Children’s Scrutiny Chair Slams Council Report and Demands Urgent Meeting

The Chair of the Children’s & Young Peoples Overview & Scrutiny meeting Cllr Dave Conway slammed the quality of a Council report and demanded that officers present a more comprehensive and up to date document before the Cabinet meet on 25th August.

His outburst came after it was revealed that the Children’s Centres attendance figures used in the report to members of the C&YPS committee were inaccurate and substantially out of date.

It was also revealed that the £2.25million worth of cuts, which equates to 30% of the Children’s Centres income, had already been removed from the budget.

There was also confusion over staffing levels due to the way the report was written which also drew criticism from the committee chair.

The Cabinet Member with responsibility for C&YPS, Cllr Debra Gratton reminded the committee that the recent statutory public consultation was not about the £2.25million of cuts as that had already been decided and agreed by the Council executive. It was about the services and facilities that would be on offer at the Children’s Centres in the future.

The Director of Children & Young People Services told the members of the scrutiny meeting that a reduction in staff and services at the city’s children’s centres could not be avoided due to the massive reduction in her departmental budget. She told the meeting that the Children’s Centres used to offer a Rolls Royce of a service but had had to reduce the level of service provided to the equivalent of a lesser model as a result of the necessity to save £12.6milion across her department. She said that she, the assistant directors and the managers had used a RAG rating system to identity the possible savings. It had been their priority to protect the Safeguarding Children side of the department.

Both the Cabinet Member and Departmental Director reminded the committee that no officer or politician found making these cuts easy or in the least bit palatable, but there was no alternative.

Committee Chair Cllr Dave Conway revealed that following his extensive research he had established that any Children’s Centre that was closed would be subject to a financial claw back by central government of around £1million per site. He interrogated the officers to whether this had played a role in the retention of the 7 Children’s Centres originally earmarked for closure.

Cllr Conway speculated whether the Labour Party had really saved the Children’s Centre’s due to the depth of public feeling or the fact that Central Government would get to claw back much more than was potentially being saved by this reorganisation.

Cllr Conway proposed that the report presented be rejected and a more comprehensive document, including accurate and up to date figures along with extensive feedback from the recent consultation, be presented to a specially arranged meeting of the C&YPS. This must be before the Cabinet meet on the 25th August to make a decision on the reorganisation of the children’s centres.

The committee agreed with the proposal.

It was also bad news for Children in school who were deaf or had severe hearing impairment.

Despite an ePetition with 588 signatures calling on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to reverse these cuts, protect services for deaf children and ensure all deaf children in Stoke on Trent have a fair chance to achieve, the Director of C&YPS and her officers revealed that the cuts to staffing had already been implemented.

Cllr Alistair Watson told the meeting that he had calculated that there would be around a 50% reduction in staffing.

C&YPS officers assured the committee members that support for deaf children would not been adversely affected and would include:

The support comes from:-

Teachers of the deaf with specialist qualifications – There are 5 qualified teachers of the deaf (June 2011), a reduction of 2 since April 2010.

Communication Support Workers – Numbers vary according to need but all hold additional qualifications such as British Sign Language and speech and language (currently 8 in post).

Audiology – One of the teachers of the deaf will qualify as an audiologist in 2011.

After the meeting I managed to catch up with the Chair of the C&YPS Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Dave Conway.

Listen to the Audio Interview below.

Ticket Only Consultation For Children’s Centres

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Children’s Services have announced 6 consultation events where service users can go and have their say on the proposed changes & cuts to the service.

There will be 2 sessions on each of 3 dates with each of the three events being organised to cover a geographical area of the city. Event details are

Stoke Central Locality
Monday 20 June – 10:00 -11:30 and 6:00pm-7:30pm Kings Hall, Stoke-on-Trent
For users of The Hope children’s centre, Thomas Boughey children’s centre, Kingsland children’s centre, Penkhull children’s centre.

Stoke South Locality
Monday 27 June – 10:00-11:30 and 6:00pm-7:30pm Kings Hall, Stoke-on-Trent
For users of The Crescent children’s centre, The Grange children’s centre, Treehouse children’s centre, Westfield children’s centre, Fenton chidlren’s centre, Blurton children’s centre, Trentford children’s centre

Stoke North Locality
Tuesday 28 June – 12:00-1:30pm and 6:00pm-7:30pm Port Vale FC, Burslem
For users of Stoke North children’s centre, Tunstall children’s centre, Ball Green & Norton children’s centre, Burslem children’s centre, Milton & Baddeley Green children’s centre.

