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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have we been here before I wonder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”.

Stoke-on-Trent A Five Green Flag City

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is celebrating after being given five Green Flag awards for 2011. Three cemeteries have retained their Green Flag status, as well as news award for Park Hall Country Park & Queens Park Longton

Park Hall Country Park, which contains the city’s only National Nature Reserve, has picked up a Green Flag Award for the first time. It has achieved recognition for the standard of maintenance of the country park’s many wildlife habitats, the provision of leisure and recreational facilities and the active involvement of the local community in management of the site.

Our environmental staff that work at Park Hall take great pride in their work, and it’s fitting that they are recognised for what they have achieved. The Green Flag Award is a hallmark in quality and we are proud to have achieved that status for the park.

The Green Flag at Parkhall will be raised on Tuesday at 10:00am by park volunteers.

Carmountside Cemetery and Crematorium, Burslem Cemetery and Fenton Cemetery have all been awarded the prestigious honour for their floral displays, horticulture and green spaces. Carmountside has been awarded a Green Flag for the 4th year, while Fenton and Burslem have been given the award for the 3rd year.

To receive the award for the third and fourth years running is great credit to the staff at the three cemeteries.

Carmountside, Fenton and Burslem all provide calm surrounds for people to reflect, and that is in no small part due to the work done in maintaining the grounds.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Terry Follows will raise the Green Flag at Carmountside Cemetery on Tuesday and will celebrate all the flags being awarded to the three cemeteries.

All three of these cemeteries and Park Hall Country Park maintain a high standard when it comes to their appearance and the cleanliness.

The Green Flags also reward the diligence of our staff who work hard throughout the year to make sure that the cemeteries and the park provide a comforting and colourful appearance to everyone who visits them

The Green Flag awards are something that we should all be proud of.

Longton Park was also awarded a green flag award.

Launched in 1996 the Green Flag Award scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. The first awards were given in 1997 and, many years later, it continues to provide the benchmark against which our parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a benchmark of excellence in recreational green areas.

updated 26 July

Sunday Night Short

Which Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor has been seen having a ‘late one‘ in a local pub over the last few weeks?

If what we are being told is correct I’m not sure how they are able to sit on this committee.

Leave your guesses below and I’ll tell you if you’re right or not later in the week.

When’s A Workman Not A Workman?

Pits n pots have been contacted by a concerned resident who wanted to highlight an issue they had seen with a Kier employee. Kier Stoke are the company formed as a joint venture between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and construction and support services specialist Kier Building Maintenance to take on the repairs to Stoke-on-Trent City Council housing stock in 2008.

I was going shopping on Friday in the north of the city, I went to the pay and display meter to get a ticket, while I was getting some change a Kier workman came out of a pub near the meter on his telephone. He was in his work clothes with the Kier badge on them and saying to the person on the phone that he was still on a job and wouldn’t be able to take the job they were trying to give him. Once the call had finished he went back in to the pub.

Kier Stoke seem to be going through some turbulent times at the moment. Chief Executive John van de Laarshot brought Vanguard, a ‘systems thinking’ consultancy, in to look at ways that the City Council could work smarter and save money. The first place he sent them was in to the housing directorate to look at the contract with Kier and how to provide quicker, better and more cost effective services to council tenants.

A suggestion, if I may be so bold, might be to know where your employees really are when they tell you they are still on the last job you gave them.

Labour confirm Willfield closure at Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Tony has written an account of this focused mostly on Sheila Pitt, but invited my blog also.

On 21st July 2011 the Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee met to consider the cabinet decision to close the Willfield centre, gym and pool.
The committee membership was Bagh Ali (chair), Sheila Pitt (vice chair), Kath Banks, Randy Conteh, Matt Fry (late), Ann James, Shaun Pender and Debbie Wheeldon. Gurmeet Singh Kallar sent apologies for absence.

Gwen Hassall attended as portfolio holder and Dave Conway attended as he, Ann James and Lee Wanger had called in the decision. The public audience included gym campaigner Carol Harrison and a good turn out of others campaigners. Councillors in the audience were Olwen Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Paul Shotton, Lee Wanger and Alison Wedgwood. Ex-councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis were also there.

