Stoke-on-Trent City Council Budget for 2012 -2013 Announced

The budget proposals unveiled yesterday by Stoke-on-Trent City Council will inject £5m into areas including boosting private sector job creation and kick-starting the local economy.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Mohammed Pervez has outlined the bold proposals in the face of stern government-imposed spending cuts. As part of the authority’s Mandate for Change the top priority is to create a great working city, to make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business. The council’s cabinet is implementing a raft of measures that will provide a ‘red carpet’ treatment to new businesses, improving key infrastructure links and boosting what the city has to offer. The measures come as the authority has announced it needs to find savings totalling £24m for the year 2012-13.

Councillor Pervez said

 

We are committed to our Mandate for Change to make our city a great place to live and bring business. But the government’s stance is forcing the way we have to make budget cuts. The government-imposed spending restrictions for the last two years have been the fiercest ever endured by this authority. Last year we were faced with making £36m worth of cuts, and this year we are faced with another huge task just to balance the books.

 

The way the government is imposing spending restrictions means we are no longer going to be able to sustain or create the same level of public sector jobs. Therefore it is crucial that the private sector can stimulate growth and has the ability to do this.

Our ambitious capital programme, such as the £250m Building Schools for the Future scheme, is giving the private sector confidence that we can deliver, and confidence for them to invest in Stoke-on-Trent.

Government-imposed cuts will next year reduce the council’s budget by £8m. On top of this, unavoidable costs such as inflation, legally-required staff increments, procurement and the payback for capital projects will total around £11m. This means the council needs to find £19m just to stand still.

But the council’s cabinet is proposing to invest an extra £5m in areas that will drive the city forward, redesigning the council for growth.

Key investment proposals in the budget will

  • Enable the construction of new access links to further open up Etruria Valley for expansion.
  • Provide small grants to give a facelift to independent retailers’ shop fronts in the city centre.
  • Complete the design of the city centre ring road.
  • Improve the appearance of the area in front of Stoke Station.
  • Help reduce traffic congestion by investing in the current signal network and additional bus priority systems.
  • Launch new business support packages to help new and growing local businesses.
  • Increase the number of foster carers in the city.
  • Provide training for children and young people with special educational needs to travel independently across the city.
  • Launch a range of city-wide events and festivals to increase the number of visitors into the city.
  • Bring forward proposals to secure the development of a comprehensive Cultural Quarter and city centre hotel.
  • Hold a housing self-build competition to encourage diverse and high quality residential developments.
  • Focus on getting tough on fraudulent activity, especially benefit and tenancy fraud.

During 2011/12, the city centre bus station will be completed, and site preparation and clearance for the £350m City Sentral leisure and retail development will take place. The council will improve day opportunities for adults with complex learning difficulties through a million pound redevelopment of Newstead Day Centre. The authority will also look to dispose of a number of buildings to support its investment programme.

 

Councillor Pervez said

 

In some parts of our city there is a culture of dependence, and we have to lift our residents out of this. If we can stimulate the economy and help the private sector to create jobs, they will have the means to have money in their pocket and not rely on the state. This will mean the council will then be able to focus on helping the most vulnerable.

 

I believe in being open and transparent, and the budget proposals are just that. Some of them are difficult and are extremely tough decisions to propose. We could simply cut and cut every year, or we could sit on our hands and do nothing. But both would be reckless and shirking our responsibilities. We are a responsible council, and take our responsibility to manage services and taxpayers’ money seriously. We need to save to invest and that is what these budget proposals are designed to do.

 

These are tough decisions to take, but we want to ensure that in making them we fully consider the views of local residents. That is why we are now embarking on a wide-ranging consultation process, and I urge as many people as possible to tell us their opinions. The proposals that we have put forward are just that – proposals. We need local people to contribute their views to help shape the decisions we make.

 

Details of the budget proposals can be found online at the link below. 

 

The council’s budget consultation will run until 23 December. Details of a consultation roadshow, where cabinet members and officers will be able to meet residents and explain the budget proposals, will be revealed later this week. Residents can give their feedback on the proposals by emailing budget2012@stoke.gov.uk.

 

Stoke-on-Trent’s S.O.C.C Angry at Labour Leaflet Claims

Leading members of Stoke-on-Trent’s celebrated “ËœSave Our Children’s Centres’ [S.O.C.C] campaign have voiced their anger over claims made by the Labour Party in a local election campaign leaflet.

