Wednesday, 31 December 2008

'Skulduggery' allegation after voters fail to turn out for by-election

A FORMER Minehead town councillor who unsuccessfully tried to reclaim his seat in a by-election which attracted possibly the country’s lowest-ever turnout, is calling on the Electoral Commission to lobby for a change in the law.
Tony Berry is a past-chairman of Minehead Conservative Association and also formerly the finance chairman of Minehead Town Council.
His defeat in a town council by-election in October has exposed a loophole in English electoral law which he claimed allowed for the result of a local election to be manipulated to the disadvantage of candidates who were not rich.
Mr Berry stood as an Independent candidate in the by-election, which was won by a 19-vote majority by a Conservative candidate in a poll which attracted just 233 votes out of 3,165 eligible voters - a meagre turnout of only seven per cent.
He blamed town council ‘skulduggery’ for the poor voter turnout, as the council failed to issue polling notices, failed to publish notices of election in the ward, failed to advertise the election in local newspapers, and failed to use its website to advertise the by-election.
Mr Berry said the decision not to issue polling cards was taken by the town council clerk - whose husband was agent for the Conservative candidate - and who failed even to notify him of the decision.
The result was that many voters either did not know the by-election was taking place, or thought they could not vote without a polling card and stayed at home.
Now, Mr Berry has been horrified to discover that there is no statutory public organisation which can investigate and ensure local elections are run fairly.
Local electoral procedures can only be challenged by those rich enough to be able to go to court and use the judicial processes.
Mr Berry has raised his concerns about the conduct of the by-election with both the Electoral Commission and the Audit Commission, and he has received confirmation that the town council breached Electoral Commission guidance in several respects in its conduct of the October by-election.
He is now calling on the Electoral Commission to lobby for it to be given statutory powers to investigate electoral skulduggery and to be able to re-run elections where wrongdoing is proven.
Mr Berry said: “I am not casting any aspersions on the successful candidate in this by-election, but I have no doubt the result would have been greatly different had more people come out to vote.
“I only found out by accident two days before the by-election that polling cards had not been sent out, despite it being normal practice to do so, which did not leave me much time to get around 3,000 people to tell them they could still vote and where to vote.
“I do not want the by-election re-run. What has happened is history now. But I do want to see fairness in local elections and it should not matter whether you are rich or poor, if something underhand goes on then there should be an authority which can put matters right.
“I think most people would have believed, like me, that the Electoral Commission was created to ensure that all elections are carried out fairly, so I was extremely surprised to find it is a watchdog without any teeth at all and they can only offer ‘advice and guidance’ on local elections.”
Mr Berry has also written to Minehead’s mayor, Councillor Simon Stokes, asking him as a matter of urgency to ensure the council adopts a formal set of procedures for running elections to include all the guidance points issued by the Electoral Commission.
  • Our photograph shows Tony Berry studying some of the correspondence from the Electoral Commission. Photo submitted.

Arrests top 180 in Christmas drink-drive crackdown

MORE than 180 people have been arrested since the launch of Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s Christmas drink-drive crackdown on December 1.
The total of 183 arrests included 26 across the West Somerset policing area.
The campaign is part of a national move to target irresponsible and dangerous drivers over the festive period.
Supt Andy Pullan, of force’s the road policing unit, said: “"This campaign is about reminding people that drinking alcohol and driving is a lethal combination.
“Everybody is aware of the dangers, but there are still the reckless few who are prepared to gamble on others and their own lives.
“Each year 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured nationally on our roads in drink-drive related crashes.
“Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink could lead to a penalty of six months imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000, and a minimum 12 month driving ban.
“Campaigns like this reinforce the message that drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car is unacceptable.
“We will continue to show drivers that they will get caught if they drink and drive and there are severe consequences when they do.”
Officers have been carrying out high visibility road-side checks across known drink-drive hotspots throughout the force area and taking the opportunity to provide law abiding motorists with some car crime prevention advice.

Queen honours West Somerset training academy founder

THE retiring principal of Foxes Academy, Minehead, has received an MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.
Maureen Tyler-Moore was honoured for her services to special needs education.
She co-founded with Sue Jenkins the training academy for young adults with learning disabilities in 1996 with just three students.
Since then, the hotel and catering industry training establishment has grown to accommodate more than 70 students.
Earlier this year, Maureen announced she was stepping down as principal to be replaced by Vanessa Cleere, who has worked at the academy since 2006.
Maureen and Sue will continue to develop the training centre as directors of the company.
All of the students who attend the academy have conditions which affect their learning, such as cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome, or may suffer brain damage and/or epilepsy.
They spend up to three years under close supervision in a working hotel environment acquiring skills intended to help them gain employment in the hospitality industry.
Mrs Tyler-Moore said: “The only way you can teach these kids is in a practical way.
“We are proud of what we achieve at Foxes.
“We turn students into people that have the confidence to go out there and get on with their lives.”
Both Maureen and Sue were working in geriatric care and were looking for a new challenge when they had the idea for Foxes Academy.
Maureen said: “We felt strongly that it was not enough just to teach young people with special needs how to cook, make beds and wait at tables.
“Unless they learn how to get up on time in the morning, catch a bus to work, look after their money, and so on, they are never going to find and hold down a job.
“So, you have to teach them independent living skills as well, and you cannot do that in a classroom.”
Other Somerset honours included an MBE for 90-year-old Margaret Way for voluntary service to speech and drama.
Miss Way, who is speech and drama secretary of the Somerset Music and Drama Festival, began teaching in the 1930s.
She served in the Army during and after the Second World War and earlier this year was also presented with a Somerset High Sheriff’s Award and a Mayor’s Civic Award in recognition of her contributions to the community.
An OBE was awarded to Somerset County Council’s cultural services head, Robert Froud, for his services to local government.
Mr Froud was formerly the county librarian and has given more than 30 years’ service.
Brigadier John Hemsley also received an OBE for voluntary service to the St John Ambulance Brigade and to the community in Somerset.
The ex-Somerset Light Infantry officer is chairman of the St John’s Fellowship in the Priory of England and the Islands, an old comrades association which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.
Somerset County Council’s lieutenancy officer, Diane Stanton, received a Royal Victorian Order.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hospital staff receive awards for 132 years of patient care

THE matron and three senior nurses of Minehead Hospital have been recognised for their combined 132 years of service to patient care.
Hospital matron, Sue Meade, staff nurses Tracey Griffin and Christine Bard, and outpatients sister Linda Arscott received commemorative certificates and specially engraved glass paperweights.
The presentations took place at an NHS long service award ceremony held at the town’s hospital just before Christmas by Somerset Primary Care Trust chairman Jane Barrie.
Mrs Barrie commended all of the staff in the hospital for their hard work during year and their commitment to delivering high quality care to patients.
She said: “The board of the primary care trust and I appreciate and thank all Minehead Hospital staff for their continued hard work and efforts.
“This year, Government inspectors the Healthcare Commission awarded the second highest rating of ‘good’ for the standard of our community health services and this was due to the continuing hard work of all staff.
“It is your commitment and determination to improve the quality of the care and treatment that is appreciated by local people, the primary care trust and the National Health Service.”
Sue Meade has worked in the NHS for more than 29 years and was appointed matron in Minehead in 2004.
She started working at Minehead in 1983 as a staff nurse and had previously worked at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
Sue became acting sister in 1983 and was promoted to sister in January, 1985.
She has always been at the forefront of developing local services and has been playing a leading role in the development of the new Minehead hospital which will be built off Seaward Way.
Tracey Griffin has worked in the NHS for more than 26 years, starting her career as a student nurse in Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, in 1982.
She became a staff nurse on the surgical ward of Minehead Hospital in January, 1986, and was promoted to senior staff nurse in 1988.
In 1994, Tracey was promoted to sister with the surgical team, and as well as managing surgical services for the local community she has run specialist blood clinics for West Somerset.
Christine Bard has 41 years of service with the NHS, having qualified as a nurse in the 1970s.
From 1978 to 1982, she worked in Yeovil District Hospital, before being appointed to Glastonbury Health Centre in 1987.
In 1992, she transferred to Williton Hospital, and then started working at Minehead Hospital in 1995 as a staff nurse in the outpatients department.
She retired from Minehead Hospital in February, 2007, but returned a few months later to again work in the outpatients department.
Linda Arscott has 36 years’ NHS service after starting as a student nurse in Frenchay School of Nursing, Bristol.
In 1975, she started as a staff nurse with Wiltshire Health Authority and then moved to Hertfordshire Health Authority as a staff nurse.
She moved to Somerset in 1988 and joined Minehead Hospital as a staff nurse on the wards.
Linda was made acting sister on the medical ward in1990 and later went to the nearby Irnham Lodge medical centre as sister of the day hospital until it was relocated to the hospital site in 1994.
Since then, she has worked as sister responsible for the outpatient department of Minehead Hospital.
  • Our photograph shows (left to right) staff nurses Christine Bard and Tracey Griffin, outpatients sister Linda Arscott, matron Sue Meade, and primary care trust chairman Jane Barrie. Photo submitted.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Old oven gloves cause farmhouse fire

