The city council has fudged £35 million cuts

I CERTAINLY don’t envy the chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council or the councillors themselves at present.
Handed the hospital pass of administering £35 million of cutbacks, they all knew they were on to a hiding to nothing.
To be fair, had half a dozen Sentinel readers sat around a table to discuss where the axe should fall, I suspect the headlines would have been little different.
For example, there were some utter no-brainers in the review, such as the closure of that huge white elephant Ceramica.
Common sense has prevailed at last with regard to Burslem’s most iconic building.
The trick now is to find a new use for the beautiful, Grade-II listed Town Hall which has depreciated in value year-on-year since that glass and metal monstrosity was tacked on to the end of it.
Meanwhile, the closure of City Farm in Bucknall was never going to raise too many eyebrows.
By the same token, there will be few tears from taxpayers over the decision to slash £360,000 from the authority’s public relations and communications budget.
The closure of municipal pools in Shelton and Tunstall may have stirred a few dissenting voices but, in truth, both pools are well past their prime and swimmers have other options.
Protecting around-the-clock CCTV coverage in the city also makes sense and so that’s another tick for the powers-that-be.
I also support the decision to continue to fund Stoke Speaks Out, which works with young people to address speech and language problems. However, I do worry that the causes of such issues – such as children being parked in front of the TV all day – need to be addressed at source with a much broader strategy of parental education.
So far so good, but then I start to come over all cynical.
Stanley Head Outdoor Education Centre, Ford Green Hall, the Etruria Industrial Musuem and Northwood Stadium have each been given a six-month reprieve.
The idea is that, by September, a trust comprising local people will have been formed to run each of these venues.
Is that a pig I see flying over the Civic Centre?
If I was being charitable I could say that councillors were giving these facilities a chance and perhaps embracing our PM’s Big Society idea. But the truth is that it is highly unlikely that groups of people with the time, expertise and enthusiasm to take on these centres will be found in six months. Both Ford Green Hall and the Etruria Industrial Museum are wonderful pieces of the city’s heritage and deserve to be saved.
The outdoor education centre at Stanley Head has been a vital resource for generations of city children and we will be all the poorer without it. As for Northwood Stadium – it may be an ageing facility, but as I sit down today at the judging of the 37th City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards I wonder at the future of sports provision in our city if we were to lose the old girl.
It seems to me that by giving each of these centres a six-month stay of execution, the politicians have simply postponed the grim announcement.
The same could also be said for the way in which they have treated the thorny problem of the children’s centres threatened with closure.
Council leader Mohammed Pervez said members had listened to the public outcry over the proposed closure of seven of the city’s 16 centres and were not going to close any “at this stage”.
Those three little words should have sent chills down the spines of campaigners who last Thursday were slapping each other on the back thinking their battle was won.
In other words, not only have councillors cut funding for 25 posts which will make the centres less viable, they have cleverly left the door ajar to alter policy once the small matter of that pesky election is out of the way in May.
The decision-makers in this process knew full well that their immediate political future could rest on the public reaction to the cutbacks.
So, call me cynical if you like, but I can’t help but feel that our elected members have rather fudged these cuts – putting off the less palatable decisions until after polling day.
We may think we’ve seen the worst of the cuts but, in truth, this is just the beginning and we shouldn’t be conned into taking the initial announcements at face value.

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