Newham Council want to move homeless families to Stoke-on-Trent

Reported widely on the BBC this morning, Newham Council says it can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation.

To solve this problem it has written to Brighter Futures Housing Association in Stoke-on-Trent with an opportunity for them to lease 500 homes to it.

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BBC Question Time Stoke-on-Trent

BBC Question Time is being broadcast from Stoke-on-Trent this evening.

The panellists are set to include

  • Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour MP Tristram Hunt
  • Conservative MP Claire Perry
  • Lord Wolfson, the chief executive of Next
  • Mehdi Hasan from the New Statesman
  • Constance Briscoe author and barrister

Question time was last in Stoke-on-Trent in October 2008.

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”.

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!”

Flint Kickstarts Labour’s Stoke Campaign

Yesterday saw a special meeting of Labour Party Members gather at Burslem’s School of Art. Labour MP’s Joan Walley and Tristram Hunt were in attendance along with the Leader of the Council, Mohammed Pervez. Caroline Flint, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was the guest speaker.

Joan Walley spoke of the need to unify the party and to move forward demonstrating a united party. Mohammed Pervez talked up the positive aspects of what Stoke-on-Trent Council had been able to do despite being weakened by coalition. He pointed out that the Children’s Centres had all been saved despite having to suffer cuts, BSF and Cobridge Health Centres were other Labour Initiatives he urged members to remind voters about. Pervez urged members not to be complacent, and to campaign hard to prove that Labour were the right party for Stoke-on-Trent. Members were then invited to ask Ms Flint questions.

Party members touched on localism the cuts to the local Police Force and the closure of local Police Stations. Flint talked about the differences in Labours promised 12% cuts in camparison to the Coalition’s 20%. She remarked about Police inspectors in her own constituency of Don Valley being brought forward to deal with back room functions such as complaints, as the force was stretched ever thinner. Commenting on “ a whole generation of Police officers who are being let go”; Flint painted an ominous future for policing in Britain. She denied that Labour were "scaremongering" on this topic describing the issue of cuts to the police as something "very real and very precious to people’s sense of safety in their communities", and that it was "absolutely right" that Labour hold the Government to account.

Former Mayor, Mark Meredith asked about the Impact of localism within the Labour movement. Flint responded by saying that Labour had some very good examples of local councils where they had looked at ways of involving the community, and that getting them involved was “a good Idea”. She reminded party members that the Labour Party was founded on ideas such as co-operatives and community groups. She drew a distinction between the localism of Labour and David Cameron’s “Big Society” stating that “ People are being told , if you don’t take this services over, then it’s gone” quoting local libraries and swimming pools as examples. When responding to a question about the cuts in Education and the NHS, Ms Flint reminded the audience that not every child was born with the advantage that some have, particularly those at the top of the government.

She finished off the meeting by stating that Labour’s policies, whether based on Education, NHS or safer communities were about fairness at the end of the day, and that what the coalition was doing at the moment was “completely unfair”.

I managed to catch up with Ms Flint and ask her a couple of questions relating to Labour in Stoke.

No Local Enterprise Zone For Stoke-on-Trent

Wednesdays Budget saw Chancellor, George Osborne MP announce that the first 11 of 21 Local Enterprise Zones will be set up in

  • Leeds
  • Sheffield
  • Liverpool
  • Greater Manchester
  • West of England
  • Tees Valley
  • North East
  • The Black Country
  • Derbyshire
  • Nottinghamshire
  • London

Although Stoke-on-Trent was not one of the initial 11 Enterprise Zones announced, it is hoped that it will be one of the successful partnerships to make it through the competitive round in summer for one of the final 10 zones yet to be announced. Guidance from CLG states, in general, only one designation will be made per partnership, but Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez said in an interview with Tony Walley that Stoke-on-Trent has already been agreed as the favoured location for an enterprise zone by the Stoke & Staffordshire LEP.

According to the CLG the 11 Enterprise Zones named in the budget focus on city regions and those areas that have missed out in the last ten years.

