Monday, 30 March 2015

Reportage:Ofsted finds council needs to do more to support Children and Young People

Ofsted inspectors have said that improvements are required across the board at Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Services, but the department is set to be pulled-out of special measures.

The department was rated inadequate by inspectors in 2010, but a four-week-long inspection in January found the department is making improvements to its services, but that it still has a long way to go.

The inspection found that the department required improvement in key areas: children who need help and protection; arrangements for children in care and its management and governance.

The council’s adoption services were found to be inadequate because of the length of time it takes to complete the adoption process.

Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe), cabinet member for Children and Young People, said: “We’ve taken a huge step forward.

“I know we’ve only gone from inadequate to requires improvement, but we were at the bottom end of inadequate and now we’re at the top end of requires improvement - so it’s not just a one point improvement, it’s a 1.8 point improvement.

“To use a football analogy - we’ve come from being at the bottom of the conference to looking for promotion to the championship,” he said.

“I don’t make political points and nobody in Calderdale makes political points about Children and Young People’s Services.

“We’ve changed the whole way of working - it’s unrecognisable from what it was in 2010.”

The report said the council was doing some things very well and highlighted the way it deals with child sexual exploitation (CSE) as being good practice.

The report said “CSE is given a high priority in Calderdale,” adding that a central register used by the department and police means agencies have “comprehensive and timely information about those most at risk”.

Stuart Smith, director of Children and Young People’s Services, said: “We had a lot of praise for a number of areas: early intervention services, the troubled families programme, and the way we manage our intake and assessment centre.

“We keep a central database of children who are vulnerable or might be at risk so that the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing.

“For example, if a child has missed school and stays out overnight without telling their parents and say they get nicked for possessing cannabis on the streets - they’ll appear three times on our database and we’ll get a special alert.

“That’s one of the ways we identify children at risk of CSE.”

Inspectors found that were no children in care who shouldn’t be, and found that no children in immediate risk had been missed by the department.

The report highlighted three key areas that the department must improve as a matter of urgency: to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete adoptions; to improve the recruitment of adopters; and to ensure that more young people are interviewed when returning home after being reported missing.

Mr Smith said the council has recently set up a Permanence Improvement Board to address the length of time it takes to adopt a child.

“Every fortnight social work managers look at all the cases to see if there are any kids for whom we could make the permanent arrangements more swiftly,” he said.

“We do something called twin-track planning. You hope that a child’s arrangements will improve sufficiently that they can go and live with their parents.

“But even though you try really hard to make that work, you also work in the background to set up an adopter for them.”

Mr Smith said the recruitment of adopters is a complicated process and one that must be balanced with the welfare of the child.

Coun Raistrick said: “Government policy is right on this - we should be trying to make the process as pain-free for the adopter and as quick as possible for the adoptee.

“You also don’t want to make mistakes by rushing things - there is an argument that rushing things could be worse for both parties.

“This report shows that we always act in the interests of the child - that’s the most important thing.”

Mr Smith said the council is looking into ways to encourage more young people to speak to social workers after the return from being reported missing.

He said he expected to receive confirmation from the government that the department will be officially taken out of special measures.

“None of it is failing and there are no children who aren’t safe,” he said.

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Politics: Lib Dem candidate launches election campaign

The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Halifax Mohammad Ilyas opened his campaign office on Hopwood Lane, Halifax, to mark the start of his election campaign.

Mr Ilyas is the first ever British Pakistani candidate to have been selected to contest the seat.

He said: “My priority is the young people of Halifax - I want to see more jobs and apprenticeships.”

He said the Liberal Democrats are the only party that have committed an extra £8.2 billion for the NHS and said he is committed to fighting against any plans to downgrade local health services.

He said: “The Liberal Democrats have worked very hard to fight against Tory cuts and if you look at our manifesto you’ll see that around 70 per cent of our policies have been achieved.”

Mr Ilyas said he is committed to spreading a message of diversity and equality.

Coun James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley) said “Whilst the likes of UKIP play on fear of people who are different, we offer a different vision. A vision of hope in which people of different backgrounds work together to build a peaceful, tolerant and understanding society.

“It is in celebration and respect of our differences that we will build that society, and I am proud to be working towards that goal with Mohammad and the Halifax Liberal Democrat team.”

