Children’s Scrutiny Chair Slams Council Report and Demands Urgent Meeting

The Chair of the Children’s & Young Peoples Overview & Scrutiny meeting Cllr Dave Conway slammed the quality of a Council report and demanded that officers present a more comprehensive and up to date document before the Cabinet meet on 25th August.

His outburst came after it was revealed that the Children’s Centres attendance figures used in the report to members of the C&YPS committee were inaccurate and substantially out of date.

It was also revealed that the £2.25million worth of cuts, which equates to 30% of the Children’s Centres income, had already been removed from the budget.

There was also confusion over staffing levels due to the way the report was written which also drew criticism from the committee chair.

The Cabinet Member with responsibility for C&YPS, Cllr Debra Gratton reminded the committee that the recent statutory public consultation was not about the £2.25million of cuts as that had already been decided and agreed by the Council executive. It was about the services and facilities that would be on offer at the Children’s Centres in the future.

The Director of Children & Young People Services told the members of the scrutiny meeting that a reduction in staff and services at the city’s children’s centres could not be avoided due to the massive reduction in her departmental budget. She told the meeting that the Children’s Centres used to offer a Rolls Royce of a service but had had to reduce the level of service provided to the equivalent of a lesser model as a result of the necessity to save £12.6milion across her department. She said that she, the assistant directors and the managers had used a RAG rating system to identity the possible savings. It had been their priority to protect the Safeguarding Children side of the department.

Both the Cabinet Member and Departmental Director reminded the committee that no officer or politician found making these cuts easy or in the least bit palatable, but there was no alternative.

Committee Chair Cllr Dave Conway revealed that following his extensive research he had established that any Children’s Centre that was closed would be subject to a financial claw back by central government of around £1million per site. He interrogated the officers to whether this had played a role in the retention of the 7 Children’s Centres originally earmarked for closure.

Cllr Conway speculated whether the Labour Party had really saved the Children’s Centre’s due to the depth of public feeling or the fact that Central Government would get to claw back much more than was potentially being saved by this reorganisation.

Cllr Conway proposed that the report presented be rejected and a more comprehensive document, including accurate and up to date figures along with extensive feedback from the recent consultation, be presented to a specially arranged meeting of the C&YPS. This must be before the Cabinet meet on the 25th August to make a decision on the reorganisation of the children’s centres.

The committee agreed with the proposal.

It was also bad news for Children in school who were deaf or had severe hearing impairment.

Despite an ePetition with 588 signatures calling on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to reverse these cuts, protect services for deaf children and ensure all deaf children in Stoke on Trent have a fair chance to achieve, the Director of C&YPS and her officers revealed that the cuts to staffing had already been implemented.

Cllr Alistair Watson told the meeting that he had calculated that there would be around a 50% reduction in staffing.

C&YPS officers assured the committee members that support for deaf children would not been adversely affected and would include:

The support comes from:-

Teachers of the deaf with specialist qualifications – There are 5 qualified teachers of the deaf (June 2011), a reduction of 2 since April 2010.

Communication Support Workers – Numbers vary according to need but all hold additional qualifications such as British Sign Language and speech and language (currently 8 in post).

Audiology – One of the teachers of the deaf will qualify as an audiologist in 2011.

After the meeting I managed to catch up with the Chair of the C&YPS Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Dave Conway.

Listen to the Audio Interview below.

Stoke-on-Trent House Prices Cheapest in England

The average house price in Stoke-on-Trent is the lowest in the country according to figures released by the Land Registry at the end of May 2011.

According to the latest figures the average price of a house in the city is £73,733.

This figure shows average price has reduced by 3.8% over the last month and contributes to an annual reduction of 4.7% to date.

Nationally the average house price is £163,083, a rise of 0.8% over the month but a year to date reduction of 1.3%.

Kingston upon Hull used to have the cheapest average house price but a monthly rise of 0.9%, which equates to an average price of £73,825, has lifted them above Stoke-on-Trent.

Wales has the lowest average house prices.

Merthyr Tydfil has an average of just £69,173 and in Blaenau Gwent it is £72,872.

For Stoke-on-Trent’s neighbours, house sellers have better news.

Staffordshire’s average house price is £134,460 whilst in Shropshire it is £164,347.

House sales are in decline across the country. Sales between November 2010 and February 2011 fell to an average of 46,818 units sold per month. The same period last year saw the number of units sold at 54,479.

There was good news for people who owned properties worth over £1million.

There was a rise of 14% for properties sold over the million pound bracket in England and Wales.

Those looking to sell properties at the lower end of the market were also fairing well with a rise of 22% in sales in units worth below £50,000.

The worse effected is the “Ëœsqueezed middle ground’, properties worth between £50,000 and £200,000 all witnessed reductions in the number of units sold of around 5-6%.

Sales of properties worth between £200,000 and £250,000 were the worse effected with a massive reduction of 18% in the number of units sold.

Stoke-on-Trent residents have been quick to criticise the lack of regeneration in the city for the low house prices.

Dan Heath, aged 34, who owns a property in the city said:

”The news that Stoke has the lowest average house price in the country comes as no surprise to me.

