Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group ““ The Shape of Things to Come?

You know me, I like to ponder on situations and then try to dissect them in public, as is my want you see?

I have to say that last week’s call to discuss the closure of the Willfield Fitness Centre at the Adult & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny meeting has left an nasty taste in my mouth.

I have been largely supportive of Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and his 34 strong Labour group but I hope that the actions of the Labour councillors on that particular committee and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, is not the shape of things to come.

Here we have a popular fitness centre, loved by the community, used by many from Bentilee and beyond, closed without out so much as a single comment from the Labour contingent on that committee.

Although the Labour members should not have been whipped on a scrutiny committee, by the actions of the said Labour members and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, They were absolutely told how they WILL vote.

I am in no doubt that Cllrs Sheila Pitt, Alison Wedgwood, and Matt Fry would have received a serious reprimand by the senior officers of the Labour group for, in the case of Alison and Sheila, sticking to their election pledges.

Labour whip Kath Banks had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp during that meeting and could not have looked more disinterested in proceedings if she tried.

The way the meeting was chaired by the normally amiable Cllr Bagh Ali left me in no doubt who was running the meeting, the director Tony Oakman.

He was allowed to say what he wanted, for as long as he wanted with no interruption. Cllr Dave Conway was constantly disrupted in a clear attempt to throw him off course.

Talking of the officers, the old joke of how many does it take to change a light bulb was certainly relevant here. 8 officers were present and if you were to tot up their collective salaries you would unearth a value that would give the Staffordshire Hoard a run for it’s money.

So, Labour have demonstrated that they will side with the officers over their election promises in another glaring example of taking the Cabinet dollar.

Have we been here before I wonder?

It appears not to matter who the rulers are, Labour, Conservative Independent, Liberal Democrats, or a mixture of them all, it’s the same old scene.

But what has left me even more uneasy about the situation, is the fact that not more than a week prior to the call in, CEO John van de Laarschot launched his mandate for change which placed a heavy emphasis on the Health and Wellbeing of the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

It isn’t that long ago that the place attracted the unfortunate label of being a “Ëœsick city’. And yet we close a facility that is proven to be making a difference in exactly the sort of area of the city that needs the most help ““ way to go!

Our CEO gave an inspirational performance at that gig. I and a good few others were taken in by the message that together we can make a difference. My plea to John van de Laarschot for the future success of the Mandate for Change project and the rejuvenation of the City of Stoke-on-Trent is – “ËœGet your officers on task!’

Here was a golden opportunity to prove to all that the council was up to working with community groups to find a way of keeping popular facilities open for business.

We are in unprecedented times, an era where it is clear, and for my part accepted, that the council cannot continue to fund everything and that there has to be painful cuts.

The officers of the council rubbished the Willfield Community Group’s business plan and then dismissed it out of hand.

Why didn’t any officer of the council make contact with the group to offer assistance in getting the business case more in line with what the council need and expect?

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

Where was the commitment needed to deliver a Mandate for Change?

So again I lay down the gauntlet to the council, in a no doubt futile attempt, to change and to demonstrate that our council are serious about empowering communities.

With £20million more cuts to come in the next financial year, if there is not a drastic change in the Council, it’s CEO, directors and officers what services and facilities will be left in our city?

Our Labour Group need to LEAD and not be LED. You have the opportunity to make a difference, you have the opportunity to step up to the plate ““ Take it!

The majority of the electorate voted you in the belief that you would deliver on your election promises and to work to make our city more inclusive and more progressive. It ain’t a great start guys!

Many months ago, a politician that I respect enormously told me that the decision not to allow the building of a new academy to be on the Mitchell High School site was all about academies setting the right example to the communities in which they serve.

I was told that the powers that be, politicians, officers and sponsors wanted the buildings to be in areas that were as affluent as possible in order to raise the aspirations of the young people of the area.

They are meant to inspire the young to be more like the well to do of the areas in which an academy school is placed.

To give the little poor kids the opportunity of mixing with kids from a “Ëœbetter’ background.

I remember thinking at the time ‘isn’t that social engineering’?

It got me to thinking is this the real reason the Willfield gym is to close?

Do those in the BSF department, fellow officers and our elected politicians, want rid of the gym and the kind of folk who use it so they are not a blot on the academy landscape?

Planning go-ahead for ‘Discovery’ city academy

The news has been welcomed by the cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton.

“This gives the green light for the new Discovery Academy to be built and closes another chapter in the BSF story in the city. This new academy will provide first class facilities replacing two high schools and will also act as a hub for community use by people wanting to access the facilities available out of school hours. With the start of development at REACH at Trent Vale, parents, pupils and staff are now starting to see a real difference in the educational landscape in the city.”