Mohammad is of Pakistani origin and moved to this country in 1973. He currently lives in Halifax and is married with 4 children. He is self-employed and runs a Driving School.

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Friday, 27 March 2015

Politics: Labour selects candidate from Halifax

Holly Lynch has been selected by the Labour party as its Parliamentary candidate for Halifax.

Ms Lynch was chosen by members of the Halifax Constituency Labour Party over four other candidates at a hustings debate at the Threeways Centre last weekend.

“I’m from Halifax. I’ve worked here, I’ve grown-up here, I went to school here,” she said.

“It’s a great place to live, but we’ve also got our problems too - I think we’d all like to see more jobs, more opportunities for young people and I think I can be the fresh start we need.”

Ms Lynch said she is passionate about standing up for local A&E services, getting rid of the exploitation of zero-hours contracts and tackling poverty.

She said: “It’s absolutely galling that we need things like food banks in Halifax - the families that are there, the children and young people that are hungry - we’re not a developing country, I find it really difficult to comprehend.

“Delays in benefit payments and changes to benefits are what leads to people needing food banks - we really need to address those issues.”

With less than six weeks to go until voters go to the polls, Ms Walker-Lynch said she knows she’s got a lot of campaigning to do.

She said: “You can see that there’s an awful lot of money on the Tory side going into campaigning in Halifax, but it all seems to be photo opportunities and a superficial involvement with the issues in Halifax.

“The Tories will always have more money than Labour, but I know Halifax much better than Philip Allott and I think he lacks credibility in his campaign.”

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Politics: Calder Valley hustings raises immigration issue

Parliamentary candidates fighting for the Calder Valley seat in May’s General Election took part in a hustings debate at Christ Church, Hipperholme.

A range of issues were debated by candidates from the Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP parties.

A few hundred people turned out to hear the candidates’ views on issues including health, pensions, employment and housing.

The candidates were also asked about their position on immigration and the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Craig Whittaker, Conservative MP for Calder Valley, said: “Immigration comes in two parts.

“There is the immigration we can control from places like India, Australia and Pakistan - it’s incredibly difficult to enter the country if you’re from those countries.

“The thing that we can’t control is immigration from Europe, and we’re the only party that has promised a referendum on Europe and promised a renegotiation with the EU,” he said.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour PPC, said: “Public services aren’t being stretched because of immigration, they are being stretched because of under-investement.

”In terms of the EU, I think we should stay in. The CBI has said the EU is worth £3,000 per family - we’re already poorer under this government that we were under the last.”

Alisdair Calder McGregor, Liberal Democrat PPC, said: “People are not coming to this country to scrounge - immigrants claim less benefits on average than native born people.

“I believe in open borders, I do not believe in stopping people from moving around the world - a world where capital can move but people can’t is the wrong way up.”

Paul Rogan, UKIP PPC, said: “I don’t believe you can integrate 1.2 million people into a country without problems.”

Jenny Shepherd, Green Party PPC, said: “Immigration works both ways - there are hundreds of thousands of people from the UK who are living in countries in the EU.

“People should be able to move where the can get the best living,” she said.

“A report by the Office for Budget Responsibility has shown that one of the main reasons for growth in our economy is because of the contribution of migrants - migration has done us a world of good.”

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Friday, 20 March 2015

Politics: Labour to choose candidate to stand for Halifax seat

The Labour party is facing a frantic rush in its fight to retain the marginal Halifax seat with just weeks to go to the general election.

Its Parliamentary candidate will be selected tomorrow after a shortlist of five women was put forward following MP Linda Riordan’s announcement that she is to stand down due to ill health.

Halifax is seen as a key battleground seat for both Labour and the Conservatives who are hoping to gain enough seats to become a majority Government in May.

And with less than seven weeks to go, members of the Halifax constituency party will choose a candidate after the five take part in a hustings debate.

Each candidate will be given ten minutes to convince local party members that they are the right person to stand.

Earlier this week six candidates were interviewed by Labour’s National Executive Committee with five of them being put forward to the all-women shortlist - Holly Walker-Lynch, Jo Coles, Dot Foster, Susan Hinchcliffe and Naveeda Ikram.

Holly Walker-Lynch is a Labour activist from Halifax who works as a communications officer for Linda McAvan MEP; Jo Coles works as a political aide to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls MP in his Leeds constituency; Dot Foster represents Sowerby Bridge on Calderdale Council; Susan Hinchcliffe is a Bradford councillor with a background in business; and Naveeda Ikram is also a Bradford councillor.

