Big fall in sales again at Yorkshire Evening Post

ladybird3Pretty bad news for the Yorkshire Evening Post from the latest circulation figures for regional daily papers released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

The paper has recorded one of the highest percentage falls in average daily circulation, down 15.7% from 26,038 to 21,946. (only four other papers in the country performed worse)

The effect of the paper’s latest revamp – introduced in January this year – isn’t covered by the figures released today, which deal with circulation in the second half of 2014. We’ll know what effect it’s had, if any, in August.

A lower than average drop of 8.9% takes sister paper The Yorkshire Post below 30,000 copies a day for the first time in living memory.

At 51,244, the combined circulation of the two Leeds-based Johnston Press papers is well below that of the Liverpool Echo (61,902). Sad though the prospect is, it does make you wonder how long publishing both will remain viable.

Heavy falls too for Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus (down 12.8% to 17,423) and the Sheffield Star (down 12.7% to 21,437).

And the permanent conundrum: how do they keep publishing the Doncaster Star with its sales now well under 1,000 a day?

Here are the details of today’s figures. Note that the The Yorkshire Post’s circulation figures include 1,318 copies that are not paid for. All the other figures represent average daily sales.

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For a guesstimate of where our regional daily papers sales figures may be by the time Leeds is … say … European Capital of Culture in 2023, see last August’s story here.

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It’s budget day in Leeds … now where were we with the Living Wage?

green

Cllr Green: no long-term commitment

Interesting news from Bradford where the Labour-run council has announced it’s proposing to pay over 2,000 of its lowest-paid workers the “living wage” from autumn this year.

According to a report in the Telegraph and Argus, bringing the pay of council workers like gardeners, cleaners, cooks, security guards, drivers and refuse workers up to £7.85 per hour is going to cost the council £1.6m.

The change, if approved tomorrow by a meeting of Bradford’s Full Council, is not a long-term commitment, however.

Council leader Cllr David Green told the paper “the authority would not be signing up to the Living Wage Charter as it was unable to commit to paying the rate forever”.

Good news for those affected, but think of it as “Living Wage” lite.

What’s this got to do with Leeds?

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Cllr Wakefield: fair wage, regional living wage …

Coincidentally, today – the day the council in Leeds gets to approve its annual budget – is the one day of the year that councillors discuss the “living wage”.

It’s become a time-honoured tradition at Leeds City Council that opposition councillors use the “living wage” as a stick with which to beat the ruling Labour Party.

Every year there’s no mention of introducing the “living wage” for low-paid council workers in the Labour budget. And every year one of the opposition parties proposes an amendment to introduce it (this year it’s the Tories’ turn).

And every year the amendment gets voted down by the Labour majority, with promises that they’re working on introducing something … sometime.

Back in 2013 council leader Keith Wakefield told the budget meeting of the council that “by working with trade unions to make more savings, this Council will become a fair wage Council next year.”

Last year he told the meeting that “working with the unions, we will show commitment to low paid workers by introducing a regional living wage for this Council and for this city”.

Fair wage? Regional living wage? Whatever … if anything has happened since last year I missed it. It’s probably still being discussed with the unions.

To be fair, it’s complicated.

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Leeds MP: “brilliant news” from Bradford

First the council has got to find the money to pay the increased wage bill (and how much is needed depends on who you believe).

Then it’s got to be certain that it’s going to be able to cope with the permanent uncertainty that would come with having a two-tier wage policy, with one tier – the “Living Wage” – set annually by an outside body over which it has no control (that’s the bit that Bradford seems to have ducked).

Then it’s got to factor in the likely knock-ons for those working for schools (not covered usually by the amendments) and, in the long term, for the thousands of workers employed by firms that the council contracts work out to (ducked for the moment by Bradford too).

And then there are the pay-scale issues. Bring the 1,500 lowest-paid council workers in Leeds up to the Living Wage and you’ll almost inevitably end up with some staff suddenly earning the same as their supervisors. Career paths and pay differentials thrown into confusion at a stroke.

Some councils, like Birmingham, have managed it. Others, like Leeds, haven’t.

If you want to watch this year’s episode of the Leeds “Living Wage” saga live, you can tune in here from 1.30pm.

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Headingley to break pop gig duck? That would be Madness

stadiumCould Headingley Stadium be about to break its duck as a gig venue, with an open-air concert by Madness around the time of the Rugby World Cup?

It looks like it.

You’ll have been wondering (you weren’t? oh, never mind) what happened to the plan to hold pop gigs at the Carnegie stadium after Yorkshire County Cricket Club got planning permission from Leeds City Council back in January 2013.

Well … nothing happened.

And now the permission – to hold up to six gigs over two years – has run out, so the Club are back asking one of the council’s planning panels to renew it for the next two years.

“The Club have stated that Madness are the likely act to perform one concert in September 2015 should planning permission be granted,” says a report going to a panel meeting next week (19th February).

Funnily enough, Madness are currently teasing their fans about a Grandslam Madness tour this summer … the fans reckon it’s going to be rugby venues … and the Rugby World Cup is coming to Leeds with two games at Elland Rd at the end of September.

