28th March 2011 — RNIB Digital TV, Sensory Support and Buses

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Minutes of General Meeting

Held on 28th March 2011 at 2:30pm

At Wherry Way Communal Room, Caister Road, Great Yarmouth

Before the meeting began, the Group was informed that the NHS fruit and vegetable van was at Wherry Way every Monday from 1pm, and that members were invited to purchase fresh produce and eggs at very reasonable prices before meetings.

David Wilkinson chaired the meeting, which was attended by 23 members and guests. Apologies had been received from Judy Morrow, Liz Price and John Kempster. Sarah Morris, Matron of the Ophthalmic Ward and JPH and Penny Leggett from Yare Care, had been expected to attend the meeting, but did not arrive.

The minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

There had been a meeting the previous week with police. Members were informed that once they had initial contact with the police over any matter, they would agree a password to facilitate further communication. Tim reported that he had experience of this system and that it had worked well. In response to a query from Linda, the Group were informed that individuals choose a password and inform the police what it is.

It was suggested that the visit from the fire brigade be re-scheduled for a future meeting.

Paul Bowerbank from the Sensory Support Unit expressed his thanks for the support of the group and individual members during the difficult past 6 months, during which the Unit was first threatened with closure and then had funding cut drastically. The campaigns, letters and petitions had made a significant difference to the outcome, and whilst the level of support was going to be severely affected by funding cutbacks, the Unit was still able to run a restricted support service for Visually Impaired, Blind and Deaf people.

He explained that the County Council had a legal requirement to provide certain services, but non-statutory services would no longer be provided, and there would be staff redundancies. At present the Unit had 5,000 pieces of equipment on permanent loan, and between 12 – 14,000 people had in the past received new services, repairs and replacements from the Unit who would now have to make their own arrangements. The Unit would still give advice about where to obtain equipment.

Paul was currently working on two options for the future of the Unit

Option 1 ? that the Deaf Association might employ some staff to assess needs and sell equipment, and

Option 2 ? that the current service provided to the Deaf/Blind be retained and reviewed after 12 months. Clients would eventually be responsible for managing their own personal budgets.

There was no capacity to further increase the service provided. The budget for work with the deaf would not be verified until 5th April, but it had been proposed to retain a social worker for deaf people. Paul Bowerbank was qualified to carry out social work assessments and reassured members that critical needs will be met.

With regard to the visual impairment side of the Sensory Support Unit, there were currently 5 full time rehabilitation officers, and it was hoped to retain 4 of them. One had already succeeded in finding alternative employment and would not be replaced.

Although it was not definite, it was hoped that the Unit would retain one Social Worker and one Social Work Assistant. This would depend on the outcome of a meeting with the Assistant Director to discuss ways of making cutbacks in the region of £56,000. One duty worker post at the Sensory Support Unit had been cut, so it would not always be possible to contact the Unit directly.

It was expected that in future all equipment other than mobility aids would have to be purchased by individuals, but Paul was willing to compile a list of people approved to carry out work adapting homes to meet the requirements of blind and visually impaired people. He would need to liaise with the NNAB about future replacement of existing replacement equipment, e.g. white canes with balls on the end, as these would no longer be automatically available.

Penny Cox questioned whether there would in future be a longer wait for new clients to be assessed. At present there are two teams of social workers/ rehabilitation workers who receive referrals from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King?s Lynn, James Paget and the Norfolk & Norwich, who are responsible for ensuring that legal requirements are met and that advice was provided to clients about other sources of advice and support, but this level of support was not likely to continue.

Liz Kitchener asked whether the Sensory Support Unit had a backlog of unused stock which the NNAB could take over, but Paul was unable to make any commitment at this stage about the disposal of equipment held by the Sensory Support Unit as this was the property of Norfolk County Council. As an employee of Norfolk County Council he was not at liberty to make decisions of that nature, nor had he followed up an approach from ITV to appear in a feature involving the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People which Siobhan had also been contacted about.

Paul was thanked for contributing to the meeting and updating members of the current situation with the Sensory Support Unit.

David then welcomed Peter Atkin from the RNIB who had been invited to talk to the group about the changeover to Digital television.

The changeover to Digital television in Norfolk would take place in two stages, on 9th and 23rd November, when all analogue reception would disappear. The change would mean a fairer deal in that everyone would have access to channels currently available only to those with a Freeview box or television with built-in Freeview, and there would be better quality reception, both in sound and picture quality, and better access to audio description.

There are 4 different ways to go digital ? with existing equipment which is Sky satellite based, through a Freeview box, via Cable and via Freesat which is a BBC/ITV initiative similar to Sky but with no monthly payments, and restricted to 12 English channels. To qualify for access to the Helpscheme, it is necessary to meet one of the following criteria

1. be over 75

2. be in receipt of Attendance Allowance, DLA, Income Support or Pension Credits

3. be Registered blind or partially sighted.

