Thursday, 22 January 2015

Politics: Bid to cut number of wards and elections

Calderdale Council could see fewer wards, fewer elections and fewer councillors if proposals by the Conservative group are given the go-ahead.

Council leader Stephen Baines would like the number of wards reduced to 12, with three councillors per ward - 36 compared to the current 51.

Coun Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “In Kirklees, your average council ward has between 12,000 and 13,000 of the electorate and in Leeds it’s around 17,00 - in Calderdale it’s around 8,500 to 9,000.

“Is it right, when we are looking for our officers to work harder and make do with fewer people, for councillors not to lead by example?”

Coun Baines would also like fewer council elections, with voters being asked to go to the polls once every four years rather than three times over a four-year period under the current system - doing this would save £500,000 every four years in election costs.

He said: “All this would have to be done through the Boundary Commission which would be a three-year process, which is why we’ll be going out to consultation on this.”

Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group, said: “We should only look at reducing the number of councillors and changing the electoral arrangements if we are sure that it will lead to more effective governance and representation - it should not be proposed purely as a money saving measure.

“Larger wards will make it even harder for electoral wards to represent natural communities.

“It could mean for example a single ward combining Todmorden and part of Hebden Bridge,” he said.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Politics: 'Mansion tax' claims rapped by Labour

The Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halifax has been accused of being “out of touch” following claims that Halifax families will be affected by Labour’s mansion tax.

Philip Allott wrote on his Twitter page: “Labour to tax homeowners in Halifax, Northowram, Warley and Sowerby Bridge to fund NHS in Scotland.”

The tax, which will apply to houses worth more than £2 million, will not actually affect any homes in Halifax.

Mr Allott said the mansion tax would be an excuse for Labour to increase council tax.

He said: “It would just be an excuse to re-band properties - so properties in Halifax will face higher council tax bills.

“Although, in fairness, very few properties will be affected to be begin with, I see this as the start of a slippery slope rather than the end of a process - where I’m coming from is a principled point,” he said.

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan said: “It’s now clear just how staggeringly out of touch the Conservative campaign is - they are out of touch with local communities, out of touch with local house values and out of touch with what matters to Halifax and Sowerby Bridge residents.

“Local people’s priorities are saving the A&E, reducing the cost of living and getting this town working again.

“There may be £2 million houses in the leafy suburbs of Harrogate, but there certainly aren’t any in Halifax,” she said.

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Monday, 19 January 2015

Politics: A&E cut not 'ruled in or out' by Minister

Arguments over the future of Calderdale Royal Hospital and the future of A&E provision in Calderdale have mounted this week.

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan raised the issue on Tuesday in the House of Commons, asking if there was any clinical reason given for the downgrading of A&E provision.

Jane Ellison, Under Secretary of State for Health told the House: “This is a locally-led process. Nothing has been ruled in or out, no decision has been made, and first and foremost comes the safety and efficacy of local health services.

“May I commend to the hon. lady the approach of her constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), who at all times has championed the best outcomes for his constituents’ health, rather than seek to make politics out of this?”

Mrs Riordan later responded to the comments, she said: “Let’s be clear, until the Government and health bosses say differently the current proposal is to close the A&E in Halifax.

"We know that because closure was the ‘preferred option’ of hospital bosses set out last year. That position has not changed.

"To say otherwise is misguided and misleading. Some clear communications from the Government, Trust and CCG would make things a bit clearer. Sadly, the sound of silence continues.”

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Sunday, 18 January 2015

Politics: School places crisis deepens

Over a quarter of primary schools in Calderdale have more pupils than places.

Recent figures reveal that Calderdale ranks above the national average in the amount of over-capacity schools.

Data shows that 24 of Calderdale’s 85 primary schools (28.2 per cent) say they are over-capacity - this is compared to a national average of 18 per cent.