Calderdale councillor Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) was the only candidate on the original longlist who was not put forward for the shortlist.

She said: “I’m very disappointed, but I’m confident that we’ll choose a good candidate who will be able to defeat Philip Allott on Saturday.

“There are two women from Halifax, two women from Bradford and one from Leeds - I’m really pleased that all the candidates on the shortlist are from Yorkshire.

“The last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster, that’s for sure - I was both surprised and disappointed not be shortlisted.

Councillor Foster said she was honoured to have made the shortlist and the protecting local health services was her top priority.

She said: “As a local candidate I feel that Linda was vital and served Halifax extremely well and I feel I’d be a worth successor.”

Ms Cole said she too was concerned about local health provision, she said: “I’ve got the skills and experience to win for local people - to protect local health services, to ensure Halifax gets a good deal from regional devolution to Yorkshire and to ensure children and young people get the opportunities they need to get on and do well.”

Councillor Ikram said she felt humbled to have been shortlisted adding that the issues she deals with on a daily basis in Bradford are similar to issues families are dealing with in Halifax.

She said: “Everything about Halifax is going to be a priority for me.”

Ms Walker-Lynch said her priorities are dealing with food poverty, fighting against health cuts and bring more investment into Halifax.

She said: It’s a great place, it’s my home-town - we need to see more redevelopment and investment in transport.”

Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group on Calderdale Council, said he wasn’t prepared to comment on his preferred candidate.

He said: “I’m just genuinely interested now to see who is chosen as I don’t think there is an obvious ‘favourite’ nor anyone who is being pushed.
“It’s one of those rare selections where it really will be decided by the performance on the day.”

The selection process has not been without its issues - infighting in the Labour party and with trade unions has meant a delay in the selection process.

Philip Allott, Conservative PPC for Halifax, said: “It’s clear that Labour is racked with divisions over their selection of a Halifax Parliamentary candidate.

“First they wanted someone from Unite, then someone from the region, but have now seemingly rejected one of the best-known local candidates.

“If they can’t even get their act together on choosing someone to fight the seat, there is little hope for Halifax if Labour wins the general election.”

The husting will take place tomorrow at the Threeways Centre, Ovenden, Halifax, from 11am.

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Monday, 16 March 2015

Reportage: Halifax sixth form bid turned down by government

Proposals to open a 1,000-place sixth form college in Halifax town centre were turned down by the government.

It was hoped that a new college would be built under the controversial Free Schools programme with a focus on academic subjects to be opened by September 2016.

The application for the college was put forward by Trinity Academy Halifax who were concerned that too many students were being travelling our of Calderdale to study A-Level subjects.

Michael Gosling, principal at Trinity Academy Halifax, said: “The news that the bid for Calderdale 6th has not proceeded to the final approval stage is a blow for the young people of Halifax.

“The vision for this post-16 academic provider was to transform educational outcomes and stop thousands of students having to travel out of the area to secure the experience that they deserve.

“However, the government has made it clear that they have prioritised bids in areas that would have a shortage of places unless new provision is opened.”

Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Halifax Philip Allott said he will continue to press the issue with Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Health: Boost given to Care Close to Home scheme

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has selected Calderdale to take the lead in a national scheme to transform health and social care across England.

Calderdale is one of 29 areas across the country selected as a ‘vanguard’ area and will be given a share of £200 million funding to develop local health and care services with the aim of creating closer ties between home care, mental health and community nursing, GP services and hospitals.

The funding will be used to enable local health bosses to roll-out their Care Closer to Home plans which include providing more specialist care for long-term illnesses and providing improved treatment for people living in care homes.

Matt Walsh, chief officer for NHS Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group said: “I am pleased that our approach to transforming health and social care – our Care Closer to Home programme - has been recognised nationally.”

The new partnership group Calderdale Health and Social Care Economy will bring together a range of health services, commissioners and councillors.

Coun Ann McAllister, Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Social Care, said: “This funding will help us to deliver the ambitions of our recent People’s Commission report and build on the positive work we have already achieved with our partners – allowing us to work together to achieve better outcomes for residents who need our support.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This is a pivotal moment for the NHS and supports the government’s long term plan to deliver more joined up, proactive, personalised care for our most vulnerable. By integrating services and moving more care closer to people’s homes we can ensure efficient spending, and prevent unnecessary trips to hospital for the frail elderly and people with long term conditions.”

