Should I accept a promotion without a payrise?

I don’t know whether to refuse more work while remaining on my current pay, or embrace the opportunity to beef up my CV while being underpaid

Each Friday and Monday we publish the problems that will feature in a forthcoming Dear Jeremy advice column in the Guardian Money supplement so that readers can offer their own advice and suggestions. We then print the best of your comments alongside Jeremy’s own insights. Here is the latest dilemma – what are your thoughts?

I’ve been employed in a secretarial/support position for the past two years. There have been many changes to my role within that time, and I have taken on and lost various responsibilities.

My line manager, who previously did my job, has struggled in her position and taken the decision to leave the company. I am very worried it will be assumed that I will take on her responsibilities.

While I relish the opportunity to learn and move forward in my career, I know for a fact the company will refuse to pay me more for it. I have pushed several times for a pay rise but got nowhere.

My dilemma is, do I dig my heels in and refuse to take on this work while remaining on a secretarial pay grade, or should I embrace the opportunity to learn more things and beef up my CV while knowing I am underpaid?

• For Jeremy’s and readers’ advice on a work issue, send a brief email to dear.jeremy@guardian.co.uk. Please note that he is unable to answer questions of a legal nature or reply personally.

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London: the everything capital of the world

The Great Wen is rated number one in the world for everything from divorce to breakfast. How should Londoners feel about living in the libel and money-laundering capital of the world?

This week London has been called the libel capital of the world, and the divorce capital of the world. Previously, just a few months before last summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, the notoriously picky users of TripAdvisor named it the best city in the world to visit, ahead of New York and Rome. London has also been crowned, variously, the fashion capital of the world, the shopping capital of the world, and the food capital of the world. It’s a lot of caps to be wearing. What else is London the capital of? And are these titles justified?

Divorce capital of the world

London could never beat Vegas for weddings, but by jingo, it can do divorce. Its divorce courts display a pleasing (for one party at least) sympathy for the less well-off spouse. Phil Collins’ ex Orianne Cevey received a £25m settlement in 2008, and Heather Mills secured £24.3m that same year. As the London mayor (almost) said in 2012: “Come, all ye injured spouses, bring your wealthy other halves to the cleaners!”

Libel capital of the world

British libel laws are 170 years old. A defamation bill has been chugging away for three years, but now is in jeopardy, having become entangled in the debate about press regulation. The international wealthy love British courts, which, when it comes to libel, seem to be “skewed in favour of the plaintiff”, as Richard Dawkins once put it. (Boris Berezovsky, Jennifer Lopez and Kate Hudson have all brought cases here). In 2010, Barack Obama introduced a law in America to protect US citizens from British courts.

Food capital of the world

Joel Robuchon called London “very possibly the gastronomic capital of the world”. London has it all, from authentic pie and mash to cutting-edge Michelin-starred magic to the de rigueur no-reservation food trucks and restaurants (imported from New York and made snootier here). True, there’s always a Macedonian-Danish chef trying out a new ennui-and-sea-kelp dish, snapping at London’s heels, but the British capital has diversity, it has hipsters who photograph food. It has chicken shops.

Banking capital of the world

For the past few years, the British people have been living under the threat that if the government chases the capital’s bankers away – say, by capping their bonuses – London will fall, losing its crown as one of the world’s financial capitals. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) says job cuts and falling bonuses would allow New York and Hong Kong take over – but would they, and would that be a bad thing? Perhaps a liberated London could become a different capital. World capital of moderate remuneration, say.

Breakfast capital of the world

Last month the Evening Standard claimed that London was the breakfast capital of the world. This, after all, is the land of the full English breakfast. And as long as pigs still taste delicious when cooked and chickens still lay eggs, it will remain so. This. Is. London.

Luxury homes capital of the world

Really, London has been called this too. A recent report by Christies International compares 10 of the world’s top property markets and ranks them across key metrics such as record sales price, prices per square foot, and so on. London came out ahead of Hong Kong, Cote d’Azur, LA. But perhaps you only needed to look at the Shard to guess that. Look at it, and kneel before Sauron.

