Stoke-on-Trent Businesses Sign Up To Climate of Change

Over 200 businesses and stakeholders met at the Kings Hall in Stoke this morning [Wednesday] to help shape the future vision for the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The Mandate for Change vision is based on four strategic aims that go wider than the city council and its services.

These are:

1) Make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business
2) Support and develop existing business
3) Work with people to promote independence and healthy lives
4) Make Stoke-on-Trent a great city to live in.

The meeting was positive and all those present were enthusiastic to play a part in the development of the city’s future and to help eradicate worklessness.

”I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend the meeting this morning.

“The people on our table were really positive about the project and it was very interesting to hear a diverse range of ideas.

“I thought the City Council CEO John van de Laarschot spoke well and I was impressed at how the event was managed.

“The councillor on our table was Peter Hayward and he really impressed me with his approach to the whole issue.

“It was also great to hear the vision and ideas of former Elected Mayor Mike Wolfe who clearly still has a lot to offer the City and always seems to shine at these kinds of events.

“Al in all, I thought the event was a success and to me, the proof of how serious the council are about the future of the city will be if they hold another of these meetings in the near future”.

The event was attended by many of the elected councillors and officers.

The clear message was to make Stoke-on-Trent a great working city and a great place to live.

Politicians and council officers have prioritised job and wealth creation to increase prosperity in the belief that they will have a positive effect on the reduction of the reliance on benefits. It is believed that in turn there will be a reduction on anti-social issues which will help the health and police services.

City Council CEO told the meeting that the future was in the hands of the private sector in light of recent cuts in local government.

“Of course we need to change how the council delivers it services, and we are in the middle of that process by introducing new ways of working, but this is much, much bigger than the council. This is about a one city approach. It is about the council becoming an enabler not a barrier. We want to show people that Stoke-on-Trent is a great place to come and bring businesses and that rewards can be reaped from being part of the city.

“Everything else will come in time if we sort the problem of the severe lack of jobs in the city. By being financially independent people will lead healthier and more independent lives and that in turn will generate a great city to live in.”

The Leader of the City Council Mohammed Pervez was absent from the meeting due to a recent family bereavement.

” “The Mandate for Change is not just about the city council it is about the future success of our city.

“We know the council cannot make Stoke-on-Trent a “Ëœgreat working city’ on its own. We need the support and help from businesses, partners and residents to make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business. We need to promote and market the city to say on the national and international stage that Stoke-on-Trent is open for business!

“I strongly believe the best way to significantly improve the lives of our residents is to create jobs – it really is that simple. That is why we have invited businesses, third sector representatives and partners to join us on Wednesday and give us their feedback on our strategic aims. This is the beginning of a very exciting journey for the city. One I hope everyone will get involved in.”

There was an invited to all attendees to keep coming up with ideas of how to help the city attract inward investment and to encourage and support start up businesses and entrepreneurship.

The City Council also launched a video of iconic images from around the City to support the mandate.

Stoke-on-Trent Residents Treated Like Mushrooms

Democracy4Stoke at its meeting last night, Thursday 16 June 2011, took the unprecedented step of altering its annual work programme following serious concerns about revelations of secret meetings taking place at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

D4S has now taken the monitoring and scrutiny of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s compliance with its own constitution and relevant legislation as its new priority for the foreseeable future.

This appears to totally fly in the face of the Chief Executive’s, Mr Laarschot promises of openness and transparency within the local authority. D4S are deeply concerned that the interests of the public are being ignored, and potentially the legal requirements of the City Council being broken.

D4S are aware of at least one investigation dropped by this meeting that affects an elderly resident who has been campaigning about home social care for over two years potentially affecting hundreds of vulnerable adults following an ombudsman’s judgment against the City Council.

””‹Dear Mr Hackney/ Ms Bates,

D4S at its meeting on Thursday 16 June 2011 agreed D4S write to you with regards to our serious concerns that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is not acting within the public interest; in the manner of openness and transparency expected of a publicly accountable body nor potentially within the legal framework required by local authorities.

