Ofsted and a political agenda

I have a mate who has taught at a FE College in the area for approaching 25 years. He is an excellent teacher who knows his subject- History extremely well. In fact it’s a subject of some annoyance to him that he has to spend a great deal of time addressing large gaps in the knowledge of the students such as pointing out where Germany is on a map before he can run a class on the First World War. He told me the other day that he is expecting the College to fail its inspection. One factor in the apparent down grading of the number of students leaving as a consequence of EMA being removed a consequence of coalition policy and little to do with any systemic failing in the college. Continue reading

Staffs Uni Hope To Avoid £9k Fees

Staffordshire University is the latest university to announce its plans for tuition fee rises from September 2012 onwards but is planning to avoid any £9,000 per year charges.

The government announced large cuts to the Higher Education budget last year, leaving Universities with a large blank in their income projections.

After a controversial vote sparking protests across the country, the government decided to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 per year to students to cover the costs.

Many universities have announced that they will be charging the full £9,000 per year – including neighbour university, Keele.

The plans must be approved by the Office of Fair Access before becoming official.

However, students will still be charged thousands of pounds more than current students who pay £3,290 per year.

The University has published the following proposals for its 2012 fees scheme:

 Full-time classroom-based degrees: £7,490 per year
 Full-time laboratory/studio-based and resource intensive degrees: £7,990 per year
 Nationally-leading degrees: £8,490 per year
 Two-year fast-track degrees: £8,890 per year
 Placement fee of £1,000 for the year spent in industry on a four-year sandwich course.

Nationally-leading degrees are ones for which Staffordshire University is recognised for its excellence. The examples the universities gives are Broadcast Journalism and Film and Technology courses.

Although the charges for the majority of courses may still be £7,490 or higher, the fees may help Staffordshire University appeal to more non-local students as a place to study, and Stoke-on-Trent as a place to live and possibly work during and after study.

According to The Sentinel, 80% of students will pay under £8,000 per year under the proposals.

“One of the strengths of this University is in providing courses which are relevant to a modern and rapidly changing world. Our graduates will leave us as knowledgeable, capable, skilled and highly employable individuals.”

Old Bill’s Almanack 2011

My “Baker’s dozen predictions for 2011.

I thought that I would stick my neck out and predict 13 events to occur in the area and looking a little further out national and international events for the New Year. As far as the last prediction as far as first contact with aliens during 2011 Paddy Power are offering 100-1. And if it does come to pass I will be having a pint of Vulcan beer in the “Final Frontier” pub next January 1st.

1. A comfortable majority will vote against the Sainsbury road proposals in Leek on a small turn out in the January referendum.

2. The Conservative led administration at SMDC will lose power in the May District Council elections.

3. The Foxlowe Community Arts venue plans will begin to come into fruition in 2011.

4. Unemployment will increase markedly in Leek during the year.

5. Fear of crime will increase following a major incident in Leek during the summer.

6. A financial scandal will shake confidence in the governance of the area in March.

7. Major civil unrest including riots in major cities in the UK will increase as unemployment rises towards 3 million by the autumn.

8. A leading Liberal Democrat member of the coalition will leave the Government and defect to the Labour Party in the autumn.

9. Pakistan will be subject to a military coup.

10. An environmental catastrophe will occur in China.

11. A major earthquake will hit California in June.

12. There will be a major terrorism event in a European City

13. Contact with an extra terrestrial civilisation will occur in September

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

More On The Cuts and The Apparent Insensitivity of The Council.

On Saturday, I was invited to hitch a ride aboard the Council’s Cuts Bus.

We met in Stoke, talked to some people, moved on to Fenton Manor and talked a deal more and the bus then headed up to Hanley [City Centre].

I was the only media there apart from a Sentinel photographer. Most of BBC Radio Stoke was on-strike over pensions. That’s the good thing about Pits n Pots and the hyper-local sites across the country, as we do our thing for nothing apart from the love of our City, we would turn up to the opening of an envelope!

I was keen to gauge the opinion of the public, not the politicians so much as I’m pretty sure I know where they are coming from.

The public really surprised me. They did not hit out at our local council, they did however, take a massive swipe at the coalition government.

Their opinions only served to reinforce my view that the Conservatives will face a backlash over these upcoming cuts. The Liberal Democrats face oblivion!

The council are saying that they need to realise budget savings of £33million, yet in an audio interview I did with the Cabinet Member for Resources Kieran Clarke he revealed that the cuts were likely to be in the region of £25million, and could be as much as £28million.

