About Guest Contributor

Articles I publish are from guest contributors.

Labour: ”We must tackle the social recession”

Efforts must be made to tackle the country’s freedom, fairness, equality and democratic deficits rather than focusing on only the fiscal deficit, rising Labour star Chuka Umunna has urged, writes Dean Carroll.

The MP, widely tipped as a future party leader, claimed that the UK was suffering from a “social recession”, adding: “It all comes down to the massive gap between the rich and the poor. These kids on estates often are from traditional families, but their parents have to work two or three jobs and so they are not able to spend the quality time with them ““ it’s not all about single-parent families leading to kids joining gangs as they try to tell us.

“These young people feel they have no part to play in this capitalist society we have ““ which has created the deficit in terms of freedom, fairness, equality and democracy. Where is the deficit reduction programme for these things? That is the question we need to be asking.”

Umunna called for serious policy work and efforts to bring the working and middle classes together to build common solutions to the problems of modern society.

“This right-wing stuff about locking up kids and tougher sanctions is lost on them,” he said at a Compass debate. “Headteachers in my constituency tell me that these kids don’t think that they are even going to live long so why would they have a stake in our capitalist society.”

Compass chairman Neal Lawson praised Umunna’s comments and signalled that Ed Miliband’s focus on “the good society”, a Compass concept representing mutualism and government intervention where necessary, would begin to tackle some of the issues raised. “We need a new tolerant, pluralist politics and we have to get back to the vision of hope,” added Lawson.

And Douglas Alexander added: “With the good society, that state can be a crucial ally to the community. We have no time to waste in rebuilding a majority project for the centre left in Britain.”

Joining the discussion, Jon Cruddas said Miliband’s election as leader had represented “a profound shift” for the party.

TUC Want Strike Action! – I Ask What Good Will It Do?

Contributed Article By: Phil Ball

So the Union leader at the TUC conference have said that if George Osborne goes ahead with his spending cuts, we should all go on strike and bring the UK to a standstill.

My question is what good will that do. Our great country is in a financial mess and who caused this, listening to the union leaders the blame lies with the bankers, the Tories, Americans and Capitalism. That is everybody except Gordon Brown, Tony Blair or in fact the Labour Party who are really to blame.

Taking us all out on strike will cost the Unions a fortune. Which ever political party was running the country at this time would have to make drastic spending cuts to get the country back on it’s feet.

These fat cat union leaders will destroy the public services they pretend to support, and they will take us back to the 1970’s, and the winter of discontent. One thing these idiots have not said is how can the coalition get the country back on its feet without making drastic cuts. Lets remember the salaries these fat cat union leaders are on:

* Bob Crow (RMT) – £79,564 in salary, £26,115 in pension contributions, £13,013 expenses

* John Hannett (USDAW) – £81,742 salary, £16,389 pension contributions

* Billy Hayes (CWU) – £83,530 salary, £14,190 pension contributions

* Sally Hunt (UCU) – £63,743 salary, £7,612 pension contributions, £2705 car benefit (start of June 2006 to end of May 2007)

* Paul Kenny (GMB) – £81,000 salary, £21,000 superannuation (pension contributions), £8,000 car

* Dave Prentis (Unison) – £92,187 salary, £23,603 pension contributions, £11,646 expenses and car benefit

* Derek Simpson (Unite-Amicus) – £62,673 salary, £16,156 pension contributions, £13,333 car allowance, £26,181 housing benefit (Derek Simpson now receives nearly £200,000 in pay and benefits, with his pay package increasing 17 percent this year.)

Simpson, according the Times, demanded that the union subsidise his accommodation to “make it affordable” – a perk worth about £40,00, bringing his total remuneration to £194,252.)

* Mark Serwotka (PCS) – £82,094 salary, £26,104 pensions contributions, £2,245 additional housing cost allowance and additional housing cost supplement
Steve Sinnott (NUT) – £99,846 salary, £23,963 pension contributions

* Tony Woodley (Unite-TGWU) – £59,333 salary, £9,552 pension contributions, car fuel £3,360

* Matt Wrack (FBU) – £66,389 salary, £44,281 pension contributions, £5,134 car

You can see the man telling us all to get into civil disobedience to fight public sector cuts whilst not being short of a bob or two himself along with the other “leaders” of the working men/women who are in a union.

You can bet your bottom dollar they wont suffer no pay or perks if we go on strike. So the people calling for civil disobedience are well off, won’t be hit by getting no pay and wont be worse off at all if there is civil disobedience.

I am a member of one of the largest unions in the country and I am one of the few who realises that we are in a mess thanks to the antics of the Labour Party.

