Saturday, 12 February 2011

Lancaster's Street Pride Scheme steams ahead



Lancaster City Council has joined forces with its public sector partners and local residents to roll out its popular Street Pride events across the district.

Street Pride is a series of deep cleans, programs of repairs and community involvement in which a hit squad of Lancaster City Council  workers, Lancashire Probation Service Community Payback volunteers, Police and local residents work together to improve local areas.

Earlier this month, it was the turn of the residents of Mount Avenue and Howgill Avenue to benefit when the Lancashire Probation Service (Community Payback) team repaired fencing and trimmed hedges whilst Lancaster City Council’s Environmental Department cleaned the streets and removed rubbish.

An open day took place at Skerton Community Centre where Lancashire Fire and Rescue, Police and Lancaster City Council officers were on hand to offer information and advice to the public.

Information packs on local services were also delivered to houses in the area during the event.

The residents of Mount Avenue who were involved in organising the Street Pride event plan to complement the clean up operation by joining the council’s Health and Housing Service in organising a litter pick in the area later this month.

“It's everyone’s responsibility to take pride in the environment and our surroundings," says Coun Jon Barry, Cabinet member with responsibility for Environmental Services. "The council and its partners are trying to encourage this by rolling out its programme of deep cleans in residential areas across the district. Once they have been cleaned, it is up to all of us to keep them that way.”

Coun Eileen Blamire, chair of the Community Safety Partnership, added: “This is an excellent example of how the public sector and local residents can work together to make the community a cleaner and safer place.”

Opinion: Don't sit in silence over cuts to our libraries


Britain's Libraries Under Threat from the ConDems

(Adapted from SchNews) As noisy protests continued against tax avoidance by big business and cuts in education and benefits another, altogether quieter, national campaign took off last week here in the UK at our most unsung of public services: libraries.

You can't imagine that Waterstones, WHSmiths, Amazon and others mind too much that libraries were forged from great social ideals. Not only is encouraging universal education and literacy good economically for society (potential talent can rise from anywhere to realise its potential and then productively benefit society) it's availability to serve as community hub, public space, creche and more to those without access to alternatives make it an all round force for social good. Investing equally in all, for the future of all, paid for from the wealth of all. But such aspirations are like, so last millennium. and the shiny new 'Big Society' has no need for such rubbish.

Across the country, councils faced with savage funding cuts are putting libraries top of their list of low hanging fruit and axing swathes of library services. According to this blog (http://publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com/ ), at least 488 libraries are under threat.

In Lancashire, so far, the wholesale closure of libraries seems to be less under threat, but some significant cuts to services are being proposed, which include reducing mobile libraries and cuts to spending on magazines and daily newspapers. The Lancaster area lost three libraries back in 2006, thanks to Labour spending cuts.

  • On the cards is a reduction in the overall number of library staff employed within the service, equating to a 16% reduction by 2013/14. The County's proposal will reduce staffing levels and some service delivery within the library service "without the need to reduce opening hours or close libraries", they claim. In part the reduction reflects the "roll out" of self service facilities within libraries and a further review of management levels within the service. There would be less help and advice available to the public from trained staff.

  • The County Council has undertaken a countywide review of its mobile library service, and says it has identified that through more effective use of the fleet it is possible to reduce the number of vehicles from 11 to 9 without causing any reduction in the level of service (a proposed saving, outlined in its spending plans that will save them £35,000 a year).

  • An 11% cut in library resources is being proposed, which means the amount spent on buying hard copy reference books, magazines and newspapers. The Council argues that, in line with the service’s move towards online services, they have been developing an online reference library, which has many advantages, including the ability to deliver services across the whole network of libraries instead of relying on access to hardcopy books on shelves in a limited number of libraries. One of the effects of subscribing online to major reference sources, says the Council, is that instead of holding them in hardcopy is that prices are reduced overall. This would save some £60,000,

  • The Library service spends a proportion of its resources fund on the purchase of newspapers and magazines; the 2010/11 budget for this area is £86,000. They're proposing to reduce that fund by about a third, thus saving £29,000 in a full year. The County claims that while newspapers and magazines are very popular with readers, much of what is on offer is now available online. "Each of the national newspapers has an online site," they claim (ignoring the fact that several national newspapers now have a Paywall) and "in addition to the availability online of other major news broadcasters such as the BBC.
    Noting the proposal is going to annoy a lot of library users, they add "It would therefore be possible to review the newspapers and magazines purchased with a view to reducing expenditure by a third without any real loss of service." You have to wonder what bean counter is going to decide what newspaper or magazine is more important if they get their way, don't you...