It begs the question and has prompted some scrutiny of why the council executive is advocating cuts £5-8million more than is actually required.

One answer could be; worst case scenario, the more politically astute among the city would suggest that this could be a PR exercise on behalf of the council executive.

If you listen to the audio with the members of the public it is obvious that there are some proposed closures that are simply not palatable to the folk in this city.

We are a caring city, Stokies look after the elderly, the young and the most vulnerable in our society. It’s inbuilt in every one of us [apart from people like Craig Pond and his ilk who only care if you are white!] It’s who we are!

So when the council save some of the Children’s Centre’s and protect some of the elderly care services earmarked for a reduction or possible closure, we have to be mindful that it is not an attempt to deflect our attention away from causes like Shelton & Tunstall pools, the closure of libraries or the City Farm.

It will be marketed as the “Ëœwe have listened’ budget but if we are not careful that £25-28million worth of cuts will be made by cutting the very things that give people of the city real enjoyment.

When it is put like “Ëœwhat do you prefer to see closed ““ The City Farm or a Sure Start Centre’? There is only one sensible answer.

But, on the other hand if there was no real need to close a Sure Start Centre as an example then that is a smokescreen and a very different matter indeed.

To some Potteye [Cllr Mike Barnes] and Community Voice are described as a “Ëœpain in the arse’ ““ they are often portrayed as troublemakers. But if they did not keep bringing these issues out into the fore we, the public would be none the wiser.

The question needs asking why there aren’t more councillors of all political persuasions asking pertinent questions and investigating those potential banana skins.

Then we have the massive own goal of the refurbishment of the first floor of the Civic Centre.

In the week where the council staff were told that up to 700 of them may lose their livelihoods, decking is laid to tart up an open space for the enjoyment of senior officers. It beggars belief!

Along with the need for biting cuts, the executive should and could have announced a moratorium of all unnecessary spend, whatever the project.

I have no doubts that some refurbishment and improvements are needed to certain sections of the Civic Centre, but are they really that desperate that even in these times of austerity, the CEO and senior politicians press ahead with the spending of a large amount of money to improve the working environment of the elite within the council.

I call on all group leaders to call for a halt in the refurbishment of the 1st floor to show the public of this city that cuts bite even at the top.

But more importantly it is essential out of respect to those workers who face the loss of their jobs that our council put a stop to all un-necessary spending.

Cameron’s Calamitous Coalition Cock Up Over Child Benefit

So, I guess I’m kind of lucky in so much that both of my kids are over 18. They’re still as messy as hell, but at least we have benefited from the Child Benefit system.

That Child Benefit came in really handy. Kids shoes are not cheap, neither are the endless supply of school uniform components damaged as a result of playground fun. Fact is we used the money for what it was intended for.

Under David Cameron’s ruling Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, if my kids were under 18 and qualified, I would lose my entitlement to Child Benefit.

Yes OK that means I have earned decent money in the past [not since the recession though!] but in return I have paid a lot of money to the state in terms of the various taxation and not least because I need a company car to do my job effectively, which believe me does not come cheap.

I also accept that there are individuals in our society who make a career choice in claiming benefits and boost their income by having 6 kids and enjoying a upward spiral in Child Benefit.

I can’t help but think that Cameron and Osborne have completely cocked this issue up and if this is the way all the cuts will be handled ““ god help us!

“As we pay down the deficit we have to ask better-off families, those with the broadest backs, to bear a fair share of the burden,”

“Saying that it is not right to go on paying a billion pounds of child benefits to families where there is a top-rate taxpayer, that seems to me a very important statement about fairness.”

Fair Mr Cameron? How is it fair when a mate of mine, a professional guy who has 3 kids and earns just over £43k per year loses his Child Benefit and a mutual friend of both of us who earns £40k a year and who’s wife earns £41k per year will carry on receiving Child Benefit for their 3 children and are doing very well on the back of it thank you very much!

Why was no consideration given to the COMBINED household income? Wouldn’t it have been fairer to cut it to families with an income of say over £50k per year?

Why didn’t the coalition government give consideration to capping the benefit at say a maximum of 3 children? Did they work out how much this would save as opposed to their cocked up plans to penalise middle income families and protecting high income families in the process?