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Saturday, 14 March 2015

Features: 'Halifax has always been my priority' - an interview with Linda Riordan MP

Since 2005 Labour MP Linda Riordan has been the elected Member of Parliament for Halifax.

Last month she announced that she will be standing down at this year’s General Election in May due to ill-health.

Mrs Riordan was first elected as Halifax MP in 2005, following her Labour predecessor Alice Mahon’s decision to step down and was re-elected in 2010.

“I’d like to say thank you to the people of Halifax for electing me – twice as an MP and several times as a councillor,” she said.

“In 2010 there weren’t many people who expected me to get re-elected, but Halifax quite often bucks the trend, which I’m extremely grateful for.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be an MP – there are only 650 of us and there a lot of people who want to be one.”

Mrs Riordan has spent the past decade working on behalf of the people of Halifax - from high profile campaigns, such as keeping more than 5,000 Lloyds Banking Group jobs in the town in 2007-08, to helping individuals who contact her on a daily basis.

“My priority has always been Halifax – never London,” she said.

“We’ve had some very good achievements in Halifax.

“Saving jobs at HBOS, fighting for the A&E and getting a direct train line to London – those are all good things, but the real success is when you help individual constituents,” she said.

“The issues that people are coming to see about during my Friday surgeries are about zero-hour contracts and benefits being cut.

“I had one man who came to me and said he loved his job, but he’s on a zero-hours contract.

“He said they’d rung him up to work in Keighley on a Sunday morning. So he travelled on the bus at his own expense, he gets there and is told it’s quiet after an hour so he’s not needed.

“He gets paid for one hour, he’s lost his Sunday, he’s travelled all the way to Keighley and back for one hour’s pay – people can’t live on that,” she said.

“How do you budget? You can’t if you’re on zero-hours.

“It’s us, the taxpayers, who are subsidising these jobs and then the government attacks the benefit claimants as if they’re the wrong ‘uns!”

Mrs Riordan has served under three Prime Ministers during her time in Parliament – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

She said that although she was a passionate Labour supporter, she did not support Tony Blair in his decision to go to war in Iraq.

“It was dreadful. You want to be loyal to your leader as an MP. It’s not a decision you take lightly to vote against your own party, particularly when they’re in government, but there are certain things that I could not support, and that’s a decision that I took,” she said.
“Tony made mistakes, and it wasn’t my politics – we know what his biggest mistake was, and that’s what went wrong for him,” she said.

“When it comes to defending ourselves against somebody like Hitler, then you do it, but going into a war because George Bush says so is not the right thing to do – and it’s been proven that it wasn’t the right thing to do.

“Gordon Brown I loved – I absolutely thought he was a genuine guy – I’m hoping that history will look more favourably on him than it does at the moment. He came at the wrong time,” she said.

“I’ve always stuck to my principles and did what I thought was best for Halifax.
“Whether it was under Gordon or Tony, I always voted with my conscience told me to do,” she said.
Mrs Riordan said she wants to see more passion from politicians, especially those in her own Labour party and said that politicians need to make it clear what the differences are between parties and why it matters.

“We’re not all the same, but if you don’t go knocking doors and talking to people – that’s where I think we as a Labour party have lost our way,” she said.

“We need to get out there and talk to the people that matter – the people that vote for us and elect us.

“If you’re not engaging them, you get the rise of UKIP and other parties because we’re not telling them individually what you actually stand for and what the Labour party stand for,” she said.

Over the past decade Mrs Riordan has seen a shift in the demands of the job being elected to a party in power to one in opposition coupled with a popular feeling of distrust and apathy towards politicians and the established political parties.

“Since being elected we’ve had two Prime Ministers who didn’t exactly go out in glory, which is a shame,” she said.

“We’ve had five years of the Tories, which is not suited to Halifax at all – I can’t think of anything good that’s come to Halifax in the past five years.

“The right-wing press has done a hatchet job on Ed Miliband, but let’s give him a chance and I’m sure he’ll prove the press wrong and be a good Prime Minister,” she said.

“I’ll still be involved in the Labour party. I’ll be fighting for people with disabilities, fighting to keep the A&E in Halifax and I’ll try not to interfere with the new Labour MP – as long as they put Halifax first there will be no problems.”