An elected member has contacted us with regards to scrutiny decisions and meetings being held in private and without public notice or records.

It is alleged that the Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee, previously notified to the public on SoT CC website as “cancelled” then subsequently removed from the list of meetings, still took place in an “informal” capacity.

However, the member concerned attended the meeting and alleges that the meeting had an agenda, discussed matters, voted and made decisions contrary to those made in good faith by previous O+S committees, specifically but not exclusively to work programme items.

These “decisions” were allegedly made on the basis of briefing papers submitted by officers and directors not disclosed to the public, and without giving notice to those members of the public who may have formally raised the items, giving them the opportunity to provide evidence or their own “briefing papers”.

D4S believes the actions of the council on this matter may be in contravention of the legislation relevant to such matters of local government and scrutiny, and we also believe that if such a meetings or others that we have not been aware of, are taking place, they are in direct conflict with the commitments previously made by the CEO and the council to up hold openness and transparency.

We would be grateful if you could provide a full explanation of the events above and include any relevant paperwork, briefing papers or other relevant documents to support your response.

We would also wish to know if any other “informal” meetings have taken place in such circumstances in the recent past and details of such
occurrences.

We reserve our right to take further action where necessary.

We also give you notice, due to the seriousness of the allegations above, D4S at its meeting, also decided to alter its full annual works programme to include as it first priority for the foreseeable future for all its members, the monitoring and scrutiny of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s compliance with its own constitution and all relevant local government legislation.

Yours sincerely,

D4S

www.democracy4stoke.co.uk”

”Openness and transparency are at the core of successful and proper democracy. Citizens cannot make informed choices or hold their representatives to account if information that should be public is withheld or meetings and decisions are made in secret. D4S is committed to continuing its work in the interests of everybody in Stoke-on-Trent and this is reflected in this new priority and its increasing membership.

Treating the electorate like mushrooms in the dark in not acceptable for this area, nor anywhere else.

We will not hesitate to highlight our concerns and potentially take legal action where we think it would be in the interests of the people of Stoke-on-Trent.”

Chief Exec Must Draw on His Experience to Generate Income for Stoke-on-Trent City Council

I thought long and hard before writing this article as I have always been a massive supporter of John van de Laarschot.

The recent settlement between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the former Director Of Housing Environment & Neighbourhood Services Jeanette McGarry has dented JVDL’s halo significantly.

It’s OK to say that the council has insurance that indemnifies them against claims of this nature, but you have to ask yourselves whether this should have been a claim at all?

Pits n Pots broke the story back in April 2010, the very next day, we received a press statement that on the first read we kind of knew it would come back and bite someone on the bum at a later stage and we guessed that somewhere along the line, it would cost the City Council a large sum of money.
This bit:

Without admission of liability, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and its insurers have paid Jeanette an undisclosed sum in settlement of her employment and libel claims. The Council wishes Jeanette well in her future career.

admits liability, if there is no liability on the Council’s part then why the hell pay it?

We pay our chief executive in the region of £195,000. I can remember the council officers and elected representatives defending this huge sum of money by saying that if we are to attract the best, we have to pay for the best.

At a time when a significant number of CEO’s across the country are taking a voluntary pay cut, highly paid public sector executives need to show that they are in touch with the reality of life in the cities in which they work.

Staffordshire Moorlands CEO has just taken a 7.5% cut in his salary; his basic salary is in the region of £45,000 less than his counterpart in Stoke-on-Trent. I think this action shows that those at the top are aware of the difficulties facing the citizens out there on the mean streets. Services and amenities are being lost, people are feeling the strain. This gesture, albeit token in nature, tells Joe Public that in a small part, he is feeling the pain too.

I have supported John on bringing Vanguard into the City Council to implement their “ËœLean Systems Thinking’ model which will reduce the layers of bureaucracy and increase efficiency. This simply had to be done, had it not been, the recent cuts would have been far harsher.