SOCC member Alan Lear is so incensed by the leaflet that was pushed through his door by the Labour Party he has called for the group to re-energise it’s self and to fight the proposed 30% budget cuts which will equate to a reduction in funding of £2.25million.

Mr Lear has revealed that the Children Centre’s, which were the flagship of the last Labour Government, are currently reviewing the services that they provide in a bid to cope with the impact of a funding reduction.

He has contacted Pits n Pots and has submitted a statement in which he reveals that he emailed every City Councillor to ascertain their intentions should a vote be taken on the closure of the seven children’s centres across the city.

Only 26 of the 60 councillors replied and 19 of the 26 Labour Group councillors did not respond.

The proposal to close the children centres was removed from the Budget after an incredibly professional presentation to full council by SOCC leader Millissa Beydilli which received cross chamber support.

The saving of the Children’s Centres has appeared on several political groups’ campaign literature in the run up to the local council elections, but SOCC are angry with the omission of the £2.25million cut in funding from any leaflets. Alan Lear says that this is misleading voters.

Mr Lear is concerned that the cut in funding will lead to a reduction of the courses and services on offer to parents and children.

He is also worried that crèche facilities will be under threat which will mean that parents are not able to access vital courses and help groups’.

His full statement is as follows:

I have contacted Pits n Pots with regard to the claims being made by prospective labour councillors in their election campaign material regarding their part in saving our children’s centres and to put the facts before the voters of Stoke-on-Trent. It surprises me because it was Debra Gratton ““ Labour who actually proposed the cuts, and then at a subsequent meeting at Tunstall Children’s Centre she told the audience that she would vote “NO”

On the 23rd November 2010, on behalf of the Save Our Children’s Centre campaign I sent an email to every councillor asking them how they would vote if the council did intend to close 7 of our children’s centres. I only received 26 replies, the majority of whom said that they would vote NO to any centre closure. You must also remember that this was before the Council became aware of the huge impact that the threat of closures would have across this city, which resulted in thousands of people petitioning against any closures..

Could I say through your website a huge thank you to the following Councillors who said NO to the cuts right at the start of our campaign.

Councillors Mick Salih, Mike Barnes, Janine Bridges, Pauline Joynson, Peter Kent-Baguley and Ellie Walker of the Community Voice party. Councillors Tom Reynolds, Tony Fradley, Debra Gratton, Javid Najmi and Ruth Rosenau of the Labour party. Councillors Mick Bell, Rita Dale, John Davis and Terence Follows of the City Independents. Councillors Zulfiqar Ali and Jean Bowers of the Liberal Democrats party. Councillors Steven Batkin and Michael Coleman of the British National Party. Councillors Roy Naylor and Alan Rigby who are Non aligned and Councillor Megan Ryan of the Conservative and Independent Alliance.

I did not receive replies from 19 Labour councillors, 3 BNP councillors, 4 City Independents councillors, 5 Conservative and Independent Alliance councillors, 2 Lib Dem councillors and 1 Libertarian councillor.
In my opinion these 34 people failed in their duty as a councillor. They did not meet their obligations to be accountable to the electorate of their ward and the electorate of this city. They failed to deal with constituent’s enquiries and representations from interested parties and therefore did not represent ward interests. In addition they did not address the community concerns and failed to meet their obligation to improve the quality of life in Stoke-on-Trent as a whole. Now ask yourself -Do they deserve your vote?

We know that the Save Our Children’s Centres campaign, its petition and subsequent presentation by Millissa Beydilli to the full council and the debate that followed and various presentations by some of the above councillors in all probability stopped the closures. Our members know and expected some minor cuts to be made through savings etc. Other Local Authorities in the West Midlands have announced an average cut of 6% to budgets. However, our Labour led Council has just imposed a 30% cut to our Children’s Centre budgets which equates to £2.25 millions. As this is a significant change, the law requires the council to once again enter into wasteful formal consultations regarding that decision. This is because the council has a legal duty under the Childcare Act 2006 to ensure that “it continues to meet the duty to secure sufficient children’s centres services which are effective, efficient and meet local needs and improve the life chances for children and families. As it stands at the moment, without these cuts, our council is failing to meet its targets. Here are some facts to consider regarding our area.

