Stoke on Trent to re-think the way housing is allocating.

Stoke on Trent City Council have made plans to change the way it allocates its housing. They have said that in the past they had focused to much on filling homes other then finding the right tenants for the area the property is in.

Housing allocations service manager admitted on Friday night that aim had been to fill properties quickly and no thought had been put into actions. Now, new proposals are to put into consultation, with cabinet agreeing to them by the end of March.

This also means, if the changes go ahead that one housing officer will oversee a case throughout, a more rigid interview presses with prospective tenants and removal of choice-based lettings. These changes will be the first review of the policy for 4 years.

At the moment 9,500 people are shown on the council waiting list for property, with 1,800 or so homes becoming available every year. This means it can take from two to eight years for people to be re-housed. The average time a property is empty is 53 days.

Julie Griffin, housing allocations manager was speaking at a meeting she had been invited to by Paul Hulme, Meir High Residents’ Association chairman. Mr. Hulme blames bad tenants for bringing the area of Meir Down.

He said that the RA was sick of having all the problem people dumped in Meir. With much drug use and anti-social behaviour, decent people were put off moving to and living in the area.

Michael Coleman, councillor for the area said he believed that much of Meir’s problems were because of housing allocations policy. That it was a relentless problem and that the estate had problems regenerating with the constant allocation of properties to problematic tenants.

Do you think this is a good move, where dose the problem lie with these kind of people. They do have to live somewhere, don’t they. So what do we do, place them away from other troublesome families, get them to make an agreement that there further actions will improve, force them in privet rental homes.

BNP Challengers Fail To Overthrow Griffin

Three British Party [BNP] leadership contenders have failed to win enough support from party members to force a ballot to overthrow Nick Griffin.

Derek Adams received four votes, London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook received 23 and ex-national elections officer Eddy Butler got 214. A candidate required 814 votes to force a leadership challenge.

Mr Griffin received 995 nominations and will remain in power. He has led the BNP since 1999.

Earlier this year Griffin announced that he will stand down as leader by 2013.

A dismal campaign in both the local and general elections left party members questioning their future direction.

Just two days before the election, a major fall out rocked the BNP.

As a result of a dispute between Nick Griffin and former BNP webmaster Simon Bennett, the latter shut down the Party’s Website, Facebook and Twitter pages. The result was that the party was left with just a single temporary holding page on their home page on Election Day May 6th.

Griffin failed to make any impression what so ever through the ballot box in Barking. He finished a distant 3rd behind Labour’s Margaret Hodge, who doubled her vote and Conservative Simon Marcus.

The BNP did increase it’s share of the national vote by 1.83% but failed to deliver the Member of Parliament it claimed was within their grasp. The BNP also lost a number of Councillors across the country.

The finger of blame has also been pointed at Griffin for the near financial ruin of the far right party.

The ongoing legal action by Unilever over the use of a jar of Marmite in an election broadcast is set to cast the BNP a substantial amount of money.

The party’s legal advisor Lee Barnes has also quit the party amidst a series of allegations he has made about the BNP.

Mr Barnes claims that the BNP are ‘technically insolvent’ and that donations, membership renewals and enquiries have ‘slowed to a trickle’.

In Stoke-on-Trent the BNP under local leader Mike Coleman are desperate to rebuild post election in readiness for next years all out elections.

He will no doubt hope that this difficult turbulent phase of his party’s history is at an end.

Under Griffin’s stewardship and a fractious fragmented membership all bets will be off.

What Now For The BNP Nationally And In Stoke-on-Trent?

As the dust settles on both the General and Local Elections, the various parties will start analysing their performances and making the changes they need as a result.

Questions are being asked of the party leaders, particularly those who failed to deliver.

Gordon Brown is facing calls from a few of his MPs to step down and the same can be said of the British National Party Leader Nick Griffin.

There are many calls for Griffin to stand down and it is thought that Eddie Butler who is head of the Party’s Election Department could challenge him for the party leadership.

Contributors to a number of far right Internet forums are also questioning Griffin’s leadership. There have also being a number of high profile fall outs within the party in recent times.

First came the spat between Alby Walker and the BNP.

Walker accused Griffin of using the party to make himself rich and famous. He also claimed that there was a vein of holocaust deniers and members who display Nazi-esque sympathies within the party.

Then came the very public falling out between Griffin and Mark Collett, who at the time was the party’s publicity Director.

There was no shortage of publicity when it was revealed that Collett was plotting to overthrow Griffin as leader.

The result was that Collett allegedly threatened to kill Nick Griffin. The Police were called in to investigate the matter.

Finally, just two days before the election, another fall out rocked the BNP.

As a result of a dispute between Nick Griffin and former BNP webmaster Simon Bennett, the latter shut down the Party’s Website, Facebook and Twitter pages. The result was that the party was left with just a single temporary holding page on their home page on Election Day May 6th.

At the BNP’s recent election manifest launch, Nick Griffin was at pains to point out that his party no longer needed the mainstream media as their website had more hits than that of the Labour Party’s, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems put together. Those words must be coming home to roost right now.

Griffin failed to make any impression what so ever through the ballot box in Barking. He finished a distant 3rd behind Labour’s Margaret Hodge, who doubled her vote and Conservative Simon Marcus.

