S.O.C.C’s Alan Lear Hits out at the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Alan Lear of the S.O.C.C campaign updates Pits n Pots readers with the latest news on the fight to stop the City Council decimating the Children’s Centres budget by 30% [£2.25million]

In a recent Pits n Pots interview Councillor Mohammed Pervez said that he would:

“Give that guarantee to be there for the people and anyone that wants to see me.”

“Because there was not much of a united opposition he would be outward looking as a consequence and I will be making sure that my cabinet members and labour councillors continue to engage and listen to the residents and we will take on board their views as far as possible.”

He also said:

“It’s important that they way we make decisions, we do it in collaboration with our residents, and making sure that we listen to the residents, so working in isolation from the residents is not something that I’m going to entertain. I want our residents to feel involved and it is going to be difficult and we do have to make difficult decisions, but we won’t do it alone. We will work collaboratively with residents.”

” I want the services provided by the Children’s Centres to be distributed in a fair way across the city so people, particularly the most vulnerable have access to those services and the Children’s Centres continue to provide a good level of service to the people most in need.”

With regard to his last statement I draw your attention to the following as what he says is incorrect.

Local authorities are required by the Act to make “Ëœsufficient provision’ of children’s centres to meet local need. They are therefore the lead commissioner working with their Children’s Trust partners. The Act makes clear that “Ëœlocal need’ refers to the need of parents, prospective parents and young children (under the age of five) in the local area. (Not across the city)

Determining what is sufficient provision is a decision for local authorities to take, and the Government expects this to be taken in full consultation with Primary Care Trusts and Jobcentre Plus, other Children’s Trust partners and local families and communities. Local authorities should ensure that universal access to children’s centres is achieved, with children’s centres configured to meet the needs of local families especially the most deprived. Local authorities should be able to demonstrate through their performance management arrangements and review processes that all children and families can be reached effectively.

In undertaking such consideration, local authorities should be guided by demographic factors and demonstrate an understanding of the different communities ““ both geographically and socio-economically ““ children’s centres will serve. Local authorities should also take into account views of local families and communities in deciding what is sufficient children’s centre provision.

Now you can make a judgement on his other statements!

We promised to give you the feedback on our monitoring
exercise in relation to councillor responses to our request to attend our recent meeting in Hanley on 18th May:

Sarah Hill ““ Cllr/Cabinet member ““ RELIED & ATTENDED
Andy Lilley ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED & ATTENDED
Duncan Walker ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED & ATTENDED
Paul Shotton ““ Cllr/Deputy Council Leader ““ REPLIED
Janine Bridges ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ REPLIED
Adrian Knapper ““ Cllr/Cabinet member ““ REPLIED
Ruth Rosenau ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ REPLIED
Karen Clarke ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Alan Dutton ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Matt Fry ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Martin Garner ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED NON ““ ATTENDANCE DUE TO ILLNESS
Sheila Pitt ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Andy Platt ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED (2 DAYS AFTER EVENT)
Tom Reynolds ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Peter Hayward ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Glenys Ward ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Jack Brereton ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Abi Brown ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Paul Breeze ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Shame on the following elected representatives ““ we ask does “Ëœevery child matter’ to them?

Mohammed Pervez ““ Cllr/Council Leader ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Debra Gratton ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member for C&YPS ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Mark Meredith ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Olwen Hamer ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Gwen Hassall ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Bagh Ali ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Muhammad Aumir ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Kath Banks ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Terry Crowe ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Neil Day ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Joy Garner ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Shazad Hussain ““ Councillor ““ Did NOT RESPOND
Gurmeet Singh Kallar ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Majid Khan ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Shaun Pender ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND
Alistair Watson ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND
Amjid Wazir ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND
Matt Wilcox ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND

Randy Conteh ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND REPORTED ILL
Dave Conway ““ Cllr/Leader CIG ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Terry Follows ““ Cllr/Lord Mayor Elect ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Ann James ““ Cllr/Dep CIG Leader

Cllr Debbie Wheeldon could not be contacted due to her council email address not working.

Cllr Lee Wanger was not contacted by S.O.C.C.

S.O.C.C are committed to holding the City Council to account regarding their plans for the City’s Children Centres and we will continue to seek a resolution through negotiation.

We appeal to the Leader of the City Council to meet with us in a bid to finding a suitable outcome for both the City Council and our city’s fantastic Children’s Centres.
We are committed to a “ËœConversation B4 Confrontation’ ethos.

Audio Interviews with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Newly Appointed Cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has to day named the Labour Group Councillors who are to serve on his cabinet.

