City Farm: A Tale of Council Failure

If Stoke-on-Trent City Farm in Bucknall had been an animal, the RSPCA would have turned up long ago, taken it into care, and prosecuted its owner for cruelty and neglect.

Don’t get me wrong, the staff at the farm have been excellent, both in looking after the animals and welcoming visitors to the facility. Thousands upon thousands of children, parents and grandparents have enjoyed this popular visitor attraction over many, many years.

In the summer of 2010 a national newspaper, The Guardian, placed it in their top 10 places to visit with children, describing it as a “gem”. Here what it had to say:


Poor old Stoke does not get into many top tens but in their city farm they have a real treasure. Tucked into the south-east corner of Bucknall Park, the farm is home to llamas, kune kune pigs, chipmunks and a glorious sweep of domestic fauna. There’s also a sensory garden to thrill and tantalise all five senses. For afters, Bucknall Park has a children’s playground and, in the summer, a cafe too.

The Council Leader, Pervez, would have us believe that its closure is down to the governments severe cuts in finance. Anybody that has observed or been involved in recent years with the City Farm will know that its demise is at best a case of indifferent carelessness, or at worst a deliberate, lengthy painful cull ““ starved until it could survive no more.

Regeneration has been a top priority within Stoke-on-Trent with varying degrees of success and failure. However, this obsession with regeneration must not blind us nor lead us to neglect the treasures we already possess.

Take a good look around our neighborhoods, our towns and our City. Long gone is that smokey, choking caldron of industry. In its place greenery, open spaces and our majestic plethora of Victorian Parks. Shouldn’t this be at the very core of our regeneration efforts, instead of being seen as an expensive and not needed luxury?

Far too much of the momentum for regeneration in Stoke-on-Trent is based on “demolish the past ““ build the new”. Surely good sustainable regeneration is about taking what best from the past and putting it to a sustainable, modern, relevant purpose.

In early 2008 City Farm was threatened with Closure ““ the Save Dimensions campaign was gaining strength.

A Friends of the Farm group was set up ““ a new one every year since ““ and the ward councillors paid for a consultants report to establish a sunstainable way forward for the City Farm.

In 2008 £10k from the ward budget of Cllr Adrian Knapper, Rita Dale and John Davis employed consultants from the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens to come up with recommendations aimed at keeping the facility open, enhancing it and making it a viable sustainable enterprise.

Yet this expensive and valuable report went nowhere.

Two draft reports meant for Mark Meredith’s EMB, with current Cabinet member Debra Gratton’s name on them, were blocked and never saw the light of day. The ward councillors appear to have forgotten about the report.

In essence, City Farm should have and could have been put on the road to self sustainability, and keep well out of the way of this year’s unfortunate cuts.

Instead it has now closed.

Our strategic management of this park and farm appears to have been non-existent ““ the only thing they have tried to do from an officer perspective is either close it or move it.

City Farm is not closing because of the Coalition Government cuts. It is not closing because the council has got to make savings. It is not closing because of lack of visitors or poor staffing.

It is closing because Council management have wanted it shut for years, and the three ward councillors FAILED to follow up on their initial investment of £10,000 on a consultants report. Public they spent and then wasted.

Pervez and many of his Cabinet were in senior positions in 2008 and since that should have and could have preserved the City Farm ““ so stop blaming the Coalition Government.

For me the blame clearly lies with the three ward councillors ““ Knapper, Dale, J. Davis ““ Pervez (Deputy Elected Mayor in 2008) and Debra Gratton.

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.

Planning go-ahead for ‘Discovery’ city academy

The news has been welcomed by the cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton.

“This gives the green light for the new Discovery Academy to be built and closes another chapter in the BSF story in the city. This new academy will provide first class facilities replacing two high schools and will also act as a hub for community use by people wanting to access the facilities available out of school hours. With the start of development at REACH at Trent Vale, parents, pupils and staff are now starting to see a real difference in the educational landscape in the city.”

Work on the new school, which will replace Mitchell and Edensor High Schools, will begin on site at the in Lauder Place North, Bentilee in September this year and the first pupils are set to move into the new buildings in September 2013.

Funding For Youth Projects In Stoke-on-Trent

Youth organisations across Stoke-on-Trent are being urged to apply for funding which could be used to help buy new equipment or refurbish buildings.

The cash is made available through the government’s Youth Opportunities Fund and Youth Capital Funding. The maximum amount available to individual groups is £15,000.

“This funding can be used for a range of activities from helping to organise local events for young people to painting and decorating existing buildings and helping to buy new equipment. I recommend anyone running youth activities in the city to look at an application form to see if they might be able to take advantage of this opportunity which could help their projects.”

Those applying for funding over £1,000 will be asked to attend an interview if their application is successful.

Applications forms can be downloaded from www.stoke.gov.uk/uth, by contacting louisea.cooke@stoke.gov.uk or by telephoning 07900 135739 during office hours. Applications must be submitted by 4pm on February 21.

Stoke-on-Trent Children’s services continue to improve

The latest independent Ofsted report “ËœChildren’s Services Assessment 2010′ has shown that Stoke-on-Trent City Council continues to make a number of significant improvements to its children and young people’s services.

The report states “Ëœhalf of services in Stoke-on-Trent inspected by Ofsted are good or better and very few are inadequate’. The report continues”¦’a recent unannounced inspection of front-line child protection services found a balance of strengths and areas for development and no priority actions.’

The report also found that National Performance measures show the large majority of outcomes are in line with the averages for England or similar areas.

The findings are part of the annual performance assessment (APA) which measures the quality of services and outcomes for children and young people in the local area.

“We have worked hard over the past 12 months to continue to improve our services for children and young people and it is great to see this recognised in the report.

“The council has retained its “Ëœadequate’ rating for the second year running that is a good achievement. While the report highlights areas for development it also shows some very positive signs of improvement. We have improved performance of children at the end of their reception year, there is a significant reduction in the number of children not in education, work or training and our provisional figures for 2010 show that educational standards at age 16 have continued to improve.

“In my view it is a balanced report that gives us a clear message on the areas we are doing well and highlights areas for improvement. We are very ambitious and want to raise the aspirations of all our young people in the city so we will be striving harder than ever to offer more opportunities for their future”

The report details outcomes for children and young people stating lifestyles are supported generally well and health outcomes are in line with those in similar areas or found nationally. However obesity rates are higher but participation in high quality physical activity and sport has continued to rise.

Arrangements for keeping children and young people safe are good with the majority of indicators in line with national performance. Anti-social behaviour has reduced along with permanent exclusions and levels of re-offending.

The full report can be viewed at www.ofsted.gov.uk/oxcare_providers/la_download/(id)/6008/(as)/CAR/car_2010_861.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke-on-Trent Council Coy About Redundancy Costs!

From Community Voice:

Local authorities are warning the government that its own rules mean some councils will struggle to pay for the redundancies that spending cuts are forcing them to make.

In Stoke-on-Trent, the City Council Cabinet were recently questioned by backbench councillors on redundancy costs. Cllr Debra Gratton responded that redundancy cost had been built into the budget proposals announced by Labour Council Leader, Mohammed Pervez. However, on closer inspection, the report put forward contains no reference to the source of the redundancy payments.

Yet, following investigations, Community Voice can exclusively reveal that the costs of redundancies have not been included in any figures or reports released by the council on the budget for 2011/12.

We can also reveal that the estimated bill for the proposed redundancies is estimated by the council at between £4m and £5m.

In normal circumstances Stoke-on-Trent like all other councils, would use its reserves or capital monies to fund redundancy payments, however, as with most councils, these sources are already stretched to the limits.

This leaves the City Council and many other Local Authorities with two options if it is to go ahead with redundancies:

1.Increase the cuts to cover payments
2.Borrow the money
This is made all the more difficult in that council need permission from Government to borrow and this has be all but stopped for the financial year 2011/12.

What we can now exclusively reveal is that Stoke-on-Trent City Council, to get round these restriction, has already requested the government to let them borrow £4m+ in THIS financial year. This has been done without any form of consultation with councillors or any publicly recorded decision being made.

“The level of cuts and the uncertainty that this government has placed on Councils at the moment is making things really difficult, but it baffles me that the government should impliment cuts to deal with our level of debt and we have to borrow more to deal with the consequences. We are trying to work as hard as we can with the officers, cabinet and other councillors to deal with the issues, but I have to say I am very disappointed that the Cabinet could not be as open as it should be about the potential redundancy costs.

It not good enough for Cllr Gratton to say that redundancy is covered in the budget proposals, as clearly someone is making decisions without proper discussions, which could have an enormous impact on the outcome of the final budget. There is a risk that the government says “no” ““ what then?

I appreciate that many councils are in the same situation but how can all councillors get their heads around all of the issues so that any cuts are fair and proper if we only get half the facts? Why not just be upfront about it all?”

In summary, the city council like all councils are struggling with the government’s spending review, and has to consider many unpalatible options and decisions. However, with the issue of redundancies it has been far from open and transparent, about decisions it appear to have already made in requests to government, and giving all councillors and the public a heads up on what this could mean should it go one way or another.

Children’s Centres Raise Funds For Children In Need

Face painting, treasure hunts and Teddy Bears picnics are just some of the activities taking place at children’s centres across Stoke-on-Trent to raise funds for Children in Need this coming Friday ( November 19th).

There will also be a series of Pudsey-themed fun activities for parents and children and members of staff will also get into the spirit of the day by dressing up in clothes with spots!

“Our children’s centres are always great supporters of Children in Need and getting families to take part in a variety of exciting and imaginative activities combines raising cash for a good cause while having enormous fun at the same time.”

A list of activities taking place at some of the city’s children’s centres is attached.

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”

Stoke-on-Trent GCSE results show “Ëœgiant improvements’

GCSE results in Stoke-on-Trent have shown “Ëœgiant improvements’ compared to other areas of the country.

Early indications from the Department for Education show the number of city pupils achieving five or more A*-C grades including maths and English rose by 8.6 per cent this summer. The figure puts Stoke-on-Trent City Council joint eighth out of 151 authorities in the country in terms of improvement. It means the city is 3.5 per cent higher than the England average for improvement, and that the council has improved at a higher level than any of the 10 authorities that are most similar to Stoke-on-Trent.

“This is a fabulous achievement, and one that the whole city can feel proud of. Very positive recent improvements have been made year-on-year to GCSE attainment and this year’s results show an exceptional increase.

“This is down to the hard work of pupils, the dedication of teachers and their support staff, and the support of parents and carers.

“The challenge now is to keep the improvements coming. We know that the city is adrift of the national average in terms of actual GCSE attainment levels, and we want to work to surpass this average. It will be a significant challenge to do this, but one that can be achieved with continued hard work.”

“ËœStatistical First Release’ figures from the Department for Education show that 48 per cent of Stoke-on-Trent pupils received five or more A*-C GCSEs including maths and English. In 2009, the figure was 39.4 per cent, and it is the third straight year that the authority has improved its attainment.

The national average is 54.9 per cent. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has improved at a higher level than all 10 similar authorities ““ Doncaster, North East Lincolnshire, Middlesborough, Wakefield, Kingston upon Hull, Redcar and Cleveland, Tameside, Rotherham, Hartlepool and Barnsley.

Validated figures from the Department for Education are expected in January.