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”.

Elected Police Commissioners May Let In The BNP – Says Rob Flello MP For Stoke-on-Trent South

In a House of Commons debate on the Governments ‘Policing in the 21st Century’, Home Secretary Teresa May took Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello [Lab] to task over his insistence that the introduction of Elected Police Commissioners could result in the BNP having a say in law enforcement.

Elected Police Commissioners form part of a widespread Police reform that will also see a return of professional responsibility to front line officers.

Policing in the 21st Century will also witness the creation of a powerful national crime agency with the responsibility of protecting our borders and tackling organised crime.

The Home Secretary also said that the coalition will also make the police a more efficient force to protect the levels of front-line local policing. Teresa May also announced that there was to be a new ‘101’ non emergency number for the reporting of low level crime and anti-social behaviour.

Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson [Lab] responded by insisting the title of her statement should be amended to ‘Policing in the 21st Century: How to make the job harder’.

He accused her of trotting out the same old drivel about the previous government that was, in his words, probably written by some ‘pimply nerd’ foistered on her department by No.10.

Rob Flello MP for Stoke-on-Trent South was promptly rebuked by the Home Secretary in response to his question:

Many of the improvements that the Home Secretary has talked about are already happening on the ground in Stoke-on-Trent, thanks to people such as Inspector Sharrard-Williams. Recently, however, the House might have seen a man who runs the British National party claiming that he has 1 million followers-that is, 1 million people voting BNP-in the UK. What happens when the BNP stands for one of these commissioner posts, as will happen, and gets it?

Teresa May retorted:

This is something that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have raised on a number of occasions, and I will give him two answers. If he looks at the voting record so far, he will see that the British National party has never managed to get more than 15% of the vote in an election. But let us set that to one side; I actually believe in trusting the people of this country

Flello courted controversy during the recent General Election campaign when he appealed to the electorate in Normacot to vote Labour as a vote for any other candidate could let in the BNP.

The British National Party had disastrous results in both the General and Local elections which resulted in the loss of many council seats around the country. They failed to achieve their coveted prize of an Member of Parliament.

Ashley Howells ‘Apologises’ – But I’m Still Not Happy!

I was incensed to read the comments made by Newcastle-under-Lyme Councillor Ashley Howells in today’s Sentinel.

He said:

“I am extremely sorry that I made a personal response on Twitter which has been misinterpreted and then sadly misrepresented by others.

“My comments were in response to reading a highly political anti-Coalition Government comment about public expenditure cuts, which alleged that Stoke-on-Trent has been and will be disproportionately affected.

“I would say that there is indeed an obesity problem, together with a benefits dependency and worklessness problem amongst a minority ““ I stress a minority, some might call it an underclass ““ in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire which all councils and politicians of all shades are trying hard to rectify.”

Now while this may seem a grovelling apology to the people of Stoke-on-Trent, to me it is a double edged sword.

On one side, of course I accept his apology for the hurtful, inaccurate, insulting and incredibly arrogant comments he made about the people of the City of my birth.

On the other side his apology left me fuming at his insinuation that he had in some way, been ‘misrepresented’.

Our story was picked up and written by my good friend and colleague Mike Rawlins. I had the task of getting the reaction from both the public and our politicians.

Now I realise that our politicos are busy, busy people, but Mohammed Pervez [who works full time too], Ross Irving, Tristram Hunt MP [who was in a meeting when I called] all had the decency to get back to me fairly promptly. Rob Flello MP got back to me the next morning to voice his disgust and relay the hope that someone would refer the matter to the Standards Board.

Ashley Howells has not returned any of the 12 calls that I made to him and the numerous messages I left on his answering service.

At PitsnPots we pride ourselves on our balanced approach and fairness to all.

We give all parties and their politicians/representatives equal treatment, yes even the BNP.

We asked Mr Howells to give us his side of the story, we offered him, as we do with all others a completely unedited interview which would have given him the opportunity to set the record straight.

