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.

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.

Find Out How To Get Fit – Get Health Check In Meir.

Stoke-on-Trent residents aiming to get fit can find out how they can achieve their goals this Saturday (July 10) at Meir Fitness Centre’s open day.

Visitors will be able to speak to staff about their fitness goals and how they can achieve them, look at the facilities and have their blood pressure and weight checked for free by a qualified fitness instructor. Guests will be able to receive free membership if they enrol on the day.

The open day will take place at the same time as the Meir Summer Festival at Meir Community Education Centre. Residents will be able to part in and a range of activities including fair rides and trampolines, and a raffle where all takings go to Help for Heroes.

Councillor Hazel Lyth, cabinet member for adult social care, sport, leisure and culture, said:

“Living a healthy life is important to all of us and so receiving advice on how we can achieve that is vital to allow us to shape a healthy future. Providing fitness advice for people in Stoke-on-Trent and teaching them about the advantages of healthy living is key to helping them achieve their own goals.”

Both events will take place on Saturday July 10, 2010 between 12pm and 4pm. For further details call 01782 23517.