Local MP leads seafood campaigners to victory

Joan Walley MP has joined campaigners in welcoming the announcement that the Coalition Government has committed to using sustainable fish in all of its catering for , Whitehall, Government departments, prisons, and some parts of the armed forces ““ improving the meals of nearly 400,000 people.

Joan spearheaded a campaign in parliament to achieve these standards, having previously joined campaigners to highlight that fish served in Whitehall and Number 10 Downing Street had worse seafood sustainability standards than the cat food served to Number 10’s Larry the Cat, because leading pet food brands such as Whiska’s had already made the switch to sustainable fish.

”These new standards mean that for the first time, over £16 million of fish bought with taxpayers’ money every year will now be covered by compulsory sustainability standards. We have had to fight very hard to get these standards, but they would never have been introduced without Joan’s tireless support for the campaign”.

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’s City Farm Needs You!

Everyone’s life will be affected by the Conservative/Liberal Democrats Government cuts in public finance.

Recently Stoke-on-Trent City Council has announced its consultation process with regards its budget plans.

“Within the City Council budget plans, I have concerns about the City Farm at Bucknall and it’s clear that the future of this much loved family attraction is only secure if it moves to become a social enterprise or co-operative trust.”

The problem is that the current Friends of the City Farm do not hold the capacity or ability to raise the necessary funds to take over its running.

“In my heart, I want to retain and keep the City Farm open and over the last five or six years I have continued to fight to protect it. It now face’s an uncertain future.”

“In order to try and keep the City Farm Open, I appeal to people or organisations to come forward to volunteer to help. We need people power, which hold the necessary dedication and skills to establish a trust to take over and run it.”

If anyone is interested in supporting the City Farm to remain open by volunteering their skills to establish a trust, I kindly request for them to contact me via email at adrian.knapper@stoke.gov.uk”.

Comprehensive Spending Review Takes £15million From Stoke-on-Trent

Coalition Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement that Local Authority budgets will be slashed by 7.1% each year until 2015 will mean the City of Stoke-on-Trent will lose £15million this year.

City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez will now be waiting to hear the final sum of money coming to the City before he can complete the authority’s balanced budget before the end of February 2011.

Cllr Pervez criticised the government cuts and spoke about his concerns about the impact on the regeneration of the City, speaking to today’s Sentinel he said:

“The Government says these cuts are about fairness, but for Stoke-on-Trent this could not be further from the truth.
“They are cutting public sector jobs and cutting benefits, and that is going to have a huge detrimental impact on our communities.”

During his address to the House of Commons yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne announced that more power will be devolved to local government giving authorities a more control over how and where money is spent, however they will have 27% less funding to deal with.

“For local government the deficit we have inherited means an unavoidably challenging settlement,” Osborne told the Commons. “There will be overall savings in funding to councils of 7.1% a year for four years. But to help councils, we propose a massive devolution of financial control.”

The spending review has attracted widespread condemnation amidst concerns that the cuts will hit the poorest in our society.

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor who is setting out his party’s vision on the spending cuts this afternoon has said:

”This Spending Review is unravelling fast and revealing broken promises and empty words. Buried in the detail of the government’s plans are broken NHS promises by David Cameron, a squeeze on families double what the banks are being asked to pay and serious unanswered questions on how many jobs will be lost and how much the redundancies will cost the taxpayer.

“The coalition claim today’s announcement is fair, it is not. The Treasury’s own figures show the poorest in society will pay more to reduce the deficit than almost anyone else.

“This is a reckless gamble with people’s livelihoods and the case for it is unravelling fast.”

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

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Promote Inclusive Budget Planning And warn Of Difficult Times Ahead

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Mohammed Pervez today opened his door and gave a briefing to media and Councillors on the difficulty facing the Authority in the run up to adopting the Budget in February 2010.

The Leader gave a snapshot of the council’s current financial situation and revealed that it had cut its projected overspend by some £2.5million for 2009 – 2010.

It had been originally feared that the authority would be overspent in the current year by some £6million. Cllr Pervez said that this reduction proved that the council “Ëœwere heading in the right direction’.

He was also confident that the hard work that had been put in across all the council’s directorates would see that projected overspend wiped out completely by the end of the year.

Cllr Pervez gave a stark warning however that imminent cut in local government funding will have an impact on all authorities, Stoke-on-Trent not being an exception.

“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement, and the speed of implementation of any measures that have a cost to the public finances will depend on decisions to be made in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”

They announced immediate cuts of £6.2billion across the country which equated to £6million locally.

The coalition’s emergency budget on the 22nd June brought the announcement that there would be 25% cut in departmental funding over the next 4 years along with a freeze on public sector pay, apart from those who earn less than £21k per annum. They have also opted to freeze Council Tax for 2011/12.

On 20th October, the coalition government are expected to announce a cut of around 25% as a part of their Comprehensive Spending Review. This could mean a cut of up to 40% for some authorities.

The October review will leave a very short amount of time to formulate and agree a legal budget by the end of February 2011.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council may not know the exact percentage cut until some time in December.

Cllr Pervez said that given the short time frame that will be left to agree a legal budget will force the council officers to make certain assumptions. He stressed the need to plan.