His silence is deafening!

I am left frustrated that he chose to speak to the Sentinel who picked up the story off this site and I can’t help but think that there was a veiled swipe at us in his ‘misrepresented’ comment.

I may well live Stoke-on-Trent, but I pay a substantial amount of money to Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council in business rates.

I think that puts me in a position whereby I deserve an explanation as to why this excuse of a politician is claiming that this site ‘misrepresented’ him or his comments.

Ashley Howells has now terminated his Twitter Account. I wonder if this is because he can not trust himself not to say the wrong thing.

Apparently he was once a Labour Party supporter who failed to reach the status of group leader and so defected to the Tories. Maybe he is having a problem justifying the policies of the ConDem government having seen the world through socialist eyes.

My old Dad used to say that all men make mistakes but only true men with integrity admit to making those mistakes.

His apology is of course welcome to all of us ‘unfortunate’ Stokies, but at the same time it is full of buts, misinterpretations and claims of misrepresentation that attempt to pass the blame and not accept the responsibility.

Why do some people have a problem with holding their hands up and saying ‘I screwed up and for that I am truly sorry’ – full stop.

Rob Flello MP thought that the matter should be reported to Standards and as someone who contributes to NULBC I am seriously considering whether to report it myself, for no other reason than I think that Ashley Howells has tried to shift the blame and claim that we have in some way treated him unfairly. So much so that he could not speak to us and explain his comments even though we published the matter in it’s entirety to avoid claims that we have misrepresented the issue.

Harriet Ann Kidd- Dedicated campaigner for women and trade union rights

I came across a very interesting tale in the archive of the Leek Post and Times of a formidable woman who perhaps deserves far more recognition in her home town than she gets. The story came from an article in the Post and Times dated January 31st 1980 and is headlined Harriet Ann- a dedicated woman.

It is a very interesting tale, which I will restate augmented by addition information from the Internet gathered in the 30 years since the article was written.

Harriet Ann Kidd was born in Leek in 1865 and at the age of 10 went to work in the silk mills of Leek as a “skeiner” She then went on to become a “marker”, that is someone who ties cottons round the bands to indicate the different colours and qualities needed and in the opinion of the dyers was highly thought of for her abilities.

It seems apparent that she was a very determined woman a quality that shines through her as I will describe. It is written of her that she had a fiery temperament, which evidenced itself in a concern for the welfare conditions of the workers employed in the mills

The article does say that Harriet came from a family that was interested in politics and discussions took place around the kitchen table. Her grandfather was a passionate supporter of Home Rule for Ireland and the story has it that he was expelled from Ireland for his republican sympathies.

One defining moments in her life was a meeting she attended in Stoke where she argued for workers rights for the mill girls with an unidentified MP who bested her in argument, her inexperience led to her being publicly humiliated by the MP.

She was determined to get her revenge and she studied at night for some months before deciding to confront the MP again. She was resolute in her persistence and walked to Liverpool from Leek for another chance to confront the man. (I think that the map would have been George Melly MP who was MP for Stoke on Trent in the late 19th century and was also a Liverpool merchant)

This time Harriet won the argument and the views of the MP were swept aside. After the meeting she was approached by a friend of Emmeline Pankhurst and urged to become more involved in the campaign to get woman the vote. When this person heard also that Harriet had walked the 50 miles to Liverpool she gave her the train fare back to North Staffordshire.

When she was 17 Harriet learnt the way in which the young women were treated in the mills by the owners. She was raped by a factory owner and gave birth to a son. The lot of a lone parent with an illegitimate child in late 19th century Leek must have been extremely harsh and cruel Harriet continued to work in the mill and joined the Co-operative Women’s Movement in 1897. She was a very active Secretary and was able to progress in the Guild .She also built up the trade union movement in the textile industry which quickly reached 2,000 members and was elected its first President.

