Government Cuts Hit Stoke-on-Trent To The Tune Of £33 Million

The worst case scenario has been realised in the City of Stoke-on-Trent in the wake of the government’s announcement on the future funding of local authorities.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles implemented average cuts of 4.4% to local authorities but some have been hit by cuts of 8.9%, Stoke-on-Trent City Council being one of the hardest hit.

The council are now expected to cut up to 700 jobs as they struggle to cope with a cash reduction in the region of £21.6 million.

The council were already in the process of dealing with an £11million overspend.

The City Council have been planning for the worst case scenario for a time now and have held a series of consultation events to gauge public opinion on priority services and facilities.

Some political groups accused the ruling council coalition of over exaggerating the expected cut in government funding but it now seems that the Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and Chief Executive John van de Laarschot were accurate with their predictions.

Mr Pickles announcement yesterday has been described by senior politicians and political commentators alike as the worse in living memory.

Pre-Council Meeting Demo ““ A Peaceful Protest

A peaceful protest outside the Civic Centre in Stoke yesterday was a far cry from the scenes witnessed in London.

A group of about 60 turned out in support of the Save Our Children’s Centres group who were protesting at the councils proposals to close 7 of the 16 centres which could potentially realise a saving of £750,000 to the Local Authority.

Over 200 hundred staff have already been told whether their posts have been “Ëœsaved’, “Ëœpooled’ or indeed “Ëœdeleted’ should the council choose to proceed with the proposals.

Council chiefs still insist that no final decisions have been made and that a city wide consultation is still on-going. The final outcome will not be known until the council learn the true extent in the cuts in funding handed down from central government following their recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

Roy Naylor, the former City Independent Councillor now Non-Aligned, is fighting the Group’s cause within the civic and was in attendance to lend his support at the protest yesterday [Thursday]. He gave us an Audio Interview which can be heard below this article.

Millissa Beydilli from Blurton is the Leader of the Save Our Children Centres Campaign explained why it is vital that these centres are saved from closure and how they have been a lifeline for so many families across the city’s communities. Listen to the Audio Interview below.
Council Leader Cllr Mohammed Pervez met with the campaigners along with several cabinet members and received a 6,500 strong petition against the closure proposals.

There was also a small group of students protesting outside the Civic. They were expressing their opposition to the rise in tuition fees and against cuts in services generally.

The North Staffs Pensioners Convention were also in attendance protesting against any cuts which will impact upon the elderly.

Attention: Appeal To All Readers/Contributors – Stoke-on-Trent Cuts

This is a direct appeal to all Pits n Pots readers and contributors.

Tonight the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Mohammed Pervez will take part in an online question and answers session on the impending cuts to facilities and services provided by the City Council in light of the recent Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

This follows last month’s hugely successful ‘Ask the Commander’ online meeting where over 70 citizens took part in an online Q&A session with Chief Superintendent Bernie O’Reilly hosted by Pits n Pots.

We ask anyone who has concerns about the possibility of losing a facility or service to join in and lobby for your cause and to state your case to the person who has the answers and the power to change the course of action.

Many residents have concerns over the possibility of losing Children’s Centres, Stoke Speaks Out, Shelton & Tunstall Pools, the City Farm, Fenton & Burslem Libraries and many other amenities and services.

This site, over recent years, has proved to be a valued asset in the fight for openness and transparency in local politics.

We have had our critics, some have had justified cause to complain, many have not. But we have always maintained that we love our city and we have always endeavoured to be fair and balanced.

It is our responsibility in these times of austerity to consult with our civic leaders and to direct them in what we think can or could be cut and what service or facility is vital to the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

We ask that you share that responsibility tonight between 7pm and 8pm.

All questions asked and responses given will be kept live on this site for a long period of time so that they can, if needed, be used for reference.

The online meeting is being hosted by Pits n Pots and my colleague Mike Rawlins [the one with the brains] will be there to oversee proceedings.

Finally we would like to thank Dan Barton and his team in the Press & Communications Department for their co-operation and assistance in putting the event on.

We would also like to thank CEO John van de Laarschot and the Council Leader Mohammed Pervez for agreeing to this request. Somehow I don’t think that this would have happened in the past – do you?

If we can muster a significant audience I’m sure that this can be the first step in the direction of true openness and transparency.

