In April 2010, Norwich City Council awarded eight contracts to Connaught after the break-up of the CityCare contract.
The old CityCare contract had been plagued with controversy, with the Evening News revealing how 17,000 tenants and leaseholders had been charged over the odds for building and maintenance work on their homes.
After CityCare’s 10-year contract came to an end, the city council chose Exeter-based Connaught to take on responsibility for services ranging from fixing and repairing the city’s council homes to managing asbestos and recycling. The various parts of the contract added up to £125m in total, but eyebrows were raised that the amount Connaught said the contracts could be delivered for was so much lower than other bidders.
The city council also had to reach a financial settlement with Morrison, the parent company of CityCare, after it challenged the decision to award Connaught the £17.5m a year contract for housing maintenance in the High Court.
At the High Court hearing Mr Justice Arnold said Morrison had a “seriously arguable” case that Connaught’s bid for the housing maintenance contract was “abnormally low” and that the council had not properly investigated it.
There were problems with Connaught from the start, including missed appointments and workers not being fully paid, which were initially blamed on teething troubles.
However, Connaught’s share price tumbled and a profit warning was issued, before, in September last year, Connaught Partnerships went into administration, leading to the loss of 300 jobs. Connaught Environmental, which at that time employed 200 people, was saved by administrators KPMG and was rebranded as Fountains.
But the company, which also had council contracts with the London Boroughs of Wandsworth, Camden, Hillingdon and Tower Hamlets, continued to have problems.
It was taken over in March last year, in a move which bosses hailed at the time as securing its long-term future.
However, unfortunately for the Norwich workers, that turned out not to be the case.
While much of Fountain Group’s assets and contracts have been sold, securing more than 1,500 jobs, the Norwich contract is not among them.
That leaves the city council trying to find a way to provide services and the workers hoping their skills will be required by whichever company takes over the contracts.
Lovell has won three contracts to carry out housing repairs and maintenance work for Norwich City Council.
The housing refurbishment and regeneration specialist will deliver kitchen and bathroom improvements, disabled alterations to council houses, and electrical upgrading, over the nine months of the contract.
Lovell, part of the Morgan Sindall group and based in Norwich, took on emergency housing repair work for Norwich City Council after its previous contractor Connaught collapsed.
Lovell regional director Simon Medler said: “We would like to underline our continuing commitment to providing jobs for former Connaught staff wherever we can.”
We’re sure the people will of Norwich will hold Lovell to that…
A few members of Norfolk Community Action Group in noise protest outside City Hall, feet below cabinet meeting, gather in the pouring rain to remind Labour councillors of their responsibilities to the people of Norwich in respect of upcoming cuts…
Three activists went into cabinet meeting and leafleted councillors inside.
We are assembled today to give a list of three key demands to the executive of Norwich City Council which are asfollows…
• We demand the Norwich City Executive or Cabinetactively refuse to sit and conduct business that involves the cutting of public services.
• We demand that they cease all matters immediately to put pressure on the shadow cabinet in Westminster to publicly declare the destruction of the welfare state by the current government as being unlawful without at least a public referendum, or a new election, due to the lack of Equality Impact Assessments being carried out by the Treasury.
• Based on the seriousness of the attempted re-workings of the entire public infrastructure, nothing short of non compliance by Norwich City Council is appropriate when representing the health, peace and safety of the people of Norwich.
NORFOLK COMMUNITY ACTION GROUP
Lobby of Norwich City Council ‘Cabinet’ Meeting December 8th 4.30, front of City Hall.
Bring drums, pots n pans and grannies old bloomers as well as anything else loud!
DON’T IMPLEMENT THE TORY DESTRUCTION OF THE WELFARE STATE!
Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown out a threat to the securityof council tenants. Cameron said he wanted to time-limit allnew council and housing association tenancies to as little as fiveyears: ‘maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a differentjob and be better paid and you won’t need that home, you will beable to go into the private sector.’ David Cameron (3 Aug 2010)
This makes a lie of the Prime Minister’s pre-election promisesthat he would respect tenants’ rights. It follows savage cuts to Housing Benefit announced in the June budget, and threats to slash spending on public services. Even if unscripted, this new threat steps up what is an ideological attack on a fundamental principle of council housing as a pillar of Britain’s welfare state. It is the latest in a long line of such attacks on tenants’ rights. It hits at the principles underpinning the post war consensus millions of people support. Will he also say people who can‘afford’ the private market will be forced to pay for their healthcare or kids education? We need publicly-owned, secure and affordable council housingas an alternative to the high costs, risks and insecurity ofbuying or private renting.
