A Sad, Sad Day for Stoke-on-Trent – Action is Needed In London!

Today is a sad, sad day for our City and for everyone who lives and works here.

This is the day that we say goodbye and bid farewell to a number of much loved services and leisure facilities.

We have already seen the closure of the City Farm. By the end of play today we will lose Park Hall Golf Course, the Dial a Ride scheme, Stoke Recreation Centre, Fenton Library and the cafe at Gladstone Pottery Museum.

Communities are devastated by the closure of Shelton and Tunstall pools which will also close their doors today.

There is talk that a private investor is looking to keep these two amenities open but I know a number of councillors have concerns that this is a viable option.

Officers and certain councillors are desperate to further discussions with the individual concerned and to offer assistance where ever possible. I have seen an email in which the potential investor offers sincere thanks to councillors and officers as they try and present a credible business case and secure the necessary funding.

Only time and rigorous scrutiny will tell whether this offer can be taken seriously and until i’s are dotted and t’s crossed parties are trying to play the matter down for fear of wrongly building up the hopes of the action groups and communities concerned.

Politically, opponents are keen to blame the city council’s ruling coalition of Labour, Conservative & Independent Alliance, Liberal Democrats and the City Independent Group for these unprecedented cuts.

Out on the streets though it is a very different matter. The general public are in no doubt as to who is exactly to blame.

The electorate hold the national coalition 100% responsible, everyone I have talked to is angry at the level and speed of these cuts.

For me, it is way too much, way too soon. The fact that we are at the start of what can only be described as a public sector cull, puts our country’s recovery from the worst recession in modern history at risk.

Take out the disposable income of the vast number of people who are about to be thrown out onto the scrap heap with the only prospect of landing squarely on the dole queue, and the knock on effect on the economy could be disastrous.

Meanwhile back on the mean streets of Stoke-on-Trent, the effect of these cuts is biting at the very front end of our society. No one is left untouched, the elderly, children, the disabled and the most vulnerable are all to suffer for the indiscretions and downright financial mismanagement of a large number of bankers who thought that they had a god given right to play a game of poker with the worlds finances.

And what has been the effect on the very individuals that put us in this mess in the first place? They are to be rewarded with unbelievably high bonuses often paid out by near state owned financial institutions.

Action groups will carry on fighting for the services and
facilities that they want to save and I pray that there is some success to be had.

£35million pounds have been wiped out of the budget for the upcoming financial year with the inevitability that another £20million will follow next year.

Our elected representatives have faced up to their responsibilities; officers of the council have administrated the cuts based on the balance sheet in front of them. The objectives? To save, to cut, to reduce and to merge services and facilities knowing that their actions are going to hurt the very people they seek to serve.

There have been those both inside the chamber and out in the political scene at large, that have sought to make political gain from the fact that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has had to make cuts. Indeed I know that certain individuals have been told to stay away from the Tunstall Pool Action Group meetings because their number one priority was to make political gain from the fight.

As much as we pontificate locally, in reality we all know there is little we can do to influence the level of cuts metered out to the public of Stoke-on-Trent.

Direct action on a national level is the only sensible recourse to voice our discontent and complete bewilderment over these unprecedented and unnecessary cuts.

The public have to take the issue up with the organ grinder [the national coalition government] as opposed to the monkey [Stoke-on-Trent City councillors], for it is them that have decided to decimate the funding to our City.

The protests in London last weekend attracted in the region of 450,000 people and but for a few hundred anarchists and complete nut jobs they were hugely successful in delivering a very direct message to this government.

That message is very loud and very clear ““ There is an alternative!

Peaceful, direct and unwavering protests on the largest scale imaginable would send a clear concise warning and in my humble opinion is the only way to save the services and facilities we value in this city.

So, in summary to save Stoke, we must march via London and parliament square for it is there that the true perpetrators reside.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Approve £35million Cuts Budget

Stoke-on-Trent City Council set their budget today [Thursday] following a long and sometimes heated debate.

The motion in moving the budget, which includes cuts of some £35million and the closures of several key facilities, was eventually won by 40 votes in favour to 13 votes against.

In voting to accept the budget proposals, councillors have agreed to the closure of Shelton Pool, Burslem & Fenton Libraries, Park Hall Golf Course, 2 elderley care provisions and other valued services and public amenities.

