Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Busy-ness Stakes: January

Three Reading Councillors are taking the pro-active line in response to reporting the level of their activity.

Conservatives Richard Willis and Dave Luckett have reported on their monthly activity, while LibDem Glenn Goodall has taken the weekly approach.

Oranjepan asks:
Are all Reading's other councillors too busy to report?

Update: Cllr Willis has provided fuller details.

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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

Recommended Reading List #2

Here's something for the weekend.

Virescent offers his Top Tips for Greener Sex.

Update: Adrian Windisch is a reader.

Picture: From the Muddy Banks of the Thames


Thank You to the Reader who sent this in.

It's not Reading, but we like it.

Send your pictures to Oranjepan's email address, which can be found on his profile page.

30 More Children at Risk in Reading?

Cllr Bayes has written an important piece of background information.

She says as many as 30 children in Reading who are served by the department may still be being put at risk because of inadequate and insufficient administration.

She sounds really seriously concerned.

Oranjepan says:
blame the office monkeys, why dontcha!

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Friday, 30 January 2009

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Thames Water: 300 Jobs Down the Drain

A minor storm has broken out between local political parties over the falling economy after fears were sparked by cuts made by Thames Water.

Reading Evening Post picks up on the difference of opinion between the parties, quoting local representatives of each side.

Martin Salter MP (Labour) is flumoxed by contradiction of a recent report stating 'Reading is recession-proof', Rob Wilson MP (Conservative) claims the government is to blame, and Cllr Gareth Epps PPC (LibDem) argues that "Thames Water needs to make an economic case for cuts," rather than using the recession as an excuse to boost profit levels.

Meet the Mayor!

Reading Chronicle has advertised the regular Meet the Mayor event, which will be held in the Mayor's Parlour at Reading Civic Centre on Tuesday February 3rd from 2pm.

It is an informal occasion where you can chat with Cllr Beard about his year in office, have a quiet word in his ear, discover more about the history of the office and drink as much free tea and coffee as you like!

Oranjepan says:
I hope there will be cake!

Third Runway Plans Gets Go-ahead

Yesterday Parliament voted on the issue of whether to go ahead with the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The Government won the decision to agree with their proposals.

While 50 Labour MPs had previously threatened to rebel only 28 of them followed through with the courage of their convictions. There were also two resignations from unpaid government posts as the plans were forced through.

Local Labour MP, Martin Salter, opposed his leadership, backing up comments he has made in the constituency and finally taking a firm stance on the issue now that the overwhelming state of local opposition has been made clear to him.

Jane Griffiths (or SalterWatch as she is sometimes known) also provides a link to the official publications recording the MP for Reading West's actions. Here is his contribution to the debate.

Elsewhere the BBC reports on the associated developments relating to the expansion of Heathrow.

Oranjepan asks:
with a general election looming on the horizon, was Salter's valiant (if futile) rebellion more a matter of pandering to popular sentiment in a strategic constituency for his party, or will he continue to represent his constituents and speak out against the plans as the proposals continue their passage through Parliament?

Update: Mark Reckons cynical electioneering played a big part in deciding the outcome.

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In depth coverage of the controversial plans to expand Heathrow can be found here (see sidebar).

More on the Council Meeting

Update: Cllr Willis has made the editorial team eat our words by providing expanded coverage of Tuesday's council meeting - no wonder he delayed publication.

Reading List humbly apologises to him.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Martin Salter and Money

Reading Evening Post has published an unsigned article advertising Martin Salter's (MP for Reading West) website.

Reading List and others noted this development a week ago and it has been a source of online comment for many months, particularly in view that he claimed £9,059 in centrally provided computer equipment in 6 years to add to an annual £10,000 communications budget for this purpose.

Oranjepan says:
value for money comes with a pricetag!

Children's Services - Higher Standards Now?

The story of Reading's children's services drags on and on.

The Reading Chronicle reports there will in future be cross-party scrutiny to ensure party politics doesn't intrude onto this emotive area public concern, although Cllr John Ennis spread the blame onto the whole council according to the Evening Post, claiming that “this was on the watch of our council, on the clock of the whole council."

Both newspapers also report that allegations of internal malpractice are to receive further investigation as opposition spokespeople increase their demands for higher standards.

Oranjepan asks:
In the light that procedures needed to be changed to ensure efficient information sharing, was Cllr Ennis' factually inaccurate and partisan attempt to spread the blame on all parties for council failings sheer incompetence or was it deliberate and malicious deception?

Update: Was was 'ere also notes the investigation.

Update: Reading & District Labour Party has caught up with events, well almost.

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Heavy Workload at Council Meeting

There was a heavy workload at yesterday evening's full meeting of Reading's borough Councillors in a session which lasted more than 4 1/2 hours and reports on events have been dribbling in over the course of the day.

Reading List provides a roundup of sources for readers to peruse at their leisure.

Cllr Glenn Goodall was first off the mark in posting a report covering the Climate Change Strategy, Council tenant rents controversy, opposition to the national ID Cards scheme, the founding of a new oversight body for the new Civic Centre development, the motion on Gaza and the election of new lead councillors in the children's services and housing briefs.

Rob White of the Greens handed in a petition and notes the adoption of the Council's new environmental strategy, Councillor Ennis' confirmation as head of the children's services department and the motion on Gaza, though he admits his dislike for lengthy meetings of this nature and states he had to leave before the end.

