Labour Scrutiny Councillors Uphold Decision to Close Willfield Fitness Centre

Labour councillors today [Thursday] forced through the decision to close a popular fitness centre despite the gallant efforts of two of their own councillors.
The cabinet had already voted to close Willfield Fitness Centre but their decision was called in by City Independent Group Leader Cllr Dave Conway along with Cllr Lee Wanger.

A meeting of the Adult & Neighbourhood Overview & Scrutiny Committee were told that despite the call in work was already underway to close the facility.

The pool was drained, staff had left post and 14 fitness groups had been transferred to other locations across the area.

Opposition councillors led By Dave Conway were furious that the City Council officers had broken a long standing rule of halting any work until the call in process had been exhausted.

City Independent Councillors Conteh, James and Conway were always facing an uphill battle to overturn the cabinet decision, but they were buoyed by support from Labour Cllr Sheila Pitt who with assistance from fellow Labour Councillor Alison Wedgwood tabled the following statement and proposal:

Firstly I would like to say that both myself and Councillor Alison Wedgwood worked together on this statement and these questions because we both feel that this is a very important decision we are being asked to review.

There are six points to consider. The gym receives over 70,000 visits per year from people whose only goal is to lead independent healthy lives; this is now one of the four new pillars on which the whole Mandate for Change agenda rests so closing a well used and relatively inexpensive sports facility doesn’t make sense on so many levels.

We believe the underlying reason why the Council want to close it down is because the gym is housed in a not very attractive building which will soon be situated next to a brand new academy. I think you all agree when I say that we in the Council cannot go around knocking down useful, productive buildings, simply because they are ugly. Especially buildings that the Council invested £1 million pounds in only five years ago.

The financial reasons for closing the gym do not make sense. We did not receive a full breakdown of the costs in the options appraisal, so Councillor Wedgwood asked for a breakdown and has recently received this table, which I would like to show my fellow committee members.

In TABLE 1 you will see that £133,000 is included to clad the outside of the building to make it more attractive. However, if I now draw your attention to the Public Options Appraisal report which was used to justify closing the gym which is included as Page 7 of your agenda , in the notes it says clearly that the £133,000 is not part of the £398,500 capital item.

It says “This does not include “¦ a further anticipated £133,000 to clad the building due to planning conditions”
This doesn’t make sense and understandably gives me little confidence in the rest of the figures and data presented in the options appraisal; therefore, I find it difficult to make such an important decision when I don’t trust the figures.

TABLE 1 also includes a cost of £27,000 to repair or renew windows, in this age of austerity, why can’t the gym cope with its current windows? Again I would argue that this is an unnecessary expense.

In our Agenda on page 22 we have a comparison of the number of users at the gym compared to other council sites. I think this was intended to show how little used the gym is. We think that this data actually shows how important our decision is today ““ the gym represents 5% of all sports usage in this city – all in only 398 square meters! It has the same number of users as Northwood sports stadium. I wonder if a better analysis wouldn’t be to show the number of users per square meter, or the number of users per pound subsidy?

Similarly, the table of postcodes, on page 22 was intended to show that the gym isn’t really a community gym., Well firstly as 22% of the table are invalid entries the table is deeply flawed. Secondly, the fact that there are also many users from Longton, Blurton and Meir shows that shifting these users across to the Wallace centre would not work and that this is not just an issue for Bentilee, but for many citizens of Stoke on Trent.

Is the Wallace centre really as suitable for Disabled Users? We know a disabled user went to the Wallace recently and found that it hasn’t got disabled showers like the Willfield has, what use is a gym without a shower?

Finally, and very importantly, we feel that the options appraisal should have included the business case included by other external groups or funders, such as the one presented by the Willfield Action Group. I would like to remind everyone that according to the new Localism Bill, Councils are supposed to be willing to hand over assets to the community for them to manage and run especially if this reduces the financial burden to the Council. This is a perfect example of letting our civic society, letting hard working members of the community volunteer and manages their own services. The Willfield Action Group have a former manager from Sports and Leisure at their head, they are not just a group of well meaning do-gooders.

