Deadline day for firefighters across Leeds.

Fire services could be amalgamated © 2010 - 2011 West Yorkshire Fire And Rescue Service

Firefighters will find out later today if proposed cuts will lead to jobs losses and station closures across West Yorkshire. Up to 135 firefighters jobs could go and 10 fire stations face closure.

The results from the consultation period, which outlined the proposals to save money across the fire services, ended last week after a three-month period. The findings are expected to be reported back to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority later today.

David Williams, a Gipton based Fire Brigade Union rep with 14 years firefighting experience, said: “Unfortunately I’m expecting the Fire Authority to agree to close 10 perfectly good stations and build 5 new ones.

“They will agree to remove 7 fully operational fire engines and reduce the operational firefighting staff. Fewer firefighters doing the same or even more incidents results in a poorer service for all.”

Included in the plans is a provision to build new a fire station to replacing existing ones. The authorities believe the cost of building a new station in east Leeds which will cover both Gipton and Stanks – rather than them having separate stations – will be off-set by selling the existing fire stations. 

David believes cuts should elsewhere, not to frontline staff.

However, while David Williams hopes that won’t happen, the proposal said it’s due to the success of the fire services (in reducing the risk of serious fire and incidents) which justify these new measures.

The proposal states: “It’s entirely appropriate that the general reduction of risk and demand is taken account of when determining the level of resources required.”

You can see the business plan in full here:

Over the next four years, the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority has to find savings of £18 million after its budget was slashed by 25% in government funding. This comes on the back of a series of cuts to the service in recent years.

Community activists plan to fight the proposals. They are incredulous at the data used by the fire authorities to present the case. The COVEN group released a counter report which questions the authorities findings. In a highly critical report, COVEN said:

“Reducing the front line services you provide and lowering the number of ‘coal face’ firefighters is wrong. Had you laid out in your business case some indication of other savings you were to make, ie reductions in revenue funding at senior management level, we may have been more sympathetic.”

Questions will also be asked about how money has been spent in recent years by the fire services. The Fire Brigades Union said £2 million has gone to Bramley fire station, £130,000 on a malfunctioning lift at the fire authority’s HQ and up to a £1 million has gone towards an empty building in Wakefield.

In 2009, recruitment was suspended in anticipation that funding would be reduced. In the meantime there’s been a Young Fire-fighters Scheme to help young local people understand what firefighters do and how they can get into the service. Despite positive feedback from all sectors, not one person has been recruited into the fire service.

“We won’t be recruiting for another five years and that’s a massive concern. You can’t buy experience and that’s vital in a service such as ours,” said David.

Interview requests from the council and fire authorities have not been returned.

What do you think? Should fire services be cut or are the measures fair given the current climate? Have your say below.

You can read COVEN’s counter report below.


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Fight for Bramley Baths.

The temperature board at Bramley Baths. The decision on if the baths will be passed over to a local community group is due soon. Photo:©knowyourleeds

Whether it’s the local library, the disused cemetery or a decaying pub dating back hundreds of years, local institutions can bring a community together and provide services which we all take for granted.

Bramley Baths is one of them. It’s one of just six Victorian Bath Houses remaining in the country and has survived two world wars, the 1930s depression and countless recessions.

However, this economic downturn may prove to be its downfall.

If local community committee cannot find the cash to keep the public baths and swimming pool afloat by March next year, the Labour dominated council will have to close it.

Leeds’ only female MP, Rachel Reeves, is an emerging force in Westminster. The former economist donned her swimsuit in a campaign to save it earlier this year and has spearheaded a sophisticated campaign to save it.

“It doesn’t make money and as a result it’s on the list for cuts as the Council try and balance its budget,” said Rachel Reeves in an interview with knowyourleeds.

“But I’m not satisfied with that solution. I’m not satisfied because it will mean that it won’t be open for school swimming and it won’t be open in the daytime for older people.”

Local Government funding from the Downing Street is being drastically cut in Leeds. The grant to the council’s budget has been cut by 27% over the next four years. That’s £90 million off the budget this year alone.

