margaret Barber this summer.

There is no doubt following my discussions with people who live in the area of Blurton that Roy is the man on the beat, which is understandable given his former Group Leader’s Cabinet responsibilities.

The duo complemented each other until their recent parting of the ways.

Cllr Roy Naylor was unceremoniously booted out of the City Independent Group for being in arrears with his council tax and the rent on his council home.

Roy doesn’t deny the claim, far from it, he openly admits to having financial problems. I myself have been aware of rumours surrounding Cllr Naylor’s financial predicament for some 12 months now.

Those rumours have been circulating around the corridors of the Civic Centre for even longer according to some sources.

So it really does beg the question, why expel him from the group now, after all this time? Other members of his group knew that Roy had difficulties, including Group Leader Cllr Brian Ward.

The answer may lie in the fact that just before his undignified expulsion; Roy informed his Group leader that it was intention to fight the election in the newly formed Blurton West & Newstead Ward, an area that he is both known and enormously well respected.

This has allegedly angered Cllr Ward who wants to fight the ward himself and sources have informed me that as Group Leader, he believes that the “Ëœpecking order’ allows him first choice.

Now, if as the CIG claim, that the reason that Roy was shown the door was down to his financial differences, why did his group not do their best to help their mate and valued group member out?

Cllr Randy Conteh has recently vacated the Police Authority Committee, a position that pays handsomely, why was Cllr Naylor not considered for this position? Surely the financial reward would have help his position greatly and would enable him to clear his arrears faster.

Cllr Naylor liaises with the police particularly well and has a great understanding of how the Police operate within our city.

So, who did replace Cllr Conteh on the Police Authority? Non other than CIG Group Leader, Cabinet Member and fellow ward Councillor Brian Ward. How much does all that earn Cllr Ward?

Over £33,000 per year. Not bad all things considered.

How much does Cllr Naylor now earn for holding the fort in the Blurton ward and working tirelessly for the residents of his ward?

Just over £11,000 per year.

I feel a little uncomfortable talking about another man’s finances, but do you know what? Not as uncomfortable as Cllr Ward should feel for disclosing a fellow councillors personal circumstances to the media.

A council source has informed me that the matter may be referred to the Standards Committee and that it doesn’t have to be Cllr Naylor that makes the initial report.

As the same source said to me on the phone this week, “Ëœwith friends and colleagues like that, who needs enemies’?

It has also been suggested to me that Cllr Naylor may well be priced out of fighting the next election due to the cost of mounting a campaign.

I have been assured by a number of sources that Roy will not be short of offers to help, or indeed of offers of membership to other groups.

Now that would be an interesting ““ top of the bill clash ““ between Roy and his former group leader Brian Ward.

Especially if the full weight of a mainstream party is behind the former CIG member. But that is just me speculating, although, I may just nip to the bookies to put a couple of quid on.

What isn’t speculation however is the rise and substantial fall of the City Independent Group.

Once the second biggest group in the chamber with some 16 councillors and now reduced to just 8 and 1 of those constantly rumoured to be on the move.

There are those in the city that champion Independent politicians/groups, but the present crop isn’t that independent when you consider that they are part of a 4 way ruling coalition.

There is no doubt that the CIG are in political melt down and with the election campaign season about to start more divisions could come to light.

As for Cllr Roy Naylor, I’m sure he will keep on doing what he does best and that is to passionately represent the area of Blurton and to continue to champion causes like the Save Our Children’s Centre campaign as the kind of true Independent we can all remember.

Where’s Ann James’s number…..

Met Office Issue Severe Weather Warning for Stoke-on-Trent

The Met Office has today [Wednesday] issued a severe weather warning that includes a 60% risk of disruption for Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire.

The warning is for heavy snow and was issued at 11.49am today and is valid through to 18.00hrs Friday.

Snow showers will become increasingly frequent and heavy across Scotland, Northern Ireland and north Wales by the end of Thursday and will then extend south to the rest of Wales and southwest and central areas of England into Friday. Eastern coastal counties will also see snow showers for a time until early on Friday. Accumulations of 5 to 10 cm are expected in general, but with possibly 20 cm in places by Friday evening. Snow will be accompanied by strong north or northwesterly winds leading to some drifting.

This is expected to cause disruption to travel networks.

Please be aware of this if you are planning journeys either by car or by public transport.

