No New Enterprise Zone For Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire

Despite the Prime Minister, David Cameron saying that the Government would ‘look favourably at any bids from the area for a Local Enterprise Zone’ during his visit to Stoke-on-Trent in April, this morning Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire woke to the news that it has missed on being granted a Local Enterprise Zone.

After the announcement of 11 Enterprise Zones in March it was announced that a second ‘competitive’ wave would be held in July. The 11 successful locations chosen from 29 applications for this second wave of Local Enterprise Zones announced this morning are

  • Alconbury Airfield in Cambridgeshire
  • Daresbury Science Campus in Runcorn
  • Discovery Park in Sandwich, Kent & Enterprise West Essex in Harlow
  • Great Yarmouth in Norfolk & Lowestoft in Suffolk
  • Humber Estuary Renewable Energy Super Cluster
  • MIRA Technology Park in Hinckley Leicestershire
  • Newquay AeroHub in Cornwall
  • Northampton Waterside
  • Rotherwas Enterprise Zone in Hereford
  • Science Vale UK in Oxfordshire
  • The Solent Enterprise Zone at Daedalus Airfield in Gosport
We are determined to do everything we can to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

Enterprise Zones are a major step towards delivering this; cutting business taxes, easing planning restrictions and giving business the tools they need to invest and expand.

These new Enterprise Zones will be trailblazers for growth, jobs and prosperity throughout the country.

Too many of our towns and cities have been left behind, but the answer has never been to impose ineffective sprawling regional structures. It is local business and commerce that drive the private sector growth, jobs and wealth this country needs. This Government’s job is to foster local enterprise and create the conditions for businesses to thrive in. That is why low tax, low regulation Enterprise Zones are being planted across the country and will give businesses all the incentives they need to grow their local economy and create thousands of new local jobs.

The Stoke-on-Trent & North Staffordshire Enterprise Zone was to be based at Etruria Valley, with specialised sites at Keele University Science Park and the Hadleigh Business Park at Blythe Bridge.

It was hoped that the LEZ would have delivered up to 115 hectares of prime development land ready to go for business, with capacity to create up to 10,000 jobs by 2015.

The first wave of Enterprise Zones saw

  • Leeds
  • Sheffield
  • Liverpool
  • Greater Manchester
  • West of England
  • Tees Valley
  • North East
  • The Black Country
  • Derbyshire
  • Nottinghamshire
  • London

being given Local Enterprise Zone status.

Speaking to reporters during his visit to Stoke-on-Trent in April this year,

You are not missing out on an enterprise zone. There will be an enterprise zone within the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP area, and we will be advised by the LEP as to where it will go.

Reaction

The Government Enterprise Zones will be a ‘shot in the arm for the British economy’
We have lost out and have to go it alone regardless of Cameron promising there would be one for this area.

North Staffordshire needs jobs and investment. I supported the LEZ bid as did many others- from the Chamber of Commerce to the voluntary sector and lobbied all government ministers on this.

It had full cross party support including all MPs and Staffs County council all backing the Local Enterprise Partnership’s bid.

This government has abolished the regional development agencies but put nothing adequate in their place. It has gone back on its word for Stoke on Trent.

Eric Pickles says previous Enterprise Zones “set up a load of retail parks” – something which will not be seen with current set.
We are extremely disappointed at this news.

Stoke-on-Trent needs jobs and private investments as we made that clear in our application to Government and our recently announced Mandate for Change. We will endeavour with or without Government help to make Stoke-on-Trent a ‘great working city’ to shout the message on the regional, national and global market we are very much open for business.

Of course this is a huge blow for us but we are determined to succeed.

We will be urgently asking for more details and feedback on this decision and exploring if there are any further opportunities for future Enterprize Zones or any other similar Government initiatives.

However the Enterprize Zone on its own was never going to be the solution. We need investment and expansion from the private sector and we are working hard to make this happen.