It’s a similar situation for Calderdale’s 13 secondary schools, with three schools (23 per cent) saying they are operating above capacity - this is compared to a national average of 17 per cent.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, said: “David Cameron is irresponsibly diverting millions away from children in areas like Calderdale with a shortage of school places in order to fund his pet project Free Schools programme in areas where there are already enough places.

“This is affecting school standards and creating a classroom squeeze, with more infants being crammed into large classes and pupils being taught in makeshift temporary classrooms.”

The council estimates that it will need to find an additional 242 primary school places by September 2018.

Judith Wyllie, a senior officer at the council, said: “Schools may be described as ‘over capacity’ for a number of reasons, which can include those which have just one or two additional pupils.

“Currently, the greatest need for additional school places is in Central Halifax and we have invested in Savile Park School at Heath to create 210 new primary school places,” she said.

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Saturday, 17 January 2015

Politics: Council tax frozen for another year

Council tax is set to be frozen for another year as Calderdale Council’s Cabinet puts forward its budget proposals for 2015/16 to 2017/18.

The draft proposals, revealed by Cabinet this week, outline the council’s financial priorities for the next three years.

Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf), leader of Calderdale Council, said: “The main positive is that in these difficult financial times, there’s another zero increase in council tax.

“The only time we’ve seen an increase in council tax since 2010 is the year Labour were in charge and there were no elections,” he said.

The budget includes an extra £200,000 for the Economic Investment Fund which the Cabinet believes will help reduce unemployment levels.

Coun Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group, described the budget proposals as “vaccuous” and said he is working with members of his party to put together alternative budget proposals.

Coun Swift (Lab, Town) said: “They’ve put off all the difficult decisions until after the election - it lacks any direction or ambition for Calderdale.”

Coun Janet Battye, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she was pleased there will be a full consultation on the budget proposals.

Coun Battye (Lib Dem, Calder) said: “When we last did a consultation in 2010, we got a lot of really useful information from people.

“It gave us some guiding priciples that we’ve been practicing for the past five years.

“So to go back out there five years later and consult on this is really good stuff,” she said.

“If we can get cross-party agreement when this comes to budget council next month, we’ll be all the stronger for it.”

Coun Baines dismissed Coun Swift’s criticism, he said: “We believe it’s important that we do consult, and we will be doing that after the election.

“I find it ironic that Labour were jumping up and down before Christmas about running a full consultation on the budget.

“Anything Labour say I tend to take with a pinch of salt.”
Deputy council leader Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) said: “The critical point here is that we can’t forget the reason why local government is in this position and why we have to find savings of £9.4 million.”

The proposals will be put forward for a full consultation - the first since 2010 - and will be considered by full council on February 23.

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Friday, 16 January 2015

Reportage: It's full marks for our top mark schools

A Halifax primary school has come top of the class in the most recent Key Stage Two league tables from the Department for Education.

Copley Primary School saw 100 per cent of its Year six pupils reached the national benchmark of level four or above in reading, writing and mathematics.

The results put the school at the top of the charts for Calderdale primary schools with Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Scout Road Academy, Norland CofE Junior and Infant School and New Road Primary School all seeing 100 per cent of their pupils achieving level four or above.

Nan Oldfield, head teacher at Copley Primary School, said: “It’s fantastic news - we’re absolutely thrilled with the results.

“This is a result of a fantastic team effort by all the amazing staff at Copley, wonderful pupils who always work hard and consistently give us their best, and very supportive parents - it’s all three working together.”

Council leader Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram/Shelf) said: “Copley is good example of a school that’s struggling in an old Victorian building - the current difficulties they have with the water issues in the floor areas - and is still providing an excellent level of education for its young people.

“Even with its difficulties, it can provide the sort of education that for me there’s no excuse for any school not to.
“I just want every school in Calderdale to be up at that standard - there’s no excuse for any school not to be up there with the best.

“The failure is that some schools don’t stretch their pupils enough. We shouldn’t be treading water, we should be pushing children to the limit of their capacity.”

