Now the dust has settled is John van de Laarschot the right Chief Exec for Stoke-on-Trent?

There have been many comments in the Sentinel recently regarding the performance of John van de Laarschot as chief exec. at Stoke-on-Trent city council.

It is interesting to see that the reader’s mood is changing now that the honeymoon period is over.

I remember my first meeting with John van de Laarschot when he arrived at Stoke. He was very keen to turn around the misfortunes that the city had suffered and gave the prediction of being able to do it in three years.

I did say to John at the time that I thought it was very optimistic but it could be done given time and the right political backing. Continue reading

Senior Council Officers Shun Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent City Council launched their Mandate For Change in a blaze of glory last Wednesday, a business breakfast for 200 business leaders & stakeholders, printed brochures and a video, using the Take That track, Shine, (yes the one that is used by Morrisons supermarkets and without local lad Robbie on it).

The key points of the Mandate for Change are

  • Make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business.
  • Support and develop existing business.
  • Work with people to promote independence and healthy lives.
  • Make Stoke-on-Trent a great city to live in.

All excellent values, that if driven forward will make Stoke-on-Trent a great place to be again. If the bid for the North Staffordshire Enterprise Zone is successful this will be a launch pad to hopefully getting some businesses to relocate to the area and provide the much needed employment which in turn will help to regenerate the city.

The City Council have identified that there is not enough executive housing in the city and in a recent meeting of the City Renewal Overview and Scrutiny Committee they proposed that some council owned properties such as the old park depot in Longton park and Penkhull Farm could be used for conversion in to executive housing.

It is widely believed that businesses don’t want to relocate to Stoke-on-Trent because there aren’t many suitable houses for their senior managers. This is something that Stoke-on-Trent city Council know only too well as a recent Freedom of Information request has shown that the most senior officers don’t actually live in the city themselves. These are the people, who run the city and are currently making unprecedented cuts to your services, it must be quite easy making cuts to services that you don’t have to use yourself.

On the executive recruitment site for the City Council they go to great lengths to tell prospective senior officers how good the city is.

Living In Stoke
Affectionately known as “ËœThe Potteries’, owing to our world-class ceramics and rich industrial heritage, we’re famed for the warmth and creativity of our people. We’re also one of the greenest cities in the country, with one third of the City being green space.

You’ll discover a living, working city with a vibrant culture and friendly people, surrounded by beautiful countryside. You’ll find retail therapy and attractions to fire your imagination and set your heart pounding. You’ll discover a city that is experiencing £multi-million investment and a remarkable transformation as we revitalise and realise the potential of our people and area. You’ll find quality education and a huge range of housing options too. Put simply, you’ll discover a City with a proud past and a bright future.

Even the Chief Executive’s wife Tracy recognised the importance of living in the city where her husband was working.

We definitely want to live in the area John covers, that is the least he can do. If he lives there, he can understand the issues there.

So how many of the top officers in the City Council from the Chief Executive, Directors & Assistant Directors live in Stoke-on-Trent, where You’ll find retail therapy and attractions to fire your imagination and set your heart pounding?

According to the response given to a Freedom of Information request only one of the 22 most senior officers in the City Council lives within the city and enjoys the benefits of the services provided by their employer. One solitary senior officer, that is less than 5%. The Chief Executive and the Directors who don’t live in the city are some of the top officers who took £1.5m in salaries and benefits between them last year.

As these officers are not living in the city are also less likely to spend any significant amount of their sizeable incomes with traders in the city other than maybe the supermarket in Stoke, the pubs near to the Civic Centre and the odd sandwich shop.

The City Council would not name which officer did live within the city citing section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information act that the information being requested relates to the individuals private life rather than their public function.

We contacted a number of councillors by E-mail to ask them, To lead the way in trying to bring new businesses to the city, should senior officers, (CEO directors & assistant directors) live in the city to help promote it?

the only one to respond at the time of publication.

Personally, I think they should. Otherwise, they are, and in some cases justifiably, open to the accusation of being patronizing hypocritical. It’s good enough for everyone else but not themselves. It would also show tremendous commitment and belief.

So do you think senior officers should live within the city they serve?

Stoke-on-Trent Businesses Sign Up To Climate of Change

Over 200 businesses and stakeholders met at the Kings Hall in Stoke this morning [Wednesday] to help shape the future vision for the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The Mandate for Change vision is based on four strategic aims that go wider than the city council and its services.

