Local government

Strengthening local leadership and improving services in Stoke-on-Trent

Published 8 May 2009

Local Government Minister John Healey today announced steps to help rebuild the public's confidence in Stoke-on-Trent's politics and safeguard over £1billion of its current and future Government investment - ensuring it is well spent on quality services and improving people's lives.

Next month, as a result of a local referendum, the old governance arrangements in Stoke will end and be replaced by new arrangements centred on the council electing a Leader from among its members.

Last year the Independent Governance Commission found that Stoke is a city with a damaged political system. It made 14 recommendations to be taken forward alongside the change to Stoke's governance arrangements - the cornerstone of these being a move to four yearly whole council elections. Today's action by Ministers will help create the genuine fresh start recommended by the Commission and that is essential if the politics of Stoke are to be put on a sound basis and for the future well-being of the city.

The package of measures will streamline the city's electoral process giving the people of Stoke clearer, stronger and more stable leadership helping to boost their confidence in the system. It will also encourage greater civic participation and widen the range and strengthen the calibre of local councillors. A Governance and Performance Transition Board will help drive forward the political reform needed in Stoke as well as safeguard improvements in services.

Recent service improvements in Stoke are threatened by what the 2008 Governance Commission described as the 'apparent breakdown of conventional politics in the city'. Ministers are not prepared to allow this to happen and are taking action to give the best opportunity possible for the people of Stoke to get the strong leadership and quality services they deserve.

Key measures announced today include:

  • A new basis for the council through a proposal for four yearly whole council elections from 2011 - this will give the people of Stoke clearer, stronger and more stable leadership and help rebuild their confidence in it.
  • A Boundary Committee Review of Stoke to consider how best to arrange electoral wards for a smaller council as per the Governance Commission's recommendation. One or two member wards will provide clearer and stronger local representation in the City.
  • A proposal to suspend elections next year as the City prepares for the 2011 election cycle and it is in the middle of the Boundary Committee Review - efforts should be focused on the fresh start for the City that the 2011 all out elections offer.
  • A new drive to attract a more diverse range of people to stand as councillors and play their part ensuring everyone benefits from the City's new start in 2011. Experts will work with political parties to help them recruit fresh talent - particularly women, young people and those from minority groups.
  • Work to boost civic participation and equip people with the skills to get involved in decision-making in Stoke.
  • £40 million investment in regeneration in Stoke and North Staffordshire which includes the go-ahead for the City Waterside Project which will help transform the heart of the City and create jobs.
  • A cut in special responsibility allowances for elected members - implementing the Independent Remuneration Panel's recommendations - to help boost the public's confidence in their elected representatives.
  • A Board to back up the continued improvements in services and help drive forward the political reform that is needed.

John Healey said:

"The people of Stoke deserve a city which is well governed, delivers high quality public services and is well-placed to lead them through these tough economic times and beyond. But the breakdown of politics in the City threatens to derail recent improvements in services and means over £1 billion current and planned investment may not make the difference to people's lives we all want to see.

"I am not prepared to stand by and let this happen. Stoke deserves better and needs a fresh start. The end of the mayoral system next month represents a real opportunity for this. Residents need confidence in local politicians and the system that elects them. And they need to know that arrangements are in place to drive forward much needed democratic change and ensure services continue to improve.

"The steps I am taking provide the people of Stoke with the best possible opportunity to achieve this and focus on a new start in 2011, but the future is now in their hands. Government will continue to give Stoke its full support but change has to be led in the city and for the city."

Chair of the Transition Board Professor Michael Clarke said:

"I very much welcome the Ministerial Statement on moving things forward in Stoke-on-Trent. This is a critical time for the people of Stoke-on-Trent and the package of measures announced today - particularly the move to whole council elections, the electoral review, and the strengthening of the Transition Board - will provide the much needed impetus that will ensure that Stoke-on Trent will flourish."

Notes for editors

1. In May 2008 the Governance Commission reported that Stoke-on-Trent needed a fresh start with a move to four yearly whole council elections. Government is announcing today that it is minded to intervene to make an order specifying a scheme of whole council elections for Stoke-on-Trent council from 2011. Before taking a final decision there will be a short 'soundings' period until 18 June to provide an opportunity for interested parties to make representations. In reaching this view the Government has had regard to the evidence presented by the Governance Commission, who judge that a move to whole council elections will materially strengthen the operation of local democracy in the City. This is reinforced by the Electoral Commission's report on The Cycle of Local Government Elections in England which concludes that whole council elections are more likely to provide clarity to electors and stability to the council.

2. The Governance and Performance Transition Board will support both the good governance of the City and the performance of the Council in the delivery of local services. It will be chaired, as was the original Transition Board by Professor Michael Clarke. Ministers have also appointed Cllr Ken Taylor (Coventry), Cllr Stephen Houghton (Barnsley), Paul Sheehan (Chief Executive Walsall) and Trudi Elliott Regional Director of Government Office West Midlands. To help support the officers in the council, there will be an External Officer Support Group.

Biographies for the new members of the transition board

Councillor Ken Taylor
Councillor Ken Taylor is Leader of Coventry City Council. Councillor Ken Taylor has held a number of key positions during his time in public service, including serving as a Director of Whitefriars Housing Association and a governor at two Coventry schools, chairing various council committees and as a member of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority. From 2002 to 2003 he was also Lord Mayor of the city.

Councillor Stephen Houghton
Councillor Stephen Houghton is leader of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, chair of the Barnsley Local Strategic Partnership and commissioner at the Audit Commission. He is also chair of SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities), the LGA Urban Commission and the Barnsley Miller Partnership. He was awarded the CBE for services to Local Government in 2004.

Paul Sheehan
Paul Sheehan is Chief Executive of Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, a member of Walsall Partnership and chair of the West Midlands Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership. Paul's previous roles include Chief Executive of Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, adviser to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Local Government Association, a member of the National Executive of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the Honorary Secretary of the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Assembly and Secretary of the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities. He has also been an FE College Governor and a Director of the Training and Enterprise Council.

Trudi Elliott
Trudi Elliott is Regional Director of the Government Office for the West Midlands. Trudi currently chairs the Regional Economic Inclusion Panel, the Programme Monitoring Committee (for European programmes), the Regional Board and is Vice-Chair of the Regional Sports Board. Her previous roles include Chief Executive of Bridgnorth District Council and Chief Executive of West Midlands Regional Assembly and WMLGA. She is a member of the Council of Warwick University.

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