Stoke-on-Trent City Council Approve £35million Cuts Budget

Stoke-on-Trent City Council set their budget today [Thursday] following a long and sometimes heated debate.

The motion in moving the budget, which includes cuts of some £35million and the closures of several key facilities, was eventually won by 40 votes in favour to 13 votes against.

In voting to accept the budget proposals, councillors have agreed to the closure of Shelton Pool, Burslem & Fenton Libraries, Park Hall Golf Course, 2 elderley care provisions and other valued services and public amenities.

Unless viable business proposals are submitted by community groups or social enterprises the city could also lose Ford Green Hall, the City Farm, Etruria Industrial Museum and the much publicised Tunstall Pool.

It was not all doom and gloom however as the council have confirmed that it is to retain all the City’s Children Centres, Stoke Speaks Out, Shopmobility and all Local Centres.

In moving the motion to commend the Budget, Council Leader Mohammed Pervez said that it was imperative that the council set a legal and balanced budget. He also confirmed that there is to be no Council Tax rise in the next municipal year.

Cllr Pervez told the chamber that it had been a long and hard road to get to the point where the cabinet were able to recommend this budget. He reminded the chamber that the council could not allow petty arguments to derail the process of agreeing this budget.

He said that the cabinet and the officers of the council had been composed, collected and considered as well as open and transparent during the consultation and the budget setting process.

Cllr Pervez reminded the chamber that Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been the 8th hardest hit authority in the country and that those councillors who had accused the cabinet of scaremongering should be glad that they had prepared for the worse case scenario.

The Community Voice group moved an amendment calling for a postponement in setting the budget as they believed that there had been insufficient Equality Impact Assessments carried out on all the budget proposals.

Community Voice spokesman Cllr Mike Barnes, said that the council needed to minimise risk and should heed the legal challenges relating to Equality Impact across other authorities across the country.

Cllr Barnes urged the cabinet to accept the need to dot every I and cross every “Ëœt’.

He condemned the documentation produced to support the budget proposals for failing to mention Equality.

Fellow Community Voice Councillor Mick Salih criticised the cabinet and council officers for not handing round the printed amendment to the substantive motion before the meeting.

He also stated that he was unable to support the budget because there were a number of proposals in it that were still under negotiation. He said that it would be wrong to pass an holistic budget when a large amount of the fine detail was not known.

Deputy Council Leader Ross Irving [Conservative] said that legal clarification was necessary and suggested that the legal officer should address the chamber and give his opinion on whether there was an issue with regards to Equality Impact.

Paul Hackney gave a long and detailed assessment of the situation and concluded that in his opinion the Council had carried out the necessary assessments with regard to Equality and that they has shown due regard during the budget consultations, overview and scrutiny processes and in the final proposals.

Community Voice’s amendment was defeated heavily.

There was a long, passionate, heated and sometimes angry debate in the chamber on the substantive motion of adopting the budget proposals.

The debate was divided between primarily those councillors in the four-way coalition parties of Labour, Conservative and Independent Allliance, Liberal Democrat and City Independent Group [apart from Cllr Dave Conway who refused to support the budget] and those councillors in opposition.

The coalition councillors condemned the opposition councillors, especially the Community Voice group, for playing to the public gallery and for not providing an alternative to the budget proposals.

The opposition councillors especially Community Voice criticised the coalition for not listening to the residents of the city.

Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley accused the cabinet of lacking political judgement and of having no clear criteria in setting this budget.

Cabinet Councillors rebuked the accusations by saying that the criteria was always to protect the most vulnerable and needy in the city.

This meeting was one of the longest in recent times. Passions and emotions were running high. Coalition councillors constantly referred to the need to accept the financial situation imposed on the city by the National Coalition Government.
Coalition Councillors also spoke about taking political responsibility and demonstrating clear leadership in formulating this budget.

Opposition Councillors spoke of the hardship that the citizens and residents of the city will have to endure as a result of these levels of cuts.

No matter what the political persuasion it was evident that the burden of public duty was wearing hard on all the councillors within the chamber.

The opposition councillors gave it heir best shot and the coalition councillors stood firm in the face of adversity and backed their cabinet colleagues.

We have a series of Audio Interviews to bring you.

First one is with Cllr Mike Barnes from the Community Voice group who explains why they were seeking a postponement of a budget decision. This was recorded before the meeting.

Then we hear from Matt Wright from the Socialist Party who explains why his North Staffs Against Cuts group were urging councillors to reject the budget proposals.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party was ejected from the council chamber during the meeting for causing a disturbance.

Next up we hear from Liz from Trent Vale who was also asked to leave the chamber for trying [very peacefully] to address the councillors in the chamber to get support for Shelton Pool and from a member of the action group fighting to save Shelton Pool.

And finally we hear from the four leaders of the coalition groups on the City Council, Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Labour], Cllr Ross Irving [Conservative & IA], Cllr Kieran Clarke [Lib Dem] and Cllr Brian Ward [City Independents] who give their reaction to winning the vote on the budget.