Stoke-on-Trent is the 16th most deprived Local Authority out of a total of 354. Over 26% of children live in totally workless households and 29% of children live in poverty. Infant mortality rates are higher than the national average. Children leaving school who are not in education, employment or training is higher than other local Authorities. Children entering school with significant communication delay is high compared to the rest of the country. These facts show that the Council is failing to meet its own priorities set out in its Children and Young People’s Plan. What would their performance be like after making these cuts?

Our council seems determined to fly in the face of research and published reviews. They seem incapable of accepting the findings of independent reviews and reports such as Early Intervention: The next Steps by Graham Allen, M.P..The Foundation Years ““ Preventing poor children becoming poor adults by Frank Field, M.P. and the Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives by Michael Marmot.

Norton and Ball Green Children’s Centres have recently achieved the Parent Charter award for their ability to listen and respond to the views of local parents and then offer services and facilities that benefit the community. The charter aims to highlight good practice for working with parents. It also encourages organisations to look at the needs of parents when reviewing or developing services. Sharon Menghini, Director of children and young people’s services is reported to have said: “This award is excellent recognition for both Norton and Ball Green children’s centres, and I’d like to thank staff for their hard work. It’s really important for us to hear what the local community thinks of our services and very reassuring to hear from the families and volunteers that the staff are getting it right for them.” I would just like to remind the Director that this is being achieved by the people at the sharp end. If they are not there what chance do the parents and children have?

Children’s Centres are needed or they would not be there. The invaluable services that they provide are needed or they would not be offered. It is not just children’s services but those that are provided to ethnic minorities, those with mental health problems, those who are unemployed, those with health issues, those with educational aspirations and the list goes on. At SOCC it has often been said that Children’s Centre is a misnomer and that they should actually be called Family Centre. The dedicated staff who go about their roles with such professionalism and dedication are needed. I believe, without exception, that to them every child does matter. I don’t think it can be said of this Labour controlled Council who seem to purposely set out to damage the life chances of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our society, and then waste thousands of pounds on unnecessary consultation. As for the SOCC campaign, it’s alive and kicking. We do ask the families and the people of Stoke-on-Trent to support us once again to fight these punitive and unfair cuts.

Alan Lear

The Labour Group rejects the accusation that their leaflets are misleading and disingenuous.

Council and Labour Group Leader Mohammed Pervez said that the leaflets claim the Labour led coalition had saved all children’s centres from closure and that was a fact.

He also said that there is to be a consultation period for all interested parties and stakeholders and that he is very willingly to sit around a table and hold discussions so that the most important services are retained for the most vulnerable users of the centres.

Pervez also confirmed that the £2.25million was not set in stone and he also said that the council was open to suggestions that may arise from discussions with S.O.C.C.

This view was also supported by Cllr Debra Gratton the cabinet member with responsibility for children and young people’s services.

[AUDIO INTERVIEWS BELOW]

Tony Walley ““ On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 26/02/11

Thursday’s Budget Meeting at Stoke-on-Trent City Council lasted a mammoth six hours and during that time the elected members emitted a plethora of emotions.

The debate was solemn, heated, and sometimes even angry as the councillors wrestled with their conscious’s in full knowledge of the fact that they were about to take a decision which would inflict cuts of £35.6million upon the good folk of Stoke-on-Trent.

The outcome was never in doubt; the majority would always win the battle.

The four way coalition had conducted the most open consultation exercise in modern times. Cabinet and council officers engaged with members of the public at every opportunity. A bus tour, radio appearances, online consultations and web chats.

But the stark reality was with the unprecedented level of cuts handed down to the city by government, there were always going to be losers.

Two elderly care provisions, Shelton Pool, two libraries, Parkhall GC are all to close.

These will be followed by even more if trusts or social enterprises cannot be found including the City Farm and the very popular Tunstall Pool.

There was opposition to the budget in the chamber on Thursday. Community Voice councillors and a few others spoke passionately against the cuts. They even tried to get the decision postponed on the grounds of Equality Impact but the legal officer crushed them by confirming that their argument was without foundation.

Opposition councillors were attacked by the Council Leader for playing to the public gallery and for opposing the budget but not providing alternatives to the proposed cuts to services and facilities.

But it was exactly the same last year when the Labour Party was the main opposition in the council chamber. They too tried to grab the headlines with some last minute amendment.

Normally I enjoy the political banter, the squabbles, a dig here and a dig there, but on Thursday there was an air of desperation across the council chamber.

Our City Councillors were struggling under the weight of the burden of the decision they were about to make.

