City Council delivers £36m of savings

Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet will hear next week how, despite receiving the eighth worst financial settlement of all unitary authorities in England from the government, the council has delivered on its toughest ever programme of savings.

A report on the authority’s outturn for 2011/12 also shows that by focusing on essential spending only a £1.5m contribution to general reserves has been achieved and the repayment of temporary borrowing from earmarked reserveshas been accelerated. This has enabled the city council to be in a relatively strong financial position given the severity of the challenges faced. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader announces his new cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez has given details of his new Cabinet after the reshuffle at Monday nights Labour Group AGM which saw Debra Gratton & Sarah Hill removed.

Sarah Hill subsequently resigned her position as a Councillor forcing a by-election in the Springfields and Trent Vale ward. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent City Council To Trial Cabinet Meeting Webcasts

Stoke-on-Trent City Council plans to extend the city council’s webcasting facilities will be given a trial run this month when the cabinet meeting is broadcast online for the first time.

The webcasting system which reportedly cost £100,000 to install and has annual running costs of around £15,000 has so far only been used to webcast the full council meetings.

Councillor Paul Shotton, cabinet member for transformation and resources, said

This would be another step towards making the city council a clear and transparent organisation. We want local people to know how we make the decisions and give them a greater understanding of the systems in place at the city council. Obviously not everyone is able to attend these meetings in person so if we get to a position where we can broadcast more important meetings it will be good for local democracy.

It has not been reported how long the trail period of broadcasting Cabinet Meetings will be but if successful the council will decide if all meetings that are to be webcast will take place in the council chamber or if there is the potential to include webcasting facilities in other rooms.

It has long been alleged and previously confirmed,  that cabinet decisions are made at the secrative & private Cabinet Agenda Planning meetings with the public Cabinet meeting merely being a thinly veiled attempt at trying to look transparent.

 

The next cabinet meeting will take place on Thursday January 26, 2012 at 5:30pm.

Longton Has A Bright Future At Its CoRE

Stoke-on-Trent is set be the key player in the future of refurbishing homes to 21st century standards.

The Centre of Refurbishing Excellence in Longton was opened today with a round of speeches from senior figures from Stoke-on-Trent and the government.

“Three quarters of the homes that will stand in 2050 are already built” said Andrew Stunell MP, junior minister from the Department of Communities and Local Government. The CoRE will be a hub for training the next generation of home improvers.

The CoRE is a venture sponsored chiefly by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Stoke-on-Trent College and the Building Research Establishment (a construction industry organisation).

Hundreds of existing workers will join new students in January to develop skills in the trade.

There were positive whispers at the event noting that CoRE will put Stoke-on-Trent on the map not only nationally, but across Europe.

Next door, a conference centre is being built around historic bottle kilns which will host business events, product launches and organisation conferences, due for completion in Autumn 2012.

Speakers were (in order):
Peter Bounds (Chair of CoRE)
Cllr Ruth Rosenau (Cabinet Member for Regeneration)
Don Leiper (Director of New Business at E.ON)
Cllr Mohammed Pervez (Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
Andrew Stunell OBE MP (Junior Communities and Local Government Minister)

Present also were Rob Flello MP, John van der Laarschot (Stoke-on-Trent City Council Chief Executive), Cllr Paul Shotton (Deputy council leader) and Cllr Gwen Hassall (cabinet member for housing and neighbourhoods).

Stoke-on-Trent Businesses Sign Up To Climate of Change

Over 200 businesses and stakeholders met at the Kings Hall in Stoke this morning [Wednesday] to help shape the future vision for the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The Mandate for Change vision is based on four strategic aims that go wider than the city council and its services.

These are:

1) Make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business
2) Support and develop existing business
3) Work with people to promote independence and healthy lives
4) Make Stoke-on-Trent a great city to live in.

The meeting was positive and all those present were enthusiastic to play a part in the development of the city’s future and to help eradicate worklessness.

”I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend the meeting this morning.

“The people on our table were really positive about the project and it was very interesting to hear a diverse range of ideas.

“I thought the City Council CEO John van de Laarschot spoke well and I was impressed at how the event was managed.

“The councillor on our table was Peter Hayward and he really impressed me with his approach to the whole issue.

“It was also great to hear the vision and ideas of former Elected Mayor Mike Wolfe who clearly still has a lot to offer the City and always seems to shine at these kinds of events.

“Al in all, I thought the event was a success and to me, the proof of how serious the council are about the future of the city will be if they hold another of these meetings in the near future”.

The event was attended by many of the elected councillors and officers.

