2012- the year of delivery

With the New Year just hours around the corner, Bill Cawley looks towards 2012, the year of delivery.

Its two years since John Van Der Laarschot became Chief Executive of the City Council and it will be 12 months from May since the Council was in Labour majority control. This year will need to see both parties delivering on the objectives that they set themselves. Residents of the city will need to see progress on a number of projects and some way out of the encircling gloom that has gripped the area since 2008. Currently over 8,000 citizens of Stoke are unemployed, local economic activity appears sluggish and the outlook nationally seems uncertain. Something needs to happen but what?

However there needs to be seen to be progress and actual completion in a number of key projects and top of the list must be Hanley Bus Station. My understanding was that the station ought to be finished by next autumn. There is work going on site and one hopes that finishing the bus station is very high on the agenda of the City Council. I wonder whether there is any recognition of the need to ensure that local projects like this do generate local jobs. It will be essential for local projects to deliver tangibly local jobs otherwise The City Council will be neglecting their responsibility.

Secondly linked to the Bus station is the need to attract investment and interest in the Sentral development in Hanley. News has reached the local media that Marks and Spenser amongst others are interested in the development but in my opinion that M & S interest only means displacement from an existing site in the centre of Hanley. Again a benchmark will be an increase in take up from leading brand shops and a timetable for completion of the project.

Another area of concern is a resolution of areas like Middleport and the difficulties faced by the reduction in funding for RENEW. The blight that is Middleport needs to be seriously addressed in the coming year.

The bid for the Green Investment Bank locally has been made although I would personally like to see a strong case made for putting this developments with its promise of excellent jobs and potential for the green economy having a more central role in the local economy. A decision is likely in March.

Another conundrum for 2012 will what to do with the Spode site in Stoke. Just before Christmas a press report indicated that Tesco were not interested in developing the site. What to do with the site will be a question that will require some resolution in the coming year.

The desire for more ” localism” will also dominate political discourse. There has been interest in both Penkhull and Fenton for more self-government and patience with the City Council has become stretched especially over such issues as the future of Fenton Library and other civic amenities in the area.

Which brings me to another topic which will again command debate in 2012 and that is turning former civic assets over to community groups to run independently. Perhaps the first acid test will be the future of Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston. There is a strong desire to retain the facility for educational use and a group of interested individuals have put together a business case to take over the facility.

On a more certain note 6 of the City’s new schools school be completed and ready for occupation by the autumn term including the new and interestingly designed Brownhills school although the costs of PFI are still a subject worthy of future investigations.

On a more equivocal note the debate and questions over the Dimensions debacle still remain and must cast doubts on the future of the officers and councillors involved in this matter.

Another policy change, which will have serious implications for the City Council in terms of its social and health care services, will be the rapid changes to the NHS Primary Care with GPs taking more control over commissioning decisions. I have serious doubts whether the Health and Wellbeing Board- a function within the City Council- is fully aware of the centrality of their role in ensuring equity in accessing services is maintained.

1 hope of mine in terms of delivery of a service will be the reopening of the railway line between Leek and Stoke which is projected to happen in the autumn of 2012. I went to a public meeting in Leek and the speed in which this project is happening makes me optimistic that this will be a project that does see fruition in the coming year.

2012 will be the year I feel in which reputations at the Civic Centre especially the senior officers in post will be made or broken.

Tax Freedom Day & The Cost Of Government Day

Some sobering thoughts for you this morning.

According to calculations made by the Adam Smith Institute in London it is expected that Tax Freedom Day for the average worker in the UK will be 30 May in 2012. That means that for the first 149 days of the year, you will be earning for the taxman. Only on May 30 will you start earning for yourselves.

The Tax Payers Alliance take this calculation a step further and provides The Cost of Government Day. This is the date in the calendar year on which the average person is calculated to have earned enough gross income to pay for their share of the cost of government spending and regulation.

In 2012 The Cost of Government Day is calculated to be 26 July.

This means the average person must work for 208 days in the coming year to pay for their share of government spending and regulation combined. Out of the 208 days,the average person must work for 179 days (27 June) in the coming year to pay for their share of the cost of government spending and then work a further 29 days (26 July) of the year to pay for their share of the cost of government regulation.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said,

Taxpayers should be looking forward to toasting in the New Year, instead the enormous cost of Government spending and regulation means they will effectively be working for the Government until the summer. Government spending and expensive regulations are costing more than half of ordinary people’s income and this simply cannot go on. The Government needs to cut spending, get rid of burdensome regulations and cut taxes to get the economy going and leave more taxpayers’ money in their own pockets.

 

The Bids Are In For £108m Stoke-on-Trent PFI Housing Project

Stoke-on-Trent City Council will now analyse details from a number of companies who applied for the extra care housing programme, after a European tendering deadline passed last week.