A Labour councillor who was quite visibly emotional said that she never came into politics to administer cuts on the scale that the city was facing. Another councillor said that he was there to represent communities and not destroy them.

An opposition councillor said that she could never support a budget which closed elderly care provisions as in her opinion they had paid into the city for years and deserved to be look after in the latter years of their life.

I think that the most telling contribution to the debate came from a councillor who said that when you are sworn in as a councillor it is like taking marriage vows, especially “Ëœfor richer or poorer’ and he urged his fellow councillors to remember the responsibility that comes with the office of councillor.

So with a sad and heavy heart the budget was voted through.

There then followed an interesting debate about councillors allowances. The same group who opposed the budget opposed a motion to freeze councillor’s remuneration.

The opposition suggested that councillors who earn over £21,000 per year have their allowances frozen in line with the government’s stance on public sector workers.

Coalition councillors argued quite rightly that it was totally wrong to allow an increase for councillors whilst imposing the level of cuts it has on the residents of the City.

I think that common sense prevailed in the end.

Councillors showed that they were responsible and sensitive to the public outrage over the cuts that would be totally exasperated by a raise in their allowances.

For me a councillor should be paid to a level where a broader cross section of the public would be encourage to enter into local politics.

But now is definitely not the time to increase councillors allowances.

There needs to be a culture change in the City Council ahead of the May local elections. This would certainly help to get new blood into the chamber.

Meetings should be moved to evenings so that people who work full or part time can also undertake public office should they wish to.

Let’s not forget that the next crop of City Councillors will need to wield the axe on the City to the tune of another £20million of cuts in 2012-2013.

The office of councillor is not going to be an easy ride over the next few years. There will be fewer in number and all we can hope for as a city, is that the new breed are as emotional and as sensitive as was displayed in the chamber on Thursday, whether they be in opposition or hold the balance of power.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Approve £35million Cuts Budget

Stoke-on-Trent City Council set their budget today [Thursday] following a long and sometimes heated debate.

The motion in moving the budget, which includes cuts of some £35million and the closures of several key facilities, was eventually won by 40 votes in favour to 13 votes against.

In voting to accept the budget proposals, councillors have agreed to the closure of Shelton Pool, Burslem & Fenton Libraries, Park Hall Golf Course, 2 elderley care provisions and other valued services and public amenities.

Unless viable business proposals are submitted by community groups or social enterprises the city could also lose Ford Green Hall, the City Farm, Etruria Industrial Museum and the much publicised Tunstall Pool.

It was not all doom and gloom however as the council have confirmed that it is to retain all the City’s Children Centres, Stoke Speaks Out, Shopmobility and all Local Centres.

In moving the motion to commend the Budget, Council Leader Mohammed Pervez said that it was imperative that the council set a legal and balanced budget. He also confirmed that there is to be no Council Tax rise in the next municipal year.

Cllr Pervez told the chamber that it had been a long and hard road to get to the point where the cabinet were able to recommend this budget. He reminded the chamber that the council could not allow petty arguments to derail the process of agreeing this budget.

He said that the cabinet and the officers of the council had been composed, collected and considered as well as open and transparent during the consultation and the budget setting process.

Cllr Pervez reminded the chamber that Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been the 8th hardest hit authority in the country and that those councillors who had accused the cabinet of scaremongering should be glad that they had prepared for the worse case scenario.

The Community Voice group moved an amendment calling for a postponement in setting the budget as they believed that there had been insufficient Equality Impact Assessments carried out on all the budget proposals.

Community Voice spokesman Cllr Mike Barnes, said that the council needed to minimise risk and should heed the legal challenges relating to Equality Impact across other authorities across the country.

Cllr Barnes urged the cabinet to accept the need to dot every I and cross every “Ëœt’.

He condemned the documentation produced to support the budget proposals for failing to mention Equality.

Fellow Community Voice Councillor Mick Salih criticised the cabinet and council officers for not handing round the printed amendment to the substantive motion before the meeting.

He also stated that he was unable to support the budget because there were a number of proposals in it that were still under negotiation. He said that it would be wrong to pass an holistic budget when a large amount of the fine detail was not known.

Deputy Council Leader Ross Irving [Conservative] said that legal clarification was necessary and suggested that the legal officer should address the chamber and give his opinion on whether there was an issue with regards to Equality Impact.