THREE fire and rescue crews from Porlock and Minehead were called to a farmhouse blaze this morning at Home Bush Wood, Luccombe.
The brigade was alerted at just after 9 am when the fire was spotted in the living room of the property.
One appliance from Porlock and two from Minehead were mobilised, plus a command support unit from Wiveliscombe.
However, the Porlock firemen were first on the scene and they quickly realised the blaze could be put out without the support of the other appliances, which returned to their stations.
A log basket was found to be alight and it was removed from the living room and the firefighters used positive pressure ventilation and a dry powder extinguisher to put out the flames.
The cause was an old set of oven gloves which had been used to stoke the fire with logs and which had then been placed in the log basket where they ignited.
The damage was restricted to three sq ft of direct burning, and 500 sq ft of smoke damage.
Smoke alarms were fitted to the property.
The firefighters also carried out a ‘hot strike’ to neighbouring properties.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Tropiquaria takes Christmas delivery of baby giant tortoises

FATHER Christmas delivered a present with a difference for one of West Somerset’s leading visitor attractions this year.
Six baby giant tortoises arrived at the Tropiquaria animal centre, at Washford Cross, just in time for Christmas.
The tortoises are currently only about five inches long, but during the next 30 years should grow to be more than two feet long and weigh nearly 16 stone (100 kgs).
They are African spurred tortoises, which are the third largest tortoise species in the world.
In the wild, they are found in a belt across the full width of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert.
They are currently rated in the conservation stakes as ‘vulnerable’.
Tropiquaria director Chris Moiser said there was currently a lot of opinion which suggested the species should be listed under the more worrying classification of ‘endangered’.
Mr Moiser said countries where the tortoises were found were all suffering climate change, some had civil wars going on, and many had rapidly rising populations where the domestic livestock competed with the tortoises for food.
In addition there had been illegal exports for the pet trade.
Mr Moiser said it all meant tortoise populations were becoming fragmented, and fragmentary populations could easily die out.
One recent estimate put the wild population at between 18,000 and 20,000 animals. Mr Moiser said: “So, as well as increasing the number of African species on display in our tropical hall, which was a long-term aim when Jane and I took over Tropiquaria, we have another species that needs nurturing in captivity as an insurance policy for the wild.
“Fortunately, these tortoises, given the right conditions, do breed well in zoos, and Tropiquaria’s six babies all came from a zoo in Yorkshire where they were bred.”
Tropiquaria senior keeper Becky Welsh said that she was delighted the giant tortoise species had been added to the centre’s collection
She said they were all were eating well and did not seem to be upset by the move from Yorkshire.
Quirky fact about the species:
  • It has a role in desert edge ecology of mixing and fertilising the soil through its digging and defecation, respectively
  • It spreads a number of seeds with its dung including the seeds of the date palm from which gum Arabic may be obtained, as well as dates
  • The best known use of gum Arabic is making chewing gum

Our photograph shows Tropiquaria senior keeper Becky Welsh with one of the baby giant tortoises. Photo submitted.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Large crowds turn out for traditional Boxing Day hunt meet

MINEHEAD Harriers traditional Boxing Day was switched for the first time this year to the town’s seafront and took place in the freezing cold yesterday.
Several hundred hunt supporters turned out for the occasion, which was held outside the Beach Hotel.
Despite a hunting ban introduced four years ago, meets by the Harriers and other hunts across West Somerset have continued to prove to be just as popular, if not more so.
Harriers secretary Tim Holt said following the sale by Barry Richards of the town centre Wellington Hotel, where the Boxing Day meet had been held for many years, it was decided to host it instead at the Beach Hotel, which Mr Richards still owned.
Mr Holt said the change was hugely popular with a larger than ever public attendance.
He said: “There must have been one of the biggest crowds I have ever seen at a meet and it was all good-natured.
“None of the ‘antis’ were there to cause any nonsense and we had a great send-off.”
Harriers vice-president Mike Padgett said: “It was tremendous to see the support we get from the ordinary public of West Somerset.
“It just goes to show what an important part the hunt plays in the local community and how valued it is as a part of everybody’s lives.”
The West Somerset Vale hunt met in Nether Stowey and also saw larger than usual crowds gather at The Cross to see them ride out, bringing traffic in the village centre to a halt as they did so.
The Countryside Alliance said Boxing Day meets across the country had generally enjoyed their largest turnouts since the hunting ban was introduced.
Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner, who leads a campaign to repeal the hunting ban, said: “There seems to be a very large turnout at all the meets.
“There is a feeling that people are coming out just to support their local hunt and the campaign for the repeal of the act. It is a very positive feeling across the country.”

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Firefighters investigate Christmas Day blaze on Exmoor

FIVE fire engines from four towns were called to a Christmas Day house fire on Exmoor.
Crews attended the incident from Dulverton, Wiveliscombe, Williton, and Bampton.
The blaze in Brompton Regis was spotted by neighbours after smoke detectors in the The Old Waggon Works activated just before 3.20 pm this afternoon.
Owners Peter Page, who is a parish councillor, and his wife Babs, were understood to be away at the time for a family Christmas celebration.
One bedroom was almost entirely destroyed in the fire, which also spread to the loft of the house and to a downstairs utility room as firefighters used breathing apparatus to enter the property and tackle the blaze.
The whole of the groundfloor and first floor of the house suffered smoke damage, but The Post understands nobody was injured in the incident.
Six sets of breathing apparatus, two hose reel jets, and one covering jet were used in the firefighting operation.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation this evening but was beleived to have been an electrical fault.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

New council code aims to reduce busking complaints

BUSKERS and street entertainers in West Somerset are being given more protection from complaints under a new code of practice which has been launched by the district council.
The new code is intended to help performers avoid complaints and stay on the right side of the law.
Council licensing committee chairman Councillor Jenny Hill said buskers were sometimes reported as a public disturbance or annoyance, quite often without the buskers realising there was a problem.
If a performer was the subject of recurring complaints, the council would take action under the Environment Protection Act 1990 which could include seizure of musical instruments and amplifiers.
Councillor Hill said: “We would only resort to these measures if other forms of action had failed, as busking and other forms of street entertainment provide pleasure to many people. We want to see that continue.
“Our role is to ensure buskers maintain their place in creating a vibrant atmosphere and providing entertainment while staying within the law.
“That way, we are fulfilling our obligation to the performers and public alike.”
Under the new code of practice, anybody who is disturbed by busking should first approach the buskers to politely explain their concern before resorting to complaining to the council.
Councillor Hill said street entertainers were often unaware of the problem they might be causing, and most would happily reduce noise levels once alerted.
Street entertainment should only be reported West Somerset Council’s Licensing Team if a problem persisted.
Reports can be made by calling 01643 703704.

