Sunday, 31 May 2009

Who Is Your Hardest Working Councillor?

Local LibDems have been cock-a-hoop with the release of Acolaid figures showing the amount of casework undertaken by councillors across Reading Borough.

Daisy Benson says she is proud of the effort put in by the LibDem team which they fit in around their normal day-jobs because they "get a lot of satisfaction from helping local residents and from campaigning to improve our area."

Warren Swaine reminds us that the national scandal over dodgy expense claims may be blinding us to the actual value for money provided by the different sides and points out that LibDems in Reading do on average twice-as-much as the typical Labour representative and almost three-times-as-much as Conservatives.

A similar point is made by Cllr Goodall as he preemts criticisms from opponents that use of the casework figures is an unreliable measure. He says that the Acolaid system is designed to enable progress can be tracked and this helps ensure more effective responses.

Meanwhile over in Henley, Conservative councillors are facing criticism from LibDems over their decision to stop reporting of attendance at council meetings. Tories branded the reports "inaccurate" and "a waste of time", saying the quality of work was more important than the quantity.

Oranjepan says:
Whether it is quality or quantity you are after, without authorative statistical information to back up the claims of each party how will voters ever expect to make an informed decision!

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

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Recommended Reading List #25

Obviously Reading List loves lists, and Berkshire Humanists have produced a series of seven questions which voters may wish to ask candidates and political parties who canvas them.

While BH's list pertains to the particular interests of advocates for secular values, we want to know what you'd ask...

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Round-Up: An Agenda For Reform

With the furore over the current MPs expenses scandal continuing to bite into the public consciousness politicians on all sides have been furiously scrambling to develop proposals which they think will win back any trust lost in what they each stand for.

Labour says transparency is key and that regulation is the way to ensure it.

Local candidate Anneliese Dodds and outgoing MP Martin Salter have joined forces to propose a simple once-and-for-all seven point plan which they hope will restore lost faith in the system of politics presided over by their party.

Conservatives agree on the principle that changes are needed, but disagree with everybody else and themselves over what the precise nature of the changes should be.

National leader David Cameron has issued a revolutionary call for 'people power', a move criticised for potentially bypassing parliament and which could risk undermining any attempts to hold the executive to account in an effective and direct manner.

Kentwood councillor Emma Warman is more cautious about offering her view of the precise nature of any reforms, and says she will be following the headlines to see which way she will swing. However, RBWM Council Leader David Burbage is scathing about electoral reform and can't wait until the next general election brings in a new set of faces.

LibDems argue that accountability is the fundamental issue and a completely new reforming agenda is needed.

Leader Nick Clegg has been praised for laying out a thorough-going and 'visionary' raft of proposals which include 'root and branch' reforms of everything from expenses to party funding and election procedures - he says it's not enough to change the faces of the politicians, because if the system stays the same the result will be the same.

Cllr Glenn Goodall weighs in with a summary of the main areas which need addressing, on which there is a general cross-party consensus.

Mark Thompson is pleased that electoral and constitutional reform is now being taken more seriously considered as it is one of the main reasons he joined the party, while Tilehurst LibDem councillor Ricky Duveen is surprised at the sudden rise in popularity of an issue which he has been campaigning on for many years and Cllr Swaine provides a reminder of some interventions he's actively supported.

Green Party candidates Rob White and Adrian Hollister find themselves unable to differentiate between individual representatives as they make a sweeping dismissal of all other parties.

They are clearly less concerned with the detail of any proposals than trying to ensure their own are elected, because it is surely obvious that every single last Green party member is by definition immune from any form of error of judgment or culpability in corrupt practices!

Finally Howard Thomas of Reading's own Common Sense Party offers his less-than-extensive 'common sense solution' to close the loopholes and resolve all the problems problems created when money and politics mix, which involves his view of the most significant of the measures proposed by the other parties.

Nevertheless Howard is staightforward in debunking the sudden urgency of recent converts to the case for reform.

Oranjepan says:
All parties are fighting over this issue, so they obviously feel their response will be decisive in deciding the turnout of future elections.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Reading-Based Banker At Fault Over Credit Crunch

In a major investigation by BBC Radio 4 programme File On 4, the conduct of Reading-based HBOS executive Lynden Scourfield has been called into question.

Irregular activities alleged to have occurred within the company's Queen's Road offices include requirements to hire dependent consultant Quayside Corporate Services despite some unusual and excessive contract conditions.

Borrowers have argued that Quayside Corporate Services managing director David Mills was complicit in forcing the subsequent bankruptcy of their companies due to unfair terms of borrowing imposed on them by the creditors.

In one case Mr Mills gained a controlling interest over a company in which he oversaw a ballooning of agreed credit facilities from £1m to £28m while still receiving consultancy and management fees, but both Mr Mills and Lloyds Banking Group have denied responsibility for the failure of their clients.

