Friday, February 27, 2009

Travellers caught in the crossfire again

Bournemouth locals and some councillors are up in arms again over a proposed gypsy and travellers site near Bournemouth Hospital.

When people object to a gypsy or traveller transit site as proposed near Bournemouth Hospital, how much does fear motivate their concerns?

Change is always difficult and undoubtedly this kind of development near a nursing home worries its residents.

But where are travellers and gypsies going to go? If you had to live in a caravan, literally travelling around from place to place, how would you feel about the public hostility towards you?

How would you feel about parking on the side of the road, knowing the police will arrive shortly to move you on. But where can you go?

It's easy to be motivated by fear where travellers are concerned. They don't get much positive press. But travellers and gypsies have a culture that is quite unique.

Many speak the ancient language of Cant, a hybrid of English and Gaelic or one of the other traveller languages. Sometimes, the public doesn't look beyond the negative aspects of traveller traditions.

Maybe we should turn the mirror on ourselves. Is the "settled" community populated by martyrs?

Yes, there is crime among the travelling community. Let's not forget, the "settled" community has its share of crime as well. We should debate the concerns among community members.

We should try and see beyond our fear and realise there are real people involved in the cross fire between divided councillors and concerned residents.

Further public meetings are to be held on Tuesday March 3 at the Townsend community centre and on Wednesday March 4 at the Littledown Centre.

These will give people the opportunity to be heard and they should also take the time to listen.

Taxi fare top up

Taxi fares are set to rise in Bournemouth following a council meeting on Monday.

The increase means standard daytime fares will now start at £3.60 for the first mile, an increase of 10p.

Prices for people travelling after midnight go up by 16p to £4.80 for the same distance.

Price changes will take effect from 1 April.

Chair of Bournemouth Station Taxi Association Ashley Miller spoke about the drivers' request for a fare increase.

He outlined how the taxi drivers' association had conducted monthly checks on petrol prices in 2008.

The association 'didn't consider' the spike in oil prices in 2008 had a lasting effect on the average petrol price.

However, he told the meeting that fuel costs were still the main element in the formula used to calculate any suggested increase.

The board unanimously voted to approve a 3.28% increase in fares from 1 April.

Also at the meeting, Chair of the Licensing Board, Cllr Andrew Morgan spoke about a proposal to complete removal of the 'extras' button facility in taxis.

Extras include carrying large luggage, pets, additional passengers and advance booking charges.

Licensing Officer Mr Evans told the chairman that the petition's proposer chose not to attend the meeting and the proposal was eventually dismissed.

However, he told councillors that removing the 'extras' button would most likely require compensation of a 6% fare increase. He said, this would be in addition to any increase to factor in inflation.

Mr Miller explained extras included items such as the advance-booking fee, which compensates drivers for 'dead-time' they might have to ensure they are on time for a booking.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Presidential hopeful debates a better EU

A local MEP tipped to be European Parliament President says the UK could learn lessons from how Obama's election campaign revitalised American politics.

Liberal Democrats MEP Graham Watson says member states needs to contribute more to ensure the union operates more democratically.

He highlighted the recent successes in the US: "I think if you look at what's happened in the states over the last year, there's a lesson here for Europe. They have gone through a major process of renovation and change politically, through a public debate between Obama and McCain and this has reconnected citizens with the policy process."

Mr Watson explains he wants to be European Parliament President to improve communications and "to change the culture in this place, because it's a culture that takes very little account of what the citizens are feeling."

"I feel it's not working optimally, we're not succeeding in communicating Europe properly to our citizens and that should very much be the role of the parliament. I think the citizens don't feel currently that there is a contract between parliamentarians and citizens. There's a lot of work to be done in making this place more open and transparent."

The European Parliament is the only directly-elected body of the EU.

It has a central role in debating issues which effect citizens across the union, according to Mr Watson: "It's the parliament that has the greatest opportunities for a proper debate between different people, representing different political parties or political ideas that might infuse the citizen with going out and voting in European Parliament elections."

Citizens of EU member states vote for MEPs every five years. The next election is in June 2009.