Work on the new school, which will replace Mitchell and Edensor High Schools, will begin on site at the in Lauder Place North, Bentilee in September this year and the first pupils are set to move into the new buildings in September 2013.

Lies, Labour and Libdems

I thought to comment on the Ask The Leader Debrief but as any comment I can make is long, I decided to blog it.

I thank Mohammed Pervez, although I don’t agree with him much, for being willing to do the online question session and thank pits’n’pots and everyone else involved for facilitating it.

Some of my questions I realised relate quite generally to the concept of what should not be done in an election campaign, in particular telling lies or distorting the truth or perpetrating smears on others. These things, quite rightly, infuriate people. Not just me either. We can see this nationally at the moment with students’ (amongst others including me) indignation at libdems promising before the election to vote against any rise in tuition fees and now it seems planning to break this promise. What really infuriates people is more than the policy itself (so minor stupid tinkering with it at this stage just won’t wash); it is the lies. People are directing their fury at the libdems much more than the tories, because although it is a shared policy, the tories didn’t lie on this matter. The lies undermine the whole concept of a legitimate mandate to govern. If people vote tory with their stated policies and they get in, then people get what they collectively deserve. If they vote libdem because of lies, they do not deserve the outcome when they are betrayed. I know I’m pretty much stating the obvious, but we really do need a recall mechanism to kick out people who do not serve us well, without having to wait their whole term.

During the general election campaign I did think about how I would vote if we had an AV system (which many of us are familiar and happy with from other spheres such as union elections). It occurred to me that despite that I don’t favour most of the tory policies, I would rank them higher than labour because my experience of labour shows they can not be trusted to deliver what they say and in the end the dishonesty has to put them at the bottom of the pile. I would have put libdem somewhere near the top because of their education policies, but not anymore! As it is I voted independent as a protest because I didn’t think any of them were much good. I agree with John Francis’ statement (non-question).

So how does this relate to the leader questions? Well the tactic used by Mervin Smith, as labour, is not too far different from that used by traitors such as Clegg and Cable.

On my question about Mervin Smith’s election leaflets, I just don’t buy the perpetual excuse that changing the bsf program details could jeopardise all the funding. Details have been changed throughout and this excuse was used well before the election period. If labour actually believed it could not be changed they should not have campaigned on the basis of saying they would change it. I don’t buy that Mervin Smith and Tristram Hunt did their utmost to prevent the closure of Mitchell one bit. Last I heard Tristram didn’t sign the petition, if he wishes to say he has since then he can. I saw Mervin at one CSAG meeting after the election then never saw him at any other. It is possible he could have gone to one that I didn’t get to, but I have not heard this. It is all very well his cosying up to Vernon Coaker but labour never did anything useful, it was just a photo-op on Mervin’s part for his election leaflets. They probably figured they didn’t need to do anything; they could just blame it on the tories after the election. They all pass the buck. Since the election I wrote to Michael Gove suggesting he could save bsf money by scrapping the academy planned for Willfield and refurbishing Mitchell and Edensor at far less cost instead. One of his minions wrote back to me passing the buck to PfS, they wrote to me passing the buck to SOT City Council. They said “I understand your views in relation to the building of the Discovery Academy as opposed to Mitchell and Edensor schools. However, the local authority did not select these two schools to be involved in the BSF programme. I would therefore suggest you raise your concerns with Stoke-on-Trent City Council.” So Labour have no excuse, they can decide to refurb Mitchell and Edensor and leave current facilities at Willfield alone.

Also Mohammed Pervez refers to the feasibility study, but this is flawed and inconsistent with another quote from Mervin Smith; “EVERYONE was united in wanting the 2 school solution: a school on the Mitchell site and one for the Longton community.” However the feasibility study insists on only one school to replace Mitchell and Edensor and refused from the outset to consider the two school solution. In fact the prime reason the study rejects the Mitchell and Edensor sites is because of accessibility of each for pupils from the other area because they are so far apart. The two school solution that Mervin was trumpeting would have solved this and avoided using Willfield. So Mohammed Pervez can not lean on this feasibility study. Mervin blames Ian Mitchell and Ross Irving “if you want to keep our school local, bombard Cllr Ian Mitchell, Education Chief, and Council Leader Ross Irving with a simple message: LET OUR COMMUNITY KEEP ITS SCHOOL!” (Capitals in red on his leaflet.) As if labour wasn’t in on the collusion to close Mitchell also!

