Labour and Tories clash over new strategy for Stoke-on-Trent

Labour and Conservative politicians have clashed over a new document setting the priorities for Stoke-on-Trent City Council. The city council's new corporate strategy sets out seven priorities and various objectives that the authority will 'strive' to achieve over the next four years, with the aim of improving life in Stoke-on-Trent.

Labour council leaders say the priorities align with those of Stoke-on-Trent residents, and that the strategy has been put together following consultation with organisations like the NHS, voluntary groups and businesses. But opposition Tory councillors have condemned the document for being too negative about Stoke-on-Trent, and say it's 'not worth the paper it's written on'.

The strategy's priorities include 'creating a healthier standard of living', 'reducing hardship and enabling greater shared prosperity', and 'building empowered communities safe from the threat of harm'. Specific aims listed in the strategy include boosting early intervention services to reduce the number of children being taken into care, and tackling housing issues such as fuel poverty, damp and mould.

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Elected members voted to approve and adopt the strategy following a full council debate. Council leader Jane Ashworth told the meeting that comments from consultees had been taken on board, saying that a seventh priority of boosting skills in Stoke-on-Trent had been added following talks with the Chamber of Commerce.

She said: "It's our ambition, to make sure that we're living in a place which is cleaner, greener, safer, fairer, healthier, wealthier and more skilled. They are the concerns that people have spoken to us about, the things they're bothered by. They did it before the election last year, and they've done it subsequently. And we hear it every day. When you add it all together, we think the best description for it is wellbeing.

"We think the priority driver of the city council is to improve the wellbeing of the people who live in our city. And we do that through maximising our efforts to create that cleaner, greener city, etc."

Cllr Ashworth said there were five things which were 'critically important' to get right this year: supporting family life, reclaiming the streets, addressing hardship and poverty, ensuring decent homes for all, and supporting people to live independently. Progress against the priorities will be measured using various performance indicators, such as avoidable hospital admissions, economic productivity, and the number of children in care.

But opposition Conservative group leader Dan Jellyman said there were 28 actions in the document which had no performance indicators, meaning it would not be possible to track progress.

He said: "It's taken a year to make and the strategy is about 50 pages in length, which by my estimation, is about one page a week. It's not really worth the paper it's written on. It's it says it promises a radical and different approach yet fails to deliver on what it promises in the very first paragraphs. It says it's going to help communities develop. Well, I think that was written before the budget because the community development team was scrapped."

Conservative councillor Lorraine Beardmore said the strategy was too negative. She said: "We should always have aspiration for our city. We should always want more we should always want better. But I feel that this strategy says nothing other than we are a rock bottom city that residents don't care about."

Labour cabinet member Finlay Gordon-McCusker agreed that there was 'so much good in our city', but insisted that that it was important to identify and tackle Stoke-on-Trent's problems.

He said: "It's absolutely vital that we get to work with the delivering this corporate strategy. The number of children in our city, who don't have a bed to call their own is heartbreaking, is scary, and it's something that we have to address. This strategy will contribute to that. It's such a fundamental thing to the lives of our residents."

Cllr Ashworth responded to the criticisms from Conservative councillors by saying they had failed to offer alternatives during scrutiny committee discussions on the strategy.