A home, not an asset
Council tenants need and have the same right to a ‘home’ asanyone else – not just a temporary place to put their head downuntil they find something better. Good quality council housing is vital to ensure that whatever we earn everyone – and our children, and parents – has a home that’s secure and affordable. The principle that needs defending is that council housingshould be a mainstream tenure of choice, available to all whowant to rent as an alternative to the private market. The solution to a shortage of decent, affordable, secure andaccountable council housing is to build more! That would also have the benefit of creating jobs and opening up council housingallocation policies to the wide range of people who used to live oncouncil estates re-establishing mixed and sustainable communities.
No transit camps of poverty
Means testing council tenants, to force out anyone who gets abovethe bread line, would destroy communities. It would turn council estates into transit camps, undermining any kind of social cohesion.If anyone whose income rises above the breadline is forced out or threatened with rent rises, it would reduce the mixture of incomes on estates and increase the concentration of deprivation.
Means-testing would intensify the poverty trap. And differing rent levels is a crude step to bring market forces into council housing.
The threat of losing a secure tenancy or having to pay higher rentswould increase the poverty trap and be a strong disincentive tofinding (better paid) work. It is wrong to force someone out of their home and into the privatesector because you judge they can afford it – they could beout of work tomorrow. Short term work and fluctuating incomesare a major cause of mortgage arrears. Means-tested benefits are already a major problem for millions in short-term or low-paid work or running small businesses, giving little alternative to flexible or part time ‘informal’ (undeclared)– and non-trade union organised – work.
These attacks on tenants’ rights and council housing are part of thepush for further deregulation and privatisation. Private developersand landlords want to get their hands on councils’ publiclyownedland, replace it with more high cost private housing, anddrive out those who can’t afford it. The right to a secure tenancy was won by tenants’ determined campaigning. This forced the Labour government to include ‘securityof tenure’ in the 1979 Housing Bill, which was then included in the Conservatives’ Housing Act 1980. Those who are opposed in principle to high quality public services available to all and who want everyone forced into the hands of the private market are determined to undermine and weaken the positionof council tenants. Stigmatising council housing as ‘housing of last resort’ is one method. Trying to take away our ‘secure’ tenancies or impose means testing or time limits is another.
Unemployment, on council estates as elsewhere, is the result of increasingly low-paid and insecure work. The problem of homelessness, overcrowding and long waiting lists are not caused by security of tenure, but by lack of investment and failure to build new homes. There are two million less council and RSL(housing association) homes now than 30 years ago, due to privatisation and failure to replace homes sold off. That’s why we have two million households on waiting lists.
Many on the waiting list are not judged in ‘priority need’ –they are the butchers, bakers, teachers and nurses who want a first class council home with lower rents, secure tenancies and a democratically accountable landlord. Investment in council housing is central to meeting this need.
Robbed – not subsidised
Government is robbing council tenants (not subsidising us) to the tune of £1.5 billion a year –while over the last twenty years billions of pounds of public subsidy has been poured into RSLs, and taxation has favoured homeowners and more recently buy to let landlords. The bank bailout is the biggest home ownership subsidyof all time.
Hands off our homes, our rents and our rights. Build more council homes
Cameron admitted in Birmingham that “not everyone will supportthis and there will be quite a big argument”. Simon Hughes MP and others have already warned the Government not to pursue this policy, mindful of the anger earlier attacks on secure tenure have provoked.
Tenants have fought determined campaigns against privatisationand to defend our homes and rights. This attack will provoke fury among council and housing association tenants. With the cuts in housing benefit, the Government is declaring war on tenants.
We will broaden and strengthen our united campaign. Together tenants, trade unions, councillors, MPs and campaigners have fought off previous attacks on council housing, and now the voice of protest needs to ring loud in the ear of every councillor and MP.
Belvedere Centre, Belvoir Street, Norwich, 15th Dec 7.30pm – 9.30pm.
Ian Gibson (former Labour MP Norwich North),
Ed Bober (tbc) and
Rick Dutton (NCAG)
Controversial plans to cut fire cover in Norfolk were given the green light yesterday amid fresh fears that lives and historic buildings in the centre of Norwich could be put at risk.
Norfolk County Council approved the £1.5m cuts as part of a new safety plan aimed at boosting cover in rural areas and King’s Lynn.
As part of the changes the number of fire engines in Norwich would be cut from five to four after the opening of the new Carrow Station in Trowse, near Norwich, following the closure of Bethel Street, with 24 jobs lost.
Across the county a further 12 jobs will be lost at six retained fire stations, Cromer, Dereham, Diss, Fakenham, Sandringham, and Wymondham. But moves to scrap the retained crew at Gorleston have been put on hold for 12 months, though councillors were unable to give assurances that the proposals will not be revisited in the future.
