Monday, 11 May 2009

Leeds and Serbia sign up to historic Olympic agreement


Caption: Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Frank Robinson (left) and Djordje Visacki, Secretary General of the Serbian Olympic Committee, sign the agreement in Belgrade

Some of the finest athletes in Serbia will be coming to Leeds to train in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games following the signing of an historic agreement.

A delegation from Leeds including Lord Mayor Councillor Frank Robinson attended a conference in Belgrade to strengthen relations and promote business links between Leeds and the Yorkshire region, and Serbia. The event organised by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce was the follow-up to a successful ‘Doing Business with Serbia’ conference held at Leeds Civic Hall in January.

As part of the Belgrade event, a formal agreement was signed jointly by Leeds and Sheffield City Councils and the Olympic Committee of Serbia which is expected to lead to Serbian athletes using the sports facilities in Leeds and Sheffield for training camps in the UK in preparation for London 2012.

Serbian athletes have already had a taste of what Leeds has to offer, as a group of their sportsmen and women identified as being ‘London 2012 potential’ visited the city for an introductory training camp in September 2008, with the party including some who had competed at the Beijing Olympics the previous month.

The new agreement, the first of its kind for Leeds, represents a commitment from both sides to work together and strengthen ties between Leeds and Serbia in business, sport and culture.

The sports which are likely to featured in the camps in Leeds are swimming, diving, gymnastics and cycling, which could possibly mean swimming star Milorad Cavic, who pushed Michael Phelps all the way as he claimed Silver behind the American sensation in the 100m Men’s Butterfly in Beijing, coming to Leeds. Other sports which could be concentrated on in the camps include basketball, handball and volleyball, which Serbia are recognised as being highly competitive in. A total of 92 Serb athletes in 11 sports took part in the 2008 Beijing Games and the Serbian Olympic Committee have hopes of increasing this number for London 2012.

Serbia’s junior athletes will again be coming to Yorkshire to train ahead of the first-ever Youth Olympic Games which take place in Singapore in 2010, while their senior athletes are also expected to undertake at least one major training camp in Leeds and Sheffield every year leading up to London 2012.

Apart from making use of the training facilities in Leeds, the athletes will also be taking part in English-language courses and working with coaches in Leeds in areas such as nutrition and physiology. The Serbs will be working with the UK Centre for Coaching Excellence based at Leeds Metropolitan University to compare coaching systems and structures in both countries as well as sharing training sessions with Leeds-based athletes and taking part in competitive fixtures against local teams.

Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Frank Robinson said:

“I am delighted to sign this agreement on behalf of the city of Leeds. I am confident the Serbian athletes will enjoy their time in our city, and hopefully the time they spend in Leeds will help them hone their skills to be able to perform at their best in the London 2012 Olympics, which we are all greatly looking forward to.”

Leeds has already seen a financial benefit as international training camps and similar events held over the last 12 months generated more than £50,000 for the local economy. This figure is likely to increase considerably year on year up to London 2012 and also in the longer term due to closer business and cultural ties being developed.

Leeds City Council executive member for Leisure Councillor John Procter said:

“This is fantastic news for Leeds as it shows that we have sports facilities which compare favourably with anywhere else in the UK. It is also important as it helps to show that it is not just London which will benefit from the Olympics coming to Britain, as cities like Leeds get the chance to raise their profile on an international level, so we very much look forward to welcoming our Serbian guests and showing them all the great things that Leeds has to offer.”

For further information on Leeds’ Olympic project go to www.leeds2012.org.uk, or to see how the Yorkshire region is gearing up to London 2012 visit www.yorkshire-gold.com.

Manager of Yorkshire Gold (the region’s London 2012 committee) Kate Auld said:

“Yorkshire’s already starting to attract major international interest in our world-class training facilities for London 2012 - and we’re still three years away. Hosting pre-Games training camps will give people the chance to get involved right on their doorstep; whether it’s watching Olympic hopefuls in training or local businesses securing contracts to take care of the teams when they arrive.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:
Roger Boyde, Learning and Leisure Media Relations Officer,
Tel 0113 247 5472, Email: roger.boyde@leeds.gov.uk

Crackdown on burger vans at the school gates

Vans that park up outside school gates to sell burgers and sweets to schoolchildren are to be targeted in a crackdown by Leeds City Council and Education Leeds.