Mrs Riordan has said she is standing down due to poor health.

For over 20 years she has been living with rheumatoid arthritis – a debilitating condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness to bones and joints.

“I’m in terrible pain with it – it’s in every bone in my body,” she said.

“The treatment I’m on now means me going into hospital for two days every couple of months.

“The treatment is a cancer treatment – it’s marvellous, but it does have side-effects.”

Mrs Riordan said that being an MP requires a seven day a week commitment – something she finds increasingly difficult.

Her time as an MP is split between Halifax and London and doctors have told Mrs Riordan that travelling is bad for her condition.

“I want to leave gracefully, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines thinking I wouldn’t have done this or that – I just want a good candidate who will represent Halifax and let them get on with the job,” she said.

“You do notice yourself slowing down when you hit a certain age. Do I want to be stood up in Parliament in ten years’ time? No – I think it’s time that somebody younger took the mantle.

“I’m not knocking anybody else, but I do think there’s a time and I do think it’s my time.

“I always liked the line that it’s better for people to be asking why you’re going, not when.”

But Mrs Riordan explained that until a few months ago, she was determined to fight the next election.

“I realised I couldn’t do it like I’ve done it before,” she said.

“It’s not just about me, it’s also about my staff – they’re losing their jobs. I don’t want to put people out of work, and I’m sure they’ll all go on and do much better things.

“It was a very serious decision and my health started getting a lot worse.

“Now I just want the Labour party to put a candidate in place so she – and I hope it’s a she – can go out working for Halifax,”

Indeed, this week Mrs Riordan wrote a letter to Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, to complain that progress in selecting a prospective candidate had been “extremely slow” adding that it was becoming “increasingly urgent” that a candidate is selected.

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Friday, 13 March 2015

Reportage: School's college bid is rejected

Proposals to open a 1,000 place sixth form college in Halifax town centre were turned down by the government.

It was hoped that a new college would be built under the controversial Free Schools programme with a focus on academic subjects to be opened by September 2016.

The application for the college was put forward by Trinity Academy Halifax who were concerned that too many students were being travelling our of Calderdale to study A-Level subjects.

Michael Gosling, principal at Trinity Academy, Holmfield, said: “The news that the bid for Calderdale sixth has not proceeded to the final approval stage is a blow for the young people of Halifax.

“The vision for this post-16 academic provider was to transform educational outcomes and stop thousands of students having to travel out of the area to secure the experience that they deserve.

“However, the government has made it clear that they have prioritised bids in areas that would have a shortage of places unless new provision is opened.”

Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Halifax Philip Allott said he will continue to press the issue with Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

He said: “It’s disappointing that the application hasn’t been approved. This initial application hasn’t succeeded, but it doesn’t stop Trinity Academy from putting forward a new application or indeed other people in Halifax coming forward with a similar application.”

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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Politics: School repair issue raised in Parliament

Craig Whittaker, Conservative MP for the Calder Valley, demanded answers in Parliament over why Todmorden High and Calder High School had missed out on Government funding intended for buildings in the worst condition.

Mr Whittaker questioned the property surveys the Department for Education (DfE) had used to decide which bids received Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) funding.

Last month he staged a roof-top protest at the school after it emerged that both Todmorden High and Calder High School were not going to receive PSBP funding.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour PPC for Calder Valley, said: “I’m afraid this is a case of too little too late from an MP who has let down the young people of Calder Valley. He voted to scrap the last Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme in the full knowledge that Todmorden High and Calder High had made bids that could have seen both schools rebuilt.

“It’s not just shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, it’s knocking the stable down, leaving it unattended for five years then complaining the horse has gone,” he added.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Reportage: Wrestlers head-locking to the Shay

The pageantry and athleticism of professional wrestling will be returning to Halifax this month as Megaslam Wrestling brings its show to the Shay.

Some of the top names in British wrestling including ‘The Warrior’ Paul Malen, ‘The Mexican Sensation’ El Ligero and female wrestler Chardonnay will be taking part in the show.

Brad Taylor, Megaslam Wrestling promoter, said: “Our show is catered towards families - the kids, the parents, the grandparents - it’s about putting on a show for them.

“We bill it as a two-hour family entertainment spectacular - they’ll see the lights, all the cameras will be there filming for Megaslam TV, we’ve got smoke machines and big AV lights.

