Joan Walley MP on 25 years as an MP

Joan Walley will celebrate 25 years in June as the Member of Parliament for the Stoke-on-Trent North constituency.

She has witnessed the fall of Margaret Thatcher, the rise of New Labour and the coming together of the Coalition Government.

I spoke to the Labour MP about her life’s work

On June 11, 1987, Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party were winning a third successive term in Government.

The same day Labour candidate Joan Walley was elected to serve the Stokeon-Trent North constituency and replace John Forrester who had served for 21 years himself. Continue reading

General Election: The Best Coverage In Town.

The electorate of Stoke-on-Trent go to the polls today and select the politicians they think will best represent their views and needs.

The nation faces a massive decision today. Whether to stick with a Labour Government in a kind of ‘better the devil you know’ type of thing. Or whether to return a brand new party with a whole different range of policies.

The latest news indicates that we the nations citizens will return a hung parliament.

It has also been suggested that postal votes are double that of previous elections and the same can be said for proxy votes.

The latest and final poll before the polls close at 10pm, an Ipsos Mori survey suggest the Conservatives will capture 36% of the votes, Labour 29% and the Liberal Democrats 27%.

That would equate to the Tories securing the most seats, around 279, but they would not have an overall majority. Labour would take 261 seats and the Liberal Democrats 79.
Locally here in Stoke the campaign is going right to the wire.

We have spoken to all the major parliamentary candidates across the City and no one in any of the three constituencies are taking anything for granted.

A source close to Tristram Hunt, the Labour PPC for Stoke Central said that the reaction on the doorsteps is very positive and they are hoping that it transfers into vote. The message was pretty much the same from Rob Flello’s campaign HQ in Stoke South and from Joan Walley in Stoke North.

A source from the City of Stoke-on-Trent Conservative Party thought that their campaign was well on track both for the local and the General Elections. There is a growing optimism for the chances of Stoke South PPC James Rushton from within the organisation.

We have been informed that the BNP vote may well suffer at both the local and national polls. Simon Darby, Deputy Leader of the BNP and their PPC for Stoke-on-Trent Central has voiced concerned that the lack of an effective Liberal Democrat campaign may well result in a wave of support going over to Labour. He has suggested to Pits n Pots that the Lib Dems did not put an election address out through the Post Office in a deliberate attempt to scupper the BNP campaign.

We are LIVE at the Kings Hall to bring you all the latest news, views, audio and video from the scene as it happens.
Follow our live blog tonight, you need not go anywhere else.

We will have a ‘Cover it Live’ feed going live very soon which will be updated with audio and video as well as written content throughout the night, right up until the results are declared around 3.30am.

Mike, Phil & Tony will be there to record interviews with the winners and losers.

Use this story to comment and to ask the questions that you want the candidates to answer.

Follow us live on Twitter – @pitsnpots @Tony_Walley @Mike_Rawlins @Tideswellman

You can also join in the fun and be a part of the Pits n Pots team by posting the results as you see them announced of the TV.

Lets enjoy this the most interesting General Elections in recent times ““ together….

Young people get chance to learn work skills thanks to old canal

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

A group of waterways enthusiasts have campaigned to get work started on reinstating an old canal arm that used to supply the potteries in Middleport.

The Burslem Port project has made it its aim to “bring boats back to Burslem” and has received funding through the Renew programme.

The group has joined up with PM Training, a social enterprise with a focus on tackling worklessness among young people, to begin the clearance of a site that runs from Furlong Lane along the length of Newport Lane. The joint scheme will be able to offer 20 young people a six month training opportunity in environmental management and ground work skills.

The end result will be that the old canal arm that ran along the site will be cleared of undergrowth and rubbish and will be able to be used again as a community space. It will also allow investigation work to be carried out to see how feasible it would be to rebuild the canal along its historic route.

This project has been supported via the master planning process undertaken by Renew North Staffordshire and as a result received funding from the Renew programme.

The clearance work will be launched with a volunteer day and an opportunity for the wider community to get involved.

Councillor Brian Ward, cabinet member for regeneration said: “So much hard work has been undertaken to make this project a success and we will soon be able to see the fruits of their labours. I’m extremely pleased to have been a part of the work to date and look forward to further involvement in the future. With the historic significance of the canal systems in the city we must do all we can to preserve these wonderful waterways.”

Roger Savage, Chair of the Stoke-on-Trent branch of the Inland Waterways Association added: “I am glad that Renew has responded positively by incorporating the canal arm in to their plans. By demonstrating their faith through funding this initial stage it will open the way for future volunteers to be involved.”

