Stoke-on-Trent – Political Leadership and City Regeneration Part 1

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on a short adventure in city regeneration policy. A fortnight ago I was down at Portcullis House in the Big Smoke for a morning discussion on ‘Rebuilding Britain’s Cities: Lessons from the UK and US’.

The Friday before saw a day conference at Keele on the ‘Socio-Political Challenges of Medium-Sized Cities’ concentrating on neighbourhoods, health, and political leadership. The changes to health policy and the persistence of areas associated with deprivation, unemployment, crime, high morbidity were discussed in some rigorous detail, but I would like to concentrate on that day’s final paper by former MEP and council leader, Mike Tappin. His topic not only serves as a bridge to the Portcullis House discussion but is one of crucial importance for all cities negotiating the treacherous rapids of regeneration: the problem of political leadership.

Mike’s paper, ‘The Governance Challenge for Stoke-on-Trent: A Study of System, Economic and Political Failure’ didn’t pull any punches. It really was look at the multiple contributors to Stoke’s decline. First, Mike flagged up the spatial dimension. Rather than following the “traditional” centre/periphery model of cities, Stoke is a polycentric city. It is as if drawn out along a South East to North West axis. It comprises the six towns that federated to form Stone-on-Trent in 1910, but in practice (according to previous work undertaken by Mike) the city is sub-divided into 56 more or less discrete “villages”, which lends The Potteries a very strong cultural and political localism. This is reinforced by the bypassing of Stoke-on-Trent by the M6, poor internal road networks (for example, Potteries Way – the inner city ring road – has been only half built for over 20 years), and a not altogether praise-worthy public transport system. When 34% of city households are without a car this is a big problem.

Like many medium-sized industrial cities Stoke has suffered economic decline. In the 1950s 70,000, 10,000+, and 20,000+ were employed in ceramics, steel, and mining respectively. By 2001 those figures stood at 6,000, 200, and zero. In the 1971-81 period (before Thatcherism began to bite), that decade saw the loss of 28,000 manufacturing jobs and the closure of two local collieries. Also because of the dependence on the potteries, Stoke possessed a counter-cyclical economy. When Britain entered into recession the devaluation of sterling boosted Stoke’s exports abroad, allowing it to buck the trend. Since 1981, for all intents and purposes the potteries are the only significant economic survivor of the early period. Manufacturing – including ceramics – accounts for below 20% of local employment. Distribution and retail have taken up the slack of private employment.

The unemployment figures more explicitly tell the story of Stoke’s decline. In the 50s and 60s unemployment averaged at around 3% – roughly 2,500 people. Through the 70s to most of the 1990s it hovered around the UK average, but in this last decade it has become a major problem. In February 2009, at the start of the recession, 24.1% of the workforce were unemployed, and 43% of that jobless total had been out of work for five years or more. Taking together JSA, incapacity benefit, and income support 55,550 people were dependent on benefits in some way in North Staffordshire. For Mike, this has bred a ‘culture of contentment’ whereby aspirations are atuned to the income one receives from benefits, therefore helping to culturally lock Stoke into a perpetual cycle of economic water treading. This can be seen in educational attainment. Whereas the West Midlands average for NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4 are 61.6, 42.3 and 24.5 for the working age population, in Stoke it’s 53.8, 32.3 and 14.4.

Mike argues the city’s economic problems are exacerbated by its political difficulties. From 1977-96 Stoke was governed by the County Council situated in Stafford, reducing the Potteries to the status of a district council. This led to a two-tiered political culture where the brightest and the best “went south” while the “b team” remained at home. In 1996 the city was made a unitary authority (Mike would have preferred a broader N Staffs authority commensurate with the city’s economic footprint) and off the back of the national wave against the Tories, Labour romped home that year with 60 councillors to nil. From 2000 on the Labour party begins imploding, seeing its vote collapse from 40.75% at the start of the decade to just 25% in 2008. Matters aren’t helped by a switch to an elected mayoral system in 2002, only for it to switch back six years later. Independents and the BNP started making inroads at Labour’s expense, but were checked at the 2010 local election. Labour gained 13 councillors off the back of the general election turn out, and has since recruited another councillor who crossed the floor. Labour now governs in a coalition with Conservatives and Independents alliance, LibDems and the City Independent group.

