This week’s letters.
Horrifying aspect of cutting benefits
Your report on the food banks operating in the Lancaster and Morecambe district (Lancaster Guardian, March 6) highlights a horrifying aspect of the clamp-down on welfare benefits which the current government has been pursuing so enthusiastically since it took office.
The need for people to rely on food banks to try and make ends meet on a regular day-to-day basis has arisen from a combination of savage cuts to many government departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions.
This has led to delays in processing benefits and poor administration where claims get lost or wrongly assessed. At a time when the government has brought in significant changes to the benefits system, a cutback in the department’s budget cannot fail to produce chaos, with consequent severe hardship for benefit claimants, many of whom are actually in work, but rely on tax credits to top up low paid or part-time employment (tax-payers in effect propping up a low wage economy).
The poverty into which ordinary people have sunk has a knock-on effect for other public services, also undergoing cuts, such as health services, as your article points out.
The cost of keeping people in poverty because they cannot find sufficiently well-paid work affects us all. Cat Smith is right to call for the introduction of the living wage to replace the minimum wage.
The previous national benefit safety net for people who were having financial difficulties, the social fund, has been delegated to local authorities, in our case Lancashire County Council, which you reported on January 9 this year as having spent less than one fifth of its allocated funds over six months into the Care and Urgent Needs Support Scheme. It has proved to be an inadequate safety net with the result that people are falling deeper into poverty from which food banks cannot lift them.
It is a great credit to the food banks that they can help to assuage some of the immediate need, but at best they can only provide a stop-gap, and depend on the goodwill of others to keep going. As leading church people have pointed out very strongly it is a disgrace to a civilised and supposedly humane country that so many of its citizens are starving and need to fall back on charity.
I urge our MP to join in the move towards the introduction of the living wage. To have to depend on charity, however sensitively administered, to live a decent life is a degradation of the human spirit.
Ownership plans virtually scrapped
I refer to your report in The Lancaster Guardian, March 6, on Public rail ownership is on the horizon.
I must respectfully point out to you, your readers and rail users that there is no “devolved” public ownership of rail on offer.
The Coalition Government, under what it calls its localism agenda (a vague promise to devolve various local powers from central government to regions), proposed devolution of the running of the two rail franchises in the north (Northern Trains and Trans Pennine Express) to a regional transport body which was to be called ‘Rail North’.
Local and regional politicians were invited to come up with a proposal for a combined rail franchise to cover the whole of Northern England to form a sort of super PTA (Passenger Transport Authority).
After coming up with the proposal (after much work and spending of public money) the government diluted (or in fact virtually scrapped) the plans put forward by northern politicians. Despite warm words about a partnership agreement and that there will be “a foundation for stronger involvement in the North of England services” control will effectively remain in Whitehall and the Department of Transport.
The decision is consistent with the traditional practise of governments. When it comes to the crunch, central government does not like devolving power (unless you’re lucky enough to live in Scotland or Wales).
So do not put any great store in anything as reported. County Coun Fillis is looking through more than rose tinted glasses if he thinks much is going to change.
We do deserve much better rail services in Northern England but this alleged attack of localism will not provide it.
Instead Rail North will have some kind of unspecified management role in the franchises. This is a missed opportunity.
Do not be misled
Name and address supplied
Councillors are on different planet
I am pleased to say that with the help of your newspaper and some councillors the city centre ETRO (Experimental Traffic Regulation Order) has been withdrawn for deeper discussion.
The next item is Lancaster Square Routes led by Coun Janice Hanson.
A letter in the Lancaster Guardian, March 6, under the heading Changes ill-Thought, from Apmac, Caton, clearly shows that this has not been given much thought. I agree completely with all that was said and would go further by saying –
1 The whole city centre is continually being dug up for some reason or other. Projects come and go.
2 As well as some poor person falling down the steps, the raised platform will be an attraction to young children to run on and around and fall down.
3 Trees when established will shed their leaves every year which when wet will no doubt cause members of the public to slip and injure themselves.