I don’t think that the 700 job losses are the last either. With £20million worth of cuts still to come in the next financial year, even more council employees will be for the push. I have said before on this site that I can see the council workforce 20% lighter than before JVDL started here in Stoke-on-Trent.

That said; JVDL needs to start delivering more than just cut, cut, cut for this city. We could well do with no more loose tongue mentality [or should that be loose keyboard syndrome?] that don’t result in another astronomical pay out to a disgruntled officer of the council.

I think I am more upset that the media release about the recent pay out didn’t contain anything that acknowledged any regret for the release of a statement that cost our council dear. Moreover, Mr van de Laarschot has not come out with any statement either apologising or expressing regret to our elected members. He had the perfect opportunity at the annual council meeting.

Our council leader or the leader of the opposition did not broach the subject either, now maybe that was because the Annual Council tends to be a ceremonial event as opposed to a full blown political debating opportunity. Time will tell as the next full council meeting is scheduled for early July and Dave Conway may choose to land a few telling jabs and a right hook during the exchanges.

The reason that I am calling for John van de Laarschot to draw on his considerable experience to help the City generate income is , as the ex head of Coca Cola Europe, he will have the ideas and commercial experience to help the council maximise their revenue potential.

An example is the number of commercial council properties that are lying empty across the city. Can these be used by people who want to start up businesses but may have a problem finding the funding or getting the banks to lend? Leases can contain rent free periods and certain other inducements, but if we have someone who has commercial experience and can think out of the box, instead of chargeable rent maybe there could be a share of profit with the council instead.

That way empty units can be filled. Revenue could be earned. Business start ups can get the help and support they need and more importantly cash could be rung through the council till.

Real entrepreneurial skill is required to facilitate the kind of regeneration that is needed in a city like Stoke-on-Trent. Fill those empty units, help the 6 towns to regenerate and to become more vibrant, encourage money to stay within the local town centre economy.

The city council needs to encourage social enterprises and to transfer assets to worthwhile, credible ventures.

I believe that in a City that is lacking in skilled job opportunities, those at the top of the City Council including the CEO, the council leader and his cabinet have to meet the challenge to get people back into work head on.

Other cities have proven officer type, career public servants at the top of their authorities. We chose to employ someone with a different skill set, with more to offer and a real commercial brain to head up our authority.

That person needs to step up to the plate and deliver now.

Pervez and his cabinet think that they have a mandate to carry on cutting ““ they don’t!

They have a mandate to bring wealth creation, prosperity and opportunities to our city over the next few years.

Yes there may be a few difficult decisions to make along the way, but the city and more importantly the electorate, will judge them on their achievements.

I believe that cuts are not an achievement – bringing a brighter future, full of hope to our citizens, is.

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!”

Gunge Time for Stoke-on-Trent’s Chief Executive

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Chief Executive will take one for the team in aid of Red Nose Day.

John van de Laarschot will place his rather expensive rear end on a stool and the public will be invited to take aim and throw a sponge at a target – successful hits will see the head of the officer core covered in gunge – literally!

It’s all for charity and it’s taking place this coming Friday 18th March on the Sainsbury’s car park, London Road, Stoke.

John will be spend half an hour in the firing line at around 10am and will join members of the Sainbury’s staff to raise as much money as possible for Comic relief.

700 City Council staff may be tempted to mess JVDL’s hair up but it is unlikely that there will be sufficient time to hurl 35 million sponges!

In all seriousness though Pits n Pots applaude our CEO for taking the time to engage in some light hearted fun and in doing so expelling the myth that our council officers sit in ivory towers.

The only question remaining is why the rest of the Directors and heads of service aren’t putting their heads above the parapet.

“I think it’s worth half an hour of anyone’s time to raise some money for a good cause ““ but I can’t say it’s going to be a pleasant experience!