So Cameron lied. We’ll just have to work harder 2 bring new business to Nth Staffs despite no EZ. SoT has great assets to promote
Everyone in North Staffordshire will be disappointed and somewhat astonished this morning to find that the promises of the Prime Minister just before the local elections have been abandoned; we are not getting the promised Enterprise Zone. It is all the more frustrating that this announcement has been made while Parliament is in recess and so I must wait a couple more weeks before I can try to question the Prime Minister on his reasons for this u-turn. Given his usual form, I don’t expect any sort of proper answer from Cameron.

While this is indeed a setback I know that our city and North Staffs have so much to offer businesses, from land and building availability to a fantastic workforce, with excellent road, rail, and air links into the bargain. I will continue to work with the City Council to approach potential businesses and of course support the Local Enterprise Partnership and North Staffs Chamber of Commerce in all our efforts to promote Stoke-on-Trent as the best place to come to set up businesses.

I am writing to the Business Secretary to see what other support government will make available but I think the message is a clear one – we must stand and fight alone, without the Tory-led government’s help. That means we must all now focus our efforts on singing the praises of Stoke-on-Trent and not allow anyone to talk down the area and those working to promote it.

We have a fight ahead but working together we can win and see North Staffordshire prosper.

Rob Flello MP

It is of course a huge disappointment that the government has let down Stoke on Trent. Despite the promises of manufacturing-led regeneration, David Cameron has decided to turn his back on one of the great industrial centres of Britain.

I was sceptical of the LEP going for a three site bid when the application would have been better focussed simply on the Etruria site.

This round looked like a party political fix, rather than a clear enterprise zone priority.

That said, when parliament reconvenes, together with the other Stoke-on-Trent MPs, I will be seeking an urgent meeting with Vince Cable to understand their decision making process.

It really is beyond ridiculous to prioritise Oxfordshire and Hampshire above Stoke-on-Trent. But Stoke-on-Trent is bigger than this: we must create our own enterprise zone in the Etruria valley.

Local MP leads seafood campaigners to victory

Joan Walley MP has joined campaigners in welcoming the announcement that the Coalition Government has committed to using sustainable fish in all of its catering for , Whitehall, Government departments, prisons, and some parts of the armed forces ““ improving the meals of nearly 400,000 people.

Joan spearheaded a campaign in parliament to achieve these standards, having previously joined campaigners to highlight that fish served in Whitehall and Number 10 Downing Street had worse seafood sustainability standards than the cat food served to Number 10′s Larry the Cat, because leading pet food brands such as Whiska’s had already made the switch to sustainable fish.

“These new standards mean that for the first time, over £16 million of fish bought with taxpayers’ money every year will now be covered by compulsory sustainability standards. We have had to fight very hard to get these standards, but they would never have been introduced without Joan’s tireless support for the campaign”.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 16/05/2011

As the red & white half of Stoke-on-Trent comes to terms with their loss in the FA Cup final the political potteries is as flat as boring nil nil draw.

It’s a bit like “Ëœafter the Lord Mayors show post election.

To Speak or Not To Speak

The only sexy story was the attempt at gagging our new crop of councillors with a “Ëœmedia protocol’ that circumnavigated democracy.

The document that was slipped in the new councillors pack was tantamount to a biblical commandment ““ “ËœYou shall not criticise the council, its officers or the executive ““ no matter the size of the monumental cock up or who was responsible!’

More worrying for me was the fact that there were councillors who were queuing up to sign this attack on freedom of speech.

One of them was Paul Breeze, a man who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He works tirelessly for his community and he has taken a principled stance in not aligning himself with any group in the council chamber.

Paul was quick enough to remind us that he is a free spirit, but his complicity in this matter showed that whilst he is his own man in the political sense he was all too ready to do his masters bidding and put officers before the representation of the people that elected him.

The “Ëœgagging order’ has received a fair amount of political commentary and rightly so. But so far the facts of the matter have been inaccurately reported.

It has been alleged that the individuals responsible for this have been the press and communications team, Mohammed
Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot.

My information leads me to believe that it was actually Pervez who suggested that the protocol be withdrawn from the councillors’ pack when he read it the weekend before declarations were taken and was unaware of its contents beforehand.