Paul Hackney gave a long and detailed assessment of the situation and concluded that in his opinion the Council had carried out the necessary assessments with regard to Equality and that they has shown due regard during the budget consultations, overview and scrutiny processes and in the final proposals.

Community Voice’s amendment was defeated heavily.

There was a long, passionate, heated and sometimes angry debate in the chamber on the substantive motion of adopting the budget proposals.

The debate was divided between primarily those councillors in the four-way coalition parties of Labour, Conservative and Independent Allliance, Liberal Democrat and City Independent Group [apart from Cllr Dave Conway who refused to support the budget] and those councillors in opposition.

The coalition councillors condemned the opposition councillors, especially the Community Voice group, for playing to the public gallery and for not providing an alternative to the budget proposals.

The opposition councillors especially Community Voice criticised the coalition for not listening to the residents of the city.

Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley accused the cabinet of lacking political judgement and of having no clear criteria in setting this budget.

Cabinet Councillors rebuked the accusations by saying that the criteria was always to protect the most vulnerable and needy in the city.

This meeting was one of the longest in recent times. Passions and emotions were running high. Coalition councillors constantly referred to the need to accept the financial situation imposed on the city by the National Coalition Government.
Coalition Councillors also spoke about taking political responsibility and demonstrating clear leadership in formulating this budget.

Opposition Councillors spoke of the hardship that the citizens and residents of the city will have to endure as a result of these levels of cuts.

No matter what the political persuasion it was evident that the burden of public duty was wearing hard on all the councillors within the chamber.

The opposition councillors gave it heir best shot and the coalition councillors stood firm in the face of adversity and backed their cabinet colleagues.

We have a series of Audio Interviews to bring you.

First one is with Cllr Mike Barnes from the Community Voice group who explains why they were seeking a postponement of a budget decision. This was recorded before the meeting.

Then we hear from Matt Wright from the Socialist Party who explains why his North Staffs Against Cuts group were urging councillors to reject the budget proposals.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party was ejected from the council chamber during the meeting for causing a disturbance.

Next up we hear from Liz from Trent Vale who was also asked to leave the chamber for trying [very peacefully] to address the councillors in the chamber to get support for Shelton Pool and from a member of the action group fighting to save Shelton Pool.

And finally we hear from the four leaders of the coalition groups on the City Council, Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Labour], Cllr Ross Irving [Conservative & IA], Cllr Kieran Clarke [Lib Dem] and Cllr Brian Ward [City Independents] who give their reaction to winning the vote on the budget.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Propose Retention of All Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Cabinet are proposing the retention of all 16 Children’s Centres after listening to public concerns and the 6000 strong petition organised by the Save Our Children Centre’s group headed by Millissa Beydilli.

Whilst the Cabinet are proposing to save the Children’s Centres, the award winning Stoke Speaks Out service, short breaks for the disabled and carers, the Merit Pupil referral service and 24/7 CCTV coverage, they have also confirmed their intention to close several key facilities.

Although the Children’s Centres have been saved Council Leader Mohammed Pervez would give no guarantee that staff jobs would be saved. He also gave an indication that there may be a reorganisation of the Children’s Centres management structure.

The decision to close Shelton and Tunstall pools, Fenton and Burslem Libraries and the Heathside and Eardley Care Homes was also announced.

There is a six month stay of execution for education establishments Ford Green Hall, Etruria Industrial Museum and Stanley Head whilst the council explores the possibility of the transferring them to a community trust or social enterprise.

The future also looks brighter for Meir Community and Education Centre and for Northwood Stadium.

The Meir looks set to retain their community centre after the council leader announced that the council was looking to transfer more services into the popular facility.

The popular service Shopmobility, located at the Potteries Shopping Centre, will also be saved.

Mohammed Pervez confirmed that users have offered to pay for the service and the council are happy to go along with that proposal.

Northwood Stadium is not closing at this stage.

The Future of the City Farm looks bleak however. The Council Leader, Mohammed Pervez confirmed that the council did not consider the farm as a priority and indicated that the council had no statutory obligation to deliver such a service.

The tender to transfer the farm to an independent operator was suspended amidst a dispute over the ownership of the land. Whist the tender is likely to be re-instated at some stage, the feeling is that there would be a lack of interested parties coming forward to take over what was consider by the Guardian Newspaper a top 10 free attraction in the country just a few years ago.

There was also good news for every household in the City.
The Council Leader announced that Council Tax will be frozen for the next year.

The City Council will take up the governments offer a 2.5% grant which will realise £2million to the local authority.