Unless viable business proposals are submitted by community groups or social enterprises the city could also lose Ford Green Hall, the City Farm, Etruria Industrial Museum and the much publicised Tunstall Pool.

It was not all doom and gloom however as the council have confirmed that it is to retain all the City’s Children Centres, Stoke Speaks Out, Shopmobility and all Local Centres.

In moving the motion to commend the Budget, Council Leader Mohammed Pervez said that it was imperative that the council set a legal and balanced budget. He also confirmed that there is to be no Council Tax rise in the next municipal year.

Cllr Pervez told the chamber that it had been a long and hard road to get to the point where the cabinet were able to recommend this budget. He reminded the chamber that the council could not allow petty arguments to derail the process of agreeing this budget.

He said that the cabinet and the officers of the council had been composed, collected and considered as well as open and transparent during the consultation and the budget setting process.

Cllr Pervez reminded the chamber that Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been the 8th hardest hit authority in the country and that those councillors who had accused the cabinet of scaremongering should be glad that they had prepared for the worse case scenario.

The Community Voice group moved an amendment calling for a postponement in setting the budget as they believed that there had been insufficient Equality Impact Assessments carried out on all the budget proposals.

Community Voice spokesman Cllr Mike Barnes, said that the council needed to minimise risk and should heed the legal challenges relating to Equality Impact across other authorities across the country.

Cllr Barnes urged the cabinet to accept the need to dot every I and cross every “Ëœt’.

He condemned the documentation produced to support the budget proposals for failing to mention Equality.

Fellow Community Voice Councillor Mick Salih criticised the cabinet and council officers for not handing round the printed amendment to the substantive motion before the meeting.

He also stated that he was unable to support the budget because there were a number of proposals in it that were still under negotiation. He said that it would be wrong to pass an holistic budget when a large amount of the fine detail was not known.

Deputy Council Leader Ross Irving [Conservative] said that legal clarification was necessary and suggested that the legal officer should address the chamber and give his opinion on whether there was an issue with regards to Equality Impact.

Paul Hackney gave a long and detailed assessment of the situation and concluded that in his opinion the Council had carried out the necessary assessments with regard to Equality and that they has shown due regard during the budget consultations, overview and scrutiny processes and in the final proposals.

Community Voice’s amendment was defeated heavily.

There was a long, passionate, heated and sometimes angry debate in the chamber on the substantive motion of adopting the budget proposals.

The debate was divided between primarily those councillors in the four-way coalition parties of Labour, Conservative and Independent Allliance, Liberal Democrat and City Independent Group [apart from Cllr Dave Conway who refused to support the budget] and those councillors in opposition.

The coalition councillors condemned the opposition councillors, especially the Community Voice group, for playing to the public gallery and for not providing an alternative to the budget proposals.

The opposition councillors especially Community Voice criticised the coalition for not listening to the residents of the city.

Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley accused the cabinet of lacking political judgement and of having no clear criteria in setting this budget.

Cabinet Councillors rebuked the accusations by saying that the criteria was always to protect the most vulnerable and needy in the city.

This meeting was one of the longest in recent times. Passions and emotions were running high. Coalition councillors constantly referred to the need to accept the financial situation imposed on the city by the National Coalition Government.
Coalition Councillors also spoke about taking political responsibility and demonstrating clear leadership in formulating this budget.

Opposition Councillors spoke of the hardship that the citizens and residents of the city will have to endure as a result of these levels of cuts.

No matter what the political persuasion it was evident that the burden of public duty was wearing hard on all the councillors within the chamber.

The opposition councillors gave it heir best shot and the coalition councillors stood firm in the face of adversity and backed their cabinet colleagues.

We have a series of Audio Interviews to bring you.

First one is with Cllr Mike Barnes from the Community Voice group who explains why they were seeking a postponement of a budget decision. This was recorded before the meeting.

Then we hear from Matt Wright from the Socialist Party who explains why his North Staffs Against Cuts group were urging councillors to reject the budget proposals.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party was ejected from the council chamber during the meeting for causing a disturbance.