So much for the form of local politics. What of their content? Mike identified five interrelated problems. One, the poor quality of local councillors. Two, a clear lack of bold strategic thinking in any of the local parties. Three, the culture of localism. Fourth, the absence of a civically-minded educated middle class. And lastly, the tendency of the system and parties to store up long term political animosities.

On top of political instability, there has been a constant churn in the city’s administration. Between 2001-10, the council got through six chief executives, five directors of social services, and three finance officers. This lack of inbuilt expertise has seen the council pay out (on average) £6m annually to various consultancies. Even worse, up until the government’s bonfire of the quangos, city governance was parcelled out among the city council, the Renew Housing Partnership, the N Staffs Regeneration Partnership, and Local Strategic Partnerships. It’s pretty clear who was responsible for the traditional functions of local government, but which body was in charge of the regeneration process?

These problems have been partially addressed by a governance commission that was appointed in 2007. Its brief was:

1) To consider options about future governance arrangements for Stoke-on-Trent Council to deliver that strong, effective and accountable leadership that the city needs to address the economic, social and cohesion challenges which it faces.
2) To give consideration to governance across the wider public/private sector and to the importance of economic regeneration and community cohesion.
3) To consider the relationship between Stoke-on-Trent and the wider sub-regional/regional/national bodies including other Local Authorities and their partners within the region.

It recommended the setting up of a further body – the ‘transition board’ – to make further recommendations for sorting out the city’s governance. It concluded by favouring all-out four-year elections, single member wards, fewer councillors, member development, more devolved decision-making, working to improve the council machinery, and improving community engagement. After much wrangling councillors will be reduced from 60 to 44, and council ward boundaries redrawn with the majority of them becoming single member (owing to behind the scenes fudges, some will move to two member wards, and one will remain three member). For Mike this strikes at the root of many of the petty rivalries that have grown up between councillors representing the same patch, and the move to four-yearly allows the necessary space for longer term strategic planning.

But this doesn’t go far enough. He would like to see the council concentrate on core functions and facilitate voluntary organisations and social enterprises take over some of the ancillary services it currently provides. He wants to see a drive to develop the civic capacity of Stoke’s communities to produce the ambitious and competent cadre of politicians the city needs.
And Mike also called for more cooperation between N Staffs councils, businesses, quangos and other interested bodies to deliver a proper plan for the city and its hinterland.

While I didn’t agree with all of Mike’s presentation, it did provide plenty of food for thought. Regards ‘civic capacity’ this is where political parties come in. At the moment Stoke Central CLP is in the process of renovating itself. For the first time in years it’s been conducting regular political work inbetween elections, which is starting to reap the benefits from in terms of new recruits and, for want of a better word, “reconnection”. Similarly internally the party’s rolling out a programme of political education in conjunction with activism to develop all members’ strengths. The culture of bureaucracy and deference is slowly being eroded, allowing space for new members to grow and assume responsibilities. But this process is long, slow and painstaking.

A civic culture is, according to Will Hutton, one of the “soft” cultural props a successful and sustainable capitalism depends on (and, I would argue, an essential component for socialism too – but we’ll leave that by the by for now). Its absence in Stoke is one of the contributing factors to a generalised lack of internal capital accumulation that could see the city out of its doldrums. Therefore this isn’t just a problem that can be boiled down to atomised working class communities and privatised individuals: it’s one that afflicts existing business elites too. I don’t want to say much more as I’m involved in a couple of projects on the issue of civic culture and political participation, but as we shall see in the next post, there are important lessons that can be drawn from American experiences of declining cities.

Lastly, one cannot disagree with Mike’s view of time-scale. Whatever regeneration strategy tickles your political fancy it has to be long-term and consistently pursued. I grew up in and around Derby. Though it has its own set of problems and advantages, 20 years of consistent and tenacious pursuit of a coherent regeneration strategy has transformed the city to the point where it has the highest workplace wage base outside the South East. While Stoke’s situation is such that it’s unlikely to achieve parity with its more affluent neighbour, it is a useful exemplar of what vision and determination in local government can do.