Council Officer Tony Oakman acknowledged Carol Harrison’s passion and the uniqueness of Willfield. Then came the “”¦however”, he said there were other alternatives, primarily at the Wallace centre. He also said in 18 months time the Discovery Academy would be built and have gym, sports hall and dance facility, but no pool. He said Willfield should close because of the council decision in February for £36million budget cuts and £20million more next February.

Dave Conway then gave reasons for the call-in; that the closure had not been properly costed, had not included the cost to decommission the pool, partnership funding had not been considered and it was contrary to the Sports and Physical Activity Strategy 2009-16. He said of the 4 options “Ëœconsidered’ options 2, 3 and 4 were essentially the same as they all closed Willfield. He said goal posts had moved, the academy was not mentioned in the February budget but was now being used as reason to close Willfield and the Sports Strategy at Willfield to help people become healthy and active was being taken away.

Legal officer Carmaine Whitehouse said 2 rounds of O&S had considered the detailed impact of the proposals.
Randy Conteh questioned the decision making process and asked if the decision had already been made in procedure or law and they were all wasting their time. He said councillors are there to represent communities, so as well as discussions on value for money, “what about value for people?”

Carmaine Whitehouse stated that the decision had not yet been made.

Randy Conteh contended that already users had been moved out, the pool emptied and the site handed over to contractors.

Council officer Tracy Penrose said contractors had been allowed onto the upper site, funded by BSF, but the council had to “Ëœmake good’ the lower site, funded by the council – highways, not BSF.

Tracy Penrose stated that the pool had not been emptied!

Ann James questioned why they were all there if the closure process had already been started. She asked if the closure was occurring before August so demolition costs could be included in BSF. She said she was annoyed; council should provide a service and council tax payers should have a say. She said she was most upset we have a constitution not being upheld.
Bagh Ali asked if the centre had been closed.

Tony Oakman said the Willfield Fitness Centre was still running and no equipment had been removed. It was my impression that a group of members of the public were stifling apoplectic rage at this point, but of course were allowed to say nothing.
Ann James asked who was responsible for the swimming pool but appeared to get no answer.
Tracy Penrose uttered her usual spiel that the new schools, although they hadn’t done so “Ëœyet’, would “Ëœsoon’ be signing a community use agreement. (This “Ëœsoon’ has been going for years – I have been hearing this from the BSF board since 2008/9 and the Trentham High campaign.) She said contractors had been allowed on site early for a 2013 academy opening date and if O&S uphold the cabinet decision their contract can be extended to “Ëœsave’ the £31,200 it would cost to demolish the Willfield gym and pool at a later date.

Ann James reported that the Willfield working group had a business plan to continue running the centre for far less than the costs reported to the meeting. The accountant (Tom?) said £90,000 would be needed to transfer costs currently in the CYP budget and £60,000 accounts for falling usage over the past 18 months (because of the planned closure!) He criticised the business plan primarily because he thought about £0.5million start up costs would be needed.

Ann James and Randy Conteh both asked if officers had talked to the group about the business plan. Tony Oakman conceded this was a point well made but the business case had been given “Ëœserious consideration’ and the realities are that demolition will have to take place.

Sheila Pitt then spoke, Tony covers this in detail in his article.

Ann James asked what it would cost for equipment for the disabled to be installed at the Wallace centre. Officer Michelle Adams initially said no expense would be incurred but the accountant then conceded £5,000 had been allocated for removal costs.

Tony Oakman in summing up said it was a “Ëœdifficult decision’, but there were alternative facilities, this was a discretionary area of funding, the business case for Willfield did not stack up and in 18 months time the new academy would be offering facilities.

Dave Conway summed up that people had been misled. He showed photographs taken three days earlier of items packed up at Willfield ready to go and the pool being emptied with only a small amount of water left at the bottom! He had talked to workers at Willfield who were ready to go and reported that 14 user groups had already been moved out of Willfield. He had a barrage of other criticisms; the call-in had no effect, goal posts had moved on the sports strategy, costs in children and young people’s voted on by council then moved to adults and neighbourhoods, Keir had a contract to maintain buildings but hadn’t. He said photos do not lie and he would take the matter further. Bagh Ali said he wanted more than this. So Dave Conway held up a petition signed by hundreds of people wanting Willfield kept open, mentioned the £62,500 the feasibility study had quoted for decommissioning the pool and said we can’t keep closing pools. He said “the council is doing an injustice to people”.