“In all seriousness though, it’s important that we do all we can to raise money for good causes, and in this case, support Red Nose Day, which has such a huge impact on poverty, disease and hunger here in Stoke-on-Trent, nationally and overseas.

“I’m proud to be able to support Red Nose Day, I just need to remember to bring a change of clothes on Friday!”

Health and Safety have confirmed the rumour that the gunge contains peroxide is not true.

The Chief Executive is relieved as it may have turned his hair yellow……… bum bum – we are here all week!

No To 0844!

Download our No To 0844 poster and show the City Council that you don’t want to pay between 3 & 40+ppm to report repairs.

Display it in your window, write a note to your local councillors or the Chief Executive John van de Laarschot on the back, take it to the next council meeting and wave it from the public gallery.

Show YOUR council that they should be working for you and you don’t want to have to call this number at more cost to you each time you need to book a repair or find out why an appointment has been missed.

If the information we have been given and published in other posts is correct, why at a time of unprecedented cuts are the council spending £400 a month to cost you more money to call them?

This is a lose lose situation.

0844 ““ Stoke-on-Trent Housing Repair Number ““ What’s The Point?

Pits n Pots broke the news last week that the council were to change the housing repair report telephone number from the area STD code 01782 to a non-geographical 0844 number.

Nearly a week later, and we are no closer to understanding the reason for this change.

The council claim that neither themselves, nor Kier are making any money from this change. Indeed it is costing Stoke-on-Trent City Council £400 per month just to have the privilege of having and 0844 number.

This after an initial set up cost of £700, which includes £200 worth of training and some £650 spent on producing 30000 leaflets informing tenants of the change.

£200 worth of training?

What is the training for? Answering the telephones? I guess the council staff would know how to do that already.

I really cannot see why the council would need to implement staff training just for the sake of a phone number change. For the members of staff concerned nothing has changed, the phone rings just the same.

There should be no need for training unless a new phone system [hardware], or a new call handling system [software] has been installed.

In a notice to elected members, the council claim:

As a part of the on-going series of improvements to the Housing Repair Service the City Council is setting up a dedicated team to handle repair requests from our tenants. The team will be working in a location designed for the purpose. They will be able to focus on the task of handling repair requests and managing the communications with the repair operatives across the city. By bringing the essential elements under one roof we will be able to bring further improvements to our customers.

The new service will also have a new dedicated phone number which will be available for our customers to use 24 hours a day seven days a week.
0844 894 0145

The new service and the dedicated phone number will be available for our customers from 8am on February 10 2011.
Calls to the new number will cost approximately 3 pence per minute *from a BT residential line*.

One of the key benefits from the new service will be that calls can be handled quickly minimising the time and costs to our customers. Previous improvements have seen the length of time that customers spend on the telephone reducing steadily. Many repair enquires are now completely dealt with within 4 minutes and the launch of the new service will enable us to make further improvements.
Our free-phone service in One Stop Shops will also continue to operate. Customers can visit during opening hours and use a dedicated phone to contact the repairs service.

Later this year we will be making some improvements to our e-mail and web based reporting facilities which will bring further ways to make it simple and quick to contact the repairs service.

(*Call charges for mobile phones and for other networks will vary)

It is that last line that concerns me and should strike fear into all our elected members:

*Call charges for mobile phones and for other networks will vary*

Those responsible for implementing this change should realise that not all council house tenants have a BT landline, in fact as a councillor representing a large council house tenant estate commented to me yesterday, residents prefer mobile as they struggle to find the money when billed quarterly.

During a conversation with Mike Rawlins last week, the cabinet member with responsibility, Cllr Brian Ward informed him that the majority of callers to the housing repair service use mobile phones.

Ka-Ching!

Another elected member told me yesterday that he had spent 29mins holding for Kier through the 01782 number. From Thursday, if he was calling on an Orange pay as you go mobile phone, that call would have cost him £11.60.

If that call had been made on a Virgin landline service there would have been a connection charge of 12.24p and then 7.13p per minute giving a total of £2.19.