When Councillor Pervez visited the gym on the 8th June Mr Camellaire was asked to present a business case, and without much time he has done so, but within a few days of the 8th June a decision had already been made, and the Community Trust business case which I’m sure you have all received, has never been considered. This business case would need some firming up which can be done with more access to council data, but there is a real opportunity to let the Community run the gym, take on the financial risks and prove that they can make it work. If it doesn’t work then at least they have tried, and the Council may have lost a free opportunity to demolish a building but will have gained many supporters and democracy would have been better served.

Therefore, we urge this committee to consider this Community Trust business case. This should have been considered by the cabinet and council officers and in the interests of democracy, accountability and fair decision making, and in the interests of the health and independence of the people of Stoke on Trent I would like to recommend the gym is handed over to a Community Trust for them to run and that this decision is referred back to the Cabinet for them to amend.

Officers of the council did their upmost to prevent Cllr Pitt from sharing her documentation with other councillors at the meeting but a timely intervention by Cllr Randy Conteh who reminded officer that he had seen papers handed out on the day of the meeting many times before, soon resulted in the legal officer backing down and the papers were distributed.

After a long and at times heated debate, the proposal to recommend that the Willfield Fitness Centre be retained on its present site and for the Council to work with the Willfield Centre Trust to taken over the costs and running of the Centre was voted on and narrowly defeated.

Labour Councillor Sheila Pitt voted with the opposition, whilst her fellow group councillors Pender, Wheeldon, Banks and Fry contributed nothing to the debate during the entire meeting.

Cllr Bagh Ali used his casting vote to ensure that the cabinet decision to close the Willfield Centre was upheld.
It was obvious that the Labour Group had the whip on.
Cllrs Hamer, Rosenau and the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group Paul Shotton were dotted about the Windsor Room to ensure that there were no dissenters.

There may be trouble ahead for Cllrs Pitt & Wedgwood. The Labour Group often takes a dim view on councillors who break the whip.

Talking to Willfield supporters after the meeting the actions taken by the two labour Councillors were very much appreciated and went a long way to convince the electorate in their ward that Cllrs Pitt and Wedgwood stayed true to their election pledge to fight to keep the popular fitness centre open.

After the meeting I managed to catch up with Cllr Randy Conteh whose contribution throughout the meeting was outstanding.

Listen to the Audio Interview below.

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March in Support of Willfield Gym

There was a protest march on Tuesday 28th June 2011 against the planned closure of the Willfield gym, fitness centre and swimming pool.

I have blogged before (see links below) about Labour outrages in Bentilee and the fate of the Willfield gym.
I was very pleased to see a huge turnout at this protest, organised by the City Independent Group of the council alongside gym campaigners.

We were led by Vance Reardon and his splendid contingent of bagpipers in a well organised and marshalled march from the Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre along Dawlish Drive to the Willfield gym. There was much support along the way, people at home came to their doorsteps to watch, some joined in and traffic stopped without animosity. There was some talk along the way about who voted Labour in the ward. There seemed to be very little knowledge of many who did.

Prominent gym user and campaigner Carol Harrison took part with a multitude of other gym users including Lisa Hulme and her very vociferous group of children and parents from Bentilee Happy Feet who use the building for their dance classes. The crowd also included residents’ association members and many others who care about their community facilities.

Councillors Dave Conway and Ann James joined the march as did former local councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis. Current Bentilee and Ubberley councillors Sheila Pitt and Alison Wedgwood did not join the march but Sheila attended the rally afterwards outside the Willfield gym.

Cabinet are sure to vote today 30th June 2011 to close the Willfield gym. Dave Conway’s City Independent Group are sure to call in the decision but to no avail as Labour scrutinising their own decisions are bound to apply the final axe to the gym and swimming pool.

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
Alison Wedgwood ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED (PLANNING SURGERIES WITH TRISTRAM HUNT MP AT THE TREEHOUSE )

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.

