Stoke-on-Trent’s S.O.C.C Angry at Labour Leaflet Claims

Leading members of Stoke-on-Trent’s celebrated “ËœSave Our Children’s Centres’ [S.O.C.C] campaign have voiced their anger over claims made by the Labour Party in a local election campaign leaflet.

SOCC member Alan Lear is so incensed by the leaflet that was pushed through his door by the Labour Party he has called for the group to re-energise it’s self and to fight the proposed 30% budget cuts which will equate to a reduction in funding of £2.25million.

Mr Lear has revealed that the Children Centre’s, which were the flagship of the last Labour Government, are currently reviewing the services that they provide in a bid to cope with the impact of a funding reduction.

He has contacted Pits n Pots and has submitted a statement in which he reveals that he emailed every City Councillor to ascertain their intentions should a vote be taken on the closure of the seven children’s centres across the city.

Only 26 of the 60 councillors replied and 19 of the 26 Labour Group councillors did not respond.

The proposal to close the children centres was removed from the Budget after an incredibly professional presentation to full council by SOCC leader Millissa Beydilli which received cross chamber support.

The saving of the Children’s Centres has appeared on several political groups’ campaign literature in the run up to the local council elections, but SOCC are angry with the omission of the £2.25million cut in funding from any leaflets. Alan Lear says that this is misleading voters.

Mr Lear is concerned that the cut in funding will lead to a reduction of the courses and services on offer to parents and children.

He is also worried that crèche facilities will be under threat which will mean that parents are not able to access vital courses and help groups’.

His full statement is as follows:

I have contacted Pits n Pots with regard to the claims being made by prospective labour councillors in their election campaign material regarding their part in saving our children’s centres and to put the facts before the voters of Stoke-on-Trent. It surprises me because it was Debra Gratton ““ Labour who actually proposed the cuts, and then at a subsequent meeting at Tunstall Children’s Centre she told the audience that she would vote “NO”

On the 23rd November 2010, on behalf of the Save Our Children’s Centre campaign I sent an email to every councillor asking them how they would vote if the council did intend to close 7 of our children’s centres. I only received 26 replies, the majority of whom said that they would vote NO to any centre closure. You must also remember that this was before the Council became aware of the huge impact that the threat of closures would have across this city, which resulted in thousands of people petitioning against any closures..

Could I say through your website a huge thank you to the following Councillors who said NO to the cuts right at the start of our campaign.

Councillors Mick Salih, Mike Barnes, Janine Bridges, Pauline Joynson, Peter Kent-Baguley and Ellie Walker of the Community Voice party. Councillors Tom Reynolds, Tony Fradley, Debra Gratton, Javid Najmi and Ruth Rosenau of the Labour party. Councillors Mick Bell, Rita Dale, John Davis and Terence Follows of the City Independents. Councillors Zulfiqar Ali and Jean Bowers of the Liberal Democrats party. Councillors Steven Batkin and Michael Coleman of the British National Party. Councillors Roy Naylor and Alan Rigby who are Non aligned and Councillor Megan Ryan of the Conservative and Independent Alliance.

I did not receive replies from 19 Labour councillors, 3 BNP councillors, 4 City Independents councillors, 5 Conservative and Independent Alliance councillors, 2 Lib Dem councillors and 1 Libertarian councillor.
In my opinion these 34 people failed in their duty as a councillor. They did not meet their obligations to be accountable to the electorate of their ward and the electorate of this city. They failed to deal with constituent’s enquiries and representations from interested parties and therefore did not represent ward interests. In addition they did not address the community concerns and failed to meet their obligation to improve the quality of life in Stoke-on-Trent as a whole. Now ask yourself -Do they deserve your vote?

We know that the Save Our Children’s Centres campaign, its petition and subsequent presentation by Millissa Beydilli to the full council and the debate that followed and various presentations by some of the above councillors in all probability stopped the closures. Our members know and expected some minor cuts to be made through savings etc. Other Local Authorities in the West Midlands have announced an average cut of 6% to budgets. However, our Labour led Council has just imposed a 30% cut to our Children’s Centre budgets which equates to £2.25 millions. As this is a significant change, the law requires the council to once again enter into wasteful formal consultations regarding that decision. This is because the council has a legal duty under the Childcare Act 2006 to ensure that “it continues to meet the duty to secure sufficient children’s centres services which are effective, efficient and meet local needs and improve the life chances for children and families. As it stands at the moment, without these cuts, our council is failing to meet its targets. Here are some facts to consider regarding our area.

