Stoke-on-Trent City Council Issue Statement Over Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have tonight issued a statement form Leader Mohammed Pervez which clarifies their positions on the future of the City’s Children Centres.

It follows the Pits n Pots story today regarding a meeting held at the Bridge Centre where it was claimed that the staff employed at the various children centres across the city had been informed that they would not be closed.

It had also been claimed by a source who attened the meeting that the meeting had been informed that there would be a 10% reduction in staff.

“No final decision regarding any of the budget proposals has been made yet and will not be made until we know our financial settlement from government. This is the message that I have consistently given throughout the consultation process and until I formally announce otherwise this will remain to be the council’s position.

“Staff have been briefed to give them the potential scope of what the proposals could mean for their departments and their roles if the full set of savings proposals had to be delivered.”

Stoke-on-Trent Lord Mayor To Open Community Centre At Weston Heights

A community centre which will improve facilities for residents in Weston Coyney is to be given a civic opening this week.

Stoke-on-Trent Lord Mayor will unveil Weston Heights Community Centre, a £190,000 facility in the grounds of Weston Coyney Infant School, on Tuesday (20 April).

The centre, which features a large multi-function room and smaller rooms, will be used for community, children’s centre and school use, and is available to deliver a raft of public services. It has been funded through £90,000 from the infant school, £60,000 from local city councillors’ ward budgets and around £40,000 from Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Children and Young People’s Services.

The facility is the result of two year’s hard work by Coalville Residents Association and Weston Coyney Infant School.

Ernie Clarke, Chair of Coalville Residents Association, said:

“This new community centre is another sign of our success in regenerating this community over the last seven years. As well as being able to put on more activities, we will also have more space for our successful youth club, which has now outgrown the old community room. The centre is a big bonus for the local community and we want people to use it.”

The new centre replaces a previous community room that was in a building shared with the school. It provides a larger, more flexible space for community activities, with a large main room and two smaller offices/consulting rooms, allowing a much wider range of services and activities to be provided for the local area than has been possible before.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council director of children and young people’s services Ged Rowney said:

“This facility will bring much-needed benefits to the community and will mean that services can be provided directly in the local area. It can be used to provide a range of health and social care services, as well as being used by local groups.”

The community centre is the latest milestone in a five-year regeneration programme to breathe new life into Coalville, a former mining estate. The redevelopment is being carried out by The Compendium Group ““ a joint venture between Riverside, a social housing organisation; and Lovell, an affordable housing provider. In addition to new homes for rent, shared ownership and outright sale for existing and new residents, the development will also feature new public open space including a play area and sports field.

The centre was built and equipped with the advice and support of a steering group which included Stoke-on-Trent City Council, The Compendium Group and Riverside. It will be run on a day-to-day basis by Coalville Residents Association, and overseen by a management committee consisting of representatives of the school, the residents association, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Riverside.

Question Time

Source: Longton North Blog/Tom Reynolds.

Cllr Tom Reynolds

Cllr Tom Reynolds

I’ve submitted the following questions to the Leader for the next ordinary Full Council. It will be interesting what Cllr Irving has to say on each of the issues.

1. Council Tax Relief
Will the Executive consider establishing a discretionary framework to re-introduce the 50% council tax discount on vacant properties where it can be proved that individuals are facing financial hardship, and are not in the possession of dwellings on a commercial basis?

2. Blacklisting
The council will note the investigation by the Information Commissioner into blacklisting by unscrupulous “business consultants”. The council may also further note the subsequent report by UCATT trade union which revealed several large local authority contractors had been invoiced by the consultants. What is the Executive doing to ensure the trade union rights of former council workers and contractor workers are not eroded, either in current or future strategic partnerships?

3. Local Procurement
The full council recently passed a procurement strategy, which featured a policy on local procurement. What work are NSRP and procurement officers of this authority doing to ensure that local businesses are in a position where they are capable to entering successful tenders to provide council services?

4. Children and Young People’s Services
What checks and balances have the executive put in place to ensure that Children and Young People’s Services Directorate is in satisfactory condition to be managed in house by the City Council? What is the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ view as to whether continued intervention is required vis-a-vis management of the Directorate?

Tom Reynolds is really interested in what you think about these questions so off you go……………

Junior news hounds take regional honours

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

A “news team” from a Stoke-on-Trent primary school has won a top communications prize ““ for the second year running.

Pupils from Gladstone Primary School have been named the West Midlands winners in the government’s Make IT Happy Competition, and  received their award at a ceremony in London, along with a cheque for £1,200.