Will the Club get permission?

At Rugby venues?

At Rugby venues?

You’d think so. They’re asking for the same thing as they were two years ago: six gigs over two years, maximum crowd of 14,999, sound limited to 75 decibels, concert over by 10pm, stadium cleared by 10.30 …

A couple of councillors and some residents are against the latest application, but council officers are recommending a ‘yes’.

“There are no change is circumstances since the expired temporary planning permission was granted that would warrant a reason for refusal of the current application,” they say in the report.

And why didn’t the cash-strapped club, which could really do with the extra income, hold any gigs held over the past two years?

No gigs were organised “due to the limited opportunity to align artists schedules with that of the Cricket Season an (sic) suitable opportunity did not present itself”.

Fans of Ken Bruce will be pleased to know that the plan is still to put on gigs by “Radio 2′ type acts”.

Is it really over 30 years ago?

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Troubled Leeds theatre company set to be turned into charitable trust

grandwrong

Goes wrong, went wrong

The troubled company that runs Leeds Grand Theatre, the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House looks set to be turned into an independent charitable trust.

That’s one of several recommendations on the future of Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd (LGTOH) going to a meeting of council bosses next week (Wednesday, 11th February).

They include the immediate appointment of an interim full-time chief executive – to lead the effort to turn around the company’s “current deficit-generating business model”.

A review of the way the company operates was launched by owners Leeds City Council last July following years of significant deficits culminating in a £653,000 bail out by the local authority.

The company is currently wholly owned by the council, but managed ‘at arms-length’ by a board made up of five councillors and four independent people. It’s being recommended that the number of councillors be reduced to a maximum of three in the new set-up.

It’s not being ruled out that the Grand or the City Varieties or both could be sub-contracted out in the future to a commercial operator to run. But that would be up to the new trust’s board, and there’s legal stuff that would have to be sorted, so nothing is going to happen immediately.

Consultants FEI were brought in to help the council draw up its options for the future of the company.

“The FEI report suggested that a commercial sub-contract would be the recommended route but a final decision will lie with any new trust in consultation with the council in its capacity as a funder. It is, therefore, proposed that the commercial option is held in abeyance at this time,” says a report drafted for the meeting.

Hyde Park Picture House

Social enterprise?

Social enterprise?

The future of the Hyde Park Picture House – and whether it should continue as part of the umbrella company – is similarly going to be left in abeyance, but a report going to the meeting raises the possibility that it could end up as a social enterprise.

“Although a full, stand-alone options appraisal has not been carried out on the venue it would appear that either a social enterprise or incorporation with other council run venues (in particular linking with Leeds International Film Festival) would be options worth serious consideration, assuming that practical issues including any legal considerations can be addressed,” the report detailing the recommended changes says.

The report suggests that the cinema’s future be looked at by the independent trust “in consultation with the council, the local community and friends groups”.

… and the roof replacement bill

Coming soon!

Coming soon!

The Leeds Grand umbrella company 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 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.

The financial situation isn’t made any easier by the fact that the company still needs to raise at least £365,000 to pay its share of the costs of the refurbishment of the City Varieties …

… and it’s annual grant from the council is going to be cut from £200,000 to £180,000 in 2015-16 …

… and, according to its most recent company accounts, it’s 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 last month.

While such maintenance work is the company’s responsibility, the tab may end up being picked up by the council, or that at least is how I interpret the following sentence from the council report:

“… the council will remain as the owner of the freehold of the Grand Theatre and as such may be required to support capital investment into the building over and above its strict legal liabilities under the terms of the current lease with LGTOH.”

Experienced theatre manager urgently required

Coming even sooner!

Coming even sooner!

It’s not all bad news.

Since July last year there have been “some very significant improvements”, the report going to next week’s meeting says. “The latest financial reports indicate the potential for a break-even position for the current financial year.”

Which is pretty good going.

It’s going to be a tough call, though, for any new interim chief exec. The report says the post-holder “would require a turnaround period, potentially up to two years, to reconfigure the business model into one that is consistently surplus generating”.

On the question of leadership the consultants’ report is pretty unequivocal. “LGTOH urgently requires a full time, experienced theatre manager as its chief officer. The charity is unlikely to achieve the turnaround it requires without focused leadership able to implement radical changes to the business model,” it says.

There’s no mention in the report of the £178,000 fraud alleged to have happened at the company between 2011 and 2013, which surfaced last year and over which a court case is pending.

It does make you wonder: how did this long-term, major cock-up happen? And is anyone responsible for it?

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That Leeds capital of culture bid: couldn’t we do it another way?

2023yeahThe deed is almost done. Sometime soon, maybe in the next couple of weeks, the responses to the grand consultation will have been published and council bosses will be giving their thumbs up to Leeds bidding to become the European Capital of Culture in 2023.

It’s way too late to quibble about who exactly has taken part in the consultation and what exactly it was that they believed they were signing up to when they said “Hell, Yeah!”.

It doesn’t matter any more. The bid is going to happen.

But it isn’t too late to have a think about how it’s all going to be organised.