Police drink-drive crackdown catches nearly 150 motorists under the influence

POLICE have renewed their appeal to motorists not to drink and drive over the festive period and especially today, Christmas Eve.
It follows the arrest of more than 140 drivers since the December 1 launch of a Christmas anti-drink and drive campaign across the Avon and Somerset Constabulary area.
Nineteen of the motorists were caught in checks conducted in the West Somerset policing area.
A total of 146 drivers have so far been arrested during the campaign, of which almost one-third (41) were aged under 25 years.
The arrested drivers either gave a positive breath specimen or refused to provide a specimen, or were driving while unfit through drink or drugs.
Supt Andy Pullan, head of the force’s road policing unit, said: “There is no failsafe guide as to how to stay under the legal drink drive limit, or how much you can drink and still drive safely.
“That is why we urge people not to drink at all if they are driving.”
Supt Pullan said officers would continue to carry out high visibility roadside checks across known drink-drive hotspots throughout the force area.
He said they would also be taking the opportunity to provide car crime prevention advice.
Police estimate by the end of the Christmas drink-drive campaign up to 10,000 motorists will have been stopped by officers.
The crackdown on drink-driving is part of a nationwide initiative led by the Association of Chief Police Officers throughout the month of December.
Although there is a focused campaign throughout December, Supt Pullan said the drink-drive message applied across the 365 days of the year.
He said: “It is recognised that over the festive period there is a greater risk, but we will remain relentless in our campaign against drink-driving in Avon and Somerset.”
Anybody with information about drink-drivers should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
They do not have to give their name and they could receive a reward.
In urgent cases where it is suspected somebody is driving or about to drive while drunk, thereby putting life at risk, people should call 999.
  • Our photograph shows a police officer preparing to carry out a roadside breath test. Photo submitted.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Magistrates order benefits cheat to carry out unpaid work

A CONTINUING clampdown on benefits cheats by West Somerset Council saw a third man prosecuted in the space of a month.
Jameel Khan, aged 31, of Townsend Road, Minehead, claimed nearly £3,000 in housing and council tax benefits to which he was not entitled.
His fraud was conducted over a period of eight months this year, from March to October, after he failed to tell the council he had been working.
Khan carried on claiming housing and council tax benefits after finding work in March, and although the job ended in May, he found further employment in July and again failed to declare it to the council.
As a result, Khan received £2,168.38 in housing benefit and £698.44 in council tax benefit between March and October to which he was not entitled.
Khan pleaded guilty to the offences when he appeared before West Somerset magistrates.
The magistrates gave him credit for his guilty plea and the fact that Khan had already started to repay the overpayment.
They decided a community order was appropriate and sentenced Khan to carry out 50 hours of unpaid work.
After the case, West Somerset Council finance portfolio holder Councillor Doug Ross said: “It is essential that people claiming benefits report changes in their circumstances to our benefits team immediately.
“We are keen to help those facing genuine hardship, and encourage people in difficulty to seek our help and not to risk getting themselves into trouble.”

Spot-checks operation on taxis to ensure public are safe at Christmas

A PRE-Christmas clampdown on taxi and private hire operators saw two vehicles taken off the road immediately for failing safety checks.
The operation was carried out jointly last week by West Somerset Council, police, and vehicle inspectors.
A total of 25 taxis and private hire vehicles were randomly stopped for spot-checks which were carried out at Minehead police headquarters.
Police motorcyclists rounded up hackney carriages up to eight-seats in size, and engineers from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) made safety checks.
Of the two prohibition notices which were issued - preventing the operator trading immediately - one was lifted on the same day after minor remedial works by qualified mechanics.
Council licensing committee chairman Councillor Jenny Hill said: “Taxis are very much in demand at this time of year so we were pleased to discover the vast majority of operators are keeping their vehicles in a safe and sound condition, and meeting the strict standards for public hire vehicles.
“It is vital that there is no compromise in ensuring public safety, and that people can trust in the reliability of hire transport.”
Police, who conduct roadside checks on all vehicles to ensure they are roadworthy, taxed, and insured, urged motorists to conduct regular checks on their vehicles to ensure they complied with manufacturer and use regulations.
Inspector Carol Pearce said: “These checks are a regular occurrence in West Somerset.
“By working together with all agencies, we can ensure that when a member of the public gets into a taxi in West Somerset, it is completely roadworthy.
“I would urge all drivers of motor vehicles to regularly check their lights and ensure that the windscreen washes are topped up
“Keeping your vehicle safe and roadworthy is the best Christmas present you can give yourselves, your family, and your fellow humans.
“Stay safe over Christmas, if you drink - don’t drive.”

Seasonal advice given to shop owners to keep staff out of danger

A CHRISTMAS health and safety swoop has been carried out on shop premises in Minehead in an effort to protect staff during the festive season.
West Somerset Council’s health and safety team visited 20 shops in the town to give owners and managers advice on the risks to staff, especially at this time of the year when extra stock movements usually occurred.
Warning letters were issued to two businesses for serious contraventions of health and safety legislation.
Council health and well-being portfolio holder Councillor Kate Kravis said the contraventions would be followed up by officers.
Councillor Kravis said: “We have a duty to keep risks to staff and customers to a minimum.
“Our team found most businesses were pleased with the advice.
“The team revisited three shops the following day to ensure that businesses had complied with the advice for minor contraventions, such as removing damaged ladders and clearing fire exits.
“Our aim, in the first instance, is to educate the owners or managers of premises.
“However, we will not tolerate any undue risk to staff or to the public, who should be able to use local premises with confidence.”
The council team gave advice on slips and trips, stock movement, ladders, employment conditions, training needs of young people, and training and translations needs of migrant workers.
Councillor Kravis said during Christmas and the New Year shops had to manage more stock movement, which increased the risk of manual handling and slips and trips injuries.
The health and safety team also provided advice on how improvements could be made, including advising where safety knives were not in use.
Information concerning the use of ladders and stepladders was also provided.
Councillor Kravis said: “The majority of owners welcomed the officers’ visit, and most managers were managing the increase in stock movement well.
“The visits have given the team a good snapshot impression of health and safety in town centre premises.
“We will continue to be vigilant to ensure public safety.”
Any business owners or managers who would like health and safety advice can contact the council by calling 01643 703704 or by emailing customerservices@westsomerset.gov.uk.

Supermarket staff and customers help raise £2 million for cancer care

STAFF and customers of the Somerfield store in Minehead have helped the supermarket firm to raise more than £2 million to improve the lives of people living with cancer.
The total has been raised since Macmillan was voted as Somerfield’s charity partner in March of last year.
The Minehead store, in The Avenue, contributed £1,131, which will be put toward the cost to the charity of employing a head and neck cancer nurse specialist in Somerset.
Somerfield head of press and charity Pete Williams said: “We are very excited to have raised £2 million for Macmillan.
“We set ourselves an ambitious target at the start of the partnership and I am very proud to see us exceed it.”
Macmillan provides practical, emotional, and financial support to people affected by cancer.
The money raised by Somerfield stores will help to fund a range of cancer services throughout the country, providing valuable support in local communities.
It has been collected through fund-raising in-store, sales promotions and gift items such as the Little Book of Treats, and a collection of recipes from supporters and celebrities across the UK.
Somerfield involved all of its 42,000 employees in its fund-raising efforts across its 850-plus network of stores nationwide and hoped also to raise awareness among its 10 million customers of the work and services provided by Macmillan.
Mr Williams said: “From big picnics to sponsored head shaves and cycling challenges, the support we have had for Macmillan has been incredible.
“It has been fantastic to know that every penny raised will help support people living with cancer in local areas.”
Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Ciarán Devane said: “This is a phenomenal achievement and is a testament to the commitment of Somerfield staff and customers to improving lives in the local community.
“We are grateful to everybody involved.”
With more than two million people living with cancer in the UK, the money raised by Somerfield will help Macmillan with its commitment to reach everybody affected by cancer by 2010.

Four stars out of five for hospital food outlets

CATERING outlets in Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, have been awarded four stars by environmental health inspectors.
Musgrove achieved an ‘excellent’ mark for its food handling and management, and a ‘good’ mark for the condition of the premises.
Overall, the four star award meant the inspectors considered the level of hygiene practice to be ‘very good’.
The borough council team of inspectors looked in particular at three areas involved with the hospital's catering services:
  • Food handling practice
  • Condition of the premises
  • Management systems
Musgrove catering manager Phil Shelley said: “This is excellent news.
“Our staff have worked incredibly hard to improve standards in everything we do.
“The four star award is a great Christmas present for us and an incentive to get that fifth star next year.
“We will now be working hard with the council and the estates team here at Musgrove to do all we can to further improve the facilities we have.”
  • Our photograph shows Musgrove catering staff (left to right) Marion Collins, Jon Smith, Rose Cooke, Sandra Hall, Daniel Shelley, Jenny Grant, and Colin Frost. Photo submitted.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Barrage campaigners call on Government to 'come clean' over jobs and economic impact

CAMPAIGNERS against a proposed Severn Barrage are calling on London-based civil servants and consultants to ‘come clean’ over the economic impact of such a project on the area’s maritime industry.
The Stop the Barrage NOW campaign wants to see reports published which it claims reveal the ‘true costs’ of a proposed barrage (artist's impression shown) across the River Severn.
The call follows meetings organised by the Severn Tidal Power Feasibility Study Group, a team of civil servants based in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, to brief stakeholders.
Analysts from consultancy DTZ, which is carrying out an economic impact assessment of different options for the barrage, are alleged to have said during the meetings that a Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare barrage would cost thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds to the regional economy.
Ports and other maritime businesses in the Westcountry were said to be extremely worried about such a prospect.
However, neither DTZ nor the study group has allowed them comment on, or even to see, the economic impact assessment report before the Government decides in January on a shortlist of renewable energy options to take forward.
Ten potential schemes are currently being looked at, including conventional barrages, tidal fences, tidal lagoons - and a tidal reef.
The 12-mile tidal reef idea has been put forward by Cornish engineers Joseph Evans and Sons Ltd and would run from Minehead to Wales.
Evans and Co owner Rupert Evans said the tidal reef would cost less than a barrage, have less environmental and economic impact, and generate more power more reliably.
It is an alternative favoured by the Stop the Barrage NOW campaign, which says the reef, lagoons - possibly built ‘sequentially to achieve the maximum environmentally benign energy extraction’ - a tidal fence (described as a ‘compromise between conservation, commercial interests and renewable targets’), and wind farms at sea would all be better options than an ‘all or nothing’ barrage.