Joan Walley

Joan Walley

Active patron of the Burslem Port Project Joan Walley MP: said “Burslem Port  is an imaginative volunteer led scheme that now has the productive support of Renew.With this first step being taken, I feel sure that together they will make the exciting Burslem Port Scheme become a reality.”

Joan ‘Reach’es into the heart of the community.

Joan Walley MP

Joan Walley MP

Audio Interview Now Online!

By Tony Walley.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the ‘Reach 4 it’ project in Burslem.

The project is a 10 week programme aimed at helping 16-18 year old who fall into the Not in Education, Employment or Training [NEET’s] category decide what the next step in their lives will be.

Reach 4 it has a 92% success rate and has an excellent participant/staff ratio.

The staff on the project were enthusiastic and made sure everyone was included in the activities and discussions – even Joan Walley MP!

During my visit I was fortunate to catch up with Joan Walley MP, a tireless worker for her constituents and always eager to help and listen to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North.

It was a pleasure to watch her interact with the young people on this programme and I am sure that they appreciated Joan’s interest in what they had to say.

She displayed a ‘I’m on your wave length’ attitude and instead of appearing to be superior she showed that she could interact with them on a level. She was really interested in their thoughts on a range of issues like drinking in public, anti social behaviour and youth facilities.

Joan gave me her views  a range of issues such as the ‘Reach 4 it’ project, young people, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the General Election, listen to this Audio Interview:

[audio:http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/audio/1009/joan-walley.mp3]

MP to visit youth centre project

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Joan Walley

Joan Walley

Stoke North MP Joan Walley will be visiting a youth project next Tuesday (October 6th) which aims to help young people who are not currently in Education, Employment or Training (NEET’s).

The “Reach 4 It” project runs for 10 weeks focussing on personal and social development of young people to help them move out of NEET’s category.

So far, the project has helped over 500 young people and has a
92 % success rate of moving young people out of NEETs.
The project has also been shortlisted for the finals of the Children & Young People Now Awards 2009 in the Advice and Guidance Award category.

Ms Walley will be given an overview of the project by Steve Winmill, Project Development Worker from Youth, Play and Outdoor Education Services and meet young people being supported by the scheme

We will remember them

Source: PKB Blog

Those four words, the final line of the verse which is read at war memorials annually, conclude the 7-verse poem, For The Fallen, which was read by the Head Girl and Head Boy of Brownhills High School, Tunstall this afternoon during the hour-long unveiling ceremony of the new commemorative wall in Tunstall Memorial Gardens.

Joan Walley MP for Stoke North (centre), the Lord Mayor, Cllr Jean Bowers, the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, the Leader of the City Council, Cllr Ross Irving and several hundred people attended the unvieling of the granite plaques bearing the names of those who lost their lives serving their country in the First World War. The finely proportioned 21′ high memorial obelisk in the centre of the Gardens was unveiled in 1928. Built of Hollington stone the obelisk does not carry any names so nearly three years ago the Friends of Tunstall & District War Memorial Group was formed to campaign for an additional memorial which could carry the names of all those  from the area who gave their lives in the Great War.

Midweek Meanderings

Comment By Tony Walley.

Tony Walley

Tony Walley

I don’t know if you are the same, but I feel a buzz on an election day!

This year that buzz is somewhat diminished because whilst we have got the European Elections in which to cast a vote, sadly we have no local elections.

Local elections this year would have enabled us to send a clear message back to government, regardless of their intervention. A chance for us to say to the Whitehall mob – this is our assessment of how the council is performing, listen to the voice of the people. A chance to say, instead of you telling us what we need, we will let you know in no uncertain terms.

But not only are we denied from doing this this year, but also in 2010 as well. My son will be denied a vote in a local election until he is 20 years of age. Our electorate is to be denied the opportunity of casting their judgment on those who have performed and worked for the people and those who chose to work to their own ends and ignore the wishes of the people.

This denial of our right to cast out those who have shown scant regard for the public is tantamount to an infringement of civil liberties.

We maybe facing a boundary review, it may be a bit time sensitive, but I’m sure if the country can organise a general election in four weeks we can sort out the boundary issue in say six months.

Today we are tasked with the responsibility of selecting 6 politicians to represent us in the European Parliament. There is much talk about registering a protest vote, a protest against the economic state of the country. A protest against the greedy MPs who will be proved not to be corrupt as the BNP & their brain washed followers would have us believe, but will be proved to have used the system and milked it for all it’s worth for their own ends.