Our City could lead the way for a change instead of playing catch up with other local authorities.

That all depends on you. Some 2500 – 5000 visits each day should mean that there is a healthy level of involvement.

Don’t let our City down….

Stoke-on-Trent ““ Sorry Merv, I Agree With Mathew!

The Managing Director of one of Stoke-on-Trent’s success stories and prized assets Emma Bridgewater, has likened the City to a wasteland and “disaster zone” comparable to London in the 1950s following World War II.

In an article in today’s Telegraph, Matthew Rice criticised Stoke-on-Trent City Council for knocking down historic buildings and former factories instead of using them as a part of the regeneration programme.

As a result of what he describes as the City Council’s feckless planning, the city has been left to resemble Helmund Province in Afghanistan.

“We have got to put building conservation at the head of regeneration and stop demolishing,”

“We have a city here know so well for its industrial past that is has a whole area, the Potteries, named after it.

“The buildings, the factories, the terraced houses; they are the building blocks of the city and represent the inheritance of the people who live and work there, their parents, their grandparents.

“These are the cultural anchors which we need to hang on to whilst regeneration takes place.

“Lose the factories, the civic buildings, the churches and the brick terraces that make up our built environment and we jeopardise the survival of the city itself.”

“If you go around Stoke these days there is lots of bare land where things have been demolished. I’ve no idea what it looks like in Helmand Province but I get a feeling it would look a little like here.

“There is always this idea that we have got to demolish everything to put things right. A blank canvas they call it. But I’d rather see people use the buildings in regeneration and development.”

Mr Rice’s comments seem to have put Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s nose slightly out of joint.

Mervin Smith, Stoke-on-Trent City Council spokesman for city development, responded by dismissing Matthew Rice’s comments.

“Serious regeneration of any city takes more than a couple of years. We have seen this with Birmingham and Manchester for example. Significant projects have already been delivered, such as the new state-of-the-art Sixth Form College and the City Waterside development, amongst others, with work due to start on the new bus station next year and the East West precinct in 2012.

“We are indeed proud of our ceramics heritage which is evidenced by the banners which decorate the Potteries Way, celebrating pride in our local companies, the restoration of surviving bottle ovens and most importantly the biennial celebrating Stoke-on-Trent as the world capital of excellence in ceramics.

“The city council has worked closely with local ceramics businesses, including Emma Bridgewater Ltd, and are disappointed at the attitude expressed by Matthew Rice. He is perfectly entitled to his opinion, which we respect but cannot agree with.”

I think that Mervin Smith has completely missed the point of Matthew Rice’s comments.

I don’t think for a minute that Mr Rice is questioning particular projects, I think he is merely pointing out that the strategy behind our regeneration project is completely flawed and I, for what it’s worth, am in complete agreement with him.

Over recent years we have seen the demolition of countless dwellings and historic factory building that have been replace by absolutely nothing.

The gateways to the various towns that make up our unique City have more holes in them then a 5000 piece jigsaw with half the pieces missing.

No one at our City Council should try and defend the balls up that have been described as regeneration in this city.
We have had to return money that has not been spent for goodness sake.

Don’t even get me started on the debacle of the business district that was fundamentally flawed and only pulled when our new Chief Executive had the wherewithal to admit that after our council had spent some £1.5million, it was never going to work.

The changes in the top layer of the Regeneration Directorate tell us the public that our new CEO was sufficiently concerned about the performance and results to take the bull by the horns and attempt to restructure what was becoming a joke to all who take interest in the socioeconomic development of our city.

Emma Bridgewater is a beacon of hope in a City that has all but lost our traditional and proud industrial heritage and I think the Cabinet Member with responsibility for regeneration would do best to listen and draw inspiration from one of the few examples of success and trend bucking.

The governments Comprehensive Spending Review [CSR] set out very clearly that money for regeneration is going to be very hard to come by indeed.

The formation of the Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP] will see us go toe to toe with Staffordshire County Council for any mere morsel of cash to regenerate over the next 4 years.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council need to form a partnership with people like Matthew Rice from industry and with politicians like Tristram Hunt to help develop and enhance the prospects for Stoke-on-Trent PLC.