Closure date is confirmed for Woolworths in Minehead

ADMINISTRATORS overseeing the winding-up of the Woolworths chain of stores have confirmed that the Minehead branch will be among the last to close.
Deloitte has published individual dates for the final closure of each of the 807 stores nationwide
Up to 200 are due to close as early of December 27, and all of the remainder will be shut by January 5 at the latest.
The Minehead store, in The Avenue, is among those which will remain trading until January 5.
A countdown poster showing the remaining number of trading days for the store is on display in the shop window.
Woolworths has traded in Minehead since 1937 and the branch employs nearly 30 staff, most of them part-time and some of whom have worked in the store for more than 20 years.
The staff are due to be kept on for an additional three days after the closure before their jobs come to an end along with the other 30,000 Woolworths employees.
Woolworths went into administration in November with debts of £385 million and Deloitte has been unable to find a buyer for the group, although expressions of interest have been made for parts of it.
It is likely that up to 300 of the stores will be reopened by other retailers which want to buy the leases of certain locations, but there has been no confirmation of the future of the Minehead site.
Deloitte partner Neville Kahn said it was unclear how much of the company’s debt would be paid, but it was ‘clear the creditors and suppliers will not get paid in full’.
Woolworths’ staff will be entitled to compensation under the statutory redundancy payment scheme.
Ironically, Woolworths has been enjoying record sales in the past few days as bargain hunters flock to the stores to take advantage of the firm’s biggest ever sale with discounts of up to 50 per cent on offer.
Some trade press reports have suggested former Woolworths chief executive Sir Geoff Mulcahy could be talking with the company’s largest shareholder, Ardeshir Naghshineh, about a last-minute rescue package for the group.
Sir Geoff was earlier critical of the way Deloittehad handled Woolworths, describing it as ‘disgraceful’.
It was also suggest Mr Naghshineh had approached the Government about the possibility of bailout funding to save Woolworths.
The shopworkers’ union Usdaw has also criticised Deloitte’s decision to close all the stores and make staff redundant without allowing them an opportunity to transfer to any news owners who may purchase individual store leases.

Estate agents turn Father Christmas for hospital children's unit

STAFF from the Minehead and Watchet branches of estate agent Wilkie, May and Tuckwood have delivered piles of goodies to the children’s unit of Musgrove Park Hospital, just in time for Christmas.
Watchet branch manager Steven Loveday decided to do something to show support for the hospital after his baby daughter Molly spent four days in the children’s unit during the summer.
Mr Loveday said: “The care Molly received was fantastic and I just wanted to do something to say thank you for that.
“I talked to my colleagues and we decided to appeal to our local community for toys and games that we could take along to the unit at Christmas time.
“Both I and Kevin James, who manages the Minehead branch, have been really pleased with the reaction we have had from our local clientele, who donated lots of traditional wooden toys and games as well as the more modern choices of DVDs and Playstation games.
“We would like to thank them all for their support at this busy time of year for everybody.”
Musgrove hospital play specialist Jane Horn said: “Steven and Kevin arrived absolutely laden with toys which made a lovely surprise for the children.
“We are always really grateful to receive good quality toys and games as it is essential to have a good selection of items to help make our young patients feel relaxed when they are in unfamiliar hospital surroundings.
“We know that having access to toys and games that occupy children really helps with the healing process.
“Wilkie, May and Tuckwood have worked really hard to provide new toys and we are delighted that they made the time and effort to do this.”
  • Our photograph shows (left to right) Steven Loveday, Jane Horn, and Kevin James with some of the toys given to Musgrove children’s unit. Photo submitted.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Police hunting two men after armed robbery fails

POLICE are appealing for information and witnesses after an armed man tried to rob a Spar shop in Alcombe, Minehead, last night.
The man used a hand gun in the attempted robbery, which happened at about 6.30 pm.
He entered the store in Alcombe Road and pointed the gun at a shop assistant’s face while demanding money.
The man made repeated demands for money but the assistant was unable to open the till.
The robber then panicked and left the store empty-handed.
He was described as white, 5 ft 10 ins tall, of average build, with fair coloured hair and was wearing a light coloured jacket.
The raider’s face was hidden under a ski mask which he wore during the attempted robbery.
It is believed he had an accomplice waiting outside, who was described also as white, 5 ft 10 ins tall, of average build, and with dark hair and wearing a dark coloured jacket.
Anybody who witnessed the incident, or saw two men matching these descriptions acting suspiciously in the area, should call police on 0845 456 700 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where they do not have to give their name but could receive a reward.
Alternatively, they can contact police through the secure Crimestoppers contact form which can be found on the internet at https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/crimestoppers/ContactForm.aspx.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Christmas drink-drive campaign catches more than 100 drivers

MORE than 100 motorists have been arrested by Avon and Somerset Police for drink-driving offences since the launch of a Christmas crackdown at the start of the month – 15 of them in the West Somerset policing area.
The arrested drivers have failed breath tests or refused to provide a specimen, or were driving while unfit through drink or drugs.
With the Christmas party season well under way, police today reminded people not to drink alcohol before driving.
Supt Andy Pullan, head of the road policing unit, said: “There is no failsafe guide as to how to stay under the legal drink-drive limit, or how much you can drink and still drive safely.
“That is why we are urging people to not drink at all if they have a vehicle with them.”
Police have been carrying out high visibility roadside checks across known drink-drive hotspots throughout the force area and at the same time have taken the opportunity to provide law abiding motorists with some car crime prevention advice.
They estimate that officers will have stopped 10,000 motorists by the end of the festive period.
The crackdown is part of a nationwide initiative led by the Association of Chief Police Officers throughout the month of December.
However, Supt Pullan said although there was a focused campaign at this time of the year, the drink-drive message applied on all 365 days of the year.
Supt Pullan said: “Of course, it is recognised that over the festive period there is a greater risk, which is why we are putting extra resources in place throughout the next six weeks.
“But it will not stop there and our efforts will continue throughout the year.”
Anybody with information about drink-drivers should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where they do not have to give their name and could receive a reward.
In urgent cases where it is suspected somebody is driving or about to drive while drunk and thereby putting life at risk, people should dial 999.
  • Our photograph shows a roadside breath test being carried out by a police officer. Photo submitted.