Money-laundering capital of the world

Admittedly, it’s not entirely flattering, but a #1 is a #1, right? For more than a decade there have been stories about how London is one of the world’s money-laundering capitals. Last year Private Eye published a major investigation into the dirty money washing through British banks and tax havens. On the positive side, if the bankers get chased away (see above), perhaps this one would get sorted out too?

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Mother’s Day: consumerism gone mad

Once, a card and a phone call, maybe some flowers or chocolates, was enough. Now we’re being told to buy our mothers iPads, expensive handbags and overpriced candles. How much are we offspring expected to spend?

“Surprise Mum with a new iPad” ran the subject line. Although I was worried that a new iPad might set me back more than last year’s Mother’s Day gift (some Milk Tray and a set meal at an industrial park Beefeater), I nevertheless opened Apple’s email. Thank heavens I did, because inside was an offer that cheapskates like me couldn’t possibly say no to. An Apple TV box, a snip at £99. The tagline? “Now showing whatever Mum wants.”

Leaving aside the strong chance that the slogan is wrong – Apple TV probably isn’t full of Cliff Richard concerts and back-to-back Holby City episodes – this is a perfect example of how berserk the consumerism surrounding Mother’s Day has become. Once upon a time, you could get away with giving your mum a card or, if you were feeling especially flush, a handful of limp petrol-station daffodils. But now? Now the whole thing has turned into Valentine’s Day: Oedipus Edition.

Everywhere you go, shelves are heaving with mum-specific chintz. Chocolates. Teapots. More knackered old “Keep Calm And Love Your Mum” merchandise than you could possibly count. And no wonder – Marketing Week estimates that Mother’s Day is worth £400m to retailers. That’s a million iPads. We’re talking big numbers here. The message is simple: offspring need to up their game.

Research conducted this year by Kantar Worldpanel has shown that we’re all spending twice as much on Mother’s Day as we were a decade ago, averaging about £20 each, and increasingly on things such as clothes and toiletries. But you get the feeling that maybe that isn’t even enough.

Yesterday’s Evening Standard contained an eight-page Mother’s Day gift supplement featuring an £87 candle, some Stella McCartney perfume and a bag that will set you back more than £1,000. And this was in the Evening Standard – the newspaper for people too stingy to buy their own newspaper. Imagine how much more the rest of us are expected to spend.

It’s clear that we’re reaching a crisis point. Mother’s Day consumerism has spiralled dangerously out of control. Yes, our mothers gave us the gift of life, and lavished food and shelter and unconditional love upon us until we were old enough to fend for ourselves, but is that really worth an iPad? Really? A whole iPad? Hardly.

Perhaps the answer is to find some simple workarounds. If restaurants are full of expensive set meals on Mothering Sunday, why not take mum out for a normal meal the day after? Instead of shelling out on a ripoff full-price bouquet of flowers tomorrow, buy the leftovers on Monday and keep them in a cupboard until next year, the way that people sometimes do with Christmas cards.

Or, you know, just phone your mum up or something. You never phone your mum up any more, do you?

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Should I take a new job or stay in a safe role?

I have the chance of a new role at a larger firm, perhaps with better prospects, but my current job is fun, flexible and secure

Each Friday and Monday we publish the problems that will feature in a forthcoming Dear Jeremy advice column in the Guardian Money supplement so that readers can offer their own advice and suggestions. We then print the best of your comments alongside Jeremy’s own insights. Here is the latest dilemma – what are your thoughts?

I work in a senior position for a long-established law firm, where I’ve been for a decade. It is flexible, enjoyable and pays well. However, there have recently been financial issues which I’m reassured are a blip, and while work is harder to come by, it will pick up. We made redundancies last year but I was never considered.

I was contacted by a recruiter for a role in a larger, more corporate firm that I went for and got. I’ve taken it, but I am now having second thoughts – my boss is ace and I feel that it may just be that I’ve had my head turned. No job is without risk these days, regardless of firm or industry.

So should I stay for the security of length of service and flexibility, or go to the new role with potentially better career prospects and challenges but with the fear of moving after so long? Friends and family argue for and against – and my firm categorically doesn’t want me to go.

• For Jeremy’s and readers’ advice on a work issue, send a brief email to dear.jeremy@guardian.co.uk. Please note that he is unable to answer questions of a legal nature or reply personally.

