Interview with Abi Brown, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Meeting councillor Abi Brown, Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, is an uplifting experience

The nine years as a councillor, five years as deputy-leader and nine months as leader have done little to dampen her enthusiasm, optimism and strong-minded determination to make her native city great again.

“Every day I want to do my best for this city, and to challenge others to get involved on the journey”, says councillor Brown.

There is certainly plenty to be optimistic about especially with the latest UK Powerhouse figures released by law firm Irwin Mitchell in January 2020, which show that jobs growth in the city is set to increase by 2.2 per cent by the final quarter of 2020 – to 122,000.

It means that jobs growth in Stoke-on-Trent is faster than 46 other major cities, including Cambridge, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. A total of 8,000 jobs have been created in the city over the past five years, with a growth in skilled and higher value jobs. A total of 2,000 jobs are being delivered at Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone, over 1,000 jobs at Smithfield in Hanley, and a further 750 high skilled jobs in the pipeline at Smithfield.

The UK Powerhouse findings also rank Stoke-on-Trent as the sixteenth best performing city in the UK for gross value added – a measurement of the value of the goods and services produced in the city – beating other Midlands cities including Derby, Leicester and Coventry.

Council budget proposals for the financial year 2020/21 outline £336m additional investment in an ambitious capital programme up to 2025 that will see the city council build on an already successful house building initiative with more houses built in the city in 2019 on average than in any London borough. A new Community Investment Fund of £2.5m is also proposed to support community groups and initiatives.

In Hanley, the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Smithfield will be opening its doors in May coupled with a new development, Clayworks, from the Council’s wholly owned housing company, Fortior Homes and a new multi-storey car park. Clayworks is a mix of one and two-bed apartments with amenity space and communal gardens. In addition, there are plans to develop the East/West Precinct – one of the largest prime city centre development sites in the Midlands. This will be a mix of residential, leisure, food and beverage and retail.

The Council’s capital programme will also support Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone, comprising six key sites totalling 140 hectares along the A500 corridor. It is one of the most successful enterprise zones in the country.

Councillor Brown will be heading a delegation to the world’s largest property expo, MIPIM in Cannes in March. She added: “Our delegation is funded by local businesses who will be joining the council team in presenting Stoke-on-Trent as a progressive and inclusive city where all sectors are working together to build a prosperous future. We’ve got some excellent presentations lined up for the three-day event.”

One development project on show at MIPIM will be the redevelopment of the Swift House site in Stoke. Options for the site include more than 200 one, two and three-bed apartments, 190,000 square-foot flexible office space, a hotel with spa and gym and more than 800 bed student residential complex.

Continuing with the business theme, I ask about the Council’s relationship with the Chamber: “I see the Chamber as pivotal to the business life of the city and the wider area. Not only through its support for business but through lots of exciting projects and the work they have done around social value.

“The City Council is proud to be a patron of the Chamber which allows us an opportunity to drive policy and add our support when it is needed.

“How we look after our children and what opportunities we can present to them is the City’s number one priority and I see the Chamber and its members playing a big part in moving this agenda forward.

“We have over 900 children in care in Stoke-on-Trent and I personally want to ensure they have the same opportunities as every child. I want them to engage with business and explore career opportunities as early as possible. There are exciting careers to be had in the city so it’s a case of matching jobs to aspirations.

“Our capital investment budget to 2025 is increasing by £336m. This is money that can only be used for fixed assets such as land, buildings or equipment. This is an ambitious programme of investment that shows our brilliant city off to its best and provides the benefits our residents need. It is critical if we are to bring new business to the city and attract residents to grow our tax base, helping us to become more financially independent.

“Elsewhere in the city, we are investing to make the best possible use of all the assets we own. We’ll continue with the transformation of our town halls and seek to emphasise the best of our heritage through investment and co-ordinated programmes of activity city-wide.”

The Stoke-on-Trent City Council strategic vision is entitled ‘Stronger Together’. It embodies a clear vision of where the City wants to go and how it will get there. For the last four years, Stronger Together has provided the roadmap for the City Council, building on some great opportunities and ideas to continue to make Stoke-on-Trent a city fit for the future.

Councillor Brown concluded: “Working more closely with partners has been a golden thread of that journey, and one we continue to build on in this next stage of our vision to make Stoke-on-Trent a city we can all be proud of. I will be continuing to get out and about across the city to meet businesses, and my door is always open. The changes we all want to see can only be achieved together.”