She also sought a position in one of the few public offices open to women at that time as a Poor Law Guardian polling 484 votes. The first time any woman in the town had stood for public office and a worthy effort given the local prejudice that existed against woman seeking the vote at the time. Some years after the Suffragette campaigner Charlotte Despard spoke in the town and the meeting was broken up by local Tory rowdies.

She continued her political activity in Leek and by the dawn of the 20th century she was a fervent Socialist and connected with some of the progressive individuals in the town such as Larner Sugden. She was involved with the William Morris Labour Church where she acted as a caretaker for a period. She had known William Morris personally.

During this period she must have met many of the speakers that came into Leek during the late to address members of the Labour Church such as Keir Hardie the first Labour MP, Edward Carpenter, Ramsey McDonald the first Labour Prime Minister and WT Stead the campaigning journalist who was to die on the Titanic.

Between 1899- 1901 she was active in the anti Boer War movement which was centred on Larner Sugden.

Her activity eventually led to a full time paid position in the Co-operative Women’s Guild firstly working in the north and then at its headquarters in North London a job, which she combined with working for Women’s Suffrage.

She contracted a fatal illness in 1916 and supported by friends nationally and in Leek she succumbed to her illness in 1917. Her funeral took place at Golders Green Crematorium on July 10th 1917 a headstone was donated by the Guild in recognition of her unstinting work for women and working class issues over many years.

Her friend the writer Virginia Woolf said of her into in the book “Life, as we have known it”

“One could not enter the Guild Office go upstairs without encountering Miss Kidd. Miss Kidd sat her typewrite in the outer office. Miss Kidd, one felt had set herself as a kind of watchdog to ward off the meddlesome middle class wasters of time who come prying into other people’s business. An extra share of the world’s grievances seemed press on her shoulders. When she clicked her typewriters, one felt that she was making that instrument transmit messages of foreboding and ill-omen to an unheeding universe”

And later

“And nothing perhaps embittered us more at the Congress than the thought of this force of theirs, this smouldering heat which broke the crust now and then and licked the surface with a hot and fearless flame, it is about to break through and melt us together, so that life will be richer and books more complex and society will pool its possessions instead of segregating them- all this is going to happen inevitably to Margaret Llwellyn- Davies, Miss Harris and Miss Kidd- but only when we are dead”

Harriet Kidd’s son Arthur Kidd known as “Lew” spent his life participating in promoting local football and cricket and particularly in encouraging young and promising sportsmen in Leek

Harriet Kidds’s life and achievements seem to have passed by her hometown and I feel that it an oversight. The issues that she campaigned for the rights of workers, women’s issue and addressing the structural failings within British Society as evident now as they were a century ago

It’s About Trusting The Folks

By Public Servant Magazine

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles explains how the coalition government is setting out to rebalance power and make localism a reality

A friend of mine, a former Congressman from Wisconsin, once said: “If you don’t like the folks, don’t be in our business.” When politics becomes the preserve of people who are only interested in power, the political system starts to break down. That’s what we’ve seen in the past 13 years.

The previous government didn’t like the folks. It didn’t trust them. It always believed it knew best. It left local government toothless, community groups out in the cold and residents powerless to change anything.

The result was that voting rates plummeted, especially at local government elections. There’s no point in voting for someone who can’t change anything. There was no room for creativity or innovation in public services. You followed rules and ticked boxes. And the money followed the power, so London and the South East grew at the expense of everywhere else.

When people ask me about my priorities in government, I tell them we have three: localism, localism and localism. Because if you want to restore faith in politics, you make sure that local government is properly accountable to voters. If you want to rebuild a fragile national economy, you don’t strangle business with red tape and let bloated regional bodies make the decisions. If you want people to feel they have a stake in the future of their communities, you give them a say over what happens there.

So we are determined to rebalance power; wrest control away from bureaucrats, quangos and central departments and push it as far from Whitehall as possible. This is going to fundamentally change the nature of the constitution. It won’t be in a single action or law. It will be through dramatic actions and incremental changes. Localism is the principle that defines everything we do.