Elsewhere in the country, Councils are offering the meagre crumb of offering to give over premises to volunteers to take over and run what non-funded services they can. Lancashire hasn't stooped to that yet, but you can bet they've considered it.

Despite the gargantuan sums of taxpayers money shovelled into the banks to stop them going bust (effectively later ending up as bonuses to smug bankers claiming they're successfully earning their way to 'recovery'), or the billions lost in cosy corporate tax-avoidance, or wasted on mega IT projects, it seems the government is happy to sit by and force councils to retreat from core social support and non life-essential services.

But the book-reading masses are queuing up to resist. A wave of imaginative actions in libraries have been taking place up and down the UK, instigated for the most part by some unlikely rebels when it comes to social protest.

Saturday 5th February saw a national day of action against the mass closures that are threatening nearly 500 services, including mobile libraries. Huge numbers of people came out in even the smallest of towns, many libraries seeing queues down the street with crowds of hundreds coming to max out their cards and make overdue demonstrations of visible support for these valuable institutions.

The turnouts were best attended by those which use the libraries most, families with young children and the elderly, with plenty of those on lower incomes - set to be some of the most affected by benefit cuts - and others who never use 'em but believe in the principle.

Most of the day's actions mirrored the work of borrowers in Stony Stafford, Milton Keynes back in January. There a library that holds more than 16,000 books was cleared of its stock in just a few days after a Facebook campaign called for local people to go in and take their maximum allowance. Aimed to highlight the massive hole that would be left in the community if Milton Keynes council went ahead with its plans to close the popular centre, it hit the national headlines and campaigns started to spring up all over the UK.

On the 5th, many libraries had visits from local writers and poets, including in Gloucestershire, where a battalion of seven 'Flying Authors' were jetting round the libraries of the county in not the greenest of actions, but certainly the most expensive. Entertaining people who'd turned up to support their local lender with stories, poems and songs, the seven managed to visit all thirteen centres in one day. Others had read-ins with their most famous local scribe or B-list celeb supporter.

Sheffield had a mass Shhh!-in at their city library attended by over 200 people. After a group exclamation of 'Shhh!' and three cheers for their library, people went and took out their allowance of 15 books each, leaving the shelves looking decidedly bare and the floor filled with people sitting down for an impromptu read-in.

Milborne Port library in Somerset was infiltrated by a phantom 'book snatcher' who went around grabbing books from reading people's hands, replacing it with signs saying things like 'illiteracy', 'poor life chances', and 'social isolation'.

People took to the streets in Scotland and Cambridge, with a group protesting outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and a flashmob in Cambridge reading aloud from their favourite books.

I hope the public keep on throwing the book at both their local Councils and the Government. Sadly, though, it would appear that when it comes to library services, the ConDems have simply picked up where Labour left off when it comes to library cuts - let's not forget that in the Lancaster area, the then Labour County Council voted to close several smaller libraries on cost grounds in 2006, with the County Councillor in charge of the action claiming libraries were "not important" (an then trying to cover his tracks, as I reported here at the time on virtual-lancaster.net).

Ironically, the champion of the libraries that were cut was Stuart Langhorn, now the Liberal Democrat leader of the local City Council. Let's hope he's working to resist cuts now.

The fact that sections of the poor, young, disabled, socially marginalised or even middle class will end up getting screwed when these libraries closed or their services slashed is tough.

Shhh...

Stop the Cuts• See http://publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com/ for a map of libraries under threat from councilcuts and local campaign in your area.

• Lancashire County Council meets at 1.00pm on Thursday 17th February in Preston to decide whether to approve the cuts as laid out in its spending plans (PDF download), for a £71.7m saving in 2011-12, followed by a further £50m in 2012-13 and another £57.4m in 2013-14 - a total of £179.1m over the next three years. Protesters will rally at County Hall at noon.

• Visit the Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts facebook group.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bob Crow to Speak on Cuts at Lancaster Public Meeting

Bob Crow, plain-speaking leader of the UK’s fastest-growing labour organisation, the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT), will be speaking about the government spending cuts at a public meeting at Lancaster Town Hall on Wednesday 23 February at 7.30pm.

Titled ‘Building the Alternative’, the meeting is organised by Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts, the local campaigning coalition of trades unions, community organisations, students and progressives.

Crow is known for leading his union’s defence of London Underground workers, whose jobs were threatened by London Transport management when Metronet, the private finance partnership set up by Labour, collapsed. He said, “It wasn't our members who created the downturn and we will not be bullied into accepting that they should be forced to pay for an economic crisis that was cooked up by the bankers and the politicians.”