These charges are totally unacceptable to a council tenant who is on benefits and for families where money is scarce.

The council claim that this change will not make money for either them or Kier so why the need to change at all?

I can understand the changes if the council were gaining revenue from this venture, understand that is, but not agree!

This change, if we are to believe what we are being told, will cost the council £400 per month. So why the hell pay out money that you don’t need to in these times of austerity?

This service is being offered to council tenants 24/7 these lines have to be manned, so if there is revenue made by the council from this 0844 number, will it be used to offset the cost incurred by operating 24/7?

Our Chief Executive Officer John van de Laarschot is all
for openness and transparency. Recently I admit that I feel quite sorry for the guy.

He must wonder if a skeleton is going to leap out of every cupboard he opens and shout Boo! Relating to something that happened before he got here.

Well John, this is most definitely on your watch!

Some head of service has made a decision to change a strategic service within the council and then claim that no revenue will be realised from that change. In fact it will incur extra costs to this city council at this time of unprecedented cuts.

I can [because I have] set up a 0844 number at my company for no charge. I certainly did not pay an amount up front and neither is the service costing me every month.

What I do get is a rake off on all incoming calls. This is used to give me a rebate on my monthly phone bills, meaning that I spend less on outgoing calls effectively.

I sense a closing of the ranks on this matter.

There seems reluctance in divulging the true extent of the deal surrounding the decision to implement a 0844 number which will mean a massive increase to the majority of residents who use this service unless you are lucky enough to have a BT landline.

Every 0844 number has a standard number attached to it.

When i received complaints off some customers that it was costing them more than a local rate call because they happened to have a different provider or were using a mobile, I decided to give out the 01782 number. I did this because I did not want to lose my customers business.

I don’t think that this will happen at the City Council, for as much as council tenants are described as customers, they have no alternative provider.

Like it or lump it is the phrase that springs to mind…

Another Kick In The Teeth For Stoke-on-Trent City Council Tenants

On the day that Stoke-on-Trent City Council release their updated budget book, with details of which services are going to be cut as part of the cost cutting measures, it appears that they have come up with a new revenue generation scheme. A scheme that will hit some of the cities poorest residents.

From 10 February Stoke-on-Trent City Council & Kier, their housing maintenance partner are going to start using a dedicated new number for tenants to report housing repairs.

The new 0844 number will be available 24 hours a day according to a leaflet handed to Pits n Pots by a council tenant this afternoon.

I have just had this leaflet pushed through my door, telling me that from next week I need to call a 0844 number if I want to report any repairs.

I get local calls for free on my home phone, but now I will have to pay for the call. Last time I rang I was hanging on the phone for over 20 minutes while I tried to report a problem with my bathroom. If I had to pay for the call how much would that call cost me?

This latest ‘tax’ on council tenants comes under the watchful eye of Vanguard the company brought in by John van de Laarschot to oversee the restructuring & improvements to the way the council work.

0844 numbers are classed as ‘non geographic’ meaning that the cost of calling the number is the same from anywhere in the UK. Pits n Pots can’t think of many reasons why anyone outside of the 01782 area code would need to call the repairs line apart from the odd instance when a family member may be calling on behalf of a council tenant.

According to a number of companies who provide 0844 numbers, people who use an 0844 number for business can enjoy revenues of up to 4p a minute depending on the number of calls.

Using the new 0844 number council tenants who use BT as their phone provider will be forced to pay a flat rate of 5p per minute on. So a call of 10 minutes will cost 50p

Virgin Media customers, on the other hand will be forced to pay a 12.24p connection fee and then 7.13p for each minute they are on the call, making a 10 minute call 84p

Council Tenants who rely on a mobile phone on Pay As You Go contracts can expect to pay upwards of 20p on O2 and 40p on Orange a minute.