These are:

1) Make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business
2) Support and develop existing business
3) Work with people to promote independence and healthy lives
4) Make Stoke-on-Trent a great city to live in.

The meeting was positive and all those present were enthusiastic to play a part in the development of the city’s future and to help eradicate worklessness.

”I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend the meeting this morning.

“The people on our table were really positive about the project and it was very interesting to hear a diverse range of ideas.

“I thought the City Council CEO John van de Laarschot spoke well and I was impressed at how the event was managed.

“The councillor on our table was Peter Hayward and he really impressed me with his approach to the whole issue.

“It was also great to hear the vision and ideas of former Elected Mayor Mike Wolfe who clearly still has a lot to offer the City and always seems to shine at these kinds of events.

“Al in all, I thought the event was a success and to me, the proof of how serious the council are about the future of the city will be if they hold another of these meetings in the near future”.

The event was attended by many of the elected councillors and officers.

The clear message was to make Stoke-on-Trent a great working city and a great place to live.

Politicians and council officers have prioritised job and wealth creation to increase prosperity in the belief that they will have a positive effect on the reduction of the reliance on benefits. It is believed that in turn there will be a reduction on anti-social issues which will help the health and police services.

City Council CEO told the meeting that the future was in the hands of the private sector in light of recent cuts in local government.

“Of course we need to change how the council delivers it services, and we are in the middle of that process by introducing new ways of working, but this is much, much bigger than the council. This is about a one city approach. It is about the council becoming an enabler not a barrier. We want to show people that Stoke-on-Trent is a great place to come and bring businesses and that rewards can be reaped from being part of the city.

“Everything else will come in time if we sort the problem of the severe lack of jobs in the city. By being financially independent people will lead healthier and more independent lives and that in turn will generate a great city to live in.”

The Leader of the City Council Mohammed Pervez was absent from the meeting due to a recent family bereavement.

” “The Mandate for Change is not just about the city council it is about the future success of our city.

“We know the council cannot make Stoke-on-Trent a “Ëœgreat working city’ on its own. We need the support and help from businesses, partners and residents to make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business. We need to promote and market the city to say on the national and international stage that Stoke-on-Trent is open for business!

“I strongly believe the best way to significantly improve the lives of our residents is to create jobs – it really is that simple. That is why we have invited businesses, third sector representatives and partners to join us on Wednesday and give us their feedback on our strategic aims. This is the beginning of a very exciting journey for the city. One I hope everyone will get involved in.”

There was an invited to all attendees to keep coming up with ideas of how to help the city attract inward investment and to encourage and support start up businesses and entrepreneurship.

The City Council also launched a video of iconic images from around the City to support the mandate.

Stoke-on-Trent Residents Treated Like Mushrooms

Democracy4Stoke at its meeting last night, Thursday 16 June 2011, took the unprecedented step of altering its annual work programme following serious concerns about revelations of secret meetings taking place at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

D4S has now taken the monitoring and scrutiny of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s compliance with its own constitution and relevant legislation as its new priority for the foreseeable future.

This appears to totally fly in the face of the Chief Executive’s, Mr Laarschot promises of openness and transparency within the local authority. D4S are deeply concerned that the interests of the public are being ignored, and potentially the legal requirements of the City Council being broken.

D4S are aware of at least one investigation dropped by this meeting that affects an elderly resident who has been campaigning about home social care for over two years potentially affecting hundreds of vulnerable adults following an ombudsman’s judgment against the City Council.

””‹Dear Mr Hackney/ Ms Bates,

D4S at its meeting on Thursday 16 June 2011 agreed D4S write to you with regards to our serious concerns that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is not acting within the public interest; in the manner of openness and transparency expected of a publicly accountable body nor potentially within the legal framework required by local authorities.

An elected member has contacted us with regards to scrutiny decisions and meetings being held in private and without public notice or records.

It is alleged that the Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee, previously notified to the public on SoT CC website as “cancelled” then subsequently removed from the list of meetings, still took place in an “informal” capacity.

However, the member concerned attended the meeting and alleges that the meeting had an agenda, discussed matters, voted and made decisions contrary to those made in good faith by previous O+S committees, specifically but not exclusively to work programme items.

These “decisions” were allegedly made on the basis of briefing papers submitted by officers and directors not disclosed to the public, and without giving notice to those members of the public who may have formally raised the items, giving them the opportunity to provide evidence or their own “briefing papers”.

