Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Leave Wakefield Westgate Alone

This blog runs the risk of becoming a diatribe against the great British railways. I've previously written about my loathing of HS2 and the problems that could arise from closing small ticket offices. Today, as George Osborne announces money going towards rail infrastructure projects in Yorkshire, I have a new gripe.

£6.6 million is being given to Wakefield Westgate station to rebuild and refurbish. You'd think I'd be happy. I use the station several times a week, after all, and theoretically it should be in Wakefield's best interests to have it rebuilt. However, I don't believe it is.

The idea to 'move' the station down a few yards was mooted years ago. It was accepted that it would finally be done and then the refurbishment plan disappeared from the Network Rail website and everything went quiet. For the last few years Wakefield Council have been insisting that the work would happen while the transport authorities have just blanked the idea. If the original suggestions are being used then (in my understanding) the station would be moved along a bit. For Wakefield people, it would be moved slightly further away from Westgate bridge and towards the Balne Lane bridge. This was fine when the plans were first suggested. But I see one major flaw here: they've since built a hideously ugly multi-storey car park near this area. They can't just pick it up and move it so does that hamper plans? These are the details already announced by the local paper: "New shops, a travel centre, a First Class lounge, a customer reception and information screens will be developed at a brand new station building. It will be built next to the multi-storey car park which opened last year to provide better access." See my next point.

Secondly, I'm happy to admit that Wakefield Westgate is not a hub station. The majority of people who get on and off the train don't wait around for a connecting service. It's a destination, that's all. As such, I believe the station as it is can cope. You don't have too many people hanging around and the services it's got are sufficient: cash machines, shop, cafe, toilets ticket offices, information desk along with first class and regular waiting rooms. It might be a little scruffy but it's hardly in the direst of circumstances. I wonder if the powers that be are merely trying to make the station look more attractive to businessmen travelling through from Leeds. Quite an expensive vanity project if they are.

Finally, there is the most important point. Wakefield has two railway stations and this one isn't the one desperate for a bit of TLC. Wakefield Kirkgate has been the scene of at least one serious sexual assault in recent history and is an unmanned eyesore. It does, however, offer a direct Grand Central service to London. The problem is, no one will dare risk going via that station because of the dangers. Wakefield Kirkgate is the closer station to the new Hepworth Gallery and refurbishment of that could easily help visitors to the attraction. The waterfront area nearby has also been heavily redeveloped recent years: why not build a station to go with the new prosperity of the area?

So, you see, I'm not saying no money for Wakefield's rail system. I'm just asking for it to be put in the right place and to help local people in favour of anyone else.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys - Complaint Response

Like many other people I was incensed by the above programme. It was a shoddy piece of journalism, focused on furthering the government agenda and not on protecting the claimants in this country. I dread to imagine how much more difficult the lives of disability claimants have become since the programme aired, especially those without visible disabilities. I shot off a complaint to the BBC as soon as I'd watched the programme and today I received a response. It may be a stock one sent to dozens of complainants with a few alterations but I'll share it anyway:

Dear Miss Brown

Reference CAS-1069807-F832D5

Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC Two’s ‘The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys’ on 27 October.

I understand you felt the programme was biased against the welfare state.

We believe that 'The Future State of Welfare' was a balanced look at the benefits debate in the UK. The programme dealt with a difficult and important subject - and the strong opinions held about the issues raised by the current proposals for reform. The impact of current policy and proposed reforms was shown through John's interviews with individuals who have experience of the system both here in the UK and in the USA. The programme featured interviews with various individuals who claim different types of benefits, and gave them an opportunity to set out their views on the proposed reforms. John conducted these interviews with sympathy and sensitivity and enabling those affected to show how they felt the proposed reforms would impact upon their individual situations.

With regard to recent changes to incapacity benefit and the assessment of recipients to determine whether or not they are entitled to receive the benefit, the programme made it clear that requests to film the assessment process had been refused. However, the programme acknowledged that the process of assessment could be distressing for those involved. When John spoke with Yvonne Power, who ultimately won her post-assessment appeal and was granted ESA, she clearly outlined how upsetting she had found the assessment process.

Both the BBC and John Humphrys consider the programme to be a success - it challenged preconceptions while remaining a balanced and accurate analysis of both emerging policy and public opinion in this highly contentious area.

Nevertheless, we’ve registered your comments on our audience log for the benefit of programme makers, commissioning executives, and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards

Stuart Webb
BBC Complaints 

In my complaint I pointed out that figures on the number of Atos Healthcare judgements overturned on appeal were not highlighted. I judged this to be a vital omission because inclusion would've highlighted the illegitimacy of the system currently reassessing people for benefits. Wouldn't it have been in the public interest for the BBC to point out that these appeals are costly and the correct judgement should be reached in the first instance and not the second? Also, a few case-studies of people sent for these hideous assessments would not have gone amiss.

The BBC will maintain they're right until Chairman of the BBC Trust and former Chairman of the Conservative Party, Chris Patten, tells them otherwise. Welcome to the new legitimate victimisation of our vulnerable citizens.