Letters to the Editor December 16, 2010
PUBLISHED: 10:41 17 December 2010
Days of cutbacks
THE council’s proposal to shed £42million from the budget, while at the same time “insisting” they need £9million to upgrade Town Hall offices, beggars belief in these days of cutbacks.
How can £9million on an office upgrade take precedence over vital community services, impacting the vulnerable and needy as well as other crucial services?
I don’t know how they dare even propose such an idea where every penny of council tax money is so crucial.
Eastfield Park, Weston
I WRITE with a different perspective on the proposals to relocate Weston’s central library within a refurbished Town Hall.
The current building is over 100 years old, and while it was fit for purpose at the time, it cannot cope with the demands of a 21st century library service.
Surveyors estimate that work in excess of £425,000 is required for the building to comply with current legislation and to provide a basic level of condition.
The building requires: Substantial structural work – to make it watertight and sound.
Complete rewiring, new lighting and heating system.
Replacement of the windows – current frames are rotting.
New flooring and furniture - much of the existing shelving is 50 years old and is in very poor condition.
Replacement lift – also 50 years old and has reached the end of its life and spares have to be manufactured.
New fire alarm and premises security systems to replace existing inadequate and outdated systems.
Replacement of fire escapes and new fire protection measures to meet current legislation.
But this is just the beginning. Further works would be required and total refurbishment costs would be in excess of £1million.
As well as the condition of the building, the location is poor, and use has declined significantly over the last 10 years. The multiple floor levels, poor facilities, layout and design are no longer suitable for a modern library.
Our intention is to retain and enhance the full range of stock and materials held in the present location.
The new library would have an improved local studies area and better IT facilities.
The opportunity to develop a new library on a single floor, with improved access and facilities in a more central location is needed and I’m sure would be welcomed by residents.
We will continue to develop different and innovative ways to deliver services – relocating the library is one such example.
The library will continue, but in a better location with better facilities.
This is not a spreadsheet exercise – this is improving services for our residents.
At a time when the council is facing £42.4million budget cuts over the next four years, this is good news for the people of Weston, providing them with a library fit for the future and one that the town deserves.
COUNCILLOR FELICITY BAKER
Executive Member for Libraries
Town Hall, Weston
The other way
ONCE again we see grand plans about council cuts. If a business cuts its services first rather than jobs, it wouldn’t last five minutes, but councils always act the other way, and job ‘cuts’ usually mean ‘moving’ people - different budget don’t you know! We are wise to that one.
My point though, is that I have watched the new 661 bus service primarily put on for staff, from Yatton Station to the new Clevedon offices for two weeks, and every single bus I saw has been empty.
I wonder how many villagers who have had their lifeline bus cut will react?
I hope the Mercury will ensure that it makes money - or gets promptly cut!
Locking Road, Weston
I WAS disgusted to see that Weston played host to an outdated, patronising event - the Miss Great Britain beauty contest final.
I can’t believe that in this day and age women still participate in an event which allows people to judge them purely on what they look like! As if there aren’t enough pressures on women and young girls to look a certain way, why not add something else? We already live in an image conscious society.
The organiser, Liz Fuller states that the beauty pageant is no longer just about looks, it’s more about personality, character and talent, yet it’s still a requirement for contestants to wear a bikini and evening gown.
Sorry, but I can’t get my head round how wearing a bikini, caking yourself in make up and smiling all night shows off your personality and talent. Also, if it’s not about looks then why is it still called ‘a beauty pageant’?
Wansborough Road, Worle
I ATTENDED an excellent tribute concert to Matt Munro on Sunday afternoon.
There were only eight people in the audience. It cost me just £6 for two and half hours of fabulous non-stop singing.
What has happened to the Blakehay? Don’t they advertise any more?
MS M FERNLEY
Woodcliff Road, Weston
Hours will reduce
I AM writing in response to your front page article on North Somerset Council’s proposals for how it will cut its budget by £15.8million in 2011/12, with further cuts amounting to £42million over four years.
As the branch secretary of North Somerset UNISON, which represents council workers, I was surprised the Mercury focused on the future plans to close the current Weston library building and move the library service to the Town Hall, rather than the much more immediate proposals to reduce the numbers of library staff, and ask local people to volunteer to run libraries.
This, in our view, will have a much greater impact on library services, because as paid library staff are reduced and if volunteers fail to step forward then library hours will reduce and some libraries will eventually close.
Councillor Ashton was quoted in the Midweek Mercury as saying: “If people are prepared to jump up and down about a library then they should be prepared to help run this service too”.
We would like to make it clear that Congresbury library, which Councillor Ashton gave as an example, is not run entirely by volunteers – volunteers work alongside a paid member of staff and are managed by a library manager.
Congresbury Library is a unique case, given that the building is owned by the parish council, and is unlikely to be so easily replicated in other parts of North Somerset.
It is our view that the so-called Big Society idea of volunteers running local services may prove to be unworkable, particularly if citizens are either not prepared to volunteer, or are too busy holding down more than one job in order to pay the bills.