Randy Conteh proposed a recommendation to approve option 1 ““ retention of Willfield, that council should work with the Willfield Working Trust to assist with the business plan and external funding and that BSF should support this option. Ann James seconded the proposal.

THE VOTE to save Willfield:

3 FOR: Randy Conteh, Ann James, Sheila Pitt.

4 AGAINST: Bagh Ali, Kath Banks, Shaun Pender, Debbie Wheeldon.

Result – defeated.
Sheila Pitt was absolutely right in my view to vote against her Labour party line. Randy Conteh and Ann James made a valiant attempt to support the gym users but under such a Labour majority they can do nothing more than speak out. Kath Banks, Shaun Pender and Debbie Wheeldon said not a word, clearly there just to vote. Matt Fry said nothing and didn’t vote, why was he there?

My view

Labour was intent on closing Willfield all along. They indulged in shenanigans by introducing the Willfield closure as an urgent cabinet item supplementary to the original agenda, then made a point to allow a call-in but it seems did not pause the closure process. O&S were therefore wasting their time as Randy Conteh, Ann James and Dave Conway pointed out. A bit of theatre had Sheila Pitt voting with the independents against closure but that didn’t matter to Labour as they had enough stooges to vote it closed anyway.

I take issue with the site boundary deception described on previous occasions. I take issue with the mix and match shenanigans between children and young people’s budget and adults and neighbourhoods “Ëœscrutiny’. I do not agree with Carmaine’s assertions about clarity of the decision making process. The budget documents had no clarity for me at the time, it was not obvious whether the savings (4CYP-14) meant closing the gym and pool or just the education centre at Willfield, although I am but a mere member of the public. The Willfield closure was considered by Children and Young People’s O&S on 6th December 2010. This seemed to refer to the education centre, to be closed in August 2011, not apparently to the gym and pool. In fact it was stated “if the decision is taken to retain the lower site for community & sports use, the projected saving would need to be reduced by approx £75k”. Whilst the closure (upper site?) was supported, councilor at that time Ellie Walker required more information.

I am outraged the shutting down of Willfield continued whilst it was claimed on the one hand that the decision was not finalised before scrutiny had considered it and on the other hand it was made back in February. Although it was clear all along this was the tactic, it always is.

What really annoys me was that people were messed with and given false hope. They were incredibly upset after a lot of hard work and I think some belief they may get somewhere. I’m too much of cynic of course to have had any hope, I could see clearly all along how it was panning out. On the one hand I think if people will keep voting in these Labour councils then they are asking for this treatment and get what they deserve. Labour use the same tactics time and time again and get away with it and all the people do is vote for more of the same. On the other hand I think that Labour have a party structure, propaganda and powerful connections on their side and well paid officers working on their plans, whereas ordinary people have other jobs and lives to attend to and little resource. It’s not a fair fight.

I’m not a Willfield gym or pool user (although I have attended meetings held in the ““ rather nicely decorated ready for demolition ““ education centre). So why should I care? The reason I care is that I find the disrespect with which the Labour led council treats the citizens of the city an utter disgrace.
A very sad day for Willfield users, but I for one am not the slightest bit surprised.

Labour Scrutiny Councillors Uphold Decision to Close Willfield Fitness Centre

Labour councillors today [Thursday] forced through the decision to close a popular fitness centre despite the gallant efforts of two of their own councillors.
The cabinet had already voted to close Willfield Fitness Centre but their decision was called in by City Independent Group Leader Cllr Dave Conway along with Cllr Lee Wanger.

A meeting of the Adult & Neighbourhood Overview & Scrutiny Committee were told that despite the call in work was already underway to close the facility.

The pool was drained, staff had left post and 14 fitness groups had been transferred to other locations across the area.

Opposition councillors led By Dave Conway were furious that the City Council officers had broken a long standing rule of halting any work until the call in process had been exhausted.

