Report Shows That Welfare Cuts Will Not Work for Stoke-on-Trent

A report by two of the City`s major charities paints a bleak picture of the local impact of cuts to the benefits system proposed by the coalition government`s Welfare Reform Bill.

Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau and Brighter Futures have cooperated to analyse the impact of the proposed cuts on their users and on the economy of the city as a whole.

The report predicts that cuts to Employment and Support Allowance alone will take at least £13 million each year out of the local economy. They predict that changes to Housing Benefit will lead to increased homelessness and a reduction in the number of private landlords in the area. The report notes that the changes could force vulnerable people to live in dangerous shared accommodation.

”The changes attempt to impose a single “Ëœone size fits all’ solution on towns and cities which are facing starkly different economic challenges. This means that in a city like Stoke on Trent they will represent a false economy and will give at best only short term savings to the public purse. In the medium term they will both reduce our economic activity and add to the burden on public services. Taking swift and decisive action together we can make a difference. This report set-out practical recommendations that I am hopeful will be acted-on as a matter of urgency”.
”In our work we meet thousands of local people who are currently dependent on welfare benefits. In many cases these people could be helped back into work by the regeneration strategies of central and local government. We fully support these efforts to create new local jobs. However, we recognise that they will not create instant jobs and thus we believe that, even for those who can be helped into work, they need a decent benefits system meanwhile. For those who are unable to work due to illness or disability, the proposed changes represent yet another hurdle in lives that are already often impossibly hard”.
”The proposals to change Housing Benefit are designed to solve problems in London and the expensive south east. Housing conditions in those areas are completely different to those in North Staffordshire and the effect of imposing these cuts on Stoke will be to make many people homeless and to make it difficult for organisations like Brighter Futures to offer the individually tailored packages of care that we design to help people cope with the effects of mental health problems, addictions or criminal behaviour”.

Former Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Resigns From Labour Party

Former leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Barry Stockley has resigned from the Labour Party.

He has also revealed that he will not be standing in the upcoming local elections and has pledged his support for his former colleague and official Labour Party candidate Terry Crowe.

Two separate sources had claimed that Mr Stockley was 99.9% certain to stand, the only question was the ward he chose to stand in.

It is now thought that certain political activists has presumed that Mr Stockley would stand upon announcing his resignation from the Labour Party.

Other sources are claiming that Mr Stockley’s name was used to boost the campaigns of certain former prominent Labour Party members as they seek election to the council in May.

Barry’s decision has ended his 32 year relationship with the Labour Party.

Mr Stockley has written the following letter to his friends, colleagues and supporters clarifying his position:

Former Chair Stoke Central Labour Party and Assistant to Mark Fisher MP

March 2011

Dear Friends

City Council Elections 5th May 2011

It is well known that for some time now I have been concerned about the unwarranted interference by Labour Party officials from outside our City into the running of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the selection of candidates for the forthcoming City Council elections.

This interference may well have contributed to the way that the Labour dominated City Council has dealt with its budgetary problems ““ voting to reduce funding for children’s centres by £2.25 million, voting to close Shelton Pool, voting to close more care homes for the elderly, voting to close Willfield Community Centre and voting to slash the funding for child and adolescent mental health services whilst at the same time wasting vast sums of money on unnecessary consultancy fees and dodgy Icelandic investments.

I have therefore resigned my membership of the Labour Party which stretches back to 1979

Whilst I shall not be standing as a candidate at the City Council elections I would urge you to seek an assurance from any candidate that asks for your support that he/she will stand up for our area and consider the needs of our community before any instruction from a political hierarchy or political group.

It is not for me to tell you how to vote but I shall be voting for Terry Crowe – not because he is the Labour Party candidate but because he has proved over many years that he is a man of the highest integrity, strong enough to challenge instructions from unelected officials and will always put the needs of our community first. .

Yours sincerely

Barry Stockley

Mr Stockley’s letter urges the electorate to seek assurances that any candidate seeking election will stand up for the area and consider the needs of thr community.

His concerns are ironically mirrored in the recent blog post

It is obvious that Barry Stockley had his differences with the Labour Party in recent times, but in all the time I have known him, I have never heard him say a bad word about any fellow party member. Likewise, I have never heard a Labour Party member say a bad word about Barry.

Differences?…. obviously. Mutual respect?….absolutely!

The Lost City of Stoke on Trent, By Matthew Rice – A Review By Mark Fisher

The launch of a book entitled ‘The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent’ by one of the City’s leading entrepreneurial heavyweights Matthew Rice and his subsequent comments about the city’s regeneration [or lack of depending on your view point], caused a storm of controversy.