“You boo the bad-guys, cheer the good-guys - it’s a good, wholesome family entertainment show.

“We try to mix up the British and American styles,” he said.

Wrestler ‘The Warrior’ Paul Malen hopes he will be in-line for a shot at the Megaslam Wrestling championship which will be defended by Bully Boy Carter in an action-packed tables, ladders and chairs match.

Paul said: “The only way to win the match is to climb a ladder to obtain the championship belt which is hanging from the ceiling.

“Other than that, the use of tables, ladders and chairs is all legal - there are no disqualifications.

“It’s very entertaining for the crowd to watch,” he said.

“My message to Bully Boy Carter is to keep that title nice and shined-up for me because I’m going to be taking that title and putting it back on my mantel where it belongs.”

The show takes place on March 21 from 7.30pm.

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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Reportage: Landmarks to be bulldozed for shops plan

Northgate House and Halifax Central Library are set to be bulldozed and replaced with a major new shopping development under new plans unveiled by Calderdale Council.

Bidding has opened today to acquire the site for a major retail development when council staff move out in spring 2016.

The council has received £1.3 million funding from the Leeds City Region to clear the site next to Halifax bus station in the heart of the town centre, to make it a more attractive prospect for developers.

Ian Gray, director for economy and environment at the council, said: “We’ve got a lot of small, independent shops in Halifax town centre, and one of the big things we’ve been missing is some of the bigger retail shops like Primark that attract a lot of people into towns.

“For us, it’s about creating a site that has great accessibility for shoppers coming in and complements what we’ve already got rather than competes with it.”
Mr Gray said there were a number of developers who have expressed an interest in owning the site.
James Crawley, lead for corporate projects at the council, said: “Since we first marketed the site in late-2013, the economy has markedly improved in the region.

“That, coupled with the funding we’ve received to clear the site, will hopefully mean it is a lot more attractive as a proposition.”

It is unclear yet what the site will look like as this will be up to the developers and planners to negotiate. Mr Gray said it will most likely consist of either one large retail unit or more units in a shopping centre area.
Deputy leader of Calderdale Council Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) said: “We are confident that improvements in the economy and selling the site cleared of buildings will help attract more developers to take it forward. Regenerating this site is a key priority for the Council to enable continued growth of our local economy, and ensure that the retail and leisure offer in Halifax remains competitive with other towns and cities,” he said.

“We have very few larger retailers in the town centre at the moment, and we know that Halifax needs more of these to bring in more shoppers and help smaller independent stores to prosper.”
The plans are in addition to other regeneration projects taking place across the town centre over the next few years including the redevelopment of the Piece Hall, the refurbishment of the Princess Building and the proposals to improve Halifax train station.

Northgate House is currently used as office space for council staff, but will be fully vacated in spring 2016 as part of the council’s office savings strategy to locate staff in fewer offices in the town centre.

The closure of the Central Library will coincide with the opening of the new state-of-the-art library and archive next to the transformed Piece Hall in spring 2016 - demolition work will start after this.

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Monday, 9 March 2015

Reportage: College judged 'inadequate' by inspectors

A damning report by education watchdog Ofsted has highlighted as series of failings at The Maltings College, Wheatley.

The report, which draws its conclusions from an inspection of the college in January, rates the school as ‘inadequate’ - the lowest rating given by Ofsted.

Inspectors found that students don’t make enough progress in English and Maths, and this is blamed on a shortage of teaching staff.

They also found that student attendance was poor, and that measures to reduce poor attendance had not worked.

There were criticisms too that not enough students completed their courses, leading to low success rates on hairdressing and beauty therapy, horticulture and motor vehicle courses.
Poor careers guidance and lack of suitable job placements were also highlighted.

Julian Dowson, Principal of The Maltings College, said “The journey we have been on has not been the smoothest since we opened our doors and we acknowledge that there are areas in which we need to improve. We are confident that we have already made huge strides to do so.

“I am pleased that our 14-16 provision was judged as ‘Good’ and that the college is seen as a welcoming and friendly place where a strong culture of mutual respect is promoted.

“We look forward to our next Ofsted visit when the benefits of all the changes made and the impact they have had will be undoubtedly recognised.”

The Maltings College opened its doors in 2013 as a 6th Form Academy as a free school which was part of the Inspire Learning Trust.

