Friday, 19 December 2014

City Council faces even more cuts as Tories savage public spending again



Lancaster City Council is facing further cuts to its funding next year, after the government announced further funding reductions to the money it gives our area by 6.4% - which could push it to breaking point.

Yesterday, the communities and local government minister Kris Hopkins announced what he called a fair financial settlement for councils in 2015-16. English councils will face an average cut of 1.8% in spending power and Hopkins said no council would see more than a 6.4% cut.

"Every council should be able to deliver sensible savings while protecting frontline services for local taxpayers,” he claimed.

While other Northern councils, including Preston, Pendle and Barrow-in-Furness face similar swingeing cuts, a small number of councils, predominantly in well off places such as Windsor and Wokingham will get a slight increase.

While the news is grim for our local council, Lancashire County Council is facing even bigger cuts. With about 60% of its spending unable to be cut because they have a statutory duty to maintain funding, we can expect some pretty tough decisions over the future of the Storey Institute, libraries, the Maritime Museum, the City Museum and others.

Other non-statutory services funded by the two councils such as amongst others Salt Ayre, Barton Road Community Centre, arts funding, funding for activities and clubs for young people, services for the elderly and more will now face further scrutiny to deliver on the cuts the reduction in government has brought about.

Across the country, town hall chiefs have already warned Government they are pushing them to breaking point, accusing them of playing down the size and the seriousness of real term cuts to council spending.

The Guardian reports that the group that represents local government heads, who currently oversee spending of £114 billion a year in England, said the reduction in central government grants amounted to an average 8.8% cut next year, around £2.6 billion in cash terms.

The government’s spending power figures represent the totality of funds available to councils, including business rates and NHS cash notionally available to local government social care services. The 8.8% figure refers to the amount of grant given directly to councils by the government.

“We cannot pretend that this will not have an impact on local government’s ability to improve people’s quality of life and support local businesses," said David Sparks, the chairman of the Local Government Association. “It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people and families scaled back.”

The LGA estimates that central funding for councils has shrunk by 40% overall since 2010, and this decrease has come at a time when demand for core services such as child protection and social care of older people is rapidly increasing.

The cuts have even alarmed Tory council leaders some also highly critical of the latest round of cuts. David Hodge, Conservative leader of Surrey county council, told BBC Radio 4: “There is a limit. You can only cut local government so far.”

“This settlement reminds us that the financial challenge facing local government is immense," commented Graeme McDonald, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. "Cuts of up to 6.4% will push some authorities to breaking point.”

It seems strange to think that when David Cameron came to power he promised to give local councils much more power. "Over the last century Britain has become one of the most centralised countries in the developed world," he said. "I am convinced that if we have more local discretion - more decisions made and money spent at the local level - we'll get better outcomes."

"But in the spring of 2011, something counter-intuitive happened," notes BBC correspondent Mark Easton. "For the first time probably in living memory, central government was bigger than local government. The number of people in the UK employed by Whitehall overtook the number employed by the town hall."

Instead of employing staff direct, many councils - with Tory councils leading the charge - have outsourced services to private companies, a move that leaves them unaccountable. Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty noted that claimed savings made by such practices were dubious - and reports on how changes at Brent Council have left local taxpayers bemused about where and how they sould complain when a previously-run Council service fails to deliver (if it still exists).

In more bad news for the country's most vulnerable, Ministers did not reverse plans to end £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes aimed at providing crisis help for a range of vulnerable people who fall into unexpected crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people, pregnant mothers, care leavers, pensioners and people suffering from chronic physical and mental health problems.

However, they did acknowledge concerns, including those raised by a last minute 38 Degrees petition signed by 100,000 people, and set aside £130m for the emergency fund for people in crisis (PDF link). But they have left it up to councils whether they use it for that or not. So there’s still no certainty.