This situation has been used, as you would expect, by fringe parties to shout out their claims that they are the party of redemption. But let us not loose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the 645 MPs that sit in the house of commons are good honest, hard working politicians who are in the game to score a victory for the people who elected them to serve our communities.

193 MP’s have been named by the Telegraph so far, out of these some 50 MPs have had to pay back money.A small amount of claims  have been widely extravagant and for that, quite rightly, some MPs have had to fall on their rather expensive swords.

The expense system has to be overhauled and made to be open and transparent and this will certainly be done due to the public outcry about the expense system introduced by the Thatcher government of 1983 as a means to top up MPs salaries to save the public anguish when Mps voted themselves a pay increase.

As we go to the polling station we should perhaps reflect on the excellent jobs our three local MPs have done on our behalf. I have yet to hear a bad word against Joan Walley. Mark Fisher has served his electorate for more than 25 years and has always represented the hearts and minds of the people of Stoke Central. Where would Trentham High be without the hard work and dedication of Rob Flello, who has also tackled Anti Social behaviour in his constituency. Yes Rob did this not the BNP.

Please remember the good thing that our MPs have done for us as well as the shame that some our country’s MPs have brought on the House of Commons through some expense claims.

Would a vote for an extreme party put the situation right or should we charge the authorities with the responsibility of sorting a system that has seen abuse for 26 years and not just this year and present crop of MPs.

Tomorrow the council will decide who will be our council leader for the next four years.

The latest betting is that it is a two horse race between Brian ‘Silver Fox’ Ward and Mike ‘Wol’s Boyfriend’ Barnes. both are likely to be feeling quietly confident.

No doubt all eyes tomorrow will fall on the BNP group. There are differing views on who they will vote for when Alby Walker is knocked out of the contest.

The 9 votes are likely to be looked upon as something of a poison chalice. If those votes go to Brian Ward people will be wondering if there has bee a deal done for Cabinet places. If they go to Barnes there would be widespread surprise. They may well go to Ross Irving which would make it interesting and there is also an outside chance that the BNP could vote for PKB.

Maybe the smart money will go on the BNP group doing what they have done on certain occasions which is to abstain or more likely leaving the chamber immediately after Alby is knocked out of the contest.

The vote could be completely unpredictable if there is a secret vote. Tensions are starting to rise as tomorrows vote gets closer. As you would expect we will be there to bring you the news as it happens and of course our normal comprehensive unedited reaction.

Walley speaks out about housing and regeneration

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Joan Walley

Joan Walley

Pits’n’Pots is indebted to the contributor who alerted us to this article.

This is a transcript of a commons debate where the Stoke North Member of Parliament Joan Walley [Labour] raised the important issue of housing in Stoke On Trent. This is a fine example of the tremendous work our three MP’s do on our behalf. It is a about time, that we the public acknowledge the fact that we are served well by our representatives and they deserve our continued support!