Much debate on the merits of his opinion was had on this site and other.

Rob Flello MP then wayed into the debate by criticising the author over his comments about regeneration in a radio interview and even suggested that Mr Rice ought to tell all his business friends to re-locate their businesses in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Stoke-on-Trent South MP’s accusation that the Managing Director of the Emma Bridgewater pottery [the only ceramic company that is bucking the trend of slipping into obscutity] was merely seeking to sell more copies of his book rather than offering the opinion that is held by the vast majority of people who live in our city.

Well, another well known political figure has entered the debate by giving a delightful review of Matthew Rice’s book.

Former Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Mark Fisher, who served our city for 27 years, gave the book a glowing report for the Independent newspaper.

When Emma Bridgewater first came to Stoke on Trent with a view to making ceramics, she was charmed by the “cheerful griminess” of the city and “fascinated and appalled by the chaos of roadworks… boarded-up shops and rundown terraces”. In this book, her husband and business partner, Matthew Rice, a fine designer, sets out to explore the contradictory qualities and defects of this city founded on coal, steel and ceramics; to try to understand why Stoke on Trent and its industry grew, why it has declined and what its future might be.

In doing so he has written a hymn to manufacturing, and to the principles that underpin all successful manufacturing companies: good design, good materials and good marketing. Those principles served Wedgwood, Spode and Doulton well.

He tells in short chapters the history of the pottery industry and of the city, richly illustrated by his own drawings and coloured washes that are affectionate, humorous and well observed. He delights particularly in architectural drawings, in which he proves himself to be the heir of Osbert Lancaster, but is equally adept at tiles, maps, panels, Staffordshire figures, the details of windows, doorways and pediments, and the few remaining bottle kilns with their “decidedly female forms”.

Here are elevations of all the city’s finest buildings: Barlaston Hall, now restored; the “ebullient classicism” of Burslem Town Hall; Hanley Town Hall, an incongruous French hotel de ville; and St Joseph’s RC Church, Burslem, with its “wonderfully idiosyncratic” campanile.

He relishes the otherness of Stoke, “so unlike the sophisticated, glossy south”. With its boundaries constrained by the Trent Valley, the city has been shaped by its geology, and by the seam of beautiful coal beneath the valley. It was the coal that made the city, and so determined its shape – a linear, non-radial city, 13 miles long, with Six Towns and no centre.

Rice charts the decline in employment from 70,000 pottery workers in the 1950s to 6000 today, aggravated by the forced closure of the city’s pits and of its steel works at Shelton Bar. And he regrets the thoughtless, incomplete “regeneration” that has seen communities uprooted.

Is Stoke on Trent a Lost City? Will it re-invent itself, or decline further and become a second-rate retail centre? Here the Emma Bridgewater pottery company offers a possible way forward. It has grown steadily for 25 years in a fine 19th-century potbank, and now employs more than 200. Rice and Bridgewater have repaid the loyalty of their workforce, the casters, spongers, fettlers, backstampers, by resisting all offers to relocate. Although clear-eyed about its imperfections, their love and respect for the city is palpable – the seam that runs beneath this book. They have shown that good design and hard work can still make a small manufacturing company successful. Will that be enough to re-find or re-found Stoke on Trent?

I think that you will agree that Mr Fisher echo’s the sentiments of the current MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central Tristram Hunt, all the people that I have spoken to about this issue and indeed my own views [for what they are worth], putting Mr Flello very much in the minority.

Tony Walley ““ On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Parliamentary Boundary Changes – When 3 Become 2

I suppose it was to be expected that eventually, after decades out in the wilderness, the Conservatives would force Parliamentary Boundary changes upon the nation in a bid to make sure that they remain in power for a very long time to come.

The Tories now have the added pressure of protecting their yellow friends, the Liberal Democrats, who could become all but extinct when our nation has the chance of exacting revenge on Clegg and his cronies through the ballot box for their widespread treachery in accepting their 30 pieces of silver.

On 5th May 2011 [the same day as the all out council elections in Stoke-on-Trent] we the nation, get to vote on an Alternative Voting system which could spell the end of the “Ëœfirst past the post’ system for general elections.

The referendum on AV is a part of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which also contains proposals for a review of parliamentary constituency boundaries.

The Bill has been approved by MPs and despite the best efforts of Labour’s Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who nearly succeeded in getting the bill deferred which would have resulted in the Bill missing it’s February 24 2011 deadline, the House of Lords voted in favour.