In the face of more cuts to services, councillors and taxpayers alike are scrabbling for solutions to the funding shortfall. Some people have suggested cutting still further councillors' allowances etc., but compared with the expenses MPs have claimed (Iain Duncan claimed for his underpants) what councillors get seems pretty small based on reported expenses (Word Doc link on City Council web site).

"Local councillors get paid a tiny amount for the work they're expected to do," argues local business man Michael Gibson. "The Leader of Lancaster City Council, Eileen Blamire, effectively controls a £20 million company with another £15 million of devolved spending. She should work at least 40 hours a week. She gets paid £11,400 a year. Local city councillors, there are too many, get paid £3,300 a year. No one claims expenses of more than a few hundred pounds a year. If anything we need less councillors, paid more money so we can attract talented people to the job who can make a real difference."

Councillors get a basic £3000 allowance (compared with £60,000+ for an MP) and then an allowance for special responsibility, travelling and subsistence. Overall councillors claimed £80,182.97 in total claimed for special allowances for the year 2013/14 and 3,962.21 for travel. Overall, our councillors cost local tax payers £281,595.18.

For comparison, Morecambe MP David Morris's expenses during the year 2012 / 2013 were £75,624.43  and that figure is less than what the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which examines MPs expenses, spent on office furniture!

Who would want to be a local councillor right now facing such dreadful choices? What would you cut?

 • The BBC has full details of where the cuts will fall on its web site here

Daily Telegraph: Hospitals and fire services to be run 'outside the public sector'

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Can a huge e-protest stop a cut to far to Council funding by the Coalition Government?

In a new round of spending cuts by the Coalition Government, it's been revealed that Chancellor George Osborne is trying to cut crucial funding designed to help people in crisis as part of his anticipated cuts of around £3 billion to the work of local councils.

The national Guardian has reported that ministers announced in January that £180m central funding for council-run local welfare assistance schemes in England would stop from April 2015 - funds vital to help people hit by flooding, fire, or domestic violence. But the decision to cut funding has come under fire in recent months from a number of Conservative council leaders and MPs, as well as local Labour politicians and poverty charities, who argued that removing the local welfare safety net would drive people to food banks and loan sharks.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles, is among the senior ministers understood to want to save the fund with £70m of extra money, which could be ringfenced and is reported to have the support of, among others, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. But the demand is said to have been met with resistance the chancellor.

Without this vital safety net, stricken families would be left penniless and without food and the cuts could announce the cut later today – so let’s help try to stop him. With other ministers are feeling the pressure over “the unpopularity of welfare cuts and the rising use of food banks”. A huge public outcry, just as MPs are getting ready to go home for Christmas, could split the government further - and force Osborne to back down.

Whether it’s a violent partner, flood, or fire, anyone can suddenly find themselves up against it. Until now, the government has given councils funds to offer emergency help. If George Osborne manages to scrap this fund, people could be left with nowhere to turn.

As a proportion of government spending, the sums of money involved are pretty small. But this is about the kind of Britain we want to live in.

Can it really be right to scrap emergency support for people hit by crisis? Do we really want to leave people in hardship to suffer? To rely on food banks? Or even worse, loan sharks?

•  Please sign the emergency petition now: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/osborne-christmas-cuts

Police appeal after 14-year-old boy attacked on Millennium Bridge

Lancaster detectives are appealing for information after a 14-year-old boy was struck in an unprovoked attack at around 9.30pm on Saturday (13th December) on Lancaster's Millennium Bridge.

The victim was walking home over the bridge when he was engaged in conversation by two youths of a similar age. One of them is believed to have then struck him from behind, causing him to fall forwards and sustain injuries to his face - as well as breaking and chipping his front teeth.

“This was a completely unprovoked, nasty attack on a young man who has understandably been left shaken by this incident," commented DC Sue Palmer from Lancaster CID. “I am asking anyone who may have witnessed this or has any information about it to get in touch with us.”

The first offender is described as a white male, approximately 5ft 7in, slim build, aged around 14 to 15 years old, with black, shiny hair to one side. He was wearing a darkish-grey fleecy hoody and dark tracksuit bottoms.