You might think all governments talk like this.
But we’re doing it. Already we’ve:
“¢ Made HIPS history and the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
“¢ Given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports that had huge backdated business rates hanging over them.
“¢ Scrapped top-down housing targets and regional spatial strategies. Soon I will be announcing the full list of incentives to local authorities that will encourage development.
“¢ Put an end to unwanted “garden grabbing”, putting decisions back in local hands.
“¢ Cut ring-fencing and red tape attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.

Everything the coalition changed has been about giving up control, restoring the balance of power. By the time the Localism Bill is introduced later this year, we’ll have made a start to localism becoming reality. The Bill will give voters more power over local government and local spending. It will free up local government from central control, and will continue to put the community in charge of how their area develops.

What does all of this mean for those working in local government? First, if localism is going to have an effect, local government has got to be ready to seize the opportunities coming your way. Don’t wait around for us to tell you what to do. Already there are a number of councils who are stepping up: Windsor and Maidenhead, Essex, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire and Kent, to name just a few. All councils need to follow their lead and flex their muscles.

Second, localism isn’t just about giving power back to local government. It’s not a tug of war between the two of us. It’s even more important that we push power onwards, closer to people. We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society.

There has never been a better time to be involved in local government. No one working in local government signed up to be told what to do for the rest of their lives by Whitehall. There is a real opportunity for councillors today to have far more fulfilling, rewarding careers; exercising genuine choice; changing the face of neighbourhoods.

We’ve set the scene for the most radical shake-up of power for a generation. Be in no doubt, the revolution starts here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ken Coates Test

I had no idea that Ken Coates one of the most eloquent voices in British Socialism over the last 50 years, and whose death was reported in the Guardian, was from Leek. He died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 79.

Leek over the last century has produced some interesting political figures from the left, many of them are half forgotten One thinks of Larner Sugden the architect and friend of William Morris, pioneer member of the Women’s Co-operative Guild and suffragette Harriet Ann Kidd, the left wing MP Harold Davies and now the name Ken Coates can be added to the pantheon.

I am sure there are others equally worthy of inclusion.

I suppose that there probably is a book or pamphlet chronicling the history of working class movements in the town ranging from the support for John Wilkes and the pub that bears his name, The Blanketeers March of 1817, Sam Bamford stay in the town in 1820, the early trade unions, the Chartist Plug Riot of 1842 and the William Morris Labour Church at the end of the 19th century.

But back to Ken Coates whose family moved out of Leek and lived in Sussex when he was a small child. Coates seems to become more political engaged when he moved to Nottinghamshire working in the pits during his National Service in the 1950s. His political centre was very much focused on the East Midlands and Nottingham particularly. He was dedicated to the cause of organised labour. His career was one where he frequently clashed with authority. In his early years he was a member of the Communist Party. He left following the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956.

The list of achievements of Coates is daunting and the Guardian faithfully describes them. His involvement in the anti Vietnam War and the establishment of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in the 60s made his reputation. He was on very good terms with Bertrand Russell and John Paul Sartre

In the early 70s he launched the Institute for Workers’ Control which coincided with an upsurge in rank-and-file trade union militancy and attracted the support of large numbers of shop stewards, as well as influential trade union leaders such as Jack Jones of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and Hugh Scanlon of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Coates’s focus on achieving reforms designed to increase the role of workers co-operatives running their enterprises ““ including the Bullock Report on industrial democracy of 1977 ““ attracted criticism from more orthodox Marxists. But those years saw a remarkable flowering of “workers’ plans” for alternative production to meet social needs. The best known of these was the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards’ proposal in the face of plant closures; they prepared detailed plans for converting from arms production to a range of “socially useful products”, which included portable kidney machines and hybrid road/rail buses.