Janestheone advertises Cllr Swaine's write-up as the most detailed report on events, while Cllr Willis has since removed any indication that he would cover events after discovering he had been beaten to the punch.

Elsewhere Redlands LibDems has a specific focus on the housing issue and the climate change motion, while the Reading Chronicle covers the Cllr Ennis' election in detail.

For the alternate view Mick Spreader implies that Cllr Gittings didn't answer a question to his liking.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Portfolio Shake-up follows Children's Services Scandal

Local news sources are reporting Cllr John Ennis (Lab, Southcote) is set to take over responsibility for the children's services department following Cllr Ruhemann's resignation - pending confirmation at tonight's meeting of the full council.

Cllr Ennis has a long track record in the similar position for housing, where it is mooted he would be replaced by his ward colleague Cllr Deborah Edwards.

The precarious nature of Labour's minority control means that tonight's meeting could be a protracted affair and this decision is far from cut and dried. Conservatives are still considering whether to wirthdraw the motion of no confidence and it could be used to topple the Labour party from power if a deal with LibDems is struck.

Full Council meetings are open to the public, so why not go along and see the action unfold for yourselves!

Oranjepan asks:
with a wide-ranging review of policy in Cllr Ennis' current portfolio only just announced this week, suggesting Cllr Ennis failed to fully carry out his duties while in that post, is he really competent to take over?

Is tonight the night when we see democracy return to Reading for the first time since it's inception as a Unitary Authority?

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Have Your Say on Housing

Reading LibDems have heavily featured a scrutiny review into private sector housing which has been recently launched by Reading Borough Council.

If you are concerned about rogue landlords, a constant stream of new noisy neighbours who you never meet or you think a local house may have been converted into a cannabis factory, there will be an open event to listen to your views which will take place at Hexagon Theatre, on 10th February 2009 from 6.30pm-8.30pm.

Reading has a disproportionately high level of privately-rented accomodation, with about 20% of households in the town compared to about 11% nationwide (just look through every issue of the property pages for confirmation).

Any issues surrounding this area of housing policy (mismanaged waste, planning enforcement issues and parking problems etc) will therefore have a major impact on the quality of life in our town. The new leadership in the council executive has recognised this fact and have instigated a policy review process to help develop the new system for preventing problems and complaints arising rather than solving them after distress and worry has been caused.

Rob White says insulation is important.

Update: Reading Evening Post has followed up on the announcement, quoting Cllr Ricky Duveen (LibDem, Tilehurst), chair of the environment scrutiny panel, who said:

“We will be looking at a range of issues including the condition and supply of private rented housing, houses of multi-occupation and environmental impacts such as parking and waste issues.

"We want to hear thoughts from tenants and landlords on improving services and looking after the local environment.”

Monday, 26 January 2009

Extreme Pornography Law Change Takes Effect

After a long campaign both in favour and against the change in the law on extreme pornography new legislation has finally come into force.

The BBC provides a general round-up of the issues here and our resident satirist also mocks the changes.

Of particular local interest is the way the campaign has been coordinated by Liz Longhurst with the support of Reading West MP, Martin Salter.

Salter has come in for particular critisism over his factually inaccurate interventions expressed on Channel 4 News (you can see for yourself the reaction in the comments below the clip) and the dubious partisan reasons for his involvement.

For a comprehensive roundup of media coverage human rights campaigning site Backlash is hard to beat.

More comment on those Acolaid figures

Richard Willis has written on his blog to list council actions he has instigated recently. These are very basic examples of your councillor's typical workload.

If you see any similar problems please report them to your local councillor (a list of contact details can be found on the RBC Councillor Information page) or use the public resources (such as FixMyStreet) which I've placed on my sidebar for the purpose.

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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Welcome to the new Bloggers

Some readers have noticed that the network of contributing bloggers is growing. Please have a look at some of the blogs written as they offer a wide perspective on life, by people who live in the area or who are connected to it in one way or another.

Two celebrity blogs/news feeds which may be of general interest to readers are those of successful musicians The Hoosiers and the comedian/campaigner Lenny Henry.

Tony Jones: Labour are Bullies

An interesting article from Cllr Jones (Ind, Battle ward).

Oranjepan says:
Perhaps this partly explains why he resigned his long-time membership of the party.

Where does this bias come from?

Richard Willis and Mark Thompson have both written up a story about sleaze in government, referencing a Sunday Times investigation.

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Firstly, Cllr Willis claims that the sums of £1-3,000 taken in the 'Cash for Questions' scandal are "very small" (even discounting the effects of inflation since the early 1990's!), before attempting to sidestep the issue of exactly how widespread the practice was in the Conservative party at the time.

Far be it from me to point out to Cllr Willis that the Sunday Times' claim that the four Labour peers 'fees' of £1-5,000 per day are not so dissimilar to those requested byConservative MPs in the Thatcher-Major years, but his article does take on the appearance of trying to make a partisan point at the expense of several vital facts.

Cllr Willis completely neglects any idea of how the practice subverts parliamentary democracy, by whoring the duty of MPs to represent their constituents and breaking the oath of alleigence to uphold the law, made when an MP or Peer enters the Houses of Parliament for the first time.

He then attempts to contrast the 'Cash for Questions Affair' with Tony Blair's 'Bernie Ecclestone Affair', commenting:
"This is very serious for Labour. It has the smell of a decaying administration about it but also the sight of Labour politicians profiteering at a time when the country is in dire straight is potentially deadly."

Cllr Willis also neglects to mention the Cash for Influence Affair'', which, while less famous actually did most to expose how the system of government under Labour was able to be perverted for private interests.

Surely the most important question is, however, were the Peers implicated by the Sunday Times also guilty of buying their titles in the 'Cash for Honours Affair'? If this is the case, then the stench is not of a decaying administration, but of one which was rotten from the start.

Oranjepan asks:
Is Cllr Willis striking a blow in a personal campaign against corruption in politics, or is he explaining to us that he knows how to take advantage of the system?

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Mark Thompson takes a slightly different approach to the issue, actually defending the vast majority of politicians in the system.

He expresses the scepticism about politics he has personally faced and considers whether there is a connection between apathy and corruption.

He states that it is "clear that they [Labour, ed.] [are] as bad if not worse than the [previous] Tory government," adding, "I am sure most of the people in the Blair government wanted to do the right thing, as was undoubtedly the case with the Tories that went before them."

He argues passionately: "Something will have to change and soon, otherwise I will eventually come to the conclusion that the politicians in power actually want the system that we currently have."

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Letters to the Editor

Reading List welcomes your comments and contributions.

Whether you have any queries, criticisms or suggestions, or if you just want to sound-off, please do so here.

If for any reason you wish to contact the editor of Reading List, my email address is oranjepan[at]live[dot]co[dot]uk

Editorial: Good for Readers, Good for Reading

Thank You to everybody who has visited Reading List since I launched with my first post on 12th January - I've been watching the statistics and I couldn't have imagined how fast it would take off by word of mouth alone!

Those of you who've offered me encouragement and advice (you know who you are) deserve special thanks for keeping me on the straight and narrow (well as far as it goes - it could've been so much worse).

With all that in mind I am happy to announce that Reading List will be gradually expanding a range of features which the collective here hopes readers may find interesting. I hope you will all take advantage of the opportunity to use them and provide feedback if and where necessary.

Apologies & Corrections: Apology #1

I humbly apologise to Cllr Warren Swaine for being overly hasty and insufficiently contrite.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Now Here's a First

For the first time since Reading Borough Council became NOC (No Overall Control) in May 2008 the CCEA (Corporate, Community and External Affairs) Scrutiny Panel voted on 21st January to use its' powers to ‘call in’ a Cabinet decision.

The 'call-in' procedure is there to offer additional scrutiny to any decision made in the council's cabinet. Either the general CCEA panel can raise a matter of concern and send it back to the Cabinet for a revised decision, or an individual councillor can raise the matter and send it back to the scrutiny panel for that specific policy area which may then decide to then send it further back up the chain of command to the Cabinet.

This process may sound quite lengthy, but it provides the checks and balances necessary to ensure the democratic system works and issues are dealt with effectively.

It is essentially the method by which an active opposition group can hold the ruling group to account; when one party has a strong majority of councillors and controls the appointments on the scrutiny panels (as has been the case with a long period of Labour dominance in recent years) the 'call-in' procedure tends either not to be used as motions to 'call-in' a decision can be voted down by the majority.

After a report by Reading's Culture Scrutiny panel recommended increasing council funding to the South Reading Leisure Centre from £56,000/year to £128,000/year (ie more than doubling the subsidy), Cllr Epps (Leader, LibDem) picked up on the lack of detailed reasons and requested that it be 'called in'.

Academy Sport (the company which runs the leisure centre on behalf of the council) has seen income drop by a third since it took over operations 21 months ago, despite an extensive refurbishment programme.

Cllr Epps
has explained that he feels there was not enough attention in Academy Sport's business plan detailing how they intended to raise usage and income levels and that this lack of detail meant that an increase of tax-payer subsidy is cannot justified until it is provided.

It seems that Reading's opposition Conservative group failed to spot the discrepancy in the Culture scrutiny report, or at least failed to question it. However, once Cllr Epps raised the issue they agreed strongly enough to support the motion to 'call in' the decision, and they have since released a press release to show how active and involved in the issue they are.

Cllr Mike Townend (Con, Church) says: "the objective is to bring the council's management fee contribution back down to the originally agreed figure within a specific time frame."

Meanwhile Cllr Tom Stanway (Con, Caversham) stated: "I trust that Cabinet will decide on a more stringent monitoring process regarding this additional funding requirement."

Oranjepan says:
It is good to see opposition parties working together to hold the ruling Labour group to account in the public interest. Let's now hope earlier partisan game-playing will be consigned to the past.

Update: Was was 'ere adds a view

The Inside View: More on Reading's Children's Services

Reading Evening Post has continued it's coverage of events in Reading's children's services department.

New Borough Chief Executive, Michael Coughlin, has stated that changes to the service began being implemented as soon as potential improvements were identified during the review towards the end of last year, reassuring current service users about RBC's robust action plan.

Council Spokesman, Chris Branagan, explained, “the review of the death of Trae-Bleu Layne identified systemic problems in social care practice at the council," noting that several aspects of departmental procedure have since been changed.

Separately, the REP blows the whistle on continuing discontent inside the department, which suggests more still needs to be done.