Sources have indicated to me that it was in fact Members Services who directed that this protocol be drawn up and the press team were directed to draft it up.

The bit that is shrouded in uncertainty is how much involvement CEO John van de Laarschot had in the issue.

Who Will Be The Trophies on The Cabinet

Now that it has been confirmed that Pervez will be Council Leader with Paul Shotton as his Deputy Council Leader, the labour Group will tonight [Monday] decide who will make up the remaining 8 places on this the first totally Labour cabinet.

Now I’ve followed the scene in the political Potteries for years and, as all good commentators should, I will make my predictions as follows.

The 8 cabinet places will go to, in no particular order:
Mark Meredith, Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Debra Gratton, Olwyn Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Janine Bridges and either Bagh Ali or Adrian Knapper.

My guess is that the cabinet will reflect the Labour Party desire to have a 50/50 men/woman split.

We will know soon enough I suppose, but my guesses are more down to instinct as opposed to education.

You may have your own ideas?

S.O.C.C Get a Helping Hand From Former Councillor

The nationally recognised Save Our Children’s Centres campaign has received a boost recently with the news that former Longton South Councillor Mike Barnes has joined their team to advise them on council procedures and future strategies.

S.O.C.C has reignited their fight and will present a massive petition to the council opposing the 30% budget reduction which equates to a huge cut of £2.25million.
The council are embarking on a formal consultation over their proposals.

What is 100% clear to me, having met and held discussions with S.O.C.C leaders, is that their battle lines have been drawn and they are prepared to mount a sustained and aggressive challenge to these savage cuts. The campaign team feel that the services that are on offer will be decimated beyond all belief if these cuts go through.

The election gave the Labour Party 34 councillors and a healthy majority with little opposition in the chamber.
S.O.C.C are more than prepared to take up the opposition role.

Their campaign has gone viral and there are S.O.C.C groups appearing all over the country. They also have the support of Netmums which has a phenomenal web presence.

Stoke-on-Trent has had effective campaign groups in the past like the Trentham Action Group who managed to reverse the decision to close their high school by facilitating government involvement.

S.O.C.C has the potential to make the TAG look like a meeting of the Salvation Army!

They are very angry people at the moment but they are channelling that anger and are using it as a motivational tool.

They are angry about the Labour Party’s campaign leaflet claims that they have saving the children’s centres but failed to mention the proposed budget cuts.

They are angry at the lack of support from the three city MPs’ Joan Walley, Rob Flello and Tristram Hunt who they have described as “Ëœthe invisible man’.

One of the Children’s Centres that is most under threat from these cuts is in Fenton, in fact is virtually next door to the constituency office of Rob Flello.

It could see the services that it offers cut from 5 days down to one half day.

Given that Sure Start centres were the flagship of the last Labour Government, S.O.C.C are expecting, no make that demanding that all 3 Labour MP’s support their campaign.

The case of Fenton’s children’s centre puts Rob Flello in an unenviable predicament as he sees the work they carry out at close hand and his partner Karen Clarke has just been elected as Councillor for ““ yeah you guessed it, Fenton West & Mount Pleasant!

I’m surprised that there is a negative view of Tristram Hunt and I share the view of the S.O.C.C leaders that all our MPs need to back this campaign with every ounce of their moral fibre.

I urge the Labour Group councillors, the newly appointed cabinet, Council Leader & Deputy and the 3 Labour MPs’ ““ do not underestimate this group.

S.O.C.C Hull are about to force a judicial review the same is 100% on the cards here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Our City Council are proposing the severest cuts in Chidren’s Centres budgets nearly anywhere in the country.

Communities will not take this lying down, S.O.C.C will not take this at all and in the words of one of their main players ““ “You have been warned!”

Flint Kickstarts Labour’s Stoke Campaign

Yesterday saw a special meeting of Labour Party Members gather at Burslem’s School of Art. Labour MP’s Joan Walley and Tristram Hunt were in attendance along with the Leader of the Council, Mohammed Pervez. Caroline Flint, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was the guest speaker.

