Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Me and my wife were saddened to receive a letter from Longton North Councillor Mark Davis last week informing us that he had decided to stand down as a councillor and will not contest the all out elections in May.

We have known Mark and his wife Jane for a few years and have worked with him on a number of projects in the ward in which we live.

Mark has always been a very hard working and committed councillor and many people who live in Longton North have benefited from his help and enthusiasm. He has been described as a warm and caring councillor who is always willing to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in.

Cllr Davis is one of three Labour Party councillors to serve the good folk of Longton North. He has worked alongside Cllr Tom Reynolds and current Lord Mayor Denver Tolley since Labour managed to gain a clean sweep for Labour with the defeat of the BNP a few years ago.

Mark is married to Jane Heggie who until recently was an integral part of Rob Flello MP’s constituency office.

People in Stoke-on-Trent are in no doubt as to the contribution that Jane and Tom Reynolds made to the running of Rob’s office and his victory at the last General Election in 2010.

Jane and Tom were made redundant by Rob Flello just after that election victory.

This came as a massive shock to Labour activists in Stoke-on-Trent South CLP.

Rob Flello made a number of redundancies in an organisational change that he puts down to the change enforced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority [IPSA] formed following the MP’s expense scandal.

The Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South still created two full time posts and I believe that he is currently advertising for a third.

Jane and Tom were forced to re-apply for the new posts and for some totally bizarre reason were deemed unsuitable for the new positions.

This decision has played no small part in Cllr Davis’s decision not to stand for election for the Labour Party this May.

I’ve massively enjoyed serving as your councillor, but so many things have changed for Jane and I in the last year or so that I’ve had to think long and hard about whether I want to stand for re-election this year.

Jane being made redundant after the General Election has made us reassess what we are doing and how we manage financially, and obviously, our little boy, Joseph, demands more and more of our time too. After a lot of thought and soul searching we’ve come to the conclusion that it is better if I don’t stand for Council, so that I can concentrate of growing my business ““ something I’ve neglected over the last few years.

Cllr Davis’s decision will mean the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council will have lost one of their most able councillors and someone who was tipped to go far in both the Council and the Labour Party. His decision is yet another by product of the MP’s decision to “Ëœreorganise, his office.

There is no doubt that Stoke-on-Trent South CLP has lost their mojo since Jane Heggie and Tom Reynolds were shown the door by Rob Flello MP. I say this with no disrespect to the new members of staff employed within the constituency office.

Stoke South Labour members are still perplexed and some are totally angry by the actions of the MP in this matter. Indeed a senior member who used to hold an executive position is now helping Tristram Hunt in Stoke Central as a result.

Jane and Tom used to represent Rob Flello at certain meetings. Now those meetings are attended by Rob’s partner who is a volunteer worker at his office.

I am told that campaign organisation is lacking and volunteers are not forthcoming. In short Stoke South has gone from leading the way to the “Ëœalso ran’s’ among the Labour movement in the City.

Anyone who questions why I have chosen this subject as a blog post, let me say this – I was and still am, appalled at the treatment received by Jane and Tom.

This country has just come through the worse recession in living memory.

Businesses have fought the banks that were reluctant to release funds to business. Company leaders have had to cope with a plummeting market place.

There have been many victims in this recession. Many hard working folk were dumped on the dole queue as companies folded under the strain.

I am an operational Managing Director who, with my group colleagues across the country, fought tooth and nail to keep our staff employed. We were aware of our responsibilities and that fact that our staff had families and mortgages to pay.

We got through it without making a single redundancy, which for a company that relies on the manufacturing sector, I am immensely proud of.

I have never hid the fact that I consider myself to be a socialist and to witness a Labour MP use the change in MP’s expense rules to making redundancies has left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Whilst I totally accept that Rob Flello MP acted within the law and did no wrong in relation to employment law, I have come to the conclusion that he must be a very different kind of socialist to me.

One party member said to me recently that he thought the actions in Stoke South over last summer brought socialism into disrepute.

It is a great testament to Jane and Tom that their involvement with the constituency Labour party continues and they remain committed to seeing a majority of Labour Councillors in the Council Chamber post election.

Those Labour benches will be missing one of their most capable however.

I wish Mark and his family all the very best for the future and on behalf of the good folk of Longton North, I say thank you for all your efforts.

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”

Budget proposal’s feedback events for Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet are taking to the streets of the city over the next two weeks to answer questions from local people on its budget proposals for 2011 to 2012.

