Inside the Civic

Those who thought all out elections would bring some stability to our Council must be feeling embarrassed this week as Council Leader Mohammed Pervez took a scalpel to his cabinet, cutting out the disobedient Gratton and challenger Hill, and carving up the other portfolios in what is quite clearly more than the ‘tweaking’ he described it as.

The introduction of Platt and Dutton is seen as a nod to the left wingers in the group, who re-emerged in 2011 to rival the modernisers who were in danger of taking over Labour. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader announces his new cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez has given details of his new Cabinet after the reshuffle at Monday nights Labour Group AGM which saw Debra Gratton & Sarah Hill removed.

Sarah Hill subsequently resigned her position as a Councillor forcing a by-election in the Springfields and Trent Vale ward. Continue reading

Sarah Hill Resigns

Sarah Hill councillor for Springfields and Trent Vale has resigned from the city council after being removed from her cabinet position at the Labour AGM last night.

All details for Sarah Hill have been removed from the council website.

Rumour from the Civic Centre is that Sarah’s departure is just the first as the Labour group tightens its hold on members and takes a dim view of anyone who doesn’t toe the party line. Continue reading

Crescent Children’s Centre judged as outstanding by Ofsted

A children’s centre has become the first in the city to be judged as outstanding by government inspectors.

The Crescent Children’s Centre in Meir, run by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, has been given the glowing accolade by Ofsted. It means that The Crescent site is now only the second in the entire country to be home to a primary school, children’s centre and pre-school nursery that are all designated ‘outstanding’ after separate Ofsted inspections.

The centre was subjected to a rigorous two-day inspection in November, during which inspectors looked at all aspects of its work. They spoke to staff, parents, carers, volunteers, local schools, members of the centre’s advisory board and partners including an adult training organisation and a voluntary organisation.

The inspectors observed the centre’s work and looked at a range of relevant documents to find evidence of the impact it has on the children and families it serves. This included assessing how the centre helped parents, prospective parents and young children to access services, and made sure they benefited from the services offered; and how the centre improved the wellbeing of young children.

Out if 18 areas inspected, The Crescent was judged ‘outstanding’ in 17 and ‘good’ in one.

Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services, said:

This is one of the most glowing Ofsted inspections I have ever read, and it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the centre its staff, parents and volunteers that they have achieved such a fabulous report. Ofsted is only beginning to start inspecting children’s centres in the same way it does schools, and The Crescent has set the benchmark for others to follow. To have the children’s centre, Crescent Primary School and The Crescent Pre-School Nursery all on the same site, delivering outstanding services, is a credit to the city and shows parents and families that their children are in good hands.

The detailed 10-page Ofsted report praised the centre’s strong leadership and management, its success in engaging parents in the Meir area and described the effect its services have on families as ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’.

The report said parents and carers had high levels of understanding regarding the development of their child. The report described the centre’s processes for business planning and service delivery as ‘exemplary’, that parents and carers ‘feel they are listened to, respected and not judged’, that safeguarding is ‘a high priority and embedded exceptionally well in all systems’, and that children with disabilities are ‘particularly well-supported’. The report also said that outreach services have improved accessibility of hard to reach groups and that there has been an increase in the registration of families with different nationalities.

Inspectors told parents

You are rightly very proud of your centre as it is outstanding in almost everything it does. The way the centre works with its partners is particularly impressive. It has meant they reach and support all of you in a way that has given you the skills and confidence to support your children in their learning as well as contribute to improvements in the centre. The people in charge of running your centre are doing an excellent job. They are continually increasing their reach to target groups such as fathers. We have every confidence that they will continue to carry on improving the quality of services.

Tracy Jackson OBE, locality manager for children’s centres in the south of the city, including The Crescent, said

We are delighted with the Ofsted inspectors’ endorsements and comments. The ‘outstanding’ status is a tribute to the hard work of the staff, parents and volunteers. It was a detailed inspection which looked at everything we do and I am delighted that the findings clearly recognise the difference the centre is making to children and families.

Children’s centres were established to bridge the attainment gap for the most disadvantaged children. Ofsted assess the leadership and management of a centre and make sure it is having an impact and providing the right level of support for families.

This outstanding result, and the passion and knowledge our parents showed when talking to inspectors, shows we are making a difference and giving the children of Meir a better start in life.

Last year staff at The Crescent were named the UK Children’s Centre Team of the Year by national charity Together for Children.

Parent Katrina Danyiova said

The Crescent Children’s Centre has helped me with my language and cared for my children while I have been doing the English for speakers of other languages course. The centre has also helped my daughter by supporting her special needs.

Parent Claire Lawrence added

The centre has helped my three-year-old son with his speech and language transition into nursery school. Community development work has helped me with my confidence through volunteering.

Stoke Speaks Out Recognised As A Good Example Of A Multi Agency Approach

Stoke Speaks Out has been recognised by a leading national industry body for its work, Stoke Speaks Out is a multi-agency partnership aimed at improving city youngsters’ communication skills.

After being saved from closure as part of the budget cuts earlier this year, The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO) has highlighted Stoke Speaks Out on its website as a good example of a multi-agency approach to tackling language issues.