Joan Walley spoke of the need to unify the party and to move forward demonstrating a united party. Mohammed Pervez talked up the positive aspects of what Stoke-on-Trent Council had been able to do despite being weakened by coalition. He pointed out that the Children’s Centres had all been saved despite having to suffer cuts, BSF and Cobridge Health Centres were other Labour Initiatives he urged members to remind voters about. Pervez urged members not to be complacent, and to campaign hard to prove that Labour were the right party for Stoke-on-Trent. Members were then invited to ask Ms Flint questions.

Party members touched on localism the cuts to the local Police Force and the closure of local Police Stations. Flint talked about the differences in Labours promised 12% cuts in camparison to the Coalition’s 20%. She remarked about Police inspectors in her own constituency of Don Valley being brought forward to deal with back room functions such as complaints, as the force was stretched ever thinner. Commenting on “ a whole generation of Police officers who are being let go”; Flint painted an ominous future for policing in Britain. She denied that Labour were "scaremongering" on this topic describing the issue of cuts to the police as something "very real and very precious to people’s sense of safety in their communities", and that it was "absolutely right" that Labour hold the Government to account.

Former Mayor, Mark Meredith asked about the Impact of localism within the Labour movement. Flint responded by saying that Labour had some very good examples of local councils where they had looked at ways of involving the community, and that getting them involved was “a good Idea”. She reminded party members that the Labour Party was founded on ideas such as co-operatives and community groups. She drew a distinction between the localism of Labour and David Cameron’s “Big Society” stating that “ People are being told , if you don’t take this services over, then it’s gone” quoting local libraries and swimming pools as examples. When responding to a question about the cuts in Education and the NHS, Ms Flint reminded the audience that not every child was born with the advantage that some have, particularly those at the top of the government.

She finished off the meeting by stating that Labour’s policies, whether based on Education, NHS or safer communities were about fairness at the end of the day, and that what the coalition was doing at the moment was “completely unfair”.

I managed to catch up with Ms Flint and ask her a couple of questions relating to Labour in Stoke.

No Local Enterprise Zone For Stoke-on-Trent

Wednesdays Budget saw Chancellor, George Osborne MP announce that the first 11 of 21 Local Enterprise Zones will be set up in

  • Leeds
  • Sheffield
  • Liverpool
  • Greater Manchester
  • West of England
  • Tees Valley
  • North East
  • The Black Country
  • Derbyshire
  • Nottinghamshire
  • London

Although Stoke-on-Trent was not one of the initial 11 Enterprise Zones announced, it is hoped that it will be one of the successful partnerships to make it through the competitive round in summer for one of the final 10 zones yet to be announced. Guidance from CLG states, in general, only one designation will be made per partnership, but Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader Councillor Mohammed Pervez said in an interview with Tony Walley that Stoke-on-Trent has already been agreed as the favoured location for an enterprise zone by the Stoke & Staffordshire LEP.

According to the CLG the 11 Enterprise Zones named in the budget focus on city regions and those areas that have missed out in the last ten years.

Although looking at the amount of regeneration carried out in Manchester & Liverpool it would appear that they have both had massive investment in recent years.

The new Local Enterprise Zones will benefit from:

  • 100% business rate discount for five years worth up to £275,000 per business
  • Retention of business rates for 25 years
  • Simplified planning regulations
  • Super-fast broadband, this will be funded from the public purse where necessary
  • Enhanced capital allowances

Pits n Pots asked our three local MPs what they thought of the announcement on Enterprise Zones and Stoke-on-Trent not being listed as one of the first Enterprise Zones.

This budget announced 11 enterprise zones are to be set up and then revealed that 10 had already been chosen. So much for “localism” and transparency about where they should be! There is though to be a competition to determine which others are chosen but it is likely there will be far more applicants than winners. We need a recovery plan for the whole of the UK including areas with most need of new jobs. So I shall be asking our Local Enterprise Partnership what progress they have made and be ready to support any bid.
The bidding process for the Enterprise Zones was completely unclear – so we had no chance to influence the result. The challenge now is for the Stoke-on-Trent MPs to work with the Local Enterprise Partnership to secure a winning bid in this summer’s competitive round. It would be great to gain an Enterprise Zone but this is not the be all and end all for Stoke-on-Trent’s regeneration. I am just as worried by plans for the carbon floor price and its effects on the ceramics industry as the Enterprise Zone proposals.