Forensic accountant David Winch found 18 companies had received cash where there was a 'clear and obvious risk' as total losses accumulated out of the Reading branch reached more than £250m, or more than 90% of the total amounts provided in loans. Mr Winch described this lost sum as "quite shocking" and "remarkable in the extreme".

'Questions to be answered'

Conservative MP James Paice has secured a parliamentary debate on the alleged irregularies (for next Tuesday, June 2nd), while LibDem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable has been leading calls for a full investigation by the regulatory services.

Mr Paice commented that "The whole thing stinks" as he argued that the wider issue of public support for financial institutions must be called into question while such 'dubious' policies remain in place.

Mr Cable said, "If half of what I hear is true this is a very, very serious matter," and described the behaviour of HBoS executives as 'extremely irresponsible'. He added,
"We need to understand why. It's in the wider public interest and we need to know why there were failures of supervision, and why the bank's directors didn't do their job. There are a lot of questions to be answered."
Meanwhile financial journalist Ian Fraser charts the decline and near collapse of HBoS, asking 'when did the rot set in?', but leaving open the implication that despite the suspension and sacking of individuals in key positions (Lynden Scourfield was suspended by HBoS in 2006) the underlying conflict of interests which produced such massive miscalculations of risk have still not yet been fully sorted out.

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Update: Ian Fraser goes into greater depth on the fraud committed out of the Reading office.

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BBC Radio 4's 'File On 4' for Tuesday 26th May is available to stream for 7 days on the BBC iPlayer, or you can download the episode as a podcast.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Are You Listening, Mr Wilson?

Out of the murk of the expenses scandals the question of political dialogue has raised it's head again.

Cllr Swaine draws our attention to the use of MPs 'communications allowance' - a sum of over £10,000 per year - and argues that there is a wide gulf between fair communication and propaganda.

Adrian Windisch recently cited a Hansard Society report into the extent MPs use technology to communicate with constituents and was shocked to discover that in some cases they respond to as few as two emails per week!

The Hansard investigation concluded that MPs are 'transmitting but not receiving', fearful of the often confrontational nature of the blogosphere and the potential to get sucked into a losing debate online which provides a permanent account of their views.

Report author Andy Williamson, Director of the eDemocracy programme at the Hansard Society said, "They use the internet as a tool for campaigning and for organising their supporters, rather than opening up two-way communication with constituents."

Which will probably explain Conservative Reading East MP Rob Wilson's decision to ensure readership of his blog is by invitation only.

Following Conservative leader David Cameron's strong opposition to use of the communications allowance Mr Wilson has since decided that his online presence does not amount to open communication with constituents and it is unfair to continue to claim the sum for his activities.

Whether Mr Wilson intends to repay sums he has already claimed is not known.

Oranjepan asks:
If they don't engage in dialogue how can we be reassured that our representatives aren't just pretending to listen?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Bracknell MP Andrew Mackay To Stand Down

Controversial Conservative Bracknell MP Andrew Mackay has reversed his overnight position of intending to seek relection at the next General Election and has announced he will stand down, thereby denying members of his party or the public a chance to vote him out of office.

The stalwart Conservative had previously offered apologies for his behaviour, but said he didn't want the public to be 'distracted' from the real issues facing the country.

Bracknell News reports that this change of heart comes after a conversation with Conservative leader David Cameron, insisting that Friday night's public meeting had nothing to do with his decision. This is despite Mr Cameron earlier stating that reselection or reelection should be a matter for local party members and voters.

Mark Thompson is dismisses Mr MacKay's statement as ignoring the fact of the weight of opinion against him, saying it is obvious that the meeting must have at least been a contributing factor - either Mr MacKay is being disingenuous or is simply blind.

Bracknell Blog collects an excellent selection of reports: Radio Bracknell editor John Hicks says Mr MacKay's time is up; The Independent reports that residents have "no desire to represented by a theif"; while membership blog ConservativeHome has a chorus of disapproval against Mr MacKay.

Paul Walter draws our attention to a Have I got News For You in which Mr MacKays wife and Conservative Bromsgrove MP, Julie Kirkbride (who is herself facing renewed calls to stand down) in which the matter of double-claiming expenses was brought to her attention 3 years ago.

Caversham Conservative councillor, Richard Willis gives the matter perfunctory attention in a seeming attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet, while the common voice of local Conservatives is expressed by Wat Tyler, who says similar attention should be focused on all individual members who have behaved in such a disreputable manner.

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Update: Howard Thomas has his say, suggesting Mr MacKay should be prosecuted for the fraud he has perpetrated.