Let’s hope that this is something that the weathermen/women get wrong.

Gritters geared-up for more wintry weather in Staffordshire

Staffordshire County Council’s gritting teams are again geared-up to deal with wintry weather expected to hit the county shortly.

Icy conditions are predicted for the north of the county in particular overnight and snow is predicted from late-morning onwards on Thursday.

But motorists and pedestrians are being advised that they still need to exercise caution, even on roads that seem to have been recently gritted.

“All hands will again be to the pump. Although far more of Staffordshire’s roads are gritted than the national average people still need to be very careful.

“Gritters cannot negotiate narrow side streets, and although we do our best to hand-grit pavements outside key locations like medical surgeries it is impossible to be everywhere. “ËœPlease be careful’ is the message.”

The county council has 120 staff operating 60 gritters around the clock. Staffordshire has invested in a 30,000 tonne grit stockpile – double that previously held, and invested in 12 brand new gritting vehicles for this winter.

The Lost City of Stoke on Trent, By Matthew Rice – A Review By Mark Fisher

The launch of a book entitled ‘The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent’ by one of the City’s leading entrepreneurial heavyweights Matthew Rice and his subsequent comments about the city’s regeneration [or lack of depending on your view point], caused a storm of controversy.

Much debate on the merits of his opinion was had on this site and other.

Rob Flello MP then wayed into the debate by criticising the author over his comments about regeneration in a radio interview and even suggested that Mr Rice ought to tell all his business friends to re-locate their businesses in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Stoke-on-Trent South MP’s accusation that the Managing Director of the Emma Bridgewater pottery [the only ceramic company that is bucking the trend of slipping into obscutity] was merely seeking to sell more copies of his book rather than offering the opinion that is held by the vast majority of people who live in our city.

Well, another well known political figure has entered the debate by giving a delightful review of Matthew Rice’s book.

Former Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Mark Fisher, who served our city for 27 years, gave the book a glowing report for the Independent newspaper.

When Emma Bridgewater first came to Stoke on Trent with a view to making ceramics, she was charmed by the “cheerful griminess” of the city and “fascinated and appalled by the chaos of roadworks… boarded-up shops and rundown terraces”. In this book, her husband and business partner, Matthew Rice, a fine designer, sets out to explore the contradictory qualities and defects of this city founded on coal, steel and ceramics; to try to understand why Stoke on Trent and its industry grew, why it has declined and what its future might be.

In doing so he has written a hymn to manufacturing, and to the principles that underpin all successful manufacturing companies: good design, good materials and good marketing. Those principles served Wedgwood, Spode and Doulton well.

He tells in short chapters the history of the pottery industry and of the city, richly illustrated by his own drawings and coloured washes that are affectionate, humorous and well observed. He delights particularly in architectural drawings, in which he proves himself to be the heir of Osbert Lancaster, but is equally adept at tiles, maps, panels, Staffordshire figures, the details of windows, doorways and pediments, and the few remaining bottle kilns with their “decidedly female forms”.

Here are elevations of all the city’s finest buildings: Barlaston Hall, now restored; the “ebullient classicism” of Burslem Town Hall; Hanley Town Hall, an incongruous French hotel de ville; and St Joseph’s RC Church, Burslem, with its “wonderfully idiosyncratic” campanile.

He relishes the otherness of Stoke, “so unlike the sophisticated, glossy south”. With its boundaries constrained by the Trent Valley, the city has been shaped by its geology, and by the seam of beautiful coal beneath the valley. It was the coal that made the city, and so determined its shape – a linear, non-radial city, 13 miles long, with Six Towns and no centre.

Rice charts the decline in employment from 70,000 pottery workers in the 1950s to 6000 today, aggravated by the forced closure of the city’s pits and of its steel works at Shelton Bar. And he regrets the thoughtless, incomplete “regeneration” that has seen communities uprooted.

Is Stoke on Trent a Lost City? Will it re-invent itself, or decline further and become a second-rate retail centre? Here the Emma Bridgewater pottery company offers a possible way forward. It has grown steadily for 25 years in a fine 19th-century potbank, and now employs more than 200. Rice and Bridgewater have repaid the loyalty of their workforce, the casters, spongers, fettlers, backstampers, by resisting all offers to relocate. Although clear-eyed about its imperfections, their love and respect for the city is palpable – the seam that runs beneath this book. They have shown that good design and hard work can still make a small manufacturing company successful. Will that be enough to re-find or re-found Stoke on Trent?