Also speaking will be Chris Banberry of the Right To Work Campaign and Gina Dowding of the Green Party. All are welcome.

Earlier on the same Wednesday Lancaster is to be visited by none other than Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP, who will be at the Green Party stall in Market Square from 11.30am – 12.30pm, to talk with local people about the spending cuts and to learn their concerns. You can read a recent interview with her here.

Next week Lancashire County Council vote on their new budget proposals, which will slash social services, mainly to elderly and young people, by 25%. They also set aside £26 million for an initial spend on a Heysham M6 Link Road, as a priority, in a deal that will leave LCC entirely liable for any overspend on the estimated road costs.

In addition to the costs of the inevitable further Public Inquiry, flaws have already been identified in their new submitted estimates for a more-cheaply designed route (read more), representing millions in extra costs, omitted from the accounts, which can only result in further budget deficits down the line.

An all-Lancashire protest rally against the budget proposals, which amount to £179 million, over the next three years, making Lancashire one of the hardest-hit counties in the UK, is to be held in Preston Flag Market (in front of the Harris Museum) at noon tomorrow (Saturday 12 March). A further protest will take place on Thursday 17 March at noon at County Hall, Preston, when the Full Council meets to vote.

• Download the full LCC budget proposals here. (PDF Link)

International Women's Day Exhibition Needs Your Pictures

Tuesday 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD), and the Lancaster group organising the celebrations would like your photos of women who have made an impact on your life, for a special exhibition, titled ‘Women Like Us’ at the Gregson, opening on the evening of IWD and showing until the end of March.

Lancaster Women @ The Gregson (WAGs) will create an artwork from all your photos. You may also wish to include a short description. The exhibition is for everyone and WAGs want men to send photos of women that have made an impact in their life as well.

Photographs are needed by 20 February to give them time to create the artwork. If you have a photograph to contribute please send it to Ali at a.platt@lancaster.ac.uk or Carole at carolehunt@fsmail.net Photographs can also be dropped off at the Gregson Centre in a special collection box there marked ‘Women Like Us Project’.
As they can't be returned, clear photocopies (b&w or colour) are fine.

On Saturday 12 March the WAGs are holding a celebratory IWD 'Jacob's Join' meal and screening of ‘Woman: Whose Canvas?’ at 7pm in the Olive Bar, upstairs at the Gregson.

New Shoes Theatre will present ‘Hurried Steps’ at the Dukes DT3 on Friday 11 March at 7.30pm. Written in association with Amnesty International, Hurried Steps has ignited a global debate about the impact of violence against women. A panel discussion follows the performance.
All are welcome to these events.

As 70% of the spending cuts are aimed at women’s purses and jobs, Lancaster Women Against the Cuts (WAC) is also planning a seminar that week for women exploring the implications of the cuts for women. Speakers and time to be confirmed. See the Virtual-Lancaster events listings for updated information, or the WAC Facebook page.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Lancaster Market to move?

One of the new designs for the existing market proposed in a new report

Lancaster Market could move from its current location to new premises in the City Museum's current location, if a far-reaching proposal to address its deficit problems gets Council approval.

The scheme, which will see the Museum move elsewhere in Lancaster -- perhaps to the Shire Hall -- will be discussed by Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet next week.

The Museum proposal (PDF Link) comes hot on the heels of the publication of the Council's independent review (PDF Link) into the Market commissioned after Full Council rejected proposals to close it last year. That report, commissioned in September and prepared by the National Association of British Market Authorities, paints a damming picture of the way the Market has been run and is extremely critical of the Market's appearance such as its two-floor layout, and aspects of its management by the Council.

The report offers a number of solutions to improve the existing space, which at present is running at a huge loss, drawing on ideas from a number of successful markets elsewhere in the UK and Europe. These include relatively inexpensive improvements such as improved signage directing potential customers to the Market, an improved stall layout and entranceways - but some of the proposed improvements would have a high capital cost.

In response, Cabinet will discuss the report in the face of wider funding problems for its activities - particularly since the proposed improvement costs might still see no significan rise in user numbers or revenues. On top of those, the cost of repair work to the existing building for items such as lighting, mean a move to the current Museum building in Market Square could, overall, be a cheaper option.

The proposal would include the building of a new extension at the back of the Museum building.

Cabinet members will be asked to agree to further investigations being undertaken next week, to see if this option is feasible in terms of practicalities and cost.

