Cherie Booth QC Backs the Stoke-on-Trent S.O.C.C Campaign

Stoke-on-Trent’s nationally recognised Save Our Children Centre’s campaign have managed to enlist the support of Cherie Booth QC.

Ms Booth, the wife of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, has personally written to parents offering her support as the campaign to halt a 30% reduction in funding heads for a judicial review.

The Save Our Children’s Centres campaigners have also enlisted the services of the same solicitors that the Hampshire S.O.C.C are using to further their claim against budget reductions.

Sure Start children centres were described by Tony Blair as “Ëœone of New Labour’s greatest achievements’.

Originally opened in 1999, there are now approximately 3500 Sure Start Children Centres across the country. The key objectives of these centres are:

“¢ In centres in the 30% most disadvantaged areas: integrated early learning and childcare (early years provision) for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year; and support for a childminder network
“¢ In centres in the 70% least disadvantaged areas, which do not elect to offer early years provision: drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay and play sessions
“¢ Family Support, including support and advice on parenting, information about services available in the area and access to specialist, targeted services; and Parental Outreach
“¢ Child and Family Health Services, such as antenatal and postnatal support, information and guidance on breastfeeding, health and nutrition, smoking cessation support, and speech and language therapy and other specialist support
“¢ Links with Jobcentre Plus to encourage and support parents and carers who wish to consider training and employment
“¢ Quick and easy access to wider services

Authorities are proposing closing or reducing the budgets of the Children Centres as a measure of tackling the reduction in funding handed out to Council’s across the country following the governments Comprehensive Spending Review which was completed last autumn.

There are fears that up to 250 Sure Start Children’s Centres could close across the country in the next 12 months.

Mr Anthony Withers, a Stoke-on-Trent S.O.C.C campaigner and father of seven contacted Cherie Booth QC through a professional social networking site and was delighted to receive a very quick response from her offering her support.

” We are so passionate for the future of our children and so disappointed that 30% of services are being taken away from families- we did not want it to come to this but we feel that we have to fight for our children”.

Please listen to the full audio interview with Mr Withers below:

Pre-Council Meeting Demo ““ A Peaceful Protest

A peaceful protest outside the Civic Centre in Stoke yesterday was a far cry from the scenes witnessed in London.

A group of about 60 turned out in support of the Save Our Children’s Centres group who were protesting at the councils proposals to close 7 of the 16 centres which could potentially realise a saving of £750,000 to the Local Authority.

Over 200 hundred staff have already been told whether their posts have been “Ëœsaved’, “Ëœpooled’ or indeed “Ëœdeleted’ should the council choose to proceed with the proposals.

Council chiefs still insist that no final decisions have been made and that a city wide consultation is still on-going. The final outcome will not be known until the council learn the true extent in the cuts in funding handed down from central government following their recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

Roy Naylor, the former City Independent Councillor now Non-Aligned, is fighting the Group’s cause within the civic and was in attendance to lend his support at the protest yesterday [Thursday]. He gave us an Audio Interview which can be heard below this article.

Millissa Beydilli from Blurton is the Leader of the Save Our Children Centres Campaign explained why it is vital that these centres are saved from closure and how they have been a lifeline for so many families across the city’s communities. Listen to the Audio Interview below.
Council Leader Cllr Mohammed Pervez met with the campaigners along with several cabinet members and received a 6,500 strong petition against the closure proposals.

There was also a small group of students protesting outside the Civic. They were expressing their opposition to the rise in tuition fees and against cuts in services generally.

The North Staffs Pensioners Convention were also in attendance protesting against any cuts which will impact upon the elderly.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

More On The Cuts and The Apparent Insensitivity of The Council.

On Saturday, I was invited to hitch a ride aboard the Council’s Cuts Bus.

We met in Stoke, talked to some people, moved on to Fenton Manor and talked a deal more and the bus then headed up to Hanley [City Centre].

I was the only media there apart from a Sentinel photographer. Most of BBC Radio Stoke was on-strike over pensions. That’s the good thing about Pits n Pots and the hyper-local sites across the country, as we do our thing for nothing apart from the love of our City, we would turn up to the opening of an envelope!

I was keen to gauge the opinion of the public, not the politicians so much as I’m pretty sure I know where they are coming from.

The public really surprised me. They did not hit out at our local council, they did however, take a massive swipe at the coalition government.

Their opinions only served to reinforce my view that the Conservatives will face a backlash over these upcoming cuts. The Liberal Democrats face oblivion!

The council are saying that they need to realise budget savings of £33million, yet in an audio interview I did with the Cabinet Member for Resources Kieran Clarke he revealed that the cuts were likely to be in the region of £25million, and could be as much as £28million.

It begs the question and has prompted some scrutiny of why the council executive is advocating cuts £5-8million more than is actually required.

One answer could be; worst case scenario, the more politically astute among the city would suggest that this could be a PR exercise on behalf of the council executive.