I think that you will agree that Mr Fisher echo’s the sentiments of the current MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central Tristram Hunt, all the people that I have spoken to about this issue and indeed my own views [for what they are worth], putting Mr Flello very much in the minority.

Plinkfizz Secures Major Finance Account

PR company Plinkfizz, based in Stoke-on-Trent, has just won a major finance contract with London-based Merchant Cash Express, part of the multi-billion US Dollar Financial Group.

Plinkfizz will be carrying out PR for the company’s new financial product, Business Cash Advance, which advances funds to small businesses in the retail and hospitality sector.

As well as PR for sector specific media, Plinkfizz will be running the radio campaign and also work to boost the company’s social media presence.

”Naturally we’re delighted at winning such a prestigious contract. I think the reasons we won this account is our vast financial services and PR experience. It’s great they chose us to represent them, even though they’re based in London. It proves you don’t have to be in the capital to offer clients a fantastic all-round service,”

“In our small but dynamic and highly-experienced team, we offer a wealth of experience, knowledge and above all truly excellent industry contacts. We very much look forward to being part of the big expansion Business Cash Advance has planned for the coming years,” added Julie Grant.

This view was echoed by the director of Business Cash Advance, Richard Morley. Commenting on why he and his partner Ian Morrison decided to award Plinkfizz the contract for their PR he said, “Distance is no barrier to a company providing us with an excellent service. We believe expertise counts for far more than proximity and we’re very happy to be working with Plinkfizz where we feel our needs are understood.

“Thanks to their understanding of the business and strategic media planning, we expect we will now be able to vastly improve the reach of our business in the coming years.”

At a time when banks are reluctant to help small businesses, Business Cash Advance offers small mainly high street retailers a unique way of financing their growth by advancing funds against future credit card receipts.

”As a small business owner myself, I appreciate the help Business Cash Advance is giving to high street traders who need all the help they can get right now. So we feel we are a very good fit and we much look forward to working with Business Cash Advance,” added Julie Grant

Other high-profile clients Plinkfizz have include Emma Bridgewater, Steelite, Dudson, the British Ceramic Confederation, North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce, Staffordshire Police, Staffordshire University and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Government Cuts Hit Stoke-on-Trent To The Tune Of £33 Million

The worst case scenario has been realised in the City of Stoke-on-Trent in the wake of the government’s announcement on the future funding of local authorities.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles implemented average cuts of 4.4% to local authorities but some have been hit by cuts of 8.9%, Stoke-on-Trent City Council being one of the hardest hit.

The council are now expected to cut up to 700 jobs as they struggle to cope with a cash reduction in the region of £21.6 million.

The council were already in the process of dealing with an £11million overspend.

The City Council have been planning for the worst case scenario for a time now and have held a series of consultation events to gauge public opinion on priority services and facilities.

Some political groups accused the ruling council coalition of over exaggerating the expected cut in government funding but it now seems that the Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and Chief Executive John van de Laarschot were accurate with their predictions.

Mr Pickles announcement yesterday has been described by senior politicians and political commentators alike as the worse in living memory.

Opportunity Knocks ““ Full Council 9 December 2010

A lot of things were discussed at full Council last Thursday and I could blog about many of them, but I thought I’d blog today on something that was just a bit different.

Petitions are often submitted to full Council, and the petitioner can request they are looked at by a relevant commitee ““ usually the petitions are to do with straight forward issues ““ parking problems, potential loss of services, or potentially controversial new services in particular areas ““ however we had one yesterday that was a suggestion, and specifically a suggestion to erect statues of two internationally-renowned heavy rock musicians somewhere in the City.

A suggestion has wafted around that this was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek petition, not really serious and a bit of a joke. Well, maybe it is, but I actually think it’s quite a good idea. The musicians in question ““ Slash, former lead guitarist with Guns’n’Roses and latterly of Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver, and Lemmy from Motorhead ““ both spent their early years in the City, and have large respective followings. Yes, another “Ëœfamous son’ of the Potteries, Robbie Williams, was not mentioned, and I have heard it said that this exclusion means it wasn’t a “Ëœserious suggestion’, but I don’t think we should discount it just because someone didn’t come with a fully costed, planned out idea ““ big oaks from little acorns grow!

