Longton Has A Bright Future At Its CoRE

Stoke-on-Trent is set be the key player in the future of refurbishing homes to 21st century standards.

The Centre of Refurbishing Excellence in Longton was opened today with a round of speeches from senior figures from Stoke-on-Trent and the government.

“Three quarters of the homes that will stand in 2050 are already built” said Andrew Stunell MP, junior minister from the Department of Communities and Local Government. The CoRE will be a hub for training the next generation of home improvers.

The CoRE is a venture sponsored chiefly by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Stoke-on-Trent College and the Building Research Establishment (a construction industry organisation).

Hundreds of existing workers will join new students in January to develop skills in the trade.

There were positive whispers at the event noting that CoRE will put Stoke-on-Trent on the map not only nationally, but across Europe.

Next door, a conference centre is being built around historic bottle kilns which will host business events, product launches and organisation conferences, due for completion in Autumn 2012.

Speakers were (in order):
Peter Bounds (Chair of CoRE)
Cllr Ruth Rosenau (Cabinet Member for Regeneration)
Don Leiper (Director of New Business at E.ON)
Cllr Mohammed Pervez (Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
Andrew Stunell OBE MP (Junior Communities and Local Government Minister)

Present also were Rob Flello MP, John van der Laarschot (Stoke-on-Trent City Council Chief Executive), Cllr Paul Shotton (Deputy council leader) and Cllr Gwen Hassall (cabinet member for housing and neighbourhoods).

Stoke-on-Trent To Be Split In Boundary Shifts

Parts of Stoke-on-Trent could be merged with Newcastle-under-Lyme under government proposals change parliamentary boundary.

The review, an outcome of the 2010 election seeks to cut down the total number of MPs in the country and make more balanced constituencies.

New constituencies must be within 5% difference of the average voting population split across the constituencies, i.e. between72,810 and 80,473.

In North Staffordshire, Stoke will be losing it’s exclusive trio of city constituencies, and Staffordshire will lose one MP as constituencies are morphed together.
In the overhaul, the existing South constituency will adopt parts of Stoke and Trent Vale.

The Stoke Central constituency will include various new wards from the existing North constituency which is where the biggest changes are felt.

Tunstall, Chell and Packmoor and Burslem North will be merged with 12 Kidsgrove and Newcastle wards, in the cross-town Kidsgrove&Tunstall constituency.

The immediate reaction is that Stoke residents will be 1/5th of a constituency and so in effect won’t be voting for their City MP.

The boundary proposals are now open for discussion and for the next 12 weeks, the Boundary Commission will be accepting comments, complaints and suggestions about their proposals.

Although these merges wouldn’t directly affect council elections and services, there is a fear that Newcastle/Kidsgrove/Stoke-on-Trent could be losing their historic identities.

In a recent lecture, former Elected Mayor, Mike Wolfe said that a merge made financial sense and that it was the obvious thing to do.

Across the country, both Prime Minister David Cameron’s and Leader of the Opposition Ed Milliband’s constituencues will remain unchanged ““ 2 of only 77 MPs whose boundaries remain.

Nick Clegg’s constituency will be changed, however.

With a reduction of 50 MPs across the country, inner-party squabbling is expected to break out as politicians scramble for seats.

Below is a list of the proposed new parliamentary wards for Stoke-on-Trent.

Kidsgrove and Tunstall 75,352
Audley and Bignall End Newcastle-under-Lyme 4,694
Bradwell Newcastle-under-Lyme 4,970
Butt Lane Newcastle-under-Lyme 4,349
Chesterton Newcastle-under-Lyme 5,475
Halmerend Newcastle-under-Lyme 3,038
Holditch Newcastle-under-Lyme 3,366
Kidsgrove Newcastle-under-Lyme 5,255
Madeley Newcastle-under-Lyme 3,419
Newchapel Newcastle-under-Lyme 2,801
Porthill Newcastle-under-Lyme 3,229
Ravenscliffe Newcastle-under-Lyme 3,372
Talke Newcastle-under-Lyme 3,206
Burslem North Stoke-on-Trent 9,131
Chell and Packmoor Stoke-on-Trent 9,211
Tunstall Stoke-on-Trent 9,836