Mervin Smith graciously conceded that Matthew Rice was entitled to his opinion, but he made it abundantly clear that his opinion would be dismissed.

What a shame, another opportunity to take an out of the box progressive look at the strategic way that we we deliver [or do not as the case may be in the next few years] the true regeneration of the City of Stoke-on-Trent lost because someone dares to voice an opinion that the City Council may be getting it slightly wrong.

I pity John van de Laarschot if his senior politicians do not have the insight to explore and change direction due to the failings of the past and the catastrophic impact that government cuts will have on the development and regeneration.

We really are doomed to failure if we dismiss the opinions and ignore the obvious skills of entrepreneurs like Matthew Rice and the sympathetic view on heritage and conservation of the Likes of Tristram Hunt MP.

Come on Mervin and the rest of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, get a grip for god’s sake.

Matthew Rice has written a book called The Lost City of Stoke, which was inspired by a visit to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tunstall in 2008.

Follow the link below to find out more and to to purchase it.

I have a copy and in my humble opinion it will make a great Christmas present.

Barnes Mistake Has Follows Thinking ‘Standards’ [UPDATED]

Two Stoke-on-Trent City Councillors were today embroiled in a war of words when one accused the other of not turning up to a council consultation meeting.

Community Voice Councillor Mike Barnes published a story on the official Community Voice website accusing Councillor Terry Follows, the cabinet member for Environment, Waste Management and Neighbourhood Services, of not showing up to a public meeting to discuss the imminent Council Cuts.

Cllr Barnes also accused Labour Councillor and cabinet member for Transformation Cllr Sarah Hill of a no show at the event at Hanley Market. The executive councillors were due to be in attendance between 3pm and 5.30pm.

Cllr Terry Follows reacted angrily to the accusation and in a statement issued today he threatened to report Cllr Barnes to the Standards Board if he did not receive a full and frank apology.

Councillor Barnes

I am amazed at you complaining that I was not present at the consultation event in Hanley Market, without full knowledge of the facts, and also placing disparaging remarks on your website. Had you have bothered to check with the press office or contact me personally you would have found that I was there present in the market from 2..00 – 5.00 as promised.

Due to this I would expect a full apology and a retraction on all websites published, at this stage I am considering whether this is an issue for the standards board.

Cllr Barnes has since amended the original story and removed all references to Cllr Follows.

The story still criticises Cllr Hill for her non attendance at the event which is designed to engage members of the public and to gauge their reaction about the upcoming council cuts which will be implemented as a result of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Cabinet Member Cllr Sarah Hill, yesterday failed to turn up and talk to the public about their proposed cuts to public services.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council Website clearly stated that she would be at Hanley Market between 3pm and 5.30pm 19 November 2010, yet those that turned up to meet them found her not in attendance.
Why tell people you are going to be there and not turn up ““ are they too embarrassed following the revelations of the £600,000 spend spree proposed for floor 1 for them and their cronies?
However, it does not surprise me as many of the Cabinet don’t bother to turn up to half the meetings they are suposed (sic) too like Overview and Scrutiny.

Sources have informed Pits n Pots that Cllr Hill’s attendance was published on the Council website by mistake. The Press & Communications Department were fully aware that she was not available due to work commitments well in advance of the meeting.

We have been contacted by several sources to inform us that Cllr Barnes has now emailed a brief apology to Cllr Terry Follows for his mistake.

“This is typical of the gutter political tactics that we have come to expect from Cllr Barnes”.

“I fear it is just a matter of time before he goes way over the top in his bid for fame and ends up in front of the Standards Committee on some indefensible action that could spell the end of a political career that has been on the slide for a considerable length of time!”.

“I for one would not lose any sleep if his immature brand of politics is lost to the chamber at the next elections and the Mike Barnes PR machine is derailed for good”.

This episode is sure to fuel the arguments of some councillors across the chamber that Cllr Barnes is playing petty political games and is concentrating on personalities rather than formulating constructive political debate.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Meeting 21/10 – Lidice, Loans and Battles!

The Full Council Meeting opened with the sad news that Cllr Randy Conteh has had to step down as Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s representative on the Police Authority due to health reasons.

Randy is facing a very serious operation on his brain in the not too distant future and has been advised to slow his pace of life down. Anyone who knows Randy would confirm that he gives 100% as a councillor and as a member of the Police Authority.

I have spoken to Randy today [Friday] and he has asked me to pass on his thanks to all who have contacted him with messages of support which include fellow members of the Police Authority, high ranking Police Officers, Council Colleagues and members of the public.

Randy wants everyone to join him for the Soul Night that he has organised in aid of The Firefighters charity and the Lodge Road Park play area on October 30th. There are still tickets available for the event which includes a host of top DJ’s and as is typical for Randy he was more concerned about pushing this event than talking about the difficulties he will face in the future.

I’m sure that you will join with Pits n Pots and send your best wishes to a top bloke and fine servant of our city. We look forward to speedy recovery and to seeing Cllr Conteh back on the beat as soon as is possible.

The City Council has voted Cllr Brian Ward as their replacement for Cllr Conteh which came as a surprise to me given the tremendous amount of collaborative work with the Police undertaken by Cllr Roy Naylor.

Councillor Ward will have to juggle his cabinet work with his group leaders and ward work which makes his proposal even stranger.

For once there was some good news to come out of the meeting yesterday.

The City Council voted unanimously to accept a recommendation to explore links with the Czech Republic town of Lidice.

The Council accepted the following recommendations:

1. Members agree to work with the Lidice Gallery to explore the feasibility of an exhibition
and associated programme of work and an EU funding bid to support this.
2. That Members approve a commitment of £10,000 as seed funding towards such a
funding bid to be made from existing resources.

The historic links between Stoke-on-Trent and Lidice were brought into the public arena by Alan & Cheryl Gerrard of the Art Bay Gallery in Fenton.
Alan & Cheryl put a massive amount of effort into bring the story of Sir Barnett Stross to the current Stoke-on-Trent public and in particular the youngsters of our city.
Lidice is a village in the Czech Republic just north-west of Prague. It is built on the site
of a previous village of the same name which was completely destroyed by German
forces in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in the spring of 1942. All
192 men over 16 years of age from the village were murdered on the spot by the
Germans and the rest of the population were sent to Nazi concentration camps where
many women and nearly all the children were killed.
In September 1942, coal miners in Stoke-on-Trent, led by local Councillor Barnett
Stross, founded the organisation Lidice Shall Live to raise funds for the rebuilding of the
village after the war.
Barnett Stross was elected to Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 1937 and served until
1952 (during the later part of this period he was an Alderman). At the 1945 general
election Barnett Stross was elected as Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent’s Hanley division.
He received a Knighthood in the New Years’ Honours list of 1964.
Sir Barnett Stross KBE was honoured by the Czechoslovak government for this work
with the White Lion of Czechoslovakia, and became Chair of the British-Czechoslovakia
Society. He stood down at the 1966 general election, and died just over a year later.

Cllr Mick Salih [Community Voice] moved the motion to accept the recommendations and in doing so he said that it was a pleasure to move what was a positive story for the city. He said that it was vital to explore cultural and economic links with towns across Europe as it put our city on the map. He told the chamber that out of the tragedy of what one group of people could do to another back in 1942 some good could come from it with this linking arrangement.

Cllr Mike Barnes [Community Voice] said that he supported this motion whole-heartedly. He told the chamber that the story of Lidice highlighted that even out of extreme adversity success can be born. He hit out at Cllr Hazel Lyth[CIA] for doing nothing until the deadline for acceptance had nearly passed and only then did she act when he had made phone calls to the officers. He said that Cabinet members had to be more motivated than that.

Cllr Joy Garner [Labour] said that she was happy to support this motion and that it was important to remember the past and to never forget. She informed the chamber that there are 2 street in her ward that were named after Sir Barnett Stross. She said that through the Art side of this link he would never be forgotten.

Cllr Brian Ward [CIG] said that he too was happy to support this kinking arrangement. He said that £10,000 was a small price to pay.

I’m really pleased that Alan & Cheryl were present in the chamber to hear the debate and to see the motion passed with no one voting against. I was disappointed that no councillor mentioned the hard work that they put into this linking arrangement as I know it was not plain sailing.

Message to Councillors: Members of the public who work tirelessly for the city in which they live in and love, deserve your support and praise occasionally and is something that doesn’t cost any money!