Why are the Coalition Government continuing to pay EU migrant workers Child Benefit which is then sent back to their families back home to the cost of the UK taxpayer? Labour allowed this, the coalition is looking at what it can cut, why not cut this?

Labour got it very wrong when abolished the 10p tax bracket ““ this could be the ConDem equivalent!

A progressive society should always look after families who are living close to the breadline, the needy and the most vulnerable. That is a fundamental belief upon which our great nation was built.

But the way this cut has been handled and administrated is plain daft.

The Conservative/LibDem coalition has said it is committed to “Ëœsorting out’ what they call the benefit culture in our country. They want to get those who can work, back into work.

This is not the way to go about it. Retail jobs seem to be all that are available and are low paid. The Child Benefit is needed here to supplement a family’s income, no one has any issue with that.

Middle earners with a household income of up to £50k PA pay a lot into the system and receive very little out of it should not miss out too, in my opinion.

But, Cameron and Osborne have missed a golden opportunity to hit those that abuse the Child Benefit and use the benefit system as a career choice.

It is obscene frankly that a household with a combined income of some £85k can still draw Child Benefit.

How is all this fair Mr Cameron?

The Incredible Machine

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell explains how the civil service is coping with the coalition challenge, the government’s pace of change and reducing the deficit (first published in Public Servant magazine)

The past months ““ with a general election and a new coalition government ““ have posed significant challenges for the civil service. The months ahead will be similarly stretching, as we continue to support a coalition government addressing the current deficit and accelerating the reform of public services, including the civil service itself.

Prioritisation and planning have helped to ensure that the civil service has risen to these challenges. For the year running up to the election I emphasised the need to focus on two clear priorities. We needed to be ready, first, to support a newly elected government from day one and, second, to help that government reduce the fiscal deficit while protecting public services as much as possible.

This planning ““ across all departments ““ helped the civil service to support a smooth transition. We had to plan for a range of election outcomes, including those taking us into relatively uncharted territory, and this was, of course, exactly where we ended up. Thanks to clear guidance on dealing with hung parliaments and extensive scenario planning, we were able to support politicians quickly and effectively.

Civil servants provided essential practical support as the negotiations unfolded and a coalition agreement was reached. I am hugely proud of the way everyone stepped up during that momentous period. As the new Prime Minister asked: “Where else in the world can you see a transition to government be so smooth and so effective?”

Just as trust helped the two coalition parties agree a programme of government, so trust must continue to be reinforced as the government takes forward its ambitious agenda. Again, the civil service and its leaders have a key role to play.

Cabinet committees ““ chaired by a minister from one party, with a deputy from the other ““ are helping to ensure decisions are taken through proper processes and that trust is strengthened through open discussion.

Civil service leaders are also ensuring there is trust between ministers and the civil servants providing advice. In doing so, we are able to draw from our core civil service values ““ honesty, objectivity, impartiality and integrity ““ which were embedded in legislation for the first time as one of the final acts of the previous administration, with all-party support.

Of course, the real test for any government is what it achieves. The coalition agreement is an ambitious programme, and many have been surprised by the speed with which the government has taken forward significant measures ““ from the emergency Budget to constitutional reform.

The overriding priority is reducing the deficit. The coming spending review ““ the toughest for decades ““ will test all our leadership skills, requiring us to motivate the civil service behind the imperative of finding innovative ways of delivering services and enhancing efficiency, setting out clear choices for ministers. Permanent secretaries from major spending departments are meeting regularly to consider the biggest challenges to ensure we take a coherent and effective approach across all departments. The government has created an efficiency and reform group to give a strong central push to achieving efficiency savings. And I am chairing a new senior group focused on how fresh thinking from behavioural economics can help us to address policy issues in new ways at a time of limited resources.

Many of the best ideas will not come top-down from ministers and civil service leaders, but from the many hard-working and talented people at all levels of public services with excellent ideas on how we can work better and more efficiently. More than 60,000 suggestions for working more efficiently have now been submitted to the Spending Challenge website by people working in the public sector. We will need to identify the best of these and implement them, helping bottom-up innovation to deliver genuine change.

We know that some of the toughest changes are likely to affect the civil service itself, including on pay, pensions and compensation for redundancy. These changes will be hard felt by many civil servants. It is here that our skills as leaders will be most tested. We will need to ensure we communicate with openness and honesty, not ducking the tough messages, and ensuring people understand the difficult trade offs ““ for example between pay freezes now or greater job reductions later. We will also need to provide support and protection for the more vulnerable ““ including the lowest paid.

