It's a cold day in mid-April, in a small office which can barely fit 2 people in. The walls adorned with shelves stocking works from some of the country’s finest scholars, bards and biographers. Outside the window you see a block of shops, all but one closed, a stark contrast from what is inside the building. I am in Stoke on Trent, sitting in the inner sanctum of Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary’s office with the man himself. A strapping man, speaking in a soothed Received Pronunciation sort of way is a far cry from what many would expect a perceived industrial wasteland would have as their MP. My meeting with Mr Hunt was centred around 3 key themes, education, employment and the future of Stoke On Trent. A meeting which said to me that no one else could possibly champion the future of Stoke on Trent better than him.
My first angle for this interview was on education, after all he is the man in charge of scrutinising and attacking the government’s education policy. I focussed my attention on the free schools policy and his perceived support of the idea. He spoke in length about how he feels schools need to have greater autonomy when it comes to funding and with that there can be increased effort into improving struggling areas in the school. However there was a feeling that a policy is only good when the people implementing it are good and this was his real concern, citing that poor guidelines and vetting processes could make the whole scheme counterproductive. We then moved onto talking about educational attainment in poor areas, a massive problem for Stoke on Trent. His answer was simple, the government have to pay teachers more in order to get the best quality teachers in as he believes that a good teacher is the best way of converting a struggling student who may easily fall by the wayside, that education is the best path.
We then moved on to employment, with Stoke being a town still reeling from the effects of post industrialisation, I felt the best place to start would be how he feels employment prospects could be improved within the city. This is an especially pertinent question as Stoke has never recovered from the closure of the Potteries and the like. His answer was based on many different facets, firstly based on higher education, he felt there needed to be a more local intake from the local universities but he accepted that this was unlikely to happen, the basis of this statement was around the fact many students after going to Keele or Staffordshire University often go elsewhere as Stoke does not have the jobs graduates want. He also felt for those who did not have the necessary qualifications to go to university that there needed to be more focus on what he called “Middle Industries” which are aimed at those with good GCSE grades but who didn’t go to university. These are most likely found in administration or trades work, his focus was based on getting large companies to base their call centres, administration centres and the like in Stoke as he felt this would give them the required employment base to solve other underlying issues such as urban decline.
Finally I concluded the meeting with a short focus on his idea for regeneration in the city. Mr Hunt felt that the best way to rebrand the city was- quite controversially ditch the potteries stereotype and focus tourism on the local countryside (The exceedingly wonderful Staffordshire Moorlands are just on the doorstep) and focus on creating a modern side to Stoke. There is a rising Indie Rock scene which although he admitted it wasn’t his cup of tea, he did see the prospects it could bring, however I quote “For every Arctic Monkeys Sheffield produces there’s a Phixx (Google them)”. In all he sees a future on this front for the city.
My thoughts from this interview suggest to me that Stoke has the right man to represent them in Westminster as he is lauded by the Labour Party and lauded by his constituents, if he can deliver what he wants to (and he’s a man who gets what he wants) Stoke on Trent will be in a much better position in the future.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS