Council set to give thumbs down to broadcasting Leeds planning meetings on the web

webcasts2Meetings of Leeds City Council’s top decision-making body are set to be broadcast live over the internet starting at the latest in April this year.

Members of a senior committee are expected to give the go-ahead to the new webcasts of the council’s Executive Board when they meet next Tuesday (9th February).

But council officers are recommending that meetings of the council’s top planning body – the City Plans Panel – don’t get broadcast over the web after councillors and planning officers expressed concerns.

Concerns? Really?

Here’s what they amount to, according to a report that’s going to the meeting:









How come councils in Manchester, Birmingham, Cheshire, Kirklees, Wrexham , Denbighshire, Epping Forest … the list goes on … manage to have their planning committee meetings webcast without any problem? And by the same company that handles webcasting for Leeds,

Leeds is different. Apparently.

Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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Bad news, good news, data and the Leeds housing crisis

spash2I’m a big fan of the Yorkshire Evening Post, but I’m struggling with its front page “exclusive” news story this morning.

Yes, yes, there’s a housing crisis in Leeds. And yes, “it’s time to end it”.

And yes, as the paper says, “Thousands of properties remain empty”.

And yes, there are 25,000 people on the council’s waiting list …

And … and … and …

What I’m struggling with is the data presented by the paper this morning. It looks impressive …


… but what on earth does it mean?

The first thing you’d want data of this kind to tell you is: how are we doing?

As in:

Is there more or less council housing in Leeds than three, five or ten years ago?

Are there more or fewer people on the waiting list? How much longer are they waiting to get a house, compared with three, five or ten years ago?

How have we been getting on with tackling the blight of empty homes?

We know things are bad, but are they getting better or worse?

It doesn’t say. It’s a pretty snapshot. There’s no historic data (unless they’ve saved it for the paper’s print edition).

And yet there is historic data around. Take the number of people on the waiting list.

A quick Google search will find you a YEP article from November 2011 putting the number at 28,000. Today the paper puts it at “around 25,000”. That’s still a huge amount of pressure on the system, but on the face of it it’s less pressure than four years ago. No?

How has that happened? Is it a trend? What does it mean for the “housing crisis” in Leeds? Shouldn’t we know?

(let’s brush over the fact that the paper’s online headline says “waiting lists soar”, without offering any supporting evidence)

garnets-ready-for-the-bulldozer-16-9-2011Empty properties

Take the issue of empty properties. The paper today concentrates its front-page story on the fact that there are 5,552 homes in the city that have lain empty for over six months. Bad news.

Except, if you look at the historic data, it turns out to be quite good news.

Six years ago the number stood at over 9,000, and it’s been falling steadily every year since then (figures below from Leeds Data Mill).

How has that happened? What does it indicate for the future? And isn’t that apparent success an important part of the story?


In the YEP’s defence, its story today is a “bad news” peg on which to hang the promotion of its latest “Voice of Leeds summit” on Thursday, when “representatives from across the public, private and third sectors will gather at the YEP’s office” to discuss the city’s housing crisis.

The trouble is: with our local papers under crazy pressure to keep their heads above water, who do we turn to get the full picture from the available data?

As far as I can see, we don’t.

We’ll just have to hope that when the experts assemble on Thursday they’ll have at their disposal all the historic data they need to understand what is happening with housing in the city, and not just a nicely designed snapshot.

And that one of the participants will try and make sense of it, write it up and share it with us.

That way we won’t be just stuck with a story that says: Leeds housing crisis exclusive: 5,500 homes empty as waiting lists soar

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Head of Leeds review replaced following “concerns” from Ann Maguire’s husband

maguireThe day after the husband of murdered Leeds schoolteacher Ann Maguire called for an independent inquiry into her death, it has emerged that the head of a local review into her death has been replaced following “concerns” expressed by Mr Maguire.

The Leeds Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) announced the “learning lessons” review in April this year and subsequently drew up its terms of reference.

It now turns out that those terms of reference were revised earlier this month.

“It has been revised following a decision to stand the Lead Reviewer down after representations made by Mr Maguire and concerns expressed by Mr Maguire to the Secretary of State at a meeting with her on 21st September 2015,” says the new terms of reference document posted on the LSCB website.

No details were given of what Mr Maguire’s concerns were.

The document, dated 5th October 2015, is signed by Jane Held, who was the LSCB’s independent chair at the time the review was launched. The document, however, describes Ms Held as the organisation’s “former” independent chair.

I can find no record of Ms Held – who was still in the job in June this year – standing down from the post.

The Leeds review was initially due to report its findings by the end of this year. The revised terms of reference make clear that it is effectively starting from scratch, “with a view to completion by the end of April 2016”.

Mr Maguire said yesterday:

“We believe that a comprehensive, open and independent statutory review examining all the information is crucial to learning lessons from this horrific incident which took place in front of many other pupils in school, traumatising pupils and staff and devastating our family.”

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Five things we’ll remember The Yorkshire Post for this week


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More poor results for Leeds local newspapers. How and when will it end?

