Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt Gives Maiden Commons Speech.

Stoke-on-Trent Central Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt gave his maiden Commons speech yesterday [Monday].

Tristram succeeded veteran MP Mark Fisher in the Labour Party stronghold of Stoke Central following a controversial selection procedure prior to the 2010 General Election.

However, he has put all that behind him and is tipped as one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.

His speech, in full, was as follows:

Great privilege to be called in this debate to make my Maiden Speech. I would like to congratulate other honourable members who have made such a fine array of speeches this afternoon ““ on a subject of great importance to our constituents who have sent us here to hold this government to account.

Let me begin by paying tribute to my esteemed predecessor, Mark Fisher, who sat in this House for 27 years and conscientiously, effectively and passionately represented the interests of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Mark’s connection to the Potteries began, improbably enough, when he was writing film scripts in the Staffordshire Moorlands ““ an ambitious venture in Los Angeles at the best of times, but even more so in North Staffordshire. He became a Labour councillor, stood for the Moorlands, and then was selected to succeed Bob Cant in Stoke-on-Trent Central. All the while as an Old Etonian son of a Tory MP ““ they are, as I have discovered, enormously forgiving in the Potteries.

Mark’s maiden speech to this House ““ in 1983, in the midst of the Thatcher recession ““ was a heartfelt lament at the state of the National Health Service in North Staffordshire thanks to sustained underfunding. He spoke of “Ëœold buildings, out-dated operating theatres, waiting lists for general and orthopaedic surgery of more than 12 months.’ Now, after 13 years of good Labour government, that decline has been reversed and Stoke-on-Trent has a brand new £370 million university hospital springing up around the old City General. The first new hospital for 130 years. In addition, we have new GP surgeries, walk-in centres and marked improvements in public health. This year alone, teenage pregnancies are down by some 20% – that is what an active, interventionist, compassionate state can help to achieve.

But Mark was also highly active in this place ““ working closely with Tony Wright on his reforms to the workings of Parliament (which we back-benchers hope to enjoy the fruits of), the All Party Parliamentary History Group ““ which I once had the honour to address and was deeply impressed by the Rt. Hon. Member for Hitchin & Harpenden’s knowledge of dialectical materialism and the life of Friedrich Engels. And Mark also made a significant contribution to the management of the art collection within the Palace. He was, indeed, an arts minister in 1997 and formed part of that heroic DCMS team which delivered a great Labour pledge of free entry to museums for the British people. As his successor, I will be watching closely the incoming government’s commitment to honour that pledge.

It is now my great privilege and profound honour to take up his seat in Parliament. In his excellent maiden speech, my Hon. Friend the Member for Derby North made an ambitious play for his city as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. And while I am a deep admirer of the Derby Silk Mill, the Derby Arboretum and the Derwent Valley, we all know that historic, earth-shattering event ““ the stir of industrialisation ““ began with the great Josiah Wedgwood’s factory in Etruria, near Shelton in my constituency. The pot-works started in 1769 and since then Stoke-on-Trent has become the premier global brand-name for ceramics.

In a recent programme of his excellent series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, British Museum director Neil McGregor described how, “ËœHuman history is told and written in pots more than anything else.’ He went onto quote Robert Browning, “ËœTimes wheel runs back or stops, potter and clay endure.’ At the heart of the English Enlightenment and global civilization, Stoke-on-Trent made its place in history.

But from the 6 towns has emerged more than pottery ““ from the works of Arnold Bennett to the rise of primitive Methodism, from the football of Stanley Matthews to the lyricism of Robbie Williams to the social justice politics of Jack Ashley.

But it has also faced profound challenges: to be frank, globalisation has knocked the North Staffs economy sideways. Cheap labour in east Asia sparked a freefall in ceramics employment; the steel industry could not compete with China and India; and, sadly, Michael Heseltine did for the last of our coal mines. A “ËœPits and Pots’ economy faced the full force of liberalisation with tough local consequences for employment, public health and civic pride.

This brutal process of economic dislocation ““ when “Ëœall that is solid melts into air’ ““ has by no means ended, but there are signs of hope. A vibrant University Quarter is springing up around Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College and the brand new 6th Form centre. “ËœOn-shoring’ is seeing the return of ceramics jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, while a new generation of designer-makers ““ led by the likes of Emma Bridgewater ““ are creating high-value, locally rooted companies. Businesses like Port Meirion ““ which produce the iconic Spode designs ““ is successfully growing from its Stoke base, exporting to Europe, America and South Korea.

