City Council delivers £36m of savings

Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet will hear next week how, despite receiving the eighth worst financial settlement of all unitary authorities in England from the government, the council has delivered on its toughest ever programme of savings.

A report on the authority’s outturn for 2011/12 also shows that by focusing on essential spending only a £1.5m contribution to general reserves has been achieved and the repayment of temporary borrowing from earmarked reserveshas been accelerated. This has enabled the city council to be in a relatively strong financial position given the severity of the challenges faced. Continue reading

Special General Meeting Called for Stoke-on-Trent City Council UNISON members

There are reports coming from inside Stoke-on-Trent City Council that UNISON have called their members to 2 Special General Meetings on Thursday to discuss terms and conditions that they feel are under threat.

The leaflet being handed out to UNISON members states that

  • Essential Car Users Allowance
  • Reduced Mileage Allowance to .45p per mile
  • Charge for car parking
  • Removal of subsistence allowance
  • Removal / Rationalise shift / weekend/ unsocial allowances

are all under threat.

So if you are lucky enough to escape the on-going threat of redundancy then the City Council want to reduce your Terms & Conditions of the staff.

All this on the day that it was reported that the number of officers earning £50,000 or more at Stoke-on-Trent City Council had increased by 24 in 2010/11.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Increases The Number Of Managers While Cutting Front Line Services And Staff

Since John van de Laarschot became the Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council in January 2010 we have seen some of the biggest changes and cuts in a generation in the city.

John came in to the city with not only excellent Local Government credentials, having improved the rating of Torridge district council in north Devon from 3 to 5 stars but also real world commercial experience having worked in corporate finance and running the South African arm of PepsiCo.

In june 2010 barely 6 months in to the job, John was quoted as saying

I think this organisation is top-heavy with management and I can’t defend that. I will weed out those who are not up for challenge and who don’t have an appetite to serve our customers.

In 2010 you would maybe have thought that true, with too many directorates and no less than 270 managers earning £50,000 + salaries.

The axe soon started to fall, in September 2010 announcements were made that the number of directorates were to be reduced and restructured removing 14 of the 37 Directors & Heads of Service, with the new streamlined structure having to be in place on the first working day of 2011, exactly a year to the day of John VDL starting.

Shortly after this the rest of the council workforce were put under consultation and were informed that 700 jobs were to go. The consultations and redundancies have been an almost constant feature within the City Council since then with a further 300+ jobs being earmarked for redundacy as the City Council struggles to meet its budget.

With all the cuts and restructuring over the past 15 months you would expect the City Council to be a leaner more cost effective and streamlined organisation, yet figures released today show that the number of managers who earn £50,000+ at Stoke-on-Trent City Council actually increased by 24 from 270 to 294 in 2010/11.

So during his first year in charge when he promised to weed out those who are not up for challenge, it seems that John has found more people who are up for the challenge rather than doing any weeding.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council tops the league of midlands councils at £99.41 when it comes to cost per head of population for employing £50k+ managers, this is almost £16 more than second place Leicester.

Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said

It is disappointing to see so many middle managers at Midlands councils, particularly at a time when public sector pay is being restrained and low paid staff are being laid off. It’s not fair to demand that ordinary workers take a pay freeze or lose their jobs while more and more middle managers are enjoying generous remuneration. Councils need to cut back the bloated bureaucracies that have developed in town halls in recent years. Taxpayers in places like Stoke-on-Trent will be particularly disappointed that their local authority claims it has no alternative but to increase Council Tax but goes on to spend so much on employing so many high earners.

Just remember, council employees who are on a pay freeze and those that were made redundant, you‘re all in this together. Maybe his new £130k Deputy Chief Exceutive will improve the situation next year.

Update 11:50

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have issued the following statement to Pits n Pots

A council spokesman, said

The Tax Payer’s Alliance figures amalgamate staff annual salaries with one off payments, such as redundancy packages. This means that the figures do not reflect the true picture with regards to staff on an annual income of more than £50,000.