I know times will get hard, I know there will be mass redundancies, but I also know this is the only way to get the country back on track.

It will take time, but this is the start to rebuild the country. I urge every union member to say NO when you get the ballot paper on strike action.

The only thing I do agree with, is what has been said about the Bankers, yes they need their bonus’s capping, they need their salaries capping, but so do the union leaders.

This Coalition Can Work – As Long As Lib Dems Are Happy

The media is obsessed with trying to find chinks in the coalition agreement but the real question is whether the Liberal Democrats continue to believe that the new government’s policies reflect their values of fairness and freedom, writes Chris Nicholson, director and chief executive of CentreForum in Public Servant Magazine.

The coalition government has been defined by three things so far ““ first, the very fact that it exists and that two parties are working together in government; secondly, the things which it is not doing; and thirdly, the emergency Budget.

The fact that the coalition exists and is functioning is an achievement in itself which should not be downplayed.. Both parties seem intent on making the coalition work which would not have been predicted just two months ago. Of course there must be tensions but the strong lead from the top of the respective parties ““ from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, has undoubtedly been a significant factor ““ they certainly give the impression that they want the coalition to work. The media and the commentariat has had rather more difficulty in adjusting to the new political context than the politicians as they look to identify the ‘splits in the coalition’ and the betrayals of one or other party’s positions.

One of the big challenges for the coalition parties, particularly for the Liberal Democrats, will be to change this narrative. In particular they will need to be forthright and up-front in saying “There will be things that Liberal Democrats do not like, this is a coalition government not a Liberal Democrat government”. Similarly, Lib Dems saying that they do not like policy A or B is also to be expected. My impression so far is that the public are much more realistic about what can or cannot be achieved than the media. But it is still early days.

The first few weeks of the coalition were characterised by a raft of announcements of previous government policies which would not be implemented ““ ID cards, a third runway at Heathrow, detention of children in immigration centres. It is policies such as these which had done so much to alienate liberal opinion from Labour and the importance of these cancellations should not be underestimated. However, these were also ‘easy wins’ in the sense that they were issues where there was general agreement between the two coalition parties. The proposed actions to reform the House of Lords and to have a referendum on electoral reform have been welcomed by the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition and have caused considerable unease amongst Conservatives. It is here that David Cameron’s failure to consult the Conservatives about the coalition in the way that Nick Clegg consulted the Liberal Democrats may come back to haunt the coalition. Liberal Democrat MPs generally feel a sense of ownership of the decision to enter the coalition. It is not clear that there is the same sense of collective buy-in among Conservative MPs.

And then there was the emergency Budget which has not surprisingly caused unease among many Lib Dems. It is not that Liberal Democrats are not used to taking tough decisions. Many of the party’s activists have far more experience of taking difficult decisions than have most MPs, having spent years running local authorities. All recognised that action needed to be taken to deal with the budget deficit. The unease arises from two sources. Firstly, has the government got the judgement right about walking the tightrope between the risks of a double dip recession on one side and a sovereign debt crisis on the other? This is only partly a party political question and as much a technical economic one. Secondly, what is the distributional impact of the Budget, and the Comprehensive Spending Review which is to follow? Is it true that overall it is a ‘fair’ Budget or is it in fact a regressive Budget? The more that it appears that the latter is true the more that Liberal Democrats will feel uneasy.

This will particularly become clearer once the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review are announced in October. Abstract cuts of 25 per cent in departmental budgets will become horribly real if it involves closures of Sure Start children’s centres, further substantial cuts in welfare payments and the loss of tens of thousands of police officers. Coalition government ministers may come to regret the Conservative pledge to protect the NHS if it means massive cuts elsewhere. Perhaps that should have been a pledge which should have been a ‘casualty’ of the coalition agreement rather than continuing to be set in stone.

While the media will no doubt focus on opinion poll ratings as a reflection of whether the Liberal Democrats are happy with the coalition or not, this can be overstated. In general, people did not join the Lib Dems and stick with them during endless disappointments because of an expectation of success. Anyone who lived through the lows of the European election of 1989 when the Liberal Democrats gained less than 10 per cent of the vote will not be put off by a few poor opinion poll ratings. But they will be put off if they see the values of fairness and freedom, which is why they first joined the party, being abandoned. It is against those tests that the coalition will ultimately be judged by Liberal Democrats.

The Five Labour Leadership Candidates On Public Services

This autumn’s fight for the top job in the Labour Party will be the first true leadership election since Tony Blair defeated John Prescott and Margaret Beckett in 1994.