Critics however would point to the council’s overspend during the ‘boom years’.

Plaque from 1904 shows a list of committee members. Photo:©knowyourleeds

Also, the reduction in opening hours was originally voted for by Labour councillors at the time. When asked about the irony of a Labour MP fighting against Labour council cuts, she said the council have had little choice.

“The people in Leeds didn’t vote for those cuts. The councillors didn’t vote for those cuts. But we’re the ones who have to bear the brunt of them. I would prefer Leeds City Council to continue funding Bramley Baths but we know that’s not realistic,” she said.

Appointed to the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury after just a year as an MP, she believes that the solution to save it is a community asset transfer.

This means the council would still own the building but the day-to-day running of the baths would be handed over to a community group.

The proposal for that will be vetted by the council early next year. And they have to prove that their plan is viable – self-funded – and can keep the 107 year-old building open.

“We’re not willing just to sit back and let the baths wither on the vine, that’s why we’ve taken action. There’s such a buy-in from the local community, particularly from schools who use it for school swimming, that we can make it work,” she said.

As reported in the Guardian Leeds, although similar handover schemes have failed in Garforth and Beeston, successes further afield in Sheffield, Nottingham and South London have convinced some it can work.

The active backing of a determined local MP, who has considerable weight in Parliament, has helped the cause to save it with much needed publicity. But the real challenge will be to develop Bramley Baths into real workable community space which doesn’t need state support.


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Leeds’ Youth Debt

Unemployment rates at a 17 high while youth unemployment is at the highest since records began. Photo:©knowyourleeds

There was a sobering moment last week for us all. Government figures revealed that over a million young people are out of work, education or training.

Speaking in Leeds last week, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that £1 billion of taxpayers’ money will be given to employers in a bid to drive down the spiraling jobless numbers among the young.

The government said employers will be given £2,275 for each worker they take on in the next three years, meaning they’ll effectively be subsidising work and training placement schemes.

With the country in the middle of a what could turn out to be a decade long slump, employers can afford to be picky and choose from those with the most experience.

It’s not just ‘neets’ (not in education, employment, or training) to use the political parlance, who find themselves in an ever-increasing competitive job market. They also have to compete with the more experience job seekers as people from all sectors across country are vying for scarce jobs with companies continuing to make redundancies and tighten their belts.

Leeds West MP and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, told knowyourleeds that the scale of the problem isn’t as simple as giving people jobs.

“I think that the outlook is probably the toughest outlook that young people are faced with,” she said.

“Whether they’re leaving school, college or university in the last few years, 22% of young people are out of work. In the constituency that I represent, Leeds West, the numbers are much higher than that. Long term youth unemployment has gone up by around 80% since the start of the year. That’s the scale of the problem.”

In Leeds city center, jobseekers knowyourleeds spoke to said the main problem was that employers aren’t hiring them because they lack one vital attribute on their CV: experience.

You can here what jobseekers had to say in the Audioboo below.

Employers aren’t hiring because they want people who have worked before. Businesses aren’t to blame. But is the government right and are these proposal right for Leeds’ young people?

As an economist before she became Leeds’ only female MP in last years election, Rachel Reeves said that people with high qualifications are taking jobs that would’ve traditionally have gone to people fresh out of school.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves studied at the London School of Economics. Photo: ©rachelreeves.net

A mixture of graduates, school and college leavers in the job market with their more experienced elders has created a “crazy” situation she said.

“Everyone is applying for the same jobs, irrespective of their qualifications,” she said.

“This year was the best for GCSE and ‘A’ Level results. Yet youth unemployment has not been higher for 20 years.”

Rachel Reeves unsurprisingly believes the priority should be to make sure that young people leaving school and college get an opportunity to contribute and put something back in the economy.

“It just seems a huge waste, a criminal waste really, of the talents and skills of young people who we’re not harnessing and that we’re letting them languish on benefits. They could be contributing, paying taxes and making a difference, especially at the start of their working lives when it so important to get into the habit and learn those skills of work.”

 

What do you think? Are businesses to blame? Should the government be doing more for entrepreneurs?