The cabinet line up is as follows:

* Councillor Paul Shotton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources;

* Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance;

* Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development;

* Councillor Adrian Knapper, cabinet member for planning & transportation;

* Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration;

* Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for city services;

* Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing & neighbourhoods;

* Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for adult social care, health & commissioning; and

* Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services and life skills.

We are pleased to bring you audio interviews with Pervez, Sarah Hill, Mark Meredith and Adrian Knapper.

We will bring you more audio interviews with the cabinet members in the weeks to come.

” Well this might surprise you all – Well done Pervez.

“This seems like a good start with a clever balance of maintaining experience with new and competent faces, as well as a mix of left and not so left.

“Having a single strong group in the driving seat especially for four years does hold out some potential for sustained and clear direction.

“Key to this, firstly, will be how quickly the new political regime builds up its confidence, no longer shackled by the unpredictable coalition. No more worrying about how or if something will go through the full council.

“Secondly will be how the Labour Party in the City responds to the opportunities now open to them, for example developing a strong broad policy to direct the officers and the council over the next four years. This will be the test for the structures put in place during the more uncertain times within the Labour Party itself.

“There are many challenges to come, but despite our political differences, I know many of the new councillors and know that there is some talent there now in depth.
Give them all a chance – be more confident – take political control back from the officers – deliver.

Good Luck”.

500 Words From Tom Reynolds

I’d like to thank Pits’n’Pots for the opportunity to share with readers why I want to continue to be a City Councillor in Stoke-on-Trent and why I want to represent the people of Broadway and Longton East Ward.

It has been a privilege to serve as a councillor for the past three years, but the last 12 months have been an enormously difficult and unpleasant time to be in local politics. The unprecedented shortfall in funding which faced the council in the run up to the budget has meant that, in balancing the books some distasteful decisions have had to be taken. No body gets involved in the Labour Movement to reduce provision in public services. It makes many of us sick to the pit of our stomachs to see the reduction in the size of the public sector which Whitehall is forcing on Town Halls like ours in Glebe Street.

The Coalition Cabinet talk about of localism a lot. My only experience of it since they got in is a shift in the blame for service reductions to the local level as they remove ring-fences and reduce overall funding to local authorities. Councils like ours up and down the land are backed into a corner.

Deprived areas like Stoke-on-Trent have been disproportionately hit by the reduction in funding. Stoke has lost £90 per person compared with an average of £30 per person in the leafier districts of Staffordshire. This local election provides the first opportunity for the public to show the coalition how they feel about the castration of local government and the effect it’s having on cities like Stoke.

But sending a message to Clegg and Cameron is not a good enough reason to vote Labour. I believe that Labour’s priorities for the City Council to focus on over the next four years present the best opportunity for Stoke-on-Trent to thrive. Those priorities are:

As the number of jobs in the Public Sector shrinks because of the Coalition’s spending policy, we need to attract in as many private sector jobs as possible. That means pushing developments like the retail and business precincts in Hanley, helping people develop new skills through an expanded JET service, aggressively pursuing inward investment and eradicating the barriers to investment & work (like our poor public transport).
Educational attainment in our city is still below the national benchmark and we need to do everything we can to address that. BSF needs to be delivered ASAP to provide our young people with the inspirational learning environment that will encourage aspiration. Early years provision like Stoke-Speaks-Out must continue to be safeguarded and we need to do everything possible to help the Children’s Centres (our Government’s proudest achievement) to continue to be viable.
We have to acknowledge that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has let people down in the not distant past. The authority needs to provide lean services that are delivered well to citizens. That involves being tougher on wasteful processes and giving all of our hard working employees the correct tools to do a good job. Giving credit to some tenacious opposition members – the council needs to be more receptive to scrutiny and share information more openly. Trust needs to be earned back.

I want to represent Longton East and Broadway for a couple of reasons. The majority of the ward is in the current area I represent so I have build up a number of good partnerships and I can hit the ground running on behalf of residents. I also live smack bang in the middle of the ward and have the natural desire to want to make my home a better place to live. I’ll continue to assist all residents to the best of my abilities, and will hold a surgery and ward-walkabout every month.

As polling day looms, I hope the public feel able to put their support behind Labour.

Interested In Fostering Children In Stoke-on-Trent

An “Ëœoutstanding’ rated fostering service is offering free advice sessions to people thinking about becoming foster carers.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Fostering Service is holding drop-in events for local people interested in providing a home to a local vulnerable child.