City Independent Councillors Conteh, James and Conway were always facing an uphill battle to overturn the cabinet decision, but they were buoyed by support from Labour Cllr Sheila Pitt who with assistance from fellow Labour Councillor Alison Wedgwood tabled the following statement and proposal:

Firstly I would like to say that both myself and Councillor Alison Wedgwood worked together on this statement and these questions because we both feel that this is a very important decision we are being asked to review.

There are six points to consider. The gym receives over 70,000 visits per year from people whose only goal is to lead independent healthy lives; this is now one of the four new pillars on which the whole Mandate for Change agenda rests so closing a well used and relatively inexpensive sports facility doesn’t make sense on so many levels.

We believe the underlying reason why the Council want to close it down is because the gym is housed in a not very attractive building which will soon be situated next to a brand new academy. I think you all agree when I say that we in the Council cannot go around knocking down useful, productive buildings, simply because they are ugly. Especially buildings that the Council invested £1 million pounds in only five years ago.

The financial reasons for closing the gym do not make sense. We did not receive a full breakdown of the costs in the options appraisal, so Councillor Wedgwood asked for a breakdown and has recently received this table, which I would like to show my fellow committee members.

In TABLE 1 you will see that £133,000 is included to clad the outside of the building to make it more attractive. However, if I now draw your attention to the Public Options Appraisal report which was used to justify closing the gym which is included as Page 7 of your agenda , in the notes it says clearly that the £133,000 is not part of the £398,500 capital item.

It says “This does not include “¦ a further anticipated £133,000 to clad the building due to planning conditions”
This doesn’t make sense and understandably gives me little confidence in the rest of the figures and data presented in the options appraisal; therefore, I find it difficult to make such an important decision when I don’t trust the figures.

TABLE 1 also includes a cost of £27,000 to repair or renew windows, in this age of austerity, why can’t the gym cope with its current windows? Again I would argue that this is an unnecessary expense.

In our Agenda on page 22 we have a comparison of the number of users at the gym compared to other council sites. I think this was intended to show how little used the gym is. We think that this data actually shows how important our decision is today ““ the gym represents 5% of all sports usage in this city – all in only 398 square meters! It has the same number of users as Northwood sports stadium. I wonder if a better analysis wouldn’t be to show the number of users per square meter, or the number of users per pound subsidy?

Similarly, the table of postcodes, on page 22 was intended to show that the gym isn’t really a community gym., Well firstly as 22% of the table are invalid entries the table is deeply flawed. Secondly, the fact that there are also many users from Longton, Blurton and Meir shows that shifting these users across to the Wallace centre would not work and that this is not just an issue for Bentilee, but for many citizens of Stoke on Trent.

Is the Wallace centre really as suitable for Disabled Users? We know a disabled user went to the Wallace recently and found that it hasn’t got disabled showers like the Willfield has, what use is a gym without a shower?

Finally, and very importantly, we feel that the options appraisal should have included the business case included by other external groups or funders, such as the one presented by the Willfield Action Group. I would like to remind everyone that according to the new Localism Bill, Councils are supposed to be willing to hand over assets to the community for them to manage and run especially if this reduces the financial burden to the Council. This is a perfect example of letting our civic society, letting hard working members of the community volunteer and manages their own services. The Willfield Action Group have a former manager from Sports and Leisure at their head, they are not just a group of well meaning do-gooders.

When Councillor Pervez visited the gym on the 8th June Mr Camellaire was asked to present a business case, and without much time he has done so, but within a few days of the 8th June a decision had already been made, and the Community Trust business case which I’m sure you have all received, has never been considered. This business case would need some firming up which can be done with more access to council data, but there is a real opportunity to let the Community run the gym, take on the financial risks and prove that they can make it work. If it doesn’t work then at least they have tried, and the Council may have lost a free opportunity to demolish a building but will have gained many supporters and democracy would have been better served.

Therefore, we urge this committee to consider this Community Trust business case. This should have been considered by the cabinet and council officers and in the interests of democracy, accountability and fair decision making, and in the interests of the health and independence of the people of Stoke on Trent I would like to recommend the gym is handed over to a Community Trust for them to run and that this decision is referred back to the Cabinet for them to amend.