Mohammed Pervez would like a copy of Mervin’s leaflets. I have happily sent him scans of the relevant pages he requested, although as I got the impression he was close to Mark Meredith and if the labour group were working together, I would have thought he would already have seen it or be able to easily obtain it from Mervin.

On Dimensions, I agree with Mark H but Mohammed Pervez does have a point if he has data that indicate that price increases don’t deter people. Prices for swimming certainly influence me though, I have chosen between Fenton and Jubilee depending on price as they have varied and when Jubilee has been cheapest I have gone on a Sunday to avoid a parking charge. Perhaps I’m just a miser. I expect he also has a point about socialist based discounts, I don’t qualify although I did look into it for young people and found it less than transparent as to what the price reductions are.

It can be noted that I am “Ëœfree speech’ and “Ëœcsag member’. I had no particular wish to be anonymous in the discussion but when half an hour had passed and my first question hadn’t been answered at that stage, I thought it may had scuppered my chance to ask anything else so experimented with other names. But it was possibly the case that a question about the press department had to go to the press department, causing a delay. I asked not just about “ËœOur City’ but about other glossy publications such as governors’ gazette, I still think much could and should be saved here, especially when much more important aspects of children’s services face the axe. I agree with Sharon, I find much of the PR is propaganda and could be cut.

When I asked how much is it costing the council, out of non-bsf funds, to do the alterations on Dividy Road by the Anchor Road roundabout, in order to put an academy on Willfield that is not wanted there, I didn’t mean work on the roundabout itself. I was thinking in particular of the pavement being built on the stretch of Dividy Road between the roundabout at Anchor Road and the next roundabout along at Beverley Drive. Now it could be that this is not being assigned in relation to the academy but the money must be coming from somewhere. And my question applies more generally because the documents relating to the academy do identify a number of road and pedestrian improvements needed outwith the Willfield site to facilitate use of that site. So I would like to know how much all of these are costing out of non-bsf funds? I can’t believe it can be nothing. Unless of course you indulge in some clever accounting and assign the things to different pots of money, which looks a bit suspicious when they are mentioned in the academy documents.

On the difficulties the Bentilee volunteers face, if the academy on Willfield does go ahead, I hope the difficulties are sorted out, but I have little faith they will be satisfactorily.

I am glad the 6th form college has now seen sense on parking for parents at events, although I have not since then needed to attend anything there. I was annoyed that parking was not made available to transport students to their start of the year interviews except at Fenton, for which a charge is now planned. Even better than parking would have been to make the annual bus pass, that I shell out a good £300 for, valid for this date onward rather than after this date! To pay a bus fare in addition to this for the interview was just an insult too far.

I asked another question that I have now emailed in as requested: What is the projected loss in revenue from the cafe, shop, donations box, workshops and car parking at the Potteries Museum resulting from fewer attending when the entrance fee comes in and how does this compare with the projected income from entrance fees? You see I like the current set up of free admission, I think it allows the freedom to pop in and is very inclusive and accessible. This is indicative of the sort of society I think it is good to live in. To lose that is bad enough but even worse without seeing evidence of the financial case for it.

Rant over I think, what do you think we should do with politicians who betray us? Phil Woolas lied on his election leaflets and had his election win overturned because of it. That was at least justice of the sort we need more of I think.

Rob Flello Seeks Clarification on Stoke-on-Trent BSF Funding

Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello quizzed Prime Minister David Cameron on whether Stoke-on-Trent will receive enough Building Schools for the Future funding to complete the construction of the planned secondary schools.

Mr Flello took the opportunity during yesterday’s [Wednesday] Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister will be aware that by 7 July the Education Secretary would have already understood the financial situation and the “state of the books”, as the Prime Minister is so keen to keep stating, so why on 7 July, in this House, did the Education Secretary say:

“One announcement that I was able to make on Monday was that Stoke-on-Trent, as a local authority that has reached financial close, will see all the schools under Building Schools for the Future rebuilt”

Is there some confusion between the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary?

The Prime Minister was in no mood to reassure the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South.

We were left a complete mess in terms of Building Schools for the Future. Here was a programme that took up three years and hundreds of millions of pounds before a single brick was laid. The cost of building those schools was twice what it should have been, so we have scrapped that programme and made available £15 billion for the next four years. That means that school building will be higher under this Government than it was under the Labour Government starting in 1997.

The recent announcement by Michael Gove that those school building schemes spared, are now facing cuts in funding of 40%, despite their being given the green light when he reduced Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in July.