So …

cultureBEFORE  the city’s progressive activators start scurrying around Leeds’ hard to reach streets with their consultation iPads, badgering ordinary people for answers to questions like: “What does culture mean to you?”, “What disruptive provocations would you like to see in 2023?”, and “How would you feel about co-producing an interpretative dance outreach workshop in your community centre? … It’s shut? … Your library, then … Oh, I see” …

BEFORE the gems and the costume jewels in our arts crown start chattering at un-conferences over bottles of designer lager about the importance of the bid bringing the sector together

BEFORE our beloved captains of industry and leaders of unelected quangos take to platforms in their M&S suits, telling the people of Leeds to “shout to the world about what we were, who we are and where we are going” …

BEFORE one of our institutions of higher learning announces plans to name its new Leeds2023 hi-tech arts production hub after Paul and Barry Ryan

ifitsnotloveBEFORE an “independent” bid steering board (chaired by someone who left the city 15 years ago) gets set up without anyone knowing who asked who to take part or why …

BEFORE the board gets shot down in flames as elitist …

BEFORE the board says “we’re listening” and adds a woman to the mix …

BEFORE an inclusive task force of edgy creatives and council officers is commissioned to draft the “overarching principles of the city’s cultural vision” …

BEFORE out of work copywriters, well-connected comms gurus and cutting-edge design practitioners start jostling for a slice of the inclusive task force’s overarching vision pie …

BEFORE the Yorkshire Evening Post in partnership with the Trinity Shopping Mall runs a #championingYesLeedsCultureIsInOurDNA  competition for the bid slogan …

BEFORE all of that …

Couldn’t we try and come up with a better way?

COULDN’T WE THINK ABOUT HANDING OVER THE BID TO THE PEOPLE OF LEEDS?

It would be easy.

All you’d need to do would be:

sortition11Get a list of everyone who pays council tax, randomly select 20 old and young from each postcode, lock them in a room and tell them to get on with deciding what the European Capital of Culture will be like in their bit of Leeds. These “juries” will invite and welcome local people and organisations coming to them to pitch ideas. They’ll weigh the pitches up …

… and what they say goes.

And in the centre, the Bid Board, not packed with the usual suspects, but another jury made up of 20 other randomly chosen council tax payers. Developers will come to them with their plans for “iconic” new buildings and infrastructure, vested interest groups with their ideas for “city-wide, game-changing, citizen-driven interventions”, the private sector with offers of no-strings-attached financial help (ahem) …

Aided by an impartial secretariat, they’ll assess the suggestions and have the final word on whether they’re in or out.

Talking of  money …

cuts

Arts grants cuts

It’s worth recalling that 1) in a strange twist of fate, the decision to bid is going to coincide with the announcement of where the council’s forthcoming £500k cuts to its arts grants are going to be falling, and that 2) there’s no predicted end to local government austerity till at least 2020.

So it’s lucky that these juries will be made up of ordinary people who are experts in budgeting, who routinely follow Mr Micawber’s recipe for happiness, tailoring ambition to income in the daily grind. That makes them the perfect people to decide how much we can prudently spend (Liverpool council spent £74.8m!) and what we should spend it on.

The bid’s content, vibe and finance, all in the hands of the people.

What possible objection could there be to doing it like that?

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Developers appeal over council rejection of plans for 700 new homes in east Leeds

Map from the Save Our Scholes Facebook page

Map from the Save Our Scholes Facebook page

Developers have lodged an appeal against a council decision to turn down their plans for a major new housing development in East Leeds.

Councillors rejected the application by the Scholes Development Company and Barratt David Wilson Homes to build up to 700 new houses, a new primary school, community and other facilities in East Scholes back in August.

They said the plans were premature, had “poor sustainability credentials”, hadn’t demonstrated that local roads would be able to cope with the extra traffic, and were “likely to adversely impact on the character, sustainability and identity of Scholes”.

Local residents have been fighting the plans since they were first announced by Leeds developer GMI, the parent company of the Scholes Development Company.

The appeal, lodged yesterday, won’t come as any great surprise to campaigners.

“I can’t see any developer spending the kind of money that has been spent already and not continuing until it has gone the full way,” local parish council chair Ben Hogan told the Ripon Gazette after August’s planning application refusal.

Campaigners “will remain steadfast”

The developers say they expect the “large and complicated appeal” to last eight days, dealing with each of the council’s five reasons for refusal in detail.

“There has, in addition, been significant public interest in the proposed development which adds to the importance of ensuring there is a thorough investigation into, and formal testing of, the expert evidence of both the Appellants (the developers) and the LPA (local planning authority – the council),” the appeal justification says.

“For these reasons the Appellants consider that only the inquiry procedure will guarantee full exploration and consideration of all of the issues involved in the appeal”.

Local community campaigner George Hall told the leeds citizen that the planning inquiry would mean further considerable pressure for the local community.

“The developers want to change our lifestyle, something that we as trustees  would aim to preserve for future generations,” he said. “We will remain steadfast in our opposition to their proposals as we do not share their vision for our community.”

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A vibrant and game-changing year to one and all

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