The two weeks of events covering Local Centres, Markets, Shopping Centres and other local community facilities are part of a six week long consultation period to gather feedback on the Cabinet’s budget proposals.

The feedback fortnight will be launched on Saturday 6 November with a city wide bus tour. The bus will have cabinet members on board ready to answer questions on their budget proposals. The bus will stop at Stoke, Fenton, Hanley and Tunstall during the day.

“After the governments Comprehensive Spending Review announcement in October we are still left with a number of uncertainties. Despite these significant uncertainties we must proceed with our proposals in order to ensure we deliver an agreed legal budget in February 2011.

“Therefore we are during the coming weeks seeking feedback from the public, elected members, staff, partners, MP’s and businesses in the city. We are “Ëœall ears’ we want to know what people think and if they have any alternative better options than the menu we have presented in our proposals.

“While the responsibility for these reductions falls squarely on the government, we will have to deal with them in a measured way as far as possible. I have no doubt these cuts are going to be painful and extremely tough with some very difficult decisions to be made on competing priorities.”

“These proposals are the beginning of the budget process. We want to take the proposals out into the community to get feedback from our residents on what they think.

“Any feedback will be considered as part of the budget process I would ask people to take the time and talk to us; we are interested in their views and are here ready to listen.”

Anyone can ask a question or make a suggestion on the proposals by writing to “ËœLet’s Talk, Freepost, Our City (no stamp needed) or email letstalk@stoke.gov.uk or text “letstalk” to 07786 200700 with your message or use our on-line form at www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk.

Labour Leadership Debate – I Agree With Tom!

We are but a few weeks away from knowing who gets to lead the opposition against the wave of ConDem Coalition cuts that are heading our way.

I get a vote on the Labour Leadership election courtesy of my union membership and I must admit I have watched/listened/read everything put out by each of the 5 candidates.

I was trawling through some blog sites earlier and I came across Cllr Tom Reynolds site on it he revealed who he was supporting and why.

I have been edging toward Ed Miliband myself but I’m still considering who will get my second preference vote. I’m pretty sure it won’t be Ed Balls though.

As Tom’s thoughts kind of mirrored my own I thought it would be good to put it out there and ask Labour supporters, union members and other parties supporters who they thought should lead the Labour Party through the next phase of their history.

Here is Tom’s Blog:


This blog is a bit of a journey; in starting it I was completely undecided on who I would cast my vote for in the Labour Leadership Contest. I’ve trawled the websites of the runners and riders, watched the interviews and read their literature and, after much head-scratching I’ve reached a conclusion.

From my perspective the whole leadership contest has to some a large extent been defined by the absence of two names which I was desperate to see on the ballot paper. Alan Johnson ““ the union man with high-level cabinet experience who hardly faltered at the top (and on the occasions I have heard him speak he has been excellent); and Jon Cruddas ““ the media tagged “Ëœsenior backbencher’ with a fantastic policy pedigree and the perfect type of politics (everything I have read by JC in Compass has been spot on).

Alas, the ballot paper has five different names on it, all bringing their own unique flavour to the mix. One thing I can say is that the campaign has showcased our “Ëœbroad church’, and the genuine contest will mean a stronger party than that which followed Gordon’s coronation. So, turning to each of the candidates:

When you meet Andy Burnham he comes across as a genuine down to earth bloke with a passion for putting things right in society. I like some of the inclusive social policy he has come forward with, however he’s not come forward with much ““ only one post on his leadership blog. I like what he has said on trusting the party and being more inclusive in the policy making process, and he offers a much broader commitment to this than the other candidate’s elected party chair gesture.

A couple of concerns though. Firstly his media performance: like it or not a party leader must be able to stand up to a grilling. When I saw Andy on This Week (a fairly informal set up) he was mauled by Andrew Neil. How would he come across facing Paxo on Newsnight or Cameron over the dispatch box? Secondly, his campaign has been described as grassroots. If we’re honest it’s been barely visible because of lack of finance and manpower. If a leadership contender can’t inspire the support and donations to fight this battle, how will they engage the public in order to grow the Labour movement and build the electoral coalition we need to succeed in the next election?

Mrs Reynolds decided early on in the leadership campaign that she would be backing Ed Miliband. I wanted to be convinced, and must admit I have been taken with his approach to the economy (e.g. High Pay Commission, interventionist in industry) and his take on what people want from politicians ““ ideology and passion rather than just guff. That said I wonder if a milibandwagon has passed Ed’s campaign HQ? Denouncing the invasion of Iraq for instance (wasn’t EM a policy advisor to Tony Blair back then). Also I’m not keen on his pledge on gender balance for the shadow cabinet, although I admire the principle. The party should appoint people to posts based on skill and potential, rather than on arbitrary quotas. There are enough females of a high calibre in the Labour Movement that the new leader doesn’t need to be reminded they are there by having his/her own targets!