But we have much to do in rebuilding our engineering supply chain; raising skills levels across the constituency; and making sure the natural and human capital of Stoke-on-Trent is fully realised. So, we will watch with interest as this government seeks to rebalance the economy and invest in our manufacturing base ““ but, I have to say, the best way to achieve that is not to begin by cutting the budgets of regional development agencies. Nor is it by putting at risk the Building Schools for the Future programme which was set to put right years of underfunding …

My seat, Mr Speaker, is an old if not ancient one. It has a proud pedigree. Born of the 1832 Reform Act ““ of which the Deputy Prime Minister is now such an expert ““ it was first represented in this place by Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the potter. Before then, the people of the Potteries had to make do with backswood MPs from Staffordshire. Wedgwood was a liberal ““ in the proper sense of the word. Like his father, he was committed to the abolitionist cause and was a stalwart of the anti-slavery movement. And it was a great pleasure to have seen that spirit reawaken this year as my electors sent the racist, reactionary and frequently criminal British National Party packing. In doing so, Stoke declared itself once more open for business ““ for new ideas, people, products and cultures.

But Stoke-on-Trent also knows that change has to be matched with continuity and my constituents share a deep apprehension over the government’s ill-thought out plans for constitutional reform. They want to know that when a government fails to win a vote of confidence, Parliament can be dissolved by 50% plus one vote ““ rather than the absurdity of a 55% self-protecting ordinance, designed simply and solely to shore up this misbegotten government. As the honourable member for Christchurch put it so eloquently in his Adjournment Debate, what this proposal does is take away from this House is “Ëœour historic right to vote a Government out of office with a majority of one.’ It was never in a manifesto, it goes against the spirit of giving Parliament more power, and is a retrospective constitutional innovation.

Then we come to the five year Parliament: again a retrospective, constitutional fix to get this government through some muddy waters ““ when, as my Hon. Friend for Rhonda has suggested, the average length of a Parliament since 1832 is 3.8 years and the Liberal Democrats campaigned for four year Parliaments. And all that is before we get onto flooding the House of Lords with new appointees, redrawing parliamentary boundaries to disenfranchise Labour voters, leaving 3.2 million voters off the register, and underfunding the individual registration scheme. But my honourable friends and I will come back to these issues in coming weeks.

In the meantime, I would simply thank the House for its great indulgence in listening to this my Maiden Speech on the Gracious Address. And I would extend an invitation to each and every Member to visit the Six Towns which my honourable friends for Stoke-on-Trent North, South and myself for Central are so deeply privileged to represent in this place.

Tristram Hunt has thrown himself into representing the electorate of Stoke-on-Trent Central with great gusto. Writing a diary entry for the Spector Magazine recently he said:

“One of the more surprising greetings I have had walking in the Palace of Westminster is the cry of “ËœZac! Zac!’ as a hefty, backwoods Tory MP lumbers after me in the forlorn hope I might be the new member for Richmond Park,” boasts Hunt. “As I turn on my heels ready to explain the small matter of a billion pounds between myself and Mr Goldsmith, there is a pained display of disappointment. But I explain to them that while Zac Goldsmith is MP for a flight path on the edge of Heathrow, I represent one of the great conurbations of England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, home to Arnold Bennett, resting place of the Staffordshire Hoard …”

So, the Labour Party’s latest Stoke-on-Trent MP’s parliamentary career is well and truly under way and if the pundits have got it right, we will be hearing a great deal more of him in the near future.

Labour Party Stalwart Barry Stockley Placed Under Administratative Suspension

The Labour Party have placed party stalwart and Chairman of the Stoke-on-Trent CLP under administrative suspension.

The move comes after a series of high profile bust ups in the months leading up to the Local & General Elections.

A number of leading Stoke Central Labour Party activists have since walked out of the party.

The trouble began with the controversial selection of candidates for the local elections, There were then a series of bust ups between officers of Stoke Central CLP and the Labour Party Regional Office West Midlands which included declaring an AGM null and void and the selection of Mick Williams as a “Ëœcandidate in principle’ for the Hartshill & Penkull ward.