Public Servant asked the five candidates to set out a clear vision for the party and for public services

Andy Burnham

Over the past two months, the mission of this coalition government has become clear: to unpick the fabric of our society, to hollow out public services and to pursue a survival of the fittest ““ or the richest ““ approach. I joined the Labour Party against a backdrop of swingeing Thatcherite cuts. Now I am seeking to lead the party against a depressingly similar backdrop.

The Tories’ election slogan was “we’re in this together”, but we’re not. Older people, those with disabilities, families struggling to make ends meet, will all feel the cuts harder than the Cabinet of millionaires that is making them. But it’s not just the recipients of services who will bear the brunt. Thousands of public service jobs are at risk too.

We need to tackle the deficit, but the emphasis on cuts is wrong. I would adopt a more balanced approach, looking at tax as well as cuts. I want to see a more meaningful financial transaction tax which exerts a level of social justice where the institutions who got Britain into this mess make more of a contribution to get us out.

We also need to look at personal taxation. As Labour leader, I will support the continuation of the 50p rate and recommit to the increase in National Insurance contributions. I will look again at taxation in order to minimise cuts. Higher taxation may make life a bit harder for those having to pay it, but service cuts can devastate lives.

That is the collectivist approach I will bring as leader of the Labour Party. At times in government, we appeared to be dazzled by big business, power and glamour, no longer on the side of the ordinary people. I want to redress that balance and to bring forward policies that will improve health, wealth and life-chances across the country.

I want to help those kids without connections get the training and education they want and need. That’s why I oppose the scrapping of the Future Jobs Fund. I want to help support those families who do the right thing, but still live on a financial knife-edge. That’s why I will ensure that they are not penalised by utility companies because they don’t have access to direct debits. And I want to start celebrating our ageing society. That’s why I will bring forward a National Care Service, to give older people and their families peace of mind that they will not lose everything they’ve worked for just to pay for their care.

That is why I am standing for the Labour leadership, and that is why I’m in the race to win.

Ed Miliband

When Labour came to power in 1997, the public sector in Britain was on its knees. Chronic underinvestment had left a legacy of diminished services, decaying infrastructure and a demoralised body of public servants. Labour can be rightly proud of what it achieved in power.

But we failed to address people’s daily frustrations ““ citizens who felt that the state was not responsive enough to their needs, public servants discouraged by layers of central bureaucracy.

I have, and I believe Labour must always have, the highest expectations for public services, where local people are able to shape the area where they live and the services they receive.

At a time when the public finances are stretched, it is all too easy declare that real improvement to local public services is impossible. To do so is mistaken.

Rather than cut funding and leave small pockets of citizens to fend for themselves as the coalition government intends to do, we have a plan for the future which is about empowering public servants. By shifting the balance more towards local communities and less towards Whitehall, by encouraging greater cooperation between services. It is a radical approach that relies on our ability to change the way we use resources.

The Labour government set up the Total Place approach that was pioneered across the country. It seeks, not simply to improve the standard of individual public services, but to bring together the many facets of local public bodies to deliver the best possible services.

It asks the hard questions of what people need and how best to provide it. It strips away layers of central control and hands power to the people who are going to use those services in their communities.

Under our proposals, from April 2011, local authorities and services like the NHS and police could come together, gaining for themselves enhanced freedom in their spending, and a lighter touch from central government, in return for offering better and more efficient services.

The coalition government would rather not see the different arms of our public services work together. Instead they have said they will ringfence health and schools spending, leaving local authorities and police forces to fight for ever diminishing resources.

Theirs is a disjointed approach, which is happy to see schools break away from the local education authority, setting up parochial health boards and local sheriffs. In short, cementing a permanent dislocation in local public services at the cost of massive inefficiencies.

The Tories are happy to promote better services for the few at the cost of substandard services for the many. There is nothing radical or new about it. It is an insidious attempt to disguise something we all recognise ““ a return to the cuts and retrenchment of the 1980s.

But a truly progressive party believes in establishing a standard that all can live by and seeks to achieve it for all. Only when that deeply held belief is matched by what you attain, do you achieve genuine progress.

David Miliband

Over the past couple of months, Labour’s leaders have rightly been opposing the government. The coalition’s avoidable and ideological Budget has put our fragile recovery at risk. Despite their pre-election promises, Cameron and Clegg hit the poorest the hardest, and yes, they did cut frontline public services.

However, in time Labour will have to propose. We will need to show that we have the vision and ideas to chart an alternative course. An alternative course in the economy, an alternative course in society and an alternative course in public services. In hard financial times we will need to find innovative ways to deliver better for less. And we must make sure we don’t leave those at the bottom behind.