Make IT Happy is an annual competition which looks at the positive and creative ways the UK’s primary schools use technology.

Headteacher at Gladstone, Elaine Preston, said: “The team made a film which looked at all the positives in and around Stoke-on-Trent, rather than the negative aspects the mainstream media sometimes focus on.  We’re extremely proud to have won this competition two years in a row, and it’s a real credit to our IT expert, Steve Miller, who was in charge of the project.”

Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Ian Mitchell, said: “Young people celebrating the good and positives aspects about our city has to be applauded. I would like to congratulate all those who took part in making the film; it’s a real credit to the school and to the city.”

All regional winners are now entered for national prizes which will be announced on October 19

Integrated youth service moves in the right direction

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Staffordshire’s proposed Integrated Youth Support Service has completed a crucial stage in its development, with the agreement that control of Connexions Staffordshire Limited, which offers information and guidance to young people, will now be transferred to Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

This step forward will facilitate the formation of a new Integrated Youth Support Service in both Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, which will see the joining up of services for young people.  Colleagues will continue to work hard to effect the changes necessary to bring about a fully integrated youth support service, one which will benefit all young people across the county.

In Staffordshire, the next step will be to liaise further with Connexions about the new arrangements, and to consult with staff representatives and staff in all services involved in IYSS.  This consultation will begin later this month.

Ben Adams

Ben Adams

County Councillor and Ben Adams, Lead Member for Communities and Culture said: “This is a positive step forward in the process of creating an Integrated Youth Support Service.  Transferring the control of Connexions Staffordshire Limited to two local authorities means we will be able to fully join up what are already excellent services, enabling us to ensure an efficient and effective access to services for all our young people.”

Councillor Ian Mitchell, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Stoke-on-Trent City Council,

Cllr Ian Mitchell

Cllr Ian Mitchell

said: “We are looking forward to working with colleagues in Staffordshire on the newly developed Connexions service to ensure children and young people in Stoke-on-Trent continue to receive good quality information, advice and guidance. This includes targeted support for those who are vulnerable as part of an integrated youth offer.”

Anne Williams CBE, Chair of Connexions Staffordshire, said: “I hope the excellent work already achieved by Connexions staff will continue and that the Integrated Youth Support Service will add real benefits for the young people of the County and the City, and that they see an enhanced service through agencies working more closely together.”

Leader speaks out – The half term report!

Audio Interview Now Online!

By Tony Walley & Mike Rawlins.

On Friday Mike Rawlins and myself went to interview Council Leader Ross Irving, it is a little over 3 months since Ross was voted in to the position of Council Leader.  We wanted to ask him  how he thought things were going and what the future holds.

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

Council Leader Ross Irving being interviewed by Tony Walley

Since the council chamber reconvened after the summer recess, two very big stories have hit the news.

Earlier this week the news broke that Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman and his officers are to recommend that the responsibility for Children & Young Peoples Services, be taken back in house.

This would mean an end to Serco’s involvement in education and the care of the vulnerable children in our city.

In this special audio interview, council leader Ross Irving pays tribute to the work of Ged Rowney and his team reveals the councils plans to build on the success of the Serco team.

Ross also gives us his thoughts on the location of the new Parkhall Academy which will give hope to the Springfield Action Group, but will also bring despair the the campaigners fighting to save Mitchell High School.

In the second part of the audio interview, Ross describes the difficult task ahead to balance the books after the revelation that our council faces a budget deficit of some £17million. We also get his thoughts on possible council jobs cuts, outsourcing and the prospect of a near 5% rise in next years council tax.

Ross also give us his assessment as we enter into his first winter as council leader.

As usual, your thoughts and comments on Ross’s answers are welcome………..

As we were leaving the leaders office with Ross he told us how the office used to be the Treasury Department and showed us the safe where the money used to be kept.  This is now used as the stationery cupboard, so when they say the are looking at cost savings in the council you can rest assured that even the pens are kept locked away to help save money.

Council Leader Ross Irving, the keeper of the stationary!

Council Leader Ross Irving, the keeper of the stationery!

We thank Ross for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.

Mind your language

Source: PKB Blog

Peter Kent-Baguley

Peter Kent-Baguley

Tight corners generate dodgy language. Not surprisingly, it’s seldom in short supply at the Town Hall. Add generous helpings of statistics and before you can say “service cuts” you’ve managed to convince most people they lack the ability to understand the situation let alone the solution.