First Glimpse of New Eco Homes in Stoke-on-Trent

Plans to transform historic Victorian terraces in Stoke-on-Trent in to eco-homes are to go on display for the first time.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council and ctd architects, who are leading on the designs for the properties, will be exhibiting plans for the new homes at City Waterside Community Centre, in Dresden Street, between 6pm and 8pm on Tuesday, 11 January.

The project, which will see a series of Victorian terraced properties transformed in to three and four bedroom houses, has been put forward following consultation with residents keen to see larger family homes created in the area.

It will focus on a row of 15 terraced properties in Balfour Street, Hanley, which have unique heritage features. The proposal is for the properties to be converted into larger family homes which will all feature high specification eco-friendly measures such as solar panels, rainwater storage systems and under-floor heating.

“This is an exciting opportunity to transform the traditional terraced properties into state-of-the-art family homes. It is part of a larger development opportunity in the City Waterside East area and will complement neighbouring housing schemes creating high quality, eco-friendly family homes at the edge of the city centre. An earlier consultation with residents found that there was a real desire to keep the historic building fronts in Balfour Street while creating larger family homes in the area. The drop-in session will give people the chance to have a look at the plans and make comments and suggestions on the proposals.”

The proposals, which will see the former terraced properties completely transformed internally while maintaining the traditional heritage frontages, include around 16 energy efficient features both inside and outside the property.

At a consultation event for the City Waterside masterplan in the summer revamping the homes in Balfour Street was the preferred option for residents. The scheme received 97 per cent approval from the community.

Chris Hesketh, conservation architect at Leek-based ctd architects, welcomed the opportunity to be involved in helping Renew and Stoke-on-Trent City Council to deliver heritage-led community regeneration. He said: “The project is hoped to be a useful exemplar for other terraced properties in North Staffordshire. It is a ‘common-sense’ approach which will offer contemporary energy efficient family homes, whilst reinforcing the special heritage character of these distinctive terraces. This is ‘sustainable heritage’ at its most practical.”

Balfour Street falls within the City Waterside area of regeneration. Other plans in the area include the development of more than 90 homes in the Canal Quarter and a further 200 homes on the Wedgwood Gardens site.

Information Cafe To Be A Help To Residents In Blurton

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is to hold a special information café for residents in Blurton next week.

The event, to be held at St Alban’s Community Centre on Finstock Avenue, takes place on Thursday 6 January between 10am and 12pm.

Throughout the morning there will be information on training, jobs, employment, home improvements, family issues and ways to maximize income.

The café is intended to create an informal atmosphere to put residents at ease and give them a chance to share their concerns with staff from the city council’s South Western Neighbourhood Management Team, who have organised the day along with the community centre.

“The new year can sometimes be a difficult time for people, especially when the Christmas atmosphere has died down and our residents need to look at what lies ahead.

“Anyone who has any concerns about their financial or job situation can come along and talk to our staff, who will be able to point them in the right direction for jobs, new training or how to get the most out of the money they are earning at the moment.”

Free hot drinks and oatcakes will be provided throughout the morning.

Deep Geothermal Electricity

By Nicky Davis

Despite how frozen the ground has appeared lately, under the surface it is hot. Much of the reason for this is the energy released by radioactivity which occurs naturally in the rocks, from isotopes generated 4.6 billion years ago when the Earth was formed and their radioactive decay products, some of which are also radioactive.

All we need to generate electricity is: a source of energy to use to turn water into steam, to turn turbines, to produce electricity by rotating a magnet within a coil of wire to produce a voltage. This is essentially how most power stations work, although the source of energy varies. The photograph is of the power station at Rugeley, which burns coal as an energy source.

So why not use heat from underground as a source of energy to produce electricity? This is the view of geologist Ryan Law from Geothermal Engineering.

This method would not be so applicable in Staffordshire, as it works best in areas with rocks such as granite that contain high levels of natural radioactivity. There are obstacles to be overcome, such as the complexity and expense of drilling deep into the ground and the disruption even minor tremors can cause. Nevertheless Geothermal Engineering plans to do this near Redruth in Cornwall, with the hope of commercial operation by 2014.

The advantage of the method is that it is carbon free and produces electricity continuously. It will be interesting to see how the Cornish project works out.