The selection was later overturned by the ROWM and a candidate was selection from 2 names chosen by them.

The selection of Tristram Hunt as the Labour Party PPC was also shrouded in controversy.

Gary Elsby, the Secretary of the Stoke Central CLP, left the party in protest at the selection of Mr Hunt and stood against him in the General Election.

The Labour Party appeared to be somewhat vindicated by the results of the Party both locally and nationally.

Locally the Labour Party made 12 gains on Stoke-on-Trent City Council, taking 17 out of the 20 available seats.

In the General Election Tristram Hunt defeated the Lib Dems into 2nd place, the Conservatives into 3rd and the BNP into 4th place. Gary Elsby finished in 7th place with 399 votes.

Barry Stockley today confirmed that he had been suspended and that the party were holding an investigation that could result in a disciplinary hearing. He also said that he has the support of new Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt and his predecessor Mark Fisher.

Mr Stockley has also been praised for the amount of work he put into the General Election campaign and several ex and current members have appealed that the Regional Office take this into consideration when imposing any punishment or sanctions upon him.

While the suspension is in force Mr Stockley is prevented from holding any office within the Labour Party which could mean he will be unable to put himself forward for the Chair of the CLP at their upcoming AGM.

A spokesperson for the City of Stoke-on-Trent Labour Party confirmed that Mr Stockley was under administrative suspension and that the AGM would take “Ëœplace as soon as possible’ and that it was important to get all members of Stoke-on-Trent CLP to attend the meeting to have their say on the direction that the CLP takes in the future.

It was also confirmed that several CLP members had expressed an interest in standing for office within the party.

Niccolo Machiavelli and Stoke Central

I ought to explain who Niccolo Machiavelli was. No he is not a footballer or a mobster although his reputation is a dire one and rests on one gift that he gave the man he was serving in Florence Cesare Borgia. Its a small book called the Prince.

This book and its author have been associated with Satan since its publication in 1513. Essentially it is a book about how to obtain power and once in power how to ensure that you stay in power. It has served either consciously or unconsciously as a blue print for many an aspiring politician over the last 500 years. Of course in Machiavelli day politics was a dangerous business and falling foul of the Prince might lead to a poniard in the belly or a garrotte in some Florentine alley.

I was thinking this morning about the Prince in the light of the sad news of Mark Fishers departure from the House of Commons and comments on Pits and Pots on his likely successor.

I was in the Labour party for over 30 years and I suppose I have an old fashioned view of what politics should be about and one principle with me is that the electorate should be aware of your opinions through public statements.

I have searched in vain the local media for any pronouncement from the alleged leading candidates who wish to follow Mark and answer came there none. In keeping a low profile these candidates are doing exactly what Machiavelli suggested you do if you sought to curry favour with the Great Prince.

(I think that in the modern day context we can say that the Great Prince is Gordon Brown, interestingly Old Nick believed that the Great Prince should be feared rather than loved- so the bullying and the mobile phone throwing has a point then)

As Machiavelli says in Chapter 12 an adviser who thinks for himself can never be trusted-so aspiring politician keep that gob firmly shut if you want to get on.

Secondly use friendship as a means of gaining power. I spent a diverting hour or so tracing via Facebook the interconnectedness of certain figures in Stoke Labour party the names of many local politicians crop up as well as a few Great Princes and Princesses. My point is that the whole cosy sealed world in which many politicians operate rather goes some way to prove the general public view that they are a self-perpetuating clique. Is it surprising that the expenses scandal happens when you have this sort of mind set?

At this point I wish to comment on the women only short list being suggested for Stoke Central. I would like to mention to local women from a few years back that did not need this leg up to make a significant contribution to local politics. Both women came from differenr positions on the left Harriet Slater MP for Stoke North during the 50s and early 60s and the Newcastle based Communist Fanny Deakin

Of Fanny’s five children only one survived into adulthood. In an era of high infant mortality she campaigned for better maternity care of women and free milk for children under five. Along with unemployed miners, she went to see Prime Minister McDonald to demand that local councils give free milk to pregnant mothers and children up to the age of five.