All of the events are ticket only, service users who wish to attend one of the consultation events are being asked to pick a ticket up from the children’s centre that they use.

We have previously made the decision to cut Children’s Centres budget by £2.5m in 2011/2012 council budget. We are now moving forward holding these consultation events to hear what the users of this service have to say about reshaping the services across the city. We want to know their views and suggestions on how best to provide services with the reduced resources now available.

Without knowing what is important to parents who use the centres we cannot reshape them for the best solution to best fit their needs but within the limited resources available.

I would encourage any parent who uses the children centres service to go to their local centre and find out when their event is and get a ticket to come and talk to us.

Sources have told Pits n Pots that the decision to make the events ticket only was taken to remove any opportunity for for parents or campaign groups such as SOCC to demonstrate or cause any trouble during the consultation events.

Cherie Booth QC Backs the Stoke-on-Trent S.O.C.C Campaign

Stoke-on-Trent’s nationally recognised Save Our Children Centre’s campaign have managed to enlist the support of Cherie Booth QC.

Ms Booth, the wife of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, has personally written to parents offering her support as the campaign to halt a 30% reduction in funding heads for a judicial review.

The Save Our Children’s Centres campaigners have also enlisted the services of the same solicitors that the Hampshire S.O.C.C are using to further their claim against budget reductions.

Sure Start children centres were described by Tony Blair as “Ëœone of New Labour’s greatest achievements’.

Originally opened in 1999, there are now approximately 3500 Sure Start Children Centres across the country. The key objectives of these centres are:

“¢ In centres in the 30% most disadvantaged areas: integrated early learning and childcare (early years provision) for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year; and support for a childminder network
“¢ In centres in the 70% least disadvantaged areas, which do not elect to offer early years provision: drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay and play sessions
“¢ Family Support, including support and advice on parenting, information about services available in the area and access to specialist, targeted services; and Parental Outreach
“¢ Child and Family Health Services, such as antenatal and postnatal support, information and guidance on breastfeeding, health and nutrition, smoking cessation support, and speech and language therapy and other specialist support
“¢ Links with Jobcentre Plus to encourage and support parents and carers who wish to consider training and employment
“¢ Quick and easy access to wider services

Authorities are proposing closing or reducing the budgets of the Children Centres as a measure of tackling the reduction in funding handed out to Council’s across the country following the governments Comprehensive Spending Review which was completed last autumn.

There are fears that up to 250 Sure Start Children’s Centres could close across the country in the next 12 months.

Mr Anthony Withers, a Stoke-on-Trent S.O.C.C campaigner and father of seven contacted Cherie Booth QC through a professional social networking site and was delighted to receive a very quick response from her offering her support.

“ We are so passionate for the future of our children and so disappointed that 30% of services are being taken away from families- we did not want it to come to this but we feel that we have to fight for our children”.

Please listen to the full audio interview with Mr Withers below:

S.O.C.C’s Alan Lear Hits out at the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Alan Lear of the S.O.C.C campaign updates Pits n Pots readers with the latest news on the fight to stop the City Council decimating the Children’s Centres budget by 30% [£2.25million]

In a recent Pits n Pots interview Councillor Mohammed Pervez said that he would:

“Give that guarantee to be there for the people and anyone that wants to see me.”

“Because there was not much of a united opposition he would be outward looking as a consequence and I will be making sure that my cabinet members and labour councillors continue to engage and listen to the residents and we will take on board their views as far as possible.”

He also said:

“It’s important that they way we make decisions, we do it in collaboration with our residents, and making sure that we listen to the residents, so working in isolation from the residents is not something that I’m going to entertain. I want our residents to feel involved and it is going to be difficult and we do have to make difficult decisions, but we won’t do it alone. We will work collaboratively with residents.”

” I want the services provided by the Children’s Centres to be distributed in a fair way across the city so people, particularly the most vulnerable have access to those services and the Children’s Centres continue to provide a good level of service to the people most in need.”

With regard to his last statement I draw your attention to the following as what he says is incorrect.

Local authorities are required by the Act to make “Ëœsufficient provision’ of children’s centres to meet local need. They are therefore the lead commissioner working with their Children’s Trust partners. The Act makes clear that “Ëœlocal need’ refers to the need of parents, prospective parents and young children (under the age of five) in the local area. (Not across the city)

Determining what is sufficient provision is a decision for local authorities to take, and the Government expects this to be taken in full consultation with Primary Care Trusts and Jobcentre Plus, other Children’s Trust partners and local families and communities. Local authorities should ensure that universal access to children’s centres is achieved, with children’s centres configured to meet the needs of local families especially the most deprived. Local authorities should be able to demonstrate through their performance management arrangements and review processes that all children and families can be reached effectively.