Have your say in the comments section or as usual tweet @knowyourleeds



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Bramley Baths

Bramley Baths

The campaign to save Bramley Baths from closure hasn’t stopped going and has been in the news again this week.

Knowyourleeds managed to nab an exclusive interview with Leeds West MP, Rachel Reeves. She spoke at length about her hopes for the baths and how her constituents planned to keep it afloat despite crippling council budget cuts across Leeds.

Check on this site later this week for a report on what she had to say about Bramley Baths.

We’ll also have a sobering report about Leeds’ youth unemployment as figures for those out of work nationwide soared this week.

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Is it time for Leeds to have its own elected mayor?

The return of Jimmy Savile

Local legend, Jimmy Savile will be hugely missed. Image by dullhunk via Flickr

It’s been a busy week for political news this week for Leeds but the papers started the week with the obituaries to Jimmy Savile. His philanthropy and eccentricity will be hugely missed.

In the national news this week was the surprising news that Leeds could be one of the 12 cities who could have their very own Boris Johnson.

A new consultation put forward by the coalition government could bring democratic change to Leeds with our very own elected city mayor. The report, titled ‘What can a mayor do for your city?’ said:

“The Government is committed to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors. This consultation paper seeks your views on our proposed approach for giving powers to any mayors elected in the 12 cities following the referendums to be held in May 2012.”

While we’re all for change that enhances democracy at knowyourleeds, we’re unsure who we’d put up for it.

And would this mean the end of the mainly ceremonial Lord Mayor? Do you even care? Consultation ends January 2nd. Please let us know your thoughts.

One story the potential mayor would have to deal with immediately is the future of Kirkgate Market. The council has approved an £400,000 fund for Kirkgate Market reports the BBC. The money will be used for maintenance and repairs. Knowyourleeds will keep an eye on developments.

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Housing scheme shines light on PFIs.

House

Image by phill.d via Flickr

Leeds’ addiction to Private Finance Initiative‘s are a major topic we’ll be covering on knowyourleeds but for the meantime here’s a flavour of what to expect.

If you subscribe to Leeds Council‘s news RSS feed, by you’ll have noticed the several updates on the new Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects appearing in your reader this week. To save you the trouble of Council PR paff, the good news is that the multi-million pound housing schemes for Holbeck, Beeston and Little London have been given the go-ahead by the Government.

Here’s a summary of the latest developments.

  • The consortium, Sustainable Communities for Leeds (sc4L) bid to on this major housing regeneration project has been approved.
  • The Council says it will now work with sc4L to finalise proposal details.
  • Up to 388 new council homes will be built, with 1200 existing council properties being refurbished.
  • A three-year construction phase is due to start around spring next year.
  • The contract also includes ‘some environmental improvements’ provisions. Firms under the umbrella Keepmoat Limited have been contracted to provide this.
  • They will also be responsible for maintenance services throughout the 20 year contract period.

While this is undoubtedly good news for the areas involved, the Leeds Citizen blog has the news which wasn’t updated on the news feed. Delays and inflation have led to a £12m increase in costs before the 20-year contract has even been signed. It’s yet to be confirmed whether this is for the duration of the contract or for the building phase.

“The council will need to meet additional costs in the contract that amount to about £1million a month,” Cllr Peter Gruen said a statement given to the Leeds citizen.

In other PFI news, which Cllr Gruen (executive member for housing) may want to note, the BBC reports that lighting costs have soared under a 25-year Private Finance Initiative contract from 2006.

Lamppost
Image by George M. Groutas via Flickr

 

  • A consortium provided £100m to replace most of Leeds’s street lamps.
  • When the contract was signed, Leeds’ lighting system cost £5.8m per year to run, it now

    costs £14.4m.

  • The majority of the rise in costs is, according to the BBC, repayment of the overall cost of 80,000 lights which have been since replaced.

Because PFI deals can be bracketed under ‘commercial confidentially’ agreements, little is now about the financial impacts or specific arrangements of the deals.

As always, if anyone has any information to share, then please leave a comment or email: knowyourleeds@gmail.com

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