Re-elected to the now merged Newcastle Council in 1934, she became a County Councillor. She played a key role in several committees relating to maternity and child welfare. During the war years she could be seen working with others in the Catholic Church showing children how to put on gas masks. In 1941, she became the first Communist in the country to be appointed an Alderman in Newcastle with the honour being extended to county level in 1946.

Any way back to Stoke Central whichever John or Jane wins the nomination they will have to consider that their continued success will requires constant manipulation of others and continual calculation of future actions. As Machiavelli puts it, “he who considers it necessary to secure himself in his new principality, to win friends, to overcome either by force or fraud, to make himself beloved and feared by the people, to be followed and revered by the soldiers, to exterminate those who have power or reason to hurt him, to change the old order of things for new, to be severe and gracious, magnanimous and liberal, to destroy a disloyal soldiery and to create new, to maintain friendship with kings and princes in such a way that they must help him with zeal and offend with caution.

BREAKING NEWS: – Mark Fisher MP Stands Down

Stoke-on Trent’s longest serving Member of Parliament Mark Fisher is to stand down and will not contest the upcoming election.

The veteran Labour MP is the former Minister for the Arts and has served the Constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central since being elected to Parliament in 1983.

Although no official reason has been given for his decision, it is known that he has been in ill health for a while.

Mr Fisher recently underwent surgery and is understood to be on the road to recovery.

It has been suggested that he will be unlikely to be fit enough to embark on a rigorous election campaign.

His decision to stand down will come as a massive shock to the public right across the City.

Mark Fisher was born in 1944 and before entering politics he was active in the media, particularly as a film producer and a screen writer. He also worked in Education.

As a Parliamentarian he is classed as something of a rebel and has voted against the Government of a number of occasions. He voted against the 42 days detention without charge and the abolition on the 10p tax bracket.

He hit the headlines in 2009 when he called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to resign.

Mark Fisher has also written several books on the arts and museums.

Listen to the Audio Interviews below:

Vernon Coaker says it again ““ council could give us 15 high schools in Stoke-on-Trent!

On Tuesday 23rd February Stoke-on-Trent MPs Mark Fisher and Rob Flello met with schools minister Vernon Coaker, who reiterated a previous statement that a two school solution, instead of the currently planned merger of Mitchell and Edensor, would be completely acceptable, provided that it came within the £25 million remaining for this. However he said this can not be imposed by government. A request for this two school solution will have to come from the council. He also confirmed, in very strong terms, that he told Ross Irving exactly the same as he told the media and the Community Schools Action Group (CSAG) about a possible two school solution.

Mark Fisher accuses Stoke-on-Trent council leader Ross Irving of telling a “barefaced lie” about obeying orders. Ross Irving is maintaining a stance that Mitchell and Edensor should be replaced by a single school. Government are clearly not ordering him to do this. Is he taking orders from officers? Is he not supposed to be a leader, able to think about an elegant two school solution? He and his cabinet do not even have a site for a single school. Two schools would be better for all the communities involved and would be in line with his own conservative party’s policy for schools of less than 1000 pupils.

What will it take for our council leader and cabinet to see sense?

The background to this is that following a crazy SERCO plan to merge two schools 5 miles apart, Mitchell and Edensor, rather than the obvious community centred approach of merging Mitchell and Berry Hill, less than a mile apart, CSAG has being doing battle with the council cabinet to get a better decision made.

As well as MPs Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, many ordinary councillors also agree with CSAG, including Steve Batkin, Rita Dale, John Davis and Adrian Knapper who are actively involved.

The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee have recommended that Mitchell and Berry Hill should merge on the Mitchell site. The most recent recommendation on December 16th has still not been minuted or considered by the cabinet. That meeting also examined the bizarre selection of the Adderley Green site for a school, vehemently opposed by the “ËœSpringfield’ action group, after at failed a feasibility study. This site has been rejected by the council’s Development Management Committee.

Vernon Coaker’s visit to Stoke-on-Trent included the Mitchell High site which CSAG wants to retain for a High School as it is in the heart of the community it serves. Vernon Coaker met with CSAG and listened to their concerns. He told the Sentinel he did not rule out the possibility of keeping an extra secondary school. He passed the community views on to the council leader.
However he too it seems was ignored by Ross Irving and Children and Young People’s portfolio holder Ian Mitchell.