In public services Labour made real progress. Thirteen years of investment and reform has left our nation healthier, safer and more qualified. Public servants are better paid and better trained. At our best we are world class.

But ours is a job half done. Too many students still leave school without decent qualifications, crime blights too many communities and health inequalities remain stark.

In the debates ahead my principles are clear. People must have the power to shape the services they rely on. Practitioners must have the autonomy to deliver. Strong accountability must be the ally not the enemy of professionalism. And while the state should provide the platform for this empowerment, it is people who will turn their power into action and into change.

In the past, public services have too often been state services; done to people; offering but not always demanding. At their best, relationships, between teachers and parents, doctors and patients, police and residents, are based on reciprocity and give and take. We solve our problems together when powerful citizens enter into pacts of mutual obligation with professionals.

The truth is we won’t close the achievement gap, or tackle antisocial behaviour, or improve life chances if people are passive recipients and public servants are above, not alongside, people. Parents can determine how well their children read, so we need them on board. Communities standing together can help the police stamp out crime, so there must be engagement. People need to change their lifestyles to defeat obesity, so we can’t ignore individual responsibility.

Fine words, but what do they mean in practice? I set out last month my vision for the next stage of education reform. I said I wanted to recruit three-quarters of teachers from the top 25 per cent of graduates, with self-critical peer-to-peer networks central to accountability. I said I wanted to give pupils the power to choose their own pathways at 14 so they could move at their own pace. I said I wanted to make the opportunity of university a promise to more and more young people. My vision: excellent teachers with the tools to innovate, students with the freedom to create, graduates with the social capital to be powerful.

Over the months and years ahead I will be making the case for people power in all our public services. I believe that this is the way we meet and master our shared challenges.

Ed Balls

We are witnessing the biggest assault on our public sector since the 1980s. Ideological free market reforms to our schools and NHS are being pursued regardless of the cost. Vital public services are being slashed as public sector jobs, pay and pensions are attacked.

The new Tory-Lib Dem government is promoting a myth that the public sector is to blame for our economic difficulties. But this is a myth we must not allow to go unchallenged. The global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers, not by teachers, nurses or local government workers on modest incomes. It is immoral for them to pay the price. Most public sector workers have modest incomes and pensions ““ though significantly improved compared to 1997 ““ and while there are some over-generous salaries at the top, as in the private sector, let’s not allow these examples to feed a battle against millions of public sector workers.

As a Labour leadership candidate, I will not be distracted from my first duty which is to defend public services from this savage assault. That’s why I have led from the front on campaigns to stop cuts to free school meals, against axeing new school buildings and in opposition to privatisation of the Royal Mail.

But we must also be clear that, despite all the investment in better public services of which I am very proud, the Labour government sometimes got things wrong. When our core aim should have been guaranteeing better public services for all those who rely on them, in the second term the government sometimes sounded as if this could only be done by attacking public sector workers.

We cannot duck difficult decisions and reforms, but there is a better way of doing politics which takes people with you. In education, the social partnership model between government, unions and employers delivered investment and reforms and a better deal not just for teachers and support staff, but for parents and children too. I want this approach, based on fairness not favours, to apply across government.

I fought hard to make sure Labour honoured the three-year pay deal for teachers and prote?cted spending on vital frontline services like schools, the NHS and police. But even with that settlement, I knew that our public services needed to make every pound go further. That’s why I worked with unions and employers on being more efficient ““ with schools working more closely together for example ““ not just to save money but to raise standards too.

I set up the first negotiating body for school support staff and was the first and only Cabinet minister to implement the living wage for all staff and contracted staff in my department.
So in this Labour leadership election I hope people will judge me not just on what I say and do now, but on my record as a champion of public services too.

As this contest proceeds my first priority will be to continue being that champion who will stand up for public services from this most savage assault.

Diane Abbott

How life will look under the coalition government is something that only time can tell us. But with the threat of cuts looming over Britain the outlook is decidedly gloomy.

We might be in opposition but there is still a very important debate to be had about the economy as part of the leadership contest. The Con”“Lib Dem coalition all assume that we have to have big cuts in public expenditure to fill the hole in the public balance sheet. But, as an MP from the inner city, I know that these cuts will hit my people twice. Firstly they will have a worse service, but secondly they will lose their jobs.

I live in an area where the majority of people work in the public sector. Or they are in private sector jobs such as restaurants, cafes, hairdressers etc that depend for their clientele on people who work in the public sector. Many of these people are women. There are no alternative jobs for them. Often they are the only wage owners in their family.