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

How to Stop Bureaucratic Prejudice and Official Intrusion

Katesgrove Councillor Warren Swaine (LibDem) has written on his personal blog to express his outrage at a piece of legislation currently being pushed through parliament which would dramatically increase powers of intrusion into personal information by commercial operations.

The No2ID campaign has forcefully stated that it represents "a direct threat".

The offensive amendment to the Data Protection Act is hidden deep within (clause 152) the inoffensively named 'Coroners and Justice Bill'.

Cllr Swaine says that power introduced to "combat serious crime and terrorism, [was] then allowed... to be used by local councils to snoop on schools admission applications" - and not least this alone.

We should at this point remember the famous remark made by Thomas Jefferson: "They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary security, will receive neither liberty nor security."

If you have any feelings on the matter whatsoever it is worth contacting your MP to urge them to clarify their position on the matter as they are paid from the taxes collected from the public to speak on your behalf - it it their job to represent you.

It is clearly a slippery slope we are standing on and we should be concerned that well-intentioned holders of public office will push us all the way down the slope and over the cliff at the end of it - if they do the consequences will be far-reaching and hard to reverse.

Whatever position your MP holds on this issue (or any other matter) Cllr Swaine is however mistaken that anybody need waste the price of a stamp in contacting your Representative in Parliament - due to the wonder of interconnectivity enabled by the internet.

WriteToThem is an excellent public resource which enables you keep in contact - it is both simple and easy to use (I provide a standing link on my sidebar) and I urge everybody to take advantage of it.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Bigging Hisself Up

Rob Wilson MP clearly thinks he has been "earmarked for greater things".

Oranjepan says:
Whether he thinks this will benefit the good folk of Reading, or that we should feel honoured and bathe in the reflected glory when it comes is not known.

The Aftermath of the Scandal

After the breaking of the massive scandal in Reading's social services our local press has begun working overtime to provide sufficient in-depth coverage of the what our local council is doing in this area.

The Reading Chronicle provides insight into the internal workings of the Children's and Education Department, explaining that (even in a time of rising unemployment) seven key frontline positions remain unfilled and that this is having an impact on the ability of the department to deliver a consistently high level of service.

The pressures of the additional workload placed on current staff added to the emotional commitment workers invest their duties is having a negative effect on morale and recruitment remains difficult.

The Chronicle also reports on the continuing political dispute with quotes from each side.

Cllr Tony Page (Labour) has attempted to spread the blame across the department, tacitly accepting the role of his colleague in the failings and in the process contradicting Reading West MP, Martin Salter (Lab), who claimed that the department will be worse off without Cllr Ruhemann.

Tory Leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty has tried to describe Labour as moribund after decades in control, saying that it was time for a change, saying that "Politicians are ultimately accountable to the public for their actions."

Meanwhile Cllr Epps, speaking for the LibDems, highlights the inconsistency of Labour, claiming that they have tried to “mislead the public rather than take responsibility for a shocking lapse in standards”.

Oranjepan says:
You have to wonder how this all fits with Gordon Brown echo of the inestimable Stan Lee ("with great power comes great responsibility" - from, Spider-Man) in his insistent refrain that rights must be matched with responsibility and his constant push for a new UK Bill of Rights.

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Rubbish - stat of the day

Cllr Luckett (Con) makes an interesting point about Reading's Rubbish, namely that Defra recorded 3,236 incidents of fly-tipping in Reading during the year 2007-08.

This works out at almost 10 incidents per day, every day. And he quotes an estimate of £100,000 clear-up costs.

Yet Cllr Luckett is more worried about the potential 'stealth' taxes which would come from charging for special bin bags, charging for the volume and weight of rubbish collected and according to the frequency which it is collected by the council.

He clearly doesn't seem to grasp the extent of the problem, so I will point him in the direction of a report which may inform him.

Cllr Luckett's challenge to other parties to decide between a healthy social environment and sound economics is a false one and he makes it in characteristic manner.

With waste continuing to be produced by households and companies it must be disposed of one way or another (Even Rob White found his personal challenge difficult). Does he mean to suggest increasing the council tax is a more effective and efficient way of paying for the clean-up than transparent charges?

LibDems around the country have successfully resolved the dilemma he proposes by taking advantage of Social Enterprise legislation in a way that benefits all concerned. So it remains a surprise that the two dominant political groups on Reading Borough Council have failed to embrace these opportunities in the same way.

It would seem that Reading's Conservative group are trying to muscle in on a policy area which the town's Liberal Democrats have been active for some considerable time.

NB. Here is RBC's information page on what may be put in your red recycling box.

Update: Redlands Liberal Democrats have provided a comprehensive response, as has Cllr Glenn Goodall.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Yes, but is strong leadership good leadership?

Martin Salter has intensified the political spat over the tragedies resulting from Reading Borough Council's 'inadequate' Children's Services.

He goes on to confuse the issues by accusing opponents of partisan tactics. In support of his thesis he cites the equally damning report into Wokingham Borough Council where the ruling Conservative group has been held to account by opposition LibDems.

Cllr Epps (LibDem) comments, "It's a shame Martin Salter didn't check his facts and check what has actually happened in Wokingham before making his cheap jibe.
It is his Labour Party who swept under the carpet the serious issues in the Safeguarding Children service, or only realised the problem when the inspectors came around. Either way, it is not the opposition failing to do their job - quite the opposite!"

The Reading Evening Post also provides space for Cllr Ballsdon (Con) to make her case for why she should be Cllr Ruhemann's replacement overseeing the department.

Update: Reading LibDems have added this blistering attack on the behaviour of their Labour counterparts.

Meanwhile Reading Conservatives have adopted a more moderate tone calling for 'real leadership'.

Oranjepan asks:
Can anyone tell me, what is the difference between 'strong' leadership and 'real' leadership?

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Good Luck to Him

Martin Salter has launched his website.

Almost 12 years after becoming an MP (with an annual tax-payer funded communications budget to boot) and more than a year after saying he would, he has finally decided to enter the fray.

Oranjepan says:
Of course this is not a cynical johnny-come-lately attempt to counter the current unpopularity of the Labour party stemming from several recent controversies or years of maladministration (which might just happen to impact upon his chances of re-election). Neither does it have anything to do with any recent comments in the press.

Hat-tip to Jane, who is not impressed by the qwuality of product displayed.

Update: Richard Willis has caught on to the story.

Update:
Reading Evening Post has also picked up on it.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Barack's Berkshire Link

"She is a bingo-loving grandmother who lives in a council house," or so according to BBC Berkshire.

The widow of President Obama's late father, Kezia Obama, lives in Bracknell.

Whether this will quell fears of an unsettling new stage in the UK-US 'special relationship' or provide reassurance is not known, but it does give us here an excuse to call for him to reaffirm his family ties and invite him here to visit us.

Oranjepan asks:
Will President Obama visit Reading?

Valuing People - New Inquiry into Local Social Services

Another example of deeply-ingrained systemic maladministration is to be investigated, this time into West Berkshire social services.

Oranjepan asks:
Why is it that the vulnerable are always the first to suffer?

Communications Debate Heats Up

Martin Salter has publicly insulted all and sundry in a sweeping dismissal of bloggers while advcertising his own indefensible own short-comings, using a press mouthpiece to launch the attack.

Reading Roars provides a neat summary of the outbreak of partisan sniping stemming from Richard Willis' punditry.

Jane Griffiths is noted for needling her former Labour colleagues on this issue (as well as many others), so it would have been to look a gift horse in the mouth for her to refuse the right to respond.

Meanwhile Adrian Windisch has arrived late in an attempt to crash the party for the Greens.

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Oranjepan asks:
I wonder whether Salter realises the inappropriateness and inaccuracy of his words?

In making such statements he brings politics in general into disrepute and seriously abuses his position of office - it is not "just harmless banter". I have heard him say that he is a strong supporter of our national institutions, so why does he undermine our democracy in this way?

I am tempted to infer that this outburst reflects a psychological flaw or some inferiority complex in him. After all he is a prime exponent of the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" line of argument as well as a strong campaigner for ID Cards and against freedom of information.

Inconsistency, anyone?

Reaction: Blogs respond to resignaton

Following on from the furious outrage and controversy sparked by the Joint Area Review into Reading's social care, Labour's Lead Councillor for the directorate of Children's Services has resigned.

Cllr Ruhemann made the announcement during Monday's Cabinet meeting, preempting the cross-party motion of no confidence in his abilities which was set to be tabled at the next meeting of the full council.

Proposer Cllr Ballsdon (Con) was to be seconded by Cllr Bayes (LibDem) demonstrating the almost universal consensus of feeling spread across opposition benches. With Labour's current minority administration hanging by a thread this consensual alliance was certain to have passed the motion and would have resulted in his forcable removal from office in any event.

Cllr Ruhemann (who has been involved with the service for over 20 years) has claimed to be an innocent victim, scapegoated for partisan reasons. The offical verdict declared however that it was the result of systemic departmental failings which lead to the deaths of children under his stewardship and the budgetary decisions made by his party.

10 staff have also been disciplined following the review of the service and the focus of scrutiny will now inevitably turn to the Director of Children's Services, Anna Wright.

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Reaction to this stunning development has flooded in.

In the blogosphere, reaction has also been swift.

Richard Willis reacted immediately to echo the news.

For the LibDems, Redlands Councillor Kirsten Bayes provides all the relevant information on the matter.

This was followed by sensitive comments from Conservative councillors Emma Warman and Dave Luckett. Point scoring is reserved to Green party candidate Rob White and a mysterious outsider (who may or may not be a Conservative councillor in Swindon).

MuckspReading gives the alternative view, while Jane Griffiths opens up discussion into the tactical manoeuverings and behind-the-scenes gossip regarding Ruhemann's callous self-centred unrepentance and questions over whether a deal was done to remove him.

Reading Forum also has an open discussion thread.


Oranjepan says:
In this climate new questions must be asked about Labour's level of web presence in Reading - the lack of response on their site puts an ongoing side-discussion into sharp relief.

Update: It's good to see that someone is paying attention.

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Monday, 19 January 2009

Breaking News: Ruhemann Resigns

The Reading Evening Post broke the news of Cllr Ruhemann's resignation with the inside track on developments.

The Reading Chronicle quickly followed up with their story.

BBC Berkshire has also reported on the news.

Update: Reading Evening Post has since provided a more in-depth report and BBC South Today has also followed up.

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Online maps for local crime statistics

I found this post interesting and went off for a quick scout, and while I discover this useful tool and this useful information page, Thames Valley Police seem to be an authority which either is not making full use of available technology or is making it impossible to find.