The BNP did increase it’s share of the national vote by 1.83% but failed to deliver the Member of Parliament it claimed was within their grasp.

In Stoke-on-Trent, BNP Deputy Chairman Simon Darby staged a massive campaign. He worked the constituency tirelessly. But his work failed to materialise into votes and he crashed to a humiliating defeat in Stoke Central.

Darby finished 4th behind Tristram Hunt [Labour], John Redfern [Lib Dem] and Conservative Norsheen Bhatti who is of Asian heritage.

The electorate often described as the BNP ‘jewel in the crown’ chose an ‘Asian belly dancer’ as the BNP often refer to her, over the Deputy Chairman of a nationalist party. Surely there can be no greater insult to their policies?

Mike Coleman failed to oust Rob Flello in Stoke South whilst Melanie Baddeley failed to make any impact in Stoke North and managed to go through the entire campaign without giving a media interview on her chances and her party’s core aims and values.

The only time she did engage with the media was in reaction to the news that her husband had been arrested and subsequently charged with possessing cannabis. He is currently on Police bail.

Mike Coleman is keen to get the message out that his party is not defeated and will pick themselves up and work towards the all out elections for Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 2011.

But, the BNP will have their work cut out if they are to halt and reverse their apparent decline.

At the local elections they lost 26 councillors across the country including all 12 from Barking and Dagenham.

They now have just 19 councillors in total across the country and are 15 behind the Green Party who have 34.

To put their task of challenging the 3 main parties into context you need to realise that the Conservatives have 3369 councillors, Labour have 2865 and the Lib Dems have 1665 across the country.

We managed to catch up with Stoke BNP Group Leader Mike Coleman earlier today who remains upbeat about his party’s performance and future prospects.

Listen to the Audio Interview below:

SOT South Parliamentary Candidates Answer some Questions

I asked all my PPCs some questions of particular interest to me: I said
“I expect you are getting many such requests but please consider mine. I am a floating voter and blogger for http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/ I know some of you and your views but would like to ask you all exactly the same questions, for my own interest and for potential publication in a blog. I know you have not the time to give long answers but a few key points in relation to your policy and views on just some of these questions would be very informative.

I have had replies from four of the seven; Mike Coleman, James Rushton, Rob Flello and Terry Follows.

QUESTION 1: What have you done so far, if anything and what do you think still needs to happen with regard to BSF in Stoke-on-Trent?

MC
“There needs to be a challenge on the closure of Mitchell High School. The merger of these two distant schools is a ridiculous proposition. There needs to be a two school solution to this problem. The governance models for the Academies are suspect, it looks as though local parent governors will only be present on the governing body as a token. The curriculum in the academies will be decided by the sponsors, I don’t like private firms having more influence over folks’ kids education than their parents or community governors.”

JR
“I am passionate about ensuring that young people in Stoke South get the best possible education. I recognise the importance of having a good school at the heart of the local community. My selection as the Conservative Candidate was in December, after the decision to keep Trentham High School open. I believe that this was the correct decision and that Trentham is the right location for investment. Had I been the PCC at that time, I would have lobbied for investment on that site.” I have had close links with Mitchell High School. The Sentinel have carried a number of reports that have covered my role as a business advisor and mentor on their “Step Up” programme that was led by Mo Chaudry. I found the whole scheme very rewarding and am keen to take part in any initiative to roll this out further across the City. The commitment and enthusiasm of all of the young people involved really impressed me. They were great ambassadors for their school. Mitchell is outside my constituency and therefore I will leave it to the candidates in that Constituency to comment further.
I am disappointed that the BSF initiative has been a political football. It is my understanding that the Labour Government asked the Council for a strategy for BSF. The initial response was that the City needed 16 schools. This was not acceptable to the Government who demanded that the Council revise their plans and that these plans should be for no more than 12 schools. Following justified, and understandable, public reaction to these plans, the Government have agreed to retain 14 schools. The fight now goes on for Mitchell. The key challenge is that the Government has not increased the amount of funding available to BSF as it has agreed to retain additional schools.”

RF
“I know you are aware of the work I did to support the tireless campaigning of those who wanted to keep Trentham High School open. Whilst the Conservative local Councillors neglected to stand up for Trentham High, I stood up for the needs of my constituents and insisted it stay open. I was delighted that these efforts, and my constant badgering of the then Minister for Schools, Jim Knight, resulted in the school being saved. I am now making similar efforts to ensure a two-school solution to the problems with the proposed 20:20 Academy, and I hope that in the next Parliament I will have the opportunity to achieve a similar result to that in Trentham. More broadly, I am hopeful that this two-school solution removes the final major obstacle to the Building Schools for the Future programme so it can at last go ahead. My major concern is that this money could be withdrawn should the Conservatives win a majority at the General Election, and I therefore feel that it is vital the City Council move quickly to finalise the BSF proposals. The whole saga of BSF in the City has been a debacle and I hope that the Council have learnt valuable lessons for any future consultations that they carry out.”

TF
“I took on and won what I saw as a personal fight to save the local high school –
Trentham High in my ward. However there would have been no success without the fantastic parents, teachers, the head, grans, grandads and dare I say it ““ yes of course Rob Flello MP – they were all fantastic – what a team! Ged should use us more often! The final academy site should be on a site we already own – not a greenfield.”