Although looking at the amount of regeneration carried out in Manchester & Liverpool it would appear that they have both had massive investment in recent years.

The new Local Enterprise Zones will benefit from:

  • 100% business rate discount for five years worth up to £275,000 per business
  • Retention of business rates for 25 years
  • Simplified planning regulations
  • Super-fast broadband, this will be funded from the public purse where necessary
  • Enhanced capital allowances

Pits n Pots asked our three local MPs what they thought of the announcement on Enterprise Zones and Stoke-on-Trent not being listed as one of the first Enterprise Zones.

This budget announced 11 enterprise zones are to be set up and then revealed that 10 had already been chosen. So much for “localism” and transparency about where they should be! There is though to be a competition to determine which others are chosen but it is likely there will be far more applicants than winners. We need a recovery plan for the whole of the UK including areas with most need of new jobs. So I shall be asking our Local Enterprise Partnership what progress they have made and be ready to support any bid.
The bidding process for the Enterprise Zones was completely unclear – so we had no chance to influence the result. The challenge now is for the Stoke-on-Trent MPs to work with the Local Enterprise Partnership to secure a winning bid in this summer’s competitive round. It would be great to gain an Enterprise Zone but this is not the be all and end all for Stoke-on-Trent’s regeneration. I am just as worried by plans for the carbon floor price and its effects on the ceramics industry as the Enterprise Zone proposals.

Unfortunately Rob Flello MP had not responded at the time of publication despite being the only MP who had a political assistant cc’d on the request.

Tony Walley caught up with Council Leader Mohammed Pervez after yesterdays full council meeting to get his views on the Local Enterprise Zones, you can listen to his interview below.

Stoke North MP Fights For Tunstall Pool.

Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley is backing the fight to save Tunstall Pool.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have confirmed that the Pool is to be closed and the Victorian building, which is listed, mothballed if no trust or organisation offer to take over the running of the pool.

Joan Walley MP has written to the City Council asking for urgent action to preserve one of the few remaining Victorian public baths.

Her letter to the head of Adult Services also questions why the city Council have failed to act in the previous 12 months.

RE: Budget Development 2011/12-2012/13

Tunstall Pool – URGENT

I am writing further to my meeting with you last week to follow up what can be done even at this late
stage for a reconsideration of the City Council’s recommended decision to close Tunstall Pool.

I have raised this also with Tristram Hunt MP and Rob Flello, MP and they support me in wanting to
ensure a solution is found and there is no interruption to the facility.
Firstly, when we met you said that I could have a copy of the consultant’s report which the City
Council has commissioned in respect of swimming policy. I don’t appear to have received that yet and
would be grateful for an early copy in order that I can respond to you.

Secondly, I would like confirmation that the members of the City Council have had chance to
consider this report themselves prior to finalising any decision about the future of Tunstall Pool. In
earlier meetings with the City Council I was advised that the report it intended to commission on
wider aspects of swimming policy would be the background against which any proposals in respect
of the future of Tunstall Pool would be made. It is as important as ever that any decisions made by the
City Council are informed ones.

I wish to make you personally aware of my approaches to your department over the last 12 months
on this matter, including a meeting with the Cabinet member and sports officer on this matter. I have
been in contact with the City Council since March last year, and have asked for and attended meetings
from April onwards. Throughout all of this my approach was to ask the City Council to work up
options and different business case scenarios for all eventualities, including budget pressures. The
Leader of the City Council was aware of my approaches in this respect.

Having approached the Amateur Swimming Association almost a year ago, and received their offer of
help to assist the City Council to work with them to secure a £50,000 grant to kick-start discussions
as to a long term way forward, including seeking other funding, I had expected that the City Council
would have made firm progress by now. I also asked the City Council to consider all other options,
even if that meant considering alternative ways of running the pool should that become necessary.
I also envisaged an application to HLF for that part of the building which is listed and to the Big
Lottery/sport funding bodies to provide the refurbishment and repair costs. I expected that the City
Council would draw up detailed plans and business scenarios to seek ways of securing capital and
revenue funding. I repeat again that I forwarded to the City Council the confirmation I was given
from the Lottery bodies that should the City Council approach them with bids they would meet with
the City Council to set out what funding options could be open.