Mohammed Pervez said that this decision was taken because the Cabinet considered that families were already under pressure following the impact of the recent VAT rise to 20%.

In presenting these proposals, the council leader said that he and his cabinet, along with the CEO John van de Laarschot and his officers, had listened to feedback from the public, elected members and members of the City Council’s staff.

Despite today’s announcements it is still expected that 700 staff will leave the employment of the City Council over the next few months through voluntary or compulsory redundancies.

The City Council are facing a gap in funding of £35.6million for the next financial year.

The national coalition government implemented cuts of 8.1% upon the City of Stoke-on-Trent which when the council factored in the reductions in area based and other grant funding, actually resulted in a bigger percentage cut.

Mohammed Pervez was keen to point out that he had pleaded the case that Stoke-on-Trent was a special case with the government but in his words “Ëœthose pleas fell on deaf ears’.

Pervez said that he had written to government on numerous occasions, he had visited London and held talks with a junior minister working in Local Government and Communities Minister Eric Pickles’s team and had joined forces with other authorities namely Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull and Torbay, but to no avail. Stoke-on-Trent was still one of the worse hit areas for cuts in funding.

The council leader also said that this budget consultation had been the most thorough than any before. He and his cabinet claim that they had taken into consideration the feedback from the “ËœLet’s Talk’ consultations and the comments made during his live web debate exclusively on Pits n Pots when making these difficult decisions.

Members of the City council staff had also been given the opportunity to have their say as a part of the “ËœTell John’ exercise held by the CEO John van de Laarschot.

These proposals will now be put in front of all the political groups and presented to all elected members ahead of the Budget Meeting of the Full City Council to be held on the 24th February.

The meeting will be webcast on the Council Website.

After the briefing Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot gave their views.

Listen to the audio below.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Stoke-on-Trent v Staffordshire – A Fair Contest?

Sometimes, in the midst of researching for various articles, I come across something that makes me explode with anger.

Believe me, no one knows better than me that it is neither big nor clever. So over recent years I have learned to breathe deeply, count to ten, check that my zin is not colliding with my zen and re-read the offending piece.

I completed all of the above checks ““ and still I exploded!

The offending item was in fact a press release from Staffordshire County Council. It was titled ““

“Staffordshire proud of budget-balancing record”

I admit with all that is going on around the budget proposals at the City Council, the title caught my eye.

I envisaged every council and local authority executive across the country burning the midnight oil trying to find a way to deliver front-line services whilst dealing with the most severe austerity measures and unprecedented cuts to funding. I had this vision in my mind of stressed out councillors crying tears of despair when they could not make the books balance without losing a number of council provided amenities.

“I am proud that Staffordshire County Council has an excellent track record of budget management, balancing the budgets while delivering first class services.

“Our plans to strengthen and improve services started following the local authority elections in 2009 and were well developed before the coalition came to power. Our innovative and realistic approach, which included being the first large authority to declare a zero per cent council tax rise, will allow us to continue to provide vital services while delivering savings which will fund pressures such as an increasingly ageing population.

“Our plans for spending over the next five years will be considered by Cabinet later this month.”

OK, maybe back in 2009 the senior politicians and officers had bought a fully functioning crystal ball off Ebay that gave them the heads up that the proverbial was about to hit the fan and that Dave Cameron was about to light the “Ëœblue’ touch paper under local government finance. The fallout would hit the poorest and most needy [SOTCC] like a nuclear warhead, whilst barely blowing the blue tie of the most affluent and reserve rich [SCC].

Could this be down to the fact that one has a long tradition of being a Labour led authority and of returning Labour MPs and the other has strong nucleus of Conservative voters and a smattering of Tory MP’s? Something of a rarity in “Ëœmiddle England’.

Am I being cynical or a tad over sensitive here?

It’s just when I look at the level of cuts facing the City I love as opposed to just over our authorities borders in Staffordshire or Cheshire East, I have absolutely no doubt as to which elderly population will be hit the most.

Then I read on a bit…

“This has been a comprehensive consultation with residents and service users.

“These proposals are the result of over 12 months of planning. This is because the system we inherited is untenable and inconsistent, and, if left alone would fail our increasingly ageing population who will need growing amounts of support. The proposals have not been made by stealth as we have made strenuous efforts to engage as many individuals and organisations as possible.

“We are proactively addressing the fact that people are living longer and want, be able to lead independent lives.