I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for awarding me this debate on housing investment in Stoke-on-Trent. I am also pleased to see the Minister in his place at this late hour and look forward very much to hearing his reply to my remarks.
Key to this debate is ensuring that the Government understand the importance of housing investment for the people and the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Its importance goes much further than just housing needs, great though they are. Housing investment is fundamental to the entire regeneration of the city and is also integral to wider Government efforts to stimulate growth in the west midlands. If we do not deliver in Stoke-on-Trent, we do not deliver in the region as a whole. I know that my hon. Friend understands that argument, because of discussions that we have had previously.
I also know that my hon. Friend understands that unless we ensure that housing investment is dealt with in the wider regeneration context, the homes that we build will not be fit for purpose. Homes must be placed in vibrant and sustainable communities where there is access to jobs, transport and amenities””in short, in places where people can and do want to live. The people of Stoke-on-Trent are the best people in the whole country and they deserve the very best housing policies.
It was in that context that my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) and I recently met the Homes and Communities Agency, which has a key strategic role to play. From the meetings that we have had with its chief executive, we believe that the new agency now has an opportunity to get the right action plan for Stoke-on-Trent. Indeed, I would like to share with the House the agency’s stated list of priorities. The agency will
“align housing and regeneration resources to support growth, place-making and housing renewal, and form partnerships and joint ventures to help unlock investment in areas, including economic development, transport, education and health, to create sustainable communities that meet the needs of local people”.
I want us in Stoke-on-Trent to make that the core of housing investment policy. In doing so, it is vital that all the agencies involved, including Advantage West Midlands, work in partnership with us and with Stoke-on-Trent council to ensure that investment is co-ordinated, complementary and community led. Each agency has its own priorities, but the agencies must also recognise their mutual interests and the benefits of working together to pursue them.
That means that, first of all, we need Government action on the west midlands regional spatial strategy, which is a cause for concern and under review at present. The worst-case scenario for Stoke-on-Trent would be if a green light were to be given for building new houses on greenfield sites outside the heartland inner-city urban areas. I believe that that would undermine the careful and measured proposals from RENEW that would ensure that investment went to the areas characterised by market failure.
Similarly, it would also be detrimental if the regional development agencies to which I have just referred were to prioritise the big, transformational projects at the expense of the smaller-scale initiatives such as the one in Burslem. I therefore want the Minister to give a clear message to the Cabinet and to the Minister with responsibility for the region that we need Advantage West Midlands to work with us on the housing investment priorities in Stoke-on-Trent.
I want to touch briefly on the importance of environmental and educational investment, and on how that fits in with the housing agenda. I am pressing Stoke-on-Trent council to submit an ambitious expression of interest in the community energy saving programme under the remit of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. If that is successful, it will lead to improved insulation and energy-saving measures in hundreds of homes.
There is also a huge opportunity to get a Building Research Establishment centre of excellence located in Stoke-on-Trent, and I want that to be maximised. The centre would conduct much-needed research into improving the energy efficiency of existing homes, and would present a real opportunity to establish Stoke-on-Trent as a centre of excellence in the field. In turn, that would link in with the environmental, housing and jobs agendas, thus fulfilling the need to pursue the holistic approach to regeneration that I believe is crucial. I would appreciate any assurances that the Minister can give me tonight that the Government will work with the RDA and all other partners, including the European Commission, to make sure that the centre can go ahead.
I am also pressing for the Building Colleges For The Future programme to be taken forward on sites in both Shelton and Burslem, because we need apprenticeships that will produce construction workers with the skills and training to deliver new and improved housing. That would also foster the integration of the homes, work and skills that is so vital to the creation of vibrant communities. I really hope that the Minister, who perhaps has a greater say in these matters than anyone else, will be able to take forward that wider strategic framework for regeneration when he considers decisions over specific housing issues in Stoke-on-Trent.
I have only a short time available this evening, so I hope that the Minister will forgive me for not going into detail about the huge investment that has already been made under the decent homes standard and which has brought many council properties up to an acceptable level. I am very appreciative of the help that the Government have given through subsidising council rent increases this year, and I am also grateful for the £66.4 million that they have given for housing investment in Stoke-on-Trent for the period 2009-11. However, the fact is that that is just not enough: more is needed, and I hope that the Minister will be able to do even more for Stoke-on-Trent when he comes to make his decisions this week or next.