Big cuts in the public sector could devastate some inner city areas like Hackney, just as closing the mines devastated many pit communities in the North. When David Cameron tells us our way of life must change, he doesn’t mean his way of life, he means ours.
I want to be leader of the Labour Party because I understand this. I want to be the voice in the debate about the future of the Labour Party that reminds people that one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job loss.

I would look at ways to avoid drastic cuts altogether. Instead of assuming that all this money should be found from public expenditure cuts we need to discuss raising levels of taxation on bankers and the higher paid. Why should ordinary people, who did not pocket the bonuses, pay for the credit crunch? We are being forced to pay to clean up the mess the bankers left after them. I find that hard to accept, as do my constituents.

In addition, we need to discuss the possibility of dropping the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, which would save billions. Even military men believe a new Trident weapons system would be a waste of money. This money could be used to save our public services and stop hardworking people losing their jobs.
I have always stood up for my beliefs and those of my constituents. This is something I will continue to do as leader of the party.

CLG Committee To Look Into Localism

Localism, shared services and budget constraints on public services will be among the areas to be investigated by the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, Labour MP Clive Betts has revealed, writes Dean Carroll.

An inquiry into local government finance will not be conducted this year because the government’s commissioned review will not report until 2012, the new committee chairman told Public Servant. Betts, who took over from Dr Phyllis Starkey and has been a committee member since 2001, said:

“We will look at localism and concepts like Total Place and how they fit into a very difficult budgetary position.”

Betts, a former council leader and government whip, admitted his concern at the lack of detail in the coalition government’s plans for decentralisation and the Big Society. He added:

“We will need to look at what it all means in practical terms. I’m very much supportive of the commitment to remove ring-fencing, for example, but if it means taking all the money away at the same time ““ then local government may not be getting a great deal out of it,” added Betts.

“And with the Big Society, it means government pulling out of things ““ which is fine if the voluntary sector is there to pick it up. But very often the people willing to volunteer are more evident in the affluent areas so the poorer areas lose out. With some of the reforms announced, such as health, I am worried that responsibility is just being handed over to the private sector.”

The ramifications of education, NHS and police reforms for councils will be considered by the committee with ministers, experts and the Local Government Association being called to give evidence.

“We also want to explore topics like the general power of competence for local government; they are nice words but does it actually mean anything different,”

Admitting that his own party had not delivered on decentralisation, Betts said:

“I wasn’t satisfied with how far we went, but the relationship between central government and councils did improve substantially after an initial period where the centre said ‘local government isn’t very good so we are going to tell them what to do’.

“But we never dealt with the fundamental issue of local government finance and the fact that the average council gets 75 pence of every pound it spends from central government, which is not a healthy situation and has to be addressed. There also needs to be a proper constitutional settlement between central and local government and the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated that he is now interested in pursuing one.”

Betts voiced his opposition to coalition government plans to install elected police commissioners and elected mayors.

Betts said:

“You cannot say you want councils to deal with things in the way that they think is most appropriate locally and then turn around and say that this is how they are going to do it,”

But he welcomed the plans to abolish quangos like regional development agencies (RDA) ““ although, he added:

“I am not sure that the partnerships between councils are yet sufficiently developed enough yet to take on the RDA role. They certainly are in places like Manchester and Leeds where they have had city region pilots ““ I am not sure that is the case elsewhere.”

It’s About Trusting The Folks

By Public Servant Magazine

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles explains how the coalition government is setting out to rebalance power and make localism a reality

A friend of mine, a former Congressman from Wisconsin, once said: “If you don’t like the folks, don’t be in our business.” When politics becomes the preserve of people who are only interested in power, the political system starts to break down. That’s what we’ve seen in the past 13 years.

The previous government didn’t like the folks. It didn’t trust them. It always believed it knew best. It left local government toothless, community groups out in the cold and residents powerless to change anything.

The result was that voting rates plummeted, especially at local government elections. There’s no point in voting for someone who can’t change anything. There was no room for creativity or innovation in public services. You followed rules and ticked boxes. And the money followed the power, so London and the South East grew at the expense of everywhere else.

When people ask me about my priorities in government, I tell them we have three: localism, localism and localism. Because if you want to restore faith in politics, you make sure that local government is properly accountable to voters. If you want to rebuild a fragile national economy, you don’t strangle business with red tape and let bloated regional bodies make the decisions. If you want people to feel they have a stake in the future of their communities, you give them a say over what happens there.