D4S believes the actions of the council on this matter may be in contravention of the legislation relevant to such matters of local government and scrutiny, and we also believe that if such a meetings or others that we have not been aware of, are taking place, they are in direct conflict with the commitments previously made by the CEO and the council to up hold openness and transparency.

We would be grateful if you could provide a full explanation of the events above and include any relevant paperwork, briefing papers or other relevant documents to support your response.

We would also wish to know if any other “informal” meetings have taken place in such circumstances in the recent past and details of such
occurrences.

We reserve our right to take further action where necessary.

We also give you notice, due to the seriousness of the allegations above, D4S at its meeting, also decided to alter its full annual works programme to include as it first priority for the foreseeable future for all its members, the monitoring and scrutiny of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s compliance with its own constitution and all relevant local government legislation.

Yours sincerely,

D4S

www.democracy4stoke.co.uk”

”Openness and transparency are at the core of successful and proper democracy. Citizens cannot make informed choices or hold their representatives to account if information that should be public is withheld or meetings and decisions are made in secret. D4S is committed to continuing its work in the interests of everybody in Stoke-on-Trent and this is reflected in this new priority and its increasing membership.

Treating the electorate like mushrooms in the dark in not acceptable for this area, nor anywhere else.

We will not hesitate to highlight our concerns and potentially take legal action where we think it would be in the interests of the people of Stoke-on-Trent.”

Chief Exec Must Draw on His Experience to Generate Income for Stoke-on-Trent City Council

I thought long and hard before writing this article as I have always been a massive supporter of John van de Laarschot.

The recent settlement between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the former Director Of Housing Environment & Neighbourhood Services Jeanette McGarry has dented JVDL’s halo significantly.

It’s OK to say that the council has insurance that indemnifies them against claims of this nature, but you have to ask yourselves whether this should have been a claim at all?

Pits n Pots broke the story back in April 2010, the very next day, we received a press statement that on the first read we kind of knew it would come back and bite someone on the bum at a later stage and we guessed that somewhere along the line, it would cost the City Council a large sum of money.
This bit:

Without admission of liability, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and its insurers have paid Jeanette an undisclosed sum in settlement of her employment and libel claims. The Council wishes Jeanette well in her future career.

admits liability, if there is no liability on the Council’s part then why the hell pay it?

We pay our chief executive in the region of £195,000. I can remember the council officers and elected representatives defending this huge sum of money by saying that if we are to attract the best, we have to pay for the best.

At a time when a significant number of CEO’s across the country are taking a voluntary pay cut, highly paid public sector executives need to show that they are in touch with the reality of life in the cities in which they work.

Staffordshire Moorlands CEO has just taken a 7.5% cut in his salary; his basic salary is in the region of £45,000 less than his counterpart in Stoke-on-Trent. I think this action shows that those at the top are aware of the difficulties facing the citizens out there on the mean streets. Services and amenities are being lost, people are feeling the strain. This gesture, albeit token in nature, tells Joe Public that in a small part, he is feeling the pain too.

I have supported John on bringing Vanguard into the City Council to implement their “ËœLean Systems Thinking’ model which will reduce the layers of bureaucracy and increase efficiency. This simply had to be done, had it not been, the recent cuts would have been far harsher.

I don’t think that the 700 job losses are the last either. With £20million worth of cuts still to come in the next financial year, even more council employees will be for the push. I have said before on this site that I can see the council workforce 20% lighter than before JVDL started here in Stoke-on-Trent.

That said; JVDL needs to start delivering more than just cut, cut, cut for this city. We could well do with no more loose tongue mentality [or should that be loose keyboard syndrome?] that don’t result in another astronomical pay out to a disgruntled officer of the council.

I think I am more upset that the media release about the recent pay out didn’t contain anything that acknowledged any regret for the release of a statement that cost our council dear. Moreover, Mr van de Laarschot has not come out with any statement either apologising or expressing regret to our elected members. He had the perfect opportunity at the annual council meeting.

Our council leader or the leader of the opposition did not broach the subject either, now maybe that was because the Annual Council tends to be a ceremonial event as opposed to a full blown political debating opportunity. Time will tell as the next full council meeting is scheduled for early July and Dave Conway may choose to land a few telling jabs and a right hook during the exchanges.