Terry Follows Denver as Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent

Popular Independent Councillor Terry Follows will be sworn in as the next Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent on 26th May.

Terry the newly elected Councillor for Hanford & Trentham will take the office vacated by the hugely successful Cllr Denver Tolley who retires from both the office of Lord Mayor and as a city councillor.

Denver’s year in office coincided with the celebrations to
mark the Centenary of the Federation of the 6 Towns.

Cllr Follows’s consort is to be his friend Jackie Pearson.

Terry is a true Stoke lad. Born in Fenton the son of a miner and a pottery worker, he was first elected to serve in Fenton. He has been a city councillor for a total of 15 years.

Terry was originally a Conservative Councillor and when he first stood for election in the ward of Trentham he actually defeated the sitting Independent councillor.

Following a disagreement over the future of Trentham High School, Terry left the Conservatives and joined the City Independent Group. He was Deputy Leader of the CIG until the recent election.

Speaking to Terry today, he said that he was extremely proud and honoured to be considered for the office of the First Citizen of the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

He is expected to be elected unopposed at the Annual Council Meeting on 26th May which can be viewed online at the city council website from 11am.

Labour councillor for the new ward of Etruria & Hanley Majid Khan will be elected as Deputy Lord Mayor and will take office in May 2012.

Terry Follows will take his easy going nature into the
role as Lord Mayor which will ensure his success in the ceremonial role. He will also adopt an easy going approach to his role as the Chairman of the City Council.

The Lord Mayor is the First Citizen of Stoke-on-Trent, and with this comes a high profile role in promoting and maintaining the interests of the city and its people.

The Lord Mayor attends a variety of engagements throughout his year in office, such as Civic Receptions, Parades and general visits.

Current Lord Mayor Cllr Denver Tolley has excelled at all aspects of the role and Terry Follows will be as equally successful for sure.

Dave Conway Elected Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Independent Group

Ex Labour Group member Cllr Dave Conway has today been elected the Leader of the City Independent Group.

Cllr Conway resigned from the Labour Group in 2009 and immediately joined the City Independent Group where he has served under former Leader Brian Ward until the recent Council Elections on 5th May.

The vacancy for CIG leader was caused when Brian Ward lost his Blurton seat at the election, losing out to Labour’s Neil day in the newly formed ward of Blurton West & Newstead.

The decision to elected Cllr Conway was unanimous and was taken at a meeting of the CIG at the civic centre today.

Cllr Conway has confirmed that Cllr Ann James will be Deputy Group Leader.

Cllr James was elected to serve the Great Chell and Packmoor ward after a 12month absence from the council chamber.

CIG Leader Cllr Dave Conway also confirmed that his group had made the controversial decision to accept Cllr Lee Wanger as a group member. This takes the number of his group to 7.

Cllr Wanger was elected to serve in the Tunstall ward.

Cllr Wanger has always divided opinion among his colleagues and the electorate as to whether he should be accepted in any group on the city council. He has a past conviction for subscribing to a child porn website and had to sign the sex offenders register.

He was previously a member of the Conservative & Independent Alliance before he narrowly failed to win elected to the council in 2010.

New Conservative Group Leader Cllr Abi Brown had already ruled out offering Cllr Wanger a place in her group.

Un-aligned Councillor Paul Breeze has confirmed that he will not be joining any group on the City Council.

Listen to the Audio Interview with new CIG Leader Cllr Dave Conway below. He tells us what is priorities are and how he will go about leading the opposition to the 34 member strong Labour Group.

He also gives his reaction to the new City Council Media Protocol which was withdrawn pending further input from elected members.

Tony Walley ““ On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 06/04/2011

Out of the 199 candidates nominated to fight the upcoming local council elections, 139 represent national political parties.

So, it kind of got me wondering, if we happened to end up with a hung council, who would form the next coalition?

Now opinion is divided as to the chances and plights of the various political parties but I think everyone recognises that Labour are the clear favourites to take an outright majority in the council chamber.