Pat Smith, chair of governors at Mitchell, reported on the subsequent meeting of CSAG with Ross Irving and Ian Mitchell in a letter to the Sentinel. She describes them as patronising and dismissive and Ian Mitchell as showing antagonism and viciously attacking the Mitchell Business and Enterprise College.

It is obvious that the Mitchell site should continue to be used for a community based high school. An additional school in the Longton area would fulfill the needs of the communities served by Edensor.

The Big A Debate

In a city where almost every family was touched by the miners strike back in 1984 I am constantly surprised at how little is spoken of it even now some 25 years later.

Alan Gerrard of Theartbay Gallery is hoping that by holding a question Time style debate in the city in 2 weeks time he can get people to discuss the legacy of the miners strike and how it affects the way we live today.

Speaking to Alan about the event he said, ‘Regardless of your political and economic beliefs, The Miners’ Strike of 1984 – 1985 was akin to a British Civil War.

With the charismatic, but stubborn, hard line socialism of Arthur Scargill of The NUM taking on the equally intransigent free market economics of, Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, a battle ensued which was to affect millions of UK citizens, both directly and indirectly.’

He continued, ‘For instance, did the defeat of the miners signal a change in governmental attitudes towards freedom of speech? Has the general level of voter apathy increased since the Miners’ Strike? If we’d have supported our infrastructure more would we be paying the energy prices we do at present? Or did the attitude of blue collar workers and their unions in nationalised industries lie at the heart of the UK economy’s high inflation and inefficiency at the time? Did unions need a reality check? Ultimately, is Britain a better or worse place for The Miners’ Strike? Was Thatcher right? Was Scargill right?’

The Big A “Question Time” Debate is a charity event exploring The Miners’ Strike, its legacy and the issues that have lay open but unapproached for 25 years. A platform to express opinions about this significant period in Britain’s recent past – the effects of which are still felt today. A chance to learn from the benefit of hindsight.

Panellists include: world renowned film director Ken Loach, George Galloway MP, former South Derbyshire MP, Edwina Currie, Mark Fisher MP, Mike Nattrass MEP and David Hencke, Westminster Correspondent for The Guardian.

As this event is to have a “Question Time” theme, members of the audience may like to send in their questions to info@theartbay.co.uk for possible discussion on the night. Like “Question Time” itself, the panellists won’t have any prior knowledge of the questions to be put to them.

There are a number of tickets still available for the event which can be purchased on-line or by calling in at the Artbay Gallery in Fenton.

Pits n Pots are delighted to be supporting The Artbay Gallery for this event and will be reporting from the event on the night.

Leaders Unite To Oppose Extremism

The people of Stoke-on-Trent have a long history of coming together for the greater good of our city. We are creators, we are innovators and above all we are doers. Our proud heritage was built on the knowledge that hard work and community spirit is very important to our city for us, our children and grandchildren. 
 
 This city has got great potential and the last thing we need is any type of extremists coming into our city centre and causing trouble. We want to see Stoke-on-Trent go forward and become an even greater city in the future. 
 
We are committed to raising aspirations and improving the economy in our city and are working hard to attract outside business investment. Extremist demonstrations do nothing to improve the perception of Stoke-on-Trent, or help our city’s prospects. 
 
As one we are united in saying extremists aren’t welcome in Stoke-on-Trent. 

The following people have signed up to and are backing this statement: 

Councillor Mohammed Pervez (Labour Group Leader)

Councillor Ross Irving (Council and Conservative Leader)

Councillor Brian Ward (Deputy Leader of Council and City Independent Group)

Councillor Kieran Clarke (Leader Lib Dem Group) 

Members of Parliament: 

Rob Flello MP

Mark Fisher MP

Joan Walley MP 

Football: 

Peter Coates owner of Stoke City Football Club

Bill Bratt Chairman Port Vale Football Club 

Chamber of Commerce

Bryan Carnes Chief Executive of the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry

BNP Deputy Leader Simon Darby to fight Stoke Central!

Tonight it has been announced that BNP Deputy Leader Simon Darby has been selected to fight the Parliamentary seat of Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Darby confirmed the news on his blog tonight. His election agent will be none other than former Stoke BNP Group Leader Alby Walker.