The reason that I am calling for John van de Laarschot to draw on his considerable experience to help the City generate income is , as the ex head of Coca Cola Europe, he will have the ideas and commercial experience to help the council maximise their revenue potential.

An example is the number of commercial council properties that are lying empty across the city. Can these be used by people who want to start up businesses but may have a problem finding the funding or getting the banks to lend? Leases can contain rent free periods and certain other inducements, but if we have someone who has commercial experience and can think out of the box, instead of chargeable rent maybe there could be a share of profit with the council instead.

That way empty units can be filled. Revenue could be earned. Business start ups can get the help and support they need and more importantly cash could be rung through the council till.

Real entrepreneurial skill is required to facilitate the kind of regeneration that is needed in a city like Stoke-on-Trent. Fill those empty units, help the 6 towns to regenerate and to become more vibrant, encourage money to stay within the local town centre economy.

The city council needs to encourage social enterprises and to transfer assets to worthwhile, credible ventures.

I believe that in a City that is lacking in skilled job opportunities, those at the top of the City Council including the CEO, the council leader and his cabinet have to meet the challenge to get people back into work head on.

Other cities have proven officer type, career public servants at the top of their authorities. We chose to employ someone with a different skill set, with more to offer and a real commercial brain to head up our authority.

That person needs to step up to the plate and deliver now.

Pervez and his cabinet think that they have a mandate to carry on cutting ““ they don’t!

They have a mandate to bring wealth creation, prosperity and opportunities to our city over the next few years.

Yes there may be a few difficult decisions to make along the way, but the city and more importantly the electorate, will judge them on their achievements.

I believe that cuts are not an achievement – bringing a brighter future, full of hope to our citizens, is.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 16/05/2011

As the red & white half of Stoke-on-Trent comes to terms with their loss in the FA Cup final the political potteries is as flat as boring nil nil draw.

It’s a bit like “Ëœafter the Lord Mayors show post election.

To Speak or Not To Speak

The only sexy story was the attempt at gagging our new crop of councillors with a “Ëœmedia protocol’ that circumnavigated democracy.

The document that was slipped in the new councillors pack was tantamount to a biblical commandment ““ “ËœYou shall not criticise the council, its officers or the executive ““ no matter the size of the monumental cock up or who was responsible!’

More worrying for me was the fact that there were councillors who were queuing up to sign this attack on freedom of speech.

One of them was Paul Breeze, a man who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He works tirelessly for his community and he has taken a principled stance in not aligning himself with any group in the council chamber.

Paul was quick enough to remind us that he is a free spirit, but his complicity in this matter showed that whilst he is his own man in the political sense he was all too ready to do his masters bidding and put officers before the representation of the people that elected him.

The “Ëœgagging order’ has received a fair amount of political commentary and rightly so. But so far the facts of the matter have been inaccurately reported.

It has been alleged that the individuals responsible for this have been the press and communications team, Mohammed
Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot.

My information leads me to believe that it was actually Pervez who suggested that the protocol be withdrawn from the councillors’ pack when he read it the weekend before declarations were taken and was unaware of its contents beforehand.

Sources have indicated to me that it was in fact Members Services who directed that this protocol be drawn up and the press team were directed to draft it up.

The bit that is shrouded in uncertainty is how much involvement CEO John van de Laarschot had in the issue.

Who Will Be The Trophies on The Cabinet

Now that it has been confirmed that Pervez will be Council Leader with Paul Shotton as his Deputy Council Leader, the labour Group will tonight [Monday] decide who will make up the remaining 8 places on this the first totally Labour cabinet.

Now I’ve followed the scene in the political Potteries for years and, as all good commentators should, I will make my predictions as follows.

The 8 cabinet places will go to, in no particular order:
Mark Meredith, Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Debra Gratton, Olwyn Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Janine Bridges and either Bagh Ali or Adrian Knapper.

My guess is that the cabinet will reflect the Labour Party desire to have a 50/50 men/woman split.

We will know soon enough I suppose, but my guesses are more down to instinct as opposed to education.

You may have your own ideas?

S.O.C.C Get a Helping Hand From Former Councillor

The nationally recognised Save Our Children’s Centres campaign has received a boost recently with the news that former Longton South Councillor Mike Barnes has joined their team to advise them on council procedures and future strategies.

S.O.C.C has reignited their fight and will present a massive petition to the council opposing the 30% budget reduction which equates to a huge cut of £2.25million.
The council are embarking on a formal consultation over their proposals.

