30th January 2012 Great Yarmouth Borough Council Equality Survey

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Minutes of General Meeting

Held on 30th January 2012 at 2:30pm
At Wherry Way Communal Room, Caister Road, Great Yarmouth

David Wilkinson, Chairman, opened the meeting at which there were 17 attendees, including Paul Bowerbank (Sensory Support), Ian Hardy (Great Yarmouth Borough Council) and guest speakers Karla Symonds and Tracey Jones from the Borough Council. Everyone present introduced themselves.

Apologies for absence had been received from Ron Larner, Liz Price, Liz Kitchener, George Barlow, Lee Richmond, Charlie Johnson and Pat Hoy.

A minute’s silence was held in memory of Terry Driver, and Penny Cox whose work as Secretary and tireless campaigning on behalf of visually impaired people, will be sorely missed.

In the Chairman’s update, David informed members that the 24 hour bus pass for blind people and a companion was to be re-instated from April, subject to budget approval. On behalf of the Group he paid tribute to Chris Maule-Oatway at NNAB who had led the successful campaign.

David reported that bus passes were available from First Move, Artillery Square (behind the Albion public house). Anyone needing to renew their pass should phone first to make an appointment – 01493 85 45 51. This service was free, but donations would be appreciated. Bus passes could also be obtained on-line or by post from Norfolk County Council.

Blue badges could be obtained by phone from Norfolk County Council. The old current charge was £2 but it is increasing to £10 from now on. The badges will still be valid for 3 years.

Great Yarmouth Borough Diversity & Equality Survey

Committee Members had carried out a telephone survey of Members’ concerns and comments about equality of services provided by the Borough Council. David welcomed Tracey and Karla who had been invited as representatives of the Borough Council, to answer questions. Tracey explained that part of her job was to meet different people within the Borough to pool ideas for improvements and equality of service in Great Yarmouth over the next four years.

A query had been raised about why it was no longer possible to pay council tax bills in cash at the Town Hall, and commented that Greyfriars House was very busy, and it was not clear where to go. Tracey explained that there was a Cashier’s office to the right inside Greyfriars House, and added that it was also possible to pay by direct debit, or at any Post Office with a card obtainable from the Town Hall. Karla said that help was available for anyone who needed assistance with filling in Direct Debit forms. David reminded members how important it was to take responsibility for making people aware if you need help. Tim said that digital booking-in systems and CCTV were not helpful to people who could not see, and urged that the Borough Council simplify the way they communicate with the public. Karla said that her department worked to the KISS theory – “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

Tracey said that she had anticipated comments about the complicated nature of the Tenancy Agreements sent to Council tenants recently, and Members agreed that the documentation was far too long and complicated, but as they were legal documents it was essential to provide tenants with up to date information. Linda C in particular had asked whether the Tenants’ Charter or News could be available on CD or printed using 20 Ariel Bold font. Members asked whether all important communications from the Borough Council could be made available in alternative formats, e.g. large bold print or on CDs. The Council tries to adopt a “tell us once” philosophy with regard to meeting individual’s specific needs, such as large print, yellow paper, CDs, but with so many departments involved this was not always possible. Members were encouraged not to be afraid to ask for information in a preferred format. Judy produced a copy of bad practice – an A-Z directory produced by Norfolk County Council with vital information printed in purple and pink – and another document produced by Great Yarmouth Borough Council about Customer Care Standards which was clearly set out and had good contrast with the bold Borough Council logo. Tracey explained that often information was produced by Graphic Designers who were perhaps more conscious of visual appeal rather than users’ requirements, and added that the Council were not permitted to use colours with political connotations.

Paul Bowerbank said that as recently as two and a half years ago Norfolk County Council produced around 300 different leaflets but this had now been reduced to under 50, and large print documents had virtually disappeared. However, if a document carried the INTRAN logo on the back, there was a legal requirement to make it available in different formats and languages. In Norfolk alone there were 92 foreign languages being spoken. If a document was produced in common format it could easily be printed off in large print.

Karla said that as the Borough INTRAN officer, she had been asked to produce the “Borough Wide” documentation in simple format, and within four days she had obtained all the essential information without pictures and unnecessary graphics, which was just what the client needed.

Linda described her experience of when the Council told her that her bank book needed updating so she made her way to the bank who told her it was up to date, so she then had to return to the Council offices, thus making two unnecessary journeys which were not easy for a visually impaired person.