Potteye: Laarschot’s False Dawn

At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, it is worth considering what the future may hold for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, its residents and local public services.

Over the last 2 years many instances of financial irregularities and officer misinformation to elected members have come to light, often only with the persistence of certain councillors and a small section of the local media.

The latest of these is the waste managment function with regards to enhanced recycling and the Icelandic Banks disaster. The usual results arise in that, yes, things went wrong, but those involved have moved on, this is all in the past, time to move on, new CEO (12 months in) etc etc etc”¦.

I beleive that what all these revelations expose is that, no matter what governance structure we have in place, the real failures in Stoke-on-Trent City Council, stem from a culture, built over many, many years of complete contempt for elected representation, the truth and incompetence on a grand scale ““ not always politicians ““ but within senior management.

Worst of all is that many of those I accuse above left our Council, not with the shame of their misdeeds, but to move onto greener pastures, often with a handsom payout at the expense of long suffering taxpayers.

Some heralded the appointment of a new Chief Executive from the private sector and a tinpot town of the south coast as the second coming of the Lord, and that all would now be well in the former land of pits and pots.

12 months in are things any different? Can we see the changes in the culture of the council? s The hope for the future any brighter?

In my view the answer is a resounding NO.

Whilst our new CEO is quite happy to be “open and transparent” about information related to past issues of previous council employees, his attitude to current information, openess and transparency is rather a different matter altogether.

Closed agendas items galore ““ councillors can’t even get the reports ““ constant delays and deliberations regarding questions and requests for information. Floor One is a prime example ““ getting to the crux of the matter has been almost impossible, even getting the council to give me public documents about the tender was like pulling teeth with constant delay and misdirection. Even now, as a councillor, I still do not know what is happening with Floor One, even though under the consitution, it must go through a set process.

More recently, the restructure of the council appears to be being conducted like an MI6 undercover terrorist operation. If anything this council is more sensitive, more secretive and more media controlled than ever.

Am I just being critical for politics sake? Am I paranoid? Well I think their are enough out there with their own recent experiences of FOIs etc to know exactly what I mean.

If the government is serious about localism the very first thing it has to address is the old boys network in local government and making clear legislation that puts the honesty and trustworthiness of senior council staff at the centre of democracy.The public and elected representatives should expect no less than to receive all the relevant information they need to make decisions, and that it be accurate, and where individual fail in their duty to do this they should be put before the courts ““ not paid off for their silence.

Some may think that my aim is at Stoke Council, yet the revolving door of local government officers suggests to me that this goes on in most if not all councils ““ some are just better at hiding it.

In the last 3 weeks alone I have been informed of several large “deals” or “payoffs” all hush hush of course with secrecy clauses in the agreements.

Well I have 4 months left as a councillor before the elections and yes I am standing.

As a councillor for 11 years, what has been revealed to the public about mismanagement is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of what I have seen would make some people hair curl, and sadly, to my shame, I have kept my head down at some critical moments, if only to survive for another day.

My first committment for the next 4 months is this ““ to expose and reveal the scale of payoffs and golden handshakes past and present.

My second is to help and support anybody new that is prepare to stand up and be counted at the elections in 2011.

This council will not change until there are enough councillors in it to say enough is enough, and to ask the right questions.

There are plenty of you out there better than me and certainly better than the coalition led by Pervez ““ I have read your blogs, your comments and letters in the newspapers etc.

So I urge those of you that care, those of you that have taken to time to read or comment on fate of Stoke-on-Trent, to stand at the elections, regardless of your politics. Take a chance and make a diffrence.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

I trust this article finds you fit, well and full of festive cheer.

This New Year needs to see a new start in Stoke-on-Trent.

I was out of action for a while pre Christmas, due to a back injury which prevented me from spending my usual amount of time at my PC. During that down time, I found myself ponderings the goings on at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

I think that it is fair to say that the end of year report on our public servants down at the civic is the classic “Ëœmust do better’.

The two stories that rocked the 6 towns just before the festive break [was it a case of the best time to air our dirty laundry?] were the audit finding on the Icelandic bank fiasco and the release of the report, forced by a Pits n Pots investigation into waste management and recycling.

Both issues raised serious concerns about the way our City is being administered and has called the integrity of a number of officers into question.