C4EO provides a range of products and support services to improve outcomes in young people. C4EO has established itself as a best practice hub for what works in children’s services and is used by all Local Authorities across England.

Stoke Speaks Out (SSO) was initiated as a strategy for the city in 2004; ensuring all key agencies including the city council, health authority and voluntary sector, were involved and that they all had consistent, high quality shared messages. The partnership was multi-layered to ensure that everyone shared the same vision regarding early attachment and communication development and that everyone shared responsibility for this.

Stoke Speaks Out has been helping young people in our city improve their communication skills for a number of years and it’s great that all the hard work put in is recognised by such a distinguished professional body.

It’s great news for the service and for the city that we are being used as a shining example of best practice. We must now strive to continue this upward trend and make this the first of many services provided in the city to receive such recognition.

Between 2005 and 2010, training was delivered to over 4,000 people and includes speech and language therapy, early years, ante-natal and post-natal information.

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.

Audio Interviews with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Newly Appointed Cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has to day named the Labour Group Councillors who are to serve on his cabinet.

The cabinet line up is as follows:

* Councillor Paul Shotton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources;

* Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance;

* Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development;

* Councillor Adrian Knapper, cabinet member for planning & transportation;

* Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration;

* Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for city services;

* Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing & neighbourhoods;

* Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for adult social care, health & commissioning; and

* Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services and life skills.

We are pleased to bring you audio interviews with Pervez, Sarah Hill, Mark Meredith and Adrian Knapper.

We will bring you more audio interviews with the cabinet members in the weeks to come.

” Well this might surprise you all – Well done Pervez.

“This seems like a good start with a clever balance of maintaining experience with new and competent faces, as well as a mix of left and not so left.

“Having a single strong group in the driving seat especially for four years does hold out some potential for sustained and clear direction.

“Key to this, firstly, will be how quickly the new political regime builds up its confidence, no longer shackled by the unpredictable coalition. No more worrying about how or if something will go through the full council.

“Secondly will be how the Labour Party in the City responds to the opportunities now open to them, for example developing a strong broad policy to direct the officers and the council over the next four years. This will be the test for the structures put in place during the more uncertain times within the Labour Party itself.

“There are many challenges to come, but despite our political differences, I know many of the new councillors and know that there is some talent there now in depth.
Give them all a chance – be more confident – take political control back from the officers – deliver.

Good Luck”.

Stoke-on-Trent Labour Leader announces Team ‘to fight for our community, every step of the way.’

Following all out elections on May 5 in Stoke-on-Trent, in which the Labour Party won 34 seats, Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has today named his cabinet of 4 men and 6 women.

“With the Tory-led Government in Westminster handing down massive deep cuts to Stoke-on-Trent, our city needs a strong Labour cabinet to be its voice in tough times, and I’m delighted to announce that’s exactly what we’ve now got.

“Everyone agrees that this Council needs to do more for the community we represent, and help make Stoke-on-Trent the success we all know it can be. On May 5 People in the city made it clear that they wanted a strong Labour team representing them and my cabinet is absolutely determined to fight for our community, every step of the way.

“Whether we are battling to save key frontline public services or working to get much needed new investment and jobs into our city, this Labour cabinet will always have one top priority – the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

“Under Labour this is a new start for our city. There are tough times ahead and we need to unite to show responsible leadership.

“We want to build on the FA cup final feel good factor and grow positive investment in the city. In one weekend we have seen what can be possible. Inspirational plans for the city and a vision to get us through the tough times. It will be a fight but we will win through for the people of Stoke-on-Trent”.

The full cabinet line up is:

* Councillor Paul Shotton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources;

* Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance;

* Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development;

* Councillor Adrian Knapper, cabinet member for planning & transportation;

* Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration;

* Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for city services;

* Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing & neighbourhoods;

* Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for adult social care, health & commissioning; and

* Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services and life skills.

One suprise omission is Tom Reynolds who was cabinet member with responsiblilty from communications and served under Pervez in the last administration.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 16/05/2011

As the red & white half of Stoke-on-Trent comes to terms with their loss in the FA Cup final the political potteries is as flat as boring nil nil draw.

It’s a bit like “Ëœafter the Lord Mayors show post election.

To Speak or Not To Speak

The only sexy story was the attempt at gagging our new crop of councillors with a “Ëœmedia protocol’ that circumnavigated democracy.

The document that was slipped in the new councillors pack was tantamount to a biblical commandment ““ “ËœYou shall not criticise the council, its officers or the executive ““ no matter the size of the monumental cock up or who was responsible!’

More worrying for me was the fact that there were councillors who were queuing up to sign this attack on freedom of speech.

One of them was Paul Breeze, a man who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He works tirelessly for his community and he has taken a principled stance in not aligning himself with any group in the council chamber.

Paul was quick enough to remind us that he is a free spirit, but his complicity in this matter showed that whilst he is his own man in the political sense he was all too ready to do his masters bidding and put officers before the representation of the people that elected him.