Officers of the council did their upmost to prevent Cllr Pitt from sharing her documentation with other councillors at the meeting but a timely intervention by Cllr Randy Conteh who reminded officer that he had seen papers handed out on the day of the meeting many times before, soon resulted in the legal officer backing down and the papers were distributed.

After a long and at times heated debate, the proposal to recommend that the Willfield Fitness Centre be retained on its present site and for the Council to work with the Willfield Centre Trust to taken over the costs and running of the Centre was voted on and narrowly defeated.

Labour Councillor Sheila Pitt voted with the opposition, whilst her fellow group councillors Pender, Wheeldon, Banks and Fry contributed nothing to the debate during the entire meeting.

Cllr Bagh Ali used his casting vote to ensure that the cabinet decision to close the Willfield Centre was upheld.
It was obvious that the Labour Group had the whip on.
Cllrs Hamer, Rosenau and the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group Paul Shotton were dotted about the Windsor Room to ensure that there were no dissenters.

There may be trouble ahead for Cllrs Pitt & Wedgwood. The Labour Group often takes a dim view on councillors who break the whip.

Talking to Willfield supporters after the meeting the actions taken by the two labour Councillors were very much appreciated and went a long way to convince the electorate in their ward that Cllrs Pitt and Wedgwood stayed true to their election pledge to fight to keep the popular fitness centre open.

After the meeting I managed to catch up with Cllr Randy Conteh whose contribution throughout the meeting was outstanding.

Listen to the Audio Interview below.

[soundcloud id=’19496753′]

Children’s Scrutiny Chair Slams Council Report and Demands Urgent Meeting

The Chair of the Children’s & Young Peoples Overview & Scrutiny meeting Cllr Dave Conway slammed the quality of a Council report and demanded that officers present a more comprehensive and up to date document before the Cabinet meet on 25th August.

His outburst came after it was revealed that the Children’s Centres attendance figures used in the report to members of the C&YPS committee were inaccurate and substantially out of date.

It was also revealed that the £2.25million worth of cuts, which equates to 30% of the Children’s Centres income, had already been removed from the budget.

There was also confusion over staffing levels due to the way the report was written which also drew criticism from the committee chair.

The Cabinet Member with responsibility for C&YPS, Cllr Debra Gratton reminded the committee that the recent statutory public consultation was not about the £2.25million of cuts as that had already been decided and agreed by the Council executive. It was about the services and facilities that would be on offer at the Children’s Centres in the future.

The Director of Children & Young People Services told the members of the scrutiny meeting that a reduction in staff and services at the city’s children’s centres could not be avoided due to the massive reduction in her departmental budget. She told the meeting that the Children’s Centres used to offer a Rolls Royce of a service but had had to reduce the level of service provided to the equivalent of a lesser model as a result of the necessity to save £12.6milion across her department. She said that she, the assistant directors and the managers had used a RAG rating system to identity the possible savings. It had been their priority to protect the Safeguarding Children side of the department.

Both the Cabinet Member and Departmental Director reminded the committee that no officer or politician found making these cuts easy or in the least bit palatable, but there was no alternative.

Committee Chair Cllr Dave Conway revealed that following his extensive research he had established that any Children’s Centre that was closed would be subject to a financial claw back by central government of around £1million per site. He interrogated the officers to whether this had played a role in the retention of the 7 Children’s Centres originally earmarked for closure.

Cllr Conway speculated whether the Labour Party had really saved the Children’s Centre’s due to the depth of public feeling or the fact that Central Government would get to claw back much more than was potentially being saved by this reorganisation.

Cllr Conway proposed that the report presented be rejected and a more comprehensive document, including accurate and up to date figures along with extensive feedback from the recent consultation, be presented to a specially arranged meeting of the C&YPS. This must be before the Cabinet meet on the 25th August to make a decision on the reorganisation of the children’s centres.

The committee agreed with the proposal.

It was also bad news for Children in school who were deaf or had severe hearing impairment.

Despite an ePetition with 588 signatures calling on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to reverse these cuts, protect services for deaf children and ensure all deaf children in Stoke on Trent have a fair chance to achieve, the Director of C&YPS and her officers revealed that the cuts to staffing had already been implemented.

