Stoke-on-Trent Labour Group ““ The Shape of Things to Come?

You know me, I like to ponder on situations and then try to dissect them in public, as is my want you see?

I have to say that last week’s call to discuss the closure of the Willfield Fitness Centre at the Adult & Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny meeting has left an nasty taste in my mouth.

I have been largely supportive of Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and his 34 strong Labour group but I hope that the actions of the Labour councillors on that particular committee and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, is not the shape of things to come.

Here we have a popular fitness centre, loved by the community, used by many from Bentilee and beyond, closed without out so much as a single comment from the Labour contingent on that committee.

Although the Labour members should not have been whipped on a scrutiny committee, by the actions of the said Labour members and the Labour cabinet members in attendance, They were absolutely told how they WILL vote.

I am in no doubt that Cllrs Sheila Pitt, Alison Wedgwood, and Matt Fry would have received a serious reprimand by the senior officers of the Labour group for, in the case of Alison and Sheila, sticking to their election pledges.

Labour whip Kath Banks had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp during that meeting and could not have looked more disinterested in proceedings if she tried.

The way the meeting was chaired by the normally amiable Cllr Bagh Ali left me in no doubt who was running the meeting, the director Tony Oakman.

He was allowed to say what he wanted, for as long as he wanted with no interruption. Cllr Dave Conway was constantly disrupted in a clear attempt to throw him off course.

Talking of the officers, the old joke of how many does it take to change a light bulb was certainly relevant here. 8 officers were present and if you were to tot up their collective salaries you would unearth a value that would give the Staffordshire Hoard a run for it’s money.

So, Labour have demonstrated that they will side with the officers over their election promises in another glaring example of taking the Cabinet dollar.

Have we been here before I wonder?

It appears not to matter who the rulers are, Labour, Conservative Independent, Liberal Democrats, or a mixture of them all, it’s the same old scene.

But what has left me even more uneasy about the situation, is the fact that not more than a week prior to the call in, CEO John van de Laarschot launched his mandate for change which placed a heavy emphasis on the Health and Wellbeing of the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent.

It isn’t that long ago that the place attracted the unfortunate label of being a “Ëœsick city’. And yet we close a facility that is proven to be making a difference in exactly the sort of area of the city that needs the most help ““ way to go!

Our CEO gave an inspirational performance at that gig. I and a good few others were taken in by the message that together we can make a difference. My plea to John van de Laarschot for the future success of the Mandate for Change project and the rejuvenation of the City of Stoke-on-Trent is – “ËœGet your officers on task!’

Here was a golden opportunity to prove to all that the council was up to working with community groups to find a way of keeping popular facilities open for business.

We are in unprecedented times, an era where it is clear, and for my part accepted, that the council cannot continue to fund everything and that there has to be painful cuts.

The officers of the council rubbished the Willfield Community Group’s business plan and then dismissed it out of hand.

Why didn’t any officer of the council make contact with the group to offer assistance in getting the business case more in line with what the council need and expect?

Where was the dialogue?

Where was the help?

Where was the commitment needed to deliver a Mandate for Change?

So again I lay down the gauntlet to the council, in a no doubt futile attempt, to change and to demonstrate that our council are serious about empowering communities.

With £20million more cuts to come in the next financial year, if there is not a drastic change in the Council, it’s CEO, directors and officers what services and facilities will be left in our city?

Our Labour Group need to LEAD and not be LED. You have the opportunity to make a difference, you have the opportunity to step up to the plate ““ Take it!

The majority of the electorate voted you in the belief that you would deliver on your election promises and to work to make our city more inclusive and more progressive. It ain’t a great start guys!

Many months ago, a politician that I respect enormously told me that the decision not to allow the building of a new academy to be on the Mitchell High School site was all about academies setting the right example to the communities in which they serve.

I was told that the powers that be, politicians, officers and sponsors wanted the buildings to be in areas that were as affluent as possible in order to raise the aspirations of the young people of the area.

They are meant to inspire the young to be more like the well to do of the areas in which an academy school is placed.

To give the little poor kids the opportunity of mixing with kids from a “Ëœbetter’ background.

I remember thinking at the time ‘isn’t that social engineering’?

It got me to thinking is this the real reason the Willfield gym is to close?

Do those in the BSF department, fellow officers and our elected politicians, want rid of the gym and the kind of folk who use it so they are not a blot on the academy landscape?