4 Another job for council workmen would be to sweep up the leaves.
5 Where can the general public sit down and rest undercover when it is raining.
I have raised this many times. There were benches undercover in Marketgate but these no longer exist.
Various excuses have been put forward by the Marketgate management but the welfare of the general public does not seem to be their concern.
Currently, councils are being asked to consider ways to reduce expenditure where necessary.
Our city and county councillors are on a different planet. Where do they get these ideas from? Surely they should be asking the general public for their views.
Provide platform for talent we have
This week we have seen the Council budget for the next year submitted by the Cabinet, and of course it was rubber-stamped by the majority Labour/Green coalition, so we are bound by it for the next year, but I would like to bring up one controversial point, which embarrassed even the ruling parties.
We resolved to give a commission to a contemporary artist to provide us with a work of art, but we do not know what kind it is.
We do not know whether it will be a sculpture or a painting, or even a tray of seeds in the style of Ai Weiwei in the Tate Modern.
We do not even know whether it will be another line of upside-down trees which once ‘graced’ the walkway/cycleway parallel to Caton Road, and which caused us so much embarrassment.
No one wants to bring up their kids in a cultural desert, so it is a question of how we spend the limited amount of money we have. We have tried grandiose schemes in the social field, such as Mr Blobby, which was a commercial disaster; we’ve tried subsidising engineering breakthroughs like Africar, which was impractical; we’ve tried changing the way we do our shopping with the financially ruinous market scheme.
Surely now is the time to take a different approach. The council owns, or has control over, lots of space which is not being used, or is only partially used. At the same time, we have very talented people, many coming from the universities, who spread their talents all over the world, except Lancaster. Instead of trying to create our own projects, we would be better trying to provide a platform for the talent we already have, or which is in the wider region of the north west.
We already do a little to provide space for artists, but just think of how much we could do with the £25m we have spent on the failed projects mentioned above.
Let us use some of the wasted space to allow all the graduate and postgraduate students to display their works and earn themselves some money at the same time, promoted by the visitor centres. The exposure to a critical audience would add a lot to their years of theoretical knowledge. We do not even need to restrict the project to local people.
Let’s open it up to anyone and make Lancaster district known as a birthplace of the creative arts.
Coun Keith Sowden (Free Independent, Overton Ward, Lancaster CC)
Chairman, Overton Parish Council
People must have agreed to scheme
I need to reply to the person complaining about having to pay to park outside their own home (Parking was free, February 27).
Please don’t include the people of the Moorlands area in your condemnation of people living near the town centre.
I have lived in the Moorlands area for 29-years and on Balmoral Road for the last 24. In all this time I have never known of any resident with a car to have the good fortune of being able to park their cars outside their own homes on a regular basis.
Because we are only five minutes walking distance away from the town centre, we have to endure police officers, people working in the town centre, students from the Adult College, shoppers who refuse to pay car park fees and people going out for the night who leave their cars until they have sobered up next day.
I said yes to being part of a permit scheme, unfortunately we also have a large number of student residencies who have no concerns about the problems of the greater community, so we failed to become part of the scheme.
People living in your area must have agreed to the scheme, complain to them not us.
Providing ladder of opportunity
I am writing to clarify a point in Coun Keith Sowden’s recent letter regarding Citylab (Cut waste to save money, Lancaster Guardian, February 27).
As your readers will be aware, one of Lancaster City Council’s prime objectives is regeneration.
This sometimes means that it has to step in where the private sector will not, or cannot, in order to create new development which will benefit the area and local economy. CityLab is a case where the council used land and premises in its ownership and a modest amount of capital investment, to create a business facility to help new home grown businesses to grow.
The original development of Citylab attracted significant external investment to the city and is now a valuable asset for the local economy in terms of encouraging start-up businesses and job creation.
At a time when the supply of office space is outstripping demand, Citylab is currently operating at around 75 per cent of its total capacity and the council is projecting that this building will make a profit over the coming financial year.
The evidence shows that CityLab has established itself as an incubator for small firms and provides a ladder of opportunity for local firms to remain in the area and expand to other larger premises in the district.
This is the sort of successful intervention that local authorities attracting external funding can achieve.
Lancaster City Council