warning as 4.9% council
tax rise is approved
by David Skentelbery
LABOUR controlled Warrington Borough Council has confirmed a 4.9 per cent rise in Council Tax – brushing aside an alternative budget put forward by the Liberal Democrats and ignoring a Tory warning that the town is heading for a “financial disaster.”
The Liberal Democrats put forward an amendment they claimed would make more money available for front-line services without requiring a further increase in Council Tax.
Conservative finance spokeswoman Fiona Bruce urged the council to switch ?100,000 from the environmental improvement fund to youth services.
But the controlling Labour Group voted their budget through which means the council tax on an average Band D house will increase by about ?43.
Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Peter Walker pointed out the increase was almost three times the increase in the national Retail Price Index.
He urged the council to spend an extra ?800,000 on youth services, highways, community safety and waste minimisation and re-cycling. The money would come from efficiencies required by the Government and from reserves.
The youth service and highways would get an extra ?250,000 each, community safety would get ?160,000 and waste minimisation ?140,000.
Coun Walker said: “We consider these additions to service provision is what the people of Warrington want to see. We think they are achievable, prudent and what the Governments expects the council to do.”
Coun Bruce said the council’s books would not balance over the next three years and predicted that a 25 per cent increase in Council Tax would be required in 2007-8.
She said the council’s reserves had reduced from ?45 million in 1998 to ?20 million today – and she accused Labour of hiding the true cost of running the borough.
“We have had a one-party town for too long” she declared. “We look to be heading for financial disaster.”
Finance chief John Morris said the Tory claims had no basis in reality. Warrington had a cautious and prudent council – it was not just him saying but also the Audit Commission and other independent sources.
He said the Liberal Democrats were suggesting spending savings that had not yet been achieved. If they were achieved, the money they proposed spending now would still be there next year.
After the meeting, Coun Bruce said: “The 4.9 per cent increase in Council Tax distorts the true picture of the town’s financial health under Labour. The reality is that, according to the council’s own projections for the next three financial years, there is a huge gap between income and expenditure.
“In this election year, Labour in Warrington have been baled out by a one-off grant of ?2.2m from Labour nationally. This is equivalent to just under a further 4 per cent increase, on top of the 4.9 per cent – but Ministers have said that it will not be repeated. Labour needs to find, fast, a long-term solution to the black hole in council finances.”
“Jail break” will raise
money for hospice
by staff reporter
SUPPORTERS of Warrington’s favourite charity – St Rocco’s Hospice – are to take part in a sponsored “jail break” to raise money for the cause.
Coronation Street star Richard Fleeshman – he plays “Craig” in the soap opera – is lending his support to the campaign.
He is the son of hospice patron Sue Jenkins, formerly of TV’s Brookside, who will also be helping in the campaign which is part of the ongoing 20th anniversary celebrations for St Rocco’s.
The volunteer jailbirds will be imprisoned in the cells of Stockton Heath Police Station on March 11, armed only with a “cell phone” and a pledge sheet and will be left to call friends and family to raise enough “bail” to gain their release.
They must raise ?500 each before they win their freedom.
“Magistrate” Celia Jordan – borough councillor and chairman of the hospice trustees – assisted by Mayor of Warrington Ted Lafferty will hold their fate in their hands, making the decision when they can be released.
Richard Fleeshman said: “St Rocco’s Hospice is such a worthy cause. They need to raise ?1.6 million every year to keep treating patients and the Jailbreak is a really fun way of helping towards that. I’m happy to help however I can”.
Other high profile fundraising events planned to mark the 20th anniversary include a Hospice Open Day and Firewalk in September and a Grand Anniversary Ball in November.
Anyone who wants to support the jail breakers by making a donation to hospice funds can call the Appeals Team on 01925 575780.
New clampdown on
truants to start
by John Hendon
A NEW round of co-ordinated truancy sweeps in Warrington starts next week.
During the following month, teams of police and education welfare officers will be patrolling Warrington’s streets, shopping centres and known truancy hotspots, challenging young people who are out of school to provide an authorised reason for their absence.
Truants will be immediately returned to their schools or an agreed place of safety.
Schools Minister Derek Twigg, launching a national crackdown, warned truants and their parents that there was no excuse for deliberately missing out on education.
He said: “Our message that ‘every day in school counts’ is getting across. School attendance is at record levels with over 87,000 more pupils attending school each day than in 1997. The majority of parents are supporting schools in ensuring that their child attends regularly.
“However, a stubborn hardcore of two per cent of pupils remain determined to jeopardise their education and their futures through persistent truancy. We will continue to support local education authorities and schools facing the greatest challenges with targeted measures that we know work in improving attendance.
“We will also not hesitate to support schools and local education authorities that use sanctions such as prosecution and penalty fines for those parents who are simply unwilling to get their children into school.”