Two Village Green Public Enquiries

On Tuesday 1st February 2011, the Registration of Town and Village Greens Panel of Stoke-on-Trent City Council met, for the first time since July 2007, to consider two village green applications, one at Hulme Road, Park Hall and the other at Anchor Road, Adderley Green.

An application for village green status had been submitted in both cases following council plans to site the Discovery Academy there. Not only did the communities not want a school sited in these locations, they also realized that open green space they had perhaps taken for granted for ongoing community use could be built upon and they wanted to protect it. Margaret Lowe for the Community Schools Action Group applied for Village Green Status for the Park Hall land and Ian Jenkin for the Adderley Green Residents Association applied for Village Green status for the Adderley Green land.

Both applicants attended to observe proceedings at the meeting, although they could not attend the first hour during which panel members were being briefed. Paul Hackney, the legal officer, recommended public enquiries on the basis that the council was the land owner and the decision maker and there were other legal complexities. All panel members supported the recommendation and confirmed with Margaret Lowe and Ian Jenkin that they did too. Ian asked about the financial implications, since an application for Penkhull had been withdrawn for fear of cost liability. However the committee stated that costs would be borne by the council and would be £10,000 for both applications, not each as reported in the Sentinel.

Margaret told the Sentinel afterwards that if a member of the public had objected to village green status the objection would have been thrown out and a decision made there and then, saving costs. But as the council had objected this was their way of being ‘open and transparent’, but also trying to get the public on their side by stating the use of public money.

Ian told the Sentinel that as the council are owners of the land, objectors to the application and have to make a decision on it, there was only really one decision they could have made. However he was pleased about this.

Paul Hackney and the panel chair Joy Garner will appoint an independent inspector. We could hear more about this in May. Following the public enquiry the inspector will make a recommendation to the council that they may be expected to adopt, although they do not have to. If village green status is obtained there would be total removal of any possible development, securing the open space for the community.

Planning go-ahead for ‘Discovery’ city academy

The news has been welcomed by the cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Debra Gratton.

“This gives the green light for the new Discovery Academy to be built and closes another chapter in the BSF story in the city. This new academy will provide first class facilities replacing two high schools and will also act as a hub for community use by people wanting to access the facilities available out of school hours. With the start of development at REACH at Trent Vale, parents, pupils and staff are now starting to see a real difference in the educational landscape in the city.”

Work on the new school, which will replace Mitchell and Edensor High Schools, will begin on site at the in Lauder Place North, Bentilee in September this year and the first pupils are set to move into the new buildings in September 2013.

The Discovery Academy Appoints Principal Designate

Following a rigorous recruitment process, Rob Ridout has been appointed to the post of Principal Designate of The Discovery Academy which will be sited on the grounds currently occupied by the Willfield Centre.

Rob was chosen from a strong field of potential applicants. His track record of successful leadership shows that he can affect the educational transformation within the academy.

Following his appointment, Rob stated

I am really excited about this fantastic opportunity. I am especially look forward to working with all the talented individuals from both schools to deliver an exciting new curriculum. I am determined to improve the learning and life opportunities for Stoke students and all learners in the wider community.

In addition to his leadership skills, Rob’s strong science credentials make him the ideal person to champion the academy specialisms of Technology, Enterprise & Innovation.

As well as his school leadership roles, Rob spent two years working as an education advisor specialising in school improvements in schools and academies throughout the country.

Sarah Robinson, Principal & Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent College (lead sponsor) said

We are delighted to have appointed Rob and look forward to working with him to make the Discovery Academy a real success,

Rob’s professional skills, drive and vision will inspire the project team as well as staff and students to secure the best possible education for learners in Stoke.

Rob will be at the Year 7 parents evening arranged at Edensor Technology College on 5th October, 7″9pm. The Discovery Academy will open in September 2011.

Council seeks views on academy location

People who have an interest in the proposed location for the new Discovery Academy in Stoke-on-Trent are being asked for their views as part of a feasibility study being carried out on behalf of the city council.

The proposed Academy is one of five brand new academies planned to be built in the city as part of the £250m Building Schools for the Future programme.

The independent study will look at possible locations for the Discovery Academy and then advise on a preferred site.

Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Ian Mitchell, said:

“We are keen to hear from the public on this very important issue. The Discovery Academy is the last piece of the BSF jigsaw. We want to move this process forward to ensure the young people from Edensor and Mitchell high schools are afforded the same opportunities as other students throughout the city, where outline approval has already been granted for new build or refurbishment.”

Anyone wanting to know more about the feasibility study should visit www.stoke.gov.uk/bsf.