The Labour Party had promised a referendum on AV in their manifesto but have voted against the bill in protest at what they see as a rigging of the Parliamentary Boundaries in favour of the Tories.

The Bill proposes, amongst other things, a reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600. It also recommends that each seat has around 75000 constituents; a proposal which the Labour Party argue would cost them around 20 seats.

But what of the implications for the 3 Parliamentary seats for Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke-on-Trent North, Stoke-on-Trent Central and Stoke-on-Trent South?

Talking to various sources in the know, there is a strong feeling that Stoke-on-Trent would lose a constituency, probably Central.

Stoke-on-Trent North would take in parts of the leafy suburbs of the Staffordshire Moorlands with a cut off around the Council ward of East Valley/Milton.

Stoke-on-Trent South would probably expand to take in the affluent parts of Staffordshire County Council, such as Stone, Hilderstone and Meir Heath and would end just after what is currently know as the Abbey Green council ward.

The net result is the City will almost definitely lose one Member of Parliament and the Labour Party will need to be at the top of their game and the polls to return the status quo of total domination of the Labour Party across the constituencies of our city.

The Labour party would probably insist that one of the two Stoke-on-Trent Constituencies be an all woman short list which leaves two candidates to fight it out for the other remaining nomination.

If that decision had to be taken now, despite his elevation to a senior post on the opposition benches, I feel that the party locally would opt for the charismatic Tristram Hunt as opposed to Rob Flello.

Talking to local party activists, I think that after the actions of Rob Flello post general election in the so called reorganisation of his office staff and the subsequent departure of senior, enormously well respected employees, Mr Flello’s popularity among his own is at an all time low.

In contrast to that, I understand that Tristram Hunt has built a great team in Stoke-on-Trent Central and that meetings are now enormously well attended and very interesting and engaging for party members.

I’m told there is little or no campaigning going on in Stoke-on-Trent South organised by Mr Flello’s team, whereas in Stoke-on-Trent Central Tristram and his team are out at every available opportunity knocking on doors and meeting the public and gauging their opinions.

So in summary, I liken the current situation to the pre championship fight build up between heavyweight boxers David Haye and Audley Harrison.

Both promised that the contest would be close with little between them.

In truth only one came out fighting, looked mean and lean and took the opportunity to stop his opponent at the earliest convenience.

The other had little to offer, never landed a telling blow and lost the support of his army of fans.

Enough said? I leave you to draw your own conclusions..

Tristram Hunt on the Coalition’s Prospects

At Friday evening’s branch meeting of North Staffs and East Cheshire’s Cooperative Party, new MP for Stoke Central Tristram Hunt gave a brief talk on what the prospects of the Coalition government. Will they disassemble at the first hurdle or are they likely to go the distance?

He began with a potted history of previous coalition governments. The first coalition in modern times was the six month-long Fox-North coalition of 1783, a Tory-Whig lash up George III dismissed after nine months. The one 19th century experience of a coalition (during the Crimean war) was also an inglorious episode. Small wonder Benjamin Disraeli famously declared “England does not love coalitions”. But given the two parties’ duopoly in an adversarial system, any alliance between the two made little sense. Because this party system has survived in various permutations down to the present day, Britain stands out among West European nations in not having much experience of coalition government outside of war (Crimea, 1st and 2nd World Wars) and economic crisis (the 1931-35 national government notoriously presided over by Ramsay MacDonald, and the Tory/National Liberal “coalitions” prior to the war).

This is something not lost on the Tories and LibDems. Despite not being historically enormous, the deficit is dressed up as a mortal economic menace demanding extreme measures – such as a coalition – to get rid of it. They pretend it is an instrument designed to work in the national interest, but the colouration of cabinet and junior minister appointments owes more to political expediency than anything meritorious. This is even clearer when it comes to the coalition’s constitutional plans. The Alternative Vote referendum is a Tory sop to those LibDems who are at best lukewarm over the cuts – even though the measure is unlikely to win, it might buy off a LibDem revolt while the first cuts package is going through parliament. Then there is the fixed parliament with its two thirds majority threshold for dissolution. And not forgetting the major boundary exercise which will, at a stroke, snuff out 50 constituencies. By pure coincidence the majority of whom are Labour-held seats.