Based on figures seen by Pits n Pots Stoke-on-Trent City Council contact centre get an estimated 60,000 calls each year for repairs. With an average call taking around 10 minutes which could generate an income of over £24,000pa for the council, an income funded by some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the city.

I checked with the Director about the number when I saw it printed on the leaflets and was assured that it is not a premium rate number but a local call number.

I was not told about any possible rake off of call charges coming back to the council as revenue, I’ll going to the Civic Centre later this afternoon and will be asking some questions about the number and the charges.

Brain also said, residents are able to use phones in any of our buildings and make calls to the contact centre including the new repairs line for free

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Propose Retention of All Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Cabinet are proposing the retention of all 16 Children’s Centres after listening to public concerns and the 6000 strong petition organised by the Save Our Children Centre’s group headed by Millissa Beydilli.

Whilst the Cabinet are proposing to save the Children’s Centres, the award winning Stoke Speaks Out service, short breaks for the disabled and carers, the Merit Pupil referral service and 24/7 CCTV coverage, they have also confirmed their intention to close several key facilities.

Although the Children’s Centres have been saved Council Leader Mohammed Pervez would give no guarantee that staff jobs would be saved. He also gave an indication that there may be a reorganisation of the Children’s Centres management structure.

The decision to close Shelton and Tunstall pools, Fenton and Burslem Libraries and the Heathside and Eardley Care Homes was also announced.

There is a six month stay of execution for education establishments Ford Green Hall, Etruria Industrial Museum and Stanley Head whilst the council explores the possibility of the transferring them to a community trust or social enterprise.

The future also looks brighter for Meir Community and Education Centre and for Northwood Stadium.

The Meir looks set to retain their community centre after the council leader announced that the council was looking to transfer more services into the popular facility.

The popular service Shopmobility, located at the Potteries Shopping Centre, will also be saved.

Mohammed Pervez confirmed that users have offered to pay for the service and the council are happy to go along with that proposal.

Northwood Stadium is not closing at this stage.

The Future of the City Farm looks bleak however. The Council Leader, Mohammed Pervez confirmed that the council did not consider the farm as a priority and indicated that the council had no statutory obligation to deliver such a service.

The tender to transfer the farm to an independent operator was suspended amidst a dispute over the ownership of the land. Whist the tender is likely to be re-instated at some stage, the feeling is that there would be a lack of interested parties coming forward to take over what was consider by the Guardian Newspaper a top 10 free attraction in the country just a few years ago.

There was also good news for every household in the City.
The Council Leader announced that Council Tax will be frozen for the next year.

The City Council will take up the governments offer a 2.5% grant which will realise £2million to the local authority.

Mohammed Pervez said that this decision was taken because the Cabinet considered that families were already under pressure following the impact of the recent VAT rise to 20%.

In presenting these proposals, the council leader said that he and his cabinet, along with the CEO John van de Laarschot and his officers, had listened to feedback from the public, elected members and members of the City Council’s staff.

Despite today’s announcements it is still expected that 700 staff will leave the employment of the City Council over the next few months through voluntary or compulsory redundancies.

The City Council are facing a gap in funding of £35.6million for the next financial year.

The national coalition government implemented cuts of 8.1% upon the City of Stoke-on-Trent which when the council factored in the reductions in area based and other grant funding, actually resulted in a bigger percentage cut.

Mohammed Pervez was keen to point out that he had pleaded the case that Stoke-on-Trent was a special case with the government but in his words “Ëœthose pleas fell on deaf ears’.

Pervez said that he had written to government on numerous occasions, he had visited London and held talks with a junior minister working in Local Government and Communities Minister Eric Pickles’s team and had joined forces with other authorities namely Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull and Torbay, but to no avail. Stoke-on-Trent was still one of the worse hit areas for cuts in funding.

The council leader also said that this budget consultation had been the most thorough than any before. He and his cabinet claim that they had taken into consideration the feedback from the “ËœLet’s Talk’ consultations and the comments made during his live web debate exclusively on Pits n Pots when making these difficult decisions.

