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Council tax up 5.99% in Somerset

People in Somerset will pay £67 extra a year in council tax from April, after the county council agreed its budget this afternoon.

The Conservative-led authority voted through a 5.99% increase in its share of the council tax bill. Half of the increase will go on adult social care.

The budget was agreed by 33 votes to 20 with opposition Liberal Democrats and other parties voting against the proposal.

The budget includes nearly £9m of savings, including £3m by “enabling the elderly to do more for themselves” and £2.5m from children’s services.

Protesters gathered outside the council meeting to protest about budget cuts
Protesters gathered outside the council meeting to protest about budget cuts

Women's bobsleigh team try for medals today

The women's bobsleigh duo, Mica McNeill and Mica Moore, lie in sixth position as they approach today's final runs.

After raising more than £40,000 via crowdfunding and paying for their own bobsleigh, the Bath-based athletes will hope a successful run today will help them avoid future funding crises.

The UK Sport grant was withdrawn after budget cuts five months ago.

Watch: The British women's bobsleigh team semi-final run put them 6th going into the final
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MPs send Brexit 'suggestions' to Theresa May

Jacob Rees Mogg
Jacob Rees Mogg is one of the MPs who have signed the letter to Theresa May

More than 60 Conservative MPs, including five from the Westcountry, have signed a letter to Theresa May making a series of "suggestions" about the government's Brexit strategy.

Yeovil MP, Marcus Fysh, James Gray, who represents North Wiltshire, Filton and Bradley Stoke MP, Jack Lopresti, Weston-super-Mare MP, John Penrose and NE Somerset's MP, Jacob Rees Mogg are amongst the signatories.

The letter from the European Research Group says the UK should be free to negotiate and sign trade deals with other countries as soon as it leaves.

The MPs also want "full regulatory autonomy" for the UK after March 2019.

Bobsleigh campaign gathers speed

Two athletes who train at the University of Bath are hoping for medal success at the Winter Olympics later.

Bobsleighers Mica McNeill and Mica Moore raised £40,000 in a crowdfunding campaign, to get to the Games, after their UK Sport grants were withdrawn.

They are currently just 0.16 of a second away from a medal.

A top-five finish could see their official funding reinstated.

Their final runs are due to begin at around 11:50 BST.

Bobsleighers Mica McNeill and Mica Moore
BBC Sport

NFU could vote for first female president

Minette Batters

The National Farmer's Union has a chance to vote for its first female president later.

The Wiltshire beef farmer, Minette Batters, is one of the candidates being put forward at the NFU's annual conference in Birmingham.

According to the NFU website, Minette Batters runs a "diversified, mixed farming business that includes horse livery, a wedding and corporate events venue, and a catering business specialising in home-grown produce".

The decision over who will be the next president will be announced this afternoon.

Somerset farmer James Small is also in the running to be the organisation's Vice President

Otterly gorgeous cub in care

Watch: See the otter cub

An otter cub rescued last weekend in Bridgwater is being cared for at a wildlife centre.

She's been named "Amore" because she was found soon after Valentine's Day.

Laura Benfield is head of animal care at Secret World Wildlife Rescue, in East Hunstpill.

Bobsleigh pair in sixth place after first day

Watch: Mica McNeill and Mica Moore in action

Two athletes who train at the University of Bath are in sixth place at the halfway point in the bobsleigh at Pyeongchang.

Mica McNeill and Mica Moore end round two just 0.16 seconds off bronze medal position.

The pair financed their own trip to the games by crowdfunding £40,000 after their UK Sport grants were withdrawn due to budget cuts.

Bobsleigh team

Council 'saddened' by drowned cyclist's death

Sean Phillips

The family of Sean Phillips, 40, who fell from his bicycle and drowned in Bristol harbour are suing the council over his death.

Bristol City Council denies any fault.

A spokesperson for the authority said: “We were deeply saddened by this tragic accident which took the life of Sean Phillips in 2014.

"Safety around the harbourside area is hugely important and we are continuing to work hard to balance the risks for all users.”