The Council says the advantages of using part of the museum as a market is that it would give traders a more central location and would also tie in well with the traditional Charter Market and the retail heritage tourism offer of the city centre. It could also offer improved museum facilities.

"We are looking at the museum as a potential site for the market," Jon Barry, cabinet member with responsibility for markets, told virtual-lancaster. "The location is excellent and would link in with the outdoor market. There would need to be a new extension built on the back.

"The Museum could either go in a number of different places including other museums, or the same building but utilising other rooms; or, potentially, the Shire Hall [in Lancaster Castle] where the courts are - they want to move."

If this option was pursued the existing indoor market would be converted into a space suitable for letting to alternative retailers. This would look to reduce the deficit the council incurs in running both the market and existing museum.

If Cabinet decides to take this forward, the council will be keen to meet with interested bodies.

“I remain committed to an indoor market in Lancaster," says Jon Barry said. "If using part of the museum site proved to be feasible in terms of both improving museum facilities and creating a more vibrant market which adds to the heritage value of the city, then I think this could be an excellent solution.

"Whilst the details are being worked out, we need to introduce a number of measures to improve the existing market, that doesn't cost a lot of money. I want these to be put into action as soon as possible. It is important that we get more traders into the market to create jobs and to reduce the council's costs on the building."

The idea of moving the Market is, of course, at an early stage, and there are numerous disadvatages to using the Museum building, such as the lack of car parking and what Council officiers describe as "substantial costs" in undertaking both the works to the museum and to the market hall building.

Such a scheme would also need to gain the approval of English Heritage before it could be considered it a serious proposal.

"We would still intend to carry out a lot of the proposals in the market report, but would resist spending big capital amounts at this stage," says Jon. "It may be that these would be better spent on the museum site if it proved a goer."

• The four recommendations Cabinet will be asked to consider are:

(1) That approval be granted to undertake further investigations into the conversion of the City Museum to accommodate Lancaster Market and that a further report is made to cabinet in due course with the costs being funded from the proposed reserve.

(2) To confirm the importance of the King’s Own Royal Regimental Museum in the heritage offer of the district and to seek to improve that offer as part of any change to the City Museum.

(3) That officers be instructed to enter into leases with traders at Lancaster Market Hall that would allow for the potential relocation to new premises or a break or redevelopment clause for the purpose of refurbishing and revitalising the market hall (should transfer into alternative premises not prove feasible).

(4) That whilst investigations are undertaken into the conversion of the City Museum, measures continue to be implemented within Lancaster Market to improve its appearance and to continue with improved management and marketing of the market.

• The Council's Cabinet will meet at 10.00am at Morecambe Town Hall on Tuesday 15th February to discuss the Market's future. The full agenda is here on the Council web site

• The Museum proposal (PDF Link)
• Lancaster Market Review (PDF Link)

Monday, 7 February 2011

Campaign to get graduates to work abroad launched by government

Working in local government? Worried your job is at risk thanks to ConDem cuts in public spending?

Well, there's good news - rather than spend money on creating or maintaining jobs for people in work here, instead, the Government is spending money encouraging you to go and be a civil servant in Europe!

No, really. Just as Lancashire County Council (among others) announced its proposals for swingeing public service job cuts (see news story), the ConDem government is funding a campaign to boost employment in another country.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office launches its EU Careers Month today, as part of its campaign to encourage the UK's graduates to apply for jobs in the EU Civil Service - in partnership with the Daily Telegraph.


The EU Civil Service consists of citizens from the EU member states working across all the institutions such as the European Parliament, the Commission and the Court of Justice.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says the campaign will include a raft of online information to raise awareness about what working in the EU involves and how to get through the selection process, with ready access to blogs, videos and case studies of British staff working in Brussels.

They'll also learn why some graduates have decided to leave their jobs in the UK to embark on a career in the EU Civil Service. The campaign aims to highlight the excellent job opportunities available for Britain's brightest graduates with French or German language skills.

"I'm backing this campaign for UK graduates to look at the EU's Civil Service as a career destination," says the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Hague. "It could give you the chance to help the countries of Europe shape the European Union's future direction. If you're concerned about big policy issues, want to learn about international negotiations or fascinated by European cultures and languages, you may find the job you're looking for with the EU."

"This campaign aims to increase the number of UK graduates applying for the next round of the EU Civil Service's recruitment competition, added Minister for Europe David Lidington. "The UK only makes up 6% of the EU's workforce despite representing 12% of the EU's population. In last year's recruitment competition - the assessment taken by graduates to secure a job in one of the EU institutions - the UK produced the lowest number of applicants of all EU member states. I'd encourage anyone who is interested in an EU career to visit the online campaign at: telegraph.co.uk/eucareers"

A recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office survey of 2,200 university students showed that undergraduates at UK universities don't know enough about the employment opportunities within the EU civil service. It showed that although just over half of the respondents wanted to work for an international organisation, 81% of them had never heard of the EU recruitment competition or official assessment process.