“I used to live in the centre of Burslem and when you look at areas like Middleport that have been blighted by the council’s bulldozers, it can only have a detrimental effect on house prices in the area”.

Paul Holmes, aged 39, owns a property in Bucknall.

”The area that I live is quite nice but the City has a bad reputation.

“There has been no regeneration. We have no decent amenities and the shopping centre in Hanley is less than useless”.

“If my family want to go shopping for the day we go to Trafford Centre or Cheshire Oaks because at least we can finish the day off in a family friendly chain restaurant like Nando’s, Pizza Express, Bella Italia or somewhere like that”.

“Until Stoke has something that attracts people in instead of encouraging them out, the house prices will only go one way – down!”.

Clare Martin, aged 36, lives with her partner Gary in Weston Coyney.

”The council need to start delivering on what they have promised for years.

“That East West project in Hanley is essential to Stoke becoming an attractive place to visit.

“We miss out on so much in this city it is untrue.

“The politicians and especially our MPs need to get their fingers out and work together to rebuild the run down areas in the City which do nothing but bring the house prices down.

“It’s no good folk moving here to take advantage of the low house prices when there is nothing to do in your spare time and the council are closing all the decent pools and the city farm.

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.

NSAC Challenge Councillors To Oppose Sackings & Cuts

A community protest group is calling on local councillors in North Staffordshire to voice their opposition to cuts of around £40million which will ultimately lead to hundreds of public sector jobs cuts.

North Staffs Against Cuts is working in conjunction with North Staffs Trade Union Council.

Together they are campaigning against any cut, or the loss of a single job and the withdrawal of any benefit. They believe that the banking industry should be held accountable for the financial crisis that brought the severest recession in living history.

They are calling for all elected representatives in the area to acknowledge their duty to protect the interests of the people who they serve.

”Instead of councillors sitting in rooms planning out who they can sack and what they can cut, close or privatise, shouldn’t they be spending their time building opposition to these cuts which will have a devastating impact on ordinary people across our area?

North Staffs Against Cuts will be planning how to build massive opposition against all cuts at our conference on Wednesday 26 January.”

The conference is organised by North Staffs Against Cuts (NSAC)and will be held at the Forum Theatre, Hanley Museum, on Wednesday 26th January commencing at 7pm.

The organisers have invited speakers from various local anti-cuts groups and trade unions and invite everyone who is opposed to the cuts, job losses and alterations to the benefit system to attend.

Stoke-on-Trent’s Let’s Talk Consultation Results Published

The residents of Stoke-on-Trent are most concerned about the future of children’s centres, according to the city council’s Let’s Talk consultation.

Other areas of concern were the shop mobility service, Shelton pool, Meir community centre and Tunstall pool.
Almost 1,000 comments were received during the six week campaign which was launched by council leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez on November 1. The comments will be considered by the Cabinet before final decisions are made about the budget next year.

It included sending a leaflet to all homes; many community meetings; an Ask the Leader day and a live web question and answer session with the Leader.

[Cllr Mohammed Pervez said]”This extensive consultation has given our residents the chance to tell us what they consider to be most important to them”
“We will look carefully at all the comments but we need to be perfectly clear: the government’s financial settlement for the city is the worst in living memory. Tough choices will need to be made. We have very little room to manoeuvre given the extent of these government cuts “[/quote]

The top eight results are:

1 Children’s Centres (141 responses/15pc)
2 Shopmobility (76/8pc)
3 Meir Community Centre (66/7pc)
4 Shelton Pool (48/5pc):
5 Tunstall Pool (36/4pc)
5 Keep Library Services (36/4pc):
5 Etruria Ind Museum/Ford Green Hall (36/4pc)
8 Stanley Head (30/3pc).

Further details on the consultation are available at www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk.

Pre-Council Meeting Demo ““ A Peaceful Protest

A peaceful protest outside the Civic Centre in Stoke yesterday was a far cry from the scenes witnessed in London.

A group of about 60 turned out in support of the Save Our Children’s Centres group who were protesting at the councils proposals to close 7 of the 16 centres which could potentially realise a saving of £750,000 to the Local Authority.

Over 200 hundred staff have already been told whether their posts have been “Ëœsaved’, “Ëœpooled’ or indeed “Ëœdeleted’ should the council choose to proceed with the proposals.

Council chiefs still insist that no final decisions have been made and that a city wide consultation is still on-going. The final outcome will not be known until the council learn the true extent in the cuts in funding handed down from central government following their recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

Roy Naylor, the former City Independent Councillor now Non-Aligned, is fighting the Group’s cause within the civic and was in attendance to lend his support at the protest yesterday [Thursday]. He gave us an Audio Interview which can be heard below this article.

Millissa Beydilli from Blurton is the Leader of the Save Our Children Centres Campaign explained why it is vital that these centres are saved from closure and how they have been a lifeline for so many families across the city’s communities. Listen to the Audio Interview below.
Council Leader Cllr Mohammed Pervez met with the campaigners along with several cabinet members and received a 6,500 strong petition against the closure proposals.