His stances caused him to fall out with the Labour party establishment during the 70s and 80s and their feeling of unease increased when Coates was made a MEP following the 1989 European Election representing the East Midlands.

He won great respect during his 10 years as an MEP, not least for his work as chairman of the human rights sub-committee and his initiatives for an EU-wide Pensioners’ Parliament and Disabled People’s Parliament, and a Convention for Full Employment, bringing together trade unionists and unemployed workers’ organisations. Coates was a strong supporter of closer European integration, including adopting the Euro.

The loathing he felt for everything that New Labour stood for increased the polarisation between Coates and the New Labour hierarchy and he was expelled from the Labour party in 1998.

In the last years of his life he became editor of Spokesman the journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and a long-term advocate of Palestinian Rights.

The list of books and pamphlets is lengthy and includes a book I recall reading many years ago Poverty- the Forgotten Englishman

My point is this and it is why I have called this the Ken Coates test. I am a facebook “friend” of David Milliband- incidentally Coates was on good terms with David and Ed’s father Ralph. The candidates for the Labour party membership make much of their openness to new ideas. But I wonder?

I commented on the Milliband for leader facebook site that I was a union member but could not vote for Milliband or the rest for the simple reason that I was in the Green Party. I got some abuse being called a “muppet” by one woman. But I put this question to the young woman would a person like Ken Coates and ex miner and intellectual get very far in today’s Labour party. Would a person like the excellent constituency MP and another ejected Dave Nellist get into the Labour party or any members of the left?

In 1979-80 I was a member of Worcester Labour party one of whose members was the friend and contemporary of Coates the historian Edward Thompson writer of the “Making of the English Working Class”. Would Thompson be welcome in the modern Labour Party? I doubt it.

All too often genuine Socialists are barred or kicked out of the party. On the other hand the Labour party is comfortable with the activities of someone like the former Barrow MP and Minister John Hutton described by erstwhile colleague Welsh MP Paul Flynn in the following way”

” A shallow politician who has never been accused of having an original thought. He has trained himself to be a Blair clone. He dressed like Blair and abided by the Ten Commandments of Blairism. He even started to imitate the way that Tony Blair speaks, starting every other sentence with ‘Look!….’. In all his many jobs he has parroted the usually bad ideas that lobbyists have crammed into his head”.

Hutton has been asked by David Cameron to examine public sector pensions whilst being paid as a lobbyist by the nuclear industry. How can a left wing party be comfortable with having Hutton as a member whilst Coates was got rid of as an embarrassment?

That is what I mean by the Ken Coates test.

Stoke-on-Trent School of Scrutiny

Although I was one of the three councillors who signed the Call-In of the Cabinet decision to engage consultants at an initial price of some £400,000 to come into the City Council and sort out the mal/administration.

As a Member of the Scrutiny Committee considering the call-in I was able to take a more active role than is permitted for the councillor presenting the case for the call-in.

That said, however, I singularly failed to gain the slightest insight into the thinking of the Cabinet that led them to apporove the engagement of expensive consultants without going out to tender. A Certificate of Exemption permits the “usual” tendering process to be circumvented. And for good reason according to the Chief Executive. The root and branch change required is not tinkering around the edges of myriad hierarchies but major heart surgery. “Would you consult the Yellow Pages if you wanted the best heart surgeon?” asked the Chief Executive. Well, of course not, we were told, because we would want to be sure of the very best and the best is sought by personal recommendation and personal knowledge of the person weilding the knife. So that disposed of the usual tendering process. Fine. So far so good, for the Cabinet decision.

But why the need for external consultants to tell us, basically how to best organise to deliver the best services?

Some of us can’t understand why our highly paid directors and heads of services haven’t got it sorted already; after all, when they were appointed we were assured they were the best people for the jobs with proven track records of delivering.

Our problem is that we have limited imaginations. We have failed to appreciate that in fact without the insights of jargon ladened oragnisational management speak of a Tory supporting professor our City Council can never “move forward”.