Why should the Minister do more for our area? At present, there are 9,105 people on the council house waiting list. Many are there as a result of tenure issues, but every case on the list tells a human story. We have just had the debate about the Finance Bill, and the Government have to tackle housing issues. More than 23 per cent. of private sector homes have a category 1 hazard, and more than 60 per cent. of those are considered non-decent, so if ever there was a case for investment in housing in Stoke-on-Trent, this is it. There are something like 5,700 empty homes in the city, of which 3,500 have been empty for more than six months. I know that the Government have a strong record on dealing with empty homes, but we need to get that record directed and channelled into what is being done on the ground in Stoke-on-Trent. My colleague, Councillor Dave Conway, has done a lot to highlight this issue, and I understand that discussions are taking place about some kind of pilot project that could help us to reduce the number of empty homes by 1,500. I hope that the Minister will be able to look favourably on that, and find a way of helping Stoke-on-Trent to go about doing that work. Perhaps I should add that, as an honorary vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, I believe that environmental health can always assist the work that needs to be done on the ground in Stoke-on-Trent to a much greater extent.
Of course we have high levels of deprivation and worklessness, and a lack of choice in housing. We have two and three-bedroomed houses, but there is a particular lack of four-bedroomed family houses and houses that are suitable for the elderly. There is also a great need for investment for people with a disability. I have recently had meetings with the Royal British Legion, which feels that there is insufficient support for what is being done on disability adaptations. These issues all need to be addressed.
There are three things that the Minister could do to help. The first would be to agree the private finance initiative round 5 bid for Stoke-on-Trent. Research has identified that 16 per cent. of the housing stock for older people is not sustainable, and that a further 32 per cent. of the stock requires significant investment in order to be considered sustainable in the medium to long term. There is a pressing need for 1,000 extra care units to meet the needs of an ageing community, and it is for that reason that there is a bid on the Minister’s desk for about £120 million to meet this need. This would provide 500 units of extra care housing, and I understand that three sites are being considered to provide a spread of services for older people, but the programme is dependent on the successful approval of the PFI bid. I ask the Minister to give that application the go-ahead.
Secondly, the PFI round 6 bid is equally important. I am sorry to give the House all these technicalities. This multi-million pound bid, submitted by Stoke-on-Trent council, has been drawn up to address the wider context of the regeneration of the city, which I touched on earlier. If approved, the bid will focus investment on six housing estates on the periphery of Stoke-on-Trent. These are Chell Heath, Fegg Hayes and Norton in my own constituency, and Abbey Hulton, Bentilee, and Blurton and Meir across the rest of the city and in the constituencies of my hon. Friends who are supporting this debate tonight. These estates are characterised by very high levels of deprivation, and they need much more investment in open space. They also have very limited social and retail facilities. I am frequently asked for help to get parks, football pitches and all kinds of social facilities established in them.
If the bid gets the approval of the Minister and the Homes and Communities Agency, it will enable us to tackle worklessness and to create community empowerment. It would also give us an opportunity to get enhanced design and quality on these estates on the edges of the city. Stoke-on-Trent is not a city with one centre. It is a bit like the Welsh valleys; it is a city with about six towns and many communities within it. The bid would place particular emphasis on more extra care and bungalow accommodation for the elderly. It is essential that, if the Minister does just one thing tonight, it is to give me an indication that when he comes to sign off these bids””I understand that there could be double the number of applications””he will approve that one bid for Stoke-on-Trent. [Interruption.] Members may well laugh, but it is so important that we get this investment in Stoke-on-Trent.
Thirdly, we have the housing market renewal programme. It has been well established that in Stoke-on-Trent it was slow to get off the ground. Now that it has got off the ground, it has a huge task in front of it. It was therefore decided that a bid would be submitted to the Government for a 10 per cent. extra allowance for housing market renewal. That would be in the order of £7 million for the next two years. With all the problems we faced with credit and the recession just before the Budget, I understand why the Government chose not to go ahead and agree the additional bids submitted, but there remains an opportunity for some of them to be approved now.
I would like to put in this bid for Middleport, which is adjacent to Burslem, the mother town of the Potteries, in the wider context of regeneration. We have already had a huge amount to help us start the regeneration programme, but we urgently need to provide more new homes in Burslem town centre. We need to diversify new build by providing more family housing, and we greatly need more development and housing gap funding for semi-derelict sites. We would also like to be able to go ahead with more live/work homes, which have been absolutely transformational in Burslem, particularly in encouraging young people to set up small businesses and live and work in the same place.
I believe that all those issues are fundamental to getting housing investment right. I have not touched on the need for more council housing, because that goes without saying. I understand that there are opportunities for Stoke-on-Trent to bid for the new money and I hope that the Minister will encourage that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise and flag up these concerns with the Minister. I hope that my debate is timely; that it has come about before he has made any final decisions; and that it will have had a chance to influence him. Above all else, I hope that he will accept my invitation to come to Stoke-on-Trent, to Burslem and to Middleport, and perhaps to celebrate with us what I hope will be agreement by the Government to this much-needed investment.