There was a £40 subsidy, and an engineer would check the aerial for digital signal, set up a Freeview box, and show how to use the handset. A customer helpline would be available 24/7 and work would be guaranteed for 18 months. Existing Sky, Cable and Freesat networks are already digital-ready, and existing Freeview boxes will need to be re-tuned.

Peter then demonstrated the difference audio description made to a brief extract from an episode of Eastenders, which was very interesting and informative. He said that in the first week of any new film, Odeon cinemas included audio description, and that the RNIB was pushing for Museums, Art Galleries and major sporting venues to offer audio description. In answer to a question about digital radio, Peter said that it was the government rather than the BBC which was delaying a switchover, but it will take at least two years. The present quality of digital radio is very variable.

Peter had brought copies of a helpful and well-produced booklet about the changeover to Digital TV in different formats for members to take away.

Peter was thanked for his entertaining and informative talk.

Chris Maule-Oatway from NNAB spoke about the unexpected and sudden introduction of further restrictions for use of senior citizen and disabled persons? bus passes, which were mainly reduced hours for travelling free of charge, and the withdrawal of free passes for sighted companions. The public consultation had not been well publicized and was undertaken mainly by phone calls and via the internet. Chris said that he had completed an emailed questionnaire as an individual pass holder, not as an NNAB representative. A Scrutiny Panel had been asked to look at the case for withdrawing the new restrictions to the times pass holders were allowed to use their passes, and Chris suggested that members write to local councillors and the MP to explain the hardship the restriction causes, and keeping any bus tickets purchased outside of the time the pass was valid. This was a cost-cutting exercise undertaken by Norfolk County Council, and only a relatively small number of blind people were involved, though the impact the change would make on them was potentially a big issue, for example in terms of getting to college on time, being able to undertake voluntary work and going to shops before they got busy. The new restrictions were not being enforced by all bus companies. David agreed to include a list of names councillors? names with the minutes.

Chris was thanked for attending the meeting and keeping members informed.

Ian Hardy encouraged members to sign up for one of the visits to Great Yarmouth Potteries with Liz or Wendy. Members should make their own way there.

In terms of local government cutbacks, Ian said that Great Yarmouth Borough Council was revising its own management structure, and that cutting back of some services would be essential. He encouraged the VIP User Group members to keep themselves well informed, research well as they usually do, get hold of the facts and ask pertinent questions. The Group agreed to send an official letter to the Chief Executive of the Borough Council, and members were encouraged to make individual representations about ways in which cutbacks would affect them personally. Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, people could expect to be dealt with respectfully and have their issues and concerns addressed sympathetically.

Members had met with the MP about the King Street crossing hazard, and he may try to lobby to have it sorted out.

Penny would invite Sarah Morris to the July meeting to feedback on developments since her previous visit to the group.

Chris Stanley from the Lions Club would be bringing his ?silent? electric car for members to listen to.

On 11th May there would be a demonstration in London about rights for people with disabilities which Penny encouraged members to take part in. Trains would be going from Norwich.

The Craft Club was meeting each Friday, doing basket work, coffee morning at Hall Quay each 2nd Friday, Book Club at the Library on the last Friday of each month, and Sailing would begin on Tuesdays in May.

The consultation at Christchurch about changes to DLA was attended by 86 people, and the VIP Group was well represented.

The RNIB was launching a national campaign to remove cars and obstructions off pavements. Penny would keep the meeting informed about this.

George raised a question about the possibility of a bus shelter being provided at Prince of Wales? Road at Caister. There was some confusion about who was responsible for provision of bus shelters, but it was suggested that he should contact a member of his Parish Council in the first instance.

There had been no reply from the Council to letters about the provision of more pedestrian crossings in Gorleston. Concern was expressed about the lack of safe crossing places between Middleton Road and Bridge Road, and from Links Road to the seafront.

Darren said he was concerned about the hazard of wheelie bins on pavements in Great Yarmouth, and wondered whether it would be possible to have them marked with yellow and black tape if it was impractical to remove them.

The next meeting will be at 2pm on 23rd May 2011 at Wherry Way.

The meeting closed at 4:30pm

Appendix A

Contact details for Norfolk County Councillors representing Great Yarmouth district

Mr Michael Reginald Harry Carttiss

Conservative

Member of Norfolk County Council for West Flegg Division

Parish or Urban areas within the Division: Ashby with Oby, Filby, Fleggburgh, Martham, Mautby, Repps with Bastwick, Rollesby, Stokesby, Thurne

Melrose, Main Road, Filby

Great Yarmouth Norfolk NR29 3HN

Telephone (Home):01493 368238

Email: Not available

Web: www.norfolk.gov.uk/michaelcarttiss

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