That said, Tristram thought the coalition, as a piece of political machinery, is working well. Because this is an alliance of Orange Book LibDems (i.e. the party’s dogmatically neoliberal wing) and the Tories, they already share a very similar outlook. It is this ability for the two to rub along nicely. If the coalition lasts the five year distance the personal and political friendships will help see them through, as well as their mutual culpability for the dark deeds they are committing. This is what his head thought, but his gut was telling him something else: it gave the coalition three years tops. Again, it comes back to the AV referendum. After it has failed many LibDem members will be wondering what they have got out of the coalition (apart from undying enmity and a deserved reputation for opportunism). Therefore it’s likely the centre and centre leftish LibDems are the ones to give the coalition a headache. Meanwhile backbench Tories might moan and make themselves difficult, but not to the point of bringing the government down. Good Tories never put principles before power.

Moving on to questions, Tristram added that the Tories and LibDems entered the relationship without an exit strategy. While there has been some speculation about joint election campaigns (something that would screw Labour for the forseeable future), neither body of activists would stand for it – unless faced with the prospect of total wipeout.

Asked about the boundary review, Tristram thought this would cause the coalition innumerable problems within its own ranks. Many LibDems sit in marginal constituencies – a movement of a boundary here or there could tip them into the hands of the other parties. In addition, the loss of 50 seats will see many MPs from all sides of the Commons absorbed in internal selection battles from the middle of the parliamentary term on. Hardly a recipe for rebuilding public trust in politicians.

Another point Tristram made, which seems to be what many Labour MPs are thinking but I’m not entirely sure about, is that people like the coalition. It’s becoming received wisdom that the public prefer to see parties working together rather than knocking lumps out of each other. I certainly haven’t encountered this sentiment outside medialand, nor have I spoken to anyone chillaxed about losing their job or pension rights because it’s a coalition wielding the axe. But if you believe there is a mood favouring consensus, Ed Miliband’s decision to appoint Alan Johnson over the consensus-challenging economic policies favoured by Ed Balls makes sense. But it doesn’t make it any more right.

In all a worthwhile look at the problems the coalition face. Unfortunately, in my opinion Labour lacks the leadership to make the most of them. Just as it was under Thatcher the strongest opposition will come from *outside* parliament

Ex BNP Councillor Joins Stoke-on-Trent’s Newest Political Group

Ex British National Party member and Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor Ellie Walker will be confirmed as the latest recruit to the city’s newest political group Community Voice.

Mrs Walker represents the people of the former BNP stronghold Abbey Green. She is the wife of former BNP Group Leader Alby who left the far right party amidst a storm of publicity surrounding the selection of the party’s PPC for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Mr Walker was defeated in both the General Election, where he lost his deposit, and the local elections, where he was heavily defeated by the Labour Party candidate.

Ellie Walker contradicts the stereotypical image of a BNP activist. She is described as a caring and compassionate person and has often denied being racist.

Many of her fellow councillors are respectful of the work she carries out in both the Abbey Green ward which she represents and her committee work at the Civic Centre.

Some of the electorate may be surprised at the union between members of Community Voice, which is seen as a haven of old socialists and a former far right activist.

Alby Walker is set to join Community Voice in the near future ahead of next year’s all out council elections.

The Community Voice group’s number could be boosted even further in the near future.

Pits n Pots have learned that City Independent Group member Cllr Barbara Beeston could soon be crossing the council chamber.

Emergency talks are due to take place between Cllr Beeston and CIG Leader Cllr Brian Ward.

If those talks fail and Councillor Beeston’s concerns are not addressed, the Community Voice Group will be just one councillor behind the second largest political group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

There are growing rumours that the CIG could lose more members when the Budget consultations take place if the group back unpopular cuts that will impact on communities and services across the city.

Community Voice have refused to comment on the on-going speculation that their numbers may well swell in the near future.

Academies – Let’s Move The Debate On Says Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt [Lab] is for the debate over Academy type schools to move from their governance to what is actually taught in them.

In a letter to the Guardian Newspaper, Tristram highlights his concerns over the teaching of Science in academies being significantly lower than in council controlled schools.

Stoke-on-Trent escaped the government cuts in the BSF programme and as a result 5 academy type schools will be built across the city. They are:

*James Brindley Science College will close and a new academy will be built on the same site.
*Brownhills Maths and Computing College will close and a new academy will be built on the same site.
*Blurton High School Business and Enterprise College will close and a new academy will be built on the same site.
*St. Peters High School and Berry Hill High School will close and a new academy will be built on a new site located at the current Sixth Form College, Fenton.
*Mitchell High School and Edensor Technology College will close and a new academy will be built at a site located in the east of the city.