The drop-in sessions will take place at Trentham Business Centre, Bellringer Road every Friday morning from February 4 until the end of March 2011. Interested members of the public can drop in for a chat anytime between 9.30am and 12.30pm.

The events are open to all members of the community over the age of 21 who can provide a safe and stable home for a local child and to help them maintain links with their family, friends, school and community.

“We welcome applications from all sections of the community. Fostering can be an extremely rewarding vocation. You don’t need to have a big house, be employed or even married; you just need a desire to make a positive difference to a child’s life.”

The council has 189 general foster carers including 21 respite carers, and 34 family and friends foster carers who together care for 217 children.

“In December 2010 our Fostering Service was awarded the highest rating from Ofsted, so our foster carers can expect to receive the best possible training, help and support.”

More information please call 01782 234555 or visit www.stoke.gov.uk/fostering.

Shaping the future of Longton

Revived historic buildings, more public space and new homes are just some of the proposals residents are being asked to have their say on as part of the regeneration of a Stoke-on-Trent town.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is holding a series of consultation events over the next six weeks to help shape the future of Longton. The events, which will give residents the chance to have a first glimpse at proposals, are designed to help shape the town’s masterplan and guide future investment to the area.

On Monday 17 January, proposals will go on display for the first time at the Precinct Shop, between Boots Pharmacy and Iceland in Bennett Precinct, Longton, between 10am and 7pm to give residents the chance to have their say. Options in the proposals include the pedestrianisation of The Strand with the aim of creating new public space and increasing footfall in the shopping areas. To help businesses and residents to evaluate the proposal a six month trial of the pedestrianisation scheme is suggested to start towards the end of March, subject to the successful outcome of both the public consultation and comments from the Highways Agency.

On Monday the proposals for the trial pedestrianisation will be on display alongside the masterplan exhibition at the Precinct Shop between 10am and 7pm for residents to comment. Comments on the pedestrianisation trial can be received up until 28 January.

Other suggestions in the masterplan exhibition include increasing creative businesses, building new homes on former pottery sites and creating a heritage trail promoting historic assets.

The masterplan exhibition will be on display for six weeks at a series of locations until the end of February. The results will be collated to help determine a preferred option for the masterplan and further consultation events will then be held.

“Longton is a historic town with a wealth of heritage buildings. The masterplan is designed to help shape the future of the town centre and it is important people take the time to highlight changes they would like to see. This is the beginning of the process and will be the first time residents have had the chance to express their opinions on what they would like to see in the town.”

It is hoped by holding the consultation on the pedestrianisation trial and the masterplan in parallel it will help present all of the options for the town giving residents the opportunity to review proposals.

“It is important that we look at all options for increasing footfall and improving traffic movements in Longton. It is hoped the pedestrianisation trial will be a way of reviewing how the system would work and whether it is plausible. At the moment the city council is outlining the proposals and asking residents to comment on what they think about the scheme before a possible trial in spring. I would urge as many people as possible to look at the plans and help shape the future of this historic town.”

The masterplan covers an area of 118 hectares and is split in to four areas the Town Centre, Uttoxeter Road and Town End, King Street and South of the A50.

Comments for the trial pedestrianisation scheme need to be submitted before 28 January. However, events for residents to comment on the masterplan proposals will be held at the following locations:

*Monday 17 January 10am-7pm Precinct Shop, Bennett Precinct, Longton

*Tuesday 18 January 1pm-4pm Bentilee Community Centre, Dividy Road, Bentilee

*Thursday 20 January 10am-1pm Methodist Central Hall, The Strand, Longton

*Saturday 22 January 11am-2pm Strand Passage, The Strand, Longton

*Monday 24 January 2pm-4.30pm Blurton Community Centre, Poplar Drive, Blurton

*Thursday 3 February 11am-2pm Fenton Library, Baker Street, Fenton

*Wednesday 9 February 4pm-7pm Meir Library, Sandon Road, Meir

*Monday 14 February 4pm-7pm Longton Library, Lightwood Road, Longton

*Every Monday and Friday between Monday 17 January and Monday 28 February 10am – 1pm at the Precinct Shop, Bennett Precinct, Longton

City council receives “BreatheEasy” Award

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been handed one of the first “BreatheEasy” awards.

The award recognises achievements that have been made in helping staff kick the smoking habit and the work that has been done to promote a Smokefree environment.

The city council will be officially presented with its award at the Civic Centre in Stoke on Friday 7 January by Leo Capernaros, Staffordshire’s BreatheEasy Co-ordinator.