The second offender was a white male, approximately 5ft 7in, medium build with a rounded face, aged around 14 to 15 years with light brown/blonde hair. He possibly had his hood up and was wearing a darkish top.

Anyone with information can call Lancaster CID on 101 quoting incident number 463 of 14th December 2014.

Alternatively, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Witness appeal after man dies following Caton Road collision

Police are appealing for witnesses after a man died following a collision in Caton yesterday.

The collision happened shortly before 5.00pm on Tuesday 16th December on an unlit stretch of the A683 Caton Road, Crook O’Lune when two cars, a Honda Jazz and a Hyundai Tucson, collided with an 80 year-old-man, Joseph McNamara from Heysham, who sustained serious injuries and was sadly pronounced dead at the scene.

PS Tracey Ward of the Road Policing Unit said: “This is a tragic incident and my thoughts are with Joseph’s family and friends at this time. An investigation into how this collision occurred is underway and I would urge anyone who witnessed the incident to contact us.”

• Anyone with information should contact police on 101 quoting log number LC-20141216-0884. Alternatively, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Over 100 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition surrendered across Lancashire

A Colt .45 and three magazines, Cap and ball revolver and a British Second World War service revolver handed into Lancashire Police during 'Op Holster'

103 prohibited guns and 3,419 rounds of ammunition were handed into Lancashire Police during a two week ‘Op Holster’ amnesty last month.

Officers collected a haul of 46 shotguns, 41 various air guns, pistols and five rifles. Also taken to police stations were eight revolvers and three self-loading pistols, in addition to various calibres of live ammunition.

A week long opportunity for people to surrender unwanted firearms and ammunition began on 10 November 2014 and owing to its success it was extended for a further week.

Some items will be submitted to NABIS (National Ballistics Intelligence Service) and after any evidential issues have been explored the majority of the items will be destroyed.

However there are some historical pieces, including World War One weapons and several rare American produced guns that the force will donate to organisations including the Royal Armouries and accredited government “proof houses”. 

"The gun surrender has been a great success for Lancashire Police," notes Superintendent Jon Puttock. "Clearly it’s concerning to see so many dangerous weapons on the street but taking these firearms and ammunition out of circulation can only be a good thing.

“We have also had lots of interesting and historic items handed in, including a stun gun disguised as torch and some of the firearms date back to the first and second World Wars.

“A replica revolver was brought in after been found whilst clearing a deceased relatives house, and two 12 bore shotguns and ammunition that was also found whilst clearing out another deceased relatives house some time ago.

“Many of the weapons are old but many remain live and if fired are capable of killing. All it would take is one burglary for a gun to be stolen and end up in criminal hands.

“Communities hold the key to helping reduce firearms related crime and if you know of people involved in illegal firearms activity call the Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

“Every call to Crimestoppers is anonymous and potentially vital to preventing or solving serious crimes; removing an illegally held firearm may just save someone’s life.”

Throughout the week, those surrendering firearms did not face prosecution for illegal possession and were able to remain anonymous.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw:
"I am delighted the gun surrender proved such a success."
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: "I am delighted the gun surrender proved such a success.

"Every single weapon which has been handed in is one which will now not fall into wrong hands. That's an important step toward protecting Lancashire's residents.

"The consequences of possessing a weapon illegal are severe, and while the volume of guns and ammunition that was out there illegally in Lancashire is concerning, it is pleasing the message is getting through to people."

New firearms legislation came into effect on 14 July increasing the maximum jail term for illegal gun possession with aggravating features from 10 years to life.

Force Gun Crime and Statistics

• Between April 2013 and March 2014, a total of 77 firearms discharges were recorded across Lancashire.

• There have currently been 38 discharges recorded this year, up to end Sept.

• Between January and September 2013 there were 46 firearm discharges across the county, compared to 27 in the same period this year, a 41% reduction.