I’ve been very impressed by David Miliband’s campaigning machine. I’ve personally had three calls from his team, a leaflet and he is all over Twitter. Some of this is because of his huge financial backing, but then again two of the calls were from ordinary members of his own CLP that are giving backing to the campaign. Also, if people are donating to the campaign there must be a reason, inspirational leadership perhaps (see B Obama)? Having seen David speak on a couple of occasions though, he’s not blown me away. His policy priorities don’t get me excited either. There’s nothing I’d argue with: fair wages, building the new economy, a greener Britain, its just it all seems a bit cliché and there doesn’t seem to be much substance. All in all I think David would be a very capable leader but not necessarily an incredible one. He would manage the media, and take the battle to the ConDems, but would he inspire the reinvigoration of the Labour Movement and the nation?

I must admit I started out with a prejudice against Ed Balls. I know a lot of educationalists that haven’t a good word to say about his approach while Secretary of State. Also a lot has been said about the “Ëœbullying culture’ that allegedly characterised the latter days of Government, with Mr Balls being Gordon’s chief lieutenant. This is a culture which a revitalised Labour Party should be avoided like the plague.

Over the course of the leadership campaign, however, my perception of Ed Balls has changed entirely. He has been by far and away the best candidate at defending Labour’s record under attack from the new government. Further he’s not denied his key role in the New Labour project. His campaign has been articulated in unpretentious language which I like and he has in my opinion been strongest in the media, particularly in broadcasted interviews. He has got stuck in to his campaigns (watch out for Keep the Post Public), but aside from that his campaigns are similar to David Miliband’s ““ a little dry and “Ëœbitty’. Ed is a high calibre candidate but I’m not sure he provides the break with the past that we need.

Last but not least the final contender Diane Abbott. Its been refreshing to see Diane in the contest, not because she isn’t a white thirty-something man, but because she isn’t in the same mould of carbon copy politico’s that use a certain type of language and present their arguments in a certain type of way. She’s also put across some arguments that haven’t had the airing they deserve for some time. However I get the feeling she’s playing being controversial and trying to make that her USP. I really like her stance on immigration policy, trident and economy, but then again I find some of her policy banded under “ËœCivil Liberties’ unacceptable. I like the prospect of have a highly principled leader, but what happens when her principles are at odd with the will of the wider party? Will she bolt as she has done as an MP? Also I’d question whether someone is a principled politician when they argue against private education and then send their offspring to public school. Aside from that I can’t get past the fact she’s unelectable.

So cutting to the chase, after balancing everything up Ed Miliband will be getting my first preference and (surprising to me) Ed Balls the second.

Frankly, whoever wins the leadership has a massive task. Tony Blair aspired that while the Tory’s were the party of government in the twentieth century, Labour would be in the twenty-first. For that to happen we have to become a movement again rather than just a Westminster party. None of the policy initiatives or rhetoric coming forward from the candidates at the moment will make that transformation. It is an exciting, if worrying, time to be a member. From the new leader a party expects.

A New Look To Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group.

Following a meeting of the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council it has emerged that Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Burslem South] will continue as Group Leader.

Pervez saw off a challenge by Cllr Adrian Knapper [Berryhill & Hanley East] at last night’s AGM. Cllr Tom Reynolds [Longton North] is the new Deputy Leader. Cllr Sarah Hill [Fenton] is the new Group Whip.

Last nights meeting was the first since the election.

The Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent gained 12 Council seats to boost their ranks from 14 to 26 Councillors. They are now the biggest Group on the Council by a considerable margin.

The City Independent Group have 11 Councillors, The Conservative & Independent Alliance have 7, the British National Party have 5, the Liberal Democrats have 4. There are currently 3 non-aligned councillors, but one of them, Cllr Mike Barnes is expected to join the Non-Aligned Group who have 2 councillors following the defeat of Alan Joynson. There is one Libertarian Councillor. Stoke-on-Trent City Council Stoke-on-Trent  Central Constituency Labour Party will hold an AGM in the next few weeks to elect new officers following some high profile resignations.