I understand from David Sparkes, CEO of the Amateur Swimming Association that they are still
committed to providing some funding towards keeping Tunstall Pool open and operational in some
form and that they were awaiting the outcome of the Consultant’s Report to enable them to construct
a strategy whereby this could happen. The Amateur Swimming Association was informed that this
would not be available until the 24th February 2011. It does not seem logical to make a decision
regarding the future of the swimming pool without giving the Amateur Swimming Association and
other interested groups the opportunity to assist.

The Amateur Swimming Association is prepared to consider the creation of a Trust to operate
the swimming pool in the short term assuming the economics are viable. I understand that you
have provided them with financial data relating to the operation of the pool but they are awaiting a
structural report before submitting a proposal to the City Council. Surely the City Council should give
this option serious consideration before making an arbitrary decision?

I have asked for information to be able to understand how much the pool costs to run, what
investment has/ has not been spent over the years, what benefits the pool being run by a Trust/non-
profit making organisation/ social enterprise/ alternative provider could bring in respect of reduced
VAT, tax costs etc, what scope there could be to include Tunstall pool in any reconfiguration of
swimming, and whether the City Council would approach the HLF and other Sport funding bodies to
secure the funds to update the building to ensure reduced running costs and a viable business plan.

On each occasion I have had meetings there has been no evidence that serious proposals to achieve
this have been followed up and there does not appear to have been a business case to explore options
to keep the pool open.

Tunstall Pool is used extensively by those learning to swim, for fitness and health and for leisure. It is
an English Heritage Grade 2 Listed Building and it is difficult to see what alternative use it will be put
to once the pool is closed or moth balled by the City Council. It is used extensively by older people
who rely on it for good health and well being. It is used by youngsters learning to swim. It fulfils
a substantial part of the Council’s responsibilities to provide water safety. It is used extensively by
young and old alike within the local population and is located in an area with considerable deprivation
and need for social cohesion initiatives. There is a small studio available for events. There is no limit
to the wider use that could be made of it.

Throughout the City Council’s consultation response to the government cuts, local people have
contacted the City Council to ask for Tunstall Pool to be saved, but the strength of local feeling does
not appear to have been fully recorded or reflected in the City Council’s response. On this I have been
asked to receive a further petition on Friday 18/2/2011 at 3.15pm and I intend to do this and pass it on
to the City Council.

I still maintain that it is not too late for the Council to accept in good faith not just the weight of
public opinion but also the support it and I have from the ASA to work together to find a solution. It
is difficult to see how if the City Council decides to close or mothball the pool with immediate effect
how such an option could remain on the table, and experience elsewhere bears this out.

I am therefore asking if in the light of the interest of the ASA and in the best interests of swimming
across the City if you will look again at the costs of keeping it open until such time as talks with the
Amateur Swimming Association and others could establish whether a realistic proposal could be
put forward to keep the pool open, and in the medium and longer term secure the refurbishment that
would cut costs and secure a business plan that would ensure its future viability. I would also want
this to be considered in the light of the public health and social cohesion agenda.

This is a well used and loved historic pool. I am asking again if you will respond to me not in general
terms but with details of what has actually been done, or could now be done to set out options that

could preserve Tunstall Pool short, medium and long term at what I know is a challenging time for all
concerned.

I confirm again that I am willing to give what support I can and would like Stoke-on-Trent City
Council to explore a grant application, and approach other providers even at this late stage to get a
stay of execution to enable a robust Plan B to be drawn up.

I am copying this to cabinet members and to those who have contacted me about this so that they are
aware of my further request that the City Council makes informed decisions in respect of 4-ASCO6
ANS Tunstall Pool Closure.

Thank you for your attention to this. I would welcome an early meeting with yourself and with the
ASA and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Joan Walley MP
Stoke-on-Trent North

A community group has now been formed and they are seeking a stay of execution from the council while they explore the possibility of forming a trust.