Ask a question or two and before you know where you are you have the Council Leader and the Acting Chief Executive throwing around accusations of “blame”. Apparently asking questions in an attempt to finding the answers to the financial crisis at the centre of the City Council is unwelcome! Well, those two people need to realise that I will not be the only one asking searching questions about the Council’s financial mess, barely half way through the financial year! What is more, if the answers suggest shortcomings on the part of individual councillors and/or officers then those concerned had better be prepared for a little blame.

How on earth could the budget have fallen apart so badly so soon?

Was it devised on the basis of lies? Incompetence? Fantasy? We all have a right to know. SERCO, the private profit making company brought in to run our Children & Young People’s services were supposed to have got their departmental house in order. Efficiency and effectiveness were the hallmarks of the private sector we were assured. So how is it that there is a predicted overspend yet again in their department”¦to the tune of over £2m?

We are told there is a £750,000 shortfall in income from car parking. We are told that the recession has caused this. Really? How many fewer car parking occasions have there been this year so far compared with the same period last year? Does that number equate to a £750,000 shortfall? Or is there a £750,000 shortfall of somebody’s fantasy income? We need to know.

Why has it been discovered since the budget was approved earlier this year that there is a likely £2m (yes, two million pounds sterling) overspend on pensions? Have we suddenly found people who are about to retire, people we didn’t realise were going to retire? We need to know.

All this incompetence was wrapped up in the language of “these difficult financial times.” Of course the nation’s finances are stretched; they have been stretched by the greed of financiers, the first amongst the private sector to worship free enterprise without government regulation”¦until of course their world goes belly-up and suddenly government is their best friend, handing over billions (not millions, but billions) of the people’s money”¦so that they can get back to the way things were!

What did happen to common sense in politics?

Wol’s Weekend Wanderings

By Tony Walley.

Tony Walley

Tony Walley

Because of, or in spite of – SERCO?

This week has seen the publication of this years GCSE results.

First off let us celebrate the fantastic achievement of our city’s secondary schools. These results are probably the best for many many years if not the best of all time.

Mitchell High, Sandon High & James Brindley stand out for me in particular.

At Mitchell, Headteacher Paul Liddle and his fantastic team turned up results of a phenomenal nature. In 2008 the percentage of pupils who achieved 5 A* – C including English & Maths stood at 16%. This year the percentage has risen to an astonishing 44%.

The previous Headteacher at Mitchell was awarded an OBE for the schools results achieved under the old 5A* – C not accounting the core subjects of English and Maths. With this years fantastic performance Paul Liddle deserves a knighthood let alone an OBE.

I know that Mitchell has had assistance from the LA and I wonder if he would acknowledge the help he and his team were given by SERCO’s Ged Rowney and Ian Kendrick? Somehow I think he would.

Sandon High a school ‘in special measures’, showed the city that their difficulties were nothing to do with the quality of teaching in operation at the school.

In the last 8months or so their leadership was overseen by Executive Head Keith Hollins who steadied the ship and re-focused the staff. The school has a brand new headteacher who is motivated, energetic and has already have an impact at the school.

Sandon has achieved results of 44% and will surely not be in the ‘special measures’ category for much longer.

The LA have put a lot of support into Sandon and were very involved in the selection of the new headteacher and as someone who has been involved in this school [in a small way] I know that Mr Rowney and his team has assisted and supported the school.

James Brindley the school that is most in need of a re-build in the city is used to staring up from the bottom of the league tables at the other city schools.

This is very much no longer the case. A fantastic performance this year has seen results soar to 28% % A* – C including English and Maths, in comparison to last years 19%.

Whilst this is still some way short of the LA & National average it shows that it is definitely a school on the up.

Other results across the city are as impressive as the above.

Isn’t it time that we gave the officers at the civic centre and in particularly the Director and his deputy some credit for the turnaround of fortunes in the performance of our city’s secondary schools?

Is it a coincidence that since SERCO came to our city,  Children’s Services has dramatically improved and the latest news of the improvement in this years GCSE results must be in some way down to the leadership of this controversial organisation?

We have been quick to criticise Ged Rowney and his team, they have taken some abuse and at times a right good kicking. I myself have witnessed Ged Rowney being called a liar in open public meetings.

Is it not right that now when our city’s schools have improved on Serco’s watch, we can be big enough to say ‘well done’

I won’t hold my breath especially when I read some of the negativity that emanates from some of the contributors to this site……

Cuts in Adult Social Care

I am appalled at the prospect of seeing huge cuts that will impact upon some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Today news broke that our city’s purse strings holders are prepared to see services cut to cover a £1.6million deficit in the budget.