If you listen to the audio with the members of the public it is obvious that there are some proposed closures that are simply not palatable to the folk in this city.

We are a caring city, Stokies look after the elderly, the young and the most vulnerable in our society. It’s inbuilt in every one of us [apart from people like Craig Pond and his ilk who only care if you are white!] It’s who we are!

So when the council save some of the Children’s Centre’s and protect some of the elderly care services earmarked for a reduction or possible closure, we have to be mindful that it is not an attempt to deflect our attention away from causes like Shelton & Tunstall pools, the closure of libraries or the City Farm.

It will be marketed as the “Ëœwe have listened’ budget but if we are not careful that £25-28million worth of cuts will be made by cutting the very things that give people of the city real enjoyment.

When it is put like “Ëœwhat do you prefer to see closed ““ The City Farm or a Sure Start Centre’? There is only one sensible answer.

But, on the other hand if there was no real need to close a Sure Start Centre as an example then that is a smokescreen and a very different matter indeed.

To some Potteye [Cllr Mike Barnes] and Community Voice are described as a “Ëœpain in the arse’ ““ they are often portrayed as troublemakers. But if they did not keep bringing these issues out into the fore we, the public would be none the wiser.

The question needs asking why there aren’t more councillors of all political persuasions asking pertinent questions and investigating those potential banana skins.

Then we have the massive own goal of the refurbishment of the first floor of the Civic Centre.

In the week where the council staff were told that up to 700 of them may lose their livelihoods, decking is laid to tart up an open space for the enjoyment of senior officers. It beggars belief!

Along with the need for biting cuts, the executive should and could have announced a moratorium of all unnecessary spend, whatever the project.

I have no doubts that some refurbishment and improvements are needed to certain sections of the Civic Centre, but are they really that desperate that even in these times of austerity, the CEO and senior politicians press ahead with the spending of a large amount of money to improve the working environment of the elite within the council.

I call on all group leaders to call for a halt in the refurbishment of the 1st floor to show the public of this city that cuts bite even at the top.

But more importantly it is essential out of respect to those workers who face the loss of their jobs that our council put a stop to all un-necessary spending.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Embark On City Bus Tour to Consult On Cuts

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Members today [Saturday] embarked on the first of a series of bus tours across the whole 6 Towns to gauge public opinion regarding the recent announcement of severe cuts.

It was unlike the bus trips I made as a kid from Abbey Hulton Suburban Club to destinations like Blackpool, Rhyl and Southport, this trip was organised by our city council to listen to the concerns of citizens in light of the recent announcement that up to £33million cuts could be made from the local authority budget.

Cabinet Members Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Kieran Clarke and Debra Gratton met in Stoke Town this morning to listen to public concerns and to learn what services are most important and what facilities are most revered by the citizens of the city.

The possible closure of 7 of the 16 children’s centres featured high on the list of concerned residents, along with the end of the Stoke Speaks Out Project and the possible loss of the City Farm.

It was clear listening to the views of many residents visiting Stoke Town and attending the Fenton Manor Leisure Centre, that the public blame the Coalition Government for the hard times to come as opposed to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

High rates of unemployment and changes to the benefit system also worried a n umber of people keen to put their points across to the Cabinet Members in attendance.

The £33million of budget savings left some residents concerned to the level of services that the City Council would be able to deliver as well as the ongoing programme of cuts in the years to come.

We have a number of Audio Interviews for you to listen to with members of the public and the cabinet members in attendance.

The wheels of the bus went round an round and went on it’s way up to the City Centre for even more public consultation in the afternoon as a part of the Council’s “ËœLets’s Talk’ initiative.

If you have a specific are of concern or simply want to have your say on the proposed cuts, you can email letstalk@stoke.gov.uk or visit the website at www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk

You can also text the Let’s Talk Team on 07766 200700, start your message with “letstalk”

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.

New Sure Start Centre To Open

Parents and carers of children up to five years old are being invited to find out what’s on offer at a new Sure Start Children’s Centre opening in Stoke-on-Trent later this month.

The Grange Sure Start Children’s Centre in Meir will be holding a special open day on April 20th for people to come along and talk to staff about the range of services on offer. These include a crèche, midwife support, health visitors, family support and training opportunities. Staff will be on hand to talk to visitors from 09:15 until 5pm.

Centre manager Tracy Jackson, who is also the head of the nearby Crescent Children’s Centre said, ‘This will be an additional facility for parents and carers in the Meir area, Meir Park and Sandon and will enable families to benefit from a wide range of services. I would encourage anyone with younger children living in the area to come along and have a general chat and a cup of tea and we can give them the low-down on what a Sure Start centre is all about.’

The centre, in the grounds of Grange Primary School in Normacot Grange Road, Meir (to the rear of Grange Nursery School off Harrowby Road), will start operating some of its services from April 26. Services will be available between 9am until 3pm Monday to Friday.