Unfortunately Rob Flello MP had not responded at the time of publication despite being the only MP who had a political assistant cc’d on the request.

Tony Walley caught up with Council Leader Mohammed Pervez after yesterdays full council meeting to get his views on the Local Enterprise Zones, you can listen to his interview below.

Stoke North MP Fights For Tunstall Pool.

Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley is backing the fight to save Tunstall Pool.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council have confirmed that the Pool is to be closed and the Victorian building, which is listed, mothballed if no trust or organisation offer to take over the running of the pool.

Joan Walley MP has written to the City Council asking for urgent action to preserve one of the few remaining Victorian public baths.

Her letter to the head of Adult Services also questions why the city Council have failed to act in the previous 12 months.

RE: Budget Development 2011/12-2012/13

Tunstall Pool – URGENT

I am writing further to my meeting with you last week to follow up what can be done even at this late
stage for a reconsideration of the City Council’s recommended decision to close Tunstall Pool.

I have raised this also with Tristram Hunt MP and Rob Flello, MP and they support me in wanting to
ensure a solution is found and there is no interruption to the facility.
Firstly, when we met you said that I could have a copy of the consultant’s report which the City
Council has commissioned in respect of swimming policy. I don’t appear to have received that yet and
would be grateful for an early copy in order that I can respond to you.

Secondly, I would like confirmation that the members of the City Council have had chance to
consider this report themselves prior to finalising any decision about the future of Tunstall Pool. In
earlier meetings with the City Council I was advised that the report it intended to commission on
wider aspects of swimming policy would be the background against which any proposals in respect
of the future of Tunstall Pool would be made. It is as important as ever that any decisions made by the
City Council are informed ones.

I wish to make you personally aware of my approaches to your department over the last 12 months
on this matter, including a meeting with the Cabinet member and sports officer on this matter. I have
been in contact with the City Council since March last year, and have asked for and attended meetings
from April onwards. Throughout all of this my approach was to ask the City Council to work up
options and different business case scenarios for all eventualities, including budget pressures. The
Leader of the City Council was aware of my approaches in this respect.

Having approached the Amateur Swimming Association almost a year ago, and received their offer of
help to assist the City Council to work with them to secure a £50,000 grant to kick-start discussions
as to a long term way forward, including seeking other funding, I had expected that the City Council
would have made firm progress by now. I also asked the City Council to consider all other options,
even if that meant considering alternative ways of running the pool should that become necessary.
I also envisaged an application to HLF for that part of the building which is listed and to the Big
Lottery/sport funding bodies to provide the refurbishment and repair costs. I expected that the City
Council would draw up detailed plans and business scenarios to seek ways of securing capital and
revenue funding. I repeat again that I forwarded to the City Council the confirmation I was given
from the Lottery bodies that should the City Council approach them with bids they would meet with
the City Council to set out what funding options could be open.

I understand from David Sparkes, CEO of the Amateur Swimming Association that they are still
committed to providing some funding towards keeping Tunstall Pool open and operational in some
form and that they were awaiting the outcome of the Consultant’s Report to enable them to construct
a strategy whereby this could happen. The Amateur Swimming Association was informed that this
would not be available until the 24th February 2011. It does not seem logical to make a decision
regarding the future of the swimming pool without giving the Amateur Swimming Association and
other interested groups the opportunity to assist.

The Amateur Swimming Association is prepared to consider the creation of a Trust to operate
the swimming pool in the short term assuming the economics are viable. I understand that you
have provided them with financial data relating to the operation of the pool but they are awaiting a
structural report before submitting a proposal to the City Council. Surely the City Council should give
this option serious consideration before making an arbitrary decision?