There was also a small group of students protesting outside the Civic. They were expressing their opposition to the rise in tuition fees and against cuts in services generally.

The North Staffs Pensioners Convention were also in attendance protesting against any cuts which will impact upon the elderly.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Issue Statement Over Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have tonight issued a statement form Leader Mohammed Pervez which clarifies their positions on the future of the City’s Children Centres.

It follows the Pits n Pots story today regarding a meeting held at the Bridge Centre where it was claimed that the staff employed at the various children centres across the city had been informed that they would not be closed.

It had also been claimed by a source who attened the meeting that the meeting had been informed that there would be a 10% reduction in staff.

“No final decision regarding any of the budget proposals has been made yet and will not be made until we know our financial settlement from government. This is the message that I have consistently given throughout the consultation process and until I formally announce otherwise this will remain to be the council’s position.

“Staff have been briefed to give them the potential scope of what the proposals could mean for their departments and their roles if the full set of savings proposals had to be delivered.”

Barnes Mistake Has Follows Thinking ‘Standards’ [UPDATED]

Two Stoke-on-Trent City Councillors were today embroiled in a war of words when one accused the other of not turning up to a council consultation meeting.

Community Voice Councillor Mike Barnes published a story on the official Community Voice website accusing Councillor Terry Follows, the cabinet member for Environment, Waste Management and Neighbourhood Services, of not showing up to a public meeting to discuss the imminent Council Cuts.

Cllr Barnes also accused Labour Councillor and cabinet member for Transformation Cllr Sarah Hill of a no show at the event at Hanley Market. The executive councillors were due to be in attendance between 3pm and 5.30pm.

Cllr Terry Follows reacted angrily to the accusation and in a statement issued today he threatened to report Cllr Barnes to the Standards Board if he did not receive a full and frank apology.

Councillor Barnes

I am amazed at you complaining that I was not present at the consultation event in Hanley Market, without full knowledge of the facts, and also placing disparaging remarks on your website. Had you have bothered to check with the press office or contact me personally you would have found that I was there present in the market from 2..00 – 5.00 as promised.

Due to this I would expect a full apology and a retraction on all websites published, at this stage I am considering whether this is an issue for the standards board.

Cllr Barnes has since amended the original story and removed all references to Cllr Follows.

The story still criticises Cllr Hill for her non attendance at the event which is designed to engage members of the public and to gauge their reaction about the upcoming council cuts which will be implemented as a result of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Cabinet Member Cllr Sarah Hill, yesterday failed to turn up and talk to the public about their proposed cuts to public services.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council Website clearly stated that she would be at Hanley Market between 3pm and 5.30pm 19 November 2010, yet those that turned up to meet them found her not in attendance.
Why tell people you are going to be there and not turn up ““ are they too embarrassed following the revelations of the £600,000 spend spree proposed for floor 1 for them and their cronies?
However, it does not surprise me as many of the Cabinet don’t bother to turn up to half the meetings they are suposed (sic) too like Overview and Scrutiny.

Sources have informed Pits n Pots that Cllr Hill’s attendance was published on the Council website by mistake. The Press & Communications Department were fully aware that she was not available due to work commitments well in advance of the meeting.

We have been contacted by several sources to inform us that Cllr Barnes has now emailed a brief apology to Cllr Terry Follows for his mistake.

“This is typical of the gutter political tactics that we have come to expect from Cllr Barnes”.

“I fear it is just a matter of time before he goes way over the top in his bid for fame and ends up in front of the Standards Committee on some indefensible action that could spell the end of a political career that has been on the slide for a considerable length of time!”.

“I for one would not lose any sleep if his immature brand of politics is lost to the chamber at the next elections and the Mike Barnes PR machine is derailed for good”.

This episode is sure to fuel the arguments of some councillors across the chamber that Cllr Barnes is playing petty political games and is concentrating on personalities rather than formulating constructive political debate.

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.

Question: What Do You Do After You Tell 700 Staff They Might Go? Answer: Spend Hundreds of Thousands on a New Office and Garden!!

Staff Moral at Stoke-on-Trent City Council is taking a further battering following the proposals to axe 700 staff over then next six months.

As work on Floor 1 of the Civic Centre in Stoke begins, which sees the Chief Executive relocate his office, and we understand all Directors and Pervez and his Cabinet.

New decking is being laid over the central courtyard patio stones so that the officer elite have a nice view reputed to also include a fountain when complete.

Several members of staff whose jobs are at risk have told Community Voice “We can’t believe a week after threating 700 with job losses, a new garden is going in which nobody is likely to use, its a kick in the teeth”.

This is the first stage in the First Floor Refurbishment expect to cost hundreds of thousands to house Van der Laarschot and his team, as he moves from his palatial wood panelled office on the ground floor.

“Can we really take Pervez and his Cabinet seriously with this “I alright Jack” attitude. It shows little compassion or sensitivity to those staff and their families now worried sick about their jobs and future.

Just take one example in the proposed cuts ““ Weekend respite for Disabled Children axed ““ or decking etc for comfort.

Its simply not on; not on at all”!