Stoke-on-Trent Central BC 79,980
Abbey Green Stoke-on-Trent 8,962
Bentilee and Townsend Stoke-on-Trent 9,008
Berryhill and Hanley East Stoke-on-Trent 7,71 7
Burslem South Stoke-on-Trent 8,730
East Valley Stoke-on-Trent 10,226
Hanley West and Shelton Stoke-on-Trent 8,434
Hartshill and Penkhull Stoke-on-Trent 9,045
Northwood and Birches Head Stoke-on-Trent 8,949
Norton and Bradeley Stoke-on-Trent 8,909

Stoke-on-Trent South 78,283
Blurton Stoke-on-Trent 9,550
Fenton Stoke-on-Trent 9,225
Longton North Stoke-on-Trent 10,660
Longton South Stoke-on-Trent 10,274
Meir Park and Sandon Stoke-on-Trent 10,082
Stoke and Trent Vale Stoke-on-Trent 9,659
Trentham and Hanford Stoke-on-Trent 9,769
Weston and Meir North Stoke-on-Trent 9,064

City Council Crack Down On Landlords

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has successfuly prosecuted a landlord over a licencing dispute – the first time the City Council has prosecuted a landlord like this in 15 years.

A student landlord, 43-year-old Jaspal Dadhria, has been successfuly prosecuted for failing to obtain Houses In Multiple Occupation licences for three properties he rented to 17 people in Shelton.

He will pay the council £750 per property in fines and he must pay £1,650 to obtain the relevant licences before the properties can be re-let.

On top of this, he will be paying the Council’s court costs and for the period the properties were without the relevant license, tenants can claim back their rent runnig up a potential bill of thousands of pounds.

The announcement on Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s website comes days after the executive cabinet agreed to trial selective licensing in Tunstall.

In certain properties, landlords will be forced to obtain a £500 licence from the council and will be under extra pressure to maintain their properties to a legal and safe-to-live-in standard.

The prosecution sends out a clear message that this council will not tolerate landlords who deliberately flout housing laws. Multiple occupation licences are required to protect tenants, to ensure that large properties meet the necessary health and safety standards. In this case, Dadhria repeatedly failed to apply for a licence. He also, on at least two occasions, failed to attend meetings with the council about the case.

It is fortunate that in this instance, council inspections found the properties to be of a reasonable standard. But without the required licence to ensure minimum safeguards are met, it is not possible to know this.

We are committed to driving up the standard of houses in the city, and to tackling privately rented properties, where appropriate. We are determined to do all we can to help raise the living conditions and quality of life of city residents.

Central Forest Park Sit-In Protest Resolved

Campaigner Philippa Brown has negotiated an agreement
with Stoke-on-Trent City Council officials, ending her almost two week long occupation of the Central Forest Park snack bar.

The campaign began when the community group of volunteers
Fusion, who maintained the snack bar in Central Forest Park were informed by the council that from June 30th a private company would be running the snack bar instead.

Miss Brown took direct action in changing the locks and has
been sitting-in at the snack bar for 13 days.

Today, the sit-in at Central Forest Park snack-bar has
been resolved after 13 days of negotiations with high level Council officials.

Following Miss Brown’s petition (highlighting shortfalls in service provision and questioning the tendering criteria) being presented to full council, local councillor and cabinet member for economic regeneration Councillor Mark Meredith helped Miss Brown negotiate with council officials.

As a result, the petition will now go forward to the City Renewal Overview and Scrutiny committee where the issues will be discussed in greater depth.

Cllr Mark Meredith will also establish a paper for the cabinet to discuss the tendering criteria going forward to enable greater community benefit.

A Friends of Forest Park Group will be established where City Council staff and community groups, including C.A.P.S. (Community and Parks Society) of which
Philippa is a member will be invited to work together and agree plans of action on park related issues.