Oranjepan says:
Will someone please encourage them...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Editorial: Isn't it amazing...

...how fast things can take off!

Reading List is my modest attempt to fill a niche which has been previously lacking. It is designed primarily for anyone interested in keeping in touch with the local political scene.

I hope any readers will find it a helpful resource, and if anybody has any suggestions or links which they feel would make it better, please feel free to get in contact.

Update: It looks like Cllr Willis has a Google Alert for himself and has picked up on Reading Roars. I'm sorry for him that he can't find it within himself to acknowledge others. Unfortunately his prejudice against opponents of certain colours has been noted previously.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Acolaid: deeper analysis

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total Acolaids: 1186

Labour total Acolaids: 556
Conservative total Acolaids: 231
LibDem total Acolaids: 393
Independent total Acolaids: 6
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as proportion of total:
by party group

Lab - 46.88%
Con - 19.48%
LibDem - 33.14%
Ind - 0.50%
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as proportion of total:
average per party councillor

Lab (19 councillors) - 2.467%
Con (18 councillors) - 1.082%
LibDem (8 councillors) - 4.142%
Ind (1 councillor) - 0.505%
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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

Acolaid: The analysis

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by ward:

# 1 - (total: 240) ave: 80.0 - REDLANDS
# 2 - (total: 127) ave: 42.3 - ABBEY
# 3 - (total: 118) ave: 39.3 - KATESGROVE
# 4 - (total: 102) ave: 34.0 - PEPPARD
# 5 - (total: 93) ave: 31.0 - KENTWOOD
# 6 - (total: 92) ave: 30.6 - WHITLEY
# 7 - (total: 73) ave: 24.3 - SOUTHCOTE
# 8 - (total: 64) ave: 21.3 - NORCOT
# 9 - (total: 63) ave: 21.0 - CAVERSHAM
#10 - (total: 50) ave: 16.6 - THAMES
#11 - (total: 47) ave: 15.6 - MINSTER
#12 - (total: 43) ave: 14.3 - BATTLE
#13 - (total: 37) ave: 12.3 - TILEHURST
#14 - (total: 21) ave: 7.0 - CHURCH
#15 - (total: 5) ave: 5.0 - MAPLEDURHAM
#16 - (total: 11) ave: 3.6 - PARK
------------------------

by Party group

Total Lab (19 Councillors): 556; ave: 29.3
Total Con (18 Councillors): 231; ave: 12.8
Total LibDem (8 Councillors): 393; ave: 49.1
Total Ind (1 Councillor): 6; ave: 6
------------------------

Individual totals:

133 - Daisy Benson
90 - Tony Page
84 - Mike Orton
82 - Gareth Epps
57 - Jo Lovelock
55 - Kirsten Bayes
52 - Glenn Goodall
46 - Mark Ralph
44 - Tom Steele
39 - John Ennis
38 - Isobel Ballsdon
38 - Jamie Chowdhary
36 - Paul Gittings
34 - Warren Swaine
31 - Gul Khan
29 - Tom Stanway
27 - Bet Tickner
26 - Jennifer Rynn
23 - Deborah Edwards
23 - Emma Warman
24 - Andrew Cumpsty
18 - Richard Willis
17 - Ricky Duveen
14 - Peter Beard
11 - Pete Ruhemann
11 - Jeanette Skeats
10 - David Luckett
10 - Mohammed Ayub
9 - Deborah Watson
8 - Tim Harris
7 - Mike Townend
6 - Chris Harris
6 - Azam Janjua
6 - Tony Jones
6 - Chris Maskell
5 - Graeme Hoskin
5 - Fred Pugh
4 - Jim Hanley
4 - Wazir Hussain
4 - Mary Singleton-White
4 - Shirley Merriott
3 - Jon Hartley
2 - Terry Byrne
2 - Richard Stainthorp
2 - Peter Jones
1 - David Stevens
------------------------

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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

Roundup: Childrens Services Report Joint Area Review

Following on from the outrage that rocked the country in wake of the the murders of Victoria Climbie (Wikipedia, the official Inquiry, the official Report, BBC in depth) and Baby P (Wikipedia, BBC Panorama, BBC report of the parliamentary fallout, BBC review of the key findings, BBC report of the impact on council workers) and which lead to investigations and resignations in Haringey Council social services department after their negligence was detailed by an Ofsted report, the government appears to have responded by ordering a thoroughgoing investigation into all childrens services across the country.

And the results do not make for happy viewing.

Doncaster was one English authority where children's services were previously rated as 'inadequate' (other failing authorities include neighbouring Wokingham, Birmingham, Essex, Surrey and West Sussex). It became the next council to uncover serious maladministration and shortcomings when serious case reviews into seven deaths of children were undertaken.

So with this context in mind Reading Borough Council has now published findings of the Ofsted Joint Area Review into its service with what some would say are expected results considering the challenging nature of the work involved - gossip about toddlers in Whitley dying from methadone overdoses are merely symptomatic of the political problem.

...and gradually reaction to the investigation leaks out onto the web. So let me give you a summary of what you, dear reader, may discover.

Firstly, news reports from the Evening Post of the scrutiny committee discussion on January 12th and the follow-up report of opposition bench reaction to it. There were immediate calls for Ruhemann to be relieved of his duties.