Cllr Mervin Smith [Labour] moved the following motion in relation to a loan from the City Council to Galmor Investment SA:

That, subject as hereinafter provided, Stoke-on-Trent City Council provides a Term Loan
Facility of up to £1.2 million to Galmor Investment SA repayable over 10 years for the
refurbishment of the Angel Business Centre, Westport Road, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
That the Director of Regeneration (in consultation with the Director of Central Services) is
authorised to negotiate and agree the final terms of the loan. Such terms to be
substantially in the form of the draft Provisional Offer of Loan Facilities attached.

Cllr Smith said this loan would enable the company to redevelop to former Wade Pottery site in Burslem. Upon completion it is expected that 168 new jobs would be created for the city. He gave assurances to all sides of the chamber that there would be a comprehensive period in which thorough Due Diligence would take place.

This process would cost in the region of £20,000 which would be paid by the company even if the loan arrangement did not commence should the due diligence highlight something untoward.

Cllr Smith reassured elected members that this loan agreement was viable and that Galmor had undertaken work for companies such as HSBC, NHS North Staffs & The Highways Agency.

The details of the loan are as follows:

4.1. A copy of the proposed Provisional Offer of Loan Facilities is attached to this report.
The key terms of which are set out below:-
Purpose of Loan development of a mixed use scheme
Facility Amount £1,000,000
Repayment Term 120 months from practical completion of the building works
Drawdown in instalments of not less than £250,000 against agreed
drawdown profile and on satisfactory completion of agreed
milestones. Final drawdown on practical completion of the
building works.
Security a charge will be required against the development and a
floating charge will be required over Dransfield’s remaining
assets
Interest Fixed at 6% above the base lending rate for the time being
of the Co-operative Bank Plc
Default Interest Rate Lending Rate plus 5%
4.2. Drawdown of the loan would be in instalments of not less than £250,000 against an
agreed drawdown profile and on satisfactory completion of agreed milestones, with the
final drawdown being made on practical completion of the building works.
4.3. If Stoke-on-Trent City Council agree to provide the required loan facility, the loan will be
repayable by Dransfield over 10 years in 120 monthly instalments in accordance with a
repayment profile which reflects Dransfield’s cash flow forecast.
4.4. Interest will be applied to the loan at 6% per annum above base rate (i.e., a commercial
rate). The rate will be fixed at the date the loan agreement is signed. Therefore State
Aid will not be an issue. In addition, a monthly monitoring fee would be charged to this
facility.
4.5. In advance of the emerging City Council policy for providing assistance to private
companies and due to the absence of a dedicated budget this matter is required to be
considered by full Council Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s role in providing this loan
would be as a “Ëœlender of last resort’ as all opportunities for securing borrowing from a
commercial bank and other external funding opportunities have been exhausted.

The report detail and the assurances given by officers were commended by Cllrs Salih & Kent-Baguley [Community Voice] and that they were happy to support the motion.

Cllr Kent ““Baguley said that he celebrated this king of initiative by the City Council as it sent out a different message to that of the banks that we as a city are open for business unlike them.

Cllr Pervez [Labour] said that it was important that this deal go ahead. He said that this showed that the council was demonstrating that it could go forward with complete member involvement. He reminded the chamber that the government were relying on private sector jobs in the wake of the announcement that 500,000 public sector job losses over the coming few years. He said that Stoke-on-Trent City Council could lead the way and that this arrangement showed that it was serious about regenerating the city and the Mother Town of Burslem.

Cllrs Barnes, Ward and Shotton all spoke in favour of the motion.

Cllr Shotton [Labour] suggested that 50% of the cost of the Due Diligence should be paid up front by the company as it would be a devil of a job to get the whole amount if the agreement collapsed as a result. He said that the 168 jobs that this development created would help to support around 700 children of the families employed.

The vote was carried unanimously.

Last but by no means least , as the meeting was drawing to a close a political argument broke out between members of the Community Voice group and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez [Labour] and Deputy Leader Ross Irving [CIA].

Cllr Pervez was questioned by Cllr Barnes abouyt what he was doing to oppose the government cuts imposed on LA’s as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review on Wednesday.