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The ethical grocer hoping to expand

Ethical grocers offer an alternative to supermarket chains, but can they hope to expand while maintaining their principles?

Absence has not made my heart grow more fond of supermarkets, but there are times when I miss their sheer convenience.

Since I gave up shopping in them almost a year ago I have halved my grocery bills, wasted less food, cut down on packaging and avoided eating horsemeat.

My routine now involves going to the local high street for fresh produce, making regular online bulk-buys and growing my own vegetables.

In busy weeks, not being able to buy everything from broccoli to bleach in the same place can seem a bit time consuming. What I would like is to be able to shop in a larger, affordable grocery. A supermarket, if you like, but one with an ethical policy.

Such places do exist: I’m thinking of the Unicorn Grocery in Manchester, the Real Food Store in Exeter, the True Food Community Co-op in Reading, London’s The People’s Supermarket, and The People’s Supermarket in Oxford. These are places where you can get a week’s worth of groceries, including wine and washing up liquid, and not pay inflated “artisan” prices for the privilege.

The models of these shops vary slightly, but at their most basic level they work a bit like a large scale buying group. Set up as social enterprises rather than profit-driven companies, they aim to make sure suppliers are paid fairly, but the fact they are affordable is the key to their success.

Unicorn Grocery, for example, regularly publishes its organic fruit and vegetable prices, which are consistently cheaper than supermarkets’ non-organic produce. Currently, Unicorn says its organic cherry vine tomatoes cost £4.82 a kg, while at the nearby Tesco it claims comparable, non-organic tomatoes cost £6.25 a kg.

At the Real Food Store the organic free range eggs “are cheaper than anywhere outside of Poundland”, according to one of the directors, David Mezzetti. “And they’re local – the eggs come from less than seven miles away.”

The problem is, of course, that we don’t all live near a co-operative grocery (as it happens, I don’t live near any of them). So what would be handy is an affordable, ethical chain of supermarkets.

Perhaps it’s not as unlikely a concept as it seems: Brighton-based Ruth and Amy Anslow are in the process of setting up a chain they claim will be “fit for the 21st century” – hisBe Food CIC. “The existing supermarkets are unethical, boring and old-fashioned,” Ruth says. “We think it’s time for a change.”

HisBe Food CIC, which stands for How it should be Food community interest company, focuses on sustainability and affordability. “We’re not into fava beans and organic walnut oil,” Ruth says. “We’ll sell basics like fruit, vegetables, bread, dairy and meat, and dried goods. The difference from the major supermarkets is that we won’t be profit-driven, so we’ll pass savings on to consumers.”

The company is run for profit, but its structure means those profits are invested back into the business rather than taken out for shareholders and directors. The company is launching a crowd-funding scheme looking for investments from £25-£5,000 to raise the rest of the cash to set up a branch.

The first shop should open in early summer 2013 and will be at the London Road end of Brighton. While the new supermarket won’t deal in rock bottom £2-a-chicken prices, Ruth says people will be able to buy quality food without overspending. “We’ll sell high-welfare meat, but we will talk to customers about what they are cooking so they can buy the right portion sizes,” she says.

Most ethical grocery shops are standalone ventures. The People’s Supermarket London model was used to establish a store in Oxford, but the shops are run completely independently. The True Food Co-op runs multiple mobile markets as well as a large shop, but says it doesn’t plan to establish a chain, and neither does Unicorn Grocery.

“We’re not looking to set up another shop anywhere else, let alone a chain,” says Unicorn’s Kelly Bubble. “We’ve discussed the issue, but expanding means having many more members and this can prove difficult.

“We keep our ethics strong by being a workers’ co-operative with equal pay and say in the way things are done. Having other shops, whether they are franchises or part of a chain, means we could end up moving too far away from our buying ethics.”

Instead, Unicorn offers advice and support to others setting up similar ventures in their own communities. “People come and see us and work out how they can meet the specific needs of their own local community. Every local area is different – we want to grow the idea of co-operative groceries, but for local people to set them up in their own communities,” Bubble says.