Poole Councillor blames Labour for council tax rise

Councillors exchanged sharp words but eventually passed the 2009/10 budget with a large council tax increase at last Thursday's full council meeting.

Council Leader Brian Leverett told the meeting that Poole is one of the worst funded authorities in the country and a council tax increase of 4.8% was essential. He criticised the Labour Government for the low funding it provides:

"Poole received only 29% of its funding from the Exchequer, the remaining 71% to be provided by the Town's Council Tax payers in 2008/09. In 2009/10 the position will go from bad to worse and we will receive only 28% from government forcing us to rely even more heavily on local taxpayers"

Liberal Democrat Cllr David Brown said it was important to consider the affordability of council services, increased funding for support services to those affected by the recession and that the council should consider deferring some expenditure.

"We're at the start of a recession which none of us have experienced in our lifetimes."

He proposed a series of amendments to the budget, which would have resulted in a 3.9% increase in council tax along with a smaller increase to the communications budget and a reduction in some members' allowances.

Rebel Conservative Cllr Carole Deas sat opposite the main group of Conservatives and said that in a difficult financial climate, residents would not be satisfied with a large council tax increase.

"Do you realise how much anger is out there in our borough?" she told the meeting.

Fellow rebel Cllr David Gillard agreed: "when you haven't got the money and times are hard, we've all got to show restraint."

Councillors Deas and Gillard were suspended from the Conservative council group for three months in November last year over clashes with group leadership.

Although the Liberal Democrats amendments were rejected, Cllr Brown said he proposed the amendments to support "the people who live from hand to mouth and struggle to pay their bills."

Council Leader Brian Leverett concluded the budget debate on the subject of the 4.8% increase:
"Regrettably, it is the lowest level we can set council tax at."

Giving the credit crunch the snip

Bournemouth women are set to fight the credit crunch through social networking and setting up new businesses.

Founder of Eve's, the Bournemouth women's business network, Amanda Hughes set up her informal group to give women the chance to share ideas.

"It's business and social, so that if someone's not necessarily in business or if they're thinking of coming back to business because sometimes networking can a bit too salesy."

The group meets monthly at a local restaurant and discuss their business experiences over dinner. Ms Hughes set it up after she was made redundant and wanted to share her experience and chat with other business women.

Some of the women involved are currently running their own companies, some have been hit hard financially by the credit crunch and are exploring new business opportunities.

A Southbourne entrepreneur is re-opening Zig Zag's hairdressers, which closed four years ago.

Elizabeth Wheeler, a colour specialist who has over eight years experience at another salon, has managed largely without bank loans.

"I've kind of done it on my own really, I've been self sufficient…We're keeping its original name because a lot of people know where Zig Zags is."

Ms Wheeler plans to go retro with her hairstyles, "going back to the 50s era, lots of chrome, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe…all the favourites…a bit funky, a bit of madness like the punk era and colours are very popular at the moment."

She's confident that her new business will be successful:
"I already have a clientele. I have been working in other recommended hairdressers in Southbourne for 8 years."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Poole tax rises sharply

Council tax is set to rise by an average of 3% across the country next year, according to the Local Government Association. However, in Poole, local councillors approved a 4.8% increase. Click the video below for more details.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Local MEP “convinced” UK will join Euro

It could take years and people “will grumble”, but the UK “will be a member of the Euro”, according to a local politician who’s tipped to be President of the European Parliament.

Liberal Democrats MEP Graham Watson says he is:
“convinced that in years to come the UK will be a member of the Euro but I think that it will do what it normally does, it will join late and it will grumble about it and it will join on conditions that are perhaps not the best it could have got if it had joined at the beginning but it will work”.

While 16 of the 27 EU member states currently use the Euro, the UK and Denmark agreed an ‘opt-out’ clause when the currency was setup, which exempts them from joining at the moment.

Mr Watson says the UK’s decision not to join yet has been influenced by its geographic location on the edge of Europe:
“I think the impact of 20 miles of water over 2000 years of history has changed the way we look at things.”

With the expansion of the European Union, he thinks its various bodies need to improve their methods of communications so more people understand how Europe affects their lives.