ND
I am pleased with the very good support that Mike and Rob and Terry have given to Trentham and Mike and Rob also continue to fight for a good solution on the Mitchell issue. Mike is a good council member and Rob is a good parliamentary representative on this. Rob worked very well with Mark Fisher before Mark had to stand down and has continued to do so even though Mitchell is outside his constituency. Terry, whilst supportive of Trentham, has not been supportive in the case of Mitchell since being appointed to cabinet, which is a disappointment. I am glad James has enthusiastically developed close links with Mitchell High School but the Conservatives on the council are hindering BSF progress. On school sites, it’s a little more complicated than James states, Mitchell is outside the SOT South constituency but Edensor is in SOT South and the SERCO plan is to merge them and since the Adderley Green planning was defeated it’s not clear which constituency the school or schools would end up in. I agree with James that BSF shouldn’t be used as a political football but it still is, whatever has gone before the Labour minister has now agreed the council can decide on a school on Mitchell and another school, so Ross Irving can blame them for the past but should take the opportunity now to do what they are allowing.

QUESTION 2: What should be done to tackle the underprovision (13,500) of high school pupil places (14,642 by 2020) in the city? See:

https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AgnPMdnm-yQhdFhybm13ampicFVBTUtCYnBlQUpCb2c&hl=en

MC
“Clearly there needs to be review of the population predications for our city. This review needs to be independent and unbiased. As chair of the CYP Scrutiny Committee I have already initiated this review, it’s on our work programme.”

JR
“The City needs a rolling plan that reflects anticipated roll numbers. This is the responsibility of the City Council. As the MP, it will be my responsibility to understand what is being proposed and to ensure that there has been appropriate public consultation.”

RF
“You may be aware that I was at the forefront of the movement to highlight the issue of school pupil places. I went so far as to produce an alternative proposal to address this problem a few years ago. If re-elected, I will be pushing the Council to account for this predicted underprovision in its final plans.”

TF
“Extra school – less pupils in the academy.”

ND
I am glad Mike is looking into this on CYPO&S, his committee has an excellent track record, it is a shame the cabinet treat key recommendations with contempt. I am glad Rob would help push the council to deal with this also. I’m amazed the council leaders think it’s ok to carry on ignoring this problem. James says it is just a council issue but it’s not so clear because it’s PfS who signed off the SERCO plans, without enough comeback on the numbers in my view. Terry is right about an extra school but it would also be better to plan for the right numbers now than have to expand later.

QUESTION 3: What policies are of key importance with regard to education in general?

MC
“The leadership teams (head teacher and senior officers) in all Stoke Schools need a revamp. I have witnessed excellent education being delivered under difficult circumstances in problem schools. The only reason that the education (attainment) was good was because of the highly developed and motivated Head teachers and leadership team. I want to see this vital role revolutionised and improved.”

JR
“Address the needs of the individual. Provide children in Stoke-on-Trent South with an education that enables the individual to realise their potential. Seek fairness of funding. Lobby and fight to seek equal funding, per pupil, to that received in other areas of the UK. This inequality cannot go on. Raise standards through robust examinations and rigorous curriculum. Reform the National curriculum so that it focuses on core subjects and is more challenging. To achieve this: replace Key Stage 1 Sats with a simple reading test; keep and reform Key Stage 2 Sats; allow state schools to do the same high quality exams as private schools; put universities and exam boards in charge of designing academic exams, and businesses and industry in control of designing vocational exams.”

RF
“I believe the most important education policy locally will be that the BSF money is not withdrawn. The damage that would be done to the long-term future of secondary education if this were to happen would be unimaginable. Maintaining the increased teacher and teaching assistant numbers under Labour is also vital, as is funding for Sure Start, which gives children access to early learning and ensures they have basic numeracy and literacy skills before starting at primary school. Finally, I feel that universal provision of free school meals, which I have been campaigning for, should be introduced, as the benefits of a hot and healthy meal to children’s health and learning are well known.”

TF
“Smaller Classes.”

ND
Mike’s point about having a good senior leadership team is spot on in my experience also. I largely agree with James’ points on curriculum and funding although I’m not a huge fan of SATS. Key stage 3 SATS (not mentioned) going was great, from my experience with my own children. It really freed up curriculum flexibility to allow learning to carry on and give access to a larger range of GCSEs and more challenges without stalling to revise for SATS. Bright children can be bored to tears with the SATS at all levels when they find the endless practice too easy and this has the potential to lead to bad behaviour. Some children I understand can find the SATS stressful. I don’t share Rob’s worry about BSF funding being withdrawn locally, SOT has probably caused so many problems with implementation that not even a Conservative government would want to mess with it now. I agree maintaining staffing is hugely important and I’ll assume Rob is right on Sure Start as I don’t know a lot about it. I disagree with Rob on school meals because when money is tight I think those of us who can afford it can still pay. I agree with Terry that class sizes should not be too large but I think they are currently not bad, one thing I’ll give Labour credit for is reducing primary class sizes to decent levels.

QUESTION 4: What are your views on the presence and activities of the Governance, Transition and Performance Board in the city?