“To do nothing was not an option, and our approach will ensure all those that need it will receive support without the need to overburden the council-taxpayer through increases in council tax. A final decision will be made in February.”

Hey Phil, you are even starting to sound like you buddy Dave Cameron! All this “Ëœsystem we inherited is untenable..’ you could have swallowed to Conservative Party Manifesto which would enable you to belch out sound bites on demand.

Then I got to the bit that tipped me over the edge…

“Ministers are very welcome to visit Staffordshire and hear more about our approach.”

I bet they are welcome and while you are at it you can treat them to a 7 course slap up dinner of thanks for making your round of budget proposals and upcoming cuts as easy to negotiate as a one way street without any other traffic on the road.

Staffordshire Council are facing a cuts of just 1.96% whereas Stoke-on-Trent City Council are looking an 8.09% reduction in funding from this coalition government.

We have a cabinet that is struggling to agree on where and to what the axe should fall upon and are under increasing amounts of pressure to produce and agree a balanced budget before the end of February.

I suppose it is very easy to be smug when your mates in Central Government are protecting your residents and dishing out the smallest amounts of cuts to Conservative led authorities.

No one can argue that a £21.6million reduction in funding for a city with a population of 250,000 will hit a damn site harder and will be more difficult to deal with than a reduction of £10.6million for a County with a population of 800,000.

From where I’m sitting Mr Atkins would not be dishing out the red carpet invitations to ministers if he were occupying his Stoke-on-Trent counterpart’s shoes.

Ok now breathe… count to 10… start the pan pipe CD… and breathe again…

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Issue Statement Over Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have tonight issued a statement form Leader Mohammed Pervez which clarifies their positions on the future of the City’s Children Centres.

It follows the Pits n Pots story today regarding a meeting held at the Bridge Centre where it was claimed that the staff employed at the various children centres across the city had been informed that they would not be closed.

It had also been claimed by a source who attened the meeting that the meeting had been informed that there would be a 10% reduction in staff.

“No final decision regarding any of the budget proposals has been made yet and will not be made until we know our financial settlement from government. This is the message that I have consistently given throughout the consultation process and until I formally announce otherwise this will remain to be the council’s position.

“Staff have been briefed to give them the potential scope of what the proposals could mean for their departments and their roles if the full set of savings proposals had to be delivered.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council To Save Children’s Centres?

Council Officers told staff from all the city’s children centres at a meeting at the Bridge Centre last week that all the centres are to be saved from closure but there would be a 10% reduction in staffing levels.

Staff have been informed that positions have been deleted and that a “Ëœpool’ had been established from where those staff who are to be displaced will be picked from.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have denied that any decisions have been made.

“We are in unprecedented times due to the Government funding reductions being imposed on the city council. We need to make savings of £33million. At the moment we are consulting on budget proposals, so as such no decisions have been made about where these reductions will be made. These decisions will be finalised in the New Year. In the mean time I would urge city residents to give their views on the proposals by visiting www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk, writing to Let’s Talk, Freepost, Our City or by emailing me directly on debra.gratton@stoke.gov.uk”

The story has also been picked up by Cllr Mike Barnes.

Children Centre staff have now been told that no Centres are to close as City Council briefs all Children’s Services staff about jobs, cuts and the restructure in meetings and briefings held last week. This will be great news for all those petitioning and campaigning to save them.

This strengthens the view of many cynics, such as myself, who believed there was never any intention of closing any Children Centres, and that it was just a diversionary tactic by the Labour led coalition, whilst other “controversial” cuts will now be heralded as the “preferred option” and well worth sacrificing for the Children’s Centres.

This is a disingenuous strategy more about trying to look good than actually genuinely working through the dire financial predicament we find ourselves in and coming up with solutions that retain the services that people really need and deserve.

Remember that this all started with the leader, Pervez, presenting £33m of cuts, and only when challenged and pressed that the Cabinet revealed that the real level of cuts needed was much less and that the proposed cuts is a “shopping list” ““ precisely what we were told would not happen. Then we find that the redundancy costs are not included and that council officers, quite rightly I might add, are trying to find a financial solution to that particular problem. But why not be open and honest about it all.

Children Centres were always clearly an essential part of the future of our city ““ raising aspirations, abilities, and supporting those in need. They are highly valued by the parents and public who have seen the tangible benefits they have given to individuals, families and communities.