The Anslows do hope to establish a chain of supermarkets. What they are driven by is the desire for everyone to be able to access affordable, quality food, and they think a chain will more effectively do this.

While chains are criticised for taking money out of areas, hiSbe Food, being a community interest company, plans to invest money back into the stores and their neighbourhood, holding community events and supporting local producers.

“We want to make a big impact on the UK grocery sector,” Ruth says. “For this we need more than one store. Once we’re established in Brighton we will look at expansion, for example through franchises, and aim to set up wherever communities tell us they want the supermarkets.”

What do you think of this approach? Do you think an ethical retailer can have scale and remain true to its ideals?

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Why low interest rates are not the answer

We’ve had four years of low interest rates and the medicine is not working. It’s time the Bank changed the treatment

It is four years since the Bank of England cut the base rate to 0.5% and started its £375bn money-creation programme, quantitative easing.

The Bank’s 2009 actions helped avoid a deflationary financial catastrophe. Subsequent monetary measures pushing lending rates lower in order to revive the economy have failed, merely resulting in stagflation. Yet, still the Bank believes the problem is that rates are not low enough, even floating the astonishing possibility of “negative” interest rates.

Good doctors, whose patient is not recovering, would not just continue prescribing more of the same medicine, they would look for a different cure. Yet the Bank is steadfastly sticking to the old treatment that has failed for four years. We are no longer in an economic emergency. True, the economy is weak and unemployment is too high, but a further interest rate reduction could just pile on more pain, without generating growth.

I believe the damaging side-effects of the monetary medicine may actually be undermining recovery. Yes, those with large mortgages have had a bonanza, and banks have benefited hugely, but ultra-low interest rates are hurting important sections of the economy. Savers’ and pensioners’ nominal and real incomes have fallen sharply, while companies providing pension schemes have had to pour billions into their funds rather than their businesses, as low rates push up deficits.

Since 2008, Bank of England policy has focussed entirely on bringing down interest rates in order to boost growth. Academic models predict lowering rates will boost bank lending and increase access to credit for purchases of homes or other goods and services, ensuring economic recovery. However, this hasn’t happened here.

Rather than rushing to spend their extra money, over-extended mortgage borrowers have taken advantage of lower rates to accelerate repayments and clear their debts. Meanwhile, older savers’ and pensioners’ incomes have been squeezed by falling rates and soaring pension costs, leaving them poorer. Savings rates have lagged behind inflation, reducing real incomes, eroding the real value of savings and lowering consumer confidence. Fearing for their financial future as their current or prospective income plummets, many have cut spending.

Of course, no one wants to see home repossessions, but artificially propping up house prices locks future generations out of the housing market, distorts rental costs and delays the banks and building societies recognising their losses. Around four in 10 mortgages are interest-only – with many having no strategy for capital repayment – so low rates are just a politically expedient short-term sticking plaster, not a solution.

Furthermore, although low official rates have reduced mortgage rates, other borrowing costs have risen, as lenders have increased margins. Overdraft, loan and credit card rates are higher now than in 2008-09.

Low interest rates act like a tax increase on savers and pensioners, by reducing their income. This quasi-tightening of fiscal policy has transferred national income from older savers, to younger borrowers and banks. For example, since 2008, borrowers with a £100,000 mortgage are over £2,400 better off every year. However, savers with £100,000 in Cash Isas or fixed-rate bonds are over £2,750 a year worse off.

If the Chancellor were to announce a huge tax increase on older workers and pensioners, particularly to help people who had borrowed or lent too much, there would be uproar. But, by doing this via monetary policy rather than fiscal policy, there has been no democratic debate. Hardly a wonder that younger people have lost confidence in saving.

Economies, especially those with ageing populations, need to encourage saving. If the self-reliance culture is lost, people will reach old age in debt, or with little private income to support themselves. More will fall back on the state, placing extra burdens on younger taxpayers, undermining economic growth.

New thinking is urgently required. We don’t need to create new money. There are billions in pension and insurance funds which, with a contingent government/Bank of England guarantee, could be used to fund construction or infrastructure programmes and even direct lending to small firms. The transmission mechanism from low rates to growth is broken, we need to bypass the banks to generate recovery, rather than hoping that bringing rates down further will do the trick.