What is 100% clear to me, having met and held discussions with S.O.C.C leaders, is that their battle lines have been drawn and they are prepared to mount a sustained and aggressive challenge to these savage cuts. The campaign team feel that the services that are on offer will be decimated beyond all belief if these cuts go through.

The election gave the Labour Party 34 councillors and a healthy majority with little opposition in the chamber.
S.O.C.C are more than prepared to take up the opposition role.

Their campaign has gone viral and there are S.O.C.C groups appearing all over the country. They also have the support of Netmums which has a phenomenal web presence.

Stoke-on-Trent has had effective campaign groups in the past like the Trentham Action Group who managed to reverse the decision to close their high school by facilitating government involvement.

S.O.C.C has the potential to make the TAG look like a meeting of the Salvation Army!

They are very angry people at the moment but they are channelling that anger and are using it as a motivational tool.

They are angry about the Labour Party’s campaign leaflet claims that they have saving the children’s centres but failed to mention the proposed budget cuts.

They are angry at the lack of support from the three city MPs’ Joan Walley, Rob Flello and Tristram Hunt who they have described as “Ëœthe invisible man’.

One of the Children’s Centres that is most under threat from these cuts is in Fenton, in fact is virtually next door to the constituency office of Rob Flello.

It could see the services that it offers cut from 5 days down to one half day.

Given that Sure Start centres were the flagship of the last Labour Government, S.O.C.C are expecting, no make that demanding that all 3 Labour MP’s support their campaign.

The case of Fenton’s children’s centre puts Rob Flello in an unenviable predicament as he sees the work they carry out at close hand and his partner Karen Clarke has just been elected as Councillor for ““ yeah you guessed it, Fenton West & Mount Pleasant!

I’m surprised that there is a negative view of Tristram Hunt and I share the view of the S.O.C.C leaders that all our MPs need to back this campaign with every ounce of their moral fibre.

I urge the Labour Group councillors, the newly appointed cabinet, Council Leader & Deputy and the 3 Labour MPs’ ““ do not underestimate this group.

S.O.C.C Hull are about to force a judicial review the same is 100% on the cards here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Our City Council are proposing the severest cuts in Chidren’s Centres budgets nearly anywhere in the country.

Communities will not take this lying down, S.O.C.C will not take this at all and in the words of one of their main players ““ “You have been warned!”

Stoke-on-Trent Councillors Asked To Sign “ËœGagging Order’

Newly elected councillors in Stoke-on-Trent are being asked to sign what is effectively a gagging order that prevents them “Ëœcriticising’ the City Council.

A document in the new “Ëœcouncillor pack’ is a protocol preventing electing members from speaking out against the council on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and on community blogs.

All 44 councillors are being asked to inform the press and communication department when they become aware of any controversial matter that arises.

They are also being asked to speak to the relevant departmental director with any concerns and to inform the Chief Executive and council leader should they have any concerns about any issues.

The protocol has outraged both old and new councillors.
Sources have told Pits n Pots that a number of councillors have refused to sign the new media protocol.

One elected member told us that they had been told by the council that signing the protocol was voluntary.

A previously elected experienced councillor said:

”There is absolutely no way that I will sign any protocol that is tantamount to a gagging order.

“This country has been built upon certain values such as freedom of speech and a free press.

“To sign this protocol would have a serious impact on the electorate and when it comes down to it, they vote us in and they must be our priority.

“Councillors are responsible to the people in their wards, not to the press department, the council leader of even the Chief Executive.

“I urge all councillors old and new to refuse to sign this document as it is an attack on democracy itself.”

Pits n Pots believes that the media protocol has now been withdrawn from the councillors’ pack.

New elected members are to be given more time to read, comment and to make suggestions before the protocol is implemented.

Government Dissolve Stoke-on-Trent’s Governance and Transition Board

The national coalition government have confirmed today [Thursday] that they have dissolved the Governance and Transition Board.

The board have often been described as controversial by some sections of the political active in the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The board was set up as a Transition Board for Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 2008 following a report that said politics in the city was “broken.” In 2009 it became a Governance and Transition Board with powers over how the council delivered its services.

Increased confidence has been shown in Stoke-on-Trent City Council however following the Government’s decision to dissolve the city’s Governance and Transition Board.