So again, so far so good for a management driven decision which still left me puzzled about the political thought processes of the Cabinet. The Cabinet member for Resources cut a lonely figure under sustained questioning about the Cabinet’s political strategy. His fellow Cabinet member for Transformation did not speak at all. She left him floundering without a paddle.

At one point it seemed that the root and branch exercise was about saving money so that it could be invested in front line services. Asked what wold happen to staff de-jobbed, well they could be re-deployed in the front line. It was as though the Cabinet member had forgotten that the whole exercise is geared towards cutting £20m or more a year from the City Council’s annual £200m budget. When probed, the response was that we didn’t know how much we had to cut until the government told us! So what on earth the Cabinet think they are dong is anyone’s guess.

The Council Leader might, if his full-time employment allows him sufficient time to devote to his Council Leader’s responsibilities, ponder a Cabinet reshuffle. Surely a quadruple party alliance of Labour, Tory, Lib Dems and City Independents is able to develop some political analysis, strategy and leadership.

Anyway, after three hours, the Labour Chair called the vote and the 3 Labour councillors supported the Cabinet decision with the one City Independent and my Unaligned self voting against. One Labour member had left early to avoid a tangle with the whip; quite astute considering the Labour chief whip was present in the form of the silent Cabinet portfolio holder.

However, it’s not only about winning or losing votes. That is a forgone conclusion given that scrutiny committee has an inbuilt majority of the quadruple coalition. It is about keeping scrutiny alive…just. With only five unaligned councillors a heavy responsibility for scrutiny rests on a handful of people.

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt Gives Maiden Commons Speech.

Stoke-on-Trent Central Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt gave his maiden Commons speech yesterday [Monday].

Tristram succeeded veteran MP Mark Fisher in the Labour Party stronghold of Stoke Central following a controversial selection procedure prior to the 2010 General Election.

However, he has put all that behind him and is tipped as one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.

His speech, in full, was as follows:

Great privilege to be called in this debate to make my Maiden Speech. I would like to congratulate other honourable members who have made such a fine array of speeches this afternoon ““ on a subject of great importance to our constituents who have sent us here to hold this government to account.

Let me begin by paying tribute to my esteemed predecessor, Mark Fisher, who sat in this House for 27 years and conscientiously, effectively and passionately represented the interests of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Mark’s connection to the Potteries began, improbably enough, when he was writing film scripts in the Staffordshire Moorlands ““ an ambitious venture in Los Angeles at the best of times, but even more so in North Staffordshire. He became a Labour councillor, stood for the Moorlands, and then was selected to succeed Bob Cant in Stoke-on-Trent Central. All the while as an Old Etonian son of a Tory MP ““ they are, as I have discovered, enormously forgiving in the Potteries.

Mark’s maiden speech to this House ““ in 1983, in the midst of the Thatcher recession ““ was a heartfelt lament at the state of the National Health Service in North Staffordshire thanks to sustained underfunding. He spoke of “Ëœold buildings, out-dated operating theatres, waiting lists for general and orthopaedic surgery of more than 12 months.’ Now, after 13 years of good Labour government, that decline has been reversed and Stoke-on-Trent has a brand new £370 million university hospital springing up around the old City General. The first new hospital for 130 years. In addition, we have new GP surgeries, walk-in centres and marked improvements in public health. This year alone, teenage pregnancies are down by some 20% – that is what an active, interventionist, compassionate state can help to achieve.

But Mark was also highly active in this place ““ working closely with Tony Wright on his reforms to the workings of Parliament (which we back-benchers hope to enjoy the fruits of), the All Party Parliamentary History Group ““ which I once had the honour to address and was deeply impressed by the Rt. Hon. Member for Hitchin & Harpenden’s knowledge of dialectical materialism and the life of Friedrich Engels. And Mark also made a significant contribution to the management of the art collection within the Palace. He was, indeed, an arts minister in 1997 and formed part of that heroic DCMS team which delivered a great Labour pledge of free entry to museums for the British people. As his successor, I will be watching closely the incoming government’s commitment to honour that pledge.

