Wednesday, 30 January 2013

2012 and Stoke Council- what progress?











With the New Year just hours around the corner, Bill Cawley looks towards 2012, the year of delivery.
Its two years since John Van Der Laarschot became Chief Executive of the City Council and it will be 12 months from May since the Council was in Labour majority control. This year will need to see both parties delivering on the objectives that they set themselves. Residents of the city will need to see progress on a number of projects and some way out of the encircling gloom that has gripped the area since 2008. Currently over 8,000 citizens of Stoke are unemployed, local economic activity appears sluggish and the outlook nationally seems uncertain. Something needs to happen but what?
However there needs to be seen to be progress and actual completion in a number of key projects and top of the list must be Hanley Bus Station. My understanding was that the station ought to be finished by next autumn. There is work going on site and one hopes that finishing the bus station is very high on the agenda of the City Council. I wonder whether there is any recognition of the need to ensure that local projects like this do generate local jobs. It will be essential for local projects to deliver tangibly local jobs otherwise The City Council will be neglecting their responsibility.
Secondly linked to the Bus station is the need to attract investment and interest in the Sentral development in Hanley. News has reached the local media that Marks and Spenser amongst others are interested in the development but in my opinion that M & S interest only means displacement from an existing site in the centre of Hanley. Again a benchmark will be an increase in take up from leading brand shops and a timetable for completion of the project.
Another area of concern is a resolution of areas like Middleport and the difficulties faced by the reduction in funding for RENEW. The blight that is Middleport needs to be seriously addressed in the coming year.
The bid for the Green Investment Bank locally has been made although I would personally like to see a strong case made for putting this developments with its promise of excellent jobs and potential for the green economy having a more central role in the local economy. A decision is likely in March.
Another conundrum for 2012 will what to do with the Spode site in Stoke. Just before Christmas a press report indicated that Tesco were not interested in developing the site. What to do with the site will be a question that will require some resolution in the coming year.
The desire for more ” localism” will also dominate political discourse. There has been interest in both Penkhull and Fenton for more self-government and patience with the City Council has become stretched especially over such issues as the future of Fenton Library and other civic amenities in the area.
Which brings me to another topic which will again command debate in 2012 and that is turning former civic assets over to community groups to run independently. Perhaps the first acid test will be the future of Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston. There is a strong desire to retain the facility for educational use and a group of interested individuals have put together a business case to take over the facility.
On a more certain note 6 of the City’s new schools school be completed and ready for occupation by the autumn term including the new and interestingly designed Brownhills school although the costs of PFI are still a subject worthy of future investigations.
On a more equivocal note the debate and questions over the Dimensions debacle still remain and must cast doubts on the future of the officers and councillors involved in this matter.
Another policy change, which will have serious implications for the City Council in terms of its social and health care services, will be the rapid changes to the NHS Primary Care with GPs taking more control over commissioning decisions. I have serious doubts whether the Health and Wellbeing Board- a function within the City Council- is fully aware of the centrality of their role in ensuring equity in accessing services is maintained.
1 hope of mine in terms of delivery of a service will be the reopening of the railway line between Leek and Stoke which is projected to happen in the autumn of 2012. I went to a public meeting in Leek and the speed in which this project is happening makes me optimistic that this will be a project that does see fruition in the coming year.

2012 will be the year I feel in which reputations at the Civic Centre especially the senior officers in post will be made or broken.