Alby Walker had confirmed last year that he would contest the seat currently occupied by veteran Labour MP Mark Fisher. In an unexpected move at the end of 2009 Walker announced that he was stepping down as BNP Group Leader and would not seek re-election for council, nor would he stand for Parliament in the constituency where he brought success to the far right party.

Simon Darby’s blog post tonight read:

“Some important information to tell you this evening, that being my selection to fight the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency at the general election. Cllr Alby Walker has kindly offered to be my election agent and The Black Country’s Ken Griffiths is delighted to be having a crack at Dudley North.

This was agreed some time ago, but we have kept it under wraps for a while. On paper there is a real chance of a BNP victory here, with the Conservatives having decided to insult the electorate with a joke candidate -a Pakistani, belly-dancer and former member of the Liberal Democrats.

The incumbent Labour MP, Mark Fisher has also recently been exposed as receiving some £67,000 a year for attending just three board meetings as an advisor to a Middle East museum. Despite this he still claimed from his MP’s expenses a 34p Kit Kat and for a bottle of Toilet Duck”.

Norsheen Bhatti will contest the seat for the Conservatives.

John Redfern will contest the seat for the Liberal Democrats.

Other candidates will be announced in due course.

Simon Darby is the media spokesperson for the BNP and we will hope that he will consent to an interview.

We will try to arrange this as soon as possible.

The ongoing BSF fiasco ““ future pupil numbers

I’ve been too quiet for a little while now on BSF pupil numbers. I have been arguing this point with SERCO and the multitude of Children and Young People’s portfolio holders over the last two years, although I have not said much in the last 6 months because nobody with any influence in the council wants to see sense. But it is a good time to say something again now ahead of the visit by Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker in January.

The SERCO plans have suffered throughout from serious flaws, some of which have been eventually addressed, but there remains poor planned provision, with respect to both pupil numbers and geographical location, especially in the centre of the city and to some degree in the South of the city.

To recap the background, which many of you will be aware of, the council plans reorganisation giving a total of 14 high schools; James Brindley, St. Margaret Ward, Haywood, Brownhills, Holden Lane, Birches Head, St. Peter’s, 20:20, Thistley Hough, St. Thomas More, St. Joseph’s, Blurton, Trentham, Sandon. The current Longton High School has already ceased new intake, to be taken over by Sandon. The plan is for Berry Hill to close and merge with St. Peter’s onto the current site of the 6th form college and for Mitchell and Edensor to close to be replaced by 20:20. The mergers are geographically stupid. It makes far better sense to merge Mitchell and Berry Hill to a new school on the Mitchell site as is the wish of the local communities and as is being campaigned for by the Community_Schools_Action_Group. This would avoid a gaping hole in provision in the centre of the city. Planning permission to build 20:20 on Adderley Green has been seen off by the “ËœSpringfield’_Action_Group, the Community Schools Action Group, their representations and the council’s Development Management committee.

What I embark on now is an analysis of the provision of pupil places across the city. This is made difficult by the lack of openness of SERCO and the council and the continual movement and disappearances of information that does exist on the council’s web site. A particular outrage is the reluctance of SERCO to publish the BSF strategy for change part 2. They published part 1 but I wanted to see their up to date reasoning in part 2. Well if they are going to publish it, I don’t know when. I get the impression they are just proceeding with the outline business case that is supposed to come after part 2. However, I have put together a spreadsheet of pupil numbers which is as accurate as I can manage, given what I have available to me. You will need to refer to the link ““ Spreadsheet_of_Pupil_Numbers ““ to follow my analysis.

Sheet 1 shows the raw data and where I have sourced this from. Much of it is taken from the strategy for change part 1, but where there is more recent information available, I have used that. The information on planned pupil numbers for Trentham High has been changed since the strategy for change part 1, but then disappeared from the web site, but I do have the hard copy which was posted out stating that the capacity is 750, which I know anyway as I am a governor at Trentham High. The numbers highlighted in yellow in sheet 1 are SERCO’s own figures and show the high school population for the city decreasing from 13,113 in 2008 to 11,790 by 2014, then rising again to 14,642 by 2020. Also stated is the SERCO plan to provide 13,050 high school places, another stupidity that should be glaringly obvious to everyone. Do you not think that building schools for the FUTURE should be properly providing for 10 years from now? I do. You will notice also that the 13,050 high school places the council says it plans to provide is not in agreement with the total of 13,820 places I have referenced. In both cases I am using the council’s own figures, I can not help it that these do not agree. Perhaps there is a more consistent story in the strategy for change part 2, but how can I know as I am denied that information. I use the 13,820 for further calculations as at least it is closer to the 14,642 needed, despite not going far enough. If the 13,050 is indeed the plan, the situation will be worse than suggested by my analysis.

