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Monday, 28 July 2014

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It’s time for some answers as Copeland faces harsh cut-backs

SIR – It was so sad to read about the possible closure of the Civic Hall and The Beacon, which to me, represent the best of the old and new Whitehaven.

The Civic Hall was built at the start of the Sixties and was a state-of-the-art building. I was privileged to play there as a drummer with The Falcons, together with Kenny Hetherington and Ian ‘Spuds’ Burns. Unfortunately, Kenny is no longer with us and I don’t know what happened to Spuds.

However, the top group were The Silhouettes, who played some fantastic gigs there and I often wonder what happened to former workmate and skin man George “Podge’ Houghton, who was only rivalled on the drums by Kenny Hailes.

Coal was king when I left Whitehaven 50 years ago for a nine-year stint in the armed forces, and The Beacon area was nothing like as sanitised and clean as it is now. Then, the Wellington Pit area received coal from Haig Pit before being transported along the railway lines to the docks by the Old Quaker Oats building that is no more.

Most of my family worked for the National Coal Board and I was taken out of grammar school on my 15th birthday – the following day I started work in the screens and pit top at Lowca, or Harrington No 10 as it was known, before gaining an electrical apprenticeship at Haig.

Despite working with some great guys such as Tommy Harvey and Eddie Sirkett, I couldn’t hack it underground and found myself in an army recruiting office in Workington – soaked to the skin on my way to technical college on day release.

This led to nine years in REME where I spent two years in college before becoming a control equipment technician, falling in love with Anglesey during a four-year stint there. I married a local girl and came out of the army in 1971 and have a son and grandson.

I often reflect on whether I would have left Whitehaven half a century ago if it was as clean and so attractive as it is now. I revisit the places of my childhood and teens every couple of years or so and also reminisce in The Beacon and all the history of the town housed there before dining in the welcoming café underneath.

I hope that there is some way that the Civic Hall and The Beacon can be saved: they are so much a part of the history of a great town that has changed so much over the past 50 years and holds so many memories for me.

It would also be great to hear from any of my contemporaries back then, especially Spuds, and I can be contacted on coates854@btinternet.com

Tony COATES
Aberffraw, Anglesey

SIR – After all the letters over the past few weeks about the way Whitehaven is controlled and the state it is in, what, if anything has been achieved? There has been a lot of name calling, but this is not the way forward, as it is still the people of Copeland who are going to suffer.

So what can be done? I think it is time the councillors came clean and organised an open meeting in the Civic Hall for anyone to attend, with the councillors on stage to answer questions and give accounts of their duties. There has been so much said about their expenses, this would be the ideal time to put their side of it to the public.

A few points which could also be discussed:

1. How do we get trade back into the town;

2. How do we fill the King Street shops;

3. Reduction of rent on properties and market stalls;

4. Put more effort into promoting the things that make this town special;

5. More attractions on entry into town;

6. Possibly get something like street entertainers to create an atmosphere.

We can all get behind the councillors and help them get their fingers out and get this town back on its feet and open up our arms and welcome new employment into the community, especially at Sellafield. Well councillors, this is your chance now. You reckon you earn your expenses – prove to the people of Copeland, who you represent, that you do.

Kevin BLACKLOCK
Bay Vista, Whitehaven

  • Copeland Council confirmed: “We are holding a series of drop-in sessions across Copeland later this month. All of these are open to the public and councillors and officers will be on hand to respond to any questions. The session in Whitehaven takes place on Thursday November 29 from 2pm to 8:30pm in the United Reformed Church on James Street.”

SIR – It is disappointing to record that not one of Copeland’s 51 elected councillors bothered to respond to my letter (The Whitehaven News, October 25) suggesting they reduce their allowances and expenses to help the borough through this time of financial restraint and cut backs.

An indication of political collusion perhaps? Or a lack of shame or argument as to why they should get sizeable payments from the public purse?

In the last league table published covering year 2009/10 it was reported that Copeland councillor allowances were amongst the highest in the UK – over £263,000 (in an area with one of the lowest populations). Using that figure as baseline, it is likely that the current figure for 2012/13 will be above £350,000 in allowances paid.

Now the suggestion for councillor allowances and expenses being reduced by 50 per cent would equal something in the region of £175,000 which could perhaps save a number of part-time employees and keep vital services operational – such as the Tourist Information Office / Beacon in Whitehaven. who service many visitors and locals on a daily basis.