This cut will come predominately in Elderly Care & Adult Social Care.

Some 6000 care packages are now being reviewed to see whether further cuts can be made. I know of many individuals that rely on the care service. In other cases I am aware of, sometimes the only friendly face that an elderly person may see on a daily basis is that of a carer who comes into the home to provide hygiene and food services.

I can not believe that in this day and age that we are even considering making cuts in services that vulnerable residents in our great city fundamentally rely upon.

The four most important services that should never have ANY funding cuts are Adult Services, Children and Young Peoples Services, Housing and Regeneration. Cut away in other areas by all means, do what you need to do to balance the books. But for Christ sakes do not hit those people in our society who need taking care of the most.

As an example our ‘Communications’ or press department as we know it has £1million per year pumped into it and whilst I agree it is important to communicate with the public that is served by our City Council, no ones quality of life would be affected if this department was not there.

I am not suggesting that the great work done by Dan Barton and his team is worthless, far from it. The Communications Department provides services like translation etc which enhances the lives of some of our city’s residents. But the point I am making is that it is not as valuable service as Elderly Care, yet our city’s masters are looking to cut care packages. I have not heard of one suggestion of cutting the funding to a less critical service like Communications as an example, surely there is something dreadfully wrong here.

If we spend a single pound on training courses like ‘Common Purpose’ to enhance the performance of our councillors and officers then surely this is something that must be cut before a single penny is taken away from Adult Services and other critical Council Services. I am not saying this to have a go at the ‘Common Purpose’ providers but I say this as a reminder to those decision makers who value something like this before the care of the elderly and most vulnerable in our city.

In short, I don’t want to read articles in our local press The Sentinel, that inform me that essential services are to be cut in our city due to a budget shortfall – by god no!

I want to read that the decision makers, those top officers on their massive salaries, along with our most senior elected representatives have investigated all none critical services and departments in a bid to find the possible cuts needed to balance the books.

Note to the Interim Chief Executive, Council leader and Cabinet:

Do you really think the people in this city are that stupid as to put up with cuts to essential, critical & frontline services before the closure or cuts in funding to non essential, non critical, backroom services and departments?

I URGE YOU TO SERIOUSLY THINK AGAIN!!

Apprentices start work

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Eleven young people will begin their working lives next week as part of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Trainee Apprenticeship scheme.

All eleven will be working for Children and Young People’s Services. Ten of the 16 to 19 years old Trainee Apprentices will be working at Children’s Centres throughout the city, while one will be gaining experience in the department offices with the Early Extended and Enhanced Learning team.

On their first working day, the group will be given a tour of the council offices and meet the Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, Cllr. Ian Mitchell and the department Director, Ged Rowney, over an informal lunch.

The apprentices were recruited following an open day at the Children’s Centre based at Port Vale Football Club and are part of a wider City Council Trainee Apprenticeship programme.

BNP councillor objects to plans for children’s centre

Source: Children & Young People Now

A BNP councillor has criticised council plans to put a children’s centre in a school’s grounds.

Alby Walker - BNP Group Leader

Alby Walker - BNP Group Leader

Alby Walker, councillor for Abbey Green in Stoke-on-Trent, said he didn’t think the “type of people” visiting the centre were suitable for a residential area.

He said: “There would be a drug helping service at the centre and it would be based in a mainly residential street. Drugs services would be more appropriate in the town centre.”

The council plans to build the children’s centre in the grounds of Hillside Primary School in Baddeley Green. It will offer a baby clinic, baby massage groups and advice about postnatal depression. A 6.5ft fence will separate the centre from the school.

Walker said he had been inundated with opposition to the centre’s location and called for the planning application to go before a full committee before a decision is made.

He said: “The road is already very narrow and can’t cope with any more traffic. I’ve suggested alternative sites, but the council want the centre at Hillside Primary for cost objectives. It’s cheaper to lift prefabricated buildings on to a playground than to provide drainage and build on other sites.”

Councillor Ian Mitchell, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, waved away the criticism. He said:

Ian Mitchell

Ian Mitchell

“This is the best available site to serve the local community.”

“More car parking spaces will become available when the centre is built. The site was chosen carefully, taking into consideration a variety of issues – one of which is the pram-pushing distance for parents, as it’s expected many families will walk to the centre,” he added.