Andrew MacKay Fighting For His Political Life

Bracknell Conservative MP, Andrew MacKay is fighting to preserve his 26-year tenure after an angry crowd packed the Kerith Centre to capacity, in what Mr MacKay described as "a very lively meeting."



Here he is answering questions.



Things got even more confrontational afterwards as Mr MacKay faced the cameras under the eye of the BBC's Peter Henley. A member of the public accused him of misrepresenting the mood of the meeting to the press and others said they were no longer prepared to vote for his party because of his behaviour.



Mr MacKay declared his intention to stand for reelection as he said he was prepared to throw himself at the mercy of the "very fair-minded" people of Bracknell.

Meanwhile calls for Mr MacKay to resign have been growing over his conduct.

David Young of the Green Party says the overwhelming impression he and his colleagues have recieved on the doorstep is that most people think he should resign. He also insinuates that the limited capacity and ticketing restrictions on the Kerith Hall event suggext an attempt to ameliorate negative reaction .

Mark Thompson reports back from the meeting, giving a detailed account of the mood of the event and lists the questions Mr MacKay faced.

He concludes that the result of the meeting is that Mr MacKay's position is now untenable.

Radio Bracknell is in accord, judging Mr MacKay's performance 'unsatisfactory'.

They quote LibDem PPC Ray Earwicker, who has hopes of snatching the seat at the General Election, saying Mr MacKay "made a serious error of judgement in consistently claiming for a second-home allowance. While he may have acted within the rules, he most certainly had not acted within the spirit of the rules."

Conservative leader David Cameron has also indicated his preference for Mr MacKay to go, but said it was not his decision.


Talking to Sky News Victoria Gatenby.


Outside the meeting.

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Update: Howard Thomas also says Mr MacKay's position is untenable, and that he expects him to be charged with fraud.

Andrew MacKay
has announced he will not stand again.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Political Battle Mars Gurkha Campaign Success

The endgame of the campaign to win Gurkhas justice in their attempt to gain equal settlement rights for those who retired from service before 1997 has been played out with the government making a complete U-turn on previous policy.

It has been a remarkable defeat for Gordon Brown which has been masked by the diplomatic magnanimity of Joanna Lumley. But on a local level politicians have been active in their attempts to provide deeper philosophical analysis.

Martin Salter claims credit for the campaign quoting Gurkha solicitor Tim Heaver who said it was the Reading West MP who "persuaded the Government to rethink its settlement policy," gushing that such praise is evidence that it is "the highlight of his political career."

Reading LibDems are 'hearty' in their praise for the Gurkhas, wishing them a "happy and prosperous future," but are angry that attention should be distracted by "discredited Labour sycophant" Martin Salter, who they say has disgracefully used the multi-party campaign as a platform for self-promotion.

Former Salter colleague Jane Griffiths is unabashed in her criticism, sarcastically noting his 'doughty' campaigning which involved abstaining on the critical parliamentary vote while attaching his name to any press or publicity material available.

Craig Morley takes the more reserved Conservative view on behalf of Rob Wilson, reiterating the traditional speechwriterly line about these fierce Nepalese warriers, "don’t fight the Gurkhas… you’ll only lose!"

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Update: In a not unexpected move Martinsnottheone calls Mr Salter a hypocrite.


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More on the Gurkha residency campaign.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Mayor-making Turns Political

In a sign of the volatile political mood Reading's annual meeting saw a break with convention as local LibDems fed-up with the obscure and archane machinations of bad government fed off public anger at the corrupt system by attempting to overturn the political direction in our borough.

Conservatives were caught off-guard by a procedural motion to prevent reconfirmation of the current minority Labour administration, which will now continue for another 12 months due to the lack of elections this year.

Cllr Willis complains that their lack of backroom dealing meant his party hadn't had time to consider the ramifications or fix a result as he gets lost in the details of the ceremonial ritual. He "imagines" some common ground could have been found to accomodate a mutual desire to oust Labour policy-makers, but admits his party's intransigence meant he was unable to get his wish.

Reading LibDem councillors Warren Swaine and Glenn Goodall launched a scathing attack on the self-interested duopoly operated by the two establishment parties.

Cllr Goodall points out that the Conservatives are left with egg on their faces as despite their protestations they actually voted to reinstall the discredited Labour adminstration and are, in effect, 'propping them up'.

Cllr Swaine highlights the inconsistency of his opponents, whose "usual blustering and pomposity... once again proved themselves not fit to run the town," - not least because they either haven't read the council constitution or don't understand it's implications and how it applies.

Meanwhile one former local candidate for the Conservative party is vociferous in his opinion that Labour are past their sell-by date and credibility needs to return to our politics, although it is not clear whether he thinks this also applies to Reading where Labour has been in power for 23 years.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

More Housing Planned On Reading Borders

A new planning proposal for 450 new homes on the edge of Theale has stirred an activist councillor to go online an an attempt to involve residents in the consultation process.