• There have been 53 injuries as a result of firearms discharges for the last 12 months and 19 crimes recorded as possession of firearm.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

County Council sets January dates for decisions on shale gas

Lancashire County Council has scheduled two days in January 2015 for its Development Control Committee to make decisions on planning applications for shale gas development at two sites in the county. 

Shale gas is extracted through 'fracking', a process by which large companies get permission to industrialise huge swathes of Lancashire countryside, drill bore holes, inject water into the ground to get at the gas potentially causing earth tremors, all with the blessing of from both government and other major political parties who still think chasing the last scrap of fossil fuels is the solution to our energy problems.

(Since mainstream media tend to repeat the same mantra about the fracking process in an effort to bore you to death, we thought we'd spice it up for you as a Christmas gift).

The council's Development Control Committee is due to determine applications from energy firm Cuadrilla to drill, frack, and test gas flows, with associated separate applications for environmental monitoring, at two sites in Lancashire - Preston New Road at Little Plumpton, and Roseacre Wood at Roseacre.

The applications relating to the Preston New Road site are scheduled to be decided at a meeting at County Hall to begin at 10.00am on Wednesday 28th January. The applications relating to the Roseacre Wood site are scheduled to be decided at a meeting to begin at 10.00am on Thursday 29 January.

Friday 30th January has also been set aside for the continuation of the committee meetings in case a decision has not been reached on previous days.

The council's planners have been working since the applications were received in June to consult with the public and other statutory agencies, and assess the applications, to ensure all the information needed to determine them is put before the Development Control Committee.

Reports to be considered by the committee will be published at www.lancashire.gov.uk on Wednesday 21st January.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Solstice celebrations at Atticus



We reported that last week that Atticus on King Street are giving Lancastrians a traditional pagan Christmas this year, to celebrate the midwinter solstice this Saturday, 21st December - and now we have more details.

Visit the shop - which is dedicated to raising funds for the Tasikoki Wildlife Centre in Indonesia at this event -  and see a traditional pagan Santa, and play seasonal solstice games such as the Scandinavian ‘Hide the Goats’ with a prize for the last one found.

There will also be other activities, too: join in the Sun Biscuit offering ceremony to ensure the return of Spring in 2015!

The event is entirely free, with a selection of traditional yule-time refreshments provided and will run from 12 noon until 4.00pm.

• For more information call Atticus on 01524 903383 or email tom@tomattic.com

Appeal for missing 43 year old man from Lancaster

 

 
UPDATE 17th December: Mr McCandish has been found safe and well

Police are appealing for information about a 43 year old man who was last seen on Saturday.
 
Andrew McCandlish from Morecambe was last seen in the A and E department at Royal Lancaster Infirmary on Saturday 13 December. He was awaiting a medical assessment but is thought to have left the hospital at around 3.30pm.  
 
He is described as white, around 5ft 7 tall, of a medium build with hazel coloured eyes. He is bald and has tattoos on his hands and arms, wings on his chest and a picture of a woman on the front of one of his legs. 
 
He was last seen wearing a grey patterned Lonsdale hooded jumper, faded black jeans and a black and grey beanie hat with a silver emblem on it. He is thought to have had black thermals underneath his clothes and was wearing black hiking boots.
 
He could still be within the Lancaster and Morecambe area but it is thought that he may have links to parts of West Lancashire in Ormskirk, Burscough and Wigan.
 
PC Adele Laffan of Morecambe Police said: “Andrew has been missing for two days now and I would appeal to anyone who has seen him or knows where he is to contact us. We are growing increasingly concerned about his welfare and he may not have important medication with him.”

Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 quoting log number 0971 of December 13th or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org

Oscar's Wine Bar - court date set after investigation concludes into 'Nitro Cocktail' accident

Court proceedings have been started under health and safety legislation against a wine bar, one of its directors and an employee, following the conclusion of an investigation by Lancaster City Council into an incident involving an 18-year-old girl and a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen.

Back in October 2012, we reported how Lancaster sixth-former Gaby Scanlon had to have emergency surgery at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary after drinking two cocktails containing liquid nitrogen at Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro on George Street.