This will not be easy. But as leaders we have a responsibility to ensure that the civil service rises to all of these challenges. I have spoken often of my desire to lead an organisation full of pride, pace, passion and professionalism and I have seen these qualities in abundance over recent months. I see people with an enduring pride in what the civil service has to offer. Our challenge is to harness this passion. If we achieve this, I have no doubt that the civil service ““ this “incredible machine” as the Prime Minister called it ““ will emerge even stronger in the years ahead.

Stoke-n-Trent’s Newest Political Party “ËœCommunity Voice’ Launch

Stoke-on-Trent has a new political party ““ Community Voice.

Oh no! Not another one, some may say. Well this is an amalgamation of 2 existing groups, the Non-Aligned and The Potteries Alliance. So the net result is one group less in the council chamber.

Community Voice officially launched yesterday [Tuesday]. There were a number of people present including media, members of the public and former Labour Party members maybe looking for a new home.

The city’s latest political party will be represented in the chamber by 5 sitting councillors, Mick Salih, Peter Kent-Baguley, Mike Barnes, Pauline Joynson and Janine Bridges. They will instantly become the fourth largest group on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Community Voice’s main priority will be to scrutinise every decision made by the council’s ruling coalition led by the Labour Group and assisted by the Conservative & Independent Alliance, the Liberal Democrats and The City Independent Group, who between them have 47 of the 60 seats.

At next years “Ëœall out’ council elections, Community Voice is hoping to contest many of the 44 post Boundary Committee Review wards. They will target existing community activists who are currently serving their communities as volunteers.

The new kids in town have already commissioned a party website and adopted a new logo. They have published a draft policy document and set out their core aims and values.

The new party are claiming that they have a large number of people outside the council chamber who have expressed a desire to join.

There is no doubt that all five of this merry band of councillors are committed to making a difference. They set out their priorities at the launch and each spoke passionately about serving the communities that elected them before their duties in the council chamber. That said, they re-iterated commitment to the Overview & Scrutiny process.

The new group will also campaign to rid the city of the Leadership and Cabinet system of governance in favour of the “ËœEnhanced Committee’ model

Listen to the Audio Interview with Cllr Mick Salih below.

Watch the videos of the Community Voice members addressing the attendees at the official launch.

Community Voice – A New Political Party For The Electorate In Stoke-on-Trent

At last Community Voice launches as a new political force ““both in Stoke-on-Trent City Council and in communities all around Stoke-on-Trent.

Our logo represent six town, six communities working together for the benefit of all. Six different colours showing that diversity is no barrier to working together.

5 councillors and 22 members all in the space of 7 days, with many more expressions of interest.
Our movement has been born out of the void left by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Coalition and a leadership vacuum with no new ideas and no clear policies.

We are not an opposition but a new alternative.

We start with four simple but clear principles:

Community

Our primary principle that overrides all others is to support and represent the communities we live in or elected by, without interference from party or a party whip in any way.

Democracy

We endeavour to embed democracy, openness, honesty, transparency and accountability at our core within our party, as well as in the wider community and society. This shall be laid out in our policy document entitled “Democracy”.

Equality and Social Democracy

We commit to the principle that all people are equal without any form of discrimination, as well as the rights of all to receive support and services to live freely within their communities, without fear or poverty, minimising ill health and with the opportunity to fulfil their true potential.

Public Services

Public Services provided by government, locally, regionally and nationally, and services essential for living in modern society should be in the hands of the customers they serve, and subject to democracy and accountability to those customers. We are opposed to quangos in any shape or form and shall work to secure decisions about public services to democratic control and accountability.

These principles and the policy statements lay the foundation of an embryonic organisation, that will give great opportunity for every single one of its members to shape its future and what it stands for at our planned policy conference in October 2010.

Community Voice is new kind of politics for Stoke-on-Trent:

One that puts community first, before party loyalties or orders ““ embedded in our constitution.
One that respects individual members views
One that utilises our collective strength when we agree a way forward that well thought out policies through open debate.

One that is open and transparent with regular open meetings and minutes published on our website
The real Alternative to the Coalition
The five councillors, Salih, Joynson, Kent-Baguley, Bridges, Barnes, that have come together are well recognise for their abilities to question and scrutinise, as well as the determination to seek the truth and expose council secrecy and mismanagement.