Calderdale primaries are county's best

Calderdale primary schools have topped the table for local authorities in West Yorkshire, with 88 per cent of its primary pupils attending schools rated by Ofsted as being ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

This number compares with Leeds which scored 83 per cent, Kirklees which scored 74 per cent and Wakefield and Bradford which both scored 73 per cent.

In total, more than 700 schools in England are now considered to be performing below standard, the same proportion as last year.
Leader of Calderdale Council, Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram/Shelf), said: “We have a tendency to be one of the best in West Yorkshire, but I actually look at the country as a whole and we’re not up there with the best in the country.

“Our target is to be the best and to offer every child a good standard of education.

“It’s through good leadship that we can give the best education for young people.”

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Reportage: £500,000 boost for heritage site repairs

Heritage and cultural venues across Calderdale will be given a £500,000 boost if proposals laid out in the Cabinet’s 2016/17 budget are given the go-ahead by full council.

The money has been set aside as part of the council’s Capital Programme to improve buildings which are significant to our history.

Council leader Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “Throughout Calderdale there are historical buildings that do require some TLC, shall we say.

“Quite a lot of them need attention and we never have enough money for them.

“The two obvious ones, certainly in the Halifax area, are the Borough Market and Bankfield Museum, which both require a substantial amount of money to be spent on them, but there’s nothing at the moment.”

Deputy council leader Scott Benton said now was the ideal time to capitalise on our heritage to increase tourism following the success of the Tour de France and high profile TV shows like Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.

Coun Benton (Con, Brighouse) said: “These television programmes have shown the best of the borough and put Calderdale on the map.

“It’s incredibly important that we preserve our cultural assets if we are thinking of ways we can improve our tourism.”

The extra £500,000 will be a one-off boost to the council’s budget and will not be an ongoing part of the council’s base budget.

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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Health: A&E waiting times increase sharply

Figures released by NHS England this week have shown an increase in A&E waiting times across Calderdale and Huddersfield as the number of people waiting for more than four hours has increased by over a third in 12 months.

From October to December 2013, 4.5 per cent (1,514 out of 33,818 patient admissions) weren’t seen within the Government’s target of four hours - of the 1,514 total, 511 were classed as emergencies.

During the same period in 2014, 7 per cent (2,530 out of 35,927 patient admissions) were seen within four hours - of the 2,530 total, 686 were classed as emergencies.

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan said: “This Government’s failed policies have caused an A&E crisis, huge waiting times and pressure on capacity.

“If two local A&Es can’t handle such a surge in demand, there’s no chance one A&E will be able to.

“Now more than ever, local people are saying ‘hands off our A&E’. Just imagine if we were having a really cold winter.

“We need an A&E in Halifax for Halifax. It’s time the Government and health bosses recognised that and stopped this callous closure proposal once and for all.”

A staff member at Calderdale Royal Hosptailwho wished to remain anonymous said: “Staff morale in most departments is already at rock bottom with many left feeling like they are on a sinking ship.”

A spokesperson from the Trust said: “Our Trust, as all trusts, are experiencing high levels of patients requiring A&E care and then admission.

“The pressure varies operationally from hour to hour. So far, no MAJAX (Major Incident Procedure) has been called.”

The national A&E crisis was addressed by David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. He said: “I deeply regret any patient who does not get a good service.”

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Monday, 12 January 2015

Politics: Prime Minister launches election campaign at Dean Clough

The Prime Minister David Cameron was in Halifax to launch the Conservative party’s General Election campaign.
Halifax has been marked as a key battleground in this year’s May election.

Speaking to party members at Dean Clough, Mr Cameron unveiled the first election poster for his party’s campaign urging voters to “stay on the road to a stronger economy”.

Mr Cameron said: “It’s so important that we stay on the road to a stronger economy - I want us to stay on the road for more jobs, to stay on the road for lower taxes, to stay on the road for more apprenticeships, to stay on the road for stronger schools, for security and dignity in old age.