Next up we hear from Liz from Trent Vale who was also asked to leave the chamber for trying [very peacefully] to address the councillors in the chamber to get support for Shelton Pool and from a member of the action group fighting to save Shelton Pool.

And finally we hear from the four leaders of the coalition groups on the City Council, Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Labour], Cllr Ross Irving [Conservative & IA], Cllr Kieran Clarke [Lib Dem] and Cllr Brian Ward [City Independents] who give their reaction to winning the vote on the budget.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet Propose Retention of All Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Cabinet are proposing the retention of all 16 Children’s Centres after listening to public concerns and the 6000 strong petition organised by the Save Our Children Centre’s group headed by Millissa Beydilli.

Whilst the Cabinet are proposing to save the Children’s Centres, the award winning Stoke Speaks Out service, short breaks for the disabled and carers, the Merit Pupil referral service and 24/7 CCTV coverage, they have also confirmed their intention to close several key facilities.

Although the Children’s Centres have been saved Council Leader Mohammed Pervez would give no guarantee that staff jobs would be saved. He also gave an indication that there may be a reorganisation of the Children’s Centres management structure.

The decision to close Shelton and Tunstall pools, Fenton and Burslem Libraries and the Heathside and Eardley Care Homes was also announced.

There is a six month stay of execution for education establishments Ford Green Hall, Etruria Industrial Museum and Stanley Head whilst the council explores the possibility of the transferring them to a community trust or social enterprise.

The future also looks brighter for Meir Community and Education Centre and for Northwood Stadium.

The Meir looks set to retain their community centre after the council leader announced that the council was looking to transfer more services into the popular facility.

The popular service Shopmobility, located at the Potteries Shopping Centre, will also be saved.

Mohammed Pervez confirmed that users have offered to pay for the service and the council are happy to go along with that proposal.

Northwood Stadium is not closing at this stage.

The Future of the City Farm looks bleak however. The Council Leader, Mohammed Pervez confirmed that the council did not consider the farm as a priority and indicated that the council had no statutory obligation to deliver such a service.

The tender to transfer the farm to an independent operator was suspended amidst a dispute over the ownership of the land. Whist the tender is likely to be re-instated at some stage, the feeling is that there would be a lack of interested parties coming forward to take over what was consider by the Guardian Newspaper a top 10 free attraction in the country just a few years ago.

There was also good news for every household in the City.
The Council Leader announced that Council Tax will be frozen for the next year.

The City Council will take up the governments offer a 2.5% grant which will realise £2million to the local authority.

Mohammed Pervez said that this decision was taken because the Cabinet considered that families were already under pressure following the impact of the recent VAT rise to 20%.

In presenting these proposals, the council leader said that he and his cabinet, along with the CEO John van de Laarschot and his officers, had listened to feedback from the public, elected members and members of the City Council’s staff.

Despite today’s announcements it is still expected that 700 staff will leave the employment of the City Council over the next few months through voluntary or compulsory redundancies.

The City Council are facing a gap in funding of £35.6million for the next financial year.

The national coalition government implemented cuts of 8.1% upon the City of Stoke-on-Trent which when the council factored in the reductions in area based and other grant funding, actually resulted in a bigger percentage cut.

Mohammed Pervez was keen to point out that he had pleaded the case that Stoke-on-Trent was a special case with the government but in his words “Ëœthose pleas fell on deaf ears’.

Pervez said that he had written to government on numerous occasions, he had visited London and held talks with a junior minister working in Local Government and Communities Minister Eric Pickles’s team and had joined forces with other authorities namely Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull and Torbay, but to no avail. Stoke-on-Trent was still one of the worse hit areas for cuts in funding.

The council leader also said that this budget consultation had been the most thorough than any before. He and his cabinet claim that they had taken into consideration the feedback from the “ËœLet’s Talk’ consultations and the comments made during his live web debate exclusively on Pits n Pots when making these difficult decisions.

Members of the City council staff had also been given the opportunity to have their say as a part of the “ËœTell John’ exercise held by the CEO John van de Laarschot.

These proposals will now be put in front of all the political groups and presented to all elected members ahead of the Budget Meeting of the Full City Council to be held on the 24th February.

The meeting will be webcast on the Council Website.

After the briefing Council Leader Mohammed Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot gave their views.

Listen to the audio below.