Never mind the election… what about our manifesto?

As Gordon Brown and David Cameron are busy peddling the policies they hope will propel them to 10 Downing Street, I thought I’d have a dabble at my own manifesto – specifically for North Staffordshire.

As Stoke-on-Trent celebrates the centenary of the federation of the six towns, what better time to take stock of where we are as a city and a region and plot a vision for a brighter future?

With a newly-arrived chief executive at the city council, a new face arriving in the role of the Stoke-on-Trent Central MP and a transfusion of new blood via the local elections, I think opportunity genuinely knocks for our neck of the woods.

Let’s hope we don’t ignore it.

This is my wish-list to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st century…

*Forget parochialism and create a North Staffordshire authority serving nigh on half a million people – including the city, Newcastle, Leek, Biddulph and Cheadle and do away with the present, inefficient hotchpotch of local councils. Let’s face it, we’ve all got more in common with each other than we have with Stafford, Tamworth or Lichfield. I would suggest it is better to start speaking with one voice which would give us far more clout nationally. Such a merger would also enable us to get rid of many of the public sector non-jobs created in recent years. Perhaps then we could balance our budgets.

*Get serious about regeneration and deliver the key foundations to our economic recovery and future prosperity. How many times have we been shown plans of glass bottle kilns and the like which never come to fruition? Hanley desperately needs the long-awaited new bus station and the East-West shopping precinct so let’s ride a coach and horses through the bureaucracy and get them built. The University Quarter, or UniQ, and the Business District must become a reality rather than limping along as artists’ impressions. By the same token, our MPs and councillors must lobby like their lives depend upon in it in the coming months to ensure that, irrespective of which party wins the General Election, the hundreds of millions of pounds of funding currently transforming our estates via regeneration agency Renew North Staffordshire doesn’t dry up halfway through the process.

*Throw all our weight behind the Next Stop Stoke campaign to ensure the £60 billion high-speed rail network comes to North Staffordshire. We must ensure Stoke-on-Trent is selected as a stop on the flagship HS2 inter-city project or we run the risk of missing out on investment, jobs and tourism.

*If we don’t want to become a cultural desert then we need to stop quibbling about subsidies for The Regent Theatre and accept that if you want a top class venue in the city centre then, like other major cities, you have to be prepared to spend serious public money to help a private operator earn a crust. The benefits to our economy, the social life of the sub-region and the aspirations of future generations are there for all to see.

*Bring our home-grown football stars, role-model Olympic hopefuls and local celebrities together for a campaign to tackle North Staffordshire’s chronic obesity problem run through every single school in the city, Newcastle and the Staffordshire Moorlands. Tie this in with major renovation and promotion of our parks, public open spaces and excellent cycle routes to encourage more people to become active and fitter.

*Act now to capitalise on the huge public interest in the Staffordshire Hoard. As I suggested previously, let’s have a campaign to build a huge, great statue of a Saxon warrior visible for miles just off the M6 passing through Stoke-on-Trent and luring in visitors to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Let’s market ourselves as the home of the Hoard and completely renovate the venue to make the Hoard exhibition a tourist attraction of international significance. The time has come for us to stop marketing ourselves solely on our industrial past and find a new identity.

Do your bit to save the Staffordshire Hoard

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The British Museum, examining Hoard items.

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The British Museum, examining Hoard items.

The huge, wood-panelled doors opened and we were led down a long corridor flanked with hundreds of books in glass cases.

Our footsteps echoed off the marble floor as we walked.

We halted at a set of electronically-locked doors. Phone calls were made and, after several minutes, they eventually buzzed open.

The room was what you would expect from the bowels of the British Museum.

It was like the library of some stately home in an Agatha Christie novel, or the setting for some vital plot line in a Dan Brown page-turner.

There were wall-to-wall books on two levels and the feng shui of a room devoted to scholarly pursuits was only disrupted by a large, beige, metal cupboard with a chunky electronic lock.

Out of it were carried half a dozen plastic boxes full of smaller plastic boxes. Each one was numbered with a raffle ticket – strange, but completely logical given the number and variety of objects they contained.

The treasure keeper, Ian, took the lid off the first box – and that’s when I got my first glimpse of the Staffordshire Hoard.

It is genuinely breathtaking to be up close and personal to something so old, so valuable and so very rare.

It didn’t matter that some of the objects were tiny or broken.

I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest by the fact that many were still crusted with the earth from which they had been plundered.

In a way, that clinging dirt was symbolic of Staffordshire not wanting to give up one of the most remarkable archaeological treasures ever found in this country.

One by one I viewed the items – some no bigger than your little finger – from every angle.

There were sword pyramids, pommel pieces, tiny golden snake clasps and eye-piece adornments believed to have come from a warrior’s helmet.

None of it has yet been viewed by the public, that is until these items arrive at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Hanley later this week.

All this stuff, the booty of battle or a king’s treasury, was buried about 1,300 years ago by people who took its location to their graves.

History doesn’t come much more raw than this.

As one archaeologist put it: “You know the warriors from Beowulf, or the Riders of Rohan in Lord of the Rings? Those are the kind of people we are talking about when we refer to the Staffordshire Hoard.”

She had me at Beowulf…

“They placed in the barrow that precious booty,
the rounds and the rings they had reft erewhile,
hardy heroes, from hoard in cave,
trusting the ground with treasure of earls,
gold in the earth, where ever it lies…”

Although these 1,600 gold and silver items were found in the most remarkable circumstances in a field just south of Lichfield, they are as important to the people of Stoke-on-Trent as they are to our friends in Tamworth, Lichfield, Stafford and Birmingham.

For, not only is The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery the recognised repository for all archaeology found in Staffordshire, but we are also at the heart of the ancient kingdom of Mercia from where these precious artifacts come.

So what can you expect?

Well, for starters, prepare to be surprised. The wonders of modern photography show up the shiny brilliance of each golden fragment in wondrous detail.

These images are used large in the media and on posters and display boards to enhance the experience for viewers and visitors.

In reality, most of the pieces are tiny – no bigger than a couple of centimetres – fragile and still caked in soil.

Even so, together with the larger mangled cross, helmet cheek piece, and a chunk of gold bearing a latin inscription from the Bible, they are all, in their own way, magnificent.

The craftsmanship is truly astonishing.

However, in order to ensure these windows to our past remain in the West Midlands, £3.3 million must be raised to purchase the Staffordshire Hoard.

But, as well as putting your hand in your pocket, it is equally important that we support the campaign by voting with our feet – as the people of Birmingham did.

Archaeologists, historians, politicians and celebrities all want the bid to succeed.

Now it is up to the people of the Potteries to demonstrate just how much our history means to us.

Please play your part.