It is now my great privilege and profound honour to take up his seat in Parliament. In his excellent maiden speech, my Hon. Friend the Member for Derby North made an ambitious play for his city as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. And while I am a deep admirer of the Derby Silk Mill, the Derby Arboretum and the Derwent Valley, we all know that historic, earth-shattering event ““ the stir of industrialisation ““ began with the great Josiah Wedgwood’s factory in Etruria, near Shelton in my constituency. The pot-works started in 1769 and since then Stoke-on-Trent has become the premier global brand-name for ceramics.

In a recent programme of his excellent series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, British Museum director Neil McGregor described how, “ËœHuman history is told and written in pots more than anything else.’ He went onto quote Robert Browning, “ËœTimes wheel runs back or stops, potter and clay endure.’ At the heart of the English Enlightenment and global civilization, Stoke-on-Trent made its place in history.

But from the 6 towns has emerged more than pottery ““ from the works of Arnold Bennett to the rise of primitive Methodism, from the football of Stanley Matthews to the lyricism of Robbie Williams to the social justice politics of Jack Ashley.

But it has also faced profound challenges: to be frank, globalisation has knocked the North Staffs economy sideways. Cheap labour in east Asia sparked a freefall in ceramics employment; the steel industry could not compete with China and India; and, sadly, Michael Heseltine did for the last of our coal mines. A “ËœPits and Pots’ economy faced the full force of liberalisation with tough local consequences for employment, public health and civic pride.

This brutal process of economic dislocation ““ when “Ëœall that is solid melts into air’ ““ has by no means ended, but there are signs of hope. A vibrant University Quarter is springing up around Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College and the brand new 6th Form centre. “ËœOn-shoring’ is seeing the return of ceramics jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, while a new generation of designer-makers ““ led by the likes of Emma Bridgewater ““ are creating high-value, locally rooted companies. Businesses like Port Meirion ““ which produce the iconic Spode designs ““ is successfully growing from its Stoke base, exporting to Europe, America and South Korea.

But we have much to do in rebuilding our engineering supply chain; raising skills levels across the constituency; and making sure the natural and human capital of Stoke-on-Trent is fully realised. So, we will watch with interest as this government seeks to rebalance the economy and invest in our manufacturing base ““ but, I have to say, the best way to achieve that is not to begin by cutting the budgets of regional development agencies. Nor is it by putting at risk the Building Schools for the Future programme which was set to put right years of underfunding …

My seat, Mr Speaker, is an old if not ancient one. It has a proud pedigree. Born of the 1832 Reform Act ““ of which the Deputy Prime Minister is now such an expert ““ it was first represented in this place by Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the potter. Before then, the people of the Potteries had to make do with backswood MPs from Staffordshire. Wedgwood was a liberal ““ in the proper sense of the word. Like his father, he was committed to the abolitionist cause and was a stalwart of the anti-slavery movement. And it was a great pleasure to have seen that spirit reawaken this year as my electors sent the racist, reactionary and frequently criminal British National Party packing. In doing so, Stoke declared itself once more open for business ““ for new ideas, people, products and cultures.

But Stoke-on-Trent also knows that change has to be matched with continuity and my constituents share a deep apprehension over the government’s ill-thought out plans for constitutional reform. They want to know that when a government fails to win a vote of confidence, Parliament can be dissolved by 50% plus one vote ““ rather than the absurdity of a 55% self-protecting ordinance, designed simply and solely to shore up this misbegotten government. As the honourable member for Christchurch put it so eloquently in his Adjournment Debate, what this proposal does is take away from this House is “Ëœour historic right to vote a Government out of office with a majority of one.’ It was never in a manifesto, it goes against the spirit of giving Parliament more power, and is a retrospective constitutional innovation.

