Stoke-on-Trent Passengers Board the Bus to Fight Against Subsidy Cuts

The public of Stoke-on-Trent came out in force yesterday [Thursday] to speak out against the City Council’s decision to cut bus subsidies in a bid to save £313,000 as a part of their crusade to impose cuts totalling £35million over the coming year.

The public gallery as well as one of the committee rooms were packed to the rafters in a public show of solidarity in sending a message to the council that the bus subsidy cut would leave some people stranded at home and unable to access town centres, leisure facilities and supermarkets.

The council’s decision to cut the bus subsidies was voted through as a part of a whole host of austerity measures at last month’s Budget Meeting in a bid to rationalise services in the city as a result of the 8% cut in government funding to the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

Between three bus operators, First, Wardles and D&G, a total of 44 services will be affected.

Community representatives delivered and presented petitions, asking for certain routes to be saved, to the meeting of the City Council from areas such as Chell, Packmoor, Brindley Ford and Penkhull.

The petitioners pleaded with the elected councillors present to save what they consider to be a vital lifeline and the economic benefit to traders their travel bring.
Inside the chamber Community Voice councillors attacked the Labour benches for encouraging the public to campaign against the subsidy cuts while proposing them and then voting them through.

Cllr Mick Salih [Community Voice] said that Labour had attempted to deceive the public over the cuts to bus routes. He said it was vital the all councillors told the truth out on the streets and that the only councillors that had a clear conscious over the subsidy cuts were his group and the other councillors who voted against the budget.

Coalition councillors told the meeting that council officers were working with the bus companies and alongside ward councillors and communities, resolutions had been found to most of the contentious bus services.

One member of the public shouted out his dissent from the public gallery and said that he was disgusted by the councils treatment of members of the public that had turned out to view the proceedings. We recorded an audio interview with him and he wished to be known as “ËœBus Driver’

Listen below.

We also recorded audio’s with Cllr Mick Salih [Community Voice], Cllr Brian Ward [CIG] who is also the cabinet member with responsibility and with the Council Leader Mohammed Pervez [Labour].

Cllr Pervez also gave his thought on the past year and what he thought that the council had achieved.

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.