Having British people in the EU civil service helps facilitate understanding of UK culture when the legislative proposals are drafted.

So there you go then. No jobs here in public service, but Brussels? What are you waiting for?

• For further information on EU Careers Month see www.telegraph.co.uk/eucareers 

Appeal after theft of RAF models and war memorabilia in Lancaster burglary

Police are appealing for information after a burglary at a house in Lancaster in January.

The burglary happened between 9.30 and 11.30pm on Thursday 13th January at the house on Mearbeck Place.

It is believed that the offender or offenders have broken in though the front door of the property while the owner of the property was out. On gaining entry to the property, they have ransacked the house before leaving the house with a significant amount of property.

Included in the list of items they have taken are toolboxes, eight power tools, dye cast aeroplane models, wartime aircraft memorabilia and a camera which in total comes to over £1,500.

DC Ian Wright of Lancaster CID said, “Some of the models taken are RAF 106 squadron memorabilia and they are of great sentimental value to the victim and so we are really keen to try and locate any of the items.

“Some of the power tools were later found in an alleyway between Crossgill Place and Dee Road and I would appeal for anyone in that area who may have seen anything or anyone at all suspicious in either the area around Mearbeck Place or the alleyway to come forward and contact police.”

• Anyone with information can contact police on 01524 63333 or via Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Lancashire Police seek public views on spending cuts

Lancashire Police is inviting residents in the county to have their say on policing ahead of proposed spending cuts.


Lancashire Constabulary’s current annual budget is £300 million and it employs around 6,500 people (3,500 police officers and 2,500 police staff). but the force has to find savings of around £43.75m over the next four years, something it hopes to do whilst limiting the impact on the front line and quality of service provided to residents.

The Constabulary has already identified savings through its Sustaining Excellence programme of over £14million, largely through reductions to non front line services and is now considering options to find the remaining money.

Already in the firing line are Community Support Officers across the County - although some local authorities have stepped up to the plate and found money to continue these roles (see news story) after a huge public outcry and dismay from MPs on both sides of the House of Commons, including Morecambe MP David Morris and Lancaster's Green councillors.

Residents will be able to give their views on neighbourhood policing, response police and their preferred way of contacting the police by logging on to www.lancashire.police.uk and completing a short survey (direct link: www.lancashire.police.uk/public-questionnaire).

The type of questions they will be asked to answer include, how they would prefer to report crime, how they think calls to the police should be prioritised and whether they think the Constabulary could make it easier for people to talk to them about non emergency matters.

People will also be asked about their knowledge of neighbourhood policing, including how they would prefer to have their say on policing priorities and where they think cuts could be made to neighbourhood teams, if that becomes necessary.

Commenting on the move, Chief Constable Steve Finnigan said: “British policing is based on the premise that it’s a partnership between the people and the police and that’s certainly something we focus on here in Lancashire.

“As the police service faces up to the spending cuts of the next few years, we feel it is vital that the public are part of the solution to those problems.

“Over the coming months, we will have some tough decisions to make about the shape of local policing and the public's input into that decision making is vital. That’s why we are keen for people to complete the survey and have their say.

”We are committed to working with the public to ensure that the Constabulary continues to be known as a high performing force – one that reduces and detects crime, protects people and delivers high quality services – despite the tough financial situation," he added. "Clearly we already have some ideas of how we might achieve that but really would welcome the views of local people before we move forward.

”It is important that we ask ourselves and the public some challenging questions and that we rule nothing out, albeit our main priority is to protect the front line wherever possible.”

Malcolm Doherty, Chair of the Police Authority, said that it was important that people had the opportunity to have their say on local policing delivery, particularly as the funding cuts begin to bite.  He said:  “People’s views are invaluable. We need to know what people feel about the way in which police services are delivered so that we can make the best possible decisions for the people of Lancashire in the future.”

Urging people to take a few minutes to complete the survey, he added:  “There are undoubtedly some difficult decisions to be made and we want to make sure that we take the views of our communities into account.  It doesn’t take long to complete the survey, which is very easy to do, and it is only right that the public have a voice in the decision making process.”

• The survey is available at www.lancashire.police.uk/public-questionnaire  for two weeks until Monday 21 February.