The clear message was to make Stoke-on-Trent a great working city and a great place to live.

Politicians and council officers have prioritised job and wealth creation to increase prosperity in the belief that they will have a positive effect on the reduction of the reliance on benefits. It is believed that in turn there will be a reduction on anti-social issues which will help the health and police services.

City Council CEO told the meeting that the future was in the hands of the private sector in light of recent cuts in local government.

“Of course we need to change how the council delivers it services, and we are in the middle of that process by introducing new ways of working, but this is much, much bigger than the council. This is about a one city approach. It is about the council becoming an enabler not a barrier. We want to show people that Stoke-on-Trent is a great place to come and bring businesses and that rewards can be reaped from being part of the city.

“Everything else will come in time if we sort the problem of the severe lack of jobs in the city. By being financially independent people will lead healthier and more independent lives and that in turn will generate a great city to live in.”

The Leader of the City Council Mohammed Pervez was absent from the meeting due to a recent family bereavement.

” “The Mandate for Change is not just about the city council it is about the future success of our city.

“We know the council cannot make Stoke-on-Trent a “Ëœgreat working city’ on its own. We need the support and help from businesses, partners and residents to make Stoke-on-Trent the place to bring business. We need to promote and market the city to say on the national and international stage that Stoke-on-Trent is open for business!

“I strongly believe the best way to significantly improve the lives of our residents is to create jobs – it really is that simple. That is why we have invited businesses, third sector representatives and partners to join us on Wednesday and give us their feedback on our strategic aims. This is the beginning of a very exciting journey for the city. One I hope everyone will get involved in.”

There was an invited to all attendees to keep coming up with ideas of how to help the city attract inward investment and to encourage and support start up businesses and entrepreneurship.

The City Council also launched a video of iconic images from around the City to support the mandate.

Stoke-on-Trent Planning Councillors Flex Their Collective Muscles

The eight elected councillors who sat in the meeting of the Development Management Committee this week sent a very clear message out to those who fail to meet their planning conditions.

Planning decisions can often be terse affairs and I am sure that everyone who is reading this article has themselves, or know of others, who have affected by a planning decision. Indeed some people only get to witness the city council at work when they become embroiled in a planning application.

The outcome can sometimes go your way if you are objecting but more often decisions go the way of the applicant.

This week though our elected members who sit on the Development Management Committee showed that they are not for being pushing around, either by applicants or by planning officers.

The issue involved a complaint that a development had taken place without complying with a number of planning conditions.

The site in question is that of the former Eagle Pottery, Ivy House Road, Hanley . Redrow Homes gained outline planning permission in 2005 for a residential development subject to a number of conditions.

The owners of the adjacent Goodwin Steel Foundry alleged that work has commenced without the developer complying with a number of the conditions imposed.

Goodwin’s have been involved throughout the process and are keen to ensure that the developer complies especially in relation to noise, odours, air quality, HGV parking and turning.

In addition to the allegations made by Goodwins, investigations have revealed that some of the works have taken place that are not in accordance with the approved permission. This includes works adjacent to the canal, surfacing and boundary treatment and landscaping.

The report prepared by the planning officers and presented to our councillors at the meeting recommended that the committee “Ëœnote’ the nature of the allegations and that they also “Ëœnote’ that there are ongoing negations with Redrow. Finally it was also recommended that members “Ëœagree’ that it would not be expedient to take enforcement action with respect to the breaches of the planning conditions.

Well let me tell you, the elected members present neither agreed nor noted the officers’ recommendations. They were not of a mind to be directed by the legal officer present either.

Cllrs Paul Shotton and Cllr Ann James in particular demonstrated that this committee was not for steering and would make its own decisions and come to its own conclusions.

Cllr Shotton proposed that enforcement action be taken against the developer for failure to comply with the planning conditions attached to the outline permission.
This was met with a worried look by the planning officers and an attempt at watering down the proposal by the legal officer.

She was concerned that the council would incur costs if the developer chose to fight the enforcement and she also feared that it would not be looked on favourably if the council took enforcement action against the developer on all of the conditions as negotiation were underway to resolve some of the issues.

Not to be deterred Cllr Shotton used the planning officer to help and advise on the wording of a proposal that allowed the committee to impose enforcement on the developer for the conditions they had neglected to adhere to.

The proposal to take enforcement action was unanimously voted through. All 8 councillors present were united and stood firm against the officers’ recommendations demonstrating that the allegations that councillors are led or directed by officers are unfounded.