Then we come to the five year Parliament: again a retrospective, constitutional fix to get this government through some muddy waters ““ when, as my Hon. Friend for Rhonda has suggested, the average length of a Parliament since 1832 is 3.8 years and the Liberal Democrats campaigned for four year Parliaments. And all that is before we get onto flooding the House of Lords with new appointees, redrawing parliamentary boundaries to disenfranchise Labour voters, leaving 3.2 million voters off the register, and underfunding the individual registration scheme. But my honourable friends and I will come back to these issues in coming weeks.

In the meantime, I would simply thank the House for its great indulgence in listening to this my Maiden Speech on the Gracious Address. And I would extend an invitation to each and every Member to visit the Six Towns which my honourable friends for Stoke-on-Trent North, South and myself for Central are so deeply privileged to represent in this place.

Tristram Hunt has thrown himself into representing the electorate of Stoke-on-Trent Central with great gusto. Writing a diary entry for the Spector Magazine recently he said:

“One of the more surprising greetings I have had walking in the Palace of Westminster is the cry of “ËœZac! Zac!’ as a hefty, backwoods Tory MP lumbers after me in the forlorn hope I might be the new member for Richmond Park,” boasts Hunt. “As I turn on my heels ready to explain the small matter of a billion pounds between myself and Mr Goldsmith, there is a pained display of disappointment. But I explain to them that while Zac Goldsmith is MP for a flight path on the edge of Heathrow, I represent one of the great conurbations of England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, home to Arnold Bennett, resting place of the Staffordshire Hoard …”

So, the Labour Party’s latest Stoke-on-Trent MP’s parliamentary career is well and truly under way and if the pundits have got it right, we will be hearing a great deal more of him in the near future.

Labour Party Stalwart Barry Stockley Placed Under Administratative Suspension

The Labour Party have placed party stalwart and Chairman of the Stoke-on-Trent CLP under administrative suspension.

The move comes after a series of high profile bust ups in the months leading up to the Local & General Elections.

A number of leading Stoke Central Labour Party activists have since walked out of the party.

The trouble began with the controversial selection of candidates for the local elections, There were then a series of bust ups between officers of Stoke Central CLP and the Labour Party Regional Office West Midlands which included declaring an AGM null and void and the selection of Mick Williams as a “Ëœcandidate in principle’ for the Hartshill & Penkull ward.

The selection was later overturned by the ROWM and a candidate was selection from 2 names chosen by them.

The selection of Tristram Hunt as the Labour Party PPC was also shrouded in controversy.

Gary Elsby, the Secretary of the Stoke Central CLP, left the party in protest at the selection of Mr Hunt and stood against him in the General Election.

The Labour Party appeared to be somewhat vindicated by the results of the Party both locally and nationally.

Locally the Labour Party made 12 gains on Stoke-on-Trent City Council, taking 17 out of the 20 available seats.

In the General Election Tristram Hunt defeated the Lib Dems into 2nd place, the Conservatives into 3rd and the BNP into 4th place. Gary Elsby finished in 7th place with 399 votes.

Barry Stockley today confirmed that he had been suspended and that the party were holding an investigation that could result in a disciplinary hearing. He also said that he has the support of new Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt and his predecessor Mark Fisher.

Mr Stockley has also been praised for the amount of work he put into the General Election campaign and several ex and current members have appealed that the Regional Office take this into consideration when imposing any punishment or sanctions upon him.

While the suspension is in force Mr Stockley is prevented from holding any office within the Labour Party which could mean he will be unable to put himself forward for the Chair of the CLP at their upcoming AGM.

A spokesperson for the City of Stoke-on-Trent Labour Party confirmed that Mr Stockley was under administrative suspension and that the AGM would take “Ëœplace as soon as possible’ and that it was important to get all members of Stoke-on-Trent CLP to attend the meeting to have their say on the direction that the CLP takes in the future.

It was also confirmed that several CLP members had expressed an interest in standing for office within the party.