In undertaking such consideration, local authorities should be guided by demographic factors and demonstrate an understanding of the different communities ““ both geographically and socio-economically ““ children’s centres will serve. Local authorities should also take into account views of local families and communities in deciding what is sufficient children’s centre provision.

Now you can make a judgement on his other statements!

We promised to give you the feedback on our monitoring
exercise in relation to councillor responses to our request to attend our recent meeting in Hanley on 18th May:


Sarah Hill ““ Cllr/Cabinet member ““ RELIED & ATTENDED
Andy Lilley ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED & ATTENDED
Duncan Walker ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED & ATTENDED
Paul Shotton ““ Cllr/Deputy Council Leader ““ REPLIED
Janine Bridges ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ REPLIED
Adrian Knapper ““ Cllr/Cabinet member ““ REPLIED
Ruth Rosenau ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ REPLIED
Karen Clarke ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Alan Dutton ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Matt Fry ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Martin Garner ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED NON ““ ATTENDANCE DUE TO ILLNESS
Sheila Pitt ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Andy Platt ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED (2 DAYS AFTER EVENT)
Tom Reynolds ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Alison Wedgwood ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED (PLANNING SURGERIES WITH TRISTRAM HUNT MP AT THE TREEHOUSE )

Peter Hayward ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Glenys Ward ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Jack Brereton ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED
Abi Brown ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Paul Breeze ““ Councillor ““ REPLIED

Shame on the following elected representatives ““ we ask does “Ëœevery child matter’ to them?


Mohammed Pervez ““ Cllr/Council Leader ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Debra Gratton ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member for C&YPS ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Mark Meredith ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Olwen Hamer ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Gwen Hassall ““ Cllr/Cabinet Member ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Bagh Ali ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Muhammad Aumir ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Kath Banks ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Terry Crowe ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Neil Day ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Joy Garner ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Shazad Hussain ““ Councillor ““ Did NOT RESPOND
Gurmeet Singh Kallar ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Majid Khan ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Shaun Pender ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND
Alistair Watson ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND
Amjid Wazir ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND
Matt Wilcox ““ Councillor – DID NOT RESPOND

Randy Conteh ““ Councillor ““ DID NOT RESPOND REPORTED ILL
Dave Conway ““ Cllr/Leader CIG ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Terry Follows ““ Cllr/Lord Mayor Elect ““ DID NOT RESPOND
Ann James ““ Cllr/Dep CIG Leader

Cllr Debbie Wheeldon could not be contacted due to her council email address not working.

Cllr Lee Wanger was not contacted by S.O.C.C.

S.O.C.C are committed to holding the City Council to account regarding their plans for the City’s Children Centres and we will continue to seek a resolution through negotiation.

We appeal to the Leader of the City Council to meet with us in a bid to finding a suitable outcome for both the City Council and our city’s fantastic Children’s Centres.
We are committed to a “ËœConversation B4 Confrontation’ ethos.

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!”

Stoke-on-Trent’s S.O.C.C Campaign Challenges Newly Elected Councillors

The nationally recognised Stoke-on-Trent Save Our Children Centres campaign has begun to step up their activities ahead of the City Council’s formal Consultation exercise, which commences on 16th May.

Almost every City Councillor has been contacted by S.O.C.C leaders and urged to attend a public meeting to discuss the implications of a £2.25million reduction in funding to the much valued service.

The public meeting will take place outside the Potteries Shopping Centre on 18th May at 10.30am. Councillors and interested members of the public are being asked to gather by the clock tower.

The only councillor who has not been invited is Lee Wanger, who has a past conviction for accessing a website which contained indecent images of children which resulted in him having to sign the sex offenders register.

The email sent by S.O.C.C congratulates all newly elected councillors and asks them to consider their campaign headline “ËœEvery Child Matters’

The campaigners believe the 30% reduction in the Children Centres budget will have disastrous consequences for childcare and family support in the city. They allege that the cuts are severe and punitive.

The full email is as follows:

On behalf of the Save our Children’s Centres campaign may we congratulate you on your election to our council.