The council have made it clear that they intend to provide less services directly, and that the direction they intend to take will be to privatise services, as well as asking citizens themselves to provide services.
Although the council argues that children’s and adult social services will be protected, by far the biggest budget cut (14 per cent) will be to children’s and young people’s services – this includes cuts to the team which is responsible for school improvements, cuts to Connexions and Aiming High for disabled children, withdrawing funding from the schools music service, and a reduction in funding for training school support staff.
In Adult Social Services we are particularly worried by the proposals which will see £500,000 taken out of the budget for care packages for the elderly and disabled, a £700,000 reduction in supporting people services, again impacting on the care and support of the most vulnerable, and reductions in home care and residential care.
As a local authority, North Somerset Council are required to actively promote equalities, and as part of this to undertake impact assessments on all the services they provide, and on any proposed changes to those services.
Equality impact assessments allow the council to assess the impact of their proposals on particular groups of people - people of different ethnic origins, women and men, young and old people, disabled people, gay people, and people of different religions. If as a result there will be a negative impact on a particular group, they can then make revisions to their proposals to remove or lessen that impact.
UNISON have been requesting that the council assess its budget proposals for the impact on different groups of people for a number of months now – we have still seen little evidence of this and we are concerned that the council will find itself in breach of its equality duties if it does not assess the impact of its budget proposals.
As far as jobs are concerned, in the first year the council will lose 130 full-time jobs. The council’s future intentions make it clear that they will be operating with a significantly reduced workforce – this could amount to losing 25 per cent of its workforce over the four years of cuts, and that’s excluding those council employed staff who work in schools.
We are seriously concerned about the council’s ability to deliver services with such a reduced workforce, and we are also worried about the knock-on effects for the North Somerset economy, given that the council is currently the largest local employer. In addition to job losses, council workers will see their spending power reduced by a three-year pay freeze, or pay cut as we like to call it, and now the council intend to cut the pay and conditions of some of the lowest paid council workers, the majority of whom are women.
The council are also arguing that because they have made so many cuts since 2007 that they are in a better position than others to deal with the Coalition Government’s public spending cuts.
The logic of this argument escapes us, as it seems more likely that because they have cut services to the bone over the last three years, there is nothing left to cut and as a result front line services are bound to suffer.
Such severe cuts mean it is now likely that the citizens of North Somerset will experience much reduced and poorer services, or they just won’t get the services they are entitled to.
Councillor Ashton also said in the Mercury that he is worried that the public don’t understand the severity of the forthcoming cuts to public services.
I have to say I agree with him on this. You can’t cut £15million from your budget without it having a massive impact on services.
We urge the people of North Somerset to start talking to their local councillors about the impact of the cuts on the services they rely on, to attend council meetings (January 18 and February 22, 2011) and speak up for their local services.
We also urge them to join our campaign to defend public services http://www.unison.org.uk/million and to attend the Rally against the Cuts in London on March 26, 2011.
Branch Secretary, North Somerset Unison
Town Hall, Weston
LAST week, when writing about the Tropicana, the director of finance of North Somerset Council stated that he wished to “provide some clarity on the opportunity for local people to get involved”. Let me put another slant on how we can get involved.
The applications to develop the Tropicana closed in November and, after widespread publicity across the EU, we have only two developers who have submitted sketches – one we know well and the other we know little about.
To take eight months to decide which one will get the contract is appalling.
To help “concentrate the mind” the decision must be made before the elections in May because there has been enough procrastination on the Tropicana and if a decision is not made before the elections then the public can get very involved by not voting for them at the next election!
Whether the sitting Weston councillors like it or not, the Tropicana is a big election issue and our vote matters to them if they want to see the inside of the council chamber again for the next four years and continue to collect their minimum pay of £170 per week.
We have been messed about for far too long and the EU directives are not going to wash.
We want action and we don’t want to see the detailed planning application kicking about in the planning department for the next two years.
No excuses, get the job done or you can bet your public will get very involved with your future. Does this clarify the situation?
Clarence Grove Road, Weston
RE CATS and antifreeze poisoning: This seems to be a very common problem - so why aren’t manufacturers being asked to add something to make the product unpalatable for cats?
As for garden water features, I am sure I read somewhere that adding glycerin to the water will stop it freezing. Glycerin is used in baking so shouldn’t be poisonous to cats or birds, etc.
It can be bought in supermarkets or chemists I believe.
Leafy Way, Locking
My JACK and Taff are very disappointed over the dog ban on the pier.
You would have thought a few dog bins would be a good investment.
Wynter Close, Worle
Fun was cut short
AS A Bristol resident I was very happy to see the pier re-open in Weston recently. I finally managed to come on Sunday with my two girls aged two and a half and five.
I walked along the newly refurbished promenade and the kids enjoyed the space to use their scooters. Weston was looking great after its recent facelift and the sun was shining.
Our fun was cut short as we approached the pier and a member of staff told us we wouldn’t be allowed on the pier with our scooters. “It’s OK,” I said, ‘I’m carrying them, they won’t be using them on the pier.”
I was told that we still wouldn’t be allowed on. I said I was happy to leave them somewhere safe if that helped. No, they couldn’t do that.