Any business or public body receiving the award has to include the following points:

* Demonstrate that they have written up an effective SmokeFree policy

* Addressed the problem of cigarette litter around their premises

* Actively promote their local Stop Smoking Service to their employees

* Trained a Stop Smoking advisor

* Remove cigarette vending machines from their premises

* Provide their staff with information on how to report those selling fake cigarettes and tobacco

“Any large organisation needs to show that it is looking after its employee’s health and wellbeing, and we take that very seriously.

“To receive an award like this shows that we are taking steps in the right direction and that there is support there for staff who want to give up smoking.

“The larger picture is obviously the impact we can have on the businesses and individual people of Stoke-on-Trent by setting a good example.”

“In partnership with Staffordshire County Council and the NHS, Stoke-on-Trent City Council is building strong relationships with local businesses and working with them to improve the health of their employees. However as one of the Stoke-on-Trent largest employers the city council recognised it was important to lead by example and ensure it is providing its own staff with the support and advice needed to quit smoking.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Approves Sport and Leisure Charges

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s cabinet has approved increases to admission fees at its sport and leisure facilities, as well as parking charges at two major leisure centres.

The increases for hiring facilities, including senior football pitches, should come into effect from January 2011, while the parking charges should take effect from the same time. An exact introduction date will be published later.

The increase in charges for hiring venues comes after a review of the department’s costs and the need to increase revenue in the future.

“Finances are tight at the moment and we have to realise that increasing fees and charges is necessary in order to be able to provide our services to a good standard.

“Concessions on the cost of activities will be available those with an Energise Plus card and the Energise Plus scheme will continue. We run an excellent service and our fees and charges are comparable with those in neighbouring authorities. We would not be increasing them if we didn’t believe it to be absolutely necessary.”

“Paid up members of Shapes and Dimensions health and fitness clubs will be exempt from the parking charge and there will be provision for blue badge holders. The membership scheme offers good value for money as it means people can use those gyms and facilities on a regular basis at a nominally cheaper cost, and incorporate their parking into that fee too.”

Dimensions receives around 400,000 visits per year while Fenton Manor gets around 700,000. The city council does not currently charge people for parking at these facilities, but some other local authorities do charge for parking at some leisure centres. The charges will be £1 for three hours and £4 for three hours and over.

Adult social care services are “Ëœperforming well’

Social care services for adults in Stoke-on-Trent have received their highest ever performance rating from independent inspectors.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has awarded Stoke-on-Trent City Council its second highest “Ëœperforming well’ accolade for services across the board.

The annual inspection builds on a strong performance last year, and means the authority has improved on last year’s adequate rating in categories for improving residents’ quality of life, and in maintaining the personal dignity and respect of residents.

Other services to continue to be rated as performing well are:

* Improving health and wellbeing.

* Making a positive contribution to residents.

* Increasing choice and control.

* Ensuring residents are free from discrimination or harassment.

* Providing economic wellbeing.

The report praises the council’s effective leadership, the work it is undertaking to join up services with the NHS, its work in providing personalised budgets to give residents greater choice in the services they require, and establishing partnership boards in areas including learning disabilities, mental health, carers and older people.

{quote=Councillor Hazel Lyth, cabinet member for adult social care, sport, leisure and culture, said] “This assessment reflects the hard work being done to continue to improve services for some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

“We have continued to make sustained improvements to services in each of the last four years, and this is the first time services across the board have been rated so highly.

“The current financial climate and budgetary constraints being imposed on us by government means we are going to have to make very tough decisions on the services we deliver in the next 12 months. But we remain committed to ensuring we provide the highest quality services to every adult in the city who receives social care, and we will work hard to ensure our performance continues to improve in future years.”[/quote]

The report highlights the council’s work in trailing personal health budgets and increasing the number of residents receiving direct payments to 1,000, with 900 people supported by Disability Solutions, which is commissioned to provide direct payments and support services. The council has assessed 2,000 carers over the last 12 months, to ensure they receive the support they need.

The authority has also strengthened adult safeguarding arrangements by developing a joint safeguarding board, raising awareness of safeguarding issues and establishing a safety alert procedure with partner organisations.

The report also praises the council for its work in continuing to develop the skills of managers and training staff.

{quote=Council leader Mohammed Pervez said] “The rating we have received reflects the outstanding effort by staff and our work with partners in delivering the best quality services to residents. I’d like to thank all staff for their hard work and dedication.”[/quote]

The Care Quality Commission is responsible for regulating, inspecting and reviewing all adult social care services in the public, private and voluntary sectors in England. It rates achievement across four areas: performing poorly, performing adequately, performing well, and performing excellently.

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”