LibDem representative for Theale, Cllr Alan Macro has set up a website which he helps will enable people to voice any concerns about potential development in the vital buffer zone between the village and M4 at White Hart Meadow.

Cllr Macro said he wants "to ensure that residents are fully informed... [as] information regarding the proposal is very hard to find"

The official consultation period is open for six weeks from the end of May, but early comments and contributions can be sent to:
Bryan Lyttle
Transport and Planning Policy Manager
West Berkshire Council
Market Street
Newbury, RG14 5LD
All sides can now be considered to have declared their intention to prevent development on this site, with Rob Wilson declaring the Conservative position that saving green belt 'buffer zones' of exactly this sort remain an essential part of their strategy and Labour's Martin Salter continuing campaign to get people to "register their opposition to to... the expansion of the existing settlement boundaries".

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Update: Congratulations go to Linda Fort for picking up on the story!

Oranjepan asks:
With every party united in opposition to the development of this location, will the Newbury-based West Berkshire council listen to citizens on the edge of Reading?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Filling Martin's Boots

It was much anticipated, but with the Speaker of the House Of Commons forced from office for the first time since 1695 after failing to reassure the commoners that he could be trusted with much-needed reforms to house expenses procedures, eyes have now turned to potential replacements for Mr Martin with questions being asked about who is prepared 'fill his boots' (and, needless to say, stockings and garters too).

Members from all sides have been mooted. Notable candidates include North-west Hampshire's George Young and current deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst from the Conservative benches, as well as former deputy leader of the LibDems Sir Alan Beith.

It is not expected that convention will be defied and a Labour MP will be dragged to the chair for the third time in succession, so Frank Field or another firebrand government backbencher should be discounted. But as The Daily Pundit says, with rumours suggesting local Reading West MP Martin Salter as a dark horse, despite having already announced he will stand down and an ongoing selection process for the Labour candidacy in the seat, "stranger things have happened".

Tradition dictates that the speaker should not actively campaign for the job of presiding over the democratic house, so it will be smoke and mirrors all the way.

It should also be noted that the Speaker's seat is uncontested during General Elections.

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Update: Apparently Martin Salter is supporting Conservative MP John Bercow to be the new Speaker.

It's The Vote That Counts

Public Whip provides the information on MPs voting records. Here it shows how they decided on last summer's failed reform of MPs expenses.

Berkshire's MPs voted as follows (listed alphabetically):

In the aye lobby (opposing the reforms) -
Andrew MacKay (Con), Bracknell

In the no lobby (supporting the reforms) -
Fiona MacTaggart (Lab), Slough
Theresa May (Con), Maidenhead

Absent -
Adam Afriyie (Con), Windsor
Richard Benyon (Con), Newbury
John Redwood (Con), Wokingham
Martin Salter (Lab), Reading West
Rob Wilson (Con), Reading East

Oranjepan asks:
Should it be assumed that those MPs who absented themselves from the vote were happy for the system to continue as it was, or that they thought it was of too little public concern to spend their time voting?

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Update: The votes for all parties across the country were as follows:

PartyMajority (Aye)Minority (No)BothTurnout
Con21 54 (+1 tell)039.6%
Ind2 0040.0%
Lab146 (+2 tell) 50257.1%
LDem0 35 (+1 tell)057.1%
SNP0 2033.3%
UKIP0 01100.0%
Total:169 141051.4%

Monday, 18 May 2009

Q&A With Andrew MacKay

Bracknell Conservative MP Andrew MacKay has announced the details of the public meeting he promised constituents in the aftermath of his exposure and subsequent resignation for fraudulently claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds from the taxpayer in Additional Costs Allowances (ACA).

Mark Reckons will be attending the cross-examination of his representative, which will be held next Friday 22nd May at 7:00pm at the Kerith Centre in Bracknell.

Due to the limited availability and expected high turnout it will be a ticket-only affair and attendees will need to call 01344 868286 or e-mail bracknellca@tory.org to book your place.

Mark also reports the BBC's Peter Henley, who twittered that early discussions had not fixed the location of the event due to potential capacity problems.

Oranjepan says:
If you cannot attend but have a question you'd like to ask Mr MacKay regarding his expenses, please use the comments. We will endeavour to ensure they are put to him at the meeting.

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Update: Mark asks the question at Bracknell Blogs.

Radio Bracknell advertises the meeting.

Two-thirds of respondents on his own party membership blog say Mr MacKay should stand down, while it is reported that 80% of local residents say he has lost their trust in a local survey.

Meanwhile loyalists have rallied round and found one
local tory councillor prepared to offer him continued support.

Meanwhile Chairman of Bracknell Forest Conservative Association, Roger Black has commented