Red flare set off by protester at Bristol City Council meeting.
A woman who said her daughter was "failed" by social services set off a flare during a council meeting.

Environment Secretary praises Somerset farmers

Watch: Michael Gove praises dairy farmers

The Environment Secretary is suggesting some of the money the UK sends to the EU could be spent on improving internet connections in rural areas after Brexit.

In a speech to the National Farmers' Union conference, Michael Gove said agriculture is now more central to government thinking than at any point in half a century.

And he praised dairy farmers for helping to make the South West such a special part of the country:

Sliders in sixth position

All 20 teams in the women's bobsleigh event have completed a run in Pyeongchang.

Great Britain's pair are currently sixth. The teams will slide again shortly.

Bath-based British duo Mica McNeill and Mica Moore managed to raise more than £40,000 to fund their own trip to the olympics, after UK sport funding for their campaign had to be cut.

Mica McNeill and Mica Moore

On board the historic ship The Matthew

On board the historic ship The Matthew with the crew.
In 1497 the explorer John Cabot set sail from Bristol to Newfoundland in The Matthew. 

More than five centuries later, a replica ship in Bristol's historic harbour takes visitors on trips up the Avon Gorge.

We join skipper Rik Wakeham and his son Billy as they take to the helm and deal with the challenges involved in sailing the ship.

Bristol: A bird's eye view

Take an aerial tour of Bristol and get a bird's eye view of the city.
Take an aerial tour of Bristol and get a bird's eye view of the city's harbour, the docks and the River Avon.

An incredible story of determined women athletes concludes today

Olympic women's bobsleigh pair, Mica McNeill and Mica Moore, will reach the culmination of a determined and costly campaign this morning.

The Bath-based pair had their UK Sport funding withdrawn last year, after budget restraints meant only the higher-ranking men's team could be funded to go to Pyeongchang.

After years of training, the women decided to crowdfund in an effort to compete - and they raised more than £40,000.

Their last sliding runs will begin shortly at around 11:50 BST today. Read more here.

WATCH: The Bath-based women's bobsleigh team funded their own Olympic campaign

Determined women's bobsleigh team compete today

Mica McNeill and Mica Moore will compete this morning
Mica McNeill and Mica Moore will compete this morning

The British women's bobsleigh team - who train at the University of Bath - will be hoping for a fairy-tale ending in Pyeongchang today.

Mica McNeill and Mica Moore- who train at Bath University - heard five months ago that UK Sport funding for them was to be withdrawn in the face of budget cuts.

They have only been able to compete after crowdfunding their own trip to the tune of £40,000, and paying for their own bobsleigh and its transportation.

The pair will be sliding at around 11:50am BST. Finishing in the top could ensure they are funded in future campaigns.

Read more about their story here.

Council tax rises across the West continue


Council tax increases are expected to approved later by councillors in Bristol, North Somerset and Wiltshire.

Bristol is proposing a rise of just under 5% in order to address a budget deficit of £108m over 5 years.

Wiltshire is trying to save £26m. Councillors have proposed a rise of 6% to cover it.

Meanwhile, councillors in North Somerset are expected to approve a council tax rise of just under 6% as it looks to plug an £11million deficit by the end of next year.

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Bristol Mayor: 'How will UK cities relate to European cities?'

Watch: Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees says that so far the Brexit talks haven't taken into account how UK cities will relate to European cities.

Today, he's been meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to discuss how the shared interests of UK cities, local communities and businesses can be best met in the lead up to, and period after, Brexit.

He was there with 10 other UK mayors representing the Core Cities, which are home to 20m people and generate 25% of the UK economy.

Marvin Rees: Brexit 'concerns need to be considered'

Watch: Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees is in Brussels today, meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

He says he's there to make sure the Brexit deal reflects the needs of cities like Bristol.

Bristol is an international city. People speak 91 languages, come from 187 countries and practise at least 45 religions. Our diversity is an asset which we need to build on – and starting a dialogue with Europe is part of that fundamental work.

Marvin ReesMayor of Bristol

Man held over death of woman in park

Lyngford Park

A man has been arrested following the death of a woman in a park in Taunton.

