Saturday, 9 February 2008

'Fat cat' council officers cost council taxpayers £7 million a year

THE number of ‘fat cat’ County Hall officers earning £50,000+ a year has rocketed under a decade of Liberal Democrat control by more than a staggering 1,200 per cent, according to a study by the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
In 1997, Somerset County Council employed just nine officers on salaries in excess of £50k.
By last year, the number of higher-paid staff had soared to – 111.
Those 111 high earners alone were now costing council taxpayers more than £7 million a year to keep them in their jobs.
Ten years ago, the cost was £515,000.
The highest-paid County Hall officer is chief executive Alan Jones, who, according to information leaked to West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, now earns £143,211 – more than twice an MP’s salary.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “The salaries of all the heads of service are tied to his. So, when he gets a rise, they all get one.”
Five years ago, Mr Jones’ salary was said to be £94,285 – reflecting a 52 per cent pay rise in just five years.
County Hall’s Lib Dem administration has met the extra wage bills by more than doubling average council tax bills from £ 485.94 10 years ago to this year’s proposed £999.90.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance study revealed that each council taxpayer in West Somerset now pays £13.64 towards the ‘fat cat’ salaries at the county council.
In addition, those in West Somerset district pay another £6.80 each for four district council officers who earn in excess of £50,000 a year.
Ten years ago, West Somerset had only one officer on such a salary scale. Now, with four, their bill adds up to £240,000 a year.
In Taunton Deane, council taxpayers are charged £8.75 each for the £940,000 it costs to pay 14 staff on £50k salaries – up from £65,000 when the chief executive was the only officer in that bracket 10 years ago.
Sedgemoor council taxpayers currently stump up £4.68 each for the £520,000 cost of eight officers earning above £50k, compared to the £55,000 it cost in 1997 to employ one officer at the top of the wage bands.
TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott said: “With council tax doubling in the past decade, it is extremely disappointing that town halls have chosen to hire a new class of middle managers, many of whom are being paid more than MPs.
“Local authorities should study these findings carefully to see where savings can be made, instead of using their half-billion pound PR machine to obscure their finances from taxpayers.”
The ‘fat cat’ salaries survey follows closely on from another TaxPayers’ Alliance study which showed Somerset County Council was spending more than £4.2 million a year on publicity - almost a 110 per cent leap from the £2 million it spent in 1997.
The county council claimed £1.5 million of that sum went on recruitment advertising.
The Post asked the county to comment on the ‘fat cat’ salaries report – it declined.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Butlins helps keep major motor sport event in West Somerset

A MAJOR motor racing event for West Somerset has been rescued at the eleventh hour by holiday firm Butlins.
The company stepped in when organisers of the Betta Somerset Stages Rally were forced to look outside the district for suitable facilities.
Now, the annual event, scheduled to be held on April 26, will continue to be based in Minehead.
The rally regularly attracts around 1,500 people over a long weekend of motor sport activity, which includes 150 entries and more than 300 marshals.
Butlins has offered the use of its Minehead holiday resort to the organisers, Burnham-on-Sea and Minehead Motor Clubs, which needs the size and scale of such a centre.
One of the Butlins main customer car parks will be used as a service and maintenance area for the rally competitors.
Butlins spokesman Richard Swift told The Post: “It is the lifeline they needed. It enables them to retain their service area and rally control in Minehead, and means people will stay locally, which is a great boost for the area.
“If they had to move out to Taunton, it would have been a 45-minute run from the service area for the cars to reach the start point.
“The logistics of it, especially for some of the smaller teams, would have been difficult.
“Butlins will be open and we will have guests who would normally have used that car park, so it means a change of operation for us.
“We do a number of events here and we work closely with the town council to try to promote Minehead whenever we can.”
The rally is held over stages on a compact route taking in forest areas and hills within Exmoor National Park.
It features entries ranging from club level vehicles to ex-works World Rally cars and is a qualifying round of several major championships.
It is the only forestry stage rally in the Westcountry and is run entirely by volunteers, with support from Exmoor National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission.
The first car will leave the start at 8 am on the Saturday and should arrive back in Minehead by around 3.30 pm.
Spectators are provided with a special stage at Chargot Woods where they can see the cars and listen to commentary.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ancient castle uses solar power to cut electric bills