The council placed a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union – the publication that all public sector tenders for major projects must be published to – in November, to start the process to design, build, finance and operate the homes.

The scheme will deliver much needed extra care housing in the city – where older people can live independently and have the option of round the clock personal care, should they require it. The scheme gives residents the chance to prepare for their housing need in the future, and provides privacy and security. The homes also have communal facilities, open to both residents and the wider community, such as hair salons, gyms and cafes, to foster support networks and reduce social isolation.

Bidders were invited to submit details of their experience and ability to deliver such a major contract. As part of the process, the council held a bidder’s conference on 7 December, where around 85 companies met the council’s team to find out more about the programme.

Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, said

We have had a number of responses and are now working through the submissions of pre-qualification questionnaires by bidding parties.

We will now be conducting a process of assessment to select up to six consortia to discuss their proposals to deliver the scheme. Given the tight bidding timescales we are pleased to have achieved this first step on time

The sites allocated for the 390 new homes are

  • Holdcroft Fields, Holdcroft Road, Abbey Hulton.
  • Blurton Farm/Brookwood site, Consett Road, Blurton.
  • Turnhurst Road, opposite Selbourne Drive, Chell.

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Councillor Gwen Hassall, cabinet member for housing and neighbourhoods, said

This is another key milestone in delivering such a major, exciting project. Our city has an ageing population and these units are vitally important to help meet demand for supported accommodation for our residents.

 

VINCI Construction UK Selected As Principle Contractor For Stoke-on-Trents New Bus Station

VINCI Construction UK, who built the new Tesco store in Hanley in 2010, has been selected by Stoke-on-Trent City Council as the principal contractor for the development of the landmark new bus station in Hanley.

The appointment will see the next phase of the bus station start in the New Year as work on the foundations for the site start by the end of January.

Councillor Ruth Rosenau, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for regeneration, said

Over the next few years Stoke-on-Trent city centre will start to look very different as major projects such as the regional new shopping centre, bus station and improvements to the public realm areas are developed. The new city centre bus station will create an important facility and stunning new gateway in to the city centre. It is exciting to see the project progressing to the next stage with Vinci.

VINCI Construction UK was chosen from 16 companies that showed a strong interest in undertaking the next phase of the Grimshaw Architects designed bus station.

Work on the site has progressed well since it started in April 2011. With the site now fully secured by 8ft hoarding, the ground works completed and the site prepared for foundations to start in the New Year. Work on the foundations will take around 8-10 weeks to complete with the new facility due to open in Autumn 2012.

Chris Hamer, Managing Director of VINCI Construction UK Building Division – North, said

VINCI Construction UK is helping to initiate the redevelopment of Stoke-on-Trent’s city centre with the construction of the first phase of City Sentral, the new bus station. We are replacing a tired 1960’s building with a new visually captivating facility that will kick start the redevelopment. It is exciting to be part of a project that will have such a positive effect for Stoke-on-Trent and improve the public realm.

The landmark new bus station will make way for the new £350million shopping complex – City Sentral – to start on the site of the current city bus station.

Duncan Mathieson, Managing Director of Realis Estates, said

The bus facility is an important first step towards transforming City Sentral. Work on the new bus station is set to progress quickly, setting the scene for us to move ahead with the main City Sentral development. Once completed, City Sentral will transform Stoke-on-Trent city centre with the stunning new bus station acting as a landmark gateway to the Midland’s newest regional shopping and leisure destination.

Hanley Bus Station location

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Moorland and City Railway – the Leek to Stoke Railway returns in 2012.

Moorlands and City Railway logoI was in a meeting in Leek at the beginning of December about the railway coming back to the town. The Moorland and City Railway are reopening the line between Leek and Stoke in one direction and Leek and Oakamoor and Cauldon Lowe in the other. It is hoped to initially carry freight and then passengers by this time next year. I feel that this is excellent news. The line was last used for passengers in 1965 and for freight in 1970 and the work of the MCR as well as the Churnet Valley Railway who use part of the line for heritage trips will mean trains into Stoke by next Christmas. Continue reading

Millionaire Stoke-on-Trent Businessman John Caudwell Pledges To Help Save The Wedgwood Collection

Stoke-on-Trent businessman and philanthropist John Caudwell today pledged to save the Wedgwood Collection to keep it on public display in Stoke-on-Trent.

Commenting on yesterday High Court’s ruling John Caudwell said

The first thing that strikes me is just how grossly unfair it is that a law designed to protect people in totally different circumstances is causing such vast worry and uncertainty amongst those who are completely blameless for a debt that may result in an important collection – and a big piece of Potteries heritage – being broken up.  

I passionately believe that the collection should remain intact and in place, and available for public viewing.  

If the Trustees don’t find any other way of solving the issue, then I will attempt to buy the entire collection and keep it n situ for the foreseeable future, and continue with public access.  