The “Ëœgagging order’ has received a fair amount of political commentary and rightly so. But so far the facts of the matter have been inaccurately reported.

It has been alleged that the individuals responsible for this have been the press and communications team, Mohammed
Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot.

My information leads me to believe that it was actually Pervez who suggested that the protocol be withdrawn from the councillors’ pack when he read it the weekend before declarations were taken and was unaware of its contents beforehand.

Sources have indicated to me that it was in fact Members Services who directed that this protocol be drawn up and the press team were directed to draft it up.

The bit that is shrouded in uncertainty is how much involvement CEO John van de Laarschot had in the issue.

Who Will Be The Trophies on The Cabinet

Now that it has been confirmed that Pervez will be Council Leader with Paul Shotton as his Deputy Council Leader, the labour Group will tonight [Monday] decide who will make up the remaining 8 places on this the first totally Labour cabinet.

Now I’ve followed the scene in the political Potteries for years and, as all good commentators should, I will make my predictions as follows.

The 8 cabinet places will go to, in no particular order:
Mark Meredith, Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Debra Gratton, Olwyn Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Janine Bridges and either Bagh Ali or Adrian Knapper.

My guess is that the cabinet will reflect the Labour Party desire to have a 50/50 men/woman split.

We will know soon enough I suppose, but my guesses are more down to instinct as opposed to education.

You may have your own ideas?

S.O.C.C Get a Helping Hand From Former Councillor

The nationally recognised Save Our Children’s Centres campaign has received a boost recently with the news that former Longton South Councillor Mike Barnes has joined their team to advise them on council procedures and future strategies.

S.O.C.C has reignited their fight and will present a massive petition to the council opposing the 30% budget reduction which equates to a huge cut of £2.25million.
The council are embarking on a formal consultation over their proposals.

What is 100% clear to me, having met and held discussions with S.O.C.C leaders, is that their battle lines have been drawn and they are prepared to mount a sustained and aggressive challenge to these savage cuts. The campaign team feel that the services that are on offer will be decimated beyond all belief if these cuts go through.

The election gave the Labour Party 34 councillors and a healthy majority with little opposition in the chamber.
S.O.C.C are more than prepared to take up the opposition role.

Their campaign has gone viral and there are S.O.C.C groups appearing all over the country. They also have the support of Netmums which has a phenomenal web presence.

Stoke-on-Trent has had effective campaign groups in the past like the Trentham Action Group who managed to reverse the decision to close their high school by facilitating government involvement.

S.O.C.C has the potential to make the TAG look like a meeting of the Salvation Army!

They are very angry people at the moment but they are channelling that anger and are using it as a motivational tool.

They are angry about the Labour Party’s campaign leaflet claims that they have saving the children’s centres but failed to mention the proposed budget cuts.

They are angry at the lack of support from the three city MPs’ Joan Walley, Rob Flello and Tristram Hunt who they have described as “Ëœthe invisible man’.

One of the Children’s Centres that is most under threat from these cuts is in Fenton, in fact is virtually next door to the constituency office of Rob Flello.

It could see the services that it offers cut from 5 days down to one half day.

Given that Sure Start centres were the flagship of the last Labour Government, S.O.C.C are expecting, no make that demanding that all 3 Labour MP’s support their campaign.

The case of Fenton’s children’s centre puts Rob Flello in an unenviable predicament as he sees the work they carry out at close hand and his partner Karen Clarke has just been elected as Councillor for ““ yeah you guessed it, Fenton West & Mount Pleasant!

I’m surprised that there is a negative view of Tristram Hunt and I share the view of the S.O.C.C leaders that all our MPs need to back this campaign with every ounce of their moral fibre.

I urge the Labour Group councillors, the newly appointed cabinet, Council Leader & Deputy and the 3 Labour MPs’ ““ do not underestimate this group.

S.O.C.C Hull are about to force a judicial review the same is 100% on the cards here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Our City Council are proposing the severest cuts in Chidren’s Centres budgets nearly anywhere in the country.

Communities will not take this lying down, S.O.C.C will not take this at all and in the words of one of their main players ““ “You have been warned!”

National Award For Stoke Speaks Out

Stoke Speaks Out, which helps younger children with language and speech problems and which is currently under threat of closure as part of the £33m savings package, has won the Workforce Development Award at the Children and Young People Now Awards in London.

The awards ceremony which was attended by Education Secretary Michael Gove who said in his keynote address,

Gathered in this room are some of the some of the most inspiring, idealistic and impressive people in the country. The job that I do at the heart of government is made not just easier but possible by the efforts that all of you, and those that you work with, put in to raise attainment and aspiration and to lift the hearts of children across the country.

The City Council which is led by the Labour party, are currently consulting with the public about the proposed £33m savings that need to be made. The savings package includes proposals for Stoke Speaks Out as well as a number of childrens centres to be closed.

These awards recognise the excellent work being carried out throughout our children’s services and I would like to congratulate all those who won and were nominated. Helping our young people, in whatever way, is extremely important and these events help to highlight the valuable contributions made by the numerous groups and individuals involved in children’s services.

How do you feel about this important and now award winning resource being potentially closed?