The LibDem group said the Inspection Reveals Devastating Catalogue of Failings in Children Protection in Reading and demanded that accountability needed to be seen to take place, while Reading Conservatives called Reading’s Care of Children “Inadequate” and stated that Labour’s Lead Councillor for Children’s Services must go.

Elsewhere, even erstwhile Labour, now Independent, Cllr Tony Jones asks,
"Who will stand up in the Labour Cabinet for this devastating assessment and take responsibility? No one.
Councillors love to take credit when things are going well, but are often hard to find after a report like this. Wait for the excuses and spin, or claims that things have already been improved."

Right on cue Labour Councillor Pete Ruhemann (Lead Councillor for the directorate in question) has released a statement to the press defending the council under his watch to preempt the motion of no confidence in him which will be forthcoming at the next council meeting.

Here is the BBC South Today report of events, while Jane Griffiths has an open thread for discussion of the topic and Reading's own resident satirist is typically pointed. Kentwood tory Emma Warman provides a view, as does Richard Willis.

There is a common misconception that all political parties are the same and that it is a waste of time for ordinary people to get involved in how your local community is run, but if you don't want a reoccurance of service failures of this sort to happen, then the only answer is to stand up and make your voice heard.

Politics is not just a matter of opinion, it can often be a matter of life and death.

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Update: Was (Katesgrove LibDem Councillor and reknowned tech-head, Warren Swaine) has added this comment to the discussion on Jane's site:

"The remedial action means that next year an extra £400,000 will have to be spent on Children's Services. The year after it's £300,000. This by any standard is a major failing in terms of political leadership and one consequence of the +1.9% council tax pre-election bribe
."

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For full coverage of the events which have rocked Reading since the death of Child T, go to the Special Report on Children's Services in Reading (see sidebar).

Acolaid: the statistics

Following on from the recent controversy stirred by publication of the list of Acolaid figures I thought I should reprint the list in full to provide more insight.

Here are the Acolaid statistics released by Reading Borough Council under the Freedom of Information Act (the figures correspond with the period 1/5/2008 - 1/11/2008):

=====================

ABBEY ward (total 127):
Mohammed Ayub (Lab), 10
Bet Tickner (Lab), 27
Tony Page (Lab), 90

BATTLE (total: 43)
Chris Maskell (Lab), 6
Tony Jones (Ind), 6
Gul Khan (Lab), 31

CAVERSHAM (total: 63)
Tom Stanway (Con), 29
David Luckett (Con), 10
Andrew Cumpsty (Con), 24

CHURCH (total: 21)
Tim Harris (Con), 8
Azam Janjua (Con), 6
Mike Townend (Lab), 7

KATESGROVE (total: 118)
Richard Stainthorp (Lab), 2
Warren Swaine (LibDem), 34
Gareth Epps (LibDem), 82

KENTWOOD (total: 93)
Tom Steele (Con), 44
Emma Warman (Con), 23
Jennifer Rynn (Con), 26

MAPLEDURHAM (total: 5)
Fred Pugh (Con), 5

MINSTER (total: 47)
Terry Byrne (Con), 2
Paul Gittings (Lab), 36
Deborah Watson (Lab), 9

NORCOT (total 64)
Graeme Hoskin (Lab), 5
Peter Jones (Lab), 2
Jo Lovelock (Lab), 57

PARK (total: 11)
Wazir Hussain (Con), 4
Jon Hartley (Lab), 3
Shirley Merriott (Lab), 4

PEPPARD (total: 102)
Mark Ralph (Con), 46
Jamie Chowdhary (Con), 38
Richard Willis (Con), 18

REDLANDS (total: 240)
Kirsten Bayes (LibDem), 55
Daisy Benson (LibDem), 133
Glenn Goodall (LibDem), 52

SOUTHCOTE (total: 73)
Deborah Edwards (Lab), 23
John Ennis (Lab), 39
Pete Ruhemann (Lab), 11

TILEHURST (total: 37)
Peter Beard (LibDem), 14
Ricky Duveen (LibDem), 17
Chris Harris (LibDem), 6

THAMES (total: 50)
David Stevens (Con), 1
Jeanette Skeats (Con), 11
Isobel Ballsdon (Con), 38

WHITLEY (total: 92)
Mary Singleton-White (Lab), 4
Mike Orton (Lab), 84
Jim Hanley (Lab), 4


=================
ends
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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

The Heathrow debate (before the McDonnell debacle)

They Work For You has coverage of the contributions made by both Reading MPs.

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In depth coverage of the controversial plans to expand Heathrow can be found here (see sidebar).

Going Global

Frankly I'm shocked.

Our very own local Conservative councillor Richard Willis has been added as a contributor to GlobalPost.

Now really I should congratulate him for being recognised in this way, but I'm a little worried that they may not be fully aware of some of the more distasteful views he has made in public.

However I'm prepared to offer him the benefit of the doubt and hope this will continue the process of rehabilitation he has undergone while encouraging a higher standard of appropriateness in future.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Two Reading bloggers of repute

In trawling around while I set up the Reading List I discover that famous and respected jouralists/commentators Adam Boulton and Charlie Brooker were both born in this fair town of ours.

So onto the local list they go!

Interestingly this adds a new balance to the list: both political yet non-partisan, both nationally recognised and recognisable figures, but while one is scrupulously pro-establishment and the other blatantly anti-establishment.