Schools in Leeds have been reporting an increase of vehicles parking up outside school gates and selling confectionery and fast food to pupils – undermining the healthy eating message and breaching the law.

It is illegal to trade on any public highway without consent from the council. Leeds has no official sites near to schools in the city and has no plans to create such sites in the future.

Any business found selling such foods – which tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt – outside a school can be prosecuted and Leeds City Council is warning such traders that they face heavy fines of £1,000 per day of illegal trading.

The action by the council’s Health & Environmental Action Services team is intended to support Education Leeds’ School Meals Strategy by ensuring children are not targeted by traders selling high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar foods close to schools.

Councillor Steve Smith, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for environmental enforcement, said:
“Trading on the highway outside of schools in Leeds isn’t just breaking the law, it’s also giving mixed messages to our schoolchildren.
“This scheme is very much killing two birds with one stone – we crack down on illegal roadside trading and also ensure that the healthy eating message being put out to youngsters in our schools is not compromised.”

Chris Edwards, chief executive of Education Leeds, said:
“The healthy eating message is vital to protect the long-term health and wellbeing of our children and young people.
“A lot of hard work and effort by our schools is promoting that message, alongside a revolution in school food and drink, to help young people avoid the temptations which may lay outside the school gates.
“By working with the council’s Health & Environmental Action Services team, we can ensure that such temptations are reduced to a minimum.”


Notes for editors:
• The Department of Health and the School Foods Trust have both drawn attention to “junk food” establishments near schools. Research has found that foods purchased by children from shops surrounding schools tended to be high in fat, sugar and salt, raising concerns about lack of regulation.

• The law applies to vans that park outside and target schools – it does not apply to Ice Cream Vans so long as they are moving around i.e. just stop to trade and then move on.

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact;
Michael Molcher, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3937
Email: michael.molcher@leeds.gov.uk

Suspended two year sentence for cage fighting benefit cheat

A martial arts ‘cage fighter’ has avoided gaol but faces a further bill of almost £8,000 after being sentenced for falsely claiming £25,000 in benefits.

At Leeds Crown Court today, Mahboob Hussain Alam received a two year prison sentence suspended for two years for his part in his family’s £75,000 benefit fraud scam. He was also ordered to pay £7,834.45 in costs, having already paid back the £25,270 in housing benefit he had falsely claimed.

After pleading guilty to two counts of producing or furnishing a false document, Alam of 138 Montague Avenue, Leeds, had been warned by the judge that failure to pay the money back would see him sent to prison – his brother, Mohammed Ayoub Alam, has already served six months behind bars for falsely claiming housing benefit of £6,729.

Mahboob Alam – a former builder who runs his own martial arts school on Roundhay Road in Harehills, Leeds, and also ‘cage fights’ under the name ‘Mabsy’ – repaid the money in March. His defence told the court that his mother – who was herself involved in the fraud – was very ill and Alam and his wife, who is five months pregnant, are her primary carers.

Sentencing, Judge John Taylor said he gave Alam credit for his “previous good character” and the fact he had pleaded guilty to the offences. He also accepted that the situation with his wife and mother meant he faced “exceptional circumstances”.

He added:
“These are serious matters all to prevalent in this city and no doubt all over the country, where people make false declarations in order to claim benefits.
“The evidence would suggest it was all pre-planned – at your initial interview you maintained throughout that you had done nothing wrong.
“It’s quite clear … that the offence was financially motivated and in any view that’s a serious matter.”

After obtaining £35,000 by re-mortgaging one of his properties, Alam paid off the £25,000 he owed to the council but the court heard he had used the remaining amount to pay off a credit card and debt run up by his wife. Alam told the court he would take out a loan to cover the payment of costs and he was ordered to pay £500 a month, with the full amount to be paid within 12 months.

Councillor Richard Brett, joint leader of Leeds City Council and executive board member for benefits, said:
“This sentence brings to an end a long and difficult investigation into a family who spun a web of deceit to claim housing benefit that should otherwise have gone to honest claimants.
“This was no ‘honest mistake’ – this was a substantial amount of money claimed over a significant period of time. I am pleased that the judge accepted that and that those involved have been brought to book.
“We will not hesitate in prosecuting where people have dishonestly claimed money that they are not entitled to. Benefits are there for people who need them, not those who think it is a free handout.”