So I asked what he suggested I do. “Take them back to your car” he suggested.
I explained my car was too far away and I had two small children with me. “I will look after your kids while you pop back” suggested the helpful man.
“Brilliant” I said “You will look after my kids, but you won’t look after scooters”. “Sorry, it’s not me it is by boss” replied the jobsworth.
I understand that the pier doesn’t want kids scooting all over the place and bumping into other people, but as I was carrying the scooters I feel this rule was applied a little too forcefully.
Surely it is better to have some provision for this kind of scenario, rather than simply turning customers away to spend their money elsewhere?
Thornleigh Road, Horfield, Bristol
THE town is awash with unhappy and disinterested people, who have witnessed a serious decline in the image and standard of this town.
Being active in the campaign to save Poppyfields dementia care home, we knew deep down it was a done deal, but those of us with a conscience fought against an inflexible and unaccountable council executive.
Imagine my delight this week, as I drove down Locking Road only to get stuck in queuing traffic. Five minutes later, I knew my fate. There in front of me was the dreaded new metal lamppost installation team.
I don’t blame the workmen, I know two of them, as they just act under instruction, but will they please tell their bosses, the illumination these new carbuncles provide fail to light up the roadside below and in this current spell of global cooking, we don’t want to warm up the planet too much do we?
Having just scanned through your paper, I see the next exposed cut may be our local library. Having glimpsed through some recent recyclable literature from our council leader, he tells me he wants information from residents on how to save money.
Having driven through Clevedon five days a week for the last two years, the emergence of the “Castlewood” complex onto the horizon appals me.
The millions put into this project should be re-directed into our dreadful roads, the abolition of malfunction junction and for the general enhancement and quality of life for the people who live here.
Sadly, the deaf-aid is turned on but the volume is turned down.
My views are not universal but are exposed by many who feel alienated from the goals and actions of those, current and past, who have total power.
Locking Road, Weston
I AM at a loss to understand the comments made by our MP on the front page of the Mercury, when he states that if the library was transferred to the Town Hall it could be more conveniently accessible.
Parking around the Town Hall is diabolical and the nearest bus stop is in Regents Street.
Parking at the current library building is much easier and the No 7 bus stops every 10 minutes outside the building.
One question - if the library was transferred, what would become of the present historic building?
It does seem as though the council make up their minds by the flip of a coin, but for their information there are two sides to a coin. If this building is too large and expensive to maintain why not let a section of the building for commercial offices to help balance the books.
Already we have the old court house empty and if all the cinema plans go ahead in Dolphin Square and the Tropicana we could lose the Odeon, which is a listed building.
Add the current library building and we could have three empty historic buildings in town with no future use.
Such a situation would be devastating and more of the town’s culture would be consigned to history.
Clarence Grove Road, Weston
THE extraordinary plan from North Somerset Council’s ruling Conservatives to spend almost £10million doing up the Town Hall – and close our much-used town centre library in the process – is utterly mind boggling.
Not content with wasting a whopping £14.1million to date on the Castlewood office building in Clevedon and moving hundreds of jobs from Weston out of town, they now want to gold plate the Town Hall too.
To do this at a time when the nation was awash with money would have been disgraceful profligacy.
To do it at a time when people are losing their jobs, when cuts need to be made to essential services and when charges for virtually every council facility will rocket, borders on the criminal.
Let us not forget that these are the same councillors who took office just three years ago and awarded themselves pay rises of up to 50 per cent and pension pots worth thousands – all at our expense.
These are the same councillors who say there is no money to get the Tropicana open, no money to fill our potholes and no money to clean up our streets.
They said there was no money to keep vulnerable people in Poppyfields or to help create jobs in our town. No money to fix junction 21 and no money to keep council tax down.
With this decision Conservative councillors have shown that all they are fit for is to be shown the door out of their £30million offices.
George Street, Weston
THE Weston Central Library has played a major role in my life for over half a century.
I have enjoyed books on all subjects from the lending section, checked facts on specialist subjects in the reference room, and spent countless hours unearthing local and Somerset facts in the local history room.
What has worried me most of all in the sudden whimsical plan to “move the library to the Town Hall” is that the reference and history rooms are upstairs in the Boulevard building and I have talked to councillors and officers who had no idea that there was anything upstairs at all.
I believe it to be important for residents to be able to research local and family histories in a library (or a museum) that provides access to up-to-date and genuine research. I know that some people will argue “computers” at me but my experience as an expert is that the information on computer is often badly researched, biased, and out of date.
The Government has cancelled university grants for “Arts and Humanities”, Somerset Council has stopped grants to “Arts”, and now this plan turns up as another example of Councillor Ashton’s strangely anti-Weston bias, and I believe that the research areas in the library will vanish in the move.
As I also consider the plans for the museum to be doomed to failure, as it is more about petty politics than preservation, it might not be long before schools, students, and interested adults will no longer have access to the genuine history of the area they live in.
A place with no past will never have much of a future to look forward to.
Weston historian, Ex vice chair Library Committee
Alma Street, Weston