The Principal Designate left prior to the 2013 opening closely followed by the Executive Head in 2014, and since August 2014 the college has been without support from the Inspire Learning Trust.

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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Reportage: Long waits for children's wheelchairs

Concerns have been raised by local parents over an increase in waiting times for the provision children’s wheelchairs.

Since last October, the supply of wheelchairs has been carried out by private company, Opcare.

Parent Michael Dean said he is worried about the increase in waiting times for wheelchair assessments.

“This presents a serious problem for children like our son Oliver, who have severe physical disabilities,” he said.

“He is a full-time wheelchair user, has very low muscle tone and is prone to pressure sores - difficulties that are exacerbated by ill-fitting seating,” he said.

“It is crucial to his health that his wheelchair is monitored on a regular basis, and these waiting times place our children at risk.”

Coun Megan Swift (Lab, Town) has raised concerns with NHS commissioners. She said: “I’ve been hearing some dreadful stories, and it appears that the CCG chose to go with the cheapest option.”

Martin Pursey, head of procurement at Kirklees CCG, said: “When Opcare took over the contract there were 158 children awaiting assessment and provision of equipment.

"An additional 165 referrals have been received for children since the service started and a total of 259 children have now been assessed.”

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Reportage: Electrification is top priority says rail minister

The electrification of the Calder Valley has been recommended as a priority by a cross-party taskforce to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

The group has said that 12 lines across the north of England including six lines in Yorkshire should be pushed to the top of the list for the next round of electrification upgrades which will take place from 2019 to 2024.

Campaigners from Halifax and District Rail Action Group who have been fighting for electrification of the trans-Pennine route for months said they were delighted.

And it’s victory for the Courier’s campaign, backed by businesses across the district, as electrifying the line will mean faster, cleaner, greener, more energy efficient trains, punctual services and massive benefits for Calderdale passengers.

Stephen Waring, chair of HADRAG, said: “Nearly 15 months ago everyone locally and across the region was astonished when the DfT omitted the Calder Valley line from the task force’s list.

“In our Christmas 2013 letter to Patrick McLoughlin we put common sense arguments for Calder Valley line electrification and the government and its Transport Department were forced to concede our line must be considered,” he said.

“A lot of work has been put into this for well over a year by Calderdale Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority as well as the wider Rail North consortium.

“We are also extremely grateful to Mid-Yorkshire Commerce for keeping up the campaign.
“Now, thanks also to the professional work done by the northern electrification taskforce, there is a strong business case for electrification of our line backing HADRAG’s common-sense arguments.”
Mr McLoughlin said: “I want to see a rolling plan for further electrification and this study will have a vital part to play in setting the agenda for 2019 and beyond.

“Network Rail will take the taskforce’s findings into account as it develops its nationwide plan to improve the nation’s railways.”

The news has also been welcomed by politicians from across the political divide.

Linda Riordan, Labour MP for Halifax , said: “This would be a welcome boost, but there also needs to be faster trains, more carriages and more services.

“This Government has failed on all three. I have long campaigned for electrification and a future Labour Government would give the green light for more investment and better trains.”

Philip Allott, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Halifax, said: “It’s great news - it shows that when we pull together in Calderdale we get what we want.
“There’s been a lot of effort not just by me, but by a lot of people on the council across the political spectrum.
“It bodes well for the vision I have for Halifax which is having high speed trains, upgraded trains and signals and third platform at the station.”

Paul Rogan, UKIP Parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, said: “This is good news for the environment and for travellers. Electric trains cause less pollution, are lighter, cheaper to run and are more modern rolling stock - it’s a win-win.”

Alisdair Calder McGregor, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, said: “As I advised Liberal Democrat Transport Minister, Baroness Susan Kramer when we met at Liberal Democrat Conference, electrification of Calderdale is essential for the good running of trains between Manchester and Leeds, as if only one of the two pennine crossing routes is electrified, operational resilience is halved.”

The report by the rail taskforce was presented to Mr McLoughlin at Sheffield Station yesterday.

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, who chaired the group, said: “The need for rail electrification is significant. It is part of the improvements in infrastructure that we need in the north. We know how much there is to do and to do it we are looking at a task of generational scale. Indeed, this report is intended to look years ahead.”