MC
“The Governance Board is a government (Labour) manufactured body of local lefties and do-gooders who have been given the job of ‘repairing’ broken politics in Stoke. Actually their function is rig the political structure in Stoke so that establishment parties can gain control of the council, again, and to dump out of politics the BNP and other opposing political organisations. What we are witnessing in Stoke is the destruction of representative local democracy whereby electors are able, year on year, to pass judgement over their political representatives. Obviously this process is extremely damaging to a minority regime (Lib/Lab/Con) that is implementing and unpopular and destructive agenda (care homes, dimensions, cultural quarter, council tax, etc). And so the government has decided to end our local democratic process and replace it with a safer process that will enable the Lab/Con/Lib gang to continue to implement their agenda free from interference from the electorate. Perhaps this measure in Stoke has come prior to the £60million worth of cuts that are to be made over the next 3-5 years, they just don’t want and can’t handle the challenge on this magnitude of cuts.”

JR
“Local democracy is my key objective for the City. The decades of failure by our City Council and the poor calibre of a significant number of the local councillors has disappointed me. This coupled with the failure of the 3 Labour MPs to operate at the correct level gave rise to the need for government intervention. Given these failings, the Governance, Transition and Performance Board was viewed as necessary. I believe that this group has brought some value to the City. The Board led the recruitment and appointment of the new Council Chief Executive – which I see as a good first step in raising the standards of the Council by recruiting officers with the necessary skills and of the right calibre. The local Conservatives have engaged with the Transition Board in a positive way ““ Stephen O’Brien, Shadow Minister for the Potteries, has had regular meetings with Dr Clarke. They have also supported us in the “ËœBe A Councillor’ initiative, which has enabled us to field high calibre candidates in the forthcoming Council elections. It is vital that this Board stick to their remit and recognise that they are transitional.”

RF
“I am well aware of the concerns that many people have over the Board. The work that is being carried out by the Board has the potential to be extremely valuable as the Council is in dire need of better leadership and talent in the Council chamber. What troubles me, however, is the fact that there seems to have been little effort to engage the local community. All residents have the right to be involved in how the governance of the City will change over the coming years, and I have written to the Minister with responsibility for this area to pass on the concerns of both myself and constituents. I have received assurances that the Board will be holding open meetings and publishing minutes a great deal more quickly than has been the case so far, and if re-elected I will push to ensure that this is the case.”

TF
“Get rid!”

ND
I wholeheartedly agree with Mike and Terry on this issue and disagree with James and Rob. I don’t agree with the reasons for bringing in the transition board, I don’t like impositions, I have no faith in it, it is undemocratic and I want it gone. I can not forgive Labour for dictatorially using the Local Government Act 2000 on us to change our electoral system against the will of the people and the council and as Mike points out, remove our right to annually pass judgement on our democratic representatives.

QUESTION 5: What changes, if any, should be made to voting systems?

MC
“Been thinking about proportional representation, think we need it in local government.”

JR
“I have faith in our “Ëœfirst past the post’ approach to elections. There is a need to reform the House of Lords. I support a partially elected second chamber.”

RF
“I am broadly in favour of moving towards a more representative voting system in time for the subsequent General Election. I believe there are a number of questions that need to be answered before such a system could be installed, however I hope that the referenda promised by the Labour party, both on Alternative Vote and House of Lords reform, will be possible in the next Parliament.”

TF
“Should be made compulsory.”

ND
I agree with Rob and disagree with James. I’m not actually sure what I think in detail. I’d like proportional representation but also to have identifiable representatives associated with areas, but these things contradict each other. I’d like some sort of PR / STV / AV so our vote really matters. In the general election I’ll vote knowing who I vote for won’t get in. With PR there is more of a chance of the vote doing something, though I’m aware the flaw in my argument is it contradicts independents. On the whole most Liberal Democrats seem to want STV and most Conservatives seem to want FPTP. Labour wanted FPTP when they were popular but not now. I’m wondering if AV might be a practical compromise that would improve things for the voter and keep most people fairly happy. I would like the challenge of having to order my voting preferences, this may get people to put more thought into it. I don’t like the current unelected house of lords. I don’t know about Terry’s idea of voting being compulsory. On the one hand it encompasses wider democracy and may encourage people to think about it who may not otherwise. On the other hand if it doesn’t, do I want government decided by people who just go and vote randomly without thinking? I would like the voting age lowered to 16.

QUESTION 6: What is your opinion of the draft recommendation of the Boundary Commission and do you intend to respond to them on it? See:

http://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/west-midlands/staffordshire/stoke-on-trent-electoral-review

MC
“It’s actually better that the version created by the council staff, that was rejected by the council earlier this year. But it must be remembered that this boundary change and all out election scam is a creation of the sinister Governance Commission, this is just a part of the undermining of democracy in Stoke.”

JR
“The Stoke-on-Trent Conservative Association took a very active part of the consultation. I was part of this process and my views were incorporated in to the Association’s response to the Boundary Commission. I am pleased to see the introduction of single member wards. These provide an opportunity for the local political parties to engage with the electorate. They also will enable the councillors to be better known and more accessible and accountable to the people that they represent. My one concern is that there is a risk that the Boundary Commission will break up local communities. It is important that local communities are kept together.”

RF
“I believe the move to the single-member wards proposed by the Boundary Commission will be extremely positive. I remain somewhat bemused by the fact that it is proposed there should be wards that have two, and even three Councillors, but generally speaking I believe the recommendations are well made.”