I also think that everyone believes [even the Tories themselves] that the Conservatives could get a bit of a public kicking as the electorate exact revenge for the unprecedented cuts that the whole of the country is facing up to and having to deal with.

Despite fielding 44 candidates, the Liberal Democrats face obliteration from the council chamber. They have just 4 councillors presently here in Stoke-on-Trent. Across the country the electorate are expected to send a very clear message to Mr Clegg that he has got it wrong in joining with the Tories. The Libe Dems have become the political whipping boys following a series of high profile national policy u-turns which some say have angered the public to an extent where they will suffer a huge backlash in the May local elections.

The BNP locally have managed to field just 10 candidates and what is very different to last year is that there seems to be some sort of “Ëœarrangement’ with the England First Party not to field candidates in the same wards which would result in a split in the Nationalists vote. With the 6 England First candidates, far right voters will have an option in 16 of the 37 wards across the city. Of course this is a far cry from the days when the BNP described Stoke-on-Trent as their jewel in the crown but never-the-less the BNP could be another party that suffer at the pens of the electorate. The public feel that there is a genuine alternative to the mainstream parties with a number of credible Independent candidates and groups like Community Voice who actively seek to scrutinise the ruling administration and have become a self styled group of people champions.

It is hard to decipher who is who when analysing the 42 or so Independent candidates. The largest number will be attached to the City Independent Group under the stewardship of leader Brian Ward. They suffered something of a public backlash for joining in the 4 party ruling coalition. They have a reputation out of the mean streets of Stoke has being very hard working community councillors.

But in the event of a hung council just who could work with who?

There has been some suggestion that the Labour Group on the council have over egged the national cuts issue. This has caused unrest among the Conservative element in the chamber. One wonders whether the national Conservative party would allow their Stoke-on-Trent counterparts to take part in another love in with Labour.

An opposition member said to me recently that he thought it was like a scene from “ËœBrokeback Mountain’ to hear the interviews with Pervez and Ross Irving on Pits n Pots.

Well after the election it could be more like “ËœLast Tango in Packmoor’ if Labour don’t get the 23 seats necessary to take overall control of the city council.

I think there will be a few voices of discontent if a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives were proposed.

Any coalition with a far right party will not happen. Both the leader of the Labour Group Pervez and the Leader of the Conservative Group Ross Irving have ruled out working with the BNP in the past and I can’t see that that would change in the future.

The Liberal Democrats are expected to have a poor showing following the election so I don’t expect them to play a significant part unless Labour were short of just a couple of seats.

The prospect of Community Voice playing a part in any future coalition is a fascinating one. Mike Barnes had a very public parting of the ways with the Labour Party. Mick Salih and Peter Kent-Baguley also fell out of favour with the Labour Party and all three have been harsh critics of the coalition and Labour in particular.

Community Voice are tipped to do well in the local elections and could well be the dark horses come May 6th. I would love to be a fly on that particular wall to witness the coalition talks involving Community Voice representatives.

The City Independents will also play a major role in any future coalition and to some degree a coalition agreement with this group would be Labour’s worst case scenario. By the very nature of their group the CIG are made up of Independent thinkers and minds and it is very hard to get them agree to anything which makes a partnership arrangement with a group who operate a whip very difficult indeed.

Even though all this is speculation, we do need to consider what will happen in the event of a hung council.

One thing is for sure, groups like Community Voice, the City Independents, even Independents4U could play a major role in the future shaping of the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

With the exclusion of the far right for moral reasons and the possible exclusion of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on political reasons any coalition arrangements is fraught with danger.

The reason for the boundary changes and reduction in the number of councillors was thought to bring about political stability.

In the event of a hung council, the political gerrymandering and posturing will be no different to what it is now. There will just be less characters involved.

One thing is for sure, the next four years will be very interesting here in planet Stoke.

Stoke-on-Trent Local Election Candidates List Released

199 candidates have come forward to contest the Stoke-on-Trent City Council Elections which will take place on 5th May 2011.

These candidates will seek to represent 37 newly formed wards in a council reduced from 60 to 44 following a review by the Boundary Committee last year.