So we are determined to rebalance power; wrest control away from bureaucrats, quangos and central departments and push it as far from Whitehall as possible. This is going to fundamentally change the nature of the constitution. It won’t be in a single action or law. It will be through dramatic actions and incremental changes. Localism is the principle that defines everything we do.

You might think all governments talk like this.
But we’re doing it. Already we’ve:
“¢ Made HIPS history and the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
“¢ Given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports that had huge backdated business rates hanging over them.
“¢ Scrapped top-down housing targets and regional spatial strategies. Soon I will be announcing the full list of incentives to local authorities that will encourage development.
“¢ Put an end to unwanted “garden grabbing”, putting decisions back in local hands.
“¢ Cut ring-fencing and red tape attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.

Everything the coalition changed has been about giving up control, restoring the balance of power. By the time the Localism Bill is introduced later this year, we’ll have made a start to localism becoming reality. The Bill will give voters more power over local government and local spending. It will free up local government from central control, and will continue to put the community in charge of how their area develops.

What does all of this mean for those working in local government? First, if localism is going to have an effect, local government has got to be ready to seize the opportunities coming your way. Don’t wait around for us to tell you what to do. Already there are a number of councils who are stepping up: Windsor and Maidenhead, Essex, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Kent, to name just a few. All councils need to follow their lead and flex their muscles.

Second, localism isn’t just about giving power back to local government. It’s not a tug of war between the two of us. It’s even more important that we push power onwards, closer to people. We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society.

There has never been a better time to be involved in local government. No one working in local government signed up to be told what to do for the rest of their lives by Whitehall. There is a real opportunity for councillors today to have far more fulfilling, rewarding careers; exercising genuine choice; changing the face of neighbourhoods.

We’ve set the scene for the most radical shake-up of power for a generation. Be in no doubt, the revolution starts here.

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt On Regeneration & The Intangible Stuff

Newly-elected Stoke-on-Trent MP Tristram Hunt explains why continued government investment in education and skills is so vital for ‘cities in transition’

Struggling cities”Å¡ challenging cities”Å¡ cities in transition”Å¡ these are today’s buzz words for the public policy of managing change in industrial cities.

In America, the examples of Detroit, Gary and Buffalo have all been cited to support the idea of right-sizing cities and rolling back the urban footprint of declining manufacturing centres. In Britain, radical opinion-formers on the right have urged a mass transhumance from the post industrial north to the financial services south ““ or, at least, they did until the bubble burst.

But while these ideas might look good in a seminar room, they fail to take account either of the economic resilience of many manufacturing centres or the political requirement to support established communities. As the newly-elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, these are the issues I am beginning to grapple with.

As an historian, I am more than aware of the heroic past of the Potteries ““ how the soils of North Staffordshire gave birth to the Industrial Revolution; how its canals began the transport revolution; and how the kilns of Etruria pioneered modern factory production. But now, as a politician, I am also realising we need to be aggressive about exploiting that history in order to build a sustainable future.

For there is no doubt that while the likes of Sheffield and Derby ““ and, of course, Birmingham and Manchester ““have regenerated over the last 15 years, Stoke-on-Trent has not enjoyed the same success. Part of this is down to a different economic trajectory as North Staffordshire’s staple industries continued to suffer economic readjustment well into the 1990s. It was One Nation ““ and Michael Heseltine ““ that closed the last of the coalmines. The steel foundries followed soon after, and the past 20 years has seen the numbers employed in the pottery industry fall from around 50,000 to little more than 5,000.

But politics is also to blame. Weak councils ““ followed by long periods of introspection over the merits of elected mayors ““ combined with a proud if politically unstable culture of independent representatives, has put off investment. While the strong, concentrated leadership of Sir Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese has reaped dividends in Manchester, the so-called “curse of the Potteries” (of relentless political change) has cost the city dear. Unfortunately, we still remain in a period of relative political uncertainty within the city but next year’s new governance system ““ of only 44 councillors with four-year terms of office ““ offers a longed-for chance of stable leadership. And Stoke-on-Trent’s three Labour MPs ““ myself together with Rob Flello and Joan Walley ““ are already working closely as a Potteries bloc.

Yet the real key to success lies in changing a culture of scepticism toward education and skills. As with many of Britain’s manufacturing or port cities, where young men and women could walk into jobs at 16 in mills, docks or factories with little need for formal education, Stoke-on- Trent has not had a history of valuing learning. Yet those jobs in the pot banks and the mines have gone, often to China or Indonesia, and the jobs of tomorrow are going to demand education, training and apprenticeships.