I have asked for information to be able to understand how much the pool costs to run, what
investment has/ has not been spent over the years, what benefits the pool being run by a Trust/non-
profit making organisation/ social enterprise/ alternative provider could bring in respect of reduced
VAT, tax costs etc, what scope there could be to include Tunstall pool in any reconfiguration of
swimming, and whether the City Council would approach the HLF and other Sport funding bodies to
secure the funds to update the building to ensure reduced running costs and a viable business plan.

On each occasion I have had meetings there has been no evidence that serious proposals to achieve
this have been followed up and there does not appear to have been a business case to explore options
to keep the pool open.

Tunstall Pool is used extensively by those learning to swim, for fitness and health and for leisure. It is
an English Heritage Grade 2 Listed Building and it is difficult to see what alternative use it will be put
to once the pool is closed or moth balled by the City Council. It is used extensively by older people
who rely on it for good health and well being. It is used by youngsters learning to swim. It fulfils
a substantial part of the Council’s responsibilities to provide water safety. It is used extensively by
young and old alike within the local population and is located in an area with considerable deprivation
and need for social cohesion initiatives. There is a small studio available for events. There is no limit
to the wider use that could be made of it.

Throughout the City Council’s consultation response to the government cuts, local people have
contacted the City Council to ask for Tunstall Pool to be saved, but the strength of local feeling does
not appear to have been fully recorded or reflected in the City Council’s response. On this I have been
asked to receive a further petition on Friday 18/2/2011 at 3.15pm and I intend to do this and pass it on
to the City Council.

I still maintain that it is not too late for the Council to accept in good faith not just the weight of
public opinion but also the support it and I have from the ASA to work together to find a solution. It
is difficult to see how if the City Council decides to close or mothball the pool with immediate effect
how such an option could remain on the table, and experience elsewhere bears this out.

I am therefore asking if in the light of the interest of the ASA and in the best interests of swimming
across the City if you will look again at the costs of keeping it open until such time as talks with the
Amateur Swimming Association and others could establish whether a realistic proposal could be
put forward to keep the pool open, and in the medium and longer term secure the refurbishment that
would cut costs and secure a business plan that would ensure its future viability. I would also want
this to be considered in the light of the public health and social cohesion agenda.

This is a well used and loved historic pool. I am asking again if you will respond to me not in general
terms but with details of what has actually been done, or could now be done to set out options that

could preserve Tunstall Pool short, medium and long term at what I know is a challenging time for all
concerned.

I confirm again that I am willing to give what support I can and would like Stoke-on-Trent City
Council to explore a grant application, and approach other providers even at this late stage to get a
stay of execution to enable a robust Plan B to be drawn up.

I am copying this to cabinet members and to those who have contacted me about this so that they are
aware of my further request that the City Council makes informed decisions in respect of 4-ASCO6
ANS Tunstall Pool Closure.

Thank you for your attention to this. I would welcome an early meeting with yourself and with the
ASA and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Joan Walley MP
Stoke-on-Trent North

A community group has now been formed and they are seeking a stay of execution from the council while they explore the possibility of forming a trust.

A public meeting has been arranged for 7.30pm tomorrow 22nd February at Christchurch, Tunstall.

The organisers are hoping that a number of councillors and cabinet members will be in attendance and urge everyone to support their community group in the fight to save Tunstall Pool.

Local Councillors and MP’s Take Stoke-on-Trent’s Budget Cut Plight to Westminster

Councillor Mohammed Pervez, Leader of Stoke-On-Trent City Council will today accompany the regions three MP’s (Tristram Hunt, Joan Walley and Rob Flello) to Westminster to meet Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Andrew Stunell.

The meeting is a result of the MPs and the council lobbying Westminster to make a special case for Stoke-on-Trent to reduce the extent of the government imposed cuts through this years Financial Settlement.

“These cuts will be painfully hard for all council’s but for Stoke-on-Trent with our dependency on public sector jobs, the high level’s of people on long term benefits and the deprivation factors in the city, our resilience to these cuts is extremely low as indicated by an independent report last year.

“We know cuts need to be made, and we have already made significant progress to identify savings but we need Andrew Stunell to listen to us and present our case to Eric Pickles. Stoke-on-Trent should be an exception, a special case due to the combination of factors that contribute to the impact of these cuts being greater and unfair compared to most other council’s.