This will effect some 600 and will realise potential savings of £6bn. The announcement now throws the building of the so called “sample schools” specifically given the thumbs up by the Department for Education back in August.

Just how this latest announcement will impact on Stoke-on-Trent remains unclear.

It may well throw the future of the Discovery Academy into doubt.

The controversial school was to be sited on the Willfield Community Centre location.

The Community Schools Action Group, who are campaigning for a school to be retained on the Mitchell High School site, will be watching developments very closely indeed.
Joan Walley MP for Stoke-on-Trent North has also raised the issue about BSF funding in Parliament today.

She called for an urgent debate on the issue and was met with a noncommittal response.

The Discovery Academy Appoints Principal Designate

Following a rigorous recruitment process, Rob Ridout has been appointed to the post of Principal Designate of The Discovery Academy which will be sited on the grounds currently occupied by the Willfield Centre.

Rob was chosen from a strong field of potential applicants. His track record of successful leadership shows that he can affect the educational transformation within the academy.

Following his appointment, Rob stated

I am really excited about this fantastic opportunity. I am especially look forward to working with all the talented individuals from both schools to deliver an exciting new curriculum. I am determined to improve the learning and life opportunities for Stoke students and all learners in the wider community.

In addition to his leadership skills, Rob’s strong science credentials make him the ideal person to champion the academy specialisms of Technology, Enterprise & Innovation.

As well as his school leadership roles, Rob spent two years working as an education advisor specialising in school improvements in schools and academies throughout the country.

Sarah Robinson, Principal & Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent College (lead sponsor) said

We are delighted to have appointed Rob and look forward to working with him to make the Discovery Academy a real success,

Rob’s professional skills, drive and vision will inspire the project team as well as staff and students to secure the best possible education for learners in Stoke.

Rob will be at the Year 7 parents evening arranged at Edensor Technology College on 5th October, 7″9pm. The Discovery Academy will open in September 2011.

Discovery Academy – The Final Piece Of The Jigsaw?

The Building Schools for the Future [BSF]controversy has rumbled on and on in Stoke-on-Trent for some 6 years.

It should have been a good, good news story, a win win for every family in the 6 Towns.

But from the moment that the then Elected Mayor and Serco decided to stand in front of secondary pupils, their parents, their teachers and their headteachers and tell them what they were getting instead of asking them what they want, it all went belly-up!

The Elected Mayors Board and Serco described this process as ‘Consultation’ – Oh how the communities laughed.

Citizens and schools staff united and turned into community action groups and gave birth to Hands off Haywood and the Trentham Action Group and the battle lines were duly drawn.

Just like the old Max Boyce sketch, ‘I Was There’! I witnessed the on-going fight that the Head of Heywood had with the leaders of Serco.

I watched with interest the walks to London, Bike Rides to Europe, the sit in in an EMB meeting – yes the Trentham lot were a feisty bunch.

Eventually those two action groups won the day for their communities and the BSF process seemed back on track – or did it?

The last ‘Academy’ site to be finalised was that of the Discovery Academy.

The lead school going into the Academy was to be Edensor High School largely down to the fact that the Head at the time, broke from the ranks of a very united group of ALL the secondary heads in the city and reached an agreement with Serco to move his staff a few miles to the other side of Longton to a new build that would eventually be known as the Discovery Academy.

The council then started looking for suitable sites to house this project. The original ‘preferred’ site was the old Gasometer, this was doomed to failure due to the costs of decommissioning the structre and stabilising the ground.

The site of the old Willfield High was always on the scene but there seemed a reluctance to recognise it as viable option.

Berryhill Fields and Mossfield Road were also contenders.

The Longton High School site was proposed by Rob Flello MP, some suggested that this was politically motivated as it was on the run up to the General Election.

But of the blue, the council announced that their preferred site was now Springfield. ‘Where is Springfield?’ – the residents of Adderley Green asked. ‘Just look out of your kitchen windows!’ – the council replied. The battles lines were drawn once again.

The Springfield Action Group were formed and they took on the council with a little help from PnP’s Nicky Davis who had been an integral part of TAG.

They lobbied, protested, held meetings and lobbied some more and eventually managed to convince a planning meeting that the land was to contaminated to build on and would pose a health risk.

All the time that the BSF proposals were being discussed, objected to, welcomed by some and hated by others, Mitchell High School fought for survival.

They wanted to be merged with Berryhill and a school for both communities built on the current Mitchell site. The school results were phenomenal, one of the most improved in the country. Their arguments however fell on deaf ears.