Stoke-on-Trent is the 16th most deprived Local Authority out of a total of 354. Over 26% of children live in totally workless households and 29% of children live in poverty. Infant mortality rates are higher than the national average. Children leaving school who are not in education, employment or training is higher than other local Authorities. Children entering school with significant communication delay is high compared to the rest of the country. These facts show that the Council is failing to meet its own priorities set out in its Children and Young People’s Plan. What would their performance be like after making these cuts?

Our council seems determined to fly in the face of research and published reviews. They seem incapable of accepting the findings of independent reviews and reports such as Early Intervention: The next Steps by Graham Allen, M.P..The Foundation Years ““ Preventing poor children becoming poor adults by Frank Field, M.P. and the Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives by Michael Marmot.

Norton and Ball Green Children’s Centres have recently achieved the Parent Charter award for their ability to listen and respond to the views of local parents and then offer services and facilities that benefit the community. The charter aims to highlight good practice for working with parents. It also encourages organisations to look at the needs of parents when reviewing or developing services. Sharon Menghini, Director of children and young people’s services is reported to have said: “This award is excellent recognition for both Norton and Ball Green children’s centres, and I’d like to thank staff for their hard work. It’s really important for us to hear what the local community thinks of our services and very reassuring to hear from the families and volunteers that the staff are getting it right for them.” I would just like to remind the Director that this is being achieved by the people at the sharp end. If they are not there what chance do the parents and children have?

Children’s Centres are needed or they would not be there. The invaluable services that they provide are needed or they would not be offered. It is not just children’s services but those that are provided to ethnic minorities, those with mental health problems, those who are unemployed, those with health issues, those with educational aspirations and the list goes on. At SOCC it has often been said that Children’s Centre is a misnomer and that they should actually be called Family Centre. The dedicated staff who go about their roles with such professionalism and dedication are needed. I believe, without exception, that to them every child does matter. I don’t think it can be said of this Labour controlled Council who seem to purposely set out to damage the life chances of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our society, and then waste thousands of pounds on unnecessary consultation. As for the SOCC campaign, it’s alive and kicking. We do ask the families and the people of Stoke-on-Trent to support us once again to fight these punitive and unfair cuts.

Alan Lear

The Labour Group rejects the accusation that their leaflets are misleading and disingenuous.

Council and Labour Group Leader Mohammed Pervez said that the leaflets claim the Labour led coalition had saved all children’s centres from closure and that was a fact.

He also said that there is to be a consultation period for all interested parties and stakeholders and that he is very willingly to sit around a table and hold discussions so that the most important services are retained for the most vulnerable users of the centres.

Pervez also confirmed that the £2.25million was not set in stone and he also said that the council was open to suggestions that may arise from discussions with S.O.C.C.

This view was also supported by Cllr Debra Gratton the cabinet member with responsibility for children and young people’s services.

[AUDIO INTERVIEWS BELOW]

Immigration, Mosques & Reptilian Miliband – BNP Manifesto 2011

The BNP Roadshow hit Stoke-on-Trent today [Sunday] to launch their local election manifesto.

In a very low key affair, National Media Spokesman Simon Darby, National Organiser Adam Walker and Stoke BNP Leader Michael Coleman addressed a small number of party activists, security and local councillors in Bennett Precinct in Longton town Centre. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Elections ““ Will You Stand Up For The City?

The forthcoming local elections are, in my opinion, the most important in the City of Stoke-on-Trent in modern history.

The past twelve months have not been an easy ride for our elected representatives.

They have had to wield the axe over many much needed, loved and valued facilities and public services. £35 million has been stripped from the local economy this year.

Next year our newly elected councillors who will have been mandated, will get to swing the sword to the tune of a further £20million and one wonders just what will be left after that cull.

I saw the impact and burden of responsibility that the present council chamber had to endure in February’s Budget Meeting. The axe did not swing easy and inhibited believe me.

The past political year got me to thinking about who the hell would want to stand for public office for the next 4 years?

What will be the impact on political parties and groups if community minded activists, party members and independent free spirits think to themselves ““ sod this for a game of soldiers!

You only have to read the various political comment articles and the comments on here and the Sentinel, to see that anyone stepping up to the plate is opening themselves up for the harshest of criticism and public battering. And all because of the need to balance the books after a world wide group of maverick bankers decided to play polka with the civilised worlds finances.