He confirmed that feedback from the public consultation would be factored in wherever possible. He also confirmed that all council directorates had been asked to go beyond the percentage cuts to ensure all possible savings are made.

He re-affirmed his stance that all cuts would not impact on frontline services wherever possible but reiterated that there were difficult decisions ahead.

When asked if the council had an idea of how many job losses there would be from within the council Cllr Pervez said that the Vanguard/DECATS (Delivering Efficient Corporate and Transactional Services) intervention had not been completed.

The DECATS analysis would highlight how many back office functions that did not impact on customer service and satisfaction could be rationalised which would give an indication of possible savings and job cuts. This analysis may be available early next week.

He also warned those who are advocating total opposition to the proposed government cuts that the City Council are legally obliged to formulate a complete budget and failure to do so could lead to direct government intervention.

A 6.25% cut in funding per year (25% over 4 years) is being factored in but could be more. The slides below show the council’s predicament. An estimated cut of £13million across the funding spectrum is expected for 2011/12.

The are some £11million of unavoidable cost pressures which is made up of staffing costs and contractual commitments, other inflationary pressure and impact of capital programme.

In total, the gap in resources, if left without radical saving action, could reach £100 by 2015.

Cllr Pervez as leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is calling on all elected representative and officers to unite to develop a clear strategic policy and a holistic approach of managing a difficult time ahead in the wake of the coalition government cuts.

The fiscal policy will need clear direction and agreement on what will be cut and what will be delivered. That will be the challenge for the Council Leader, his cabinet and the wider council chamber.

This will also be a test of the City’s relatively new Chief Executive John van de Laarschot and his soon to be streamlined team.

W(h)ither Trade Unions?

This week sees the start of the Trade Union Conference in Manchester where the debate will be formed around the campaign to fight the cuts. The plans that the Trade Union Movement have to resist the Coalition plans will be fleshed out but a campaign built resistance and strikes is likely to be agreed.

I also noticed a news item in the membership of Unity in North Staffordshire the main pottery union which for many years was known as the Ceramic and Allied Trade Union (CATU) and was one of the principle trade unions in North Staffordshire.

For the first time a figure of under 5,000 members was reported in the Sentinel for 2009. In less than 6 years the membership of Unity has halved.

Nationally membership of trade unions peaked in the late 70s and suffered a long decline in the 1980s levelling out at around 8 million.

A Labour Force Survey of 2004 showed union density in autumn 2003 was 29 per cent for both men and women. It also shows that union density is higher among older employees. Just over a third (35 percent) of employee’s aged 50 and over were union members compared with only 11 per cent of employee’s aged 1624 and 25 per cent of employees aged 25 to 34. Full-time employees are more likely to be union members than part time employees. In 2003, 32 per cent of fulltime employees were union members compared with 21 per cent of part-time employees. Union density for full-time men in 2003 was 31 per cent (3 percentage points lower than for fulltime women whose union density was 34 per cent). Part-time women were almost twice as likely to be union members as part-time men (23 per cent compared with 12 per cent for male part-time employees).

A table shows union density by government office region and country for employees in both full-time and part-time employment. Within England, union density by government office region ranged between 21 per cent in the South East and 38 per cent in the North East. Wales (38 per cent), Scotland (35 per cent) and Northern Ireland (39 per cent) all had higher levels of union density than England, which averaged 28 per cent.

From a personal perspective the supermarket I work in has a trade union membership of around 40%. When I joined the company in November the trade union rep gave a talk to new employees. Of the 12 workers who joined that day on 2 took up trade union membership and significally we were the two oldest workers. My own view is that trade union membership especially working in a strictly regimented environment low paid environment like a supermarket is essential. I would go so far as to say that you would be foolish not to take up trade union membership. Trade union representation can vary but I found that the USDAW reps working in the sore are very good and benefit from the very good training programme offered by USDAW.

But membership and the activities of trade union remain under attack and over the weekend I heard a report from a right wing think tank Policy Exchange.

It recommended that the ballot paper for strike action should contain more information concerning the nature, frequency and length of industrial action to be authorised, including identifying a
specific grievance. At present it need not do so, and material is often circulated alongside the ballot which refers to a whole range of grievances and authorises a range of unexpected industrial action options

Require that a majority of employees in the balloted workplace vote, and/or require that a minimum of 40% of the trade unionised workforce vote in favour of strike action, in addition to a majority of the votes cast. This would avoid strikes based on very low percentage turnouts when only very small numbers of workers are members of a union

Employers should be permitted to use agency staff to carry out the duties which striking employees would otherwise have performed. This would undo restrictions introduced in 2004.

Reduce the period of protection from unfair dismissal during a strike, for example from twelve back to eight weeks, as per the Employment Relations Act 1999, undoing changes made by the Employment Relations Act 2004. This protection should be limited to selective dismissal, as before 1999.

Do Trade Unions have a future? I believe that they have and I will cite one area where the trade union movement has had an impact on the work place and that is in work based learning. One of the things that I do is that I have volunteered as a learning rep for USDAW at the supermarket on individual rights at work and in developing skills I believe that thet trade union movement does have a future.