The Whitehaven News (October 25) reports once more of Copeland Borough Council’s ineptitude in running this borough. I refer to the missing moneys from the crematorium. Despite criticism after a previous audit nothing has improved and money has gone astray. Nobody is held responsible or made accountable and we are assured by the services director Pat Graham that the new audit findings will be taken on board and improvements will be made. This is the same old tune heard too often before when CBC departments are found to be wanting.

Our councillors will of course shout ‘foul’ to any criticism – but having little business experience amongst them, their protests are taken with a large dose of salt by the constituents.

One county councillor, Coun Mike Hawkins, did respond to the question of allowances and councillors. Coun Hawkins and his 83 other county colleagues each get a minimum of £8,000 “standard” allowance for their voluntary efforts. They also get travel and other expenses – just over £1,000 last time round for Coun Hawkins – but some of his colleagues collected up to £30,000 with their ‘additional’ responsibilities. The average paid to all 84 councillors is around £12,000 – so Councillor Hawkins is to be commended for his modest expense claim, assuming he attended all meetings and spoke up for his constituents.

It does not take a genius to work out that by halving county allowances, £330,000 could be saved and put to good use providing services – exactly the same as suggested for Copeland BC. Perhaps Coun Hawkins would like to set the ball rolling?

I would also hazard a guess that county expense allowances are rather generous as well – nowhere near the level of those provided in the private sector which is probably around half that of the county and borough councils? It’s the fact that local government allowances are far too generous – more than we can afford – and many of those taking them are getting ever greedier.

Coun Hawkins went on to disparage a respected member of the Whitehaven community – the Rev John Bannister. Perhaps he unaware Mr Bannister worked in the NHS before he entered the clergy and can represent me any time he likes when it comes to protecting West Cumberland Hospital and many other Whitehaven matters.

He is articulate, caring and deals with problems on merit – not politics – good points I would have thought. I know that I am fed up with politicians who do nothing but feed their own egos and fill their pockets.

My vote is up for grabs and if Coun Hawkins wants it then perhaps he could have a chat with Whitehaven Highways Department and the Highways Committee and ask to see my correspondence about New Road and the poor quality re-surfacing job that was done – apparently under guarantee – and supposedly to have been restored to pristine condition by now. As always – elephants might fly first.

Rob ROMANO
Ash Grove, Whitehaven

  • COPELAND Council responded: “THE information outlined in relation to the crematorium is not accurate. The report, which was discussed in last week’s Whitehaven News, outlined a historic situation. There has not been a series of audit reports raising this concern. In fact as soon as a concern was raised, a full investigation was carried out and a plan to address the concerns agreed.”
  • COUN Karl Connor, on behalf of Copeland Labour Group, responds: Councillors’ allowances, as unpalatable as they may be for some, are an important part of democracy.

The ability to give one’s time is not a luxury that everyone can afford – and why should a lack of disposable income be a barrier to someone standing for office? The opportunity to become a councilor is there for anyone to take, including Mr Romano. It is not reserved for the wealthy elite because the allowance enables people to access an income stream that covers the cost of being a councilor.

Nobody should be prevented from standing for office because they can’t afford to take time off work, or because they can’t afford to travel around the borough attending meetings and representing their communities.

The allowances, let’s not forget, are set by an independent commission – something which, again, is open for anyone to join. It must be said that when the vacancies have been advertised in the past there has not been a line of volunteers ready to engage.

Many of those of us who can afford not to claim expenses on top of our allowances already don’t. I know of a number of councilors who have never claimed a penny over and above their allowance and don’t intend to start. But that’s okay for those of us who can afford to – it cannot and should not be a rule that discourages participation in local government by those less well off.

I’m not sure which league table Mr Romano refers to when he says that CBC expenses are listed as some of the highest, but the independent report published by the Taxpayers’ Alliance in August of this year, which can be found on their website, places Copeland among the lowest payers of a basic rate allowance, coming in at £3,063.25. Many councils pay more than double that figure, some three times as much.

His assumption that they’ll have risen ‘to about £350,000 in total’ is also grossly inaccurate, as they haven’t increased at all for five years, not even in line with inflation – meaning the figure of £263,000 from 2009/10 is still the figure in 2012/13.

I note the comment about business experience and again point to the fact that anyone can stand to be a councilor. If there are people in Copeland with more experience they are entitled to come forward – in fact they would be welcomed.

Do we represent value for money? That’s not for me to say. But I’d encourage anyone who thinks they can do a better job to get involved the next time the borough goes to the ballot box.