The monitoring of rules governing a maximum 15 minute response time for second crews at some incidents was also scrapped.
Labour councillor Bert Bremner told county councillors that the plans were a “Tory gamble”, which would affect the safety of firefighters and the public, particularly in the Norwich area.
“At the big Zizzi’s fire last month in the centre of Norwich there were at least six fire fighting appliances and 40 fire-fighters,” Mr Bremner said. “Zizzi’s was right next to the beautiful Ethelbert Gate, one of Norwich’s treasured medieval buildings.
“The first crew to get to the fire was the second Norwich pump, the one Tory Norfolk will cut. What is to replace this second fire engine?
“The Tory cuts will mean only five fire-fighters are on duty at North Earlham so no speedy arrival of the ‘Aerial Ladder Platform’ and far greater damage and far greater risk of fire spreading. The Ethelbert Gate would have been at risk.”
Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for fire and rescue, said: “We have got reduced risk, and we have got action being taken with a new fire station at Carrow, which will result in Norwich being ringed by fire stations at Sprowston, Earlham and at Carrow.”
We watch with interest the FBU’s response to this major threat to the people of Norfolk…
NCAG have this evening received a communique from the Populist Iceni Insurrectionist Socialist Tendancy, a group not heard of since the fall of Thatchers government.
Message reads as follows…
To the people of Norfolk,
Twenty years after the biggest popular uprising for a generation it is time to shake off the cobwebs of complacency and awaken the class hatred and anger that has lain dormant for so long. The time is now upon us to once again take to the streets and instil fear into the hearts of the oppressor.
We call on all those who fought fearlessly for justice against the state in 1990 to once again take their place in history.
TODAY THE VERY LIFEBLOOD OF SOCIAL WELFARE AND THE HARD FOUGHT RIGHTS OF THE COMMON PEOPLE ARE ABOUT TO BE LOST. LAST TIME WE SMASHED UP OUR CIVIC HALLS. THIS TIME WE TEAR THEM DOWN, BRICK BY BRICK, AND BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.
We’ll see you on December 4th and beyond.
We’re back, we’re angry, and this time we finish the job!
Footage from Norwich Riots
Norfolk and Norwich were urged to spearhead a national fightback against plans to impose masive cuts in public services.
Hundreds of people packed a public meeting in the council chamber of Norwich City Hall on Monday night called by the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts in protest at national plans by the coalition government to cut public spending, and proposals by Norfolk County Council to bridge a £155m funding blackhole by slashing services and shedding 3,000 jobs.
Critics fear that the cuts will hit the most vulnerable in need of support and the consultation was branded a “Big Con” at the meeting.
But County Hall has promised that people will not be left in the lurch and the aim is to find other ways of providing essential services including voluntary groups, parish and town councils, and the private sector.
The meeting, which was chaired by former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson heard calls from union officials for a general strike as part of a co-ordinated campaign of opposition to the coalition government’s cuts plan.
Dr Gibson said everybody affected by the cuts needed to stand together and drawing on the spirit of the Ketts Rebellion he said the city had a proud tradition of fighting back.
“We have won battles in this city over the years and we can do it again,” Dr Gibson said. “I call upon you all to stand up and fight. This is not a time to compromise, it’s a time to fight and say ‘no’ you are not going to get away with this. I am asking you to make history by being the first in the country to stand up and fight.”
American trade union activist John Reimann, told the meeting campaigners needed to follow the lead of protesters in both France and Greece.
“One set of cuts leads to another,” he said. “We can’t leave it to somebody else, or our leaders upon high to organise this fightback. That’s what we’re here for, there’s no reason why the workers in this room can’t be the spark for a wider movement throughout Great Britain.”
But Norwich city councillor Alan Waters warned that the fight against the cuts would be a long battle, and he reminded the audience that similar protests in the city at St Andrews Hall during the 1980s had failed to stop the cutbacks of the then Thatcher government.
“We have to pull together,” Mr Waters said. “This is not about some temporary cuts, it’s about ending a social democratic country, with social democratic values, that’s designed to care for all of its people.”
The meeting heard that the coalition was planning a further protest march in the city on December 4.
Richard Edwards, regional secretary for the PCSU civil servants union, urged the TUC to back a general strike, and bring forward a national protest march earmarked for next year.
“We believe we need national industrial action,” he said. “Next time we will go for a bigger venue. Do not sit at home waiting for something to happen. Do something tonight. Take away the material, find our website, take it back to your own organisation and get them to become part of this movement.”