The Regional Officers had declared the pre-election AGM null and void. Sources indicate that there will be no shortage of willing volunteers now that the Labour Group have swelled the number of their councillors in the Central Constituency from 2 to 8.

Newly elected Labour Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt has also stated publicly that he wants to unite the constituency and to bring ex members back to the fold.

The Names In The Frame – But Beware Of Who Comes Up On The Rails!

Now that the dust is settling on the news that Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Mark Fisher is to step down on health grounds, names are emerging thick and fast for the vacancy

As previously reported on this site City Labour Party Chair Sarah Hill and Election Organiser Jane Heggie were the first names to be linked.

I can reveal that other names that have been linked with the vacancy include Labour Councillors Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper.

Another name to be linked is that of Alison Wedgwood, a Labour Party Member and wife of Tom Wedgwood.

Gary Elsby is desperate to be a candidate after 30 years dedicated loyal service to the Labour Party. His timely removal from the parliamentary list has thrown his candidature into serious doubt. He is committed to standing as an MP in the area he has served for many years. It is rumoured that he has the support of a large section of the membership in the constituency. The sad fact is he may have to step outside of his beloved party to achieve this. I think he is totally prepared to do this.

Alison Wedgwood is rather an unknown quantity. She was in Stoke-on-Trent South for a time and is now a member of Stoke-on-Trent Central. My information would lead me to believe that she is not that active a member and does not attend many meetings.

Adrian Knapper is based in Nantwich which will not be a problem for him as far as being a Labour PPC but there are members who question whether he should be allowed to stand as a City Councillor. I don’t think it makes a difference where he lives as long as he’s able to cope with the workload. Some people in Stoke Central are against him because of his time in the EMB and his support for the policies of the previous Elected Mayor. I think people underestimate Adrian, he is ambitious and committed and his suggestion that the long service of Mark Fisher be recognised by the City is both honourable and credible.

Tom Reynolds is a guy I have had a lot of contact with. He is a councillor for the ward in which I live and we have worked together on issues like anti-social behaviour and schools/BSF. Tom is always accessible. He is compassionate and caring and has strong but progressive Labour values. He is extremely well liked in our ward and I think he would make a very capable and hard working MP. He is a guy who has a strong social conscious and would work tirelessly for his constituency. Whether Labour members in Stoke Central hold the same view is an entirely different matter. He would no doubt, through his association with Rob Flello MP, be viewed as one of ‘those West Midlands’ crowd.

Wouldn’t it be positive if all those who have expressed an interest in standing shared their vision for Stoke-on-Trent Central with us through this site. We would welcome their involvement even if they chose to contribute without allowing people to comment on their submissions.

There are also names from outside of the City being linked to this Labour safe seat

The selection criteria is expected to be announced on Friday and it is rumoured that there will be an eventual shortlist of 80% women and 20% men which could mean that by the time the Special Selection Panel, the NEC and the Regional Office have finished with the cull of names, the rank and file membership could be left with the choice of just 4 females and 1 male candidates.

The Labour Party have to act quickly and decisively on this issue. They have to show some sympathy for the views and opinions of the rank and file members in Stoke Central. Why not try and claw some form of respectability back and allow their ‘preferred’ candidates to go up against those that are wanted by core members and work on the old adage of best man/woman wins.

I admit that I would find the prospect of a hustings where Sarah Hill, Jane Heggie, Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper went up against the likes of Gary Elsby on a stage answering the same questions in the same pressurised environment.

I have a lot of time for both Tom Reynolds and Gary Elsby and would love to see them go head to head in a hustings. Both love the Labour Party, but both have perhaps a different starting point. Both their own men, Tom the new kid on the block and Gary who has waited for his chance since the early 80’s when he joined the party around the same time as I did.

How intriguing would it be to see Sarah Hill and Jane Heggie vying for the same votes when they both have a similar outlook on the Labour Party, where it is today and which direction it needs to travel in next.

The danger for Labour though is that they are so focused on themselves and their own ambitions that they are in mortal danger of allowing a runner to come up through the pack on the rails.

Whilst Labour are busy jockeying for position, the Conservatives are mounting a confident campaign. Norsheen Bhatti is no also ran. She has the backing of an assured campaigning team and the reports I am getting is that she is getting a very positive reaction.

Another Independent candidate is about to enter the fray in the guise of the Deputy Leader of the City Council, Brian Ward. He is a thoroughly nice guy and a confident speaker who’s key skill is the ability to interact with the electorate. I think he has a real chance of polling very well. Constituents in Blurton speak very highly of him and that appeal could transfer over to Abbey Hulton, Bucknall and Bentilee which are similar areas of social housing.