TF
“Again – fought for what the people in Trentham wanted, same boundaries but with 2 councillors instead of 3. Happy with that, but other wards that do not have defined boundaries look in a mess with their changes. If the object was to reduce the number of councillors, why not keep the wards the same, but with 2 instead of 3 councillors, or was it designed to alter the political make up of the wards!”

ND
I agree with Mike that the boundary commission has been brought in to help the governance commission undermine democracy. But in terms of detailed boundary positions the recommendations are not too bad. I don’t like the mix though, I would prefer for fairness all single member or all two member wards, I think public opinion from the published responses points more to the latter.

QUESTION 7: Is there a better system of local government you would like to see to enable greater grass roots democracy in the city?

MC
“The current system is very good, I’m happy with it. But if the people want better local government then they’ve got to get interested and involved.”

JR
“Increase transparency to help cut waste, by requiring the Council to publish on-line details of all spending and contracts over £500, and reveal the names, titles and salaries of all staff earning over £60,000. Councillors should be required to vote explicitly to authorise the salaries of the highest paid staff. Return to the committee system of local government and promote ward budgets for councillors. Allow local residents to be able to petition to hold referendums on any local issues.”

RF
“I personally feel that enabling greater grass-roots democracy is one of the most important and challenging issues facing the City Council. I have made it one of my priorities to meet with Residents Associations and similar groups across the constituency over the last five years and will continue this engagement if I am re-elected. I feel it is very important that the Council listen to such groups but even more vital is ensuring that the views of as many people as possible are considered by our council. I would also like to see the Council do a great deal more engagement work and there are many ways in which they could do this. Good local Councillors make a great deal of difference but Council officials should also hold surgeries in areas where participation is low; consultations on important issues should also involve as many people as is possible, rather than the minimum number of people as are required to meet a legal obligation, such as with planning issues. I hope that the move towards smaller wards, the attraction of more capable Councillors and perhaps a move towards the establishment of Parish Councils will lead to much greater grass-roots engagement.”

TF
“Is there a better system of local government to engage grass roots democracy in the City – You tell me, maybe proportional representation.”

ND
I agree with James and Rob and disagree with Mike on this because I am not happy with what we have. Like James, within the council I’d like to see an end to cabinet dominance and a committee system for recommendations then whole council votes on most things. More widely I’d like some coherent structure, maybe based on residents’ associations, maybe ‘parishes’ or something out in the communities, with a decision making process on local matters and spending of ward budgets, not too far different from now but with better and recognised organization. If a system as Rob suggests were adopted I would like it to be city wide for equality and fairness. I would agree with Mike that it really does need people to get involved though.

QUESTION 8: What changes, if any, need to be made in the provision of NHS health, dental and optician services, social housing, leisure and sports facilities, generally and in the city?

MC
“This question would require an answer the size of the yellow pages, I will therefore be brief. Social housing should be governed by the communities that occupy it, let their values and judgements prevail. We need a swimming pool/leisure centre in Stoke South, I favour a ‘Longton Lido’ with a large family area. The NHS is doing the right thing at last by opening the local clinics across the city.”

JR
“Some of the services listed ““ social services, leisure facilities etc ““ are provided by the Council, and as an MP I would not wish to interfere in the democratic process at a local level, however I would like to see a focus on improvements in all of these areas. All of the Conservatives candidates standing for the Council would help to deliver this. I see improved access to an NHS dentist as a key priority. I also support refocusing NHS budgets from bureaucracy and administration to frontline doctors and nurses.”

RF
“I believe that the measures contained within the Labour Party’s manifesto are the most progressive of those suggested by any party. The trebling of investment for the NHS over the last thirteen years has resulted in huge improvement, however there is still more that needs to be done. I personally had some misgivings over the policy towards dental provision, however I feel that the initial difficulties are now being addressed and the number of people with access to a dentist has increased steadily. Stoke-on-Trent needs more social housing and leisure and sporting facilities and I pledge to continue the work I have done with local Councillors and the City Council to ensure that this takes place.”

TF
“All need to be improved.”

ND
This is a big question and everyone makes good points. Gripes from my personal experience is the NHS dental costs are huge, many treatments have to be at the private cost which is even bigger and some treatments are not even provided by the NHS dentists. The children’s vouchers for glasses are not enough to cover the cost of them. Although it does not affect me personally now, I am a firm believer in the provision of social housing, which was available and I benefited from in childhood. Leisure facilities are hugely important to people’s health and general well being and I worry they could be an easy target for cuts when finances are short.

QUESTION 9: How best should crime, drugs and antisocial behaviour be tackled?

MC
“We need a very hard line on drug dealing in the community. I’ve seen communities destroyed by the weakling council’s approach to this matter. Problematic drug user/dealers must not be allowed to live in the community, their presence is too destabilising and destructive. They must be sent away to live in a place where they can have their addiction resolved.”

JR
“Return trained police officers to the beat. To achieve this, the Conservatives will cut the red tape that ties officers to their desks, including completely scrapping the “Ëœstop’ form, which officers have to fill in every time they stop someone on the street. We will restore discretion to police officers so that they can respond easily and quickly to minor misdemeanours.”