Cllr Pervez said that he was working very hard and had written to Local Goverment Minister Eric Pickles to make a special case for the City of Stoke-on-Trent. He also said that he would be consulting with unions and he would carry on talking to residents to gauge their concerns about unavoidable cuts. He did confirm that there would be some loss of service and that his job was now more difficult as the government announced cuts of 28.4% over the next 4 years as opposed to the expected 25% cut.

Cllr Salih rounded on the Council Leader and said that he needed to do more than just write letters. He said that
Cllr Pervez ought to join up with other Labour led authorities and to take direct action as they had in France.

Cllr Barnes entered the debate and remonstrated with the Council Leader and said that the cuts were a devastating attack on the poor and most vulnerable in our city.

Cllr Pervez argued that he was already talking with other Labour led authorities and that they were working together to reduce the impact of the cuts and to maximise any opportunity that may arise to gain extra funding. He went on to attack the Community Voice for petty headline grabbing and he said that he would not take advice from former disgruntled Labour members.

Cllr Irving [CIA] defended his party’s position of implementing widespread cuts and said that to do nothing would almost certainly confine the country to bankruptcy. He said that the opposition remarks were a throwback to 1984. He attacked the Community Voice councillors for having nothing positive to contribute and he said that the public would not support the type of action that we have seen in France.

Cllr Pervez said that he would try his best to bring private sector jobs by working with businesses like Galmor which would get people off benefits an into work.
He finished by attacking the negativity of the Community Voice councillors and their endless search for cheap headlines.

“We will show you how it’s done” ““ he said in his closing statement.

Well Pervez let’s hope you are right ““ your city awaits…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron’s Calamitous Coalition Cock Up Over Child Benefit

So, I guess I’m kind of lucky in so much that both of my kids are over 18. They’re still as messy as hell, but at least we have benefited from the Child Benefit system.

That Child Benefit came in really handy. Kids shoes are not cheap, neither are the endless supply of school uniform components damaged as a result of playground fun. Fact is we used the money for what it was intended for.

Under David Cameron’s ruling Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, if my kids were under 18 and qualified, I would lose my entitlement to Child Benefit.

Yes OK that means I have earned decent money in the past [not since the recession though!] but in return I have paid a lot of money to the state in terms of the various taxation and not least because I need a company car to do my job effectively, which believe me does not come cheap.

I also accept that there are individuals in our society who make a career choice in claiming benefits and boost their income by having 6 kids and enjoying a upward spiral in Child Benefit.

I can’t help but think that Cameron and Osborne have completely cocked this issue up and if this is the way all the cuts will be handled ““ god help us!

“As we pay down the deficit we have to ask better-off families, those with the broadest backs, to bear a fair share of the burden,”

“Saying that it is not right to go on paying a billion pounds of child benefits to families where there is a top-rate taxpayer, that seems to me a very important statement about fairness.”

Fair Mr Cameron? How is it fair when a mate of mine, a professional guy who has 3 kids and earns just over £43k per year loses his Child Benefit and a mutual friend of both of us who earns £40k a year and who’s wife earns £41k per year will carry on receiving Child Benefit for their 3 children and are doing very well on the back of it thank you very much!

Why was no consideration given to the COMBINED household income? Wouldn’t it have been fairer to cut it to families with an income of say over £50k per year?

Why didn’t the coalition government give consideration to capping the benefit at say a maximum of 3 children? Did they work out how much this would save as opposed to their cocked up plans to penalise middle income families and protecting high income families in the process?

Why are the Coalition Government continuing to pay EU migrant workers Child Benefit which is then sent back to their families back home to the cost of the UK taxpayer? Labour allowed this, the coalition is looking at what it can cut, why not cut this?

Labour got it very wrong when abolished the 10p tax bracket ““ this could be the ConDem equivalent!

A progressive society should always look after families who are living close to the breadline, the needy and the most vulnerable. That is a fundamental belief upon which our great nation was built.

But the way this cut has been handled and administrated is plain daft.

The Conservative/LibDem coalition has said it is committed to “Ëœsorting out’ what they call the benefit culture in our country. They want to get those who can work, back into work.

This is not the way to go about it. Retail jobs seem to be all that are available and are low paid. The Child Benefit is needed here to supplement a family’s income, no one has any issue with that.

Middle earners with a household income of up to £50k PA pay a lot into the system and receive very little out of it should not miss out too, in my opinion.