In a convoluted conspiracy of fraud Alam, his brother, his mother and his brother’s ex-wife falsely claimed almost £75,000 in housing benefits, which allowed the family to buy numerous properties across the city.

His brother, Mohammed Ayoub Alam, was sentenced in December at the same time as his ex-wife, mother-of-four Rakysana Bibi Muneer, who was given a 16 month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after falsely claiming £42,677.

Mahboob Alam had even involved his elderly mother, Fazel Alam, transferring properties into her name before charging her rent and filling out applications for housing and council tax benefit that stated she did not own any properties.

Leeds City Council began to unravel the web of lies spun by the family when data held on benefit and land registry records in February 2005 was cross-checked.

Muneer lived on Carr Manor Grove, Leeds, with her four children and claimed she was renting the property from private landlord Mahboob Hussain. But the cross-checked data showed the owner of 9 Carr Manor Grove was actually Mohammed Ayoub Alam, Muneer’s ex-husband.

Muneer, who had lived in the property since 1997, admitted she knew her ex-husband owned the property and had failed to declare that her children were Mohammed Alam’s – she was therefore not eligible to receive housing benefit.

Mohammed Alam was also claiming housing benefit since 1995 from a house on Milan Road when he was in fact a joint owner of the property. In addition, he claimed housing benefit for a house on Dorset Mount, but failed to declare he was the owner of two other properties.

The mother, Fazel Alam, claimed housing and council tax benefit for 87 Bayswater Row, Leeds and also from the house on Milan Road. She had named her landlord as Mahboob, who had completed some of her applications for housing and council tax benefit, but had failed to declare that she had owned numerous properties. Due to her age it was decided not to take proceedings against her.

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact;
Michael Molcher, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3937
Email: michael.molcher@leeds.gov.uk

Specialist inclusive learning centre hosts dinner dance

The North West SILC (Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre) in Meanwood is hosting a charity dinner to raise funds for new equipment for the 180 children and young people who attend.

The SILC provides support and education to children and young people with learning difficulties and money raised will help buy new playground and sensory equipment.

The event will take place at the Thorpe Park Hotel and Spa from 7pm on Saturday 11 July and includes a three course meal with after dinner dance, auction and raffle.

Jane Reed, development director at the North West SILC, said:
“Our children and young people are some of the most vulnerable in society and we are passionate about giving them the best multi-sensory experience. We hope this dinner will raise lots of money to allow us to buy new equipment to make their time with us as beneficial as possible.”

Tickets cost £35 per person and with places limited to just 150, early booking is recommended. For more information or to reserve tickets, contact Alison Ings at ingsa02@leedslearning.net or Sue Knights at sueknights14@msn.com.
ENDS
For media enquiries please contact:
Jon Crampton, Leeds City Council press office, 0113 3951577
Email: jon.crampton@leeds.gov.uk

Fostering: A career that changes lives

Leeds City Council today launched an appeal for people in Leeds to consider a 'fostering career' and asks them to look at the skills and qualities they have which could help make them a great foster carer.

Leeds City Council is supporting the annual national campaign to raise awareness about fostering and foster carer recruitment. Foster Care Fortnight (11 - 24 May 2009) is organised by The Fostering Network – the national campaigning fostering charity.

Across the UK there is a shortage of around 10,000 foster carers - in Leeds more foster carers are needed particularly for school age children and teenagers who need fostering support for both short and long term placements, as well as carers of diverse ethnic origins.

Fostering has changed dramatically over the last few years and is now seen as a skilled and highly valued profession that can be combined with family life. There are some great foster carers in Leeds but more are needed - ideally a diverse range of people from the widest range of backgrounds, skills and experience to help vulnerable children and young people.

This year Leeds is emphasising the need for people to assist older children and young people including those who require help in a 'crisis' or at short notice and those who need planned short period 'respite' support. There is also a need for more foster carers to provide planned long term placements for school-age children, often through their teens to help them gain their independence.


The council offers comprehensive support, training and financial assistance for its foster carers, including 'full time' fostering career opportunities. Leeds rewards its foster carers’ considerable range of skills and dedication through a ‘Payment for Skills’ scheme.

Children and young people who need this type of support are sometimes vulnerable and need intensive support so commitment is especially needed from people with some background skills and experience and who are confident with childcare and can offer separate bedroom space. Leeds wants to prioritise people to foster who feel their circumstances reflect these expectations.