This would be subject, of course, to the outcome of any discussions with Administrators, and input of the Trustees.  

It is vital that such an important piece of history and heritage remains in the Potteries.

 

Wedgwood Museum Assets Can Be Sold To Cover Shortfall In Wedgwood Group Pension Plan

Breaking News from The High Court this evening.

The High Court has ruled that assets held by the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent can be sold in order to fill financial gaps in the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan.

The press release from CMS Cameron McKenna LLP says:

Wedgwood Museum Trust Limited (in Administration)- High Court Judgment on the Status of the Museum Collection

The High Court has published its decision in the action brought by the administrators of Wedgwood Museum Trust Limited to determine the future of the Wedgwood Museum’s collection. The Court decided that the collection is not held on trust by the Museum and so it is available for distribution to the Museum’s creditors.
The action was brought following the Museum entering administration in April 2010. Its insolvency came after the trustees of the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan were required to serve a claim on the Museum for the £134m deficit in the Pension Plan. This deficit became the Museum’s responsibility following the earlier insolvencies of the other Wedgwood group companies, leaving the pension trustees with no option but to claim this amount from the Museum as required by legislation.
The legal position of the collection was uncertain from the documentation and evidence available and therefore the administrators asked the court to decide whether the collection was part of the Museum’s assets and available for distribution to the Museum’s creditors as part of the insolvency process. As the Museum’s largest creditor, the pension trustees were required to put to the court the case that the collection was available for distribution to creditors. This was in line with the trustees’ legal duty to maximise the assets available to the Plan and to comply with a legally binding direction issued by the Pension Protection Fund.
Following a three day hearing in September 2011, the Court has decided that the collection does form part of the Museum’s assets and can therefore be sold to help pay the creditors of the Museum. The two main creditors are understood to be the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the pension plan.
Now that the court has confirmed the position, the administrators of the Museum will consider the most appropriate method of dealing with the collection to ensure that the maximum value is recovered for the benefit of the creditors.
The pension trustees would like to highlight that they were under a legal obligation to seek to clarify the ownership of the Museum collection. Whilst it is regrettable that the Museum did not take the appropriate action to separate the collection itself from the Museum’s liabilities to the pension plan, the pension trustees are pleased that the ownership of the collection has been clarified.
Given the size of the deficit of the Plan, unless very substantial sums are recovered from the Museum’s collection or other sources, it is likely that the Plan will move towards transferring to the Pension Protection Fund so that Plan members can benefit from the compensation it provides. Without the steps which the Plan trustees have taken in relation to the Museum, members would probably not qualify for this compensation and would see even bigger reductions to their pension benefits.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Live Budget Web Chat

Join Council Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez live on-line tonight from 5:30pm and ask questions about the proposed £24 million budget cuts for the 2012 budget.

 

Please use the chat form above to ask your questions and not the comment form below.

Stoke-on-Trent bids for Green Investment Bank

Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to host the Green Investment Bank (GIB) has been officially recognised by the government. The battle to secure the bank heated up as Vince Cable published criteria to determine where it should be based.

Stoke-on-Trent is the only West Midlands location which has indicated its interest in hosting the bank.

The Government sees the GIB as a catalyst for the UK’s transition to a green economy. The £3 billion it has set aside for it, will it says attract a further £15 billion from the private sector. However, the GIB will not have any borrowing powers until at least 2015, which have led to concerns within the green business community that will not be able to accelerate the transition to a green economy effectively enough.

The GIB’s establishment has now moved a step closer as business secretary Cable published the trio of criteria for deciding where it will be based and its first priorities for the first four years.

A successful location must be able to recruit and retain the specialist staff needed to run the organisation; enable the GIB to work closely with other parties involved in deals as well as other investment bodies and green technology providers and be in a location that provides good value for money.

Twenty-two locations across the UK have registered their interest in hosting the GIB.

I noticed that some of the locations are putting up some strong business case such as Edinburgh, Leeds and Newcastle. As far as I can see no such publicity campaign is being launched by Stoke. It would be a great pity if something that can deliver high quality, well paid jobs in the local economy is not being pushed by the City Council.

Vince Cable said

There is a great opportunity for British businesses to lead the transition to a green economy and stake a claim on a sector that has massive potential for growth.

I’m pleased to see that more than 20 places recognise the impact the Green Investment Bank could make, and are expressing an interest in being its home.

I want to set up the Bank as soon as possible, so it can start accelerating investments in these key sectors and help British companies take advantage of these opportunities. Setting out the priorities for the Bank and establishing UK Green Investments for April 2012 are a major step forward.

There will be a decision in March

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Budget Consultation Extended to 13 January

Councillor Sarah Hill has confirmed that the public consultation for the 2012 Budget has been extended from December 23 until 13 January.

In a comment let on Pits n Pots Cllr Hill said

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