The woman was discovered in Lyngford Park, off Eastwick Road, on Sunday morning.

Avon and Somerset Police said a man aged in his 50s from the town had been arrested.

A spokesman said the death was being treated as unexplained but a post-mortem examination was due to take place later today.

An area of the park near the skate park remains cordoned off.

City leader in Brussels to discuss post-Brexit relationships

Watch: Mayor Marvin Rees to meet with Michel Barnier in Brussels

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees will meet with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today to discuss how the shared interests of UK cities, local communities and businesses can be best met in the lead-up to, and after, Brexit.

Along with other leaders and mayors representing the so-called Core Cities UK - the ten UK cities at the heart of the biggest urban areas outside London - the Bristol mayor will begin a dialogue to ensure the voices of UK cities are heard.

He says he wants to ensure Bristol gets a deal that it doesn't regret in the years to come.

Skeleton medal in the cupboard: more to be revealed?

Britain's Lizzy Yarnold - who trains at Bath University - today recorded the fastest time in the first heat of the women's skeleton at the #WinterOlympics.

The defending champion's hoping to repeat her success at Sochi in 2014.

It's the final tomorrow, on what has been dubbed 'Super Saturday'. Coverage begins at 11:20 BST.

Meanwhile, Bath's Dom Parsons has been reflecting on becoming a bronze-medal-winner: he gained Great Britain's first gong of the Winter Olympics in the early hours of this morning:

Winter Olympics: Skeleton bronze caps a 10-year journey - Parsons reflects
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Tributes to be paid to M5 crash victim tonight

Elaina Beard

Balloons will be released this evening in memory of a woman who died in a serious crash on the M5 in Somerset last week.

Friends of 29-year-old Elaina Beard have organised the event outside her home in Bridgwater.

Hundreds of people have paid tribute to the careworker whose employers described her as a hugely valued and liked member of staff.

Bus routes decline: Council's 'big responsibility to bear'

A Nippy bus

Parish councillor Dave Amor has seen his village of Ilton, home to about 500 people, cut off from public transport since the loss of the Nippy bus last year.

Only recently, Ilton's local shop closed down leaving even basic services a car journey away.

A dial-a-ride service does exist, but users must give two days notice before they can book it.

"It does work if you just want to go shopping on a certain day," said Mr Amor.

“But where it falls down is doctors appointments, stuff where you don't know where you are going to be going two days in advance. You can't just find a bus on that day if you need it."

The father-of-two and BT engineer believes the county council should re-tender the contract held by Nippy Bus. "Somerset County has a big responsibility to bear here,” he added.

"We sympathise with the fact they need to cut costs, but they need to look after the people who are vulnerable.They are still supporting the profitable routes."

The BBC today released analysis of the decline in bus routes, across the country, over the last decade.

Bus routes decline 'leaves you feeling isolated'

A bus stop

Across Britain, 134 million miles of bus coverage has been lost over the past decade.

The network of bus routes has shrunk to levels akin to the late 1980s, according to new BBC analysis.

Melissa Whittaker, who launched a petition to improve public transport in Somerset, says cuts have left people stranded in the county.

Her son Issac, aged three, has autism and often attends South Petherton Community Hospital.

But the 10-mile journey from Chard to South Petherton, where the nearest community hospital is, can take more than three hours because there's no direct route and large distances to travel on foot at either end.

A driver could make the same journey in 20 minutes, while the whole trip could be walked in just over three hours.

For me I can’t consider adult training sessions at Yeovil College for instance. Things like socialising are just impossible. It leaves you feeling isolated because you just can’t access these destinations. There are bus routes, but because the transfer times do not link up it is difficult to get anywhere you need to go.

Melissa Whittaker
A map displaying routes between Chard and South Petherton

A spokesperson for Somerset County Council said there hadn't ever been a direct bus service between Chard and South Petherton "due to the lack of demand".

"There would be too few passengers wanting to travel between the towns and on to the hospital to make even a supported bus service viable," they added.