Of course the far right vote is heading for a split. Alby Walker who is enormously popular in Abbey Green and has a City wide profile will surely take votes off the BNP PPC Simon Darby. Darby disappointed some of the electorate with his no show at the YMCA organised Youth Hustings last week. He also missed a massive opportunity to engage with the young and first time voters. Just how many entrances are there to the Victoria Hall? If only he had contacted the organisers he could have escaped the few protesters that had gathered to greet him.

The Lib Dems will just plod and have no real chance in my opinion. They will mount a very low key campaign that will lack the flash, bang, wallop, needed to make a real impact.

Paul Breeze who failed to retain the Mayoral system when he campaigned against Mike Barnes and Democracy4Stoke is also standing as an Independent.

Matthew Wright is the Candidate for The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

There will also be a candidate from the National Front who will serve only to fragment the far right vote even further.

Interesting times I’m sure you will agree…..

Budget Day Exasperation

I am sitting at my computer finally having calmed down after Thursday’s budget setting council.

My incandescent rage that has slowly extinguished throughout the evening was sparked by the absolutely diabolical proceedings in the chamber this afternoon. To be honest my anger with the performance of many of my colleagues from the other council groups is unlikely to go away for a good while.

Thursday’s was always going to be an incredibly important meeting. The 2010/11 budget has been set not only economically difficult times, it comes at the end of a year of financial turmoil for Stoke-on-Trent City Council. The Tory/LibDem/Indy’s budget proposals fell way short of the mark in terms of offering answers to the city’s needs. In fact the proposals contained no investment in any area of the council at all. The only thing put on the table when the budget setting process started was cuts, cuts and more cuts.

In yet the Tories and their patsies around the chamber, including the BNP claimed it was the most inclusive budget setting process ever. Rubbish. Labour’s budget consultation two years ago included a communication with every household in the city requesting participation. No, this year’s “Ëœconsultation’ documents and events were merely an attempt to massage the egos of the more gullible in the council chamber. How is being asked to pick between this cut or that cut a genuine consultation? It’s like being asked to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. Nor did the exercise ask members to identify priority areas to improve service or if they had alternatives for savings.

So that is exactly what we on the Labour Group did do in our amendment proposals. Keeping the figures balanced we laid out in a positive way priority areas we believe the council should invest in and improve ““ in tune with people in our communities. Further, we identified where the money for our investments were coming from. Our proposals included:
· Maintaining the Stoke-Speaks-Out Budget in order to preserve a gold standard service for many children in the city
· Investing an extra £100k in improving Dementia services
· Investing an extra £500k to tackle antisocial behaviour
· Using £1 million from the unnecessarily large dedicated reserve for insurance to fund 100 new apprenticeships across the City Council. Using taxpayers money to create jobs and valuable training experiences for local young people
· Saving £400k from the £7.7 million per year spent on outside consultants
· Saving £150k from the corporate communications budget by creating a more efficient and joined up operation
· Saving £150k from the management costs in NSRP, a service which has underperformed despite generous funding.

Despite the fact that several councillors from the other parties conceded that we had good ideas they shouted us down for “Ëœpolitical grandstanding’- we should have brought up our proposals outside the chamber according to them. I query whether there is any point in having a budget council if it is just to nod through the executive’s proposals with no alternatives or proper debate.

Nobody on the other benches actually gave a passing mention during the amendment “Ëœdebate’ to the actual content of our proposals. They chortled away when we talked about saving Stoke-speaks-out, chatted amongst them selves when we argued for investment to tackle the ASB that makes people’s lives a misery, they jeered when we put forward plans to employee young people and were belligerent when we said how we would pay for it all. I can only put this despicable behaviour down to the fact it was a Labour putting forward these ideas.

I put it to Messrs Clarke, Ward, and Irving, not forgetting Messrs Salih, Coleman and Ibbs, that it was they and not us who were playing petit politics on budget day. It was them voting against an amendment because of who proposed it over and above any ideological or practical consideration. Because of them and their cronies the city will be a poorer place as long as the 2010/11 budget is in place.

There was only one non-labour Councillor I retained full respect for Thursday and that was Gavin Webb. We never agree, he is a libertarian and I am a socialist. But he had the decency to give libertarian arguments for his position today and for that full respect.

Apologies for this stream of consciousness, I’m just very angry. I promised @bankyfields a blog on regeneration soon – I will get round to it in the near future.