Cllr Paul Shotton, the deputy leader of the council along with Cllr Ann James’s steely determination sent a very loud warning across to the officers that although Labour have a large majority on the council, when needed councillors will unite to ensure the right decisions are made.

This will not be an officer – Labour Party love-in as some administrations have been in the past.

This was an encouraging start to the ongoing fight to prove that true democracy is alive and kicking in the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

Audio Interviews with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Newly Appointed Cabinet

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has to day named the Labour Group Councillors who are to serve on his cabinet.

The cabinet line up is as follows:

* Councillor Paul Shotton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources;

* Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance;

* Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development;

* Councillor Adrian Knapper, cabinet member for planning & transportation;

* Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration;

* Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for city services;

* Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing & neighbourhoods;

* Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for adult social care, health & commissioning; and

* Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services and life skills.

We are pleased to bring you audio interviews with Pervez, Sarah Hill, Mark Meredith and Adrian Knapper.

We will bring you more audio interviews with the cabinet members in the weeks to come.

” Well this might surprise you all – Well done Pervez.

“This seems like a good start with a clever balance of maintaining experience with new and competent faces, as well as a mix of left and not so left.

“Having a single strong group in the driving seat especially for four years does hold out some potential for sustained and clear direction.

“Key to this, firstly, will be how quickly the new political regime builds up its confidence, no longer shackled by the unpredictable coalition. No more worrying about how or if something will go through the full council.

“Secondly will be how the Labour Party in the City responds to the opportunities now open to them, for example developing a strong broad policy to direct the officers and the council over the next four years. This will be the test for the structures put in place during the more uncertain times within the Labour Party itself.

“There are many challenges to come, but despite our political differences, I know many of the new councillors and know that there is some talent there now in depth.
Give them all a chance – be more confident – take political control back from the officers – deliver.

Good Luck”.

Stoke-on-Trent Labour Leader announces Team ‘to fight for our community, every step of the way.’

Following all out elections on May 5 in Stoke-on-Trent, in which the Labour Party won 34 seats, Council Leader Mohammed Pervez has today named his cabinet of 4 men and 6 women.

“With the Tory-led Government in Westminster handing down massive deep cuts to Stoke-on-Trent, our city needs a strong Labour cabinet to be its voice in tough times, and I’m delighted to announce that’s exactly what we’ve now got.

“Everyone agrees that this Council needs to do more for the community we represent, and help make Stoke-on-Trent the success we all know it can be. On May 5 People in the city made it clear that they wanted a strong Labour team representing them and my cabinet is absolutely determined to fight for our community, every step of the way.

“Whether we are battling to save key frontline public services or working to get much needed new investment and jobs into our city, this Labour cabinet will always have one top priority – the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

“Under Labour this is a new start for our city. There are tough times ahead and we need to unite to show responsible leadership.

“We want to build on the FA cup final feel good factor and grow positive investment in the city. In one weekend we have seen what can be possible. Inspirational plans for the city and a vision to get us through the tough times. It will be a fight but we will win through for the people of Stoke-on-Trent”.

The full cabinet line up is:

* Councillor Paul Shotton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources;

* Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance;

* Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development;

* Councillor Adrian Knapper, cabinet member for planning & transportation;

* Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration;

* Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for city services;

* Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing & neighbourhoods;

* Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for adult social care, health & commissioning; and

* Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services and life skills.

One suprise omission is Tom Reynolds who was cabinet member with responsiblilty from communications and served under Pervez in the last administration.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 16/05/2011

As the red & white half of Stoke-on-Trent comes to terms with their loss in the FA Cup final the political potteries is as flat as boring nil nil draw.

It’s a bit like “Ëœafter the Lord Mayors show post election.

To Speak or Not To Speak

The only sexy story was the attempt at gagging our new crop of councillors with a “Ëœmedia protocol’ that circumnavigated democracy.

The document that was slipped in the new councillors pack was tantamount to a biblical commandment ““ “ËœYou shall not criticise the council, its officers or the executive ““ no matter the size of the monumental cock up or who was responsible!’

More worrying for me was the fact that there were councillors who were queuing up to sign this attack on freedom of speech.

One of them was Paul Breeze, a man who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He works tirelessly for his community and he has taken a principled stance in not aligning himself with any group in the council chamber.

Paul was quick enough to remind us that he is a free spirit, but his complicity in this matter showed that whilst he is his own man in the political sense he was all too ready to do his masters bidding and put officers before the representation of the people that elected him.

The “Ëœgagging order’ has received a fair amount of political commentary and rightly so. But so far the facts of the matter have been inaccurately reported.