And please – don’t lose sight of why we are having to make these savings. We must find savings of £2.6 million from our budget. Not a single one of the 51 councillors on Copeland Borough Council wants to make the cuts. The Government has imposed that figure on us – we have no choice.

SIR – I work as a postman out of the Egremont delivery office. On Saturday, October 27, I had to deliver waste collection calendars to every home on my duty, as did I assume every post person in Copeland. This week we have to deliver the free Copeland Matters newspaper to every home. In these austere times, would it not have been possible to print the calendar in the Copeland Matters, thus saving on postage?

Don MACKAY
Bridge End, Egremont

  • IAN Curwen, Copeland Borough Council’s communications manager said: “This is a logical suggestion, but sadly due to the number of different versions of the calendar (as it shows individual collection days for both household waste and kerbside recycling services) it was not possible to combine it with Copeland Matters.”

Fireworks 

SIR – After moving up from down south, we decided to treat the family to the firework display in Whitehaven. The previous year we had just watched from a distance but felt we had missed out on the atmosphere.

What a disappointment! Where was the fair? Where were the food stands? Where was the fun?

There was no family atmosphere whatsoever and the fireworks themselves were barely average. Afterwards no-one knew whether to clap or boo. Hense, no clapping followed.

If the organisers are not willing to put in the effort, then no one will be willing to pay and I’m afraid my family will not be participating next year.

Name and address supplied

SIR – I would just like say I am sitting in my house on Hensingham and it sounds like Afghanistan, probably quieter in Afghanistan, the fireworks going of all around are no longer household strength, they are more like the ones used in organised events, the windows rattle.

We are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers, bull**** for our entertainment we terrify our animals for a bit of pleasure.

When will the government get a grip, for 364 days of the year the police are searching out terrorists then on November 5 everyone is allowed to release explosive devices. Like I said they are no longer the type of firework from a few years ago; they are now along the lines of the organisation type.

A very disgruntled Hensingham resident with terrified animals.

Name and address supplied

Thank you

SIR – My name is Ryan Winthrop and I volunteer for the charity Support Our Soldiers. I collect and send over shoeboxes full of home comforts to all the serving troops in Afghanistan all year round.

I was collecting for the Christmas appeal in Whitehaven Morrisons last weekend and I feel it is my duty to write a small letter of thanks, not only to Morrisons for allowing me to be there but to the Whitehaven public.

I have volunteered for SOS for just under two years and usually find that the Cumbrian people are not only the friendliest but also the most generous. Last weekend was no exception and yet again the Morrisons customers came up trumps. Over the course of the two days I was collecting there they helped me fill just under 50 bags of shopping, and also helped Morrisons run out of small Christmas puddings – at last count I had over 100 puddings which will be accompanied by packets of custard as well.

There was everything the lads and lasses will need to feel that little bit special and they will definitely know that there are people thinking of them this year.

To everyone who donated last weekend many, many thanks on behalf of Support Our Soldiers and of course the lads and lasses in the sandpit – and may I on behalf of all of them may I be the first to say Merry Christmas!

Ryan WINTHROP
Cumbria Area Coordinator, Support Our Soldiers

Europe

SIR – Meddling Brussels’ bureaucrats have banned the sale of home-made jams and chutneys in used glass jars – or so some national newspapers claimed last week.

Paul Nuttall of UKIP immediately revved up his mouth before he had put his brain into gear.

This is yet another piece of interfering nonsense from overpaid bureaucrats. Can you believe you could actually be flung into jail for selling your home made preserves in a previously used jam jar?” he questioned.

As it was in the papers the story surely must have been true. Only it wasn’t. It was nonsense from start to finish.

Basic hygiene rules have applied to businesses across the EU since 2004 and can be enforced by local councils. No-one has ever been prosecuted for reusing a glass jar (and the EU has no powers to levy fines let alone to jail someone).

The British Food Safety Agency is perfectly happy with the rules.

So yet another “euromyth” is exposed, but only after a few more people have come to accept it as a fact.

How can there be a serious and informed debate about the future of Britain and the EU when so many downright lies are told by people who know perfectly well what they are doing?

I challenge Paul Nuttall to apologise. Either he didn’t check his facts, or he deliberately set about to deceive people. Which was it Paul?

Chris DAVIES MEP
Liberal Democrat, North West England

Nuclear waste

SIR – Since my letter here of July 26, reviewing possible road options (A, B and C_ for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste (or HLW), the councils of Cumbria, Copeland and Allerdale have indicated to the Government the need for more information before they pass judgement on NDA proposals for such disposal.