Jonathan Dunning, from Norfolk County Unison, said accused the Conservative administration of riding roughshod over the views of opposition councillors and the public.
But his suggestion that the protesters should try to win over Norfolk’s two Lib Dem MPs Norman Lamb and Simon Wright was met with laughter from many in the audience.
“This is just the start of what they want to cut,” Mr Dunning said. “It’s changing the way Norfolk County Council is operating. I have never seen anything that fundamentally changes the way that services are delivered. This is that significant.”
Things are hotting up among the local FBU following the recent sham series of public consultations that have led to plans by Norfolk Fire Service to declare their intent on making major cuts in our fire services.
In an interview with Norwich Evening News, Norfolk Chief Fire Officer Nigel Williams said
“Our draft safety plan has been drawn up following a wide-ranging consultation, the most comprehensive ever carried out by Norfolk Fire and Rescue Authority, and reflects the fact that our service is looking to change some of the ways we deliver services to our communities.
“In light of our successful continuing prevention work, which is reducing the number of fires in Norfolk and other emergencies, it makes perfect sense to take a fresh look at the way we work.
“The safety of the public is at the heart of everything we do and that won’t change.
“I believe the proposals, which will go before cabinet in October, will help us continue to move in the right direction. We have no intention of compromising either public or firefighter safety.”
Nigel what planet are you actually living on?
The wide ranging public consultations that Nigel speaks of were so well advertised that practically nobody knew they were happening, and the comments that were seen by FBU members showed that there was NO public support for the cuts whatsoever!
These, like all recent ‘consultations’ to do with cuts in local services, were nothing more than ‘democratic lip-service’, with the decisions to hack away at public services already given the green light.
As for Nigel’s reasoning and declaration of ‘common sense’..we’re tripping ourselves over with laughter! Clearly the ‘common-sense fairy’ never paid you a visit did they Nigel?
If the services are reducing fires and other incidents, it’s because of the hard work of the fire fighters. Any sane person would realise that making cuts on that basis runs the risk of simply undoing all the hard work and putting peoples lives in danger! Have a word with yourself Nigel!
As for Conservative MP Chloe Smith’s ‘fears over fire service cuts’…perhaps she’d be so kind and join the FBU on their rally this weekend and fight against all the other lunatic attacks on public services her party are currently engaged in? A likely story!
To the barricades comrades…
The FBU in Norwich have called a march and rally on Saturday 2nd in the City Centre to highlight the cuts Norfolk Fire Service are proposing.
These cuts will not only put the fire crews in danger but will result in a dangerously low level of fire cover for all of us.
We urge all who can make it to join the FBU by meeting outside Bethel Street Fire Station at 9.50am.
See you there!
Union bosses offer proposal plan to save jobs getting axed at Connexions, while Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, replies
“We are still in the consultation process and we are still listening to people with regards to the options available.”
Now where have we heard that load of old rubbish before…
A new drive has been launched to save a vital career service as hundreds of youngsters desperately scramble for limited jobs and university places.
Union bosses have revealed new proposals to help save half of the under threat jobs at Connexions which could in turn help keep the career service for young people alive.
The news comes as hundreds of teenagers across Norfolk last week celebrated the county’s best ever A-level results – the biggest year-on-year increase for five years.
But for many those celebrations turned into panic as figures reveal that more than 170,000 people are set to miss out on a cherished university place nationally and that six students are fighting for each spare university place.
The knife-edge situation is illustrated locally, with Norwich University College of the Arts (Nuca) full to the brim and the University of East Anglia had just 70 places available through clearing after seeing a 30pc rise in applications for this year’s courses.
This year, hundreds and thousands of students across Norfolk have been lucky enough to be able to turn the Connexions service for career advice and to be steered in the right direction.
But next year, students may not be so fortunate as the service is facing a 50pc budget cut with 65 jobs expected to go. It is expected that the service will become more online and telephone based.
Norfolk County Council says it has to make £2.8m of cuts in the Connexions service in this financial year as part of a £10m package of savings.
County Hall says those cuts need to be made because in-year grants from the government have been slashed – with more than £4m taken from area based grants used to support services to children.
Fears have been raised, however, that Norfolk’s youngsters are taking a “disproportionate hit” in terms of where the cuts are being made.
The proposals being put forward by trade union UNISON could help safeguard Connexions and stop 30 jobs from being lost.
It is hoped they will be considered at a meeting of the full county council on September 6.
Jonathan Dunning, UNISON Norfolk branch secretary, said: “We’re hoping they will incorporate our proposals into the report which will go before the council. Our proposals mean Connexions will be left in a state where it can still be a credible service.