Winter Olympics: Watch Parsons win his bronze medal

Laura Deas and Lizzy Yarnold

The second run for Lizzy Yarnold is at 12.30pm.

While we wait, let's have a little look back on Dom Parsons, who also trains at the University of Bath.

He took skeleton bronze in dramatic fashion to win Team GB's first medal of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Watch: Dom Parson's wins skeleton bronze

Winter Olympics: Lizzy Yarnold prepares for medal defence

Lizzy yarnold
Getty Images

In just under an hour, Lizzy Yarnold will begin her defence of her Olympic title.

Yarnold won Team GB's only gold in 2014, and she's the first woman to attempt to defend an Olympic skeleton title.

Melksham's Laura Deas will also be competing in the event.

They are both based at the University of Bath.

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Last chance for your own cup glory!


FA People's Cup sign-up graphic - deadline this Sunday
BBC Sport

The deadline to get involved in the 2018 FA People's Cup is midnight THIS Sunday - so get your entry in now.

  • It's FREE
  • There are 18 different categories
  • You get the chance to play at St George's Park and go to the FA Cup final

What have you got to lose?

Find out all the details and how to sign up here.

Winter Olympics: Bath Uni's Dom Parsons wins GB's first medal

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Bath University's Dom Parsons has become Team GB's first medal winner of the Winter Olympics.

After a dramatic final run, Parsons finished 0.11 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Martins Dukurs with a time of three minutes 22.20 seconds.

Parsons looked to have lost out on a medal until world champion Dukurs made mistakes on his final run.

South Korea's Yun Sung-bin won gold by a huge 1.63secs with Nikita Tregubov, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, second.

Watch out for skeleton medals by the Bath athletes overnight

Bath University's Dom Parsons could be Team GB's first medal winner of the Winter Olympics.

The 30-year-old is just outside the medal places after the halfway stage of the men's skeleton and a big medal hope for the GB team.

The final day of slides begins tonight - he'll be in action from just after midnight tonight GMT, along with Olympic debut team-mate Jerry Rice.

Mid-morning tomorrow will see the women's races and hopes conclude.

BBC Sport has all the latest updates.

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Fire service has pet masks on all engines

Watch: Fire service has pet masks on all engines

Devon and Somerset Fire Service has become one of the first in the country to have pet oxygen masks on all of its engines.

The organisation Smokey Paws, which was founded in Weston-super-Mare, provides the masks to fire services across the UK.

The masks have been welcomed by fire fighters and the RSPCA.

Skeleton hopes from Bath

Bath University-based men's skeleton athlete, Jerry Rice, is making his Olympic debut in PyeongChang, alongside some of the names with medla hopes: Dom Parsons and Lizzie Yarnold for the women's competition.

The men's competition concludes overnight, starting shortly after midnight tonight GMT.

He's gaining in the training stakes: Rice improved from 14th on his first run to eighth on his second.

And gaining fans too - the Rice Pudding Fan Club has begun to pop up on social media:

View more on twitter

Fire engines to be equipped with pet oxygen masks

BBC Spotlight

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service now has pet oxygen masks on all its engines.

The organisation Smokeypaws provides the masks to fire services across the UK.

With so many homes having a pet, it is hoped the masks will give more animals a better chance of survival after a fire.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service received 31 pet oxygen kits in December.

Dog with oxygen mask

Pet rescue hits new level with oxygen masks for animals

Pets in Somerset will be given rapid first aid at the scene of fires, thanks to oxygen masks carried by fire crews.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has become one of the first in the country to have pet oxygen masks on all of their engines.

The masks are made in different sizes to fit pets from dogs to hamsters.

The organisation Smokey Paws - which was founded in Weston-super-Mare - provides the masks to fire services across the UK.

Oxygen masks for pets
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue introduces pet oxygen masks on all of their engines
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue is introducing pet oxygen masks on all of its engines

Bath Uni's Parsons has 'real chance' of medal - analysis

Amy Williams

Olympic gold medallist skeleton racer on BBC TV

Dom Parsons is so, so close. He's just got to hold it together. He's in a good place. The team's doing really well, and he just has to forget what's happened and go again.