Here is a copy of Tristram’s letter:

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (New academies will leave pupils struggling to succeed, say critics, 26 July) is right to be worried about the teaching of science in academy schools. The percentage of pupils taking GCSEs in physics, chemistry and the biological sciences in academies is markedly below schools in the maintained sector. And it is the same case in the humanities. Just 17% of pupils in academies take geography GCSE, compared to 27% in the maintained sector; 21% take history GCSE, compared to 31%; and 26% take a modern language, compared to 44%. New evidence from the Historical Association also indicates that academies are more likely to teach history at key stage 3 within a less focused integrated humanities programme. A worrying picture is emerging, with non-specialist teaching of history at key stage 3 being far more common in academies than in other types of school and less time being allocated to the subject.

Perhaps it is time the debate over academy schools moves on from questions of governance to what pupils are actually learning.

Tristram Hunt MP

Lab, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt On Regeneration & The Intangible Stuff

Newly-elected Stoke-on-Trent MP Tristram Hunt explains why continued government investment in education and skills is so vital for ‘cities in transition’

Struggling cities”Å¡ challenging cities”Å¡ cities in transition”Å¡ these are today’s buzz words for the public policy of managing change in industrial cities.

In America, the examples of Detroit, Gary and Buffalo have all been cited to support the idea of right-sizing cities and rolling back the urban footprint of declining manufacturing centres. In Britain, radical opinion-formers on the right have urged a mass transhumance from the post industrial north to the financial services south ““ or, at least, they did until the bubble burst.

But while these ideas might look good in a seminar room, they fail to take account either of the economic resilience of many manufacturing centres or the political requirement to support established communities. As the newly-elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, these are the issues I am beginning to grapple with.

As an historian, I am more than aware of the heroic past of the Potteries ““ how the soils of North Staffordshire gave birth to the Industrial Revolution; how its canals began the transport revolution; and how the kilns of Etruria pioneered modern factory production. But now, as a politician, I am also realising we need to be aggressive about exploiting that history in order to build a sustainable future.

For there is no doubt that while the likes of Sheffield and Derby ““ and, of course, Birmingham and Manchester ““have regenerated over the last 15 years, Stoke-on-Trent has not enjoyed the same success. Part of this is down to a different economic trajectory as North Staffordshire’s staple industries continued to suffer economic readjustment well into the 1990s. It was One Nation ““ and Michael Heseltine ““ that closed the last of the coalmines. The steel foundries followed soon after, and the past 20 years has seen the numbers employed in the pottery industry fall from around 50,000 to little more than 5,000.

But politics is also to blame. Weak councils ““ followed by long periods of introspection over the merits of elected mayors ““ combined with a proud if politically unstable culture of independent representatives, has put off investment. While the strong, concentrated leadership of Sir Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese has reaped dividends in Manchester, the so-called “curse of the Potteries” (of relentless political change) has cost the city dear. Unfortunately, we still remain in a period of relative political uncertainty within the city but next year’s new governance system ““ of only 44 councillors with four-year terms of office ““ offers a longed-for chance of stable leadership. And Stoke-on-Trent’s three Labour MPs ““ myself together with Rob Flello and Joan Walley ““ are already working closely as a Potteries bloc.

Yet the real key to success lies in changing a culture of scepticism toward education and skills. As with many of Britain’s manufacturing or port cities, where young men and women could walk into jobs at 16 in mills, docks or factories with little need for formal education, Stoke-on- Trent has not had a history of valuing learning. Yet those jobs in the pot banks and the mines have gone, often to China or Indonesia, and the jobs of tomorrow are going to demand education, training and apprenticeships.

This is the rationale behind Labour’s phenomenal investment in the city ““ from SureStart centres to refitting primary schools, from a new 6th Form College to the University Quarter around Staffordshire University. The Labour Party was also committed to spending £250m on a Building Schools for the Future programme for all secondary schools, which could now be cut by the Tory/LibDem coalition.

For it is increasingly clear that sustainable urban regeneration is not about shimmering new piazzas and al-fresco dining opportunities; it is about investment in human capital. And far more effective than big public sector back-office job allocation is the slow revival of private sector enterprise.

Much of this is often down to the intangible stuff of regeneration. Yes, you need a professional council, competitive rates, decent housing and transport facilities, and a skilled workforce. But you also need a sense of “a city on the up” and today, Stoke-on-Trent has that.