They will build on their success in community campaigns that have made a real difference to the communities they represent and the City as a whole -getting rid of the Elect Mayor System, the Tunstall Northern Bypass, exposing the Britannia Stadium Sale Secrecy, exposing the vast amount spent on consultants”¦”¦”¦”¦

Intervention Ends For Children’s Services In Stoke-on-Trent

Central government has officially confirmed the end of intervention for children and young people’s services in Stoke-on-Trent.

In a letter to the leader of the city council, Councillor Mohammed Pervez, under secretary of state for children and families, Tim Loughton MP, says:

“There is clear commitment to and motivation for continual improvement in Stoke at officer level and I was also pleased to hear of the political support for the children’s services improvement agenda.”

“I hope that your officers will continue to work constructively and openly with my officials in the department on your developing plans and thinking around the school improvement agenda.

“On that understanding, I am writing formally to conclude the Department for Education’s intervention in Stoke-on-Trent children’s services.”

Commenting on the letter, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton, said:

“This official recognition that we are now of out intervention is testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone working across the range of services offered by the department.

“We are all aware that there is still a lot of work to do and Sharon Menghini and her new senior management team will be driving the improvements forward to ensure the good ground we’ve gained will be consolidated and built upon.

“As we know, there are tough challenges ahead but we are perfectly placed to be able to meet those challenges head on, with excellent, focussed staff making every effort to ensure the best outcomes for the children and young people of Stoke-on-Trent.”

The contractor Serco was appointed to provide the senior management team to run the department from April 2007, following central government intervention which rated children’s services as inadequate.

It’s About Trusting The Folks

By Public Servant Magazine

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles explains how the coalition government is setting out to rebalance power and make localism a reality

A friend of mine, a former Congressman from Wisconsin, once said: “If you don’t like the folks, don’t be in our business.” When politics becomes the preserve of people who are only interested in power, the political system starts to break down. That’s what we’ve seen in the past 13 years.

The previous government didn’t like the folks. It didn’t trust them. It always believed it knew best. It left local government toothless, community groups out in the cold and residents powerless to change anything.

The result was that voting rates plummeted, especially at local government elections. There’s no point in voting for someone who can’t change anything. There was no room for creativity or innovation in public services. You followed rules and ticked boxes. And the money followed the power, so London and the South East grew at the expense of everywhere else.

When people ask me about my priorities in government, I tell them we have three: localism, localism and localism. Because if you want to restore faith in politics, you make sure that local government is properly accountable to voters. If you want to rebuild a fragile national economy, you don’t strangle business with red tape and let bloated regional bodies make the decisions. If you want people to feel they have a stake in the future of their communities, you give them a say over what happens there.

So we are determined to rebalance power; wrest control away from bureaucrats, quangos and central departments and push it as far from Whitehall as possible. This is going to fundamentally change the nature of the constitution. It won’t be in a single action or law. It will be through dramatic actions and incremental changes. Localism is the principle that defines everything we do.

You might think all governments talk like this.
But we’re doing it. Already we’ve:
“¢ Made HIPS history and the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
“¢ Given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports that had huge backdated business rates hanging over them.
“¢ Scrapped top-down housing targets and regional spatial strategies. Soon I will be announcing the full list of incentives to local authorities that will encourage development.
“¢ Put an end to unwanted “garden grabbing”, putting decisions back in local hands.
“¢ Cut ring-fencing and red tape attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.

Everything the coalition changed has been about giving up control, restoring the balance of power. By the time the Localism Bill is introduced later this year, we’ll have made a start to localism becoming reality. The Bill will give voters more power over local government and local spending. It will free up local government from central control, and will continue to put the community in charge of how their area develops.

What does all of this mean for those working in local government? First, if localism is going to have an effect, local government has got to be ready to seize the opportunities coming your way. Don’t wait around for us to tell you what to do. Already there are a number of councils who are stepping up: Windsor and Maidenhead, Essex, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Kent, to name just a few. All councils need to follow their lead and flex their muscles.

Second, localism isn’t just about giving power back to local government. It’s not a tug of war between the two of us. It’s even more important that we push power onwards, closer to people. We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society.

There has never been a better time to be involved in local government. No one working in local government signed up to be told what to do for the rest of their lives by Whitehall. There is a real opportunity for councillors today to have far more fulfilling, rewarding careers; exercising genuine choice; changing the face of neighbourhoods.

We’ve set the scene for the most radical shake-up of power for a generation. Be in no doubt, the revolution starts here.