Speaking to various sources I can disclose that as we stand today the long range political forecast for May is as follows ““ in no particular order:

Community Voice

The most dynamic opposition group in the council chamber expect to field around 10 candidates in May and they expect to stand them in specifically targeted wards. They have absolutely no chance or desire to contest all 44 wards. They have also turned down approaches from several ex-Labour candidates who wished to stand in particular wards.

Labour

The Labour Party will contest all 38 wards. It has been a struggle to amass the required number of candidates and some wards are still to have candidate selections. My sources are confident that the Labour line up will be the best for years and that expectation is high. They tell me that there is no complacency. To me the Labour Party will have a large majority and I predict that they may take as many as 30 of the wards. They will benefit from the referendum on the AV system and the funding of a large party structure. They will also be the major benefactors of the widely expected public backlash against the Conservative and Liberal Democrat national coalition cuts.

Conservatives

Stoke-on-Trent can not in anyone’s imagination be described as a Tory hotbed. As it stands at the moment the Conservatives are predicting that they will field around 22 candidates and I predict that there will be one unexpected omission from the ballot papers. The party is hoping that their numbers will grow as we near the time but is not expected to fall below the 22.

City Independents

The CIG expect to be able to field around 15 candidates. Their numbers have been affected by some withdrawals and some interested parties have stated that the needs for future cuts have persuaded them to change their minds about standing. The Independent element in the chamber has always been vital for holding the mainstream parties to account, a role which this year fell to Community Voice with the CIG’s participation in the 4 way coalition agreement.

The Liberal Democrats

The national political whipping boys are confident of fielding around 30 candidates in May. Many of that number however will be paper candidates. The local Lib Dem’s are targeting specific wards and hope to get around 10 serious candidates elected. Party activists are very fearful of the wrath of the public and concede that they may be obliterated at the ballot box when folk get the opportunity to exact revenge for the number of u-turns on policy since last years general election. If the recent Barnsley by-election is anything to go by they are right to be fearful.

The British National Party

The far right party has been in steady decline over the past two years. Locally the much publicised falling out with former Group leader Alby Walker massively affected their performance in both the general and local elections last year. This year the issue is very much one of finance, or to be precise, the lack of it. A series of highly publicised legal battles has seen the party’s funds diminish to a state of near insolvency. Leader Nick Griffin’s one man crusade to rid the party of every dissenter has seen a number of former party favourites kicked out the door. The one time party PR machine has ground to a halt. All this has had a massive affect on Stoke BNP and despite Mike Coleman’s gallant efforts the party are only fielding around 15 candidates and realistically only expect to get 3 or 4 elected. His own seat is under threat from Labour’s rising star Ruth Rosenau.

Independents4You

New kids on the block, made up of mainly old faces. The most notable, for very different reasons, are former Councillors Roger Ibbs and Lee Wanger. They hope to field around 10 candidates at this election.

A massive Labour landslide, whilst predicted, is a retrograde step for our City’s democratic landscape.

Just think back to when Labour had all 60 seats in the Chamber, some of the worse political decisions took place during that period.

The true message is however; if you care about this city and think that you have the moral fibre, then stand up and be counted.

Whether you are aligned to a party or are an independent spirit, your city needs you now especially in these times of austerity, more than ever before.

There are a large number of negative forces at play out there, hiding in the city’s political hedgerow, they are of of all persuasions far left, left, middle, right and god forbid, far right.

They seek to undermine the very fabric of our society. Every decision that is made, for good, bad and indifferent is pulled apart for the sake of negativity and the reluctance to accept that difficult decisions have to be made and cuts proposed.

If the government cut the funding to this city, no matter who is in power, cuts will need to be made.

Only if we have strong, intelligent, visionary and progressive councillors do we as a city wide community have a chance of forcing paid officers that the saving of a ‘Tunstall Pool’ is viable and necessary. And then having the courage to suggest an alternative financial saving instead.

That is where the negatives have got it completely wrong – they are quick to say that you can not cut this or that but never do they table an alternative.

Where would the City be if good people are put off by all the negative vitriol and the public crucifixion when politicians have to do the unthinkable?

Give me good honest public spirited people of any political persuasion to those who snipe, undermine and spin for the sake of it anytime.

I hope that there is new blood in the chamber who are willing to take the baton and head for the finishing line without looking back or deviating from the charted course.

All the rest should join the likes of the Chell Heath racist and his cronies who masquerade as the great and the good but seek only to sabotage our city and the good folk who live happily side by side in our unique and tolerant communities.

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.