We know and appreciate the hard job you have and the tough decisions that you will have to make over the next four years. Quite soon, one of those decisions will be about our Children’s Centres. In the 16th most deprived local authority out of 356 we are amazed that, with effect from the 1st April 2011, the Local Authority has decided to reduce children’s centre funding by 30% which equates to £2.25m. This constitutes a “ËœSignificant change’ under Section 5D Childcare Act 2006, in service delivery across ALL children’s centres in the city. Because of this “ËœSignficant Change’ the law states that the Local Authority must now enter formal consultation of their decision.

The formal consultation period begins next week on the 16th May. As part of the consultation process we are meeting on Wednesday the 18th May at 10-30 am in the centre of Hanley outside the Potteries Shopping Centre by the clock tower to inform the public of this consultation process and also to carry on with our ongoing petition about these severe and punitive cuts. We would like to invite you to that meeting so that you can meet and communicate personally with the public at large about their views on these cuts.

The Save our Children’s Centres campaigners truly believe that EVERY CHILD MATTERS. Do you?

Could you please let me know if you will be able to attend?

Kind regards and best wishes,

Alan Lear,

On behalf of the Save our Children’s Centres campaign.

The S.O.C.C team are monitoring and logging all responses from the 44 City Councillors.

Their last email got a very poor response, just 26 of the 60 councillors responded and just 7 of the 26 Labour representatives.

With 34 Labour councillors elected at the recent City
Council elections, all eyes are on the ruling group in this their first real taste of opposition.

With an opposition in the chamber of just 10 councillors, the next four years could see more community campaigns come forward to challenge the ruling Labour group which will see a new era in the politics of the City.

Stoke-on-Trent’s S.O.C.C Angry at Labour Leaflet Claims

Leading members of Stoke-on-Trent’s celebrated “ËœSave Our Children’s Centres’ [S.O.C.C] campaign have voiced their anger over claims made by the Labour Party in a local election campaign leaflet.

SOCC member Alan Lear is so incensed by the leaflet that was pushed through his door by the Labour Party he has called for the group to re-energise it’s self and to fight the proposed 30% budget cuts which will equate to a reduction in funding of £2.25million.

Mr Lear has revealed that the Children Centre’s, which were the flagship of the last Labour Government, are currently reviewing the services that they provide in a bid to cope with the impact of a funding reduction.

He has contacted Pits n Pots and has submitted a statement in which he reveals that he emailed every City Councillor to ascertain their intentions should a vote be taken on the closure of the seven children’s centres across the city.

Only 26 of the 60 councillors replied and 19 of the 26 Labour Group councillors did not respond.

The proposal to close the children centres was removed from the Budget after an incredibly professional presentation to full council by SOCC leader Millissa Beydilli which received cross chamber support.

The saving of the Children’s Centres has appeared on several political groups’ campaign literature in the run up to the local council elections, but SOCC are angry with the omission of the £2.25million cut in funding from any leaflets. Alan Lear says that this is misleading voters.

Mr Lear is concerned that the cut in funding will lead to a reduction of the courses and services on offer to parents and children.

He is also worried that crèche facilities will be under threat which will mean that parents are not able to access vital courses and help groups’.

His full statement is as follows:

I have contacted Pits n Pots with regard to the claims being made by prospective labour councillors in their election campaign material regarding their part in saving our children’s centres and to put the facts before the voters of Stoke-on-Trent. It surprises me because it was Debra Gratton ““ Labour who actually proposed the cuts, and then at a subsequent meeting at Tunstall Children’s Centre she told the audience that she would vote “NO”

On the 23rd November 2010, on behalf of the Save Our Children’s Centre campaign I sent an email to every councillor asking them how they would vote if the council did intend to close 7 of our children’s centres. I only received 26 replies, the majority of whom said that they would vote NO to any centre closure. You must also remember that this was before the Council became aware of the huge impact that the threat of closures would have across this city, which resulted in thousands of people petitioning against any closures..

Could I say through your website a huge thank you to the following Councillors who said NO to the cuts right at the start of our campaign.

Councillors Mick Salih, Mike Barnes, Janine Bridges, Pauline Joynson, Peter Kent-Baguley and Ellie Walker of the Community Voice party. Councillors Tom Reynolds, Tony Fradley, Debra Gratton, Javid Najmi and Ruth Rosenau of the Labour party. Councillors Mick Bell, Rita Dale, John Davis and Terence Follows of the City Independents. Councillors Zulfiqar Ali and Jean Bowers of the Liberal Democrats party. Councillors Steven Batkin and Michael Coleman of the British National Party. Councillors Roy Naylor and Alan Rigby who are Non aligned and Councillor Megan Ryan of the Conservative and Independent Alliance.