Pre-Council Meeting Demo ““ A Peaceful Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke-on-Trent City Council To Save Children’s Centres?

Council Officers told staff from all the city’s children centres at a meeting at the Bridge Centre last week that all the centres are to be saved from closure but there would be a 10% reduction in staffing levels.

Staff have been informed that positions have been deleted and that a “Ëœpool’ had been established from where those staff who are to be displaced will be picked from.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have denied that any decisions have been made.

“We are in unprecedented times due to the Government funding reductions being imposed on the city council. We need to make savings of £33million. At the moment we are consulting on budget proposals, so as such no decisions have been made about where these reductions will be made. These decisions will be finalised in the New Year. In the mean time I would urge city residents to give their views on the proposals by visiting www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk, writing to Let’s Talk, Freepost, Our City or by emailing me directly on debra.gratton@stoke.gov.uk”

The story has also been picked up by Cllr Mike Barnes.

Children Centre staff have now been told that no Centres are to close as City Council briefs all Children’s Services staff about jobs, cuts and the restructure in meetings and briefings held last week. This will be great news for all those petitioning and campaigning to save them.

This strengthens the view of many cynics, such as myself, who believed there was never any intention of closing any Children Centres, and that it was just a diversionary tactic by the Labour led coalition, whilst other “controversial” cuts will now be heralded as the “preferred option” and well worth sacrificing for the Children’s Centres.

This is a disingenuous strategy more about trying to look good than actually genuinely working through the dire financial predicament we find ourselves in and coming up with solutions that retain the services that people really need and deserve.

Remember that this all started with the leader, Pervez, presenting £33m of cuts, and only when challenged and pressed that the Cabinet revealed that the real level of cuts needed was much less and that the proposed cuts is a “shopping list” ““ precisely what we were told would not happen. Then we find that the redundancy costs are not included and that council officers, quite rightly I might add, are trying to find a financial solution to that particular problem. But why not be open and honest about it all.

Children Centres were always clearly an essential part of the future of our city ““ raising aspirations, abilities, and supporting those in need. They are highly valued by the parents and public who have seen the tangible benefits they have given to individuals, families and communities.

It seems that one battle has already been won ““ but beware ““ bricks and mortar are of little use without the resources and staff to make them function. All those campaigning for the retention of these facilities must now look closely at the reductions in funding and the cuts in staff still on the cards in Children’s Centres.

I fear that if the campaign now relaxes then the reductions in Children’s Centre Services will be as severe as first proposed ““ but hidden behind a thin, hollow, veneer of building retention.

This story brings the openness of the council’s “Ëœlets talk’ consultation into question.

There seem s to be a denial that decisions have been made in relation to the children’s centres and yet we have reports from sources who were at the meeting that would suggest that the future for this important service has been mapped out, all be it with a 10% reduction in staff.

Consultations, Revelations and Common Sense

Tonight [Monday] I attended the hastily-called public meeting to discuss the implications of the closure of Meir CEC.

This was a result of a situation not far from Daniel in the Lion’s Den a few weeks ago, when cabinet member Mervyn Smith turned up for an informal Let’s Talk budget event to be confronted by about 100 Meir residents, wanting to know why the Community Education Centre was potentially under threat of closure as part of the budget process.

Before I go any futher, for those who aren’t aware of what is happening, in advance of the government issuing the City Council with the details of the amount of money it is going to be given for the next year’s budget, and pre-empting the fact that it is likely to be a good deal less than that previously received, the Cabinet have collated a consultation scheme of savings of varying severity, to deal with the anticpated shortfall. These have been sorted into various traffic light colours, both dependent upon how easy they are to achieve and also how much money they would save. At the far end of the spectrum, a big reduction in money received could lead to the loss of several libraries, a significant proportion of Children’s Centres and numerous other services. As you can imagine, opening the books in such a way has caused a bit of a splash.

Whether I agree with a number of the savings suggested is probably a blog for another day (the short answer is “I don’t”), but for now I just wanted to blog on the implications of closing the Meir CEC for my community, where I live and the area I represent on the Council. I don’t think anyone imagines for a second that shutting such a centre is going to be easy, or that it won’t have an impact on the local community, however what has struck me at both the meetings I have attended at the Meir CEC about the potential closure, is the total lack of common sense exhibited in where Meir is now and the community assets we have.

I was totting up in my mind the other night what I have in my ward ““ 5 pubs, 3 chip shops, 2 high schools and 2 swimming pools, amongst many other things. One high school has been rebuilt at great expense, the other will shut in the next 18 months. Both have a swimming pool, but only one has a swimming pool that you could swim in (the other is apparently not fit for use) – and it’s not at the school you would think it was at.

Within less than half a mile of each other, I have a Local Office that is really too small for purpose, a library, a youth centre and a purpose built Community Education Centre, 3 of which have had piles of money spent on them within the last 10 years ““ but at no point did anyone stop and consider that maybe, just maybe, amalgamating premises might be a good idea? This situation makes me want to bang my head on the floor, because it means we are in a really difficult corner with where we go now. I don’t want to lose any facilities in my ward if we can save them, but the complete and utter lack of foresight in planning is just unbelievable.