This is the rationale behind Labour’s phenomenal investment in the city ““ from SureStart centres to refitting primary schools, from a new 6th Form College to the University Quarter around Staffordshire University. The Labour Party was also committed to spending £250m on a Building Schools for the Future programme for all secondary schools, which could now be cut by the Tory/LibDem coalition.

For it is increasingly clear that sustainable urban regeneration is not about shimmering new piazzas and al-fresco dining opportunities; it is about investment in human capital. And far more effective than big public sector back-office job allocation is the slow revival of private sector enterprise.

Much of this is often down to the intangible stuff of regeneration. Yes, you need a professional council, competitive rates, decent housing and transport facilities, and a skilled workforce. But you also need a sense of “a city on the up” and today, Stoke-on-Trent has that.

As the financial services bubble finally bursts and Britain realises it still needs to make things, the Potteries is well-placed to prosper. Ceramics jobs are coming back to the area, thanks partly to the anti-competitive costs of currency swings and partly to the commercial advantage of a “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” brand. With it, we need to rebuild the engineering and manufacturing base which once underpinned the industry. The new £400m University Hospital of North Staffordshire is bringing skilled medical and scientific professionals to the area, while jobs in leisure, tourism, education and retail are also growing. But the intangibles are also there ““ Stoke City storming the Premier League; the return of the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard to its Mercian resting place; even the Hanley Regatta”Å¡ celebrating our canal heritage.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council ““ Now There’s A Real Coalition

Mohammed Pervez, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, explains how four political groups are working together to deliver ‘a well-run and responsible local authority’ – Writes The Public Servant’s Dean Carroll.

Council Leader, Mohammed Pervez said:

Say the word “politics” to most people in the country these days, and the word that immediately springs to mind in reply is “coalition”. That is true for the national picture and for Stoke-on-Trent as well. Where our city differs from the alliance between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Downing Street, is that there is now a coalition of four political groups forming a majority within the city council.

The Labour group, Conservative and Independent Alliance, Liberal Democrats and City Independent Group all hold positions on my new cabinet. This coalition was formed to ensure continuity and stability at the council, as well as effective leadership. Last year was our first twelve months after reintroducing the Leader and Cabinet system of governance after having an Elected Mayor. We needed to make sure that what foundations had been laid weren’t washed away. This has meant forming a historic partnership between the four groups.

The Labour group was given a mandate by the electorate, but not an overall majority within the council chamber. We realise the most effective way to address everything from regeneration to education within the city is to work together with other political groups. That is not to say that the road ahead will not be difficult, but any squabbles we may have between us now need to be set aside.

We need to show we are not shying away from the responsibility of running the city and are willing to provide strong leadership to the city council in difficult times. The coalition is a way of ensuring that all the main political groups in this city work together for the good of Stoke-on-Trent. As the largest group, but lacking an overall majority, it would have been irresponsible to try and exclude them.

This coalition brings together and experience and talent from a wealth of backgrounds that we can use for the good of Stoke-on-Trent. I will be working closely with my deputy, Councillor Ross Irving, who has had the benefit of leading the council in the last 12 months, and well as Councillors Brian Ward and Kieron Clarke who have both held cabinet positions. This ensures good continuity, and also shows that we have a good dialogue between all parties to make decisions quickly and efficiently. I will also be working closely with our Chief Executive, John van de Laarschot, as will the rest of the coalition leaders, to ensure we have an effective council.

It’s true Stoke-on-Trent has suffered on many fronts over the years. We need to put that right. The national government talks about “new politics”. In Stoke-on-Trent our “new politics” will consist of strong leadership and partnership working, to be able to make decisions for the good of the city, and to show the electorate that we are listening to, and acting on, what they want from a well-run and responsible local authority.

Stoke Central Long List

Today 11 people still in the race to be Stoke Central’s Labour MP after the general election will be interviewed in London.

According to NEC member Peter Kenyon they will be grilled by Keith Vaz, Cllr Ann Lucas of Coventry, and USDAW deputy general secretary Paddy Lillis. So who are these folk lucky enough to make it onto the long list?

In the ‘no surprises’ category are Jane Heggie, Rob Flello MP‘s office manager, Sarah Hill, leading light of Labour’s ‘City Party’, historian Tristram Hunt, and Byron Taylor of the Trade Union and Labour Liason Organisation (website here). I was unsurprised but disappointed left wingers like Mike Ion and Mark Seddon didn’t clear the first hurdle, nor did various other locals who threw their hats in the ring.

Who are the others that made it?