The Community Schools Action Group have fought a hard campaign, but it’s message has always struggled to be heard.

Finally last week, the decision was made to build the Discovery Academy on the land currently occupied by the Willfield Community Centre.

The decision did not shock me at all. It was a case of damage limitation in my opinion and if I’m honest, I was shocked that this conclusion was not reached a lot sooner.

Yes, it means that Edensor pupils will have further to travel, but many at that end of the City have always believed that the current Edensor catchment area will opt for alternative schools anyway.

Mitchell High have failed in their bid to get a school on their existing site, but have managed to get the new school location closer to their community.

The decision is probably in part due to finance as the City Council own the land that Willfield stands on.

The focus now is that the swimming pool and the City Learning Centre located on the Longton High site is retained and maintained for community use.

Let’s hope that this can be done without the need for yet another Community Action Group.

In the audio interviews below you will hear the relief, tinged with some sympathy from the Springfield Action Group and the disappointment of the Community Schools Action Group.

BREAKING NEWS: – Proposed Site For Discovery Academy

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has announced the preferred site for the new Discovery Academy.

Members of the city council’s BSF (Building School for the Future) Board have today agreed the recommendation that the preferred site for the new academy is land at the Willfield Centre, Lauder Place North, Bentilee.

The announcement comes after a five month feasibility study carried out by independent planning advisers Broadway Malyan.

During this time members of the feasibility team talked to local residents groups, schools, local councillors and others who have an interest in the location of the new school.

Work to prepare a planning application will begin immediately. People will then have the opportunity to give their views on the proposed development in October.

Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton, said:

“The choice of Willfield was taken after a long and detailed exercise which considered a wide range of locations. We will now we go to the next stage of the process where the public will be able give their views on the proposed development.”

Council leader, Councillor Mohammed Pervez, endorsed Councillor Gratton’s comments, underlining the importance of the BSF programme to the regeneration of the city. He said:

“This programme will give a much needed boost to local employment and businesses as construction of the whole BSF project gets underway in earnest over the next few months. This latest development on the Discovery Academy is another step towards completing the overall BSF jigsaw.”

He added: “We appreciate people will want to make their views known about the next stage of the plans, and I want to assure everyone we will listen carefully and take note of all the comments that are made during the public consultation period in October.”

Discovery will be one of five brand new academies to be built in the city as part of the BSF programme. It is due to open in existing buildings at Mitchell and Edensor High Schools from September 2011, transferring to the new site in 2013. Construction work on the Willfield site is expected to start in late autumn 2011.

More interviews and reaction to follow….

Townsend Carnival ““ 24th July

The Townsend Carnival takes place this Saturday 24th July, 10.30am ““ 4.00pm, at Mitchell High School.

Rumour has it that this carnival, organized by Townsend Community Residents’ Association, is a most vibrant event and certainly one not to miss. Entry is free and there are activities for all generations, music and family sports and games. Now the rain storms early in the week are hopefully over please come along”¦ or else bring an umbrella.

Visit this ideal school site nestled in the heart of the community. It should remain a school site.

Please, come and sign the new Community School Action Group petition for a school on the Mitchell site. Why another petition, why bother ““ they never listen? This is the thought that will inevitably occur. I will tell you why, because when something is important for your family, your friends and neighbours, your community, you fight for it and keep fighting for it until you force them to listen. That’s how Trentham won.

Everybody is most welcome to sign the petition. But a cordial invitation goes out especially to Mervin Smith to add his pledge to the list of ward councillors who have signed and also to his election promoter Mark Meredith, council leader Mohammed Pervez and constituency MP Tristram Hunt.

This should be a good day – enjoy!

SOT Central Parliamentary Candidates Speak to CSAG

Stoke-on-Trent Central parliamentary candidates attended an open Community Schools Action Group Meeting at Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre on the evening of April 28th.

CSAG chair MARGARET LOWE opened the meeting and introduced the candidates. Active CSAG campaigner WENDY BOOTH sent apologies for absence. BARRY STOCKLEY (CSAG) chaired the meeting. He outlined the background to the CSAG campaign. In 2007 there were surplus high school places. Mitchell High School and Berry Hill High School showed cooperation by volunteering to close on condition that there would be a new build school on the Mitchell site to accommodate pupils from both these schools. The city council then appointed SERCO which was a most disastrous decision for education. The SERCO proposal was to merge Michell with Edensor and Berry Hill with St. Peter’s. The proposals were rejected totally by parents at Mitchell, Berry Hill, St. Peter’s and many from Edensor. Reports from consultation meetings had been grossly distorted. At a meeting for Berry Hill and St. Peter’s a motion was proposed to reject the merger. Every parent and governor voted to reject the merger but this was not reported. Barry, together with Mark Fisher MP, had challenged Ged Rowney, SERCO director of children and young people’s services and Tracey Penrose, project manager for BSF, over this. Tracey said she must have overlooked this. Many councillors are supportive of the CSAG campaign for a school on the Mitchell site but those appointed to cabinet do an about turn. Mark Fisher always supported the campaign. Each candidate was then given 3 minutes to introduce themselves and express their views as follows:

GARY ELSBY (Independent) explained he had been a member of the Labour party but had walked out because of what had happened. He had produced 20,000 leaflets in the 2008 local election campaign, but then the persecution started for standing up for Mitchell High School and Dimensions swimming pool. He had been removed from the membership list. Council leader Ross Irving had made fun of CSAG and of Pat Smith, Mitchell chair of governors. He had been condescending. Gary said councillor Peter Kent-Baguley is right because he says if we keep up the pressure we will win.

SIMON DARBY (British National Party) introduced himself as the deputy leader of the British National Party and said some might think that means he is wicked but he is not a bad man, he is just a normal guy. He does not believe in the BSF social engineering agenda to create an academy with only two parent governors. Schools should not be run by private companies which profit at our expense. He declared himself fully on our side.

NORSHEEN BHATTI (Conservative Party) said Labour had not been consulting with parents and teachers, which is important for schools. She has visited Mitchell High and congratulates the school for winning an award for the most improved school. She was touched by the children and how much they loved their school. There was passion from the teachers. She said there should be social responsibility and parents and teachers should be given the power to set up their own schools. She also said she was there to listen and wants to put people’s views first.

MATT WRIGHT (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) said what we are seeing is the systematic privatisation of the education system. Academies will be a disaster with worse travel to school. The sponsors choose the governing body and are in charge of ethos. It would not be good to have religious fanatics or companies in charge of schools. Tens of thousands of building workers are out of work. We need to rebuild or refurbish community schools. There should be no cuts to pay or conditions of staff and no compulsory redundancies. There should be no private finance initiatives because these result in the tax payer footing 300% of the building cost. He advocates a joint campaign of all schools under threat.

BRIAN WARD (City Independent) introduced himself as leader of the City Independent group on the council. City Independent councillors Rita Dale and John Davis had backed this campaign the whole time and talk about it every day. He said this is not an MP decision, the city council will make the decision. The protest should be directed to the council. He said Labour councillor Adrian Knapper had also backed the campaign at times. Brian said he had first heard of the fight to save the school at a meeting at Mitchell High. He is in cabinet now having previously been in opposition but nothing had been said at cabinet about this issue. Officers have been sent to check the sites and numbers to see if they are right. Brian said he bases his whole ethos on community issues. He said the public wants a school on Mitchell, not on ‘Springfield’ and to know why they should vote for one parliamentary candidate rather than another. He would have liked to ask Tristram Hunt the Labour candidate about the Labour government. Deals had been handed down from a Labour government which underfunds the council by £300 per child.

Margaret Lowe then read statements from the parliamentary candidates who were unable to be present:

PAUL BREEZE (Independent) said it was evident CSAG hearts are in the right place and we have passion. CSAG has a strong and logical case with evidence for the merger and site we want. Paul said he is fully independent and if elected will back CSAG 100%

ALBY WALKER (Independent) said there should be a new school on the Mitchell site and another on an appropriate site near Edensor. He opposed the Park Hall site and had organised the call in of this decision when he was a British National Party councillor. He is now an independent councillor.

JOHN REDFERN (Liberal Democrat) does not want to share a platform with the BNP. He is not happy with a new academy on Park Hall because of fears about safety and busy roads. He does not think it would improve education standards.

TRISTRAM HUNT (Labour Party) said it was already clear the only way forward is to have two local schools and he would fight tooth and nail for a school in the heart of the community. He had attended a previous CSAG meeting and visited Margaret Lowe at home. He is 100% behind us.

CAROL LOVATT (UKIP) had not responded at all.

The meeting was then opened for questions to the candidates.

MIKE COLEMAN (British National Party councillor and parliamentary candidate for SOT South) asked Brian Ward if he was in favour of Mitchell staying or going. Brian replied that it had never been discussed in cabinet and that the decision had been made previously by the mayor. Brian stated that he is supportive of a school on Mitchell.