Coun Maureen Banner, the borough council’s executive member for education said; “In the last academic year, Warrington had the sixth highest attendance rate out of the 150 local education authorities in England.
“But we are not complacent and we will continue to work in partnership with Cheshire Police to operate the truancy sweeps even though, in the context of Warrington, only a small proportion of the young people picked up in our sweeps are in fact truanting.”
In the last sweep, carried out in November 2004, Warrington sweep teams apprehended 17 truants out of 65 young people stopped.
Council will not pay
for walking days
by David Skentelbery
THERE will be no money from Warrington Borough Council to “rescue” walking days or other festivals threatened with cancellation this year.
This was made clear by Coun Paul Ross, deputy leader, at the monthly meeting of the council.
He was responding to a question from a member of the public, Mr John Britton, who asked if the authority would be prepared to underwrite the cost of Stockton Heath Walking Day.
Organisers called off this year’s event a month ago after learning they would have to find ?2,000 and train volunteer marshals because of the decision of Cheshire Police to withdraw from marshalling street processions.
Coun Ross said it was his understanding that the walk organisers were more concerned about the need to provide marshals than about the cost. However, if the council were to offer to pay for the Stockton Heath walk it would “open the floodgates” and there would be similar requests from other organisations.
Leader of the council John Joyce said it would be impractical for the authority to underwrite the cost of walking days.
“We could not afford to pay for them all,” he said.
Mr Britton said it was “tragic” that the council was not prepared to suppo
rt the local people who had maintained the tradition of the walking day for more than 60 years.
But Coun Joyce said community organisations, including churches, had always looked after their own events.
The council was involved in talks with the police to see if something could be arranged to enable walking days to continue.
He agreed it would be a great loss if such events were discontinued.
by staff reporter
MEMBERS of Culcheth Methodist Church, are mourning the loss of Martyn Roberts, a stalwart of the church and formerly a solicitor with Warrington Borough Council.
Martyn, who died suddenly at his Culcheth home, overcame a severe disability to have a successful local government career and took a leading role in the church and the wider community.
He was chairman of the Drugs and Alcohol Forum, a former governor at Twiss Green Primary School, former secretary of Churches Together, secretary and leader of the Men’s Fellowship, a pastoral visitor, house group leader, leader of Healing Services and a former Methodist Circuit steward.
The Rev Paul Martin, minister at Culcheth Methodist Church, said: “Martyn cannot be summed up by lists or tributes; words do not do justice. As Christians we know that our value to God, and indeed each other, lies not in what we do but who we are. Martyn was a great advocate of the unconditional love of God which we cherish and celebrate.
“We pay tribute to Martyn by continuing to support those concerns which were close to his heart. And as we mourn his loss, we thank God for the ways in which our lives have been enriched by Martyn’s presence.”
starting in schools
by staff reporter
A CAMPAIGN to encourage school children at Warrington to help stamp out bullying is to be launched on Friday (March 4).
“Bully Watch” – a new initiative to help the victims of bullying will be launched by Community Support Officer Tom Orr, of the Risley Community Action Team.
The scheme, supported by Poulton-with-Fearnhead Parish Council and Cheshire Police, will also aim to prompt youngsters to take positive action if they know someone else is being bullied.
CSO Orr said: “I am currently visiting local schools to talk to pupils and teachers about the initiative and to answer any questions they may have. It is important children know where they can get help and advice.”
As a handy reminder of how to tackle bullying, CSO Orr is handing out Bully Watch cards. They feature a picture of a cartoon bull and the message ‘REACT’ on the front.
They offer advice on what to do if someone is being bullied – and include a series of telephone helpline numbers and websites which children can contact for support and advice.
Police have also added the emergency 999 number to the card in case there is an immediate threat to someone’s life. The card reads “If your life is in immediate danger don’t wait, phone Cheshire Police: 999.”
The initiative is being launched at Cinnamon Brow Junior School when CSO Orr will be handing out Bully Watch cards.
Headteacher Lesley Sweeney said: “We have a very strong anti-bullying policy which is regularly updated and discussed with the children. Tom is a frequent visitor in school and known to all. Consequently instances of bullying are fortunately rare and dealt with quickly. I believe that it is vital for children to know that there are other agencies out there that will listen to them and offer additional support.”
CSO Orr added: “I’m hoping school children will keep their Bully Watch card with them at all times as a reminder that they are not alone and that there are organisations out there that can help if they are going through a difficult time.”
Five hour battle
to quell blaze
by staff reporter
FIRE crews fought a five hour battle to contain a blaze at an unoccupied factory building off Bridge Lane, Woolston, near Warrington.
The single-storey building – used as a canteen for workers of a firm with adjoining buildings – was well alight when firefighters arrived in the early hours of the morning.
A hazardous materials unit was sent to the scene because of fears the roof might contain asbestos. But this proved not be the case.
Four fire appliances from Warrington and Birchwood fire stations were involved in the operation. The cause is being investigated