How many council staff should it take to change a light bulb?

Is asking council tenants to change their light bulbs a bright idea?

Is asking council tenants to change their light bulbs a bright idea?

Those who took part in the March on Stoke rally at the weekend against plans to relocate the civic centre to Hanley reckon they know just how the cash-strapped local authority can save itself pots of cash.

In their minds, it’s simple: ‘You can save £24 million by just keeping the council HQ where it is’.

As things stand, however, elected members seem hell-bent on moving council staff to the city centre to become the anchor tenants of the new Central Business District and so the bean-counters are having to look for other ways in which the authority can save a few quid.

For several years now taxpayers in Stoke-on-Trent have watched as services have been cut and council-run facilities such as care homes and swimming pools have been closed down.

Now the authority has hit upon a new initiative which it hopes will save around £2 million a year.

It is an idea so staggeringly simple that I’m surprised nobody came up with it years ago – and yet it’s bound to prompt a flood of letters to this newspaper from angry tenants.

The authority wants to reduce the cost of call-outs to council homes by its contractor Kier for all sorts of routine maintenance and small jobs.

These include fixing sticking doors, filling hairline cracks in plaster and even replacing internal light bulbs.

Now, while I agree with Chell Heath Residents’ Association chairman Jim Gibson when he says that elderly and disabled people may require help with some jobs on the list, you’re not telling me that most council tenants are incapable of changing a light bulb, dealing with a stiff door or buying a bit of filler.

Even I, legendarily hopeless as I am at DIY, would be embarrassed to make a phone call to ask for help with such menial tasks.

Granted, if you’re a bit unsteady on your feet, in a wheelchair or too doddery to be climbing on a chair or ladder, then you’ve every right to ask for a helping hand.

But even then surely most people would seek assistance from a relative, friend or neighbour before ringing Kier.

This really is a case of using common sense and some people taking a bit more responsibility for their own homes.

No-one would expect 78-year-old Ethel, from Bentilee, to fix her broken boiler. But, by the same token, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of 30-year-old Daz, from Dresden, to do his bit around the house.

The council is even going so far as to spend £10,000 on an educational DVD which teaches tenants how to unblock sinks and bleed radiators.

Surely no-one can object to being given such advice. Can they? The fact is, you can easily find such information on the internet but some people with access to the web simply can’t be bothered.

I’m all for this money-saving initiative and I’m sure most council taxpayers will be too as it doesn’t have a hugely detrimental impact on people.

This is the council equivalent of the NHS asking you not to turn up at the accident and emergency unit when you need a plaster for a cut on your finger. Or the fire service asking you not to dial 999 when you need a new battery for your smoke alarm.

The very fact that the council has drawn up this list means there has been an element of mollycoddling going on with regard to council tenants that many people who don’t live in a local authority property will find baffling.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Let’s celebrate darts maestros and all our local heroes

Hands up who is any good at darts? Yes, I thought as much. About half a dozen of us.
There’s a good reason for this: It’s actually REALLY difficult. Getting that tiny piece of tungsten to land where you are aiming it at on a consistent basis is a dark art that very few can master.
But it seems that, statistically, you have a better chance than most if you have an ST postcode.
You see, there was a time when Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor was considered a freak. (He knows I mean that in the nicest possible way).
But now that his protégé Adrian Lewis has become World Champion for a second time people are starting to question whether there is something in the water in our neck of the woods.
It’s got to the point where they may as well rename the PDC Ladbrokes world championship the Stoke-on-Trent Darts Cup.
Yes, I know that Lewis hails from Cross Heath, which is in Newcastle, but – like most people in the Ancient And Loyal Borough – I bet he still shops up Hanley.
The point is that our city (or the wider North Staffordshire conurbation – if you’re going to be pedantic) now has a unique selling point that doesn’t involve crockery or sinking a big boat.
We are the world capital of darts. Arrows central.
Let me ask you this: In what other sport does one city dominate so utterly that its players consistently contest competition finals? I can’t think of one.
Of course, there are those who will assert that darts is not a sport but a pub game as it lacks athletic prowess.
You certainly never see anyone rolling around on the floor feigning injury, abusing the referee or making racist comments against a portly Dutchman – if that’s what they mean.
I would also suggest that Sky television’s viewing figures for darts knock this argument into a cocked hat.
More importantly, the likes of Lewis, the indefatigable Taylor and this year’s nearly-man Andy Hamilton, from Dresden, are putting the Potteries well and truly on the map.
It’s the kind of publicity money simply can’t buy. The kind of publicity that even a Vale fan like me has to admit Stoke City’s time in the Premier League has given us.
So the question is: Why aren’t we doing more to capitalise on the spectacular success of our darts players?
Why, as my friend suggested, don’t we stage a Stoke-on-Trent versus Rest Of The World match?
We should be making the most of our sporting superstars while they are at their zenith.
But in true Stokie style, we aren’t.
Unable to see beyond our emotional link with our industrial heritage we seem incapable of grasping obvious opportunities for promotion, profile and tourism.
Let me give you some examples.
Arguably the biggest solo music artist on the planet at present is from Stoke-on-Trent yet we have nowhere for his fans to visit. There is no Robbie Williams trail. No museum. No nowt.
The man who created the fighter plane which saved this country from the Nazis and helped to turn the tide of World War Two grew up in Butt Lane.
Not that anyone would know because – apart from the odd street name and an apology of a display tucked away in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery – we’ve done very little to honour Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell.
Then there are our darts players. OK, so darts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you have to admit that it takes some skill and a great deal of dedication to become THAT good at a sport played by millions.
The best players in the world come from North Staffordshire. They are the darts equivalents of Sachin Tendulkar or Pele and they are on our doorstep.
It’s high time we started shouting about them and made a fuss of our other big names and so, to this end, I have a suggestion.
Why don’t we turn the Ceramica building – that mothballed eyesore in the centre of Burslem – into a museum of local heroes?
I dare say tourists are far more interested in looking at superstar memorabilia and finding out about the people I have mentioned here than they ever were in decorating cups and plates.