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Lord Sugar is accused of constructive dismissal, but why?

He’s fresh from a boardroom bust-up with Richard Desmond, but now the Viglen boss is facing legal action from Apprentice winner Stella English

Age: 65

Appearance: Discombobulating

Who’s he? You can’t not know who Alan Sugar is. Look above. Don’t you recognise him?

Him? He’s a person? He looks like that furry egg puppet who presents that daft comedy show full of people who should be banished to an unnamed island for the good of humanity. Called The Tool, I believe. Or presume. Ah. Through a welter of misunderstandings, I perceive that we are talking about the same person. That furry egg is Sir-Alan-now-Lord-Sugar and he presents what is in fact a non-comedy show called The Apprentice, wherein people compete for a chance to win a £100,000-a-year job at his company, Viglen.

People who should be banished to unnamed islands? That part was correct, yes.

Has someone banished them? Is that why he’s in the news? No, he’s being sued for constructive dismissal by Stella English, winner of season six.

Did she think he was a furry egg presenting a joke programme too? No, she was a fan, keen for the chance to be mentored by him. She claims she turned up at Viglen and was told by an allegedly contemptuous chief executive Bordan Tkachuk that “there was no job” and became, in her words, “an overpaid lackey” who saw “mentor” Sugar just five times in 13 months.

I’d love to be an overpaid anything, but I accept that’s not the point at the moment, so carry on. She says she was then ostracised by colleagues and eventually resigned. She claims Sugar told her he didn’t “give a shit” but she accepted a job at YouView, another Sugar-run company, which he apparently offered her to avoid bad publicity. She says she was happy there and about to apply for promotion when he told her her contract wouldn’t be renewed.

Thus constructive dismissal. I see. An allegation he denies. He’s also in the news because of his borderline brawl at a board meeting with Richard Desmond, whose TV channel backs YouView, after Sugar announced he was resigning from the company.

Punches thrown? Lips bloodied? Or do billionaires hire other people to have the actual fisticuffs for them. After a lot of furious shouting, Sugar advanced on Desmond with a raised fist and chased him round the room, according to witnesses.

I’d have paid money to be there. Alas, they don’t need it. Otherwise we’d all have bought tickets.

Do say: “You’re like an egg with its own cosy! Too cute!”

Don’t say: “If two billionaires fall out in the forest, does anybody give a shit?”

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Charity mergers and the role of pension fund liabilities

Failure of NAVCA and Community Matters merger shows how pension deficits can cause problems

Yesterday’s news of the collapse of merger talks between NAVCA and Community Matters is a disappointing outcome not just for both organisations, their members and beneficiaries they serve, but for the sector as a whole. These are two highly respected community focused organisations. In a challenging time, their trustee boards had the foresight to see the potential to achieve more as one entity, than they could as independent bodies.

So, last summer they took bold step of entering into merger negotiations.

Hats off to them for this alone – we know many in the sector are reluctant to even whisper the word ‘merger’ for fear of losing voice, role, influence or independence. This is despite the regulator’s counsel to charities to keep sight of the potential benefits. However, having carefully picked their way through the myriad of possible barriers and no doubt invested considerable time and money in the process, the merger floundered due to a technicality. Of all things one expects to get in the way of merger, staff pensions are not usually front of mind.

The crunch issues are usually agreeing a shared mission and values, deciding how it will be funded and perhaps, most contentiously, figuring out who will fill which roles. But unwelcome pension liabilities often lurk on the balance sheet. For charities in multi-employer schemes, the due diligence process can reveal frightening off-sheet liabilities. This is in addition to the on-sheet figures, in the form of an exit debt (a fee to get out of the scheme).

With both regular pension contributions and the exit debt rapidly escalating due to poor investment returns and falling member numbers, charities are stuck in these schemes – being asked to pay in more each year, yet unable to afford the extortionate exit fee.

When charities seek to merge, restructure or incorporate, this exit debt gets triggered, scuppering any plans. Continuing with a merger requires the new organisation to accept the debts, creating an open-ended and growing liability. Sometimes complex arrangements can be put in place enabling a merger to proceed, but even then the overall size of the liabilities might be too much of a risk, giving organisations no option but to walk away.