In sheet 2 I try to analyse provision in different areas of the city. To do this I make certain assumptions which may not be completely accurate but should at least provide a good estimate. I know the pupil numbers in the separate schools for the year 2008 and I know the total number of 11-16 year olds which is the age range I am analysing. But for the 3 schools with sixth forms I do not know individually how many 11-16 year olds there are, so the first assumption I make is to assign these in proportion to total pupil numbers. The second assumption I make is that pupil numbers will dip then increase in the same proportion, based on the year 2008 figures, everywhere across the city. I certainly know of one case for which this is inaccurate, Trentham, for which the 2008 figure is artificially low. We have 136 FIRST CHOICE applicants for 140 places in 2010 and look set to fill all places even when the annual intake rises to 150 from 2011. There may be other examples of figures which are rather too low or too high that I do not have knowledge of. So the best I can do in the absence of a complete set of individual projections is apply an equivalent algorithm to all schools.

I calculate the spare places in the planned schools for the year 2008 and for the year 2014 when high school pupil numbers reach their lowest point and for the year 2020. In these calculations I have followed the council’s planned mergers. Negative numbers result where the school can not accommodate the calculated number of pupils destined for it.

Then I imagine what I would have to do if I were in charge of applications to the schools and have to send pupils to alternative schools. These are listed in the sheet, obviously trying to select “Ëœnearby’ alternative schools, with the aim of solving the problem of any negative numbers. The adjusted figures are shown in the coloured columns. Working with the 2008 figures I fail to accommodate enough pupils in the 20:20 school and end up with 138 pupils, likely living in the Bentilee or Berryhill area, without a school place (orange column). There is some capacity elsewhere but how reasonable would it really be to send these pupils to Brownhills? It’s just as well other schools were still open in 2008. Looking ahead to 2014, I have initial problems with accommodating pupils at 20:20 and Sandon, but manage with alternative provision at Birches Head and schools in the South of the city (blue column), not that families involved would necessarily be happy with this. But looking at numbers rather than families, from the 2014 figures all is apparently well with the world. This lowest high school population year is presumably the blinkered SERCO focus, their idea of future not extending beyond 4 years. But looking ahead to the year 2020 reveals impending disaster. This is bound to be the case with the ridiculous policy of providing fewer pupil places than pupil numbers in the city, but is made much worse by the distribution of the pupil places that are provided. It can be seen from sheet 2 (pink column) that the new 20:20 and St. Peter’s fail to cater for the needs of the centre of the city with over 800 pupils without high school places and there is also some shortage of places, over 200, in the South of the city. These amount to the size of another school. The only available pupil places are in the far North of the city, well beyond any reasonable expectation of pupil travel.

My analysis uses the council’s own real data. Because these are high school data they do not depend on estimated birth rates, they depend on real live children who now exist and will need high school places in the future. If there is any reason why there could be any large exodus of young people from the centre and South of the city to ease the situation I would like to hear of it but I know of none. Certainly I do not believe, for our sake or anyone else’s, we should be seeking to dump our young people out of the city to Staffordshire for their education. I am aware I have used some assumptions in my calculations but these are fairly reasonable and I would be very happy to receive further facts and figures that could help refine them. But I would not be willing to settle for any unsubstantiated SERCO statement that their planned provision is adequate. If they think that, they should prove it by publishing their own detailed analysis and they should prove it for the future, for 2020, not just for 2014 to make their lives easier. Consider the lives of the young people of the city!