As the financial services bubble finally bursts and Britain realises it still needs to make things, the Potteries is well-placed to prosper. Ceramics jobs are coming back to the area, thanks partly to the anti-competitive costs of currency swings and partly to the commercial advantage of a “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” brand. With it, we need to rebuild the engineering and manufacturing base which once underpinned the industry. The new £400m University Hospital of North Staffordshire is bringing skilled medical and scientific professionals to the area, while jobs in leisure, tourism, education and retail are also growing. But the intangibles are also there ““ Stoke City storming the Premier League; the return of the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard to its Mercian resting place; even the Hanley Regatta”Å¡ celebrating our canal heritage.

In reply to Tristram Hunt

Tristram Hunt in his recent Sentinel article identifies the central problems that have beset my hometown-Stoke on Trent- but it is a problem that has probably existed from since post Second World War. A reading of any local newspaper from before the 1950s will inform anyone that the long-term decline of the area is nearly getting on for 50 years.

Of course the area was badly hit by the mass unemployment of the 80s but over all something like 120,000 jobs have been lost in the traditional industries of steel, pottery and mining since the 50s

But I do not have a pessimistic view. I do believe that Stoke and the wider North Staffs area does have a future, but we live in perilous times.

Mr Hunt is right to invoke the names of Wedgwood, Brindley and the rest, creators of the Industrial Revolution who deserve their place in the Pantheon of people who made modern Britain. I have no doubt that spirit of enterprise still exists in the area, but the area has been ill served and opportunities have been missed. I recall as a young Stoke Councillor in the early 80s making the case for a transit system the same as was being proposed in Manchester and Sheffield using the old loop line. What could have been achieved in settling the transport problems of the area if we had such a system?

It is not as if the area has been starved of Government cash or lack initiatives. Since the mid 70s there have been a number and a perusal of the local papers over the years marks the launch of one initiative after another all of which, in banner headlines, offered hope and a route to turn the area around. The latest being the local pathfinder RENEW which offered so much when it began in 2004. But mistakes have been made perhaps the most glaring being the return of over £20 million to the Treasury because the regeneration authorities could not think of any projects to spend the money.

The problem has been, in so many cases; the authorities have had no confidence in the local people of North Staffs. How many times have managers been bought in to run these projects who have no commitment to the area. The City Council is itself a good example in this regard. The appointment of Mr Van Der Laarschot is the 5th Chief Executive since 2006. How can you build foundations for the future when the most senior managers in the authority have no passion for the area and seem to see it as another brief stage on their CV?

But I want to sound a more triumphant note and Tristram is correct in one regard. He rightly identifies the potential and skills of local people and the answer will be to harness this talent.

As a Stoke person myself who lived in Tristram’s constituency for the first 20 odd years of my life before going off to University and then serving as a Councillor in Hartshill for another 7 I have attempted to give an opportunity for people who feel strongly about the area and its potential to express their ideas.

A few weeks ago I set up the Regenerate Stoke Facebook site mainly because I felt a deep sense of frustration of how closed the debate has been on the future of Stoke. In the past I have given for free a number of ideas to the regeneration agency and have felt patronised by the response.

I felt a few years ago that more could be made of the Wedgwood connection and that an annual festival around the Wedgwood themes of Industry, Art and Design could be held to generate ideas. The idea did not get anywhere.

( And by the way I slightly disagree with Tristram that there is a tradition of valuing learning especially in science and engineering. The area has a rich tradition of producing people in the forefront of science from Lord Kearton in the north through to Oliver Lodge, RJ Mitchell, Thomas Wedgwood and others I had little awareness of. For example a friend of mine- an Old Longtonian- mentioned a father and son Professors’ Astbury- father and son- who were pioneers in the structure of the keratin molecule significant in the wool industry who both attended his old school)

Regenerate Stoke has only been up a few weeks but has already attracted over 200 people and the site is brimming with ideas. Ideas such as the importance of art in regeneration, Green Energy schemes, the role of design, the possibility of setting up a LETS scheme, re establishing the Stoke-Lidice connection in the Czech Republic and the possibility of developing derelict land in the City. Ideas are there. The problem is for whatever reason the authorities have studiously ignored them and it is this that has to change.

Several people are mustering to organise a citizens conference on the future of the City in its second century to be held in the autumn. We live in hard times but we need to be positive about the future. It won’t be easy. The road will be long. Some, like the great cathedral builders of Europe, may never see completely the fruit of their endeavours. But the pioneers who founded these great cities never got to see them in their first glory either.

We’ve come full circle. We are present again at the re-founding of a City like Stoke. This is the task, the duty, the calling that a new generation has chosen as its own, to write the history of their city anew. We need to make history again.

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.