RF
“A huge increase in funding for the Police under Labour is largely responsible for the drop in the level of crime. There is still much to be done, however, and it needs a targeted approach from a number of agencies to address drug abuse and anti-social behaviour in the areas where it is prevalent. I have held meetings with residents in a number of areas over the last five years where anti-social behaviour has been a problem, and the resulting action, including gating schemes, has led to improvements in many areas. More widely, however, it is my experience that anti-social behaviour seems to be more of a problem in areas where provision for young people is lacking. I therefore feel that addressing this problem will go a long way to help.”

TF
“Harder punishments.”

ND
I agree with the points made by everyone. Communities need rid of the drug dealers but Mike’s solution is tricky because of where to send them to, nobody would want the drug centre in their area. Maybe they just need to be kept in prison for longer in line with what Terry suggests.

QUESTION 10: What changes do you think should be made to any or all forms of taxation?

MC
“I suppose we will always have tax, the only way you can justify its raising from the public is if the monies are to be spent on things that benefit the public. And so I would like to see a more open and transparent reporting of how taxes are spent and how much.”

JR
“Reform and simplify the tax system:
“¢ Stop Labour’s tax on jobs ““ no increase in Employers National Insurance as this would kill the recovery.
“¢ Only millionaires will pay inheritance tax ““ raise the threshold to £1 million.
“¢ Recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system.
Support businesses
“¢ Support job creation – No Employers NI for the first 10 jobs created in new businesses.
“¢ Reduce tax burden on small businesses ““ cut the rate from 22p to 20p. In addition, make business rate relief automatic.”

RF
“As we seek to address the large deficit that the country faces, it is clear that taxes need to rise. This should not, however, be at the expense of low earners, and I find it absolutely despicable that the Tories are proposing a tax cut to the very richest members of our society. I believe that increasing tax on those people who earn vast sums of money is the fairest way of addressing the deficit, and I am in favour of the “ËœRobin Hood Tax’ that has been proposed on banks. As the economy grows, so will tax revenues, and so it is vital that we do all we can to continue revitalising the economy and encourage further growth.”

TF
“You should not be taxed on your pensions or savings. This would result in more money being spent in the economy.”

ND
This question is difficult, I’m not sure I understand the wider impact of what James and Terry suggest so I’m not sure whether I agree. I do agree with the simpler points made by Mike and Rob but would add that I believe in tax and spend socialism but am annoyed about the mismatch under Labour which has resulted in massive debt that will hit services and affect my children into the future. I don’t agree with James about recognising marriage in the tax system, mostly because of the unfairness on any children involved. Parents may be blamed for the “Ëœbroken society’ but it isn’t the children’s fault. Also why only recognise it if one spouse refrains from working? I’m not convinced that tax would affect marriage. I would like a far simpler tax system overall and would, oddly, be in favour of a local income tax instead of council tax even though I would likely be worse off, just because it seems fairer.

It’s been interesting thinking about this, but what does it tell me? I think it confirms that personally I’m not so much inclined to James’ Conservative policies. I seem to agree with Mike on most things but don’t want to vote for the British National Party because of policies I disagree with too much, like capital and corporal punishment and their poor published education policy including grammar schools. I seem to agree with Rob on a lot of things but can not forgive Labour for huge national debt, excessive privatization, academies and interfering in local democracy. So I need to vote for Terry as a good compromise, I agree with him a fair amount and it provides a good independent protest vote. I think Rob is most likely to win the election because it would need a very large swing for him not to.

The ongoing BSF fiasco ““ future pupil numbers

I’ve been too quiet for a little while now on BSF pupil numbers. I have been arguing this point with SERCO and the multitude of Children and Young People’s portfolio holders over the last two years, although I have not said much in the last 6 months because nobody with any influence in the council wants to see sense. But it is a good time to say something again now ahead of the visit by Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker in January.

The SERCO plans have suffered throughout from serious flaws, some of which have been eventually addressed, but there remains poor planned provision, with respect to both pupil numbers and geographical location, especially in the centre of the city and to some degree in the South of the city.

To recap the background, which many of you will be aware of, the council plans reorganisation giving a total of 14 high schools; James Brindley, St. Margaret Ward, Haywood, Brownhills, Holden Lane, Birches Head, St. Peter’s, 20:20, Thistley Hough, St. Thomas More, St. Joseph’s, Blurton, Trentham, Sandon. The current Longton High School has already ceased new intake, to be taken over by Sandon. The plan is for Berry Hill to close and merge with St. Peter’s onto the current site of the 6th form college and for Mitchell and Edensor to close to be replaced by 20:20. The mergers are geographically stupid. It makes far better sense to merge Mitchell and Berry Hill to a new school on the Mitchell site as is the wish of the local communities and as is being campaigned for by the Community_Schools_Action_Group. This would avoid a gaping hole in provision in the centre of the city. Planning permission to build 20:20 on Adderley Green has been seen off by the “ËœSpringfield’_Action_Group, the Community Schools Action Group, their representations and the council’s Development Management committee.