The first meeting will take place on Wednesday 13th July,
6:30pm at St Mathews Church Hall, Barthomely Rd, Birches Head.

”I am finally satisfied that the community’s voice is being listened to and that an appropriate system will now be introduced to meet our needs.

“I will say that I’m disappointed that I had to take such action in order to achieve this solution, but after campaigning and being ignored by the Council, I am heartened that the words “listen and change”are now an integral part of the Council’s agenda and would like to thank Mark Meredith for instigating this communication”

”As chairman of CAPS which engages and supports volunteers, I am inspired by the fact that Mark has facilitated a new
era of engagement, encompassing all aspects of a park environment and that the campaign has proved that the community can play a valid role in enhancing the quality of services.”
”I’m pleased that the issues have been resolved without incurring legal costs. The volunteers have set a precedent that the City Council will be embracing. Now we can move forward together combining the energies and skills of the community with the resources available to the City Council. The views and ideas of park-users are an essential contribution to operational and strategic decisions especially in these times of Government cut-backs.”

HS2 4 S-o-T?

HS2

HS2 (High Speed 2) has been quietly rattling around since 2009 but is actually one of the most revolutionary transport policies of 21st Century government and now Stoke-on-Trent City Council has issued its stance.

HS2 is the planned high-speed rail link connecting London to Birmingham and in its second phase to Manchester and Leeds. It’s a policy which has support from all three of the main political parties and was noted as a priority by the current government.

To ensure the high-speed element of the network, currently only 4 stations (all in Birmingham and London) are planned.
The proposed northern extension would consist of a Y shape across the country, splitting the network to stations in Manchester and Leeds with no intermediate stations planned at the moment.

However, a nationwide consultation is open until the end of July and now Stoke-on-Trent City Council have declared their interest in becoming an intermediate station on the Manchester branch despite Staffordshire County Council’s opposition.

Although the cabinet have not yet formally agreed their stance yet, a council press release has already suggested definite support.

“I believe there is real potential for significant regeneration benefits if we are part of HS2.

“If we had an intermediate station it would open up national and international markets for businesses in our city.

“Shorter journey times to Heathrow would be a huge advantage, it would provide real sustainable economic growth for our region.”

His comments mirror the government’s suggested key advantages of shorter journey times, increased rail capacity and the linking urban economies of the north to London. It is also suggested around 40,000 jobs will be generated.

Staffordshire County Council do not share his views. Back in March, they voted to oppose the plans believing that the business plan for HS2 was flawed.
Despite the slow trickle of national media attention HS2 has so far received, many anti-HS2 groups have already been set up.

One of the biggest, the HS2 Action Alliance, have done their own investigations into the government reports and argue that HS2 is not green, is not value for money and will benefit London ““ not the north.

The environmental impact is one of the biggest issues facing HS2 as it plans to cut through areas of outstanding beauty, including parts of the green belt and the Chiltern Hills.

The Taxpayers Alliance and Green Party also oppose HS2.
Returning to HS2 in Stoke-on-Trent, the council’s submission for the HS2 consultation is expected to be completed soon.

Reduced journey times to/from Stoke-on-Trent are not available but the route from Birmingham to London could be reduced by about 35 minutes suggesting that London may be less than 90 minutes away from Stoke-on-Trent.

It is unclear how a HS2 station would affect the existing service.

Bare in mind though, Cllr Pervez and other Labour councillors have spoken about their support of HS2 if Stoke-on-Trent has a link station. Although the city may be making a submission, many others may be also. And if there are lots of stations along the network, it will lose its high-speed element.

The city council is now in a position where they have declared their support of HS2 if they benefit. As mentioned, the existing proposed route already cuts through Stoke-on-Trent regardless. If the bid fails, how will they feel about a noisy high-speed rail network running through the city providing zero benefit?

The current government consultation closes at the end of next month, but construction is unlikely to start for several years yet.