It was nice to see other media outlets pick the recycling issue up and run with it when they showed little or no interest in it previously. Mind you we did hand it to them on a plate following the extensive hours burning the midnight oil researching an issue that literally cost our city millions of pounds.

Let’s focus on the Icelandic issue first shall we. This was all about an unopened email warning the City Council that the creditworthiness of the Icelandic Bank Landsbanki had been downgraded. Note, it did not say the bank was going to collapse so get your money out now.

That email was left unopened which prevented the senior officers from assessing the risk to the city’s investment in light of the new information. I have information that the officer concerned who did not open that email offered to resign. The offer was declined.

The issue was reported to the appropriate Director, the Council Manager was informed, the then Elected Mayor was “Ëœbriefed’.

Why the Elected Mayor chose not to inform other elected representatives only he can say.

The shameful fact is that no other EMB councillor or any other councillor in the chamber was informed. Effectively the issue was covered up and hidden from our elected representatives and therefore out of the public domain.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, it was only down to the fact that the information was to be included in the Audit Letter that we got to heart of it at all.
Now let’s turn to the Recycling issue.

Pits n Pots had been aware of some of the issues relating to the Waste Management and Recycling for a good few months before we had the time to investigate the matter as thoroughly as we would like.

Our suspicions proved to be right. Officers withheld vital information from our elected representatives. The recycling trial was a sham as £1.6million of blue bins had already been ordered.

A report conducted by WRAP was effectively buried and kept out of sight of the prying eyes of those councillors who see it as their duty to scrutinise the decisions made by the executive and highly paid officers.

Our whole point in investigating this issue was to prove that a massive amount of our money has been spent without the involvement and knowledge of those who we elect to serve us.

The Audit report claims that WRAP gave a series of recommendations on how best to collect our waste and maximise our recycling. It did not, it gave a series of options which the council needed to debate.

That debate would have had input from all sides of the chamber and would not just focus on the least cost option which officers opted for.

There were a number of councillors that were unhappy at the quality and lack of substance in the reports put before councillors both on the EMB and within the chamber.

We reminded the Leader of the City Independents that he had called in the decision to go to a trial of the new recycling scheme.

The reports that were submitted to any committee were poor at best and deliberately lightweight at worse.

Those officers made a square peg fit into a round hole and spent a huge sum of our money in the process.

One of those options put forward from WRAP was the exact same model that Newcastle opted for [they had a WRAP report at around the same time]. Newcastle had full member involvement; they showed how mature they are as an authority and selected the best option for their residents. NULBC now realise 52% recycling as opposed to SOTCC’s 42% at best.

Furthermore NULBC did not go out and spend a stupid amount of money on blue bins that if our city council had have been more open about the options, we would not have needed to purchase them [originally they were to be leased, who changed their mind?]

Cllr Joy Garner did not come out of the Audit very well at all.

She was the EMB member at the time and people have said to me that she must have been in on the cover up.

People are thinking that she was working in tandem with officers and deliberately keeping councillors out of the loop.

Well let me tell you what I believe, Cllr Joy Garner, in my humble opinion, was as much as a victim as the rest of the councillors in the chamber.

I spoke to Joy on several occasions when gathering information for our investigation. It was Pits n Pots that informed Joy about the WRAP report that was buried and kept away from elected representatives. She was not aware of this report and as someone who is passionate about green issues and knowledgeable about waste management services she would have been as upset as anyone that she the as the portfolio holder was not given all the facts on which to base her support on.

I am aware that Cllr John Daniels has called on the District Auditor to look into the matter. I also think that he is the Councillor that contacted the Chair of Audit Committee, Cllr Michael Coleman offering more information.

Cllr Coleman was prevented from allowing the councillor to come before his committee on the advice of the council’s legal officer.

In the words of my dear old dad “Ëœit’s time for him to poo or get off the pot’- well it looks as if Cllr Daniels is at last willing to force this issue out into the public domain and in doing so exposing the many issues that were caused by the deliberate withholding of the vital information needed to make the best decision for our city.

I don’t think this issue will go away, in fact I expect more revelations in the near future.

Finally let me say this; It is true that all of this happened on someone elses watch and under a very different system of governance.

I think that Stoke-on-Trent was used as some sort of crazy experiment.