A public meeting has been arranged for 7.30pm tomorrow 22nd February at Christchurch, Tunstall.

The organisers are hoping that a number of councillors and cabinet members will be in attendance and urge everyone to support their community group in the fight to save Tunstall Pool.

West Enders Set For Life of Luxury at New Extra Care Village

A state of the art extra care housing complex in Stoke Town which has been developed by Staffordshire Housing Association to provide high quality homes for older Stoke-on-Trent residents is now complete.

The first residents have just moved into West End Village, and others will move in throughout January and February.

The complex has been designed by Stoke-on-Trent based architects, Hulme Upright Manning.

It was constructed by GB Building Solutions Limited. 700 jobs were generated on site during the construction phase and 19 young people were taught construction skills.

The £18 million scheme has received investment of £7,292,500 through the government’s Homes and Communities Agency. Other funding has included £1,500,000 from Stoke on Trent City Council, £500,000 from RENEW and £11,100 from the Carbon Trust. The remaining costs have been met by Staffordshire Housing Association.

West End Village is built on the former site of the Bilton pottery works which had been derelict for several years.

The village has 100 apartments ““ 80 for rent and 20 for sale ““ and boasts a range of high specification communal facilities including a restaurant, lounge bar, coffee bar, unisex hair salon, gym, therapy suite and a general store.

Staffordshire Housing Association pioneered the “village living” concept for older people at Bradeley, Stoke-on-Trent, in the 1990s, and now have four high quality villages for residents to choose from.

“West End Village makes a significant contribution to the regeneration of Stoke town, with high quality accommodation for older people.

Residents of the village live independently in their own apartments while enjoying top class communal facilities.

They also have the assurance that care and support services are available at the village 24 hours a day ““ catering for residents’ changing needs.”

Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, praised the developers of the new extra care village for putting residents’ needs at the heart of the project.

“I welcome the opening of this new development as part of the regeneration of Stoke town. I am very pleased that Staffordshire Housing Association has put the needs of their residents at the heart of the project. The development has been designed with community space in mind and I am encouraged it will allow residents to maintain their independence and access the relevant care should they need it.”

A time capsule was buried on the site during construction containing items suggested by children from nearby Stoke Minster Primary School including an MP3 player, a recipe for Staffordshire oatcakes and a 2010 shopping list.

Local Councillors and MP’s Take Stoke-on-Trent’s Budget Cut Plight to Westminster

Councillor Mohammed Pervez, Leader of Stoke-On-Trent City Council will today accompany the regions three MP’s (Tristram Hunt, Joan Walley and Rob Flello) to Westminster to meet Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Andrew Stunell.

The meeting is a result of the MPs and the council lobbying Westminster to make a special case for Stoke-on-Trent to reduce the extent of the government imposed cuts through this years Financial Settlement.

“These cuts will be painfully hard for all council’s but for Stoke-on-Trent with our dependency on public sector jobs, the high level’s of people on long term benefits and the deprivation factors in the city, our resilience to these cuts is extremely low as indicated by an independent report last year.

“We know cuts need to be made, and we have already made significant progress to identify savings but we need Andrew Stunell to listen to us and present our case to Eric Pickles. Stoke-on-Trent should be an exception, a special case due to the combination of factors that contribute to the impact of these cuts being greater and unfair compared to most other council’s.

“These cuts are supposed to be fair but to me they do not seem fair for Stoke-on-Trent. I want to make sure central government is aware that these cuts will directly affect the most vulnerable in our city. We cannot continue to deliver all the services we currently deliver due to these unfair government cuts. There will be wide scale closure and reduction in service and facilities used by the young and old on our city.”

The meeting will take place today (Wednesday 12 January 2011) at 1:15pm at Portcullis House, Westminster, London. Councillor’s Kieran Clarke, Cabinet member for Finance, Performance and Governance and Ross Irving, Cabinet member for Community Safety, Partnerships & LSP for Stoke-on-Trent City Council will also attend the meeting.