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
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
“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
    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
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, or by visiting
  • 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.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Fresh virus outbreak shuts more hospital wards

FURTHER restrictions have been introduced to manage an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis - Norovirus – in Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton.
Four wards have now been closed to new admissions in an effort to combat the spread of the highly unpleasant infection.
The four are Coleridge, Eliot, Fielding, and Gould wards.
Last month, a similar Norovirus outbreak forced the closure of three wards, Eliot and Fielding, in the Duchess Building, and Ward Five in the old part of the hospital.
Norovirus exists in the community and although not usually serious, it is extremely infectious.
It is estimated that between 600,000 and one million people in the UK are affected each year.
Nursing homes, hospitals, and schools are particularly vulnerable to the virus, which can be spread by contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces or objects.
Musgrove has detailed and well-established procedures to manage such outbreaks to minimise the risk of cross-infection.
Musgrove spokesman Mark Wall said: “Management of the outbreak is led by a specialist infection control team and other senior staff with ongoing review of the situation.
“To help reduce the risk of further Norovirus being brought into the hospital, visitors are asked not to visit if they have had symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting or have been in contact with anybody who has in the past 48 hours.
“All visitors are asked to ensure that their hands are thoroughly cleaned before leaving a ward.
“If they are visiting a ward which has an outbreak of Norovirus, they should please not visit any other wards.
“If they are in any doubt about whether to visit or not, they should talk to the ward sister.”
Musgrove medical director Dr Cecil Blumgart said “We know visitors can make a real difference to patients, who look forward to seeing them.
“Unfortunately, we also know that without meaning to, visitors can bring bugs into the hospital which can cause harm to patients and once here are very difficult to control.
“There is also a small chance that visitors to affected wards may contract the virus and take it home.
“We are introducing these new measures to take a firmer grip on the Norovirus that we currently have in the hospital.
“People should not visit unless they really need to and if they do, must comply with these restrictions.”
Musgrove has more than 700 beds on 30 wards plus 15 operating theatres, and a fully-equipped diagnostic imaging department, and employs more than 4,000 staff.