Someone somewhere decided to see what how an authority would operate with an unelected officer at the helm and with the final say over every strategic decision.

This system of governance rode roughshod over our city’s democracy. It made our politics worthless and was massively disrespectful to our city’s residents.

The two issues that this article concentrates on proves that an officer led authority, where the involvement of those who are elected by the public to serve the public role is diminished to a point that they are basically useless, was an epic failure.

Our new Chief Executive Officer John van de Laarschot [yes I am a bit of a fan] says that he is committed to openness and transparency. Our Council Leader Mohammed Pervez says the same.

Well guys time to prove it once and for all.

Let the full facts on the waste management and recycling come out into the public domain. Let Councillor John Daniels have his say in a very public arena [extraordinary council meeting to discuss the audit report?] and lets put this sorry and very expensive saga to bed for once and for all.

I trust the integrity of our CEO and Council Leader. but with all that has gone on under the direction of those who have moved on to wreak havoc in other authorities, a contract agreeing the process and involvement between the officer core and elected members should formulated and signed by both parties.

The relationship between our city’s officers and councillors is at an all time low. Many councillors have told me privately that the no longer trust officers of the council. This is not conducive to a productive and progressive environment which is essential to the improvement of our council over the next few years which will be fraught with financial hardship and difficulties in providing effective services.

It is true that what has gone has gone. But we must implement measures to ensure that there is no return to the “Ëœwe will deal with the politicians IF we have to’ days.

With recent revelations it proves we are nowhere near yet and until we are there will be the leaks, the whispers and the accusations.

You can bet that Pits n Pots will be as active, no even more active in bringing issues out into the public domain.

Someone once said “print and be damned!” and you can bet we will”¦.

Happy New Year!

Stoke-on-Trent’s Let’s Talk Consultation Results Published

The residents of Stoke-on-Trent are most concerned about the future of children’s centres, according to the city council’s Let’s Talk consultation.

Other areas of concern were the shop mobility service, Shelton pool, Meir community centre and Tunstall pool.
Almost 1,000 comments were received during the six week campaign which was launched by council leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez on November 1. The comments will be considered by the Cabinet before final decisions are made about the budget next year.

It included sending a leaflet to all homes; many community meetings; an Ask the Leader day and a live web question and answer session with the Leader.

[Cllr Mohammed Pervez said]“This extensive consultation has given our residents the chance to tell us what they consider to be most important to them”
“We will look carefully at all the comments but we need to be perfectly clear: the government’s financial settlement for the city is the worst in living memory. Tough choices will need to be made. We have very little room to manoeuvre given the extent of these government cuts “[/quote]

The top eight results are:

1 Children’s Centres (141 responses/15pc)
2 Shopmobility (76/8pc)
3 Meir Community Centre (66/7pc)
4 Shelton Pool (48/5pc):
5 Tunstall Pool (36/4pc)
5 Keep Library Services (36/4pc):
5 Etruria Ind Museum/Ford Green Hall (36/4pc)
8 Stanley Head (30/3pc).

Further details on the consultation are available at www.stoke.gov.uk/letstalk.

Treasure hunters set to descend on Emma Bridgewater

To celebrate the end of a very special birthday year for Emma Bridgewater Pottery, staff at the factory have been working flat out producing ware in historic patterns which are no longer available.

The sale which wraps up the company’s 25th birthday celebrations will see old patterns hitting the shelves solely for the sale in Morning Glory, Red Flowers, Rise and Shine and Love and Kisses designs.

In addition the sale is expected to attract some of the most knowledgeable collectors of Emma Bridgewater pottery as studio samples will be hidden among the sale shelves in the factory shop and studio specials will be available in the gift shop.

“This sale brings to an end our 25th birthday year so we’re aiming to make it something special for our loyal customers, and a little exciting too with a number of unexpected pieces hidden among the shelves for people to discover.

“This year we have also bowed to customer demand to start the sale before the New Year for the first time. Normally we have dozens of customers queuing outside the door for several hours to be the first in ““ so this year we anticipate even more people on our doorstep.”

To ensure all the family is catered for on site throughout the sale period, children can get creative in the supervised decorating studio, dads are welcome to relax and read the papers in the kitchen café while mum shops.