Members of the City council staff had also been given the opportunity to have their say as a part of the “ËœTell John’ exercise held by the CEO John van de Laarschot.

These proposals will now be put in front of all the political groups and presented to all elected members ahead of the Budget Meeting of the Full City Council to be held on the 24th February.

The meeting will be webcast on the Council Website.

After the briefing Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot gave their views.

Listen to the audio below.

Potteye: Laarschot’s False Dawn

At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, it is worth considering what the future may hold for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, its residents and local public services.

Over the last 2 years many instances of financial irregularities and officer misinformation to elected members have come to light, often only with the persistence of certain councillors and a small section of the local media.

The latest of these is the waste managment function with regards to enhanced recycling and the Icelandic Banks disaster. The usual results arise in that, yes, things went wrong, but those involved have moved on, this is all in the past, time to move on, new CEO (12 months in) etc etc etc”¦.

I beleive that what all these revelations expose is that, no matter what governance structure we have in place, the real failures in Stoke-on-Trent City Council, stem from a culture, built over many, many years of complete contempt for elected representation, the truth and incompetence on a grand scale ““ not always politicians ““ but within senior management.

Worst of all is that many of those I accuse above left our Council, not with the shame of their misdeeds, but to move onto greener pastures, often with a handsom payout at the expense of long suffering taxpayers.

Some heralded the appointment of a new Chief Executive from the private sector and a tinpot town of the south coast as the second coming of the Lord, and that all would now be well in the former land of pits and pots.

12 months in are things any different? Can we see the changes in the culture of the council? s The hope for the future any brighter?

In my view the answer is a resounding NO.

Whilst our new CEO is quite happy to be “open and transparent” about information related to past issues of previous council employees, his attitude to current information, openess and transparency is rather a different matter altogether.

Closed agendas items galore ““ councillors can’t even get the reports ““ constant delays and deliberations regarding questions and requests for information. Floor One is a prime example ““ getting to the crux of the matter has been almost impossible, even getting the council to give me public documents about the tender was like pulling teeth with constant delay and misdirection. Even now, as a councillor, I still do not know what is happening with Floor One, even though under the consitution, it must go through a set process.

More recently, the restructure of the council appears to be being conducted like an MI6 undercover terrorist operation. If anything this council is more sensitive, more secretive and more media controlled than ever.

Am I just being critical for politics sake? Am I paranoid? Well I think their are enough out there with their own recent experiences of FOIs etc to know exactly what I mean.

If the government is serious about localism the very first thing it has to address is the old boys network in local government and making clear legislation that puts the honesty and trustworthiness of senior council staff at the centre of democracy.The public and elected representatives should expect no less than to receive all the relevant information they need to make decisions, and that it be accurate, and where individual fail in their duty to do this they should be put before the courts ““ not paid off for their silence.

Some may think that my aim is at Stoke Council, yet the revolving door of local government officers suggests to me that this goes on in most if not all councils ““ some are just better at hiding it.

In the last 3 weeks alone I have been informed of several large “deals” or “payoffs” all hush hush of course with secrecy clauses in the agreements.

Well I have 4 months left as a councillor before the elections and yes I am standing.

As a councillor for 11 years, what has been revealed to the public about mismanagement is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of what I have seen would make some people hair curl, and sadly, to my shame, I have kept my head down at some critical moments, if only to survive for another day.

My first committment for the next 4 months is this ““ to expose and reveal the scale of payoffs and golden handshakes past and present.

My second is to help and support anybody new that is prepare to stand up and be counted at the elections in 2011.

This council will not change until there are enough councillors in it to say enough is enough, and to ask the right questions.

There are plenty of you out there better than me and certainly better than the coalition led by Pervez ““ I have read your blogs, your comments and letters in the newspapers etc.

So I urge those of you that care, those of you that have taken to time to read or comment on fate of Stoke-on-Trent, to stand at the elections, regardless of your politics. Take a chance and make a diffrence.