My Experience Of The Annual Stoke-on-Trent City Council Meeting – May 26

Okay, so the title may sound like I’m back at school in September writing about what I did on my summer holidays, but here you have a few of my thoughts on my experience of the first meeting of the new Stoke-on-Trent City Council Chamber.

It may have been a bit of a “Ëœrubber stamping’ affair, but the Annual City Council Meeting was perhaps the first chance to really see the new council in action.

For my first visit to the Council Chambers I was impressed by the broadcast equipment found around the chambers providing (what I hope was) excellent online coverage of the meeting. I say hope, because as sod’s law would have it, the City Council website doesn’t appear to be online this evening so I haven’t been able to watch it back.

For those readers unaware of the business of the annual council meeting ““ it was to set the council’s affairs in order ready for the next year of government.

One of the first speeches was perhaps one of the most interesting ““ a Christian prayer by the outgoing Lord Mayors pastor ““ Paul Lockett. In this incredibly diverse city, I find it very interesting that such a traditional Christian custom is still continued today in the council chambers.

A CofE member myself, I suddenly found myself back in first school, quietly mumbling 90% of the Lord’s Prayer ““ it’s always those last few lines that get me!

Official proceedings soon kicked off with the emotional farewell to Denver Tolley, outgoing Lord Mayor and retiring councillor who joked that he would be spending his days skiing. Not in the sporting sense, but Spending the Kids’ Inheritance.

Mr Tolley shared memories, thanks and a couple of tears with the chamber and handed over to newly elected Lord Mayor Cllr Terry Follows and his deputy, Cllr Majid Khan to continue chairing the rest of the meeting.

Cllr Pervez was re-elected as Council Leader but wasn’t the only nomination. Non-alligned Cllr Paul Breeze offered his own name followed by an energetic speech which was granted extra time by the Lord Mayor. He launched an attack on Labour who, according to him, aren’t the popular majority with the public.

His speech was met by cheers from the public gallery but failed to convince the chamber as he only received one vote, followed by 3 abstentions and 37 votes for Pervez. 3 councillors were absent for the vote.

Cllr Pervez declined to respond directly to Cllr Breeze but gave a long post-election speech outlining his plans for the next four years in charge with his Labour majority ““ although he didn’t quite manage to find the same energy as Cllr Breeze.

The afternoon saw the approval of committee placements meaning that the political machine of Stoke-on-Trent City Council now has all of its cogs in place.
How long they stay in place is down to our city’s elected representatives.

Here’s to the next four years of Potteries Politics!

Staffs Uni Hope To Avoid £9k Fees

Staffordshire University is the latest university to announce its plans for tuition fee rises from September 2012 onwards but is planning to avoid any £9,000 per year charges.

The government announced large cuts to the Higher Education budget last year, leaving Universities with a large blank in their income projections.

After a controversial vote sparking protests across the country, the government decided to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 per year to students to cover the costs.

Many universities have announced that they will be charging the full £9,000 per year – including neighbour university, Keele.

The plans must be approved by the Office of Fair Access before becoming official.

However, students will still be charged thousands of pounds more than current students who pay £3,290 per year.

The University has published the following proposals for its 2012 fees scheme:

 Full-time classroom-based degrees: £7,490 per year
 Full-time laboratory/studio-based and resource intensive degrees: £7,990 per year
 Nationally-leading degrees: £8,490 per year
 Two-year fast-track degrees: £8,890 per year
 Placement fee of £1,000 for the year spent in industry on a four-year sandwich course.

Nationally-leading degrees are ones for which Staffordshire University is recognised for its excellence. The examples the universities gives are Broadcast Journalism and Film and Technology courses.

Although the charges for the majority of courses may still be £7,490 or higher, the fees may help Staffordshire University appeal to more non-local students as a place to study, and Stoke-on-Trent as a place to live and possibly work during and after study.

According to The Sentinel, 80% of students will pay under £8,000 per year under the proposals.