I could stop there, but it actually gets worse for all involved when a charity in one of these schemes goes insolvent, as we saw in the case of People Can late last year. In this case, its share of the debt is divided up among the rest of the charities in the scheme, thus potentially creating a domino effect over time as more and more charities go bust.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time we’ve seen pension issues grounding a well progressed charity merger. In some cases they never even make it off the starting blocks. We don’t always hear about it because, unlike in this instance where the potential opportunities were embraced and celebrated by those involved, merger is often treated as a dirty word among charities. When it fails, whether due to personalities or technicalities, we politely brush it under the carpet and revert back to the old ways.

But is this changing? The weak economy and squeeze on finances are resulting in the emergence of two mismatched trends – an increased appetite for merger and a growth in charity pension liabilities. Our last Managing in a Downturn survey of charities, showed the number considering merger to be up to one fifth, almost double that in previous years. This year alone we’ve seen some of the big hitting charity names enter this sphere: SOVA and Crime Reductions Initiative; Careers Development Group and the Shaw Trust; and recently, Impetus and the Private Equity Foundation.

Infrastructure bodies are at it too, partly thanks to government cuts to the sector’s support base, as witnessed in the recent NCVO/Volunteering England tie-up. Whether merger is a good thing or not, and whether it’s something that should be encouraged, is always up for debate, but the fact that it’s happening more frequently is inescapable and frankly pretty inevitable.

With less money to go around, charities are actively reviewing their structures, operations and options – for some, it may be about seizing opportunities, for others it’s about ensuring survival and continuity of support to their beneficiaries.

But pensions don’t have to be a stumbling block. We’ve been calling on the government to change the rules on multi-employer schemes, unsuited to charities with no connection to one another, for some time. Thankfully, it seems that they are finally waking up to the overall challenges employers are facing with pension liabilities. In his autumn statement the Chancellor surprised us, in a positive way this time, saying that the government is ‘determined to ensure that defined benefit pensions regulation does not act as a brake on investment and growth’.

To date, they have been reluctant to engage for fear of undermining any existing individual pensions. But surely now the untenable nature of these schemes is becoming clear, it’s time for action. We hope so, as we outlined in our recent letter to the minister, as otherwise the long term future isn’t looking rosy. Debts are going up, and won’t stop any time soon, liabilities in many cases are greater than reserves, and one of the typical routes out that enables a charity to continue serving beneficiaries in tough times – merger – is off the cards.

Jane Tully is head of public affairs at the Charity Finance Group (CFG).

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Blackburn: we’re freezing council tax – but it will lead to cuts in services

We have no choice to but make painful cuts to every single service the council provides, says council leader

This week, Blackburn with Darwen councillors and I will be setting the area’s council tax. We are set to freeze it for the third year in a row. Council tax is staying low even though we are facing unprecedented cuts.

The unfair cut in our government funding and the pressure created by the government’s programme of reform mean we need to save £30m over the next two years. This comes on top of the £40m of cuts we have already had to make since 2010.

We have no choice but to make more very painful cuts. These cuts will affect every single service the council provides.

Let’s make no bones about it: these are very tough times for both local authorities and the residents they serve. Our levels of service will not remain the same, and this will obviously have an impact on our residents, who value the things we do.

But we are very clear that increasing council tax is not an option. Families in this borough are feeling the pinch already, and many are struggling; we do not want to add to that burden. It’s important for us not to increase the cost of living for hard-pressed families. We want to do all we can to keep money in people’s pockets.

We must also be clear with families that we now cannot afford to do everything we know is needed for local people. The services that they use and rely on will be changed forever, or in some cases be completely axed.

The little money we do have will be focused onwhat matters most to residents and the council’s agreed priorities: jobs and growth, improving housing and health, supporting young and vulnerable people.

We do not want to have to make these cuts – but we have to. This is, without doubt, the most difficult time I have ever seen since becoming a councillor.

But our residents can be assured that we are doing our best despite the challenges. We will continue to work with them to make our borough a better place. I truly believe that if everyone works and fights together, we can improve Blackburn with Darwen even in these difficult times.

Councillor Kate Hollern is leader of Blackburn with Darwen council

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