10:07 pm
Iain Wright (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government; Hartlepool, Labour) Link to this | Hansard source
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Joan Walley on securing this important and timely debate. She has been a tenacious champion of more and better housing not just in her own constituency, but in the wider areas of Stoke-on-Trent and the rest of the west midlands. I have had several meetings with my hon. Friend on these matters, and I am sure that she will recall one such notable meeting that coincided with a fire alarm and subsequent evacuation of the entire building. I do not think that she had anything to do with that; the case was never proven! She has, however, had quite an impact on the Department.
I have been to Stoke-on-Trent several times to examine for myself the issues of housing and regeneration in the area. I greatly enjoyed my time at Weston Heights in the Colville area, having been invited there by another tenacious champion for housing in Stoke, my hon. Friend Mr. Flello. Weston Heights is a landmark regeneration scheme in the city, demonstrating great partnership working, led by RENEW, North Staffordshire, which has produced something like £55 million worth of investment, providing 300 modern, good-quality houses for the people of Colville and beyond. This development very vividly shows what can be achieved in Stoke-on-Trent. I look forward similarly to visiting the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North very soon.
I have mentioned partnership working, and in a well-reasoned and passionate argument, my hon. Friend also mentioned the importance of such working between RENEW, North Staffordshire, the Homes and Communities Agency, Advantage West Midlands and Stoke-on-Trent city council in producing co-ordinated and complementary outcomes at both regional and local level, which are also led by the community. She is absolutely right about that, as the relationship between the regional Homes and Communities Agency, the regional development agency and the local authority is the vital key to securing what she referred to as the triumvirate of housing, jobs and skills.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her recent appointment to the West Midlands Committee. I urge her to use her powers of argument and her membership of that powerful Committee to ensure that the approach that she has advocated tonight is adopted by the various agencies.
My hon. Friend mentioned the west midlands regional spatial strategy. As she said, the RSS is currently under review. I understand that the examination-in-public stage began only a couple of days ago. In those circumstances, and given the quasi-judicial role of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the process, I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for not commenting in detail on her points about the RSS.
One of the central elements in my hon. Friend’s speech was the importance of housing market renewal areas in rejuvenating communities, and the important role that RENEW North Staffordshire has played in realising her vision for her area. We have made allocations since 2004 totalling £167.5 million for RENEW to create a stronger, more stable housing market, and to provide a better future for communities hit by low demand for property and poor-quality housing. In the current financial year, 2009-10, that represents an allocation of £34.2 million, which, as my hon. Friend said, represents 90 per cent. of the indicative allocation announced in February 2008.
I am keen for RENEW, and indeed all housing market renewal areas, to use the significant local market intelligence that they have acquired over the past few years to help to address the challenging economic conditions that we currently face. It is important for the Government to provide significant investment to give communities real help now. It is also important for that investment to provide direct benefits for people living in housing market renewal areas, and for real and tangible outputs in terms of delivery to ease the current economic conditions now. We, along with the Homes and Communities Agency, want the pathfinders to lead the response to conditions in their areas. We look to them to use their intelligence, to shape local markets, to underpin current activity, and to lead the drive towards effective recovery.
It is in that context that, in 2009-10 and 2010-11, all pathfinders will receive the 90 per cent. level of funding as a base allocation. When pathfinders demonstrate an active response to market conditions, achieve expenditure and make impacts, we will offer further resources up to the original 100 per cent. budget. In RENEW’s case that would mean that an additional £3.8 million could be made available this year, which would help my hon. Friend’s area. I am keen to allow that to go ahead to provide real help for RENEW’s areas of investment.
Arrangements for accessing the additional funds are currently being worked out by the Homes and Communities Agency and by me, and the HCA will notify pathfinders of the outcome in due course. Meanwhile, I am due to meet chairs and chief executives of pathfinders in the next week, when I shall want to set out further our wish for clear and achievable criteria on the basis of which the additional money could be obtained by pathfinders.
I hope that that clear expression of my intention reassures my hon. Friend that money would be available if direct and tangible benefits were provided by RENEW. In the meantime, the £34.2 million already awarded for 2009-10 will enable RENEW to undertake the refurbishment of 700 homes, the acquisition of 220 homes, the demolition of 300 homes that have reached the end of their useful life, and the construction of 150 new homes.
Although RENEW North Staffordshire is an important vehicle for the achievement of regeneration and growth, it is not the only vehicle. The provision of new homes in Stoke-on-Trent, particularly affordable homes, is something that this Government hold dear. That is why, last year and this year, we have already contracted””through the national affordable housing programme, the national clearing house scheme and HomeBuy Direct””for more than £27 million in Stoke to deliver an additional 400 affordable homes for social rent and low-cost home ownership, with more in the pipeline.