Here are a few comments which might be useful in council thinking:

OPTION A – the NDA scheme involving storing HLW to allow it to decay and cool before placing down boreholes in deep tunnels. This storage has never been clearly explained.

Presumably the relatively thin-walled packages are stored in a high active surface facility with high security. It seems reasonable to assume that concrete structures for this would last the required century or so, but what about any breakdowns of the remote mechanisms? How will they be corrected?

No nuclear facility has yet operated satisfactorily for more than a few decades. Moreover, the above packages must be lifted to lower into transport flasks, then, after movement to a repository (horizontally), the flask would be raised to the vertical before lowering the package down a borehole – all operations on century-old packages!

The consequences of accidents are daunting. A demonstration facility would be large and costly and uncertain to satisfy the public.

OPTION B – at a similar depth to Option A, but after storage of packages, each into a thickly-shielded container, and a century of storage in the open-air, hands-on operation would be possible to transfer the heavy units into horizontal emplacement positions. The thick shield provides an extra very long-term barrier to that in Option A. Both A and B have a geological barrier, whereby any activity must try to migrate through host rock. However, it is difficult to see how data on rock integrity could be gained without multiple boreholes riddling the rock.

OPTION C – thickly-shielded units placed in a hillside above sea level. This allows groundwater to bypass disposed waste and drain into channels in the floor of access tunnels. Little dependence on rock properties is required. Further barriers are available in absorbers in drains and eventual discharge into non-potable water zones. Clearly, less field testing is necessary to establish a system which is much safer, even than Option B.

THE FUTURE PROSPECTS FOR CUMBRIA – There is little benefit in councils waiting for the NDA to present Option A. Apart from the shortcomings mentioned above, groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will seize on the difficulties left to future generations. They will also be joined in this by many members of the public. It is also more expensive than Options B and C.

Any enquiry based on Option A would probably lead to prolonged and complicated wrangling and eventual failure. Altogether, with the snags mentioned in my July letter, this concept is likely to be terminated. There would be no benefits to Cumbria. Councils would therefore be well advised to oppose Option A now.

Option B is much better than Option A, but still requires extensive and lengthy drilling into host rock. This may be counterproductive, in setting up easier paths for activity migration. Large computer programmes to establish negligible activity escape may look impressive but are only as good as the input data.

Option C appears to be the most attractive concept to follow up. It is the cheapest, it requires the least field testing to confirm the design and there is a redundancy of barriers to activity migration. There are obvious safety features, needing little expertise to understand them and no need for complicated calculations. It is also the easiest to build. Only a small demonstration facility would be necessary, which would verify the repository design relatively quickly.

Areas outside Cumbria have expressed little desire to be considered for repository siting; it follows, with the absence of competition, Cumbria would drive a hard bargain. The Government pays thousands of pounds for permission from landowners to erect a wind machine of a few megawatts. The HLW for disposal in the UK corresponds to many thousands of megawatt-years of power production, so the equivalent value passed to councils should e millions of pounds. Further, the storage of HLW could be offered to overseas companies; again, even (say) a few percent of this to the councils could raise millions.

The next step is to agree with the Government for a repository study to be undertaken based on Option C. The design work should be done by a large engineering concern, with participation by councils and maybe members of the public (the NDA should be excluded because of their persistent opposition to alternative schemes).

A useful accompanying exercise would be for an experienced (non-active) toxic waste disposal company to review the levels of hazard in their sealed-up sites and to compare them to possible nuclear waste sites to establish a criterion for the hold-up time for the latter before supervision could be stopped.

Back to you, Cumbria!

Bob BURTON
Culceth, Warrington

Caring

SIR – Many of your readers will no doubt have heard talk of the “sandwich generation” who are sandwiched between caring roles – juggling raising children with looking after elderly relatives. It’s a neat label, but one which hides an increasingly common but often difficult to manage situation.

Everyone wants to do their best for their children and to support the parents who brought them into the world, but meeting all the demands of a dual caring role can, however, be very difficult, physically hard and emotionally draining.

Carers UK is conducting a major new piece of research to better understand the extra pressure these multiple caring responsibilities have on families.

It is a short survey that can be completed in about 15 minutes but the information provided will be vital in trying to improve the help and support we can give those who find themselves “sandwich carers”. So if you are caring for young children and older parents, tell us how it has affected you:

The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey. com/s/sandwich_caring

Heléna HERKLOTS
Chief Executive, Carers UK

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