It recommends that the case for electrifying 12 lines, including the six through Yorkshire, is developed further ready for the next investment plan by Network Rail which will cover the five years from 2019. The five other lines recommended for electrification are the Harrogate line, the Selby to Hull line, Dearne Valley line, the route connection Sheffield to Leeds via Barnsley and the stretch from Northallerton to Middlesbrough.

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Saturday, 7 March 2015

Politics: Factory visit for business minister

The Business and Economy Minister was in Halifax as part of him visiting 100 businesses in 100 days in the lead-up to the General Election.

Matthew Hancock MP was joined by Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Halifax Philip Allott during a tour of the Metaldyne factory on Parkinson Lane, Halifax.

Mr Hancock said he wanted to speak to as many businesses as possible to find out what their main concerns were and how he could best serve them as a Minister.

He said: “Businesses around the country, and especially in Yorkshire, feel that we’ve got a plan and we’re moving in the right direction.

“They want to see less red tape and action to make it easier to employ people,” he said.

“These are things that we’ve taken some action on already - we’ve reduced the burden of red tape, but we still know that there is more to do.

“Coming from a small business background myself, I know that the way to help businesses grow and employ people is by listening to them, finding out what the burdens are and try to lighten them.”

Mr Hancock made no commitment to backing the campaign for businesses to pay employees the living wage, but said where businesses can afford to pay it they should.

“After all, what is the purpose of this economic recovery?” he said.

“The purpose of it is that more people have jobs and can provide for themselves and their families, and that people are better paid and we have a more prosperous nation - that’s ultimately why I came into politics.”

Mr Allott said: “When I invited the Minister to come to Halifax, one the things I wanted to focus on was jobs.

“We can account for at least 500 new jobs in Halifax - if people have jobs we have economic prosperity - it’s good for the country and it’s good for individuals.”

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Politics: Student voice key to Question Time debate

The head girl at Calder High School will take to the stage this evening alongside Parliamentary candidates seeking the Calder Valley seat to take part in an Education Question Time.

Penny Brown will join candidates from the Conservative, Green, Labour Liberal Democrat and UKIP parties to debate the key issues affecting the education system.

Penny said: “It is extremely important for the students to be able to voice their opinions in matters that will ultimately affect their futures.

“For me, being appointed head girl gives me a unique opportunity to represent my peers and create positive changes to improve our education experience,” she said.

The ticket-only event is being held at Calder High School in partnership with National Union of Teachers (NUT).

Anthony Guise, headteacher at Calder High School said: “It is important for us to co-host Education Question Time as we are the ones that will have to implement and enforce the policies that constitute the next Government’s vision for education across Britain.

“But before ministers plan to make any further changes to our education system, I would like to invite them to try and manage the complexities of modern headship in the state sector and experience for themselves the impact of their decisions on the life of a school and the futures of its students.”

Sue McMahon, Calderdale NUT divisional secretary, said: “Why are we co-hosting an Education Question time in the run up to the General Election at Calder High School?

“To give the electorate - in this key marginal constituency of Calder Valley, the opportunity to question the candidates on their aims for Education.

“It is important that politics is taken back to its grass roots and Education is not used as a political football.”

The candidates taking part are Conservative MP Craig Whittaker, Green PPC Jenny Shepherd, Labour PPC Josh Fenton-Glynn, Liberal Democrat PPC Alisdair McGregor and UKIP PPC Paul Rogan.

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Reportage: Calder Valley line franchise on right track

Train operators who want to bid for the Northern Franchise will be required to include a range of improvements to local services.

The franchise, which includes the Calder Valley line, will require bidders to provide plans to replace outdated Pacer trains; introduce a new fleet of modern trains; tackle overcrowding; invest in stations; increase capacity and provide free wireless internet access.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This is great news for passengers across the north who will finally get a rail service that matches up to the booming economy in this region.

“That means more seats, more services and a brand new fleet of modern trains.”
Three companies have been shortlisted to run the franchise: Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited - the companies must submit their bids by June 26.

The conditions of the bid rule-out the use of former London Underground D-Trains and the refurbishment of Pacers.

Stephen Waring, chair of the Halifax and District Rail Action Group. said “The decision of the DfT and Rail North apparently to rule out either of those options is a triumph for months of campaigning by HADRAG and other groups.

“We always said the Crawlers were unsuitable for our line. We have made the bureaucrats in London listen.”

Coun Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group, said: “Halifax and Calderdale will benefit significantly. The franchise will include longer trains, more frequent services and extended routes.”

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