“I say we should stay on the road to a stronger economy, not just because the alternatives are so disastrous, I say we should stay on this road because I’m absolutely clear about what the destination should be.”

Mr Cameron said the election was the “most important for a generation” and noted that under the current Government Halifax is in a better place than it was in 2010.

Mr Cameron said: “It has been a journey from a position where we were on the brink of bankruptcy to being one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in anywhere in the Western world.”

The Prime Minister outlined a series of key election promises including the creation of new apprenticeships for young people, the building of 100,000 new starter homes, and a referendum on our place in Europe.

He said: “We want to deliver more jobs, lower taxes, build those homes and give people dignity and security during retirement - that is what will inform our entire election campaign, and that, I believe, is right for our country.”

Mr Cameron said that over the next Parliament he wants to see the deficit eradicated completely so the country can start to save for the future.

He said: “There is another road you can choose - but it has higher spending, higher borrowing, higher debt and a high burden on future generations.

“It’s a choice between security and chaos - people should know about the choice at the next election.”

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan said: “A second-rate poster launch doesn’t hide five years’ worth of devastating Government cuts to Halifax communities.

“The future of our A&E didn’t even get a mention - that’s how out of touch the Conservatives are.

“The reality is this: the re-election of this Tory-led Government will quite simply be a road to ruin in this town.”

Halifax is a key marginal seat in the next election if the Conservatives are to fulfill their goal of achieving a majority in Parliament.

Government looking into devolving more powers to West Yorkshire

During his visit to Halifax, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government was looking into ways it can devolve more powers to the West Yorkshire region.

Following the Scottish independence referendum last September, the Government said devolution plans would be completed by Christmas, but only plans for Greater Manchester and Sheffield have been unveiled.

Mr Cameron said: “We are looking at it right now - obviously we’ve seen good devo deals done in Manchester and Sheffield and I’m sure that more can be done.

“It’s part of a pattern and it’s not coming from nowhere - we’ve had a lot of city deals already that have provided a lot of extra resources and extra powers for Britain’s cities and I’m confident that a devo deal can be done.”

Mr Cameron said he wants to see a “northern powerhouse” which will see more investment and control to northern regions.

He said key to this is the redevelopment of the roads, broadband and railways, including the development of high speed rail and the electrification of key local lines.

He said: “The northern powerhouse is becoming a reality because of the investment that we’re putting into not just devolving powers to the great northern cities, but also ensuring that the infrastructure that is needed is also built.

“I’m confident this will happen, but what it needs is a proper negotiation, because we need to work out the best powers to devolve. What money can be found? What more development can be done? What room is there for business to expand?

“The whole point about these agreements is Whitehall emptying out as much of the powers and money as it can.”

Cameron impressed with growth of Covéa

On his visit to Dean Clough, Prime Minister David Cameron saw first-hand the offices of Halifax-based insurers Covéa.

Mr Cameron was impressed with the growth of the company, which has increased its number of employees by 20 per cent over the past year.

He said Covéa and Dean Clough were examples of how our economy has been changing for the better over the past few decades.
He said: “It’s a fascinating story really when you look at the Dean Clough Mills site, because when those jobs originally went back in the early 1980s, a lot of people said ‘where will the new jobs come from?’

“You’ve effectively got more people at work today on this site than there was when this was an enormous carpet factory.

“So the new jobs are there - if you reward enterprise, if you make it easy to establish businesses, if you help businesses to grow, the jobs are created.

“Today in our country there’s a record number of people in work - more than at any time in our history - so the new jobs come if you create an atmosphere where it pays to create and run businesses.

“What we are seeing is a rebalancing of the economy. In the last quarter employment in Yorkshire and Humberside actually grew faster than it did in other regions of the country.

“Yorkshire and Humberside has done remarkably well - there’s been about 119,000 more jobs, a 61,000 fall in employment.”

Covéa Insurance was formed in October 2012 bringing together three insurance firms - MMA Insurance, Gateway Insurance and Halifax-based Provident Insurance.