He's got a real chance of a medal. It looks like he is in reach of a bronze or a silver if he can just get his start right.

Dom is getting on really well with the track. We've never had a medal for the men's skeleton.

In the women's, Lizzie Yarnold and Laura Deas have been among the fastest in training. Lizzie's got the experience and Laura's been in great form, so there's real hope for them too.

Tap here to read more via BBC Sport.

Third arrest after Manchester attack on Somerset man

Gary from Somerset suffered a serious head injury in Manchester
Police handout

A third man has been arrested after a Somerset man was knocked unconscious as he tried to break up a fight in Manchester last Saturday night.

Gary, 58, was found with a serious head injury outside the Printworks in the city centre on the night he was celebrating his future son-in-law's stag do.

He has had emergency surgery but is yet to wake up.

A 25-year-old man was arrested near to the scene on suspicion of affray and a 32-year-old was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.

They have both been released under investigation.

A third man, aged 27, was arrested on suspicion of assault and has also been released under investigation.

Some of the ways BANES intends to spend and save

According to Bath and North East Somerset Council, here are some of the ways it intends to spend and save its approved budget.

Spending includes:

  • An extra £3.9m for adult social care
  • An extra £3.1m for children’s services
  • £19m investment in road and transport improvements
  • £8.7m for new school buildings and primary school places

Saving includes:

  • Generating an extra £1.6m a year from the council’s heritage estate
  • By 2020 earning over £500,000 a year from the creation of a council-owned housing company
  • Saving £600,000 from reducing and leasing-out council office space
  • Saving £800,000 by 2019/20 by integrating library and information services in Bath and Midsomer Norton
  • Earning an extra £100,000 a year from renegotiating the Bath Spa profit share agreement

This budget will ensure the council lives within its means whilst at the same time providing additional investment in vital services such as social care, housing and transport. These are challenging times for local authorities, but our aim is to make the council financially self-sufficient so that in future we do not have to rely on government funding to invest in local priorities.

Councillor Charles GerrishConservative; Cabinet member for finance and efficiency

Council tax rise approved for Bath

Allsport/Getty Images

Council tax will rise by almost five per cent for residents in Bath and North East Somerset, following approval at a council meeting.

In order to "increase investment" in children’s services and adult social care, councillors agreed a 1.95% rise in Council Tax together with a 3% rise for the Adult Social Care precept.

Despite the difficult decisions required to balance the budget, we are continuing to protect the majority of front-line services, such as street cleaning, whilst increasing funding for social care services. At the same time, we are investing in infrastructure projects that will improve local transport, support job creation, and provide the new affordable homes our area needs.

Cllr Tim WarrenLeader of Bath & North East Somerset Council

Plan to hike council tax in Bath being debated

The Guildhall, Bath

Plans to raise council tax by almost 5% in Bath and North East Somerset are being debated at a council meeting.

BANES council has a budget gap of almost £60m over the next three years.

It has already announced plans to cut its workforce by 15%, and the authority's leadership talks of being "self-sufficient" by 2020.

Tap here to watch the live webcast of the meeting.

Winter Olympics: Lizzy Yarnold excels in skeleton training

Lizzy Yarnold

Britain's defending champion Lizzy Yarnold, who trains at the University of Bath, was fastest in the final run on the second day of women's skeleton training in Pyeongchang on Tuesday.

Britain is looking to make it a hat-trick of titles in the women's event.

Yarnold said: "It's a joy to slide on. It's very fast and the ice is so smooth and wonderful, it's such a good quality track. You can hear the air rushing past you."

Tap here to read more.

Actress 'extremely shocked' by husband's death

Ashley Jenson
BBC / Rollem Productions

A statement from actress Ashley Jenson was read during the inquest into the death of her husband, Terence Beesley.

He died on 30 November last year as a result of suicide, the coroner ruled.

Ms Jenson said she had last spoken to him via text message and email on the afternoon of his death.

I was extremely shocked by what happened that night and I will never forget it. Terry and I had been together for 18 years but I had no idea he was capable of what he did.

Ashley JensenActress