The funny thing is that at both meetings, this crazy situation has been raised by numerous members of the public. They want to know why we haven’t amalgamated services into a couple of premises, because after all, it’s common sense. Perhaps harking back to my blog last week about feeling you have to defend the Council just because you’re part of it now, I really shake my head in dispair at those whose footsteps I follow in. What were you thinking??

So, back to tonight’s meeting. It was quite nice to see the portfolio holder for community services, Terry Follows, saying he didn’t want to see the Meir CEC shut, and I hope that he will join with the local councillors of Meir in making that very clear to the Cabinet and the rest of the Council. However, I also hope he ponders on where strategic thinking comes into play and uses his portfolio, which is in a pivotal position with relation to community services, to really think out of the box. Places like Meir are relying on it.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Embark On City Bus Tour to Consult On Cuts

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Members today [Saturday] embarked on the first of a series of bus tours across the whole 6 Towns to gauge public opinion regarding the recent announcement of severe cuts.

It was unlike the bus trips I made as a kid from Abbey Hulton Suburban Club to destinations like Blackpool, Rhyl and Southport, this trip was organised by our city council to listen to the concerns of citizens in light of the recent announcement that up to £33million cuts could be made from the local authority budget.

Cabinet Members Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Kieran Clarke and Debra Gratton met in Stoke Town this morning to listen to public concerns and to learn what services are most important and what facilities are most revered by the citizens of the city.

The possible closure of 7 of the 16 children’s centres featured high on the list of concerned residents, along with the end of the Stoke Speaks Out Project and the possible loss of the City Farm.

It was clear listening to the views of many residents visiting Stoke Town and attending the Fenton Manor Leisure Centre, that the public blame the Coalition Government for the hard times to come as opposed to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

High rates of unemployment and changes to the benefit system also worried a n umber of people keen to put their points across to the Cabinet Members in attendance.

The £33million of budget savings left some residents concerned to the level of services that the City Council would be able to deliver as well as the ongoing programme of cuts in the years to come.

We have a number of Audio Interviews for you to listen to with members of the public and the cabinet members in attendance.

The wheels of the bus went round an round and went on it’s way up to the City Centre for even more public consultation in the afternoon as a part of the Council’s “ËœLets’s Talk’ initiative.

If you have a specific are of concern or simply want to have your say on the proposed cuts, you can email letstalk@stoke.gov.uk or visit the website at www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk

You can also text the Let’s Talk Team on 07766 200700, start your message with “letstalk”

Residents Invited To Have Their Say On How To Save Approximately £30m

Residents are to be asked what they would like Stoke-on-Trent City Council to prioritise its spending on for the next financial year, on the back of stiff government cuts.

The authority, which has a budget of £209 million, needs to save approximately £30 million next year ““ a 14 per cent reduction.

A six-week “ËœLet’s Talk’ public consultation will begin on Monday, and residents’ responses will help with tough decisions on where government cuts need to be made.

The consultation, which will run between 12 July ““ 20 August, will include:

* Face-to-face surveys carried out in local centres, shopping centres, markets, libraries, museums and bus stations
* An on-line survey via stoke.gov.uk/letstalk
* Billboard advertising to inform people about the consultation
* A dedicated phone line ““ 01782 235104 ““ where people can give their views in person

The council is responsible for hundreds of services in the city, from bin collections to schools. Some of the services are statutory, which means the council has to carry them out by law ““ these include looking after children in care and vulnerable adults, to highway maintenance and planning regulations. The authority also provides many discretionary services which the council believes it is right to offer residents ““ these include libraries, swimming pools, museums and allotments.

The survey questions ask people to say what is important to them from a list that includes:

* Encouraging more jobs and businesses
* Reducing anti-social behaviour and fear of crime
* Looking after the environment and tackling climate change
* Improving health and well-being
* Repairing and maintaining roads and pavements
* Keeping streets clean
* Improving educational achievement
* Supporting and protecting vulnerable adults and children
* Increasing recycling
* Providing sport and leisure facilities
* Providing decent and affordable housing

The results of the consultation will be reported to the council’s cabinet and the overview and scrutiny committees that help to put the budget together.

Councillor Kieran Clarke, cabinet member for finance, performance and governance, said:

“We face very tough economic times, and the amount of money the government is asking us to save means we have to make very difficult decisions on where we prioritise our spending.

“Residents views are always important to us, but are even more so given the cuts that need to be made. Saving £30 million is a very hard task and will simply mean that we will not be able to deliver some of the services that we have been doing.

“The government’s emergency budget made it clear that we will not be allowed to raise council tax next year to help pay for services, so it is crucial to know what services are important to residents to help identify where the savings must be made.

“I urge as many residents as possible to respond to the consultation. By getting a good range of views from across the city, we will be able to take their views into account when setting the budget.”