“These cuts are supposed to be fair but to me they do not seem fair for Stoke-on-Trent. I want to make sure central government is aware that these cuts will directly affect the most vulnerable in our city. We cannot continue to deliver all the services we currently deliver due to these unfair government cuts. There will be wide scale closure and reduction in service and facilities used by the young and old on our city.”

The meeting will take place today (Wednesday 12 January 2011) at 1:15pm at Portcullis House, Westminster, London. Councillor’s Kieran Clarke, Cabinet member for Finance, Performance and Governance and Ross Irving, Cabinet member for Community Safety, Partnerships & LSP for Stoke-on-Trent City Council will also attend the meeting.

Stoke-on-Trent – In A Nutshell?

The Guardian feature Stoke-on-Trent in the latest article in their series ‘Where Else Can I Go’.

The article makes interesting reading, especially to those who live outside of our city.

But what about those who live in the Potteries and surrounding areas? What do we make of the facts listed in the article?

Where else can I go? – The Guardian

What they said about Stoke-on-Trent

“Despite going through some of the most difficult times in the history of this council our staff continue to work hard for the people of this city and we are eager for that to carry on.”

“Charles Dickens once described Stoke as ‘a picturesque heap of houses, kilns, smoke, wharfs, canals and river lying as was most appropriate, in a basin,”

Population District

240,636.

Local politics,strong/>

Stoke-on-Trent city council is a unitary authority with no overall control, led by Labour as a four-party coalition.

MPs Three, all Labour.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South); Joan Walley (North) and TV historian Tristram Hunt (Central).

Local authority

The council “performs adequately” but does not deliver consistent value for money. Teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in England. The different political groups on the council make it more difficult for the council to conduct its business smoothly. Adult social services are “performing well.” Children’s services perform “adequately”.

Job prospects

The council wants to shed 700 jobs. Priority for applying for any vacancies is going to staff on the “at risk” list.

Health service

University hospital of North Staffordshire NHS trust runs North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary, the City General and the Central outpatients hospitals. A new £370m hospital on the City General site is due to open next year. North Staffordshire combined NHS healthcare trust, the mental health and learning disability trust, runs Harplands hospital. Stoke-on-Trent primary care trust and other trusts all qualify for a licence under the new Care Quality Commission standards regime.

Central government

HM Revenue and Customs and Cafcass have offices in the city.

Environment/regeneration

The council wants to install solar panels in all suitable council properties as it tries to become one of the country’s first sustainable cities. A new £20m transport/bus interchange redevelopment is going ahead next year. A planned £270m shopping complex will create 4,000 new jobs.

Voluntary sector

There are 23 international, 43 national and 271 local charities in the district with a combined income of £68m; 1,642 charitable trustees live here.

Commuter links

M6 junctions 15 (three miles); A50/A516 to Derby (34 miles); A50/A453 Nottingham (50 miles). Trains: London Euston (93 mins); Manchester (43 mins); Birmingham (47 mins).

Property prices

Two-bed flat: £60k- £150k; three-bed semi: £65k-£185k; four-bed detached: £150k-£699k.

Would the above information make you want to uproot your home and/or your business and relocate to Stoke-on-Trent?

Do the above headline facts hide the reality of the socio-economic prospects for the city?

Rob Flello Seeks Clarification on Stoke-on-Trent BSF Funding

Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello quizzed Prime Minister David Cameron on whether Stoke-on-Trent will receive enough Building Schools for the Future funding to complete the construction of the planned secondary schools.

Mr Flello took the opportunity during yesterday’s [Wednesday] Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister will be aware that by 7 July the Education Secretary would have already understood the financial situation and the “state of the books”, as the Prime Minister is so keen to keep stating, so why on 7 July, in this House, did the Education Secretary say:

“One announcement that I was able to make on Monday was that Stoke-on-Trent, as a local authority that has reached financial close, will see all the schools under Building Schools for the Future rebuilt”

Is there some confusion between the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary?

The Prime Minister was in no mood to reassure the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South.