Poison alert for pet owners on Quantocks as buzzard dies

PET owners are being warned by police to be vigilant after the death of a buzzard on the Quantock Hills which had been poisoned with a banned pesticide.
The dead buzzard was found by a walker on the hills. It was lying on top of a dead pheasant not far from a game bird release pen.
Post mortems on the buzzard and the pheasant showed both had the banned pesticide carbofuran in their bodies.
Carbofuran was once widely used to control insects in a variety of field crops, including potatoes, corn, and soybeans, and is known to be highly toxic to birds with just a single grain causing death.
Police said they believed the pheasant may have been baited to target animals which preyed on game birds, but they were unsure if was left specifically for buzzards.
Together with officials from Natural England, police officers searched the Quantocks earlier this month for any signs of the banned substance and to carry out safety checks on pesticide stores.
Police wildlife crime officer Sgt Andy Whysall said: “The indiscriminate poisoning of wildlife is a serious matter which affects all who use the countryside.
“Pet owners walking on the hills are advised to avoid contact with animal carcasses, suspect baits, pesticides, or pesticide containers.”
Natural England spokesman David Trump said: “Dogs have a tendency to pick things up while walking and some pesticides are fairly quick acting, so sometimes by the time owners realise their pet is unwell it is too late.
“It is also potentially hazardous to children and people in general.
“We want people to be aware and to report anything suspicious to the police.”
Animal Concern charity spokesman John Robins said bird poisonings were often difficult to solve because they took place in remote areas and the birds could fly some distance away from where they took the bait.
Mr Robins said: “We urge people to contact the police immediately and not to touch anything they find because it is evidence and it can be lethal.”
It is a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine of £5,000 to supply, sell, store, or use any non-approved pesticide.
The Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme investigates deaths of wildlife where there is evidence that pesticide poisoning may be involved and has appealed for information about the buzzard’s death.
Anybody with information should call 0800 321600.
  • Our photograph shows the carcass of the buzzard found on the Quantocks. Photo submitted.

EXCLUSIVE: Shock at sudden job losses 'to protect newspaper profits'

A ROUND of job losses in the past week has shocked staff at the larger of West Somerset’s two paid-for weekly newspapers.
The Newsquest-owned Somerset County Gazette has made redundancies in every department to cut costs following dramatic falls in advertising revenue.
The highest profile victim was the newspaper’s deputy editor Bob Drayton, who had worked for the company for most of the past 40 years.
Mr Drayton, who lives in Ilminster, received the MBE in the Queen’s 2003 New Year Honours List for his services to the newspaper industry and his local communities of Chard and Ilminster.
He began his career as a reporter on the Chard and Ilminster News, one of the Gazette group’s titles, and went on to be editor of the newspaper before taking over as deputy group editor in Taunton in 1987.
Another high profile executive to lose his job was popular distribution manager Courtenay Popple, who had been with the Gazette since it acquired the Star series of newspapers in the late 1980s.
The Post understands Mr Popple was told at short notice to clear his desk on Friday of last week and was not even allowed to tell fellow staff that his job had been axed.
One junior reporter on the paper also left voluntarily during the week, and the Gazette is said to be looking to cut one more from its reporting staff.
Mr Drayton headed a team of nine sub-editors - the people who put the editorial content on to the news pages and write the headlines and lay out the pages - and two more are expected to be axed, leaving a skeleton staff of just six in the department.
Earlier in the year, the Gazette shed many of its sales staff and also merged responsibility for circulation with the role of the paper’s editor Ken Bird.
Newsquest has also cut more than 200 editorial jobs since June at its papers across the length and breadth of the country and in Wales and Scotland.
The job losses have affected everybody from senior management and editors to editorial assistants and librarians.
Other cost cutting measures adopted by the Canadian-owned group include closing a £17 million printing plant, shutting some of its weekly newspapers, closing district offices, scrapping some editions of daily newspapers, merging the sub-editing departments of different newspapers, imposing a pay freeze, and non-replacement for vacancies.
A common tactic has been to hand out redundancy notices to large numbers of staff and to then ask them to reapply for fewer vacancies.
Across the world, Canadian owners Gannet has been making thousands of job cuts.
National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear said journalists and editorial standards at Newsquest newspapers such as the County Gazette were being sacrificed to protect the owner’s profits.
Mr Dear said: “The companies are not unprofitable and many major analysts expect them to remain so in to the future, so the slash and burn is not about saving an industry but about maintaining artificially high profit levels.
“Owners can no longer expect to fleece the industry to the tune of 30 per cent-plus, they are going to have to accept lower profit margins.
“If they will not, they should get out and let people who care about newspapers’ public service role take over.
“Instead of greater investment in quality online content, more localised coverage, and strengthened editorial teams, for years the vast profits of local newspapers have been largely shovelled into shareholders’ pockets, directors’ pay rises, and executive pension pots, amid reckless borrowing and poor investment decisions.
“Now, the very people who plunged the industry into this crisis by demanding such excessive profits believe the solution is to axe journalists and freeze pay.
“It is a false economy to put the ability to deliver scoops, quality content, and strong local coverage in jeopardy.
“Local newspapers in print and online remain viable and profitable businesses. We cannot stand by and see this profiteering destroy our industry.”
The union has also urged newspaper editors to work alongside their journalists to defend their editorial independence and integrity.
In an unprecedented move, the NUJ is planning a ‘jobs summit’ to co-ordinate action across more sections of the newspaper industry, which will be held in London on January 24.
More information about the NUJ summit can be obtained by emailing campaigns@nuj.org.uk.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Holnicote Estate rural workshop destroyed in electrical fire

A WORKSHOP on the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate was almost completely destroyed by fire early today.
The alarm was sounded by a tenant farmer at isolated Horner Farm, near Luccombe, at about 9 am.
A fire and rescue crew was initially sent to the scene from Minehead, but on arrival the officer in charge realised the incident was much more serious and called in further crews from Dulverton, Wiveliscombe, Nether Stowey, and Lynton.
It is thought an electrical fault was to blame for setting alight the converted barn premises.
The fire quickly ripped through the 164 feet by 33 feet building, although nobody was hurt in the incident.
It took several hours for the firefighters to put out the blaze using compressed air foam, two hose reel jets and one main jet.
Approximately 70 per cent of the building was destroyed and machinery and tools inside the workshop were even more badly damaged.
National Trust senior rural surveyor Andrew Lawes said although a detailed fire investigation report was awaited, it appeared that faulty electrics were to blame.
Mr Lawes said: “Our insurers and loss adjusters will visit in the New Year to survey the extent of the damage to the barn.
“We are relieved nobody has been hurt and are grateful to the fire and rescue service for their efforts in containing the fire so quickly and preventing the spread of damage to other parts of Horner Farm.”

EXCLUSIVE: £1 million High Court patent case hangs over West Somerset employer

AN award-winning former Watchet company is jointly facing a landmark High Court action against it with the potential for damages and costs of greater than £1 million if the case was lost.
Choice Stationery Ltd, which was based at the Smithyard, just outside Watchet, and has since relocated to Taunton, is part of the Choice Media Group which used to own Quaywest Radio.
The company expects to be in court for a trial which has been set for next June, when it will defend an action brought against it by ink cartridge manufacturer Seiko Epson Corporation.
Whichever way the case goes, the result will have major implications for the way ‘compatible ink cartridges’ are produced and sold by UK firms such as Choice Stationery.
Seiko Epson Corporation has filed allegations of a total of 10 patent infringements by Choice and two other firms, Medea International Ltd and Ebuyer (UK) Ltd.
The corporation filed its first case against the trio in February, 2006, but has since settled out of court with Medea in respect of the six specific allegations within the legal action.
It is still pursuing Choice and Ebuyer for what it says are ‘patent infringements caused by their dealings in certain ink cartridges which are compatible with Epson printers’ and this is expected to reach the stage of a trial in June, 2009.
Seiko began a second case against Choice, Medea, and Ebuyer regarding a further four similar allegations in October of last year.
Choice produces its own brand of compatible ink cartridges, called Think, which it says offers 80 per cent savings on manufacturers’ originals.
In 2005, it introduced the ThinkPlus cartridge in an apparent bid to head off possible legal action by Seiko Epson.
Choice said at the time the new cartridge was the ‘first major patented innovation in inkjet cartridge construction since their conception’.
The firm boasted: “This is the future of compatible cartridges, and although more expensive to produce than past products it still offers a huge cost saving against originals
“With the original manufacturers fighting to regain their stranglehold on replacement printer cartridge supply by threatening legal action against manufacturers and suppliers of compatible cartridges, there are many competitors ‘selling off’ lower quality products to reduce stock holdings.
“Epson’s actions will force competitors out of the market, even some of the legitimate ones who cannot face the cost of defending themselves.”
The move, however, did not stop Seiko Epson launching its two legal actions against Choice, which are said to hinge on the use/copying of a patented cartridge design and/or the use/copying of a patented ink formula.
Seiko has already earned itself a reputation worldwide for ‘suing the pants off people who manufacture compatible cartridges on the grounds of patent infringement’.
Koichi Endo, Seiko Epson’s chief operating officer, consumer products operations division, defended the legal actions.
He said: “As one of the world’s leading imaging companies, Epson commits a significant human and financial investment to product research and development.
“Although Epson welcomes fair competition in the ink cartridge marketplace, infringement of Epson patented technology and innovation undermines this investment and provides an unfair advantage to those companies acting illegally.
“As such, we intend to protect our patents against any infringement and we continue to pursue our legal action.”
Choice Media Group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, was founded, and is now chaired, by Paul Andrews, who is also well-known a Special Constable in West Somerset.
It has combined with long-established Taunton firm Wessex Malthouse to offer design, office supplies, and printing.
Its group headquarters in Taunton was officially opened last autumn by MP Jeremy Browne, and it more recently moved into new premises in Minehead’s Mart Road Business Park.
Choice has twice won ‘Best Consumables Supplier’ in the Computer Active Awards, and Wessex Malthouse won the British Office and Stationery Supplies Dealer Excellence Award in 2006.
Last year, Choice was runner-up in the BOSS Technology Award for its investment in an innovative website.
  • Our photograph shows Choice Media staff outside their group headquarters building. Photo submitted.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Last rites administered for Woolworths jobs