The company moved to its new offices at Dean Clough in November 2014, bringing together staff from three sites across Halifax.
It currently employs 560 staff in Halifax and is hoping to recruit a further 100 over the next year.

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Politics: Greens call for rail reform

The Green Party has announced it would like to see railways brought back into public ownership.

The announcement comes as rail fares continue to rise with the cost of a local season ticket increasing by 25 per cent since 2010.

Green parliamentary candidates Gary Scott (Halifax) and Jenny Shepherd (Calder Valley) spoke to passengers at Halifax and Hebden Bridge stations about proposals to nationalise the railways in a move which they claim could cut fares by up to 12 per cent.

Ms Shepherd said: “The rail network is being run for the benefit of private corporations and clearly isn’t delivering for the public.”

The campaign to nationalise the railways has also received support from the Labour party who have similar proposals, but it has been dismissed as a step backwards by the Conservatives.

Philip Allott, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halifax, said: “Rail nationalisation would be a mitigated disaster. Anybody who travelled on British Rail will remember the late trains, the dirty carriages, unruly staff and the appalling state of the rolling stock, and will surely have the common sense not to want a return to that.”

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

Politics: Boris takes Piece Hall tour

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson was shown around the Piece Hall this week as part of a whirlwind tour of West Yorkshire.

Mr Johnson was in Halifax in the first week of the General Election campaign to promote Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halifax Philip Allott.

He said: “I’m here to support my friend Philip Allott - I think he’ll be a very good MP and I think he’ll represent every strand of opinion of everybody in this constituency.”

Mr Johnson was impressed with the Piece Hall, he said: “I’ve had a chance to look at this amazing regeneration which reminds me of a sort of Covent Garden in Halifax.”

Mr Johnson said he was convinced of Conservative victory at the General Election - contrary to the current polls which place Labour in the lead - noting that he “hadn’t considered any other hypothesis.”

He said: “Look at where the money is going - not what the opinion polls are saying.

“The betting has switched towards a Conservative victory in May.”

Mr Johnson also paid tribute to the ten journalists and two police officers who were massacred in Paris this week by Islamist terrorists at offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

He said: “Everyone in Britain will feel sympathy with the people of France and of course with the families of those who lost their lives.

“It’s an appalling attack on free speech - people should be able to express their views and obviously I hope that the perpetrators of this are captured and brought to justice.”

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Politics: Conservative campaign letters spark hospital row

A Conservative MP and parliamentary candidate have been accused of sending out inconsistent messages about proposals to downgrade A&E services in Halifax.

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker sent a campaign leaflet to his constituents claiming that there are no proposals on the table to close Calderdale Royal Hospital’s A&E department - despite documents published by the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust which suggest the contrary.

Halifax parliamentary candidate Philip Allott has sent out a leaflet to Halifax residents suggesting that the proposals to close the A&E have been ‘scrapped’ - a message at odds with the claims of his Calder Valley counterpart.

Both Mr Whittaker and Mr Allott have been accused of sending out misleading and inaccurate material by members of both the Labour and Green parties.

Linda Riordan, Labour MP for Halifax, said: “The Tory campaigns in Halifax and Calder Valley are now in total disarray - they are so out of touch they didn’t even realise our A&E is under threat.

“The facts are simple. The Tory Government wants to close our A & E and if they get re-elected in May that is what will happen.

“Any other pretence, any other lamentable letter, is a complete sideshow. The campaign continues to save our A & E and save our NHS from these terrible Tory cuts.”

Mr Allott said: “The CCG have made it clear that they won’t be consulting on the Outline Business Case report - therefore we cannot say that the original proposals put forward by the Trust are still in place, because they are not.

“The CCG have called for the Trust to rewrite the document - this could take some time - so the immediate threat the A&E has been seen off.”

The chair of Calderdale CCG said the Outline Business Case is a ‘work-in-progress’.

Mr Whittaker has not yet responded to calls.

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