The sale begins at 9am on Wednesday 29th December for members of the Emma Bridgewater Collectors Club, and opens to the general public at 1pm on the 29th.

For more information on opening hours throughout the sale visit www.emmabridgewater.co.uk. You can also follow Emma Bridgewater on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EmmaBridgewater or the Stoke factory at http://twitter.com/EB_Stoke

Talking Tots Recognises National Year of Communication In Stoke-on-Trent

Talking Tots Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme is excited to be involved in the National Year of Communication, which begins in January.

The aim of the National Year is to help all children and young people fulfil their potential through better communication and was originally proposed in John Bercow’s 2008 Review of Services for Children and Young People 0-19
with Speech, Language and Communication Needs.

“75 percent of heads of nurseries and schools admitting three-year-olds
have noticed a significant decline in children’s language competence at
entry over the last five years.”

At a recent event attended by Talking Tots franchise owner Neroli Oakley, Stoke Speaks Out presented evidence that a very high percentage of 3 year olds in the city are failing their Early Years Communication Checks, suggesting that they could suffer Communication and Literacy Difficulties in later life. A worrying number of young adults in Stoke on Trent have the literacy levels of a 12 year old.

“one in ten children in the U.K (approximately one million) have a
speech or language difficulty”
“In Stoke on Trent the figure is much higher than this – evidence from Sure Start local programmes suggests that more than half of the children in Stoke on Trent are at risk of a language or speech delay. This will impact significantly on the child’s ability to learn and on
future opportunities in life”

There are a range of excellent services such as Stoke Speaks Out and Children’s Centres provided by the local authorities in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire that hope to address these problems.

Talking Tots is working with these services to deliver its unique pre-school communication classes at
subsidised prices.

However many of these are now in danger of closure due to cuts imposed by the recent Government Spending Review.

“Talking Tots is keen to be a positive contributor to the unified and inclusive effort to provide support services in the area to all Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire’s residents”
“This is only possible through the goodwill and constant support of agencies such as Libraries, Community Learning Partnerships, Stoke Speaks out and Children’s Centres.”

Stoke-on-Trent Residents Urged To Be On The Lookout For Rogue Fly Tippers

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Environmental Crime Unit (ECU) is warning people against using unregistered waste collectors – as it could cost them up to £5000.

The warning comes as Christmas packaging and waste builds up over the festive period – but getting rid of that waste can have serious consequences for both the environment and the people involved.

The ECU is investigating reports that people are offering to remove waste for people all over the city, and then illegally fly tip that material in other parts of Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. If that material is found with details of people who gave it to the fly tippers though, it is that person who can face a hefty fine.

Now the team is asking for the public’s help in identifying the rogue fly tippers, and also refusing to use an unregistered service.

“These people may look professional, but in reality they are making money through collecting people’s rubbish then dumping it wherever they feel like.

“Unless the team catches them in the act, the trail can only lead back to the person who paid them – and it’s that person who could face the fine.

“Waste collections have still been in operation over Christmas, and the bulky waste collection is available to people via Stoke On Call on 01782 234234.

“It’s better for people to use that than run the risk of being tracked down by the Environmental Crime Unit, who would have no choice other than to issue them with the fine, rather than the people who have dumped it.”

The Environmental Crime Unit with be in contact with surrounding authorities, to work with them to resolve these cases and any evidence they may have that link to these rogue waste companies.

People can tell if a private waste company is legitimate by checking the Environment Agency’s website. All of these companies should have a waste carrier licence card and a waste carrier licence number.

“You should always ask these companies if they have a waste carrier licence card, or at least a registered number, and you should always get some kind of receipt to show who the people are that have collected your waste.

“You are responsible for the waste if it is illegally disposed of unless you can show you took all reasonable steps to prevent the offence from happening.”

People can search for a private waste collection company on the Environment Agency website here: http://www2.environment-agency.gov.uk/epr/search.asp?id=EP8&&type=register

People can search by postcode, town, company name and the waste carrier license number.

People can also call the general enquiry desk on 08708 506 506 (Mon-Fri, 8am – 6pm) or urgent enquiries can be addressed to the hotline number on 0800 807060 (Freephone, 24 hour service).