It has been alleged that the individuals responsible for this have been the press and communications team, Mohammed
Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot.

My information leads me to believe that it was actually Pervez who suggested that the protocol be withdrawn from the councillors’ pack when he read it the weekend before declarations were taken and was unaware of its contents beforehand.

Sources have indicated to me that it was in fact Members Services who directed that this protocol be drawn up and the press team were directed to draft it up.

The bit that is shrouded in uncertainty is how much involvement CEO John van de Laarschot had in the issue.

Who Will Be The Trophies on The Cabinet

Now that it has been confirmed that Pervez will be Council Leader with Paul Shotton as his Deputy Council Leader, the labour Group will tonight [Monday] decide who will make up the remaining 8 places on this the first totally Labour cabinet.

Now I’ve followed the scene in the political Potteries for years and, as all good commentators should, I will make my predictions as follows.

The 8 cabinet places will go to, in no particular order:
Mark Meredith, Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Debra Gratton, Olwyn Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Janine Bridges and either Bagh Ali or Adrian Knapper.

My guess is that the cabinet will reflect the Labour Party desire to have a 50/50 men/woman split.

We will know soon enough I suppose, but my guesses are more down to instinct as opposed to education.

You may have your own ideas?

S.O.C.C Get a Helping Hand From Former Councillor

The nationally recognised Save Our Children’s Centres campaign has received a boost recently with the news that former Longton South Councillor Mike Barnes has joined their team to advise them on council procedures and future strategies.

S.O.C.C has reignited their fight and will present a massive petition to the council opposing the 30% budget reduction which equates to a huge cut of £2.25million.
The council are embarking on a formal consultation over their proposals.

What is 100% clear to me, having met and held discussions with S.O.C.C leaders, is that their battle lines have been drawn and they are prepared to mount a sustained and aggressive challenge to these savage cuts. The campaign team feel that the services that are on offer will be decimated beyond all belief if these cuts go through.

The election gave the Labour Party 34 councillors and a healthy majority with little opposition in the chamber.
S.O.C.C are more than prepared to take up the opposition role.

Their campaign has gone viral and there are S.O.C.C groups appearing all over the country. They also have the support of Netmums which has a phenomenal web presence.

Stoke-on-Trent has had effective campaign groups in the past like the Trentham Action Group who managed to reverse the decision to close their high school by facilitating government involvement.

S.O.C.C has the potential to make the TAG look like a meeting of the Salvation Army!

They are very angry people at the moment but they are channelling that anger and are using it as a motivational tool.

They are angry about the Labour Party’s campaign leaflet claims that they have saving the children’s centres but failed to mention the proposed budget cuts.

They are angry at the lack of support from the three city MPs’ Joan Walley, Rob Flello and Tristram Hunt who they have described as “Ëœthe invisible man’.

One of the Children’s Centres that is most under threat from these cuts is in Fenton, in fact is virtually next door to the constituency office of Rob Flello.

It could see the services that it offers cut from 5 days down to one half day.

Given that Sure Start centres were the flagship of the last Labour Government, S.O.C.C are expecting, no make that demanding that all 3 Labour MP’s support their campaign.

The case of Fenton’s children’s centre puts Rob Flello in an unenviable predicament as he sees the work they carry out at close hand and his partner Karen Clarke has just been elected as Councillor for ““ yeah you guessed it, Fenton West & Mount Pleasant!

I’m surprised that there is a negative view of Tristram Hunt and I share the view of the S.O.C.C leaders that all our MPs need to back this campaign with every ounce of their moral fibre.

I urge the Labour Group councillors, the newly appointed cabinet, Council Leader & Deputy and the 3 Labour MPs’ ““ do not underestimate this group.

S.O.C.C Hull are about to force a judicial review the same is 100% on the cards here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Our City Council are proposing the severest cuts in Chidren’s Centres budgets nearly anywhere in the country.

Communities will not take this lying down, S.O.C.C will not take this at all and in the words of one of their main players ““ “You have been warned!”

Audio Interview with Paul Shotton – Deputy Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Labour Group

Pits n Pots brings you our second extensive Audio Interview of the day.

We talk to Cllr Paul Shotton who makes a return to front bench politics after an absence of some 5 years.

Paul has been a councillor for 8 years, he follows in the footsteps of his dad who was a much respected City councillor.

He was elected Deputy Labour Group Leader last night and will now be confirmed as Deputy Council Leader on 26th May.

Paul gives his thoughts on a wide range of issues like future cuts, the BNP and the demise of Community Voice.

He also sets out his priorities which include attracting more jobs to the City.