The City will be split into 31 single member wards, 5 two member wards and 1 three member ward.

The release of the candidates list confirms that whoever is elected, the council chamber will have a very different look to it on May 6th.

The 3 member ward of Baddeley, Milton & Norton has 16 candidates seeking election. 12 from national parties, 1 from Community Voice and 3 Independent candidates.

The current Council Leader Mohammed Pervez [Labour] is facing opposition from former Conservative & Independent Alliance Leader Roger Ibbs who is now standing as an Independent candidate.

Deputy Leader of the City Council and Leader of the Conservative & Independent Alliance Ross Irving is seeking election to the 2 member Hanford & Trentham ward. There the main opposition is understood to be from former coalition cabinet colleague Terry Follows [CIG] and Peter Hayward [Ind].

Liberal Democrats Group leader and coalition cabinet member Kieran Clarke is again standing in the Birches Head & Central Forest Park ward where he comes head to head with Former elected mayor Mark Meredith. He will also face a stiff challenge from former elected mayor champion and community leader Paul Breeze.

City Independent Leader Brian Ward is standing in the Blurton West & Newstead Ward and will not be facing former colleague Roy Naylor who recently announced he is standing down. The main opposition is thought o be from the Labour candidate Neil Day.

BNP group leader Michael Coleman will have his work cut out to defeat the very popular Labour candidate Ruth Rosenau in the ward of Meir North while former BNP deputy group leader Anthony Simmonds will surely split the far right vote with England First Candidate Nicholas McVeigh which could give a boost to Labour Candidate and current cabinet member Tom Reynolds.

Former BNP group leader Alby Walker who is now representing Community Voice is facing an uphill struggle in the Meir Park Ward to defeat City of Stoke-on-Trent Conservative party Chairman Abi Brown.

Walker’s wife Ellie is taking on former BNP colleague Melanie Baddeley in the Abbey Hulton & Townsend ward. One surprising omission from the candidates listed for this ward is that of former Labour councillor Graham Wallace. A number of sources had indicated that he would stand against the official Labour candidates selected.

Community Voice group spokesperson Mick Salih will stand for election in the huge Baddeley, Norton & Milton ward. He faces stiff opposition from all the mainstream parties.

There is some 53 Independent candidates standing including members of the City Independents, Community Voice, Independents4You and those who have chosen not to put any description on the form.

Whatever the outcome, the city’s electorate have a wide and varied choice of candidates to select from.

These elections will be the last, barring by-elections, for four years.

Pits n Pots will launch our election coverage later today.

This will be the most comprehensive coverage anywhere, given to each and every candidate regardless of political persuasion.

We will offer every candidate an equal opportunity to write an election article for publication [500ish words] and the chance to record an audio interview of around 7 minutes. These will be left on the site for reference.

A Sad, Sad Day for Stoke-on-Trent – Action is Needed In London!

Today is a sad, sad day for our City and for everyone who lives and works here.

This is the day that we say goodbye and bid farewell to a number of much loved services and leisure facilities.

We have already seen the closure of the City Farm. By the end of play today we will lose Park Hall Golf Course, the Dial a Ride scheme, Stoke Recreation Centre, Fenton Library and the cafe at Gladstone Pottery Museum.

Communities are devastated by the closure of Shelton and Tunstall pools which will also close their doors today.

There is talk that a private investor is looking to keep these two amenities open but I know a number of councillors have concerns that this is a viable option.

Officers and certain councillors are desperate to further discussions with the individual concerned and to offer assistance where ever possible. I have seen an email in which the potential investor offers sincere thanks to councillors and officers as they try and present a credible business case and secure the necessary funding.

Only time and rigorous scrutiny will tell whether this offer can be taken seriously and until i’s are dotted and t’s crossed parties are trying to play the matter down for fear of wrongly building up the hopes of the action groups and communities concerned.

Politically, opponents are keen to blame the city council’s ruling coalition of Labour, Conservative & Independent Alliance, Liberal Democrats and the City Independent Group for these unprecedented cuts.