Cllr Alistair Watson told the meeting that he had calculated that there would be around a 50% reduction in staffing.

C&YPS officers assured the committee members that support for deaf children would not been adversely affected and would include:

The support comes from:-

Teachers of the deaf with specialist qualifications – There are 5 qualified teachers of the deaf (June 2011), a reduction of 2 since April 2010.

Communication Support Workers – Numbers vary according to need but all hold additional qualifications such as British Sign Language and speech and language (currently 8 in post).

Audiology – One of the teachers of the deaf will qualify as an audiologist in 2011.

After the meeting I managed to catch up with the Chair of the C&YPS Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Dave Conway.

Listen to the Audio Interview below.

Senior Council Officers Shun Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent City Council launched their Mandate For Change in a blaze of glory last Wednesday, a business breakfast for 200 business leaders & stakeholders, printed brochures and a video, using the Take That track, Shine, (yes the one that is used by Morrisons supermarkets and without local lad Robbie on it).

The key points of the Mandate for Change are

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

All excellent values, that if driven forward will make Stoke-on-Trent a great place to be again. If the bid for the North Staffordshire Enterprise Zone is successful this will be a launch pad to hopefully getting some businesses to relocate to the area and provide the much needed employment which in turn will help to regenerate the city.

The City Council have identified that there is not enough executive housing in the city and in a recent meeting of the City Renewal Overview and Scrutiny Committee they proposed that some council owned properties such as the old park depot in Longton park and Penkhull Farm could be used for conversion in to executive housing.

It is widely believed that businesses don’t want to relocate to Stoke-on-Trent because there aren’t many suitable houses for their senior managers. This is something that Stoke-on-Trent city Council know only too well as a recent Freedom of Information request has shown that the most senior officers don’t actually live in the city themselves. These are the people, who run the city and are currently making unprecedented cuts to your services, it must be quite easy making cuts to services that you don’t have to use yourself.

On the executive recruitment site for the City Council they go to great lengths to tell prospective senior officers how good the city is.

Living In Stoke
Affectionately known as “ËœThe Potteries’, owing to our world-class ceramics and rich industrial heritage, we’re famed for the warmth and creativity of our people. We’re also one of the greenest cities in the country, with one third of the City being green space.

You’ll discover a living, working city with a vibrant culture and friendly people, surrounded by beautiful countryside. You’ll find retail therapy and attractions to fire your imagination and set your heart pounding. You’ll discover a city that is experiencing £multi-million investment and a remarkable transformation as we revitalise and realise the potential of our people and area. You’ll find quality education and a huge range of housing options too. Put simply, you’ll discover a City with a proud past and a bright future.

Even the Chief Executive’s wife Tracy recognised the importance of living in the city where her husband was working.

We definitely want to live in the area John covers, that is the least he can do. If he lives there, he can understand the issues there.

So how many of the top officers in the City Council from the Chief Executive, Directors & Assistant Directors live in Stoke-on-Trent, where You’ll find retail therapy and attractions to fire your imagination and set your heart pounding?

According to the response given to a Freedom of Information request only one of the 22 most senior officers in the City Council lives within the city and enjoys the benefits of the services provided by their employer. One solitary senior officer, that is less than 5%. The Chief Executive and the Directors who don’t live in the city are some of the top officers who took £1.5m in salaries and benefits between them last year.

As these officers are not living in the city are also less likely to spend any significant amount of their sizeable incomes with traders in the city other than maybe the supermarket in Stoke, the pubs near to the Civic Centre and the odd sandwich shop.

The City Council would not name which officer did live within the city citing section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information act that the information being requested relates to the individuals private life rather than their public function.

We contacted a number of councillors by E-mail to ask them, To lead the way in trying to bring new businesses to the city, should senior officers, (CEO directors & assistant directors) live in the city to help promote it?

the only one to respond at the time of publication.

Personally, I think they should. Otherwise, they are, and in some cases justifiably, open to the accusation of being patronizing hypocritical. It’s good enough for everyone else but not themselves. It would also show tremendous commitment and belief.

So do you think senior officers should live within the city they serve?