Councillor Stewart Golton, executive board member responsible for Children’s Services. said:
''It is important to remember is that we’re not looking for superheroes; it’s not about taking the young people on trips to the seaside every week, we just want to hear from people who think they have the time, patience and commitment to help some of the city’s most vulnerable youngsters.

“Many young people have not benefited from a secure family life and can be experiencing a range of difficulties that need dedicated support, which is why we are looking for some very special people who want to make fostering their career.”

There is no such thing as a typical foster carer; they can be single, married, divorced or widowed, with or without children of their own, employed or unemployed.

People of all ethnic origins are needed - children benefit from living with families who share their own culture, language and religion. A diverse range of people with the right skills and qualities to foster are required to meet the needs of looked after children.

Leeds foster carer, Helen Campbell, who works with teenagers said:
“Foster carers are provided with a range of financial and professional support. We also have a range of training opportunities to assist us in what is at times a challenging job. Looking after vulnerable youngsters is hugely rewarding - helping to turn their lives around through your own skills and experience and by working as part of a professional team brings a great sense of achievement.“

This year to coincide with foster care fortnight, a civic reception will recognise the outstanding achievements of a number of Leeds foster carers. The long service awards which will be hosted by the Lord Mayor on the 15th May, are a tribute to those carers who have reached milestones in their careers, including foster carers who are retiring after, in some cases, over 25 years service.

Cllr Golton added;“Foster care fortnight and the civic reception provide us with a great opportunity to raise awareness of, and celebrate, the wonderful commitment and support that Leeds foster carers give to children and young people in Leeds, and highlight the need for more people to come forward to help make a difference.”

Those interested in fostering can contact 0113 247 4747 for advice and an information pack or can visit: www.leeds.gov.uk/fostering

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council Press Office, on (0113) 2474713
Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk

Council worker in line for top national award

A council worker – who has dedicated 30 years of his life to helping people from across Leeds – is in line for a top national accolade.

Stuart Simmons, manager of the Osmondthorpe resource centre, has made the final shortlist for the 'caring' category in the National Council Worker of the Year awards.

Stuart was nominated in recognition of the work he does which more often than not goes over and above the call of duty.

Osmondthorpe resource centre supports disabled people, mainly those recovering from serious head injuries, and over the last 15 years Stuart has helped over 400 people overcome the trauma they've suffered, return to life in the community and find new employment.

Many of the people who Stuart has supported – and their carers - describe his work as 'life transforming' while his colleagues credit him with regularly 'going the extra mile' saying he is 'passionate, dedicated and determined' to inspire people to realise their potential. Stuart is well known for promoting and developing the centre, its staff and the people who use it.

He's no stranger to caring for others – in the past Stuart volunteered for the YMCA and worked on a community project in Ghana. He moved to Leeds in 1976 working for free in a children's home before joining Leeds City Council where he went on to specialise in learning disabilities.

Last year he was honoured with the city council's social care worker of the year award after securing more than 165 nominations from colleagues and centre users.

This latest nomination – for Council Worker of the Year – means Stuart is up against competition from across the country. It is a national accolade, open to council staff everywhere, and is being organised by the Local Government Channel TV station.

Now, Stuart's colleagues are beginning a 'campaign' to get him enough votes to secure the top honour which would be presented at a glitzy ceremony in July.

Votes can be cast in three ways:

By visiting http://www.thelocalgovernmentchannel.com/awards/#/c/caring_2009/v/stuart_simmons/ and clicking on the 'vote now' icon.

By sending the text message 'LGATV 5 StuartS' to 80039

By downloading a voting form from the Leeds City Council website here: www.leeds.gov.uk/stuartsimmons.

Voting is underway now and ends on June 18th.

Councillor Peter Harrand, executive board member with responsibility for adult social care said:

“The council's vast army of social care staff who provide high quality services to the people of Leeds receive little public recognition – but this is a chance to change that.

“Stuart's Osmondthorpe centre is the jewel in the crown in Leeds.

“Frankly, I'm not surprised Stuart is in the running for what is possibly the most prestigious public sector award of its kind in the country – it is certainly well deserved.

I just hope we can muster enough votes to bring the accolade home to our city.”

ENDS
For media enquiries please contact:
Andy Carter, Leeds City Council Press Office (0113) 395 0393
email: andy.carter@leeds.gov.uk