THERE will be no Christmas cheer for staff of Woolworths’ in Minehead as the town’s store is set to close in the next three weeks, according to the company’s administrators.
Deloitte said today that failing a last-minute purchase of the firm, all 807 Woolworths stores around the country will close by January 5.
The first stores will start to close on December 27, with all 30,000 employees eventually losing their jobs.
Neville Kahn, a partner in administrators Deloitte, said some interest had been shown in parts of the business but the administrators were not even close to finding a buyer for the company outright.
Offers to take over the leases of around 300 Woolworths stores had been received from a range of food, clothes and ‘value retailers’, and Deloitte said it would try to ensure those losing their jobs were put in touch with the potential new employers.
Mr Khan said staff would be paid until the end of the month, after which they would need to apply for statutory redundancy.
He said: “It is a very difficult situation for people, particularly the employees, and we are trying to deal with it in as sensible a way as possible.”
Last week, Woolworths saw record sales as it began a closing down sale with up to 50 per cent off items - its largest ever sale.
And even larger discounts of more than 60 per cent are being planned in order to shift remaining stock.
The Minehead store will display a countdown in its shop window showing how many days were left before it closed.
Following the closure, some of the Minehead staff will be retained for a few days before their jobs go.
Woolworths went into administration three weeks ago with debts of £385 million.
Millionaire entrepreneur Theo Paphitis, one of the stars of BBC television’s Dragon’s Den series, initially showed an interest in buying the company but quickly pulled out of any deal.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Rescued tourism guide launched for Exmoor 2009 season

EXMOOR’S premier tourism guide, Exmoor Coast and Country 2009, was officially launched today, following months of hard work by the board of Exmoor Coast and Country Ltd.
The guide was rescued last year in a deal between the Exmoor Tourist Association and West Somerset Council following the debacle surrounding the collapse of tourism promoter Visit Exmoor.
It is distributed throughout the UK and is seen as an important publication drawing visitors from across the country to enjoy the delights of Exmoor and West Somerset.
Strong partnership working between the tourist association and the district council has been credited with saving the publication when its future was thrown into jeopardy after last year’s tourism season.
The official launch celebrations took place in Exmoor's highest village, at the Rest and Be Thankful Inn, Wheddon Cross, which has been refurbished by owners Eric and Julie Norman, with many key figures in local tourism attending the event.
Council leader Councillor Keith Ross said: “We are delighted that we have been able to produce the guide again this year, and we are pleased with the support it has received from local advertisers.
“Given the current economic uncertainty, it may be tempting to cut advertising costs but local businesses have chosen to support the guide.
“Tourism plays a vital part in the local economy, and Exmoor Coast and Country plays an important role in promoting Exmoor and West Somerset’s coastal area.
“Launching Exmoor Coast and Country before Christmas is great timing as many people use their time off to plan their summer holidays.
“We will also be able to use the guide to promote Exmoor at tourism trade shows early in the New Year.
“Indeed, with the pound at such a low against the dollar and the euro, there has never been a better time for visitors from abroad to come to Exmoor, and we aim to promote the area as widely as possible.”
Tourism association chairman Antony Brunt said: “We are really pleased to launch the 2009 guide.
“It stands out at shows and exhibitions for its excellent quality, which makes it very popular and gives high expectations for all those planning to visit the area.
“It is now up to everybody in the tourism sector to ensure those high expectations are fulfilled.”

Saturday, 13 December 2008

More Minehead staff fear for jobs as recession bites

MORE job worries hit workers in Minehead yesterday as Spanish banking giant Santander announced it was axing 1,900 jobs across three of its British businesses - one of them being the Alliance and Leicester Bank.
Alliance and Leicester has for many years operated a branch in Minehead in a prime site location in The Parade.
It was unclear where the Santander job losses would be made, but it was believed the brunt was likely to fall on Alliance and Leicester employees and particularly those in the cities of London, Leicester, and Bradford.
The company refused to rule out the possibility of compulsory redundancies.
Unions described the news as ‘a bitter blow’ for staff before Christmas.
It follows a 50 per cent fall in Santander’s share price since June.
Santander aims to save £180 million by the end of 2011 while having ‘minimal impact’ on customer-facing roles in its branches.
It said the focus of the reductions was on back-office jobs and across operational and head office sites, although some smaller offices could be consolidated into larger sites.
Santander UK business chief executive António Horta Osório said yesterday: “Today’s announcement shows we are on track to fulfil the commitment we made at the time of the Alliance and Leicester acquisition to grow our UK business while ensuring we meet our cost-saving targets.
“Santander is committed to its branch network in the UK, reflecting its status as one of the world’s leading retail banks, with the largest international retail branch network in the world.
“The combined UK business now has nearly 1,300 branches, which we expect to maintain or slightly increase in the near term.”

Friday, 12 December 2008

Young drivers arrested in police crackdown on drinking and driving

WITH the Christmas party season well under way, police have reminded people not to drink alcohol before driving.
A forcewide anti-drink-drive campaign began on December 1 and so far 69 people have been arrested for drink driving – eight of them in the West Somerset policing area.
More than one-in-five of the arrested drivers was aged under 25 years.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary road policing unit head, Supt Andy Pullan, said: “These young people will start the New Year without a driving licence and with a criminal record.
“They could also be fined up to £5,000, be imprisoned, lose their jobs, and the endorsement will stay on their licence for 11 years.”
Police officers have been carrying out high visibility road-side checks across known drink-drive hotspots throughout the force area and taking the opportunity to provide law-abiding motorists with some car crime prevention advice.
It is estimated that police will stop more than 10,000 motorists by the end of the festive period.
The crackdown is part of a nationwide initiative led by the Association of Chief Police Officers throughout the month of December.
However, Supt Pullan said although there was a focused campaign at this time of the year, the drink-drive message applied on all 365 days of the year.
Supt Pullan said: “Of course, it is recognised that over the festive period there is a greater risk, which is why we are putting extra resources in place throughout the next six weeks.
“But it will not stop there and our efforts will continue throughout the year.”
Anybody with information about drink-drivers should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where they do not have to give their name and could receive a reward.
In urgent cases where it is suspected somebody is driving or about to drive while drunk and thereby putting life at risk, people should dial 999.
  • Our photograph shows a motorist being stopped and spoken to by a police officer. Photo submitted.