Out on the streets though it is a very different matter. The general public are in no doubt as to who is exactly to blame.

The electorate hold the national coalition 100% responsible, everyone I have talked to is angry at the level and speed of these cuts.

For me, it is way too much, way too soon. The fact that we are at the start of what can only be described as a public sector cull, puts our country’s recovery from the worst recession in modern history at risk.

Take out the disposable income of the vast number of people who are about to be thrown out onto the scrap heap with the only prospect of landing squarely on the dole queue, and the knock on effect on the economy could be disastrous.

Meanwhile back on the mean streets of Stoke-on-Trent, the effect of these cuts is biting at the very front end of our society. No one is left untouched, the elderly, children, the disabled and the most vulnerable are all to suffer for the indiscretions and downright financial mismanagement of a large number of bankers who thought that they had a god given right to play a game of poker with the worlds finances.

And what has been the effect on the very individuals that put us in this mess in the first place? They are to be rewarded with unbelievably high bonuses often paid out by near state owned financial institutions.

Action groups will carry on fighting for the services and
facilities that they want to save and I pray that there is some success to be had.

£35million pounds have been wiped out of the budget for the upcoming financial year with the inevitability that another £20million will follow next year.

Our elected representatives have faced up to their responsibilities; officers of the council have administrated the cuts based on the balance sheet in front of them. The objectives? To save, to cut, to reduce and to merge services and facilities knowing that their actions are going to hurt the very people they seek to serve.

There have been those both inside the chamber and out in the political scene at large, that have sought to make political gain from the fact that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has had to make cuts. Indeed I know that certain individuals have been told to stay away from the Tunstall Pool Action Group meetings because their number one priority was to make political gain from the fight.

As much as we pontificate locally, in reality we all know there is little we can do to influence the level of cuts metered out to the public of Stoke-on-Trent.

Direct action on a national level is the only sensible recourse to voice our discontent and complete bewilderment over these unprecedented and unnecessary cuts.

The public have to take the issue up with the organ grinder [the national coalition government] as opposed to the monkey [Stoke-on-Trent City councillors], for it is them that have decided to decimate the funding to our City.

The protests in London last weekend attracted in the region of 450,000 people and but for a few hundred anarchists and complete nut jobs they were hugely successful in delivering a very direct message to this government.

That message is very loud and very clear ““ There is an alternative!

Peaceful, direct and unwavering protests on the largest scale imaginable would send a clear concise warning and in my humble opinion is the only way to save the services and facilities we value in this city.

So, in summary to save Stoke, we must march via London and parliament square for it is there that the true perpetrators reside.

Stoke-on-Trent Needs Committed Councillors, Not Activists with a Grudge

I know that this blog article is going to make me mightily unpopular in some quarters of the Stoke-on-Trent political arena, but here goes.

Following on from my last post about the far right England First Party, which was fantastically well received, I climb up on my soapbox for round two.

You see i have a real worry about the upcoming local council elections, in fact I would go as far as to say it is boarding on a mortal fear, that our city will end up with a load of councillors that are in it for all the wrong reasons.

My fears were further realised following a disturbing telephone conversation with an ex-member of the Labour Party here in Stoke-on-Trent.

It appears there is a group of disenfranchised ex-Labour party members that are to throw their hats in the ring and are to seek election to the City Council with their number one priority to smear the Labour Party and its candidates as opposed to actually wanting to represent their communities.

I admit that I was absolutely flabbergasted by this revelation.

These people are to focus their campaign on what the Labour Party have done to them in the past, how the Labour party has broken their own rules [in their opinion anyway] and they are to publicly smear some of the Labour candidates.

I’m sure that you don’t need me to mention their names in this article, but you will know who I mean when I describe them as the usual suspects.

It would appear that the labour Party’s crime is to select 44 candidates to fight every available seat across the City.

They stand accused of not producing a manifesto on which to fight the election and they are definitely guilty of fielding candidates that are not legitimate and have been selected by the Regional Office so the dissenters claim.