But, Cameron and Osborne have missed a golden opportunity to hit those that abuse the Child Benefit and use the benefit system as a career choice.

It is obscene frankly that a household with a combined income of some £85k can still draw Child Benefit.

How is all this fair Mr Cameron?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Coalition Can Work – As Long As Lib Dems Are Happy

The media is obsessed with trying to find chinks in the coalition agreement but the real question is whether the Liberal Democrats continue to believe that the new government’s policies reflect their values of fairness and freedom, writes Chris Nicholson, director and chief executive of CentreForum in Public Servant Magazine.

The coalition government has been defined by three things so far ““ first, the very fact that it exists and that two parties are working together in government; secondly, the things which it is not doing; and thirdly, the emergency Budget.

The fact that the coalition exists and is functioning is an achievement in itself which should not be downplayed.. Both parties seem intent on making the coalition work which would not have been predicted just two months ago. Of course there must be tensions but the strong lead from the top of the respective parties ““ from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, has undoubtedly been a significant factor ““ they certainly give the impression that they want the coalition to work. The media and the commentariat has had rather more difficulty in adjusting to the new political context than the politicians as they look to identify the ‘splits in the coalition’ and the betrayals of one or other party’s positions.

One of the big challenges for the coalition parties, particularly for the Liberal Democrats, will be to change this narrative. In particular they will need to be forthright and up-front in saying “There will be things that Liberal Democrats do not like, this is a coalition government not a Liberal Democrat government”. Similarly, Lib Dems saying that they do not like policy A or B is also to be expected. My impression so far is that the public are much more realistic about what can or cannot be achieved than the media. But it is still early days.

The first few weeks of the coalition were characterised by a raft of announcements of previous government policies which would not be implemented ““ ID cards, a third runway at Heathrow, detention of children in immigration centres. It is policies such as these which had done so much to alienate liberal opinion from Labour and the importance of these cancellations should not be underestimated. However, these were also ‘easy wins’ in the sense that they were issues where there was general agreement between the two coalition parties. The proposed actions to reform the House of Lords and to have a referendum on electoral reform have been welcomed by the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition and have caused considerable unease amongst Conservatives. It is here that David Cameron’s failure to consult the Conservatives about the coalition in the way that Nick Clegg consulted the Liberal Democrats may come back to haunt the coalition. Liberal Democrat MPs generally feel a sense of ownership of the decision to enter the coalition. It is not clear that there is the same sense of collective buy-in among Conservative MPs.

And then there was the emergency Budget which has not surprisingly caused unease among many Lib Dems. It is not that Liberal Democrats are not used to taking tough decisions. Many of the party’s activists have far more experience of taking difficult decisions than have most MPs, having spent years running local authorities. All recognised that action needed to be taken to deal with the budget deficit. The unease arises from two sources. Firstly, has the government got the judgement right about walking the tightrope between the risks of a double dip recession on one side and a sovereign debt crisis on the other? This is only partly a party political question and as much a technical economic one. Secondly, what is the distributional impact of the Budget, and the Comprehensive Spending Review which is to follow? Is it true that overall it is a ‘fair’ Budget or is it in fact a regressive Budget? The more that it appears that the latter is true the more that Liberal Democrats will feel uneasy.

This will particularly become clearer once the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review are announced in October. Abstract cuts of 25 per cent in departmental budgets will become horribly real if it involves closures of Sure Start children’s centres, further substantial cuts in welfare payments and the loss of tens of thousands of police officers. Coalition government ministers may come to regret the Conservative pledge to protect the NHS if it means massive cuts elsewhere. Perhaps that should have been a pledge which should have been a ‘casualty’ of the coalition agreement rather than continuing to be set in stone.

While the media will no doubt focus on opinion poll ratings as a reflection of whether the Liberal Democrats are happy with the coalition or not, this can be overstated. In general, people did not join the Lib Dems and stick with them during endless disappointments because of an expectation of success. Anyone who lived through the lows of the European election of 1989 when the Liberal Democrats gained less than 10 per cent of the vote will not be put off by a few poor opinion poll ratings. But they will be put off if they see the values of fairness and freedom, which is why they first joined the party, being abandoned. It is against those tests that the coalition will ultimately be judged by Liberal Democrats.