YEP Letters: September 11

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Check out today’s YEP letters

Another way of fleecing motorists?

Mel Smart, Farsley

Can anyone tell me how you get change from .9, .7, or .4 of a penny?

Most petrol stations are charging these amounts. Since doing away with the half pence, the legal tender is now based on one penny.

It is yet another way of fleecing the motorist. Why is the Government not doing something about it?

Questions over police cells closure

Coun Amanda Carter, Shadow Executive Board Member for Community Safety, Calverley & Farsley Ward

I read with interest your recent article on the closure of the Elland Road police cells (‘State of the art police cells closed for urgent repairs just four years after opening in Leeds’ – YEP September 3).

It is of course, a story of significant concern and does raise questions about how police budgets and contracts are being managed by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). The Elland Road Headquarters is only four years old, why are we now in this position?

It certainly leads me to think that the PFI contract could have been dealt with differently. Interserve will have responsibility for the maintenance of the facility, but why was the issue of peeling paint not addressed earlier, and why has what appears to be a relatively minor matter now escalated to the full closure of a multi-million pound state of the art facility? It raises questions about contract management and procurement.

All of which leads to the wider issue of budget management by the PCC. Until recently the PCC was sitting on reserves of over £100m (this excludes the revenue budget), given this why was a PFI contract required in the first place? Couldn’t the new facility at Elland Road, which cost £34m, have been built using those significant reserves thus saving the tax payer £338m over 25 years?

There is also much more to this. The decision to centralise custody at Elland Road in the first place was not without controversy. In my view, the decision to shut the custody suites across the city and centralise at Elland Road was a mistake and ill thought out.

It has resulted in a lack of capacity and means that prisoners have to be escorted to other areas of West Yorkshire when Elland Road is full. This can take up a police officer’s whole shift and is wasted time when they could be out catching criminals. They have already been forced to re-open Stainbeck and Pudsey and before Pudsey custody suite was closed it had a costly makeover in excess of £1million and then was never used.

Value for money at forefront at every stage

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Providing the best possible value for money has been at the forefront of my mind at every stage in determining the Force’s custody arrangements, the current contracts been entered into during 2011/12 under the previous Police Authority and the PFI business case for Elland Road, Havertop Lane (Wakefield DHQ) and the Carr Gate training centre all signed off by the then Tory/Lib Dem Coalition Government.

Given the ongoing Government austerity measures since 2010 which has seen £140m of Government cuts to West Yorkshire Police, the Force has been under constant pressure to provide services with significantly reduced budgets.

This has meant trying to achieve the most from our contracts, seeking options that offer longer term sustainability, all the while scrutinising closely our spending and medium to long term financial planning.

Given the continually changing financial landscape and savings expectations, it has made this task increasingly complex and difficult to manage.

Any previous financial reserves being held have all been earmarked for various policing purposes, including assessments against threat, harm and risk, which has enabled us to remain on track in terms of balancing budgets in a challenging financial climate.

My fully published ‘Reserves Plan’ clearly demonstrates my commitment to making the best use of the money available, without jeopardising the need for a healthy risk assessed reserve to meet ongoing pressures.

Even now, we face the prospect of millions of pounds in further Government cuts and we must identify new ways to help balance our budgets, including the phased use of reserves.

By taking the Home Office led approach of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) across some of our Estate, we have been able to offer new stations and facilities designed for modern day policing across West Yorkshire.

Without the PFI option in 2011/12 there would simply not have been sufficient funds through a traditional capital programme to develop all the modern facilities at Elland Road, Normanton and Carr Gate for years to come.

As with any building, no matter the age, there will inevitably be unexpected or unforeseen maintenance issues, the full costs of which will be met by the providers as will be the case here.

The temporary closure of the cells means that we can receive compensation which ultimately covers contingency costs and is not footed by the taxpayer.

As soon as the problem within our custody suites arose, efforts immediately begun to rectify them. What may appear on the face of it to be a straight forward issue to resolve, is often not the case which is frustrating and plans are underway in liaison with our Estates Department to address the issues at Elland Road as soon as possible.

Temporary fixes were introduced in this instance, but were not adequate for longer term use and have extended the timescales needed to rectify the problems, which has meant reopening cells in other parts of Leeds to offset any operational impact.

It is therefore crucial that we follow the correct procedures, ensuring the safety of our custody suites, whatever the inconvenience might be in the interim and to fully recover any additional costs.

Given our current budgetary constraints, the centralised model for custody remains the right approach operationally in each of our districts, particularly as our wider estate has shrunk in size in recent years, again to help reduce our deficit.

This is not a conundrum exclusive to West Yorkshire, but is something that is being faced nationwide and which Force’s continually wrestle with.

By putting the money we have into the right places at the right times, the Force is still able to function to a high level and meet the current demand and capacity requirements across Leeds and West Yorkshire.

Progress needed on city’s public transport

Rev Robin Paterson, Leeds 15

Well done to your correspondent John Gilleghan who informs readers of his happy tram travel experiences in Bordeaux.

He has hit the nail on the head as to the gulf of excellence that exists between public transport in Leeds and other cities at home and abroad.

Anyone travelling from Leeds to city destinations in Europe (and further afield) will be aware of the modernisation and extension of tramway systems.

Anyone interested in modern rapid transit can avail themselves of the facts from magazines. I do often wonder if members of Leeds City Council keep themselves up to date with the latest developments abroad, and in the UK. I would recommend those many contributors to this paper who have recognised that their city needs a tramway system, to avail themselves of trade magazines or websites which are very informative. I often feel sympathy for the supremos at First Leeds buses who have to deal with a council that does little to resolve chronic traffic bottlenecks that occur at the end of bus lanes and those scruffy concrete busways. Citizens of Manchester will soon be able to travel to the Trafford Centre aboard the city’s second generation of tramcars. I wonder what the endless talks and meetings held by Leeds City Council will produce - I doubt if John or myself will live long enough to see real progress?

Some children never get a holiday

Richard Saberton, by email

In an ideal world every child should have a glorious, sunny, fun packed two week holiday every year with their parents during the school summer holidays. Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world. Lots of children never get a holiday, fun packed or not. Many parents can’t afford holidays at all, whether during the school holidays or not. Some parents can’t get time off during school holidays. The Government don’t like you taking your kids on holidays during school time.

If all parents took their holidays during the school holidays large sections of the economy would grind to a halt. The age when industries shut down for the two week annual maintenance are long gone.

So now you have to make the choice; when do you take your holidays? If you take them during the school holidays you pay a premium, supply and demand. If you take your kids out of school you pay a fine, it’s the law. But at least you get a holiday. So stop whinging and think about those who never get a holiday.

Upholding will of the people

Chris Sharp, Leeds 25

I feel I must reply to Mike Harwood’s comments (YEP September 7).

What should we do Mr Harwood, have a new referendum for each generation?

Or perhaps, keep having them until the remainder get the “right result”?

Democracy is upholding the will of the people, to ignore it is undemocratic.

Your dislike of Mrs May and her party is obvious, but they must and will take us out, as was voted for, whether you like it or not.

It seems anything you don’t like is undemocratic.

Blinkered comes to mind.