One poor candidate that has got it coming to her is Alison Wedgwood, her crime? She doesn’t live in the City according to this group. “We are going to nail her” was the phrase used. She won’t be the only one.

This group are marketing themselves as “Ëœoriginal Labour’ ““ you know, a throwback to those halcyon days when the Labour Party that the ultimate power in our city. A time when all 60 candidates were Labour and the only arguments, and there was a few, were between themselves.

But those days were blighted by some of the most monumental cock ups in our city’s history. The Cultural Quarter, World Gate, the Britannia Stadium deal to name just a few ““ hardly the city’s finest period of history, do we really want to go back there?

In fact it is rumoured that Barry Stockley, the Council Leader at the time of those Keystone Kops like incidents will stand in the election alongside the usual suspects against an official Labour candidate thus ending his long association with the party.

None of current crop of Labour councillors were in office at the time of the darkest days in our council’s history.

Please don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying vote Labour in this post.

As I have said in the past we will have a real choice of candidates in these elections ranging from mainstream parties, community councillors from the City Independent Group and Community Voice, and true Independents who seek to serve their communities and wards and to help make the areas in which they live a better place.

But we have a duty to vote for councillors who will make a real difference to the city.

By and large we will have a single councillor to represent the majority of wards across the city and we will be stuck with them for four whole years. If we vote in the wrong calibre of person we will be able to repent at leisure.

I therefore ask a genuine question.

Do we really want to vote in a group of individuals or are standing against a party, it’s rules and regulations [or the lack of them] and it’s candidates?

Do we genuinely care if this crew were thrown on the scrap heap for having a different ideology to that of the modern day Labour party?

Why should we the general public get embroiled in a war between factions when the likelihood is that it will be us that get caught in the crossfire whilst the two opposing sides will be battling it out?

Are we really bothered who is right and who is wrong in this dispute?

Activists fall out with their parties every day, just like in the case of Shaun Bennett. But the fundamental difference here is that Shaun has walked away and is standing for the City Independents. He hasn’t spat his dummy and is standing on an anti-Conservative agenda.

It has been said that the Community Voice group is made up largely of ex-Labourites and that’s true. But Community Voice have their own identity. They have their own set of political principles. They will seek election on a set of their own pledges. To their enormous credit they rejected a number of advances from this “Ëœoriginal Labour’ group because they did not want to go down the anti-Labour route why? – Because they have their own vision.

And what of the suggestion that the City labour Party have no agenda?

My understanding is that the Labour collective will have a very definite set of priorities, policies and pledges that will be communicated to the electorate during the election campaigns.

So in summary I find myself pleading with all communities to use their votes wisely.

The majority of us will be represented by a single councillor, we will be stuck with him or her for four long years, so let’s get the right ones in eh?

Whether you are far left, left, middle, right or god help us far right, let’s get people into the chamber who want to put communities ahead of their own personal vendetta’s.

We want people who will support, represent and help the elderly, the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society and we want councillors who are progressive and can improve the areas in which we live.

If I lived in a ward where there is an “Ëœoriginal Labour’ candidate standing I would be “Ëœnailing’ them to be open and transparent for their reasons on why they are seeking election. I would be “Ëœnailing’ them on what they intend to do to stand up for their ward. I would be nailing them to say what their priorities are.

And if one of them gave an answer which contained what the Labour Party did to them, or which rule it did not follow, or how the candidate selection was wrong, or why a certain candidate should not be standing ““ I would shut the door in their faces. Their leaflets would be flushed down the toilet so that it can meet the other sewage that lurks in the city’s drains.

No doubt my politics will be “Ëœnailed’ as a result of this article. I simply do not care. Anyone who reads my articles [10’s of thousands] and the people who know me personally [hundreds] know that I have socialist principles but when it comes to the local election, my family and I always vote for those who we think will best represent our community and who will do the most for the people who live in it.

Apart from the BNP and heaven forbid the England First Party that applies to pretty much any candidate.

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.