We were left a complete mess in terms of Building Schools for the Future. Here was a programme that took up three years and hundreds of millions of pounds before a single brick was laid. The cost of building those schools was twice what it should have been, so we have scrapped that programme and made available £15 billion for the next four years. That means that school building will be higher under this Government than it was under the Labour Government starting in 1997.

The recent announcement by Michael Gove that those school building schemes spared, are now facing cuts in funding of 40%, despite their being given the green light when he reduced Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in July.

This will effect some 600 and will realise potential savings of £6bn. The announcement now throws the building of the so called “sample schools” specifically given the thumbs up by the Department for Education back in August.

Just how this latest announcement will impact on Stoke-on-Trent remains unclear.

It may well throw the future of the Discovery Academy into doubt.

The controversial school was to be sited on the Willfield Community Centre location.

The Community Schools Action Group, who are campaigning for a school to be retained on the Mitchell High School site, will be watching developments very closely indeed.
Joan Walley MP for Stoke-on-Trent North has also raised the issue about BSF funding in Parliament today.

She called for an urgent debate on the issue and was met with a noncommittal response.

Boundary Commission balderdash

The Boundary Commission’s final report on the new Ward boundaries and the number of Councillors for each Ward for the proposed slimmed-down City Council of 44 Members instead of the present 60 is a betrayal of the principles and criteria the Commission claims to have followed.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent have been badly betrayed.

Where is the justice, fairness and equality of having one large georgaphical Ward with 3 Councillors, 5 medium sized wards each with 2 Councillors and 31 Wards each with 1 Councillor? What on earth is the point of such an arrangement? Consider the following key points:

First, candidates in the 3 Member Ward will be addressing 14,000 voters over a large georgaphical area. Electioneering costs are going to be at least three times greater than those for candidates in the vastly smaller 1 Member Wards. Where’s the fairness in that?

Second, the 3 Councillors in the 3 Member Ward will have more than three times the number of voters to cater for compared with Councillors in the 1 Member Wards. It is no good saying “well in the 3 Member Ward there are 4,648 electors per Councillor which is more or less the number Councillors in single Member Wards have.” It doesn’t work like that! Each of those 3 will have nearly 14,000 electors chasing them.

Third, a large number of electors will be disgruntled and very likely further disenchanted with local democracy because the proposals are quite clearly unfair. Vast numbers of people will be asking: “Why have they got 3 or why have they got 2 when we have only 1 councillor?” Others, in the multiple Wards will be asking: “Why couldn’t we have just 1 Councillor and thus a clear line of accountablity?”

This slimming down of the Council and the redrawing of Ward boundaries was sparked off by the Government imposed Governance Commission which reported in 2007. It was fiercely critical of the state of the City Council and the general state of local politics and local democracy.

The Boundary Commission’s proposals do nothing to address those concerns. I hope the Transition Board will voice its concerns.

Above all, I hope Councillors of all groups, not just the Community Voice councillors, will express their deep disappointment with these proposals and persuade the three City MPs, Joan Walley, Tristram Hunt and Rob Flello, to convey the widespread concerns and opposition to this appallingly cobbled together dog’s dinner of electoral unfairness.

As I understand it, these proposals will be laid before both Houses of Parliament from today for 40 parliamentary working days. If no objections are tabled the proposals will be automatically enacted and will operate from next May’s City Council elections.

It is essential that objections are tabled, thus triggering a parliamentary debate. In the meantime, everyone in the City (and beyond) committed to fair democratic elections must lobby as many MPs as possible. Securing a debate is one thing; winning the vote and thus derailing these preposterious proposals is a major undertaking.

Make no mistake, I have been a vocal supporter of one Member one Ward. But I believe democracy would be better served and the people of Stoke-on-Trent more successfully re-engaged with local elections by throwing out this unjustifiable mish-mash and keeping the present 20 Wards and 60 Councillors with 3 Members per Ward until at some point in the future a fair 1 Member 1 Ward arrangement can be produced.

Now is the time to act. Send an email, postcard or letter to your MP saying simply “I/we want you to oppose these unfair electoral proposals.”