Neil Goulbourne is a GP from Coventry and a member of the Labour affiliated Socialist Health Association. A verbatim transcript of a talk he gave on health inequality can be found here.

Mervyn Smith is only one of three local names to have got through. He was part of former Labour mayor Mark Meredith’s "advisory panel" and remains one of his few allies in Stoke Central CLP. He lost his council seat in the Labour wipeout of 2008.

Sajjad-Hussein Malik is a sitting councillor in Oxford where he holds the sports and leisure portfolio in the council cabinet. Interestingly he defected from the LibDems as a councillor as recently as 2006. He previously made the shortlist to replace disgraced MP Elliot Morley.

Fadel Takrouri is a nuclear physicist(!) and pharmacist. He was born in Palestine and is another Coventry applicant. He is a member of Labour’s Black And Minority Ethnic (BAME) group as the representative of Arabs for Labour.

Kamaljeet Jandu has, according to this profile, a long history in the trade union movement and is now the GMB’s national officer for equality.

Joe Ukemenam is a former UN ambassador to several African countries and is currently a journalist. He is also chair of a Unison voluntary organisation branch.

Zahid Nawaz is West Midlands regional manager for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary researcher and has served in a variety of capacities as an international relations/security consultant. He also sits on the WestMids police authority, where he’s curiously described as an independent.

None of the above would be my first choice for candidate, but as a trade unionist I’m drawn to Byron Taylor and Kamaljeet Jandu. Unfortunately, the CLP grapevine has it that Byron does not plan to move to the constituency should he be successful. If that’s right he can kiss his chances goodbye. Apart from these two, none of the remaining five really do it for me.

That said I am warming slightly to Tristram Hunt. Like several other candidates he’s been out and about this week and has made clear what he’s standing for. His pledges are:

  • Fight to keep schools located in our communities
  • Use his business, political and media skills to bring investment, regeneration, tourism and jobs
  • Work to promote Stoke’s profile nationally
  • Take the fight to the BNP
  • Build a vibrant and inclusive local party
  • Liaise with community groups, police and council to tackle anti-social behaviour
  • Move himself and his family to the constituency
  • Keep his expenses transparent and open

Not a programme for the abolition of capitalism by any means, but well within the mainstream of Labour party opinion.

Who will make the shortlist? Assuming there will be five names Tristram is a dead cert, as is Sarah Hill. I think Jane Heggie and Byron Taylor are very probable too. As for the fifth, I would be surprised if one of the Coventry names didn’t get through. And who will get the big prize? It’s difficult to say. Last week I pooh-poohed Tristram’s chances, but now I think this was a mistake. The problem with Jane and Sarah is they are too associated with region’s side of the interminable dispute between it and the CLP, and it is a relationship that will cost them dear when it comes to the selection vote. Tristram on the other hand – despite his association with the Prince of Darkness – is an untainted figure.

On a final note I will say the selection process has been a shoddy disgrace – it should be up to the elected officers of CLPs to determine who gets on the long and short lists, not the party machine.


ICO Wants To See Performance Awards

A data protection and publication performance assessment regime – similar to Audit Commission and Ofsted inspections of councils and schools – has been discussed at the highest levels of the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

Speaking exclusively to Public Servant, Christopher Graham said there was pressure to introduce a high-profile system of ratings for public bodies detailing examples of good performance to counter the many negative stories.

‘It was put to me at our recent management board meeting that although we emphasise the educator rather than the enforcer role – with good regulators being both – can’t we do something that is a bit more box office?,’ he revealed.

‘So they are kicking around the idea of the Oscars for bodies that do well on data protection and Freedom of Information. At the moment all you ever hear about is people leaving laptops on trains and no one gets any credit for running a really tight ship.

‘It certainly made me think, although we have our work cut out at the moment without becoming a sort of impresario for a Hollywood-style awards ceremony. But the performance assessment regime has worked well in local government as councils aspired to become beacon authorities in the same way that schools are keen to say that they did well in their Ofsted inspections. However, I don’t want to commit to a similar scheme run by the ICO just yet.’

In Whitehall, a third of departments were judged last summer to be failing to meet ICO guidelines on proactive publication of data, and local government performance is also patchy on placing expenses of senior officials and minutes of meetings online. Top performing government departments included the Department for International Development and the Department for Transport. Graham said that others were not doing so well, but insisted that the ICO was working to improve standards.

‘Expenses for senior public figures ought to be in the public domain and it is becoming quite routine that one’s expenses get stuck up on the website – and very boring they are too,’ he added. ‘But it is a corrective to any temptation to be obliged to somebody who is trying to do you a favour.’