Although three of her companions on the night suffered no ill-effects from drinking the cocktail, Gaby, from Heysham, began to experience breathing difficulties and severe stomach pains. Taken to nearby Royal Lancaster Infirmary she was found to have a perforated stomach and given life-saving emergency surgery to remove it.

"I'd been warned by the barman the drink might make me a bit gassy, so I didn't think too much of it," she later told the Daily Mail, "but then my stomach started to expand and I felt sick.

"Soon I was doubled up with pain. People were asking me if I was all right, but I couldn’t say anything because my stomach hurt so much. Everyone went into a panic. I couldn’t talk, I could barely walk and everything was just a blur of pain. I was so frightened. I knew the drink must have caused it."

Although there were calls to ban the 'Nitro Cocktails' from MPs they can still be bought.

Andrew Dunn, of The Garden Village in Old Earswick, Yorkshire, has been summoned to court to answer charges under sections 3(1), 33(1)(a) and 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974 in relation to his role as a director of Oscar’s Wine Bar.

Matthew George Harding, of George Street in Lancaster, has also been summoned to court to answer charges under and breaches of sections 7 and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974 in relation to his role as an employee of the bar.

The company, Oscar’s Wine Bar Ltd, registered address of 39-42 Bridge Street, Swinton, South Yorkshire, has been summoned to court to answer charges under sections 3(1), and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974.

The first hearing is due to take place on Monday 9th February 2015 at Lancaster Magistrates Court.

Crook O' Lune bridge restoration wins heritage award

Image: Lancashire County Council
Lancashire County Council has won a prestigious national award for giving a new lease of life to a historic the Crook O' Lune East Viaduct bridge near Lancaster.

The council received the Restoration Award at the National Railway Heritage Awards for its work on Viaduct, which forms part of the footpath using the now closed line from Lancaster to Wennington.

The Grade II listed structure was reopened a year ago following careful and sensitive repairs which saw the timber decking replaced, ironwork repainted and masonry repointed.

A new landscaped area, featuring benches and otter sculptures has also been created on the riverbank beneath.

County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, was presented with a cast-iron plaque which will be put in place near the bridge and unveiled during a ceremony next year.

He said: "This award is testament to the commitment of our staff to preserving this historic bridge for future generations and ensuring the bridge and surrounds provide enjoyment for the thousands of people who visit this stunning location every year.

"We are fortunate to have staff who are so dedicated and I'm very glad their excellent work on this project has been recognised as among the best in the country."

Lancashire County Council worked closely with contractors Casey, Sarum, Hankinson, Harrison and Wisewood on the Crook O'Lune bridge restoration.

City Council Warns: Be Flood Ready

A battered Morecambe seafront earlier this year. Photo: Lancaster City Council

Homes and businesses in the Lancaster district are being encouraged to plan ahead and prepare for the potential of flooding in the future.

Although flood defences have been built locally, thousands of properties in the district are at risk of flooding, and flood defences could be overtopped in very significant flood events.

Last winter was one of the wettest on record and up and down the country people found that they were not prepared for the worst the weather can bring. Rather than leave things to chance, if you think you may be at risk please collect your free ‘Be Flood Ready’ booklet from Lancaster City Council.

Making your property resilient to floodwater will limit the damage caused by flooding, which means less costly repairs and less time out of your home or business premises.

Taking steps to be prepared for flooding reduces the damage and impacts when flooding does occur.
 
The free booklet contains lots of useful advice about flood risk, flood warnings and how to prepare and protect your home or business from flooding.

Councillor Karen Leytham, Cabinet member with responsibility for health and housing, said: “It’s so important for people who live in flood risk areas to be aware of what could happen if flooding strikes.

“Being prepared for flooding and knowing what to do in an emergency will help to safeguard your family and possessions.”

• Copies are available from Lancaster and Morecambe town halls, or online at www.lancaster.gov.uk/flooding