What I embark on now is an analysis of the provision of pupil places across the city. This is made difficult by the lack of openness of SERCO and the council and the continual movement and disappearances of information that does exist on the council’s web site. A particular outrage is the reluctance of SERCO to publish the BSF strategy for change part 2. They published part 1 but I wanted to see their up to date reasoning in part 2. Well if they are going to publish it, I don’t know when. I get the impression they are just proceeding with the outline business case that is supposed to come after part 2. However, I have put together a spreadsheet of pupil numbers which is as accurate as I can manage, given what I have available to me. You will need to refer to the link ““ Spreadsheet_of_Pupil_Numbers ““ to follow my analysis.

Sheet 1 shows the raw data and where I have sourced this from. Much of it is taken from the strategy for change part 1, but where there is more recent information available, I have used that. The information on planned pupil numbers for Trentham High has been changed since the strategy for change part 1, but then disappeared from the web site, but I do have the hard copy which was posted out stating that the capacity is 750, which I know anyway as I am a governor at Trentham High. The numbers highlighted in yellow in sheet 1 are SERCO’s own figures and show the high school population for the city decreasing from 13,113 in 2008 to 11,790 by 2014, then rising again to 14,642 by 2020. Also stated is the SERCO plan to provide 13,050 high school places, another stupidity that should be glaringly obvious to everyone. Do you not think that building schools for the FUTURE should be properly providing for 10 years from now? I do. You will notice also that the 13,050 high school places the council says it plans to provide is not in agreement with the total of 13,820 places I have referenced. In both cases I am using the council’s own figures, I can not help it that these do not agree. Perhaps there is a more consistent story in the strategy for change part 2, but how can I know as I am denied that information. I use the 13,820 for further calculations as at least it is closer to the 14,642 needed, despite not going far enough. If the 13,050 is indeed the plan, the situation will be worse than suggested by my analysis.

In sheet 2 I try to analyse provision in different areas of the city. To do this I make certain assumptions which may not be completely accurate but should at least provide a good estimate. I know the pupil numbers in the separate schools for the year 2008 and I know the total number of 11-16 year olds which is the age range I am analysing. But for the 3 schools with sixth forms I do not know individually how many 11-16 year olds there are, so the first assumption I make is to assign these in proportion to total pupil numbers. The second assumption I make is that pupil numbers will dip then increase in the same proportion, based on the year 2008 figures, everywhere across the city. I certainly know of one case for which this is inaccurate, Trentham, for which the 2008 figure is artificially low. We have 136 FIRST CHOICE applicants for 140 places in 2010 and look set to fill all places even when the annual intake rises to 150 from 2011. There may be other examples of figures which are rather too low or too high that I do not have knowledge of. So the best I can do in the absence of a complete set of individual projections is apply an equivalent algorithm to all schools.

I calculate the spare places in the planned schools for the year 2008 and for the year 2014 when high school pupil numbers reach their lowest point and for the year 2020. In these calculations I have followed the council’s planned mergers. Negative numbers result where the school can not accommodate the calculated number of pupils destined for it.

Then I imagine what I would have to do if I were in charge of applications to the schools and have to send pupils to alternative schools. These are listed in the sheet, obviously trying to select “Ëœnearby’ alternative schools, with the aim of solving the problem of any negative numbers. The adjusted figures are shown in the coloured columns. Working with the 2008 figures I fail to accommodate enough pupils in the 20:20 school and end up with 138 pupils, likely living in the Bentilee or Berryhill area, without a school place (orange column). There is some capacity elsewhere but how reasonable would it really be to send these pupils to Brownhills? It’s just as well other schools were still open in 2008. Looking ahead to 2014, I have initial problems with accommodating pupils at 20:20 and Sandon, but manage with alternative provision at Birches Head and schools in the South of the city (blue column), not that families involved would necessarily be happy with this. But looking at numbers rather than families, from the 2014 figures all is apparently well with the world. This lowest high school population year is presumably the blinkered SERCO focus, their idea of future not extending beyond 4 years. But looking ahead to the year 2020 reveals impending disaster. This is bound to be the case with the ridiculous policy of providing fewer pupil places than pupil numbers in the city, but is made much worse by the distribution of the pupil places that are provided. It can be seen from sheet 2 (pink column) that the new 20:20 and St. Peter’s fail to cater for the needs of the centre of the city with over 800 pupils without high school places and there is also some shortage of places, over 200, in the South of the city. These amount to the size of another school. The only available pupil places are in the far North of the city, well beyond any reasonable expectation of pupil travel.

My analysis uses the council’s own real data. Because these are high school data they do not depend on estimated birth rates, they depend on real live children who now exist and will need high school places in the future. If there is any reason why there could be any large exodus of young people from the centre and South of the city to ease the situation I would like to hear of it but I know of none. Certainly I do not believe, for our sake or anyone else’s, we should be seeking to dump our young people out of the city to Staffordshire for their education. I am aware I have used some assumptions in my calculations but these are fairly reasonable and I would be very happy to receive further facts and figures that could help refine them. But I would not be willing to settle for any unsubstantiated SERCO statement that their planned provision is adequate. If they think that, they should prove it by publishing their own detailed analysis and they should prove it for the future, for 2020, not just for 2014 to make their lives easier. Consider the lives of the young people of the city!