PAT SMITH (Chair of governors at Mitchell) said she should put Gary Elsby right on his quotation. City Independent councillor Ian Mitchell was the one who was nasty and wanted a bulldozer through Mitchell High School. Ross Irving and Ian Mitchell had been invited to visit Mitchell High School four times, but each time the personal assistant had rang to cancel. It seems they dare not come anywhere near. In trying to speak to them she had just got insults. Stoke-on-Trent College, the intended academy sponsor, want a 1300 feeder school for the college. Pat said the experience with Stoke-on-Trent College is not wonderful. Nobody has spoken about the wonderful results for adults at Mitchell High. 1500 adults have learned in the community learning centre there, the learn direct there works because it is in the community. Mitchell and Berry Hill are happy to merge because they can form a natural community hub.

TERRY CROWE (Chair of governors at Berry Hill) said Ross Irving and his cabinet are trying to destroy education at the two schools. Terry said he had opposed the independent and Labour elected mayors and the Conservative council leader. This is not party political, it is a fight for the children out there. Terry asked Brian Ward to come off the fence because he has the power but has not faced up to his responsibility. He said Mike Coleman had brought up the issues in the council but they had tried to ridicule him. He asked Norsheen Bhatti if she would speak to Ross Irving and tell him to get off his backside and do something. He asked her if she was prepared to tell Ross he has got it wrong.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said if she were elected she would make representations everywhere.

TERRY CROWE asked Brian Ward to speak to Ross Irving.

BRIAN WARD said we must go though a process, we still have Mitchell High today and can not guess what happens after the election.

GRAHAM WALLACE (CSAG) asked Norsheen Bhatti why she said the Labour party had done this. Her Conservative party had been in charge of the council cabinet for 9 months now.

MICK STONE (CSAG) said to Brian Ward that he was sorry it appeared he was being given a hammering but his question was simply that as leader of the City Independents which have a majority of councillors, he should have influence, so what has he actually done since becoming leader of that group for this campaign? Mick put forward his theory that the area is seen as a hotbed of support or the extreme right and the establishment don’t like that. The area is seen as a poor working class area full of thickos on crack. So taking two lumps of the community and sending them in opposite directions was a ploy to water down support for the extreme right. But Mick thinks this could create the reaction they are trying to stop.

BRIAN WARD said there had been umpteen meetings with SERCO and the new chief executive of the council and there are issues so he did not want to give false promises. There was a desire to move the school because education was poor. Brian said he had backed Trentham who ran a good campaign. As he is not the ward councillor he does not know Mitchell High School. The independents have made more waves in the city than anyone.

GARY ELSBY said he had heard all sorts of stories about wanting the land, he didn’t accept the point about the far right, this area is underprivileged so why not build a school here?

SIMON DARBY said they are doing this in Burnley too, trying to mix muslim and white children. They are busing them around and they don’t like it. This government enforced bullying shouldn’t be happening. He said it is good to see support to fight this here, if we fight it he will back us.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said there is nothing British about the BNP.

SIMON DARBY said he was more British than Norsheen.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said if she were elected she would be supportive because children matter.

MATT WRIGHT said this would rip the heart out of the community and with the scale of public sector cuts to come we need unity in communities, not division.

ADRIAN KNAPPER (Labour councillor) said to Norsheen Bhatti that this is a council decision and if the two schools option were put to the council, Labour and the British National Party and others would support a school on the Mitchell site and another in Longton. He said the only thing in the way is the executive; Brian Ward, Ross Irving and Liberal Democrat support. Norsheen should go to Ross and get him to go ahead with what we want.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said the reality is the decisions have been made and the council’s hands are tied.

ADRIAN KNAPPER stated that schools minister Vernon Coaker would not block the two school option.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said it was not a decision made by the Conservatives but if elected as MP she would do as Adrian Knapper had asked.

BRIAN WARD pointed out that it is a cabinet decision, not a full council decision.

BARRY STOCKLEY suggested a vote of no confidence in the council leader.

JOHN DAVIS (City Independent councillor) said he is a governor at Mitchell High School. He had never seen so many lies and distortions of the facts than on this issue. The first time the proposal was discussed was over two years ago. The council have said for many years that this is a government decision and we are not allowed to build on the Mitchell site. At that time there was a Labour elected mayor and Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat elected mayor’s board. Mark Fisher had been brilliant and talked to the minister who said the site of the school is up to the city council. The current minister says we could have two schools. Another lie is that if we don’t agree it will affect funding and other schools. They have tried to set schools against each other. John called this ‘insultation’ not consultation and said the dictatorial decisions are ludicrous. But John said he believes in people power and we can beat them on the arguments. John asked the candidates if they would, like Mark Fisher, ignore the party whip and stand up for the community even against their own party.