It seems that one battle has already been won ““ but beware ““ bricks and mortar are of little use without the resources and staff to make them function. All those campaigning for the retention of these facilities must now look closely at the reductions in funding and the cuts in staff still on the cards in Children’s Centres.

I fear that if the campaign now relaxes then the reductions in Children’s Centre Services will be as severe as first proposed ““ but hidden behind a thin, hollow, veneer of building retention.

This story brings the openness of the council’s “Ëœlets talk’ consultation into question.

There seem s to be a denial that decisions have been made in relation to the children’s centres and yet we have reports from sources who were at the meeting that would suggest that the future for this important service has been mapped out, all be it with a 10% reduction in staff.

Attention: Appeal To All Readers/Contributors – Stoke-on-Trent Cuts

This is a direct appeal to all Pits n Pots readers and contributors.

Tonight the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Mohammed Pervez will take part in an online question and answers session on the impending cuts to facilities and services provided by the City Council in light of the recent Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

This follows last month’s hugely successful ‘Ask the Commander’ online meeting where over 70 citizens took part in an online Q&A session with Chief Superintendent Bernie O’Reilly hosted by Pits n Pots.

We ask anyone who has concerns about the possibility of losing a facility or service to join in and lobby for your cause and to state your case to the person who has the answers and the power to change the course of action.

Many residents have concerns over the possibility of losing Children’s Centres, Stoke Speaks Out, Shelton & Tunstall Pools, the City Farm, Fenton & Burslem Libraries and many other amenities and services.

This site, over recent years, has proved to be a valued asset in the fight for openness and transparency in local politics.

We have had our critics, some have had justified cause to complain, many have not. But we have always maintained that we love our city and we have always endeavoured to be fair and balanced.

It is our responsibility in these times of austerity to consult with our civic leaders and to direct them in what we think can or could be cut and what service or facility is vital to the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

We ask that you share that responsibility tonight between 7pm and 8pm.

All questions asked and responses given will be kept live on this site for a long period of time so that they can, if needed, be used for reference.

The online meeting is being hosted by Pits n Pots and my colleague Mike Rawlins [the one with the brains] will be there to oversee proceedings.

Finally we would like to thank Dan Barton and his team in the Press & Communications Department for their co-operation and assistance in putting the event on.

We would also like to thank CEO John van de Laarschot and the Council Leader Mohammed Pervez for agreeing to this request. Somehow I don’t think that this would have happened in the past – do you?

If we can muster a significant audience I’m sure that this can be the first step in the direction of true openness and transparency.

Our City could lead the way for a change instead of playing catch up with other local authorities.

That all depends on you. Some 2500 – 5000 visits each day should mean that there is a healthy level of involvement.

Don’t let our City down….

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Embark On City Bus Tour to Consult On Cuts

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Members today [Saturday] embarked on the first of a series of bus tours across the whole 6 Towns to gauge public opinion regarding the recent announcement of severe cuts.

It was unlike the bus trips I made as a kid from Abbey Hulton Suburban Club to destinations like Blackpool, Rhyl and Southport, this trip was organised by our city council to listen to the concerns of citizens in light of the recent announcement that up to £33million cuts could be made from the local authority budget.

Cabinet Members Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Kieran Clarke and Debra Gratton met in Stoke Town this morning to listen to public concerns and to learn what services are most important and what facilities are most revered by the citizens of the city.

The possible closure of 7 of the 16 children’s centres featured high on the list of concerned residents, along with the end of the Stoke Speaks Out Project and the possible loss of the City Farm.

It was clear listening to the views of many residents visiting Stoke Town and attending the Fenton Manor Leisure Centre, that the public blame the Coalition Government for the hard times to come as opposed to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

High rates of unemployment and changes to the benefit system also worried a n umber of people keen to put their points across to the Cabinet Members in attendance.

The £33million of budget savings left some residents concerned to the level of services that the City Council would be able to deliver as well as the ongoing programme of cuts in the years to come.

We have a number of Audio Interviews for you to listen to with members of the public and the cabinet members in attendance.

The wheels of the bus went round an round and went on it’s way up to the City Centre for even more public consultation in the afternoon as a part of the Council’s “ËœLets’s Talk’ initiative.

If you have a specific are of concern or simply want to have your say on the proposed cuts, you can email letstalk@stoke.gov.uk or visit the website at www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk

You can also text the Let’s Talk Team on 07766 200700, start your message with “letstalk”