County Hall spin doctors now costing council taxpayers £4 million

THE cost of spin doctoring by Somerset County Council in a bid to persuade the public how good a job it has been doing has almost doubled in a decade, according to a shock report by a local government watchdog.The Liberal Democrat-run authority is one of the highest spending councils in the country when it comes to its publicity budget.
The report compiled by the TaxPayers’ Alliance showed that in the same decade as the County Hall Lib Dems doubled council tax bills, they also increased their publicity spend by more than 96 per cent to a staggering £4.211 million.
Somerset’s huge publicity bill was one of the highest of any council in the country - in fact, only 10 other local authorities spent more, and they included large cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Bradford.
The survey covered the years from 1996-97, when Somerset spent £2,016 million on publicising itself, to 2006-07.
It also looked at what happened the following year, 2007-08, when Somerset spent slightly less with a total publicity cost of £3.957 million but was still well within the highest-spending 20 councils in the nation.
Councils are required by law to ‘keep a separate account of expenditure on publicity’, which is defined as ‘any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public’.
Despite this, West Somerset Council was unable to produce its spending on publicity in 1996-97 and claimed to have only spent £21,000 in 2006-07 and just £4,000 in 2007-08 while at the same time employing a public relations officer on a salary of more than £21,000.
Neighbouring Sedgemoor District Council was one of a minority of authorities which actually reduced its publicity expenditure from £500,000 a decade ago to £482,000 in 2006-07 and cut it further in 2007-08 to £422,000.
However, in Taunton Deane, the borough council increased its publicity spend by nearly four-and-a-half times in the 10 years to 2006-07 from £124,844 to £644,000, and spent another £664,000 in 2007-08.
Mid Devon District Council more than doubled its budget for publicity from £41,000 in 1996-97 to £103,000 in 2006-07 but failed to produce a total for 2007-08.
In North Devon, the district council could not say how much was spent in 1996-97 but revealed £306,000 went on publicity in 2006-07, a figure which increased by more than £40,000 in 12 months to £349,000 for 2007-08.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance obtained its figures from the annual accounts of the 450-plus local authorities in the UK.
It found overall councils had doubled their spending on publicity, creating a £430 million publicity machine, at the same time as doubling council tax.
The average council now spends almost £1 million a year of council taxpayers’ money on publicity for itself, compared to £429,887 in 1996-97.
TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott said: “It is incredibly disappointing that, despite the economic downturn and the loss of millions in Icelandic Banks, local authorities are still spending nearly half a billion pounds a year on publicity.
“While we salute the 218 councils who have cut spending on publicity, the 224 councils who have increased spending should hang their heads in shame.
“In the middle of a recession, councils need to cut back on propaganda and spin doctors and deliver savings to taxpayers.”
Local Government Association spokesman Nicholas Mann said: “To suggest that councils are employing armies of spin doctors and wasting money on publicity machines is absurd beyond belief.
“People need to know how to access the £100 billion worth of vital services that councils provide every year.
“Young mums need to know when they can take their kids to the swimming pool.
“Elderly people need to know the benefits they are eligible for to get the money to see them through the week.
“Drivers need to know when the roads are dangerously icy.
“Which part of this would the Taxpayers’ Alliance like to see cut?
“Lumped into advertising figures are statutory notices that councils by law have to advertise for, such as job adverts or site notices for planning applications.
“The amount makes up 0.0043 per cent of councils’ total spend.”

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Christmas and New Year closures for local councils

WEST Somerset Council staff will this year be working right up until Christmas Eve afternoon.
The council’s new offices in Williton will not be closed for the Christmas and New Year period until1 pm on Wednesday, December 24.
The offices will reopen at 8.30 am on Monday, January 5.
In Minehead, the Customer Centre, in Summerland Road, will also close at the same time on December 24 but will reopen half-an-hour later, at 9 am on January 5.
The new Visitor Information and Interpretation Centre on Minehead seafront will be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and also from January 1 to 4 inclusive, reopening at 10 am on January 5.
During the closure times, information on refuse collections, stray dogs, and an emergency helpline will be available by calling 01643 703704 and on the council’s website at http://www.westsomersetonline.gov.uk/.
Planning applications and building regulations applications submitted to the council by hand, post, or email during the closure dates will be dealt with as if received on January 5.
Council spokeswoman Stacey Beaumont said: “There will be no building regulations site inspections during the Christmas break.
“The council will accept a photographic record of works that will be covered over.
“However, if no such photographs can be shown to the building control surveyor, then the council reserves the right to ask for the works to be exposed for inspection.
“People needing statutory building control notification are advised to submit this in writing by post, by hand, or by email to buildingcontrol@westsomerset.gov.uk.
“This will provide people with evidence that they have fulfilled their obligations under the Building Act 1984.2
  • In Taunton Deane, the borough council’s Deane House offices, in Taunton, will close entirely to the public at 12.30 pm on December 24, with the banking hall kiosk closing slightly earlier.
    Card payments and service requests can still be made via the council’s website at http://www.tauntondeane.gov.uk/.
    Deane House will open again as usual on Friday, January 2.
    The council’s customer contact centre will also be open between 9 am and 5 pm from Monday, December 29, to Wednesday, December 31, but will only be able to offer a limited service.
    Resumption of the normal telephone service - from 8 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday - will be from January 2.
  • In Sedgemoor, the district council offices in Bridgwater will shut down at the end of a ‘normal’ working day on Christmas Eve and will reopen on January 5.
    Sedgemoor residents have been advised in the event of a ‘general’ emergency to call 0800 9176520 and for a ‘council housing’ emergency to call 0800 585360.

New Year deadline for next round of local arts grants

ARTLife, the arts agency for West Somerset, has grants of up to £1,000 to give away to community groups which undertake creative projects and events.
The activities must happen in West Somerset, or benefit the residents of the district, and must be accessible to the public and help contribute to the ongoing development of the arts in the area.
Recent grant awards have supported local students who wanted to make a film of their trip to Poland, concerts by international musicians at Halsway Manor, Watchet Kids Festival, and Stogursey Youth Club members working with a professional film maker and musician.
The funding application process has made as simple as possible, with help on hand to complete the form.
The next deadline for applications is January 12, and anybody with an idea for a project should contact ARTlife on 01984 635300 or email info@artlife-somerset.co.uk.
ARTlife is a consortium of nine member organisations, all of which have an interest in or remit to deliver arts and cultural activity in West Somerset.
It delivers an arts service in partnership with West Somerset Council.

Job losses shock at dairy as recession hits yoghurt buying public

THE first major round of West Somerset job losses was announced today as the recession began to bite at Cannington organic yoghurt producers Yeo Valley Farm.
The family-owned company shocked the local community by saying 100 out of 250 jobs could be lost next March at its Cannington dairy site, which it bought from Dairy Crest 11 years ago.
Yeo Valley said it was restructuring because it was being affected by increasing production and raw materials costs at the same time as consumers were showing in the recession and spending less on its products.
West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger expressed his shock at the news.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “I am absolutely horrified and obviously very concerned by these job losses.
“I understand things have not been good for anybody lately, but I would not have expected Yeo Valley to have been hit by the economic problems.
“Yeo Valley is an exemplary employer and I am very worried about these figures of 100 jobs to go.
“I will be in touch with the chief executive to find out exactly what is going on.”
The Cannington redundancies are likely to be across the board with both operational and management posts affected.
The plan is to move the factory from a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week production cycle to a 12-hour shift pattern.
Yeo Valley director Graham Keating said: “Trading within the dairy market is currently very tough.
“Although we saw an increase in sales over the last 12 months of seven per cent, our raw materials and production costs have rocketed significantly.
“Our organic milk sales continue to grow strongly but within the highly promotion-driven and price sensitive yoghurt market, we have seen consumers become more cautious with their spending over the last three months and this trend is set to continue into 2009.
“It is imperative that we restructure our business in order to remain competitive and we are therefore left with no alternative than to reduce production in the parts of the company most affected by this buying downturn.”
Mr Keating said every effort would be made to offer alternative employment within the company to those affected by the job cuts.
The company has now begun a 90-day redundancy consultation period with staff.
Yeo Valley also runs two other dairies, in, Blagdon, North Somerset, and Newton Abbott, Devon, and a distribution warehouse in Isleport, near Highbridge, with a total of 1,300 employees.
Cheese and other dairy products have been made at Cannington since the 1930s, and today it produces Yeo Valley Organic’s big-pot yogurts, as well as those for a number of retailer brands, plus the innovative ‘Yeos’ organic children’s yogurt tubes.
Despite its 24-hour production cycle - which was necessary to meet demand - Yeo Valley boasted that its small-batch production methods ensured its yoghurts were ‘untarnished by modern processing aid ingredients - they simply are not necessary’.
The firm is part of a family-owned farming and dairy business founded by husband and wife Roger and Mary Mead, who started making yoghurts with milk from their dairy herd in 1974.
Organic yoghurt production started in 1993 after an approach by local farmers who were producing organic milk but could not find a regular demand for it.
Last year, the firm welcomed the Queen to its North Somerset headquarters after the firm was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its contributions to sustainable development, including the long-term, fair-trading support it had given to organic dairy farmers.
In October of this year, Yeo Valley closed its luxury organic ice cream and frozen yogurt dairy near Bovey Tracey, Devon, and transferred the 50 staff to Newton Abbot because it said demand was so great that it needed larger production facilities.

  • Our photograph shows Yeo Valley’s Cannington factory. Photo submitted.