The best solution to the problem of under provision I have highlighted is to build the 14th school on the Mitchell site, to address the largest shortfall both in pupil numbers and geographical provision and cater for the needs of Bentilee, Berryhill, Townsend and the general Bucknall area. But further, I would suggest building a 15th school on a suitable site, possibly the Longton High School site, to better cater for pupil numbers in the Weston Coyney, Meir and Sandford Hill areas. This is no startling new suggestion that I am making. The 15 high school solution was the view of Mark Fisher, Rob Flello and Joan Walley 2 years ago when they worked with schools to suggest an alternative to the SERCO plans. Rob Flello MP has since then reiterated the argument for 15 schools

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/2009/04/rob-flello-wants-15-high-schools

and recently when the planning application to put 20:20 on Adderley Green was thrown out, Mark Fisher MP further reinforced the argument for 15 schools ““ see his video interview on:

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2009/12/planning-application-parkhall-academy-refused

The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee consistently presents sensible arguments for the right mergers of schools, the right number of schools and the right location of schools ““ see for example chair Cllr Mike Coleman’s video interview on:

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2009/12/contamination-could-ko-springfield-academy-plans

but many of the scrutiny recommendations are ignored by the leader and his cabinet. If we really can not have 15 schools, the 14th should be sited at Mitchell and the rebuild/refurbishment plans for schools in the South of the city should be increased to accommodate the pupil numbers.

Apparent in the issues I have discussed is a distinct lack of openness and transparency and engagement with people, the things that government are always harping on about but just are not happening locally. Instead the council leader and cabinet are in my view treating interested citizens of the city with contempt. Why do they pay no attention to the needs and wishes of communities such as those served by Mitchell and Berry Hill High Schools? Why do they seemingly have no regard for the representations of the ward councillors for these areas. Why do they ignore their own scrutiny committee? What has happened to openness, transparency and democracy? Why is the BSF strategy for change part 2 not published and accessible to ordinary citizens? To me, something is very wrong.

Jim Knight when he was schools minister, under persuasion from Rob Flello, helped fix the Trentham High problem by strong advice to deputy mayor Mohammed Pervez. Let us hope that Vernon Coaker and Ed Balls, with Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, are just as successful with advice to Ross Irving. Let’s finally please get sufficient pupil places provided in schools in the right locations, to provide better future education for the young people of the city along the lines suggested by the local communities who will be directly affected.

…Oh – and a Happy New Year to Everyone.

Wol on Alby and the BNP…

Alby Walker’s decision to quit as Leader of the BNP and to not stand for election in 2010, has come as a massive shock to me.

This was out of the blue and totally unexpected. Like others I had heard the rumours of unrest in the BNP Group, but in the meetings I observed, the BNP always seemed as one.

Alby Walker has been a charismatic character in the council chamber for a number of years now. As BNP Group Leader he has instilled in his fellow far right councillors the need to be effective and hands on in the wards that they represent.

The BNP Group have come in for some considerable criticism for contributing little to the council chamber debates.

They were also universally attacked for walking out after Alby Walker was knocked out of the Council Leader election in June, thus depriving the election of 9 votes in the later rounds.

The Walkers have brought credibility to the BNP in this city as they are far from the stereotypical BNP profile. They are a fashionable clean cut couple who are very camera friendly, but criticism has been aimed at them for never talking openly about their parties policies.

There is no doubt that this announcement is a serious blow to the BNP.

Alby Walker was expected to challenge Mark Fisher MP in the General Election for the Stoke Central seat. Abbey Green and Bucknall & Townsend are seen as a BNP strong hold. Many independent commentators believed that if the BNP were to make a parliamentary break through, Stoke Central was a main contender.

But what now for the BNP Group? Well Michael Coleman will take the party reigns in the short term. there will be a Group Meeting between Christmas and the New Years where a permanent leader will be chosen.

Mike Coleman, talking to Pits’n’Pots today said:

"There is no denying that this is a massive blow. Alby is committed to the cause and is a true believer in our politics"

"I am bitterly disappointed that Alby has chosen to step down but I totally accept his reasons. He is one of the guys who if he can’t give something 100%, he will not do it".

"I fully expect Alby to bounce back when he feels that he is ready".

"Contrary to some reports there has not been any falling out within our group. We are completely united".

"We, as a group, will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and carry on serving the electorate and the City".

"Alby will be big boots to fill but we will field a strong candidate in that ward and we still believe we can win it again".

"We have a tremendous amount of work to do over the next few years in preparation for the all out election in 2011. We believe that we can field 30 high quality candidates and we hope to win at least 15 seats"

" We intend to get our message out there and we aim to talk to as many outlets as we can in order to do so"

Alby Walker’s resignation will also come as a blow to the National Party.

Nick Griffin had faith in the work that Alby was carrying out here in Stoke, a city he has described as being the jewel in the BNP’s crown.

Here in Stoke whoever takes over as the leader of the BNP will have their work cut out. The only BNP councillors to talk openly were Alby, Mike Coleman, occasionally Ellie Walker and randomly Steve Batkin.

Ellie Walker has commented today that the Group has lost it’s backbone and I think she is right. Alby was the BNP here in Stoke and whichever direction the party moves in locally, there is a mammoth task ahead.

Opposition groups, especially Labour, will be hoping that the BNP’s bubble has now well and truly burst.

It will certainly give new vigour to the upcoming elections and one would hope that Labour have a candidate that can maximise the situation.