DUNSTER Castle has become the National Trust’s first grade one listed property to start using solar energy.
The castle now has solar panels which should produce about one-fifth of all its electricity needs, helping to make the thousand-year-old building more sustainable.
The trust has been pursuing a policy of using renewable energy in its historic properties to show how green energy sources could be used on conservation sites without affecting their character.
The Dunster Castle panels, which cost £55,000, cannot be seen by visitors on the ground and they can be easily removed.
The trust expects to save about £550 a year on its electricity bill for the castle.
A National Trust spokesman said: “We want all of our properties, wherever appropriate, to examine the option of using renewable energy sources and we hope to help other people and businesses to do the same.”
The castle is currently shrouded in scaffolding as it undergoes a £900,000 restoration of its roof.
The work, which began in May, 2006, is not expected to be completed until the summer and has already more than doubled from its original estimated cost of £400,000.
The additional expense was incurred when initial investigations revealed problems with rainwater run off.
Engineers found that structural changes in the 19th Century had not allowed for adequate size gullies and guttering, resulting in water seeping into the roof structure and in turn threatening the contents and fabric of the building.
An infestation of deathwatch beetles was also discovered in the roof space.
The roof restoration is being jointly funded by the National Trust and English Heritage.
Dunster Castle had been in the Luttrell family for 600 years before it was given to the National Trust in 1976.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Police seek man after railway station burglary

THE man pictured in this grainy black and white CCTV photograph is being sought by police in connection with an overnight burglary which happened at the West Somerset Railway Station, in Minehead.
Police believe he can help their inquiries into the crime, which happened between 6 pm on Thursday, January 10, and 6.45 am on Friday, January 11.
An unknown sum of cash was stolen from the station premises.
Anybody with any information about the man or the burglary is asked to contact Crimestoppers immediately by calling 0800 555111 or using the secure online form at
They do not have to leave their name, but they could receive a reward.

Test cricketer to officially switch on new community radio station

SOUTH Africa test cricketer Charl Willoughby will help to officially launch Somerset’s newest radio station at a launch party in Wiveliscombe on Friday, February 8.
The cricketer, who plays for Somerset, was invited because some of the presenters on 10Radio are cricket fans and members of the county club.
He will officially throw the 10Radio main switch at 6 pm in the station’s purpose-built studio in Croft Way, along with Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne.
It is the first community radio station to run in Somerset and has been broadcasting on 105.3FM to Wiveliscombe and its surrounding nine parishes since January 21.
Also invited to the official launch are representatives of significant funding groups, local businesses, and the many skilled tradesmen who helped to set up and build the 10Radio transmitter site and studio.
The station is also opening its Croft Cottages studio - next to Wiveliscombe Community Centre - to interested people and well-wishers on Saturday, February 9, from 10 am to 4 pm.
There is also a 10Radio live concert with Jankie Fardal, one of Somerset’s most danceable bands, in the community centre on Saturday evening, starting at 8 pm.
A large number of presenter-led programmes is currently being run by 10Radio, including a breakfast show from 7 am to 9 am on Mondays to Thursdays.
From 7 am on Friday to midnight on Sunday there is a wide range of community and music-based shows with live presenters of all age groups from the local and surrounding community.
When a presenter is not available, there is the ‘10Radio Shuffle’ which provides a constant selection of music of all genres to make it fresh and interesting for the regular listener.
‘Listen again’ programmes are also repeated on most weekday evenings.
The station can also be heard via the internet at and it has already been receiving congratulatory messages from listeners from around the UK and all over the world.
The full running schedule can also be seen on the 10Radio website.
For more information on 10Radio, including how to become involved in running the station, call01984 624137 or email to
  • Our photograph shows 10Radio organisers, presenters, and supporters of all ages outside the main studio at 1 Croft Cottages, West Street, in Wiveliscombe. Photo submitted.