“One of the strengths of this University is in providing courses which are relevant to a modern and rapidly changing world. Our graduates will leave us as knowledgeable, capable, skilled and highly employable individuals.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council – Members Allowances

Allowances and expenses in the public sector have been a talking point (to put it mildly) for a few years now, but the story never seems to fade. Today, David Laws has been suspended from Parliament over previous expenses claims. It all got me thinking, how do expenses work at a local level?
The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 is the leading legislation on the subject and allows local authorities to create allowances in the following areas:

Basic allowance
Special responsibility allowance
Special responsibility allowance for members of the Association of London Government
Dependants’ carers’ allowance
Travelling and subsistence allowance
Co-optees’ allowance

However, it provides no clear answers or indication as to what a sensible amount for allowances in specific areas would be. Instead, it leaves that responsibility to each individual local authority to publish a Member’s Allowances scheme every year.
Unlike parliamentary allowances therefore, the amount claimable may differ depending on which council you serve, and area of the country you live.
I did a few google searches, such as “Ëœmembers allowances council’ “Ëœmembers basic allowances’ etc and compiled a random list of 18 UK authorities plus Stoke-on-Trent Council and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council. I located the 20 schemes and drew up a quick list to compare basic allowances given to councillors per annum.

Cornwall Council – £12,128
Bristol £11,416
Cardiff £11,342
Southampton £11,159
Stoke City Council – £11,000
Wandsworth – £10,596
Hackney Council – £9,943
Leicester City Council – £9,829
Stockton-on-Tees £9300
Staffordshire £9924
Westminster £8008
Solihull 7,688
Stevenage City Council – £7,124
Woking District – £7,115
Eastleigh Borough – £5,685
Winchester 5,580
Weymouth 4,890
Ashford 4,270.93
Newcastle-Under-Lyme £3,365
Adur £3,270

As you can see, there is a massive range in basic allowances for councillors across the UK, and while searching, I noticed some massive inconsistencies between other unitary authorities (like Stoke-on-Trent) regarding other allowances.

So I decided to take a closer look at how Stoke-on-Trent City Council stacks up against some other unitary authorities. The other three I compared Stoke with were randomly picked from a list of unitary authorities.

To clarify, carers allowance covers expenses incurred typically (but it all depends on the individual council) by babysitters and care for the elderly.

STOKE-ON-TRENT
Basic Allowance £11,000
Cabinet Member + £11,000
Council Leader + £33,000
Lunch – £6.17
Car Travel per mile – up to 59p depending on cc
Carers Allowance ““ minimum wage
Band A Council Tax £925.87

CORNWALL COUNCIL
Basic Allowance £12,128
Cabinet Member + £16,701
Council Leader + £22,532
Lunch – £9.05
Car Travel per mile – 40p per mile
Carers Allowance ““ Full receipt reimbursed plus £5.80 p/h
Band A Council Tax (approx.) £980

BLACKPOOL COUNCIL
Basic Allowance £5,999
Cabinet Member + £5,999
Council Leader + £20,999
Lunch – £8.61
Car Travel per mile ““ up to 62p per mile depending on cc
Carers Allowance ““ £7.99 per hour
Band A Council Tax £982

ISLE OF WIGHT COUNCIL
Basic Allowance + £7,903
Cabinet Member + £11,854
Council Leader + £23,709
Lunch – £6.95
Car Travel per mile ““ 40p
Carers Allowance ““ £4.93 per hour
Band A Council Tax approx. £975

Cabinet Member: Basic Allowance plus Special Responsibility Allowance
Cornwall Council Cabinet Member: £28,829pa
Stoke-on-Trent Cabinet Member: £22,000pa
Isle of Wight Cabinet Member: £19,757pa
Blackpool Cabinet Member: £11,998pa

Even in this small sample of 4 unitary authorities, there is a wide range of differences. It’s important to remember though, different councils face different challenges and its members will have different views on where money is best spent in their area. And of course, different councils have different ruling parties/ political influences.