BRIAN WARD said he would do better than that because he would save the school.

MATT WRIGHT said he would stand shoulder to shoulder.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said she would put people first.

SIMON DARBY said he would be 100% behind the fight.

GARY ELSBY said for 27 years he had stood by Mark Fisher’s side and Mark had asked him if he would take on the role of MP. He said Rob Flello MP was taking all the credit for saving Trentham High School and yet the community themselves had put up signs all over the area saying Trentham High School not for sale.

ANDY BENTLEY said when SERCO put forward their proposal the socialist party got 5000 names on a petition for no closures, no loss of jobs and new buildings if needed. His suggestion is every councillor should adopt a different strategy, instead of planning cuts they should plan what is needed as sufficient government funding and launch a campaign to force the government to give us the money. This has been done in Liverpool in the 1980s and they even got money out of Margaret Thatcher. Andy asked who would support such a strategy instead of money going to rich bankers.

BRIAN WARD said every child in the city gets £300 less than the average for the country and where have the MPs been to rectify this?

MATT WRIGHT agrees with Andy because the money needed is like crumbs from the table compared to the richest people in the country.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said Labour had said education, education, education so it is scandalous we get less than others, due to the city’s Labour MPs.

SIMON DARBY said bailing out the bankers, gamblers, was a disgrace and we are paying the price. He would abolish investment banks, have no front line cuts, pull out of the war in Afghanistan, having had an illegal war in Iraq, pull out of the EU and stop foreign aid. Common sense is needed and we should look after ourselves more.

GARY ELSBY said laws should be reintroduced to stop the banking fiasco. He had fought all his life for what he believes in. Labour have done some good things. He said national insurance should not be increased. We should demand no special favours but just the same as everyone else has, which should be easily fundable.

NICKY DAVIS (CSAG) said that by the year 2020 the current SERCO plan will mean we will be short of high school pupil places by about 500 for the Discovery school, wherever it is built, 350 for the new St. Peter’s and 300 for Sandon. What is the best plan to deal with these shortages?

GARY ELSBY said an extra high school can be built in Longton. Caps on immigration will come. We must plan properly for the children and if necessary build more schools. He said the answer is simple, they should give us the money.

SIMON DARBY said it is despicable because it involves private companies so it is about profit and he knows the way these people work with their ethos of selling off public assets. He suggested what is needed is an investigation into the private companies involved and who has directorships involved with these companies. Immigration is problematic.

NORSHEEN BHATTI admitted she does not know, to be honest. We don’t have the funding, education is in crisis and we need to take control.

MATT WRIGHT said we should kick private companies out of schools, increase capacity and employ more teachers. Immigration would not be an issue if public services could cope with demand.

BRIAN WARD said the Labour government has done more privatising than Thatcher.

DAWN KELLY (CSAG) said it gets on parents nerves that they are told pupil numbers are going down at Berry Hill High School but the only reason for that is because of the threat to the school. People are sending their children elsewhere but if a school were to be kept on the Mitchell site they would come back.

KEN said there had been underfunding for years and asked if we should blame the MPs or the council.

BARRY STOCKLEY said we are not underfunded in BSF capital funding, it is the way it is used that is the problem.

BRIAN WARD insisted there was underfunding.

TERRY CROWE had attended a meeting to make teachers and other staff redundant because Berry Hill was targeted for closure. Terry backed up Dawn Kelly’s point. He said as Brian Ward had made a statement he would keep a school on Mitchell if elected, then why not do it now?

BARRY STOCKLEY thanked the 5 parliamentary candidates who had attended.

The meeting finished with a video showing how Mitchell and Berry Hill pupils worked together.

Congratulations To The Mitchell School For Winning Most Improved State School In 2009

The Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Stoke Central has congratulated the Mitchell School for winning the award of being the most improved state school in 2009, beating schools throughout the whole of the country.

Commenting on her recent visit to the school, Norsheen Bhatti said:

“The parents, students and teachers have done fantastically in creating such an enjoyable, innovative and ambitious learning environment for the pupils of Mitchell School.

I was really pleased to see how everybody at the school is so proud of their school and happy to be there. We in Stoke on Trent should also be proud of the Mitchell School for winning this award and for setting an example to the rest of the country.

Our children in Stoke deserve quality education and Conservative policy would improve standards giving every child in Stoke the kind of education that is only currently available to the well off by prioritising safe classrooms, smaller schools and talented and specialised teachers.”