In response to the council statement, I have only detailed an uplift of 24 officers who earnt £50k+ in 2010/11 over 2009/10, the actual number of officers who earnt £50k+ in 2010/11 was 86 and as the TPA report and the Councils own accounts point out, 62 of these were due to redundancy payments moving the salary in to the £50k+ bracket.

 

Cost of Stoke-on-Trent City Council recruitment

Yesterday I wrote about how Stoke-on-Trent City Council have advertised 21 jobs with the specialist HR & recruitment company Penna and not one of the candidates found was offered the position they had applied for.

Today I am going to write about the literally eye-watering cost of these failed recruitment drives.

According to figures found in the City Councils transparency reports, Penna were paid £126,009.14 in 2011* and had just 21 jobs placed with them, that is £6000 per vacancy.

The councils spending data is particularly poor so it is not possible to say exactly how the money is broken down by role but of the £126,000

  • £45,761.60 Advertising
  • £7709.20 Interviews
  • £15,237.34 Expenses
  • £20624.54 Miscellaneous expenses
  • £36676.46 Printing, Works, Rechargeable Works, Repairs alterations, Section 106 & equipment and furniture

That is £126,000 of your money that could be used to keep a library open, help keep a swimming pool open or any number of services that are listed for closure in the Budget book.

The issue isn’t with Penna, who are well respected in their sector, but more with the City Council. If Stoke-on-Trent City Council are rejecting everyone of the 82 candidates that have been selected by Penna to go forward to interview then the person profile, job spec and brief must be wrong.

* figures are for only 10 months as the August transparency report is missing and December has not yet been published so the true figure could be around £150,000.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Extend Budget Consultation

Pits n Pots can exclusively reveal this morning that Stoke-on-Trent City Council have extended the public consultation on the proposed cuts for the 2012 budget.

The consultation was due to end on 23 December but yesterday we published details of a further 4 consultation events announced by the City Council which are to be held in January.

So far the City Council have not confirmed the extension to the consultation or indeed what date it will actually close but in a comment made on Pits n Pots last night, Cllr Sarah Hill Cabinet Member for Finance said

Sorry you feel that way guys. We have the space to extend the consultation and so we have done so. That’s all there is to it.

Unfortunately Sarah neglected to provide the new date for consultation to end in her comment. We will update this as soon as we get a confirmed date from the City Council.

Campaign To Save The Wedgwood Memorial College

Five charities are starting a campaign to save the Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston after their proposal & business plan to run the college as an Independent Educational Trust were turned down by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The five charities

  • Friends of Wedgwood Memorial College
  • Esperanto Association of Britain
  • Arnold Bennett Society
  • Raymond Williams Foundation
  • Workers Education Association (WEA)

produced a business plan to enable Community Asset Transfer (CAT) for the WMC to be run by an Independent Educational Trust, releasing Stoke-on-Trent City Council of its financial commitment and College deficit from 1st April 2012.

On 15th November , the  new Trust was informed that its Plan had been rejected and so the authority’s proposal is to close the College goes ahead. According to the Stoke-on-Trent City Council budget proposals book (4-CR01 on page 32 if you have a copy) Cabinet will be recommended on 15th December 2011 to close WMCC although this is not reflected in the agenda for this weeks cabinet meeting.

Maybe this is just another mistake either in the budget book or the Cabinet agenda.

You can read more about the organisations involved in the campaign using the links below.

Are We Really Being Consulted On The 2012 Budget?

Stoke-on-Trent City Council are currently running a ‘Consultation’ on the 2012 Budget with a number of events around the city. When you here the word ‘consultation’ you like to believe that you are going to be able to influence some of the proposals in the budget book.

Ian Norris has already been pushed down the FoI route with his request for information on the budget, with the response due the day before the consultation closes, giving him little time to do anything useful with the information, if it does get presented on time.

It seems that the decision to close the Wedgwood Memorial College has already been taken and just needs to be rubber-stamped by the Cabinet at their meeting on 15 December which is a day before the last public consultation event and over a week before the consultation closes on 23 December.