The best solution to the problem of under provision I have highlighted is to build the 14th school on the Mitchell site, to address the largest shortfall both in pupil numbers and geographical provision and cater for the needs of Bentilee, Berryhill, Townsend and the general Bucknall area. But further, I would suggest building a 15th school on a suitable site, possibly the Longton High School site, to better cater for pupil numbers in the Weston Coyney, Meir and Sandford Hill areas. This is no startling new suggestion that I am making. The 15 high school solution was the view of Mark Fisher, Rob Flello and Joan Walley 2 years ago when they worked with schools to suggest an alternative to the SERCO plans. Rob Flello MP has since then reiterated the argument for 15 schools

ROB FLELLO WANTS 15 HIGH SCHOOLS

and recently when the planning application to put 20:20 on Adderley Green was thrown out, Mark Fisher MP further reinforced the argument for 15 schools ““ see his video interview on:

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2009/12/planning-application-parkhall-academy-refused

The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee consistently presents sensible arguments for the right mergers of schools, the right number of schools and the right location of schools ““ see for example chair Cllr Mike Coleman’s video interview on:

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2009/12/contamination-could-ko-springfield-academy-plans

but many of the scrutiny recommendations are ignored by the leader and his cabinet. If we really can not have 15 schools, the 14th should be sited at Mitchell and the rebuild/refurbishment plans for schools in the South of the city should be increased to accommodate the pupil numbers.

Apparent in the issues I have discussed is a distinct lack of openness and transparency and engagement with people, the things that government are always harping on about but just are not happening locally. Instead the council leader and cabinet are in my view treating interested citizens of the city with contempt. Why do they pay no attention to the needs and wishes of communities such as those served by Mitchell and Berry Hill High Schools? Why do they seemingly have no regard for the representations of the ward councillors for these areas. Why do they ignore their own scrutiny committee? What has happened to openness, transparency and democracy? Why is the BSF strategy for change part 2 not published and accessible to ordinary citizens? To me, something is very wrong.

Jim Knight when he was schools minister, under persuasion from Rob Flello, helped fix the Trentham High problem by strong advice to deputy mayor Mohammed Pervez. Let us hope that Vernon Coaker and Ed Balls, with Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, are just as successful with advice to Ross Irving. Let’s finally please get sufficient pupil places provided in schools in the right locations, to provide better future education for the young people of the city along the lines suggested by the local communities who will be directly affected.

…Oh – and a Happy New Year to Everyone.

Ditch Norsheen and the Conservatives could go ‘belly’ up!

Shock! Horror! Probe! Conservative PPC for Stoke-on-Trent Central earns £260 per hour as a belly dancer! – So What?

Norsheen Bhatti chosen by the Conservatives to fight for Labour stalwart Mark Fisher’s seat at the next election is on the books of a London agency as a belly dancer. And guess what? – She even bares her midriff!

Now David Cameron and his party are considering dropping Norsheen Bhatti in fear that she will now not be taken seriously as a politician.

Are they having a laugh or what?

Over the last year Mps have brought the houses of Parliament into disrepute. The expense scandal has driven the reputation of politicians in this Country to an all time low. We have had claims for duck houses, moats, second home flipping and Mps resigning in shame.

Along comes a beautiful young lady who proves that she is not your average politician and her party want to ditch her.

I say, go girl!

David Cameron needs to get into his expensive car and take a ride up to Stoke-on-Trent Central and ask the electorate if they are bothered by the fact that Norsheen Bhatti earns a bit of spare cash as a belly dancer. I think he will find that people are not in the slightest bit bothered by the fact. He may well find that Norsheen will received like a breath of fresh air.

Cameron has to wise up here. Stoke-on-Trent is a political hot bed for the BNP. They are seen as the real threat in Stoke-on-Trent Central. This City is seen as the jewel in the BNP crown.

Along comes Norsheen Bhatti, born in this Country of Pakistani parents. But more importantly, she breaks the stereotypical image of Asian women peddled by the BNP.

Norsheen’s street cred will rocket through the roof after this revelation. The Conservatives need to capitalise on that.

There is a certain public perception of Tories here in Stoke-on-Trent that goes back to the miners strike in the 80’s and even before. Tories are seen as plum in the gob stuck up Hooray Henry’s, who come across with a ‘I am mightier than thou’ image.

If the Conservatives are to make any sort of impact here in Stoke-on-Trent they have to challenge their own stereotypical image.

They face a massive battle for middle England, well Dave let me tell you, they don’t come more middle than Stoke-on-Trent.

Ditch Norsheen at your peril, she could just be the breakthrough that you so desperately need.