Superbug infection rate at Musgrove falls dramatically

MUSGROVE Park Hospital, in Taunton, is claiming a dramatic fall in superbug infections during the past year.
The latest figures released by the hospital showed both MRSA and C. Difficile had reduced by more than 60 per cent in the last 12 months.
Between April and December, 2007, there were 13 MRSA blood stream infections at Musgrove, while in the same period the previous year there were 34 - a reduction of 62 per cent.
Between April and October, 2007, there were 78 C. Difficile isolates at Musgrove compared to 227 in the same period in 2006, a fall of 66 per cent.
Musgrove director of nursing and patient care, Martine Price, said: “These figures show that we are making great progress in our commitment to reducing healthcare-associated infections at Musgrove Park.
“Reductions of over 60 per cent in both MRSA and C. Difficile are good news for patients, visitors, and staff.
“However, we are not complacent and will continue to prioritise efforts to further reduce the incidence of infections at the hospital.”
The hospital recently announced a £230,000 deep cleaning programme as part of the Government’s efforts to tackle the superbug crisis in the NHS.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Housing association tenants support Exmoor village hall

A FUND-raising appeal for improvements to and Exmoor village hall has been boosted by a £1,500 cheque from tenants of Magna West Somerset Housing Association.
The money was handed over by the association’s tenants panel to the hall committee in Brompton Regis, where it is hoped to make the hall’s running costs more sustainable and therefore cheaper.
Tenants’ Panel chairman Bernard Ryder said: “The hall committee approached us for help with making improvements to the facilities. “The hall already provides a base for many activities in the area and plays an important role in the community.
“As a panel, we were only too pleased to be able to help with a donation of £1,000 from our environmental improvements budget, with Magna supplementing this with a further £500 sponsorship.”
Village hall secretary Jennifer Stringer said: “The hall is a registered charity and provides a vital social focus for all the local residents.
“It is well used by groups including a cinema club, luncheon club, and short mat bowls.
“The planned improvements would ensure the hall is compliant with all necessary regulations and also to make it more sustainable by reducing running costs.
“We were delighted to receive this donation which will help us to achieve our goal.”
Mrs Stringer said the committee was continuing to plan fund-raising events as more donations were still needed.
The hall committee has so far raised about £20,000 in the past two years toward its target of £150,000 for the improvements which are needed.
Anybody who would like to help the hall committee should contact Mrs Stringer on 01398 371224.
Photo submitted.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Lifeboat crew save deer from drowning

LIFEBOATMEN in Minehead were called to one of their more unusual rescue operations - to save a deer from drowning.
Coastguards alerted the lifeboat crew after receiving a call to say a deer had been seen entering the water off Culvercliffe on Thursday morning, January 31.
The station’s new Atlantic 85 Lifeboat was launched with helmsman Adam Bonar in command.
The crew arrived quickly spotted the young deer about 330 yards offshore and they could see the animal was extremely tired and distressed.
A decision was made to ‘coax’ it back to shore, where a team from Porlock Coastguards was waiting to retrieve it.
However, as soon as the deer reached land, it immediately returned to the water where the lifeboat crew again tried to encourage it to go ashore.
On the second attempt the startled animal made for some bushes just off the beach where it stayed for a time.
After the lifeboatmen again tried to catch the animal, it made a third attempt to swim away and this time the lifeboat managed to come alongside it and recover the deer and secure it to be carried back to the lifeboat station.
The deer stayed on board until the lifeboat was recovered and it was then checked over by a local vet.
Once the crew were confident the deer was in good health, although wet and tired, they took it to North Hill, Minehead, and released it.
Mr Bonar said: “We get called to a wide range of incidents but this was one of the more unusual.
“The deer proved quite tricky to recover and did not seem overly appreciative of its trip in a lifeboat.”
  • Our photograph shows Adam Bonar with Paul Marsh and Richard Gay holding the deer. The fourth crewmember who was present throughout the rescue but is not pictured was Phil Sanderson. Photo submitted.