More worryingly it seems that some decisions on the budget are being made at meetings that don’t exist, 2-CE04 HR Initiatives, on page 22 of the budget book for instance, was, according the Business Impact Decision, Discussed and agreed at Cabinet on 6 October. Discussed at Labour Group.

Now if you check on the meeting calendar you will be hard pressed to find the cabinet meeting on 6 October nor any minutes to support the agreement.

Pits n Pots asked the City Council about this meeting and a spokesperson said

The meeting referred in the budget book was a closed ‘CAPS’ (Cabinet Agenda Planning) meeting not a cabinet meeting this was a mistake. 

So can we trust the information that is presented in the Budget Book, if this is a mistake, how many other ‘mistakes’ are there?

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Budget for 2012 -2013 Announced

The budget proposals unveiled yesterday by Stoke-on-Trent City Council will inject £5m into areas including boosting private sector job creation and kick-starting the local economy.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Mohammed Pervez has outlined the bold proposals in the face of stern government-imposed spending cuts. As part of the authority’s Mandate for Change the top priority is to create a great working city, to make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business. The council’s cabinet is implementing a raft of measures that will provide a ‘red carpet’ treatment to new businesses, improving key infrastructure links and boosting what the city has to offer. The measures come as the authority has announced it needs to find savings totalling £24m for the year 2012-13.

Councillor Pervez said

 

We are committed to our Mandate for Change to make our city a great place to live and bring business. But the government’s stance is forcing the way we have to make budget cuts. The government-imposed spending restrictions for the last two years have been the fiercest ever endured by this authority. Last year we were faced with making £36m worth of cuts, and this year we are faced with another huge task just to balance the books.

 

The way the government is imposing spending restrictions means we are no longer going to be able to sustain or create the same level of public sector jobs. Therefore it is crucial that the private sector can stimulate growth and has the ability to do this.

Our ambitious capital programme, such as the £250m Building Schools for the Future scheme, is giving the private sector confidence that we can deliver, and confidence for them to invest in Stoke-on-Trent.

Government-imposed cuts will next year reduce the council’s budget by £8m. On top of this, unavoidable costs such as inflation, legally-required staff increments, procurement and the payback for capital projects will total around £11m. This means the council needs to find £19m just to stand still.

But the council’s cabinet is proposing to invest an extra £5m in areas that will drive the city forward, redesigning the council for growth.

Key investment proposals in the budget will

  • Enable the construction of new access links to further open up Etruria Valley for expansion.
  • Provide small grants to give a facelift to independent retailers’ shop fronts in the city centre.
  • Complete the design of the city centre ring road.
  • Improve the appearance of the area in front of Stoke Station.
  • Help reduce traffic congestion by investing in the current signal network and additional bus priority systems.
  • Launch new business support packages to help new and growing local businesses.
  • Increase the number of foster carers in the city.
  • Provide training for children and young people with special educational needs to travel independently across the city.
  • Launch a range of city-wide events and festivals to increase the number of visitors into the city.
  • Bring forward proposals to secure the development of a comprehensive Cultural Quarter and city centre hotel.
  • Hold a housing self-build competition to encourage diverse and high quality residential developments.
  • Focus on getting tough on fraudulent activity, especially benefit and tenancy fraud.

During 2011/12, the city centre bus station will be completed, and site preparation and clearance for the £350m City Sentral leisure and retail development will take place. The council will improve day opportunities for adults with complex learning difficulties through a million pound redevelopment of Newstead Day Centre. The authority will also look to dispose of a number of buildings to support its investment programme.

 

Councillor Pervez said

 

In some parts of our city there is a culture of dependence, and we have to lift our residents out of this. If we can stimulate the economy and help the private sector to create jobs, they will have the means to have money in their pocket and not rely on the state. This will mean the council will then be able to focus on helping the most vulnerable.

 

I believe in being open and transparent, and the budget proposals are just that. Some of them are difficult and are extremely tough decisions to propose. We could simply cut and cut every year, or we could sit on our hands and do nothing. But both would be reckless and shirking our responsibilities. We are a responsible council, and take our responsibility to manage services and taxpayers’ money seriously. We need to save to invest and that is what these budget proposals are designed to do.