It appears our Council Leader must be doing a very good job to deserve his above average salary. So I added a few more unitary authority council leaders’ annual allowances (members plus special allowances) to check the trend:

Stoke-on-Trent Council Leader: £44,000pa
Plymouth Council Leader: £40,176pa
Cornwall Council Leader: £34,660pa
Shropshire Council Leader £34,542pa
Isle of Wight Council Leader: £31,612pa
Blackpool Council Leader: £26,999pa
Reading Council Leader: £16,321pa

I haven’t got breakdowns of each council’s incomes but considering in Stoke, council tax is well below the UK average, and the income all goes into the same pot – it’s interesting to note that we seem to be paying well above average for our Council Leader. We pay less tax than others on average but spend more on our Council Leader.

The differences between allowances are almost endless. For example, in Westminster, councillors get £1000 extra per year for IT allowances but there is no reference to such an allowance in Stoke-on-Trent.

To look into council Members Allowances schemes yourself, the best route I found is to find their website and search for either their constitution or simply “Ëœmembers allowances’ and you should get a result. Be sure to check the dates of the documents you refer to though.

Council’s Solar Panels Exceed Expectations In First Month

Pitsnpots reported last month on the unveiling of 198 solar panels atop the Civic Centre’s roof. It was predicted by the council that the panels would generate £12,400 in savings per year (or £1033 per month).

Today, it has been announced the solar panels have helped save £1,750 in their first month of operation – beating their target.

The Lord Mayor, Denver Tolley, who unveiled the panels in April, said:

“We wanted to launch the panels in time for the spring and summer seasons. There has already been plenty of sun over the lastmonth, so the amount of electricity produced has been particularly high.”

According to Met Office figures, April 2011 was the driest on record resulting in high levels of sun.

Figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change at the Council show the panels generated 4,129kw/h in their first month.

The average house in the city consumes 3,638kw/h in electricity per year.

In 2009/10 the council spent £147,000 on electricity for the Civic Centre, a building which covers four floors and has space for over700 workers. If the solar panels meet expectations, the same bill would be reduced by approximately 8.5%

Stoke-on-Trent City Council last year signed up with E. ON to deliver millions of pounds worth of green energy investment.

Today, solar panels are installed on 54 Chell Heath council properties and it has been announced final touches are being put to a scheme which will result in over 1,000 Stoke-on-Trent City Council properties fitted with similar panels.

The Lord Mayor said: “The solar panels are working really well, and are already showing an excellent return. The most pleasing aspect is that the energy they are producing is completely green, so as well as saving money, they are also saving the environment ““ it is a win-win situation.”

City Council Are Investing In Sunshine

Lord Mayor Denver Tolley unveiled 198 brand new solar panels atop the Civic Centre in Stoke on Tuesday and described the installation as a “fantastic achievement for Stoke-on-Trent”.

The panels stretch across the south facing side of the roof and will generate an estimated 30,000kw/h in energy ““ enough to power 150 computers for eight hours every working day.

The Civic Centre, on Glebe Street, used £147,000 of electricity in 2009/10. The solar panels are estimated to reduce the bill by £3,000.

The panels are expected to last 25 years, and cover their installation costs within 14 years.

Alongside the electricity saving, the panels will benefit from £9,400 in government tariffs for producing zero carbon electricity, generating a total £12,400 per annum.

It’s as good as having money in the bank. The investment is a good investment.

We know in the long run it will pay the city back. If you keep looking backwards and not forwards, you’re not going to modernise. You’re not going to advance enough. Well, here we are advancing in front of everyone.

The 198 panels are still a long way off making the Civic Centre zero-carbon. 700 people are employed at the Civic Centre and with lighting, equipment and other machines to power, many more solar panels would be required to make the Civic Centre entirely green.

However, the panels will reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 400 tonnes in their lifetime, according to the Council.

In Stoke-on-Trent you have to lead by example, and that is what the City Council is doing… They’ve fought very hard to get this investment to where it is.