My hon. Friend will be well aware of our commitment to delivering affordable homes both despite and because of the current difficult economic conditions. Let me give her an example in her constituency. A major housing development in Greenhead street, Middleport, stalled recently owing to the prevailing economic conditions. We were already involved with the development through the Homes and Communities Agency in the west midlands, providing £2.7 million of gap funding to support the delivery of 320 new homes. We were made aware of the problems in delivering homes on this development, and held discussions with key partners and the developers with a view to helping them during these difficult times, and with the twin aims of keeping people in work and making sure that the homes we need get built. This resulted in a further £2.5 million being provided to the registered social landlord partner, Countryside, through the national affordable housing programme, to support the delivery of much-needed affordable homes. This timely intervention has enabled the development to continue.
This example demonstrates that investment to revive stalled housing schemes can play a decisive role in housing delivery and regeneration. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will welcome the Chancellor’s Budget announcement that a further £400 million will be made available to ensure that stalled developments will go ahead. We estimate this will create or safeguard 30,000 jobs in the construction industry and ensure the delivery of an extra 10,000 homes, and I hope my hon. Friend will ensure that Stoke plays a part in that.
Despite the difficult economic conditions, we remain committed to the delivery of affordable housing, and our aspiration is nationally to reach 70,000 homes a year by 2010-11, including 45,000 homes for social rent. To help us deliver this target, we want to give all local authorities, including Stoke-on-Trent, the opportunity to play a bigger role in the delivery of affordable housing where this can be done cost-effectively, and we also want to allow councils to bid for social housing grant from the Homes and Communities Agency should they wish to do so. My hon. Friend mentioned the important role that local authorities can play in the delivery of housing, and I agree. We have just consulted on new freedoms for councils which could remove some of the old barriers and disincentives that councils face in building new homes. Specifically, we have consulted on whether councils should keep all the rental income from the new homes they build, and whether they should keep the full capital receipts if those homes went on to be sold under any future right to buy.
I have already mentioned the Budget. My hon. Friend will be aware that an extra £100 million was made available in the Budget to allow local councils to build good-quality, energy-efficient homes.
In the meantime, over the last two years we have also supported Stoke-on-Trent city council’s delivery of housing, to the tune of almost £21 million to the regional housing pot. This comprised about £14.5 million for the regeneration of existing housing stock in addition to the previously mentioned allocations to RENEW, and more than £6 million to bring the council’s housing stock up to the decent homes standard.
Stoke-on-Trent city council advises my Department that all of its homes will be decent by 2010, and to help them and other authorities achieve this, as part of the recent fiscal stimulus package we announced the bringing forward of expenditure through the major repairs allowance to sustain and accelerate the decent homes programme. I am pleased to report that Stoke-on-Trent successfully bid to bring forward expenditure worth almost £3 million from 2010-11 into 2009-10, one of only three local authorities to do so in the west midlands.
I am also delighted to report to the House that in the past two years we have fully met Stoke-on-Trent’s bids for disabled facilities grant. Let me remind Members that this is a small but vital grant that enables assistance to be given to some of the most vulnerable people in our community, thereby enabling them to remain in their own homes. For Stoke-on-Trent, this amounted to £1.8 million over the two years.
I know that my hon. Friend is very concerned about rounds 5 and 6 of the housing private finance initiative. She mentioned that Stoke-on-Trent city council submitted an expression of interest for a comprehensive housing-led regeneration scheme, and that it is eagerly awaiting a decision on this. I am afraid I cannot give her the news on that tonight. However, I can say that we received a large number of high-quality expressions of interest in this initiative from various other parts of the country. We are currently considering the Homes and Communities Agency recommendations, and an announcement on the outcome will be made shortly. I shall certainly ensure that my hon. Friend is made aware of any news.
I congratulate my hon. Friend again on securing this debate. I commend her ambition and determination for her area, and I hope that I have demonstrated to her that the Government match her determination and ambition in delivering more and better homes in Stoke- on-Trent. This demonstration has been matched by significant and, indeed, unprecedented investment in housing and regeneration by this Government for her area. In difficult economic times, this investment will continue to provide real help now for people and businesses in Stoke, and to ensure that the city has the housing stock that she knows that it wants and deserves. I look forward to visiting her constituency soon, to see for myself the plans that she has for Stoke-on-Trent. Again, I thank her for the opportunity to debate this important issue, and I look forward to seeing her soon.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned

Wol’s Weekend Wanderings!

Tony Walley

Tony Walley

Comment By Tony Walley.

I want to start with some good news this week for a change.

I interviewed the Member of Parliament for Stoke Central Mark Fisher on the radio yesterday. I was after an update on the campaign to save Mitchell/Berryhill High Schools.

He confirmed during our conversation that he had met Schools Minister Jim Knight and Education Secretary Ed Balls this week along with Stoke North MP Joan Walley and Stoke South MP Rob Flello. It’s great news for Trentham High and the TAG as both Knight and Balls (sounds like a dodgy solicitors practice!) have confirmed that funds will be made available for the refurbishment of Trentham High School, either of the BSF pot or from government directly.

That surely means that the TAG have won not only a huge battle, they have won the whole bloody war! Good on them I say. That news may well trigger another week long celebration.

There is also good news for the people of the Bucknall/Bentilee/Berryhill areas. It seems that the Berryhill playing fields may well be the location of a new school for the area. The Mitchell site may well be a step to far and not achievable, but this site is a whole lot better than the ill throughout “gasometer” location which would have served no community.

All the MP’s are convinced that this site is the most suitable as it serves not only Bucknall/Bentilee/Berryhill but it serves the areas of Sandford Hill/Meir Hay/ Parkhall/Weston Coyney as well. It is understood that access can be achieved for all the communities the school will be required to serve. The ministers had absolutely NO PROBLEM with this location. Our three city MPs just need to convinced the EMB and the council executive now.

At the last EMB meeting, the executive were keen to see the BSF programme rolled out without any further delay. Now have the chance to do just that. Surely it’s time to put this whole thing to bed now. We need to get on with it and agree that the new site off Mossfield Road is the final location and start and then we need to instruct the builders to start building!

I sincerely hope that the EMB in it’s  final days, will do the right thing and for once deliver a policy that engages and excites the communities and does not stir up emotions of anger and bewilderment.

Our three MP’s have proved that once the Labour Party is united on an issue that the can be formidable. They have shown the whole city that we do not need to turn to extreme parties to get politicians that listen to the electorate. They have confirmed to party supporters and the opposition that the Labour Party can still be a force to be reckoned with.

The MP’s commitment and achievements should be a lesson to the local Labour party.

EMB members, Labour councillors and party activists must be motivated by the example of the MP’s. There does seem that there is a groundswell of support for the campaign to see a new school in Stoke Central. This new found unity must be built upon and if there is a desire for a new Labour Group leader and a change of direction away from the unpopularity of the old EMB regime, deliver it NOW, in unity and reap the rewards from the electorate and watch them turn away from the BNP.

No new Labour group leader should be afraid or even concerned about sites like this. Our aim is to promote debate and to scrutinise council/executive decisions. Why do people enter politics if they do not like opposing opinions? Politics in this country and especially in this city is dying through lack of interest. If we get new people interested in politics through having the opportunity to express THEIR opinions on forums like this, surely that can only be a good and positive thing.

The success of the TAG and the emergence of sites like this will encourage new people to engage in politics. I would bet that there will be a couple of the Trentham Action Group that stand as Independent councillors against Ross Irving and Roger Ibbs at the next council elections. They will assume control of their community and will make sure that the credibility of their councillors is never again questioned. This will perhaps highlight that the EMB/Coalition has damaged mainstream parties and furthered the cause of Independent councillors. Chris Hall or maybe Jules “the loon” Teed or maybe Pits’n’Pots’s own Nicky Davis will take up the challenge? They have demonstrated that they have unwavering commitment, the intellect and the motivation to be very good ward councillors indeed. The future of politics in this city will be interesting to say the least…….

Now lets talk Political Assistants.

The three largest political groups on our council each have a political assistant paid for by the council that works exclusively for them!

It seems that our council executive wants to rid the parties of their assistants and I am absolutely outraged by this.

Liam Spender political assistant to the Labour Party was due to leave his post at the end of June. This week he has been encouraged to leave early with the aid of a settlement.

Felicity Cox political assistant to the Conservative and Independent Alliance has also left this week. She too has had the “encouragement” to seek pastures new.

There is one political assistant left. The Independent group are desperately trying to cling on to theirs. The EMB will consider three options regarding paid political assistants at this week’s executive meeting.

The Item will be a closed agenda item and as such, will not be heard before the public:
10. Officer Support to Individual Political Groups

(Exempt under Paragraphs 2 and 4 ““ Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual and information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the Council or a Minister of the Crown and employees of, or office holders under, the Council).
These political assistants are an essential tool in helping councillors scrutinise officers decisions. They research and investigate matters. They attend meetings and help councillors in many different ways. They work entirely for the councillors and their party and are not answerable to the council management, officers or any department.

The council executive want the parties to use officers to assist them. But surely that will be a conflict of interest. How can a party or councillor be totally independent whilst scrutinising the decision making process if the assistance they require is from a person who is under the management of the very people who made the decision in the first place.
It seems, according to some sources, that the EMB think that political assistants are not good value for money. But this same EMB seem totally happy for departments like Media and Communications to employ 24 people to put good news stories out at a cost to the city of £980,000. The average political assistant earns in the region of £25,000 each and there are/were three of them. YOU DO THE MATHS!
It’s not hard to see what is, and is not, value for money is it?
It is essential to this city and it’s councillors that there is independent scrutiny and our political parties who qualify for these political assistants must be given the resources to retain them.
Well that’s it for this weekend, I’m off for a period of contemplation in a dark room, to see if I can find a way to reassure EMB members that this site is not a negative thing and that it’s good to talk and communicate and that you don’t have to spend £980,000 to do it!
Observations and comments are wanted and most welcome as always.
These are my Weekend Wanderings and I commend it to the blog!