 

These are tough decisions to take, but we want to ensure that in making them we fully consider the views of local residents. That is why we are now embarking on a wide-ranging consultation process, and I urge as many people as possible to tell us their opinions. The proposals that we have put forward are just that – proposals. We need local people to contribute their views to help shape the decisions we make.

 

Details of the budget proposals can be found online at the link below. 

 

The council’s budget consultation will run until 23 December. Details of a consultation roadshow, where cabinet members and officers will be able to meet residents and explain the budget proposals, will be revealed later this week. Residents can give their feedback on the proposals by emailing budget2012@stoke.gov.uk.

 

Where…..do you stand Mr Milliband?

It was a nice April evening last year when The PnP team Met Ed Milliband, Tristram Hunt and Rob Flello as they had their Labour Party meeting at the Red House Pub, Longton.

At the time I was trying to be as impartial as I could be I did mention to Tristram Hunt and Councillor tom Reynolds that Brown had to stop chuffing about go and be real with the people and stop backing wars that no one believed in because I felt it simply wasn’t the labour way.

Now I’m quite sure there are some people out there thinking , “Well Phil, who are you to lecture TH, RF and DM”? The answer is no one, of course, they are all infinitely more educated and successful that I am and they have far more experience of politics than I do. That said, I’m a voter, I come from a labour voting background and I’d like to say that I reckon I know which way the wind’s blowing when it comes to the man in the street.

Since Last may we have seen the election of the coalition,
Which to my eyes has been oddly successful in sticking it out over the last year. We have seen Gordon Brown retreat, defeated to the back benches, a sad waste of a man who should now, in my opinion should still be the chancellor of the Exchequer.

We have seen Ed Milliband, against the odds, usurp his brother and become the Labour Leader. I openly welcomed this, as I felt that Labour seriously needed a change of tack and thought that David Milliband was cast far too much in the mould of the Blair and Brown years, in which the public had lost trust and patience.

Today however, well, actually for the last couple of weeks now I have been wondering what the hell Mr Milliband is playing at. He has been arguing publicly against the cuts of the Coalition at every turn he has been saying that he wouldn’t have cut so deeply or so fast. He has Marched with Trades Unionists stating, that the cuts are damaging Britain.

I ask then, is this the same Mr Milliband who has been actively and openly supporting Military action against the sovereign country of Libya? Is this the same Mr Milliband who agrees with and clearly endorses the massive spending that military action is costing? stating on the March 14th
“I don’t think we can just stand by as Colonel Gaddafi takes greater hold in Libya,”

“Hold in Libya”? He’s the leader? He may be a dictator, but a dictator who the west has supported and propped up for years.

I know there are the humanitarians amongst you who say that something had to be done. Perhaps it did. I for one don’t like the thought of innocent civilians being killed by dictators. However, I cant see the UN intervening right now in Zimbabwe, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Chechnya, Syria, Iran or Yemen. the fact of the matter is that a sovereign country is a sovereign county, and China and Russia have in my opinion the correct interpretation of International law. Don’t meddle.

Usually I’d attack the government for taking such action but this article is about Labour, and Labour values. Nevermind Mr Cameron for one moment. Although clearly he too is suffering some massive memory loss.

Milliband!! I thought you were against cuts? You are against cuts? How can you then, sanction costly military action when the money being spent on WAR could be put to better use?

This is of course the moment when defenders of the Libya action wade in and smugly point out that all the money being spent on the Libya campaign is already in the control of the MOD’s budget. My retort is simple enough.

“True, but when that budget is all spent, does that mean that the MOD will have to rub along with next years budget minus it’s spend of this campaign”? Or will the taxpayer have to dig deep yet again to make up the shortfall, ” To ensure Britain is kept safe”. I think we all know the answer don’t we?

Furthermore, the money the MOD is spending in Libya could be better spent protecting our troops in the other war of folly “Afghanistan”. Our Brave service personnel are putting their lives on the line out there, whilst the backup budget is being blown attacking Libya, where we cannot afford, nay, DARE NOT risk getting further involved.

