Labour has officially taken control in the city of Stoke-on-Trent. The party returns to power for the first time since 2015 after winning 29 seats in this year’s local elections, ousting a minority Conservative administration.
At a full council meeting held in the civic centre, new leader Jane Ashworth unveiled her cabinet. Some veterans of the last Labour administration, including Sarah Hill and Desiree Elliot, have returned to the front bench and will have to face several legacy issues left by the Conservatives.
Jane Ashworth said: “We face many challenges in making our city a better place to live, work and enjoy, not least in the face of the huge government cuts to the council budget we have borne, and the cost-of-living crisis.”
She added that the newly-installed council would bring “talent, passion, skill and experience” to their roles.
At the meeting, the council also appointed a new Lord Mayor; the post will be held for the year ahead by Councillor Majid Khan, who was also mayor in 2014-15.
The new mayor said he was “looking forward to spending time in the community, doing more of what I enjoy, meeting local residents and encouraging businesses to come and set up in Stoke-on-Trent.”
A terrible legacy
In an interview given to the Sentinel, Jane Ashworth says she was “horrified” by the state of the city’s finances, adding that “we have been left a terrible legacy” and by the extent of the problem, “because every time we open a new door, we find a fresh problem.”
The incoming council also faces challenges around improving the economic outlook for the city and sorting out its crumbling infrastructure. Although Ashworth has been cagey about the issue in press comments so far, this may impact projects such as the Etruscan Square development in the city centre.
In characteristically robust style, she said that her administration will “clean up” the city, enhancing the centres of all six towns by “improving the feel and mood of our public spaces”.
Since winning the election, her cabinet had, she said, “already started working hard to right wrongs, to address issues we discovered after winning the election and to get this council, and this city, back on track. That mission is being supported by talented and diverse councillors from all walks of life and a great mix of youth and experience.”
She conceded that the council faces “many challenges in making our city a better place to live, work and enjoy, not least in the face of the huge government cuts to the council budget we have borne, and the cost-of-living crisis”, but stated that the council would “plan and work hard to deliver many positives” while being “open and honest about the real state of this council and our city”.
But it is inevitable, she concluded, that “some difficult decisions lie ahead.”
Speaking about the aims of her administration, Councillor Ashworth said “We’ll make sure the council puts all our people first, with care and kindness. And we will put Stoke-on-Trent on the map as a great city – not a small city, but an economic driving force and a place for residents, communities, and businesses to thrive.”
As the city grapples with financial problems and refocusses its economy away from low paid service sector jobs, delivering on that vision might be the biggest challenge of all.