I did not receive replies from 19 Labour councillors, 3 BNP councillors, 4 City Independents councillors, 5 Conservative and Independent Alliance councillors, 2 Lib Dem councillors and 1 Libertarian councillor.
In my opinion these 34 people failed in their duty as a councillor. They did not meet their obligations to be accountable to the electorate of their ward and the electorate of this city. They failed to deal with constituent’s enquiries and representations from interested parties and therefore did not represent ward interests. In addition they did not address the community concerns and failed to meet their obligation to improve the quality of life in Stoke-on-Trent as a whole. Now ask yourself -Do they deserve your vote?

We know that the Save Our Children’s Centres campaign, its petition and subsequent presentation by Millissa Beydilli to the full council and the debate that followed and various presentations by some of the above councillors in all probability stopped the closures. Our members know and expected some minor cuts to be made through savings etc. Other Local Authorities in the West Midlands have announced an average cut of 6% to budgets. However, our Labour led Council has just imposed a 30% cut to our Children’s Centre budgets which equates to £2.25 millions. As this is a significant change, the law requires the council to once again enter into wasteful formal consultations regarding that decision. This is because the council has a legal duty under the Childcare Act 2006 to ensure that “it continues to meet the duty to secure sufficient children’s centres services which are effective, efficient and meet local needs and improve the life chances for children and families. As it stands at the moment, without these cuts, our council is failing to meet its targets. Here are some facts to consider regarding our area.

Stoke-on-Trent is the 16th most deprived Local Authority out of a total of 354. Over 26% of children live in totally workless households and 29% of children live in poverty. Infant mortality rates are higher than the national average. Children leaving school who are not in education, employment or training is higher than other local Authorities. Children entering school with significant communication delay is high compared to the rest of the country. These facts show that the Council is failing to meet its own priorities set out in its Children and Young People’s Plan. What would their performance be like after making these cuts?

Our council seems determined to fly in the face of research and published reviews. They seem incapable of accepting the findings of independent reviews and reports such as Early Intervention: The next Steps by Graham Allen, M.P..The Foundation Years ““ Preventing poor children becoming poor adults by Frank Field, M.P. and the Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives by Michael Marmot.

Norton and Ball Green Children’s Centres have recently achieved the Parent Charter award for their ability to listen and respond to the views of local parents and then offer services and facilities that benefit the community. The charter aims to highlight good practice for working with parents. It also encourages organisations to look at the needs of parents when reviewing or developing services. Sharon Menghini, Director of children and young people’s services is reported to have said: “This award is excellent recognition for both Norton and Ball Green children’s centres, and I’d like to thank staff for their hard work. It’s really important for us to hear what the local community thinks of our services and very reassuring to hear from the families and volunteers that the staff are getting it right for them.” I would just like to remind the Director that this is being achieved by the people at the sharp end. If they are not there what chance do the parents and children have?

Children’s Centres are needed or they would not be there. The invaluable services that they provide are needed or they would not be offered. It is not just children’s services but those that are provided to ethnic minorities, those with mental health problems, those who are unemployed, those with health issues, those with educational aspirations and the list goes on. At SOCC it has often been said that Children’s Centre is a misnomer and that they should actually be called Family Centre. The dedicated staff who go about their roles with such professionalism and dedication are needed. I believe, without exception, that to them every child does matter. I don’t think it can be said of this Labour controlled Council who seem to purposely set out to damage the life chances of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our society, and then waste thousands of pounds on unnecessary consultation. As for the SOCC campaign, it’s alive and kicking. We do ask the families and the people of Stoke-on-Trent to support us once again to fight these punitive and unfair cuts.

Alan Lear

The Labour Group rejects the accusation that their leaflets are misleading and disingenuous.

Council and Labour Group Leader Mohammed Pervez said that the leaflets claim the Labour led coalition had saved all children’s centres from closure and that was a fact.

He also said that there is to be a consultation period for all interested parties and stakeholders and that he is very willingly to sit around a table and hold discussions so that the most important services are retained for the most vulnerable users of the centres.

Pervez also confirmed that the £2.25million was not set in stone and he also said that the council was open to suggestions that may arise from discussions with S.O.C.C.

This view was also supported by Cllr Debra Gratton the cabinet member with responsibility for children and young people’s services.

[AUDIO INTERVIEWS BELOW]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northwood Stadium is not closing at this stage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting will be webcast on the Council Website.

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

Listen to the audio below.

Pre-Council Meeting Demo ““ A Peaceful Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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