Deadline looms for Wiveliscombe Town Hall project tender

TENDERS close at noon on Friday (December 12) for the project development and management of the restoration of Wiveliscombe Town Hall.
The town hall trust has secured £10,000 funding for the contract from the Somerset Market Towns Regeneration Fund, until March, 2009.
The trust was formed in 2006 to acquire a long lease of the hall from present owners the Co-op and bring forward the restoration and community use of the disused 19th century town hall in the centre of Wiveliscombe.
Following completion of an options analysis the trustees decided to appoint a project manager to take the work forward through negotiations with the current owners and working with architects Quattro Design Architects, of Bristol, on the design.
A feasibility study showed there was a need to address a lack of exhibition and display space in Wiveliscombe, a weakness in the area which impacted on business and development opportunities for artists and craftspeople.
In addition, there were opportunities for social enterprises in the media sector building on the success of 10Radio and Cinema Obscura.
Uses of the hall would complement existing facilities in the local area and were anticipated to provide employment, training, and education opportunities for the local community.
The Town Hall was built in 1840 for the Lord of the Manor at that time, Lord Ashburton, and was designed by the county architect of the time, Richard Carver.
The ground floor, called the ‘Shambles’, housed a fish market, a butchers’ market, and a pig market to the rear.
A ‘grand’ staircase led to a first floor ‘assembly room’.
It was purchased by the Co-operative Society in 1929, following which the ground floor was converted to shop units which are today occupied by the supermarket and by West Country Guns.
The first-floor hall remained as a venue for dances and film shows, with the last public event believed to have taken place in 1958.
For the past 50 years, it has remained empty.
The project manager would also be expected to undertake major fund-raising, including applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other agencies, as well as community involvement, and business planning for arts, cultural, and community uses.
The trustees have asked for tenders from suitably experienced individuals who can demonstrate the necessary skills and track record in developing and delivering heritage restoration projects with an arts focus.
Trust chairman John Bone said: “The tender timescale is short due to the requirements of our funders.”
Tender interviews will be held next week, on Wednesday, December 17, and the contract will start early in January.
More information is available from John Bone by calling 01984 623 441 or emailing john.bone@wtht.org.uk, or by visiting http://www.wtht.org.uk/.
  • Our photographs show (TOP) the outside of the old Town Hall, the ground floor of which is now partly occupied by the Co-operative store, and (BELOW) the inside of the hall. Photos submitted.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Concern over 'ghost hunting' grant as Lottery supports West Somerset toddler group

A WEST Somerset support group for parents with young children was celebrating today after being awarded a National Lottery grant of more than £3,000.
Stogumber Toddlers and Tiddlers will use the money to buy equipment which it can use to deliver activities for parents and children who attend the group.
The group, which meets weekly, has received £3,340 from the Lottery’s Awards for All initiative.
Awards for All is the small grants scheme administered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of Lottery good cause funders Arts Council England, Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund, and Sport England.
The scheme makes awards of between £300 and £10,000 to grass-roots community groups and voluntary organisations.
Big Lottery Fund regional head Mark Cotton said: “Overall, 59 fantastic schemes secured funding across the South West region this month, including a remarkable festival of earth science, an important chance for veterans to remember brothers from the Second World War, and a determined group of volunteers taking the environment into their own hands.
“I am so pleased over £350,000 will be shared out among all the successful schemes in this round of Lottery awards.”
However, some concern has been expressed at the fund’s controversial decision to award more than £2,000 to a group of ‘ghost hunters’.
It was the second Lottery award in a year for the group, Paranormal Site Investigators, based in Wiltshire.
Awards for All justified the £2,133 grant to the physic investigators by saying it would be used to ‘promote the haunted heritage’ of the South West with material sent to schools and made available to the public, as well as five ‘heritage events’ being organised for school pupils, college students, and the public.

Councillors debate pioneering project for shared services

A COUNTYWIDE initiative widely seen as hailing the end of West Somerset Council as a standalone local authority is to be discussed by district councillors next week.
Pioneer Somerset was created by the county’s five district councils to work more closely with the county council following a failed attempt by Somerset’s Liberal Democrat councillors to axe the districts.
The bid by the county council to create a single, unitary council running all local government services in Somerset was thrown out by the Government after a public referendum showed more than 80 per cent of people opposed it.
Since then, the six councils have been forced to look at ways of sharing the delivery of their services in order to produce £20 million efficiency savings under Pioneer Somerset branding.
It means that tiny West Somerset - already having to get by without its own chief executive, planning manager, solicitor, or treasurer – is likely to increasingly have its services delivered by neighbouring authorities.
West Somerset councillors will be the first to debate a joint update on the scheme when a report is presented to the scrutiny committee on Monday.
The next steps of the programme will then be discussed during the coming weeks by all the other councils involved - Taunton Deane , South Somerset, Sedgemoor, Mendip, and the county council.
The programme will move into ‘phase two’ with a focus on delivering in three key areas - shared services, customer access, and managerial leadership, by working with a broad range of partners.
Shared services options include street cleaning, a county-wide approach to regeneration projects including major planning applications, developing economic and tourism opportunities across Somerset, communication and consultation, rural development, and improving housing opportunities for local people.
Pioneer Somerset has so far seen joint legal services between West Somerset and Mendip councils.
It is also producing proposals for a county-wide parking partnership to share patrolling and enforcement.
The county, through the Building Schools for the Future programme, is working with Sedgemoor on proposals to provide cost-effective wet and dry leisure facilities, including a possible new pool.
Taunton Deane and Sedgemoor have been working on a pilot project to provide joint street cleaning and gardening, and South Somerset and the county council have created joint area committees for issues at all levels of local government to be discussed at one meetinge.

Countdown begins to digital TV for West Somerset

DIGITAL television for West Somerset will officially be switched on in late March, 2010, it was announced today by Digital UK, the independent body in charge of the change from analogue signals.
Switchover will make digital terrestrial television (Freeview) available to virtually every home in the area - including, for the first time, households served by local ‘relay’ transmitters.
When analogue signals are switched off and replaced with digital broadcasts at these sites, the number of channels available free via an aerial will increase from four to around 20.
Analogue services will be switched off in two stages at each transmitter group, with the process scheduled to be completed on March 24, 2010.
At stage one, BBC Two will cease broadcasting in analogue and the first group of Freeview digital channels will become available from relay transmitters.
Two weeks later, the remaining analogue channels will be permanently switched off and replaced with additional digital services.
Digital UK regional manager Bill Taylor said: “Today’s announcement is a real step forward in the digital television switchover programme.
“Once the process is complete, virtually all viewers will have the opportunity to enjoy digital television through an aerial, offering many homes more choice than ever before.”
The latest research indicated nine out of 10 people in the Westcountry were now aware of digital switchover, and 87 per cent had already converted their main television set.
Other findings from the Digital UK/Ofcom Switchover Tracker (to September, 2008) included:
  • 63 per cent of homes in the area had already converted all their sets to digital
  • 86 per cent recognised the ‘digital tick’ logo, which identifies products designed to keep working after switchover

  • 91 per cent said they were not concerned about switchover

As part of Digital UK’s national information campaign, leaflets explaining switchover and the options available for going digital will be sent to every home.
They will be backed up by both national and local radio and television advertising.
Six months before switchover, on-screen captions reminding viewers to be ready, will appear on the television sets of those still watching analogue broadcasts.
Digital UK is also working in partnership with local charities and volunteers to provide advice and assistance for those who may need a little extra help.
Letters will be sent to every household eligible for help from the Switchover Help Scheme, which offers assistance and equipment to convert one television for people aged 75 or older, registered blind or partially sighted, on certain disability benefits or living in a care home for six months or more.
Those eligible will be contacted directly, offered help and sent information packs in time for switchover.
Karen Farnworth of the Switchover Help Scheme in the Westcountry, said: “We will be writing to everybody who is eligible for the scheme, explaining exactly what help is available and what needs to be done.
“The most important thing is not to worry - we will be in touch.”
To continue watching television via an aerial after switchover, analogue viewers will need to convert their set using a digital box.
Subscription and non-subscription digital television services are also available via satellite, cable, and broadband.
Digital UK is an independent, not-for-profit organisation established in 2005 to implement digital switchover.
It is jointly owned and funded by the public service broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, S4C, and Teletext, and the digital multiplex operators.
More information about the digital switchover can be obtained by calling 08456 50 50 50. Digit Al image by by VisMedia 0207 613 2555.