“The current proposals, we believe, means it will struggle to deliver the level of service to Norfolk’s young people, because it seems to be relying on a web-based service. That won’t reach some of the young people in parts of Norfolk where the broadband service is poor and access to computers is limited.”
Under the union’s proposals, it is suggested to bring in planned changes to the Connexions structure earlier – in December, rather than January – to enable savings of £2.1m to be made in a full financial year.
That is above the £1.4m the council missed out on after the area budget grant was reduced, but below the £2.8m the council has said it wants to save.
The union says the £700,000 left in the Connexions budget by not cutting £2.8m, plus an additional £250k from not filling new four new management level posts in finance, can be used to provide specialist one to one support for young people and will save about 30 of the under threat jobs and the subsequent redundancy costs.
Paul Morse, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall, said: “I feel as though young people are taking a disproportionate hit in terms of where cuts are being made.
“This is a knee-jerk reaction by the Tories and they don’t realise the breadth of services that are provided by Connexions.
“It’s ironic that at the moment there’s a focus on young people getting their exam results and, whether they be A-levels or GCSEs, and there’s an emphasis on the fact that there’s a definite shortage of places within education and there’s a difficult labour market which means that it’s the time when our young people need Connexions more than ever.”
Connexions, which gives career advice to young people aged 13 to 19, has six centres across Norfolk: Norwich, North Walsham, Thetford, Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Dereham.
From April 09-10, the service saw 45,000 youngsters across the county and took as many calls. The figure does not include visits to schools, colleges, homes and training centres.
In Norwich alone, more than 1,600 young people walk through the doors of the centre in just one month.
The service does not only help with careers advice but helps point youngsters in the right direction to overcome or deal with a range of issues including homelessness, drugs, teenage pregnancy and sexual health.
Norman Lamb, Lib Dem North Norfolk MP, said: “I went along to the Connexions centre in North Walsham and I met with a large number of youngsters there and couldn’t help but be impressed by the stories they had to tell about the value that they had gained from the service and the type of support that they get.
“It’s very easy to lose a service and then it’s gone for good. There’s an opportunity for reflection now and everybody would be impressed by the county council if they took a step back and thought again about the alternatives being put forward.
“Everybody understands that the savings have to be found, we are not in denial about that at all, but let’s think very carefully about the damage that’s being done here and whether it’s possible to find another way forward.”
A County Hall spokesman said the suggestions from UNISON would be “carefully considered”.
Conservative county councillor Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, added: “We are still in the consultation process and we are still listening to people with regards to the options available.”
Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP for the Conservative Party, said: “It’s important to have information, guidance and advice for young people and everyone concerned about Connexions should be talking to the county council as it’s a local authority decision, although their funds have been drastically cut as a result of the irresponsibility of the last government.
“I’m doing that as well on behalf of people who have been in touch with me. It’s important to retain as much of the front line service as possible with the funds available but be realistic that some very difficult decisions have to be made because of the financial situation.”
Last month, young people joined forces with redundancy-threatened workers and union activists to save the careers service from the drastic cuts. They protested outside County Hall, but the cuts were still approved.
Fire chiefs have defended controversial plans to reduce the number of fire engines which serve Norwich.
While the public ‘consultation process’ which is nothing other than lip service continues to be under way for the next few weeks, Fire bosses are making sure that the media give full weight and air time to their proposals whilst barely a mention of the actual bureaucratic red taped claptrap the consultation actually entails…it’s a funny old game!
As usual bosses know best and the fire fighters themselves ought to just put up and shut up!
We aren’t in this instance even going to bother commenting on Mike McCarthy, acting chief fire officers ridiculous recent statements on call out and arrival times, other than to say on your head be it Mike!
Meanwhile this from Jamie Wyatt, Fire Brigades Union secretary in Norfolk
“The proposals not only cut the number of fire engines and firefighters but also remove the attendance times for second fire engines reaching certain types of incidents.
“That means that for some incidents there will be no time limit on how long it will take for sufficient resources to arrive, and therefore puts the public at increased risk.”
We at Norfolk Community Action Group ask that concerned residents in Norfolk not only take part in the online ‘consultation‘ but get firmly behind the FBU and support them in whatever course of action they see fit to take in the coming months.
The leader of Norwich City Council today launched a stinging attack on the government as a plan for massive cuts edges nearer to approval.
Council staff have been consulted about a blueprint that could see job losses at City Hall and cuts to frontline services as the city struggles to save £7.5m in the next two years.
The cuts, which amount to 15pc of the council’s controllable budget, will have an unavoidable impact on services and staff, who face a fresh period of uncertainty about their jobs.