The move comes in light of comments from Local Government Minister Bob Neill today, who says it’s now the right time for the authority to move forward independently.

“I know the council let its residents down and has faced a number of challenges to its governance and service delivery in recent years,”

“We now agree it’s time to return power to Stoke’s elected officials. Local problems need local solutions and the people of Stoke need democratic and accountable leadership.”

“I want to thank the board and its chair Professor Michael Clarke for their efforts in helping to return stability. Stoke’s councillors now need to prove that they can take the city forward by working together to give local people the local services they deserve.”

It is believed that the board has told the Government that the political situation in the city has stabilised and has improved in areas such as interaction with residents, other local organisations and neighbouring authorities.

“We have worked extremely hard with the Governance and Transition Board to address the issues that were highlighted to us in 2008.

“Today’s decision is proof that we have made significant progress in reforming the way the city council works.

“The Government feels we are now in a position to move forward on our own, and we must continue to build on the improvements we have made.

“I will continue to work with other elected members to provide effective leadership to pull our city through these difficult economic conditions.

“The decision to dissolve the Governance and Transition board is welcomed by the city council.

“We have worked hard to get our house in order and are confident that we have the political and managerial leadership to successfully steer the city forward in an open, honest and transparent manner.

“We still have a lot of challenges to overcome; the recent reductions in government funding will put immense pressure on council services and we still have legacy issues to deal with, but the council is now equipped to deliver continuous and rapid improvement.”

Stoke-on-Trent ““ Sorry Merv, I Agree With Mathew!

The Managing Director of one of Stoke-on-Trent’s success stories and prized assets Emma Bridgewater, has likened the City to a wasteland and “disaster zone” comparable to London in the 1950s following World War II.

In an article in today’s Telegraph, Matthew Rice criticised Stoke-on-Trent City Council for knocking down historic buildings and former factories instead of using them as a part of the regeneration programme.

As a result of what he describes as the City Council’s feckless planning, the city has been left to resemble Helmund Province in Afghanistan.

“We have got to put building conservation at the head of regeneration and stop demolishing,”

“We have a city here know so well for its industrial past that is has a whole area, the Potteries, named after it.

“The buildings, the factories, the terraced houses; they are the building blocks of the city and represent the inheritance of the people who live and work there, their parents, their grandparents.

“These are the cultural anchors which we need to hang on to whilst regeneration takes place.

“Lose the factories, the civic buildings, the churches and the brick terraces that make up our built environment and we jeopardise the survival of the city itself.”

“If you go around Stoke these days there is lots of bare land where things have been demolished. I’ve no idea what it looks like in Helmand Province but I get a feeling it would look a little like here.

“There is always this idea that we have got to demolish everything to put things right. A blank canvas they call it. But I’d rather see people use the buildings in regeneration and development.”

Mr Rice’s comments seem to have put Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s nose slightly out of joint.

Mervin Smith, Stoke-on-Trent City Council spokesman for city development, responded by dismissing Matthew Rice’s comments.

“Serious regeneration of any city takes more than a couple of years. We have seen this with Birmingham and Manchester for example. Significant projects have already been delivered, such as the new state-of-the-art Sixth Form College and the City Waterside development, amongst others, with work due to start on the new bus station next year and the East West precinct in 2012.

“We are indeed proud of our ceramics heritage which is evidenced by the banners which decorate the Potteries Way, celebrating pride in our local companies, the restoration of surviving bottle ovens and most importantly the biennial celebrating Stoke-on-Trent as the world capital of excellence in ceramics.

“The city council has worked closely with local ceramics businesses, including Emma Bridgewater Ltd, and are disappointed at the attitude expressed by Matthew Rice. He is perfectly entitled to his opinion, which we respect but cannot agree with.”

I think that Mervin Smith has completely missed the point of Matthew Rice’s comments.

I don’t think for a minute that Mr Rice is questioning particular projects, I think he is merely pointing out that the strategy behind our regeneration project is completely flawed and I, for what it’s worth, am in complete agreement with him.

Over recent years we have seen the demolition of countless dwellings and historic factory building that have been replace by absolutely nothing.

The gateways to the various towns that make up our unique City have more holes in them then a 5000 piece jigsaw with half the pieces missing.

No one at our City Council should try and defend the balls up that have been described as regeneration in this city.
We have had to return money that has not been spent for goodness sake.