“The contours of globalisation are being drawn in the computer campuses of West Coast America, in the call centres of India, in the factories of China - you know the need for solidarity among 500 million Europeans in a world of nearly 6.5 billion people is greater than ever.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No friends for Facebook Ban

There was an underwhelming attendance for a Bournemouth Students' Union meeting this morning where a possible ban on Facebook was to be discussed.

Vice President for Communications Adelaide Allen encouraged those attending to use the opportunity to voice their opinions.

"Before we act on it, we want to see if it's an issue which affects a minority or majority," she said.

A group of students were unable to use computers in the library because of the number of people on Facebook.

Some students suggested that up to 60% of computers on campus are being used for social networking, she explained.

"You can see especially now that they've made the bottom floor of the library a social space, whereas last year it was a quiet kind of study area.

Now it's an open plan, people are allowed to talk and eat things. Obviously this encourages social learning which is great and people actually use Facebook as a key communication tool," she added.

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education Dr Brian Astin suggested that Facebook "will be a major part of the curriculum in the future. At the moment we're just feeling our way."

There was a heated debate between students but no formal policy was adopted. The 54 students attending was considerably less than the 100 required for quorum.

A conservation science student said:

"My opinion is that the library should not have access to Facebook."

However, a female student was less supportive of any proposed ban. She said a sign highlighting priority for scanning at certain computers on campus had worked effectively.

"I've never had problems in the last two years." She suggested that having signs restricting Facebook to certain areas was a sensible solution.

Students who spoke about dissertations and coursework outlined how useful Facebook is for sharing bookmarks, references and other educational resources.

No decision was made on a Facebook ban but the union and management agreed to keep the matter under review.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

UK should help Guantanamo prisoners

A Bournemouth MEP says the UK should do its part to take some detainees when the US shuts down Guantanamo Bay within the next year.

Graham Watson of the Liberal Democrats says Europe has a responsibility "in recognising its share of the guilt in this whole thing and in resolving to turn over a new leaf".

The European Parliament has passed a resolution urging member states to accept some detainees by a large majority of MEPs - 542 for, 55 against and 51 abstentions.

Mr Watson says that in spite of considerable protests that Europe was innocent of any involvement in extraordinary rendition "we know now that the United Kingdom was involved, we know Portugal was involved, we're pretty certain that Poland was involved, perhaps Romania and perhaps others."

He is aware how members of the public might be concerned that possible terrorists could end up living in Europe. However he says,

"We do know that lots of innocent people were rounded up in the whole horrible story of the war on terror. We do know that some people were sold to the Americans for money who turned out to be completely innocent, have nothing to do with terrorism. And it's those people whose lives have been ruined by the long years in captivity that they've had without any access to justice who we should be prepared to resettle."

According to the press office for the European Parliament, 62 of the remaining 242 Guantanamo detainees will need to be resettled. This group of people who will not be prosecuted includes some Chinese Muslims.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Businesswomen spread charity from Bournemouth to Bangladesh

A group of local businesswomen travelled to Bangladesh earlier this week as part of setting up a new charity to help underprivileged children.

The women, who are members of Soroptimists International Bournemouth, are meeting partners Dhaka-based NGO, Nijera Shikhi, to discuss plans to build a school.

Founder of the charity, Cementing Futures, Debbie Rogers said they decided to fundraise for a school to combat the high levels of illiteracy in Dhaka:

“You can’t compare it to our culture. If you look at the education system in the UK 120 years ago, that’s there they are. They have massive groups who are illiterate. We are very much guided by them”

The charity is hoping to partner with primary, secondary and third level students across the UK and the students will help to raise £300,000 for the educational project.

Ms Rogers is conscious that given the current economic climate people might be reluctant to donate to charity. However, she says they will “try and get one pound from as many people as possible. Most people can afford to miss a pound.”

Many charities have been hit hard by the credit crunch. The Charities Aid Foundation announced on February 3 it had setup a helpline to help groups consider how to weather a financial crisis.

Cementing Futures should be more protected financially than many charities. With the exception of a director hired for a promotional DVD about the Dhaka project, the businesswomen involved are all volunteers.

The charity is due to be formally launched next month.

Soroptimists Intl Bournemouth
Charities Aid Foundation
Charity Commission UK