A query had been raised about whether the chip and pin machines at the Town Hall and Greyfriars could have a “beep” facility which alerted users to transactions taking place, as the machine at Trafalgar House did. Tracey said that she would look into this.

Only three Members regularly accessed the Town Hall, and were happy with the facilities provided. There were around 400 public buildings within the Borough, and members were encouraged to contact either Tracey or Ian about any specific access issues. Ian said that there were performance indicators put in place by the Audit Commission to measure the levels of service provided, and there was a continual process of updating and acquainting themselves with the needs of users, with regards to issues such as colour, style and functionality.

With regard to elections taking place on 3rd May, Members were urged to let the Council know well in advance of any accessibility issues with premises which were often rented for elections, and if necessary make arrangements for a postal vote.

Ella asked for advice about a particular problem with regard to housing. She is owner-occupier of a bungalow, but was anxious to move to warden-controlled accommodation. She had identified somewhere suitable at Newton Cross, but the Council had not been able to offer her help. It was explained that allocation of social housing was mainly based on income, and as Ella already owned a property she was unlikely to be eligible. It was suggested that she might be able to obtain support from one of the private housing associations, and that it would be a good idea to contact Jackie Tierney at Age Concern for advice and help with the completion of any paperwork involved, or visits.

Members who had availed themselves of the Safe at Home handyman service, spoke highly of the quality of work done through this scheme, and recommended it to other people with small household jobs which they were unable to do themselves.

Tracey promised to look into the problem with cars parked on the pavements in University Crescent and only one street light in the whole cul de sac. A particular concern was the potential inability of emergency services to gain access.

Tracey and Karla were thanked for their very valuable contribution to the meeting and their on-going support. Tracey said that she was very willing to return in the future.

Reports

David raised a question of whether any Members other than himself had problems with the many money-saving deals currently taking place in supermarkets. In Tesco he had been given a handful of papers by the checkout assistant, and did not realise until it was too late that there were money-off vouchers amongst them. Tim Poole suggested that Members should be bolder in making their disabilities known and asking assistants for advice or explanations if there was something which needed explanation. David also recounted his experience with a cash machine at the bank taking back his money because he was not quick enough in removing it from the machine. At the time of the meeting the problem was still not resolved.

It was reported that most people were now walking to the traffic lights on Yarmouth Way to cross King Street because the temporary barriers were still in place. There is still no pavement opposite Christchurch whilst the building work at St George’s progresses.

Wendy announced that the Chairman was to undertake a sponsored slim and encouraged everyone to sign David’s sponsorship form which would be available at the end of the meeting or at the NNAB office in Hall Quay.

Tim reported that following the previous meeting, he had met Karl Crawley on site in Caister and that there were more dropped kerbs than he (and his previous Guide Dog) were aware of. The overgrown hedge which Tim pointed out to Mr Crawley had since been cut back, so there had been a very satisfactory outcome. Since then there had been an accident at the crossing near to the Haven holiday camp, and the fence had been bent onto the footpath.

David reported the on-going problems which Linda experienced as a result of lorries parking overnight on Barrack Road. There seemed to be some dispute as to whether this was a police or parking enforcement issue. It was suggested that if noise was a nuisance, it was an environmental health issue, or illegal parking should be dealt with by the police. Linda had taken photographic evidence, which Tracey agreed to take and seek advice from colleagues at the Town Hall.

With regard to cyclists and mobility scooters on Haven Bridge, which had been highlighted in the phone survey before Christmas, Ian said that there was an inherent problem in that due to the narrowness of the bridge, the four traffic lanes were narrow and hazardous for cyclists. It was suggested that a notice should be placed at either end of the bridge, asking cyclists to dismount. Particular incidents could be referred to the police using the non-emergency 101 phone number.

Paul Bowerbank reported that in March Sensory Support would be in a position to re-introduce the rehabilitation programme for mobility needs of less than half a mile.

Pat, who was unable to be at the meeting, had a problem with rats which despite a visit from the Pest Control officer had not been eradicated. Tracey took the details and would look into the matter.

The next meeting would be on Monday, 26th March at 2pm. There would be a guest speaker from Trading Standards, and the opportunity for a discussion about loan sharks and pressure selling.

David asked that if anyone had suggestions for speakers or topics for discussion at future meetings, to advise him.

The meeting closed at 4.20pm.

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