Don’t even get me started on the debacle of the business district that was fundamentally flawed and only pulled when our new Chief Executive had the wherewithal to admit that after our council had spent some £1.5million, it was never going to work.

The changes in the top layer of the Regeneration Directorate tell us the public that our new CEO was sufficiently concerned about the performance and results to take the bull by the horns and attempt to restructure what was becoming a joke to all who take interest in the socioeconomic development of our city.

Emma Bridgewater is a beacon of hope in a City that has all but lost our traditional and proud industrial heritage and I think the Cabinet Member with responsibility for regeneration would do best to listen and draw inspiration from one of the few examples of success and trend bucking.

The governments Comprehensive Spending Review [CSR] set out very clearly that money for regeneration is going to be very hard to come by indeed.

The formation of the Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP] will see us go toe to toe with Staffordshire County Council for any mere morsel of cash to regenerate over the next 4 years.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council need to form a partnership with people like Matthew Rice from industry and with politicians like Tristram Hunt to help develop and enhance the prospects for Stoke-on-Trent PLC.

Mervin Smith graciously conceded that Matthew Rice was entitled to his opinion, but he made it abundantly clear that his opinion would be dismissed.

What a shame, another opportunity to take an out of the box progressive look at the strategic way that we we deliver [or do not as the case may be in the next few years] the true regeneration of the City of Stoke-on-Trent lost because someone dares to voice an opinion that the City Council may be getting it slightly wrong.

I pity John van de Laarschot if his senior politicians do not have the insight to explore and change direction due to the failings of the past and the catastrophic impact that government cuts will have on the development and regeneration.

We really are doomed to failure if we dismiss the opinions and ignore the obvious skills of entrepreneurs like Matthew Rice and the sympathetic view on heritage and conservation of the Likes of Tristram Hunt MP.

Come on Mervin and the rest of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, get a grip for god’s sake.

Matthew Rice has written a book called The Lost City of Stoke, which was inspired by a visit to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tunstall in 2008.

Follow the link below to find out more and to to purchase it.

I have a copy and in my humble opinion it will make a great Christmas present.

Big Conversation Set To Inspire Stoke-on-Trent Employers On Work Experience

Young people from Stoke-on-Trent schools are set to benefit from the wisdom and experience of local business leaders as part of Business in the Community’s national Work Inspiration campaign.

On Tuesday, 23 November, 50 pupils will be at the King’s Hall, in Kingsway, Stoke, to talk to more than 60 senior business representatives from across the city about the benefits of work experience.

The Work Inspiration campaign, which has seen Big Conversation events held across the country, has been developed to encourage businesses of all sizes and types, across all sectors, to commit to improving and expanding the work experience they offer in order to bridge the gap between the classroom and the world of work.

The Stoke-on-Trent event is being hosted by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Chief Executive John van de Laarschot, Sinead Butters, Chief Executive of Aspire Housing Group and David Darlaston, Regional Director of Business in the Community.

They will be joined by chief executives and senior officers from across North Staffordshire, including, Johnson Tiles, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue, Stoke City Football Club and Kier Group, to discuss with students about how to create worthwhile and beneficial work experience placements.

“The younger generation are the city’s future employees and employers so it is important we invest time and effort to help shape their career paths. The Big Conversation gives young people the chance to talk to business leaders about how they developed their careers. It also allows us to think as a business how we provide work experience opportunities and whether what we offer could be improved. It is a great opportunity for our city’s young people and business leaders to unite in shaping the students of this city’s future career paths.”

During the day long event young people, aged between 15 and 18, will be given the opportunity to talk on a one to one basis with chief executives and business leaders about their experiences and careers. It will provide students with the unique opportunity to quiz business leaders on how they got to where they are today while also giving both parties the opportunity to review the benefits of work experience in business.

“Work experience acts as a vital link between young people and the world of business, so it is my firm belief that employers should play their part to ensure young people’s first experience of work is both challenging and rewarding. The Big Conversation is the first step a of crucial dialogue between young people and business, and in doing so will help the business to better understand how they can meet the ambition of young people, and provide the best possible work experience.”
“I am delighted to be involved in such an inspirational campaign which helps us, as employers, understand what we can do to make young peoples first experiences of work more meaningful and relevant In terms of deciding what they want to do when they leave school . It is great that we can draw upon the experience of the members of the Employer Board, which is made up of representatives from companies within North Staffordshire to inspire young people.”