The British action alone reportedly cost 28.5 million pounds in the first four days, according to the Telegraph

The IB Times reported “The Royal United Services Institute estimated that the British cost of the ongoing Libyan campaign might reach as high as £100 million in just four to six weeks.”

So the 28 million pounds spent in the first week would more or less have put Stoke on the right track. whatever we spend in coming weeks will no doubt have helped other towns and cities despite the fact we are told repeatedly that “WE HAVE TO CUT”.

All this isn’t helping the price of oil spiralling into insanity, causing motorists to struggle and businesses go to the wall because of the instability in Libya. Is the there a man alive today that thinks that when Gadafi comes through this , which he surely will, that he won’t unleash the hounds of hell on the UK and all taking part in this military action. At the start of the war he was claiming Al Quaeda were behind the insurrections, now he’ll be welcoming them in with open arms.

So, I repeat the question Mr Milliband, where do you stand?
Are you for the cuts or against the cuts? From where I sit it is completely unclear what you stand for..and in the eyes of the common man, that means you stand for nothing at all.

The End Of BBC Local Radio?

On Friday news that the BBC was looking at hacking away at their 40 local radio stations started to break. I think I read it first in this piece in the Guardian but since it has been reported pretty much everywhere including the by the BBC itself.

The short story is that the BBC want to save money and one of the ways they are considering to do this is to chop the BBC local radio stations so they have a local breakfast show and early evening (drive time) show with all other content being provided nationally by Radio 5 Live.

The NUJ are saying this could cost 700 jobs nationally, which is bad, but then put some perspective around this and look at Stoke-on-Trent City Council for example which is losing 700 staff in a city of around 240,000 people.


The BBC’s plans would be a blow to quality journalism at the BBC and fly in the face of public commitments to localism and transparency. Local radio programmes are produced by local people for local audiences yet these decisions are being taken far away from communities and behind closed doors

The BBC Local Radio service has already been down graded with regional program sharing. If you look at BBC Radio Stoke right now as I am writing this (22:53 on Saturday) Keith Middleton is on the air, from Shropshire, before him Jim Hawkins also from Shropshire, at midnight it goes to Radio 5 Live until 6am.

So has the damage has already been done? Already costs have been cut, sharing has started so would a bit more make that much difference? Would BBC Radio Midfordshire be any worse off by only having 2 shows a day? Of course there will be a group of people who will have a massive hole in their day because they listen all the time, although I fear this group of people are dying out, quite literally, but would it be so bad?

Although the plans are in their early stages, I don’t see anyone say there won’t be local news or content. I’m sure the BBC don’t plan to not report on anything unless it is of national importance or London centric, or maybe they do? It is quite feasible for the BBC to have regional news rooms, like the Mailbox in Birmingham and local reporters as they do in Stoke and for them to produce news packages that can be run on the end of the national news bulletin, look at BBC TV they have been doing it for years, so why should radio be different? Look at commercial local radio, they are creating news hubs that will centralise the news gathering for a whole region but provide local bulletins for each of the stations.

There was a discussion on the Today Program on Radio 4 on Saturday morning where Professor Gerry Stoker said it is essential to have local media coverage to call peoples attention issues at a local level. Charlie Beckett Director of POLIS cited hyperlocal websites such as Pits n Pots as delivering real accountability when it comes to holding councillors to account, you can listen to the discussion here on the BBC, Today 12 March or in the player below.

Personally, and this will be a surprise to some people both at 6 Towns Radio & the BBC, I would feel let down if BBC Radio Stoke went down to 2 programs a day or worse just became part of BBC Radio West Midlands. I understand the need for change within the organisation and change should be seen as a launch pad to do different things, to push the boundaries. The BBC is one of the few organisations that probably could do the same for less, we all know that it is still gold plated, not Gold Plated like it used to be, but there is an awful lot of fat in the system still.

I strongly believe they could do a lot more, a lot better if they wanted to, but wanting to is one of the barriers that needs to be overcome. If only the BBC mentality of self importance could be broken down and the community and localisam could be put back in to the stations.

Origionally published on Michael Rawlins