YEP-front-e14216581352151It’s grim news. Again. For both The Yorkshire Post and sister paper The Yorkshire Evening Post.

We already knew that parent company Johnston Press had a dismal first half of 2015 – shares tumbled when a profit warning was issued in July – but figures released yesterday show how tough it has been for its two Leeds newspapers.

Despite yet another relaunch at the beginning of the year (aimed at placing the paper “at the heart of an upwardly-mobile 21st century city”), the Evening Post’s sales have continued to fall dramatically.

It is now only selling just over 20,000 copies day, down 16% from last year (one of the biggest percentage falls of all UK regional dailies), and is being outsold for the first time by the Sheffield Star.

The Yorkshire Post recorded a more modest fall of 10% in print sales, but a disastrous 10.6% FALL in the average number of “unique browsers” visiting its site every day – down from 28,658 to 25,615, according to online traffic stats released by ABC.

Like every other regional paper, The Yorkshire Post and The Evening Post are banking on replacing lost revenue from print with money made out of increased website traffic. But in Leeds, it doesn’t look like enough traffic is coming.

The Evening Post saw an increase of 13.6% of daily “unique browsers”, way below the national average of 32.8%, and way, way below the increases at the local papers in Manchester (up 74.8%), Newcastle (87.5%) and Liverpool (90.1%), all of which are published by Johnston Press’s rival Trinity Mirror.

Tipping point?

Ladybird 1It gets asked every time circulation figures are released, but where is this all going to end and when?

The received wisdom from publishers is that local print papers will be around for some time yet, with revenue trickling away slowly enough from print for online to save the day.

But what if, as this commentator suggests, there is a kind of psychological tipping point approaching for advertisers, when they start to have second thoughts about the value of print advertising campaigns given the small number of readers?

How small is small? At the current rate of decline (30% since 2013) the Evening Post will be selling some 14,000 copies a day in two years time, and under 10,000 two years after that, in 2019. Would that be small enough?

In the meantime, there is talk of consolidation in the regional press industry, with all the major players, including Johnston Press, “publicly positioning themselves as open to (merger) deals”. A merger between JP and the Newsquest Media Group (owners of the York Press and the Bradford Telegraph) would offer some economies of scale in our region.

We’ll see.

If that doesn’t end up happening, Johnston Press could always try turning the YEP into a free paper to rival Metro (this year’s re-launch gave it more of a Metro-style look and feel). I’m told they’ve been giving the YEP away for free in recent weeks at Leeds train station, whether as a promo tool or to test the waters is anyone’s guess.

Here are this year’s stats for print sales. Note that some 1,200 of The Yorkshire Post’s total is not paid for.


And here are the stats for web traffic. In two years, the Huddersfield Examiner has left The Yorkshire Post way behind.


And here are those local online stats in the context of the rest of the country’s local papers’ website traffic.


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Council writes off £379,000 debt at troubled Leeds theatre company


Final performance today

It’s only a footnote in the troubled financial history of the Leeds Grand umbrella company, but worth recording nonetheless: Leeds City Council has agreed to write off £379,000 the company owed.

The sum represents the outstanding part of the Grand’s share of the bill for the refurbishment of the City Varieties, one of the three arts organisations it runs.

Council leaders agreed last week to a request from the company, which is currently owned by the council but run “at arms length”, that the contribution be written off.

Following a council review last winter, the plan is for the company to turn itself into a charitable trust.

Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House’s share of the cost of the refurb (which was completed in 2011) was set at £1.2m, but the company only managed to raise £615,000, leaving a £593,000 hole.

“The Theatre Board recognised that given the Company’s current financial position and future financial challenges … it is not likely that the Company will be in a position to fund this shortfall and will help the Company to convert to an Independent Trust (sic),” said a report drafted for last Wednesday’s meeting.

“To this end the Company has written to the Council to request that this funding shortfall is written off. Given that the scheme has come in under budget, the actual level of additional debt the Council would need to raise to fund this £593k shortfall would be £379k.”

Annual grant cut

Coming next week

Coming next week

The Leeds Grand umbrella company – which runs Leeds Grand Theatre, the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House – has been operating at a significant deficit for a number of years and has relied on its reserves and extra cash from the council to balance its books. Its unrestricted reserves have now dried up.

The review of the way the company operates was launched by the council in July 2014 as it bailed out the company to the tune of  £653,000.

The council has pledged extra funding (over and above the grant it gives the company annually) for the next couple of years to make sure the company remains a going concern.

Along with most other arts organisations in the city, the company had its annual grant from the council cut this year – down from £200,000 in 2014-15 to £160,000 in 2015-16.

According to its most recent company accounts, Leeds Grand is also facing a future bill of up to £2.5m to get the roof of the Grand Theatre building replaced. “The roof is now losing slates in high winds,” said a disconsolate report from the company’s directors lodged with Companies House in January this year.

Back in February, it was agreed by council bosses that the company move to immediately appoint an interim full-time chief executive – to lead the effort to turn around the company’s “current deficit-generating business model”.

If the job’s been advertised and/or filled, I missed it.


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