Acolaid: The rebuttal

Councillor Fred Pugh (Mapledurham, former leader of the Conservative group on RBC) has written to the Reading Chronicle to complain that the statistics the system produced by Reading's record management system are meaningless:

"I read your news item 'LibDems raise most issues' with increasing irritation.
To use Acolaid statistics to prove they are 'the hardest working councillors in Reading' is utter nonsense and spin of the worst kind.
Of course Mapledurham was the lowest in the table - it is a third of the size of all the other wards,"

which is why it only has one councillor to three for every other ward.

Cllr Pugh continues,
"You could put it another way and say it is the ward with the least amount of problems.
The truth is that my ward is full of intelligent people who sort out their own problems. They go direct to the council and don't come running to their councillor every time.
When they do, I pick up the phone and speak to the responsible officer avoiding council bureaucracy. Such calls do not appear in the statistics but the problem is dealt with more quickly and efficiently.
In my experience all councillors of all parties work hard for the community they represent, none harder than any other."

Cllr Pugh is a well known for his experience, but even so, his last line is a blatant falsehood.

Cllr Willis backs up his former leader's view in what appears to be the 'official' Conservative party line.

Oranjepan asks:
If the statistics are meaningless why is it not Conservative party policy to do away with the expensive record management system which collects them?

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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

Thursday, 15 January 2009

That Heathrow decision

Martin Salter made an appearance on Newsnight last night.

Speaking in his capacity as Labour Party Vice-Chairman he stated that "Labour's environmental credentials are on the line" in the decision over Heathrow.

Yet it seems a middle way has been found by Transport minister Geoff Hoon, who thinks that a balance can be found between the environmental and economic concerns.

It appears that approval is set be given after the formal decision is made today at cabinet (the real decision already having been made, who knows when?) as limits on noise and air pollution are announced as a concession to the protesters.

Labour clearly has no problem with concreting over more green fields and is not worried about the ever-increasing congestion on the road and rails - for them this is a pure debate between the country's coffers and the changing climate (they're obviously not lobbying for support from the Campaign to Protect Rural England).

Other parties appear united in opposition to these plans and the Conservatives have pledged to prevent the expansion of the airport if they win at the next General Election, as work on the new runway and terminal is not expected to be complete before 2019 at the earliest.

Oranjepan asks:
Given that sort of timescale, shouldn't the LibDems also be making a formal pledge?

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In depth coverage of the controversial plans to expand Heathrow can be found here (see sidebar).

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Entertainer

Ricky Gervais, prolific Reading-bred entertainer and exile is also a blogger.

So he goes into the network.

Explaining those Acolaid figures

Acolaid is the system RBC uses for recording and tracking the requests and queries councillors make on the behalf of citizens. This system is designed to ensure that any request is logged to prevent it from being lost and to ensure that it is responded to, while also recording what action is taken.

So a recent press release from the Green party (and the subsequent blog posting) advertising RBC's response to a Freedom of Information request makes particularly interesting reading. 'Reading's Hardest Working Councillor' responds here.

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For full details of 'Who is Reading's Hardest Working Councillor?' click here (see sidebar).

Reading List Blog Survey

Welcome to the Reading List Blog Survey!

Please complete the following questionnaire (and gain some free advertising for your site).

Reading List is interested in hearing from all bloggers/citizen journalists who have a connection to the area.

Please feel free to crosspost your answers on your own blog (please also provide a link back to this post to discover the results of the survey as they come in and help others add to it).

============================================
Questionnaire follows:
============================================


A1 - Who are you?
A2 - What is the title of your blog? (Please provide a link or URL)
A3 - When did you write your first post?
A4 - How many posts have you written in total?


B1 - What are your main areas of interest?
B2 - Do you have any political interests you wish to promote? - If yes, please describe:
B3 - Do you have any commercial interests you wish to promote? - If yes, please describe:
B4 - Do you have any other areas of interest you wish to tell other people about? - If yes, please describe:


C1 - What are you connections with Reading/Berkshire?
C2 - What do you think is the best thing about Reading/Berkshire?
C3 - What do you think is the worst thing about Reading/Berkshire?
C4 - How would you like to see Reading/Berkshire change in the future?

Would you be interested in participating in future Reading List Blog Network initiatives?


============================================

Thank you for your time.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Winslet: Two Golden Globes

Oh what a joyous day it is! We couldn't be prouder of our most famous daughter. Two awards and an expectation that she'll follow this up with additional triumphs in the award season. How long before she becomes a dame we wonder?

I'm less interested in the hoopla here, but I have to say I feel the twinge, having known her in my schooldays. That said the two films look to be pretty much up my street, so I'll be looking forward to them.

Coverage can be found here and here.

Editorial: The Usual Suspects

I'm immensely annoyed about the coverage of local politics in this bijou borough of ours, so I've decided to start up this blog in order to create a space for a balanced commentary of events.

Frankly there have been lots of claims made about which side is better than the rest at using teh interwebs to communicate their messages best, but I'm not convinced by any of them. Willis, Griffiths and Jones go hammer and tongs at it pushing their usual agendas, but I'd like to see them explaining what difference they think their online presence has made, or is it just an outlet to express their own frustrations?

It's one thing being able to write a press release and get someone to take notice of what you've said, but it's a whole different matter gaining new members or donations for a political cause from your web presence: impressing the media isn't the same as having a public impact...
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