The authority, which has already cut spending by more than £10m in the last two years, said the changes were needed in the wake of government plans to cut public spending by 25pc in the next four years.
City council leader Steve Morphew called the plans “a great disappointment”, adding: “They are ill thought out and will be damaging.
“Much as we will resist being scapegoated for the deficit problems caused by the failure of the banks, we are nevertheless faced with having to deal with the problems.”
He admitted that the severity of the situation would affect the quality of services offered to Norwich families, saying: “There is no way we can continue to deliver the same services to the same level with the resources available.
“It is too early to say exactly what the impact is but we are pledged to protect the most vulnerable in our city and continue the fight for jobs, homes and prosperity.”
And he lashed out at the description of some council positions as “non jobs”, saying: “Suggestions for cuts made by some because they think they are services not worth bothering with are actually vital services for others in the community.”
Strategic managers, trade unions and other staff members have been consulted on the council’s draft blueprint, which will guide the authority through the straitened times ahead.
A revised version with their comments taken into account will go before a meeting of the Executive tomorrow.
Once it has been through the approval process the document will be used as a guide to help identify more specific efficiency proposals.
The council is proposing a timetable from June to April 2011 which envisages a “new staffing structure” to be in place by then.
And it believes it is well placed to make the changes thanks to the work of the corporate improvement and efficiency programme it set in train last year, set up in the wake of criticisms about how it was operating.
Staff will learn their fate in December after an assessment and selection process is carried out.
Officers are also now looking at where to make savings in a number of areas including sharing services with other councils, ICT and “income maximisation and collection”.
As the Con-Dem government begin to live up to their name it is the Norfolk Connexions service that finds its head squarely on the block, with 65 jobs to be cut.
Yesterday a coalition of Unison members, community groups, employees and users of the service picketed outside County Hall to raise awareness of their cause and to urge councillors to enter the fight to save the service.
About 150 demonstrators turned up despite the 9am start! Decked out in the purple shirts of the Connexions service the only thing louder than the the garb of the protesters were their chants and the songs performed by a local trio of musicians supporting the cause.
After an hour of picketing a large contingent went to sit in on the meeting of the county council, to create a visual pressure on the elected representatives to do some justice for the people of Norfolk. This quickly proved futile as the best part of the first half hour of proceedings were taken up by councillors declaring interest in BP before the discussion of the Norfolk pension fund. We promptly left in disgust.
Here’s how the EDP reported the event…
Hopes fade for Norfolk careers service
Hopes of saving a lifeline Norfolk careers service from drastic cuts are fading after council members voted in favour of a plan to cut its funding.
Scores of young people joined forces with redundancy-threatened workers and union activists as they descended on County Hall yesterday in a bid to urge members of Norfolk County Council to vote against a plan to cut the Connexions service.
Their protest looked to be in vain as a two hour debate saw members vote in favour of the recommendations put to the council, which could lead to 65 job losses.
But after the meeting, campaigners vowed to continue to press against the cuts ahead of a meeting on September 6.
Ruth Thacker, a Unison steward, said: “Some of the comments made were very positive which was nice to hear.
“Obviously it doesn’t sound too hopeful in the long-run but it was an emotive meeting and there were some abstentions. It’s a slow process of getting people to understand what we do.
“It’s definitely a financial issue that has to be explored and hopefully common sense will prevail.”
As previously reported, the county council plans to axe £2.8m from the service, which provides advice and guidance to thousands of young people aged from 13 to 19, as part of a £10m package of savings.
Supporters of the service fear the move will severely affect the crucial support offered to young people and lead to a big increase in youth unemployment and teenage pregnancy.
During yesterday’s full council meeting, Paul Morse, county councillor for North Walsham East, said: “This is out and out salami slicing.
“The way the council has approached this whole episode is the easy option. There are three reasons why the council is going for Connexions – members in this chamber are not really involved in the service and don’t know much about it, Connexions is fairly recent so it has not got many friends high up and it’s a preventative service so the client group does not have a voice.”
Members heard how the service does not only provide young people with careers advice but also a range of support from healthy eating to homelessness, anti-social behaviour to sexual health.
In 2009, it helped 1,300 young people get work and apprenticeships.
Tory councillors argued that the savings were necessary and although the service will be reduced, it is not going to be scrapped completely.
Daniel Cox, leader of the council, said: “There’s no reason why young people wouldn’t receive the same advice they currently need. It’s not being abolished, just reshaped. We are not taking away advice, we are looking at the best way of providing advice to young people with the money available.”
A meeting will be held at County Hall on September 6 after consultation with trade unions.