We have a great many names who could feature in a Walk of Fame or a Park of Celebration, with names such as Gertie Gitana, Havergal Brian, Nick Hancock, Arnold Bennett alongside Lemmy and Slash, all celebrating the many creative individuals from Stoke-on-Trent who have gone on to feature in the popular culture of their time. It doesn’t have to be with formal statues, and would be an ideal use for one of the many smaller parks in the City.

No doubt some naysayer somewhere will doubt the pull of such a park ““ but in my defence, I hold up the famous Paris cemetery of Pere Lachaise, which is a tourist destination in its own right. Who would ever think a graveyard would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, who wander between the graves of Jim Morrison, Noel Coward and George Bizet, amongst many many others? The cemetery was originally considered too far from the centre of Paris to be viable, but careful marketing began to attract people to the handful of “Ëœcelebrity’ graves; it now has over 330,000 “Ëœresidents’. Perhaps a bit morbid, but I think it illustates the influence of popular culture.

Of course, as a City we are not great at celebrating our own. Perhaps this should be a twin project, with a Park of Pottery also? So little celebrates the many great potters that gave us our name, and with the exception of the Potteries Museum, nowhere can you see the greats all together. Maybe we should just have a Park of the Potteries, celebrating all who have passed this way and gone on to make a great mark on the world? We could then include Reginald Mitchell, Oliver Lodge and others? A few statues of famous Potteries folk already exist around the City ““ Josiah Wedgwood outside Stoke Station, Sir Stanley Matthews in the City Centre and also outside the Britannia Stadium ““ and there is no reason why these can’t remain in their landmark positions, but a site that brought them altogether would really be something special and also probably a UK-first.

But then, perhaps our lack of properly celebrating the people who have made Stoke-on-Trent the place it is, is the problem? We are so unassuming that we think “Ëœour’ heroes don’t really figure on the national stage ““ and our history is “Ëœnothing special’, despite people like Matthew Rice of Emma Bridgewater highlighting that despite the industries that made places like Hull and Northampton, nowhere else is known by its main trade as we are ““ the Potteries.

We need to learn to love our City again ““ don’t get me wrong, I’m not pretending everything in the garden is rosy, but we have a lot of great things going for us and we need to see them as the opportunity they are, as other cities have done (look at Liverpool and the Albert Docks for a similar rags to riches story). We are blessed with fantastic parks all across the City, and now a suggestion that we celebrate two sons of Stoke who have made it (albeit that Slash and Lemmy may have only spent less than 20 years between them here, in their formative year). Let’s put the two together, take the opportunity, who knows where it might lead?

Business District Takes A Step Closer As Planning Application Submitted

Plans for a new city centre business district have been submitted to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Genr8 Developments, the city council’s development partner behind the new mixed use regeneration project in Stoke-on-Trent, has submitted an outline planning application for the initial 50,000 sq m of development.

The scheme, although office led, will create a thriving mixed use business quarter in the city centre with a variety of office, retail, leisure and public space.

The application, which provides outline details for the first phases of the scheme, follows a consultation event in November where residents were given the chance to see initial design proposals.

Mike Smith, of Genr8, said the planning application is a significant step forward in the delivery of a much needed new business quarter for the city centre.

“The Central Business District will create a vibrant quarter in the heart of the city centre where offices, retail and leisure sit side by side. The planning application is a significant step in the delivery of the scheme and outlines a business district which offers a thriving day and night time economy with complementing businesses, shops, bars, restaurants and public open spaces of the highest quality. We believe that it will be the catalyst for further regeneration throughout the city centre.”

The business district, which is expected to eventually include up to 100,000sqm of business space in the city centre, will be delivered in phases over the next 10 to 15 years. Phase 1 is expected to focus on up to 10,000sqm of development space. The site lies behind the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and near to the new Tesco store off Broad Street and the regional shopping centre being developed at the former East West site.

“The Business District is designed to complement other regeneration schemes across the city. In the heart of the city centre it will offer a mixture of business and will complement retail and leisure facilities. The new Tesco store is nearby with the refurbished Mitchell Memorial Theatre due to open next year and work starting on the first phase of the East West redevelopment – the bus station – starting on site in March.”

A decision on the outline planning application is due early next year. Detailed designs are then due to be submitted later in the year as part of a detailed planning application. Further consultation events to review plans for the scheme will be arranged appropriately.