Defiant campaigners and pensioners today said the fight would go on to keep a Norwich day centre for the elderly open – after a decision by councillors left the door ajar for it to continue.
Norfolk County Council’s cabinet yesterday made a final decision on the fate of the Silver Rooms and Essex Rooms, which will now set wheels in motion for their gradual closure.
The dozens of pensioners who attend the centres for lunches and entertainment had fought to keep them open and at the start of the meeting, a 2,212-name petition was handed to county council leader Daniel Cox by campaigners from the Silver Rooms and one of more than a thousand names from their counterparts battling to save the Essex Rooms.
The county council runs the centres and says it wants to shut them because of a shake-up in the sort of care they provide – which will focus on dementia and re-ablement needs.
The council says those centres, in Silver Road and Essex Street, are not fit for those uses and wants to stop running them, instead moving the current users to other services which would be provided by the voluntary sector, such as Age Concern Norwich, in partnership with the county and city council.
Officers at County Hall say that will allow friendship groups to stay together and would offer a wider range of facilities and activities in other locations, such as The Elms, Dell Rose Court, The Cedars, St James Sheltered Housing and Don Pratt Court.
At yesterday’s meeting, members agreed to set up that partnership and, as it stands, that means see the Silver and Essex Rooms will be gradually closed, although the council was quick to stress that would not happen until the users are ready to move to a place they are happy with.
But the door was also left ajar for a community group to come in to take over the running of the centres, with the recommendation that the new partnership will retain the option of maintaining them as day care facilities alongside the new community based services if there is found to be sufficient resources and demand.
The Friends of the Silver Rooms are hoping they can do just that and believe they can make a strong case for that centre remaining open and in use by the elderly people who love it so much.
They have enlisted the aid of The Guild, a Norwich-based organisation which supports social enterprise schemes, to draw up the business plan.
They hope the whole community will rally around to enable the Silver Rooms, which have been used by elderly people for lunches and meetings for more than 25 years, to stay open.
However, their request for the county council to contribute towards the business plan was turned down at yesterday’s meeting.
Georgina Moles, from the Friends of the Silver Rooms, said: “The door is still open. We will talk to the council about the partnership process and need to find out what that means.
“We want to see the Silver Rooms continue as a community resource, primarily for older people and we still want to see that happen. We’re disappointed that they are not prepared to pay for the business plan, but we are still fighting.”
Green councillor Stephen Little, whose Town Close ward includes the Essex Rooms, said: “I would like to pay tribute to those involved in the campaign, in particular the attendees who have been an example to us all with their brave and determined efforts to speak up about places they have come to regard as a second home.
“These centres cater for a broad range of needs under one roof. It’s important to not separate people unless absolutely necessary. These centres have adapted and remained successful over 40 years, so they must be doing something right.”
But David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “This has been a long process and one where we always intended to consult with all the users.
“This is about all our day care centres across Norfolk. I’m pleased to say that we have spoken to both Norwich MPs and updated them on the proposals. It’s well known that they both now favour the proposals.
“The city council did a report regarding these places, which agreed with our assessment of the buildings.
“I was upset for the users themselves at the amount of scaremongering that went on by people thinking they were doing people a favour, but all they managed to achieve was to upset some old and vulnerable people with incorrect information. It’s important that we take into account that this is for everyone in Norfolk.”
Council leader Daniel Cox said Mr Harwood had suffered “considerable personal vitriol” over the past few months and said: “The easy thing to do would be to leave it exactly as it is, but that would not be the right thing to do.”
But Ms Moles hit back at the scaremongering claim. She said: “I think that was a terrible slur on the Friends of the Silver Rooms. We have not scaremongered. The pensioners who have come to these meetings have come here because they care about the place they love.”
When the closure plans were announced last year it sparked outcry, with pensioners protesting at public meetings, thousands of signatures collected on petitions and an all-night vigil held outside the Silver Rooms.
The Evening News has highlighted the fight to keep them open through our Fight For Our Day Centre stories.
What do you think of the decision? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaigners fighting to keep open two day centres in Norwich appear to have lost their battle as county councillors are set to press ahead with controversial closure plans.
Norfolk County Council today confirmed it was going to set up a new day services partnership in city to replace the Silver Rooms and the Essex Rooms.
The new scheme is set to be approved by members of the adult social services overview and scrutiny panel next Wednesday and would involve a partnership with Age Concern Norwich and Norwich City Council to look at providing alternatives to the day centres.
Under the plans, the partnership will identify new locations for day care services to replace the two centres which are likely to be based in sheltered housing and housing with care schemes.
Both centres will remain open while suitable alternatives are created.
County Hall said the plans which followed a consultation would allow friendship groups to stay together and offer a wider range of facilities and activities. Staff will continue to provide the same high quality care, but in more suitable accommodation and the services would also be available closer to many people’s homes.
David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “We are committed to improving day services and widening the choice that people have, but we must make the best use of the council’s resources in tough financial times. The consultation on the Essex and Silver Rooms showed us that what mattered to people was friendship, inclusion and care – not the buildings themselves.
“The new proposals allow us to keep to our policy of specialising council services for dementia and re-ablement, but also develop better replacement services in collaboration with our partners.
Norwich South MP Simon Wright said he was seeking an urgent meeting with both Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council about the plans.
“I’m very disappointed if these day centres are to close. I felt very strongly that they should be retained and invested in,” Mr Wright said. “We have got a situation where we do have an ageing population where demand for these sorts of services is increasing in the future to give older people a really good social environment.
“What I think is so awful in this process is that I’m not convinced that alternative provision has been identified early enough in the process.”
Next week’s meeting, which will take place at 10am in the Edwards Room, at County Hall, members will also be updated with a report on work being carried out to safeguard vulnerable adults in Norfolk and a review of day activities for people with learning difficulties.
More than 500 private homes in Norwich have been standing empty for more than six months, new figures have revealed – while more than 9,600 people are waiting on lists to get council homes.
But Norwich City Council insists it is ahead of the game when it comes to getting empty private homes back into use, with pioneering orders to force landlords to get them back into use made more frequently in the city than anywhere else in the country.
New figures show that by the end of December last year the number of empty homes had fallen on the previous year – from 613 to 517.
While that means 1.4pc of homes in the city have been empty for more than six months, the city council says it has pioneered the use of new powers to get them back into use.
In 2007 the city council, which has 9,643 on the waiting list for council homes, became one of the first authorities in the country to issue an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) on a landlord whose home had become rundown.
The house, in Churchill Road, had an interim order placed on it, resulting in the landlord selling the property which was subsequently renovated and reoccupied.
Since then the council has issued six EDMOs, with a decision on another one due next week. A further four were prepared but the properties were re-occupied by the owners when they received notification of the council’s intention to apply for an order.
An EDMO allows a local authority to step into the shoes of the owner of a dwelling unoccupied for six months or more, where the owner is not intending to re-occupy it.
It allows a local authority to secure occupation and proper management of privately owned houses and flats that have been unoccupied to carry out works to make the property fit to occupy and can also let the property.
Brenda Arthur, executive member for housing and adult services, said: “We have had an officer exclusively on this and managed resources to help return homes to use, using the carrot and stick approach.
“We try very hard to work with landlords and point them towards grants which can help them, but the carrot does not work we are not afraid to use the stick.
“Twenty per cent of all EDMOs in the country have been used in Norwich and, as an authority, we are committed to bringing in as many homes back into use, because we recognise there is a need for housing.”
But Antony Little, leader of the Conservative group at City Hall, said: “With so many people on the waiting lists or wanting affordable housing, more should be done to bring these back into use.
“In fact we spend so much time on fixing the problems of council houses that we lose sight of other potential family homes that could be brought back into use.”
The latest annual Halifax Empty Homes survey, published last November, showed were 303,285 long-term empty private homes in England in April 2008, a rise of 9pc from 279,281 in April 2007, with national average of 1.6pc private homes empty for six months or more.
People were today reminded they can take part in a consultation which could transform how Norwich looks in the future.
In October, Norwich City Council unveiled its draft site allocations plan, which identified 170 potential sites to be developed around the city.
The draft consultation document has been drawn up after the city council called on developers’ agents and community groups to come up with ideas of how sites in the city could be used for development.
Among the proposals are for the former Big W at Riverside to be turned into a concert hall or sports centre, 20 of the city’s car parks to be used for housing and for the Bethel Street fire station to be used for shops, flats and offices.
A string of staffed exhibitions will also be held next month, on the following dates:
January 11 from 10am to 2pm at Norwich Central Baptist Church in Duke Street
January 18 from 5pm to 7pm at the Walter Roy Theatre at the Hewett School in Cecil Road
January 21 from 5pm to 7pm at the Norman Centre in Bignold Road
January 28 from 5pm to 7pm at City Academy Norwich in Earlham Road
Following the initial round of consultation, there will be a second round based on shortlisted sites and another chance for the public to comment on the proposed document before the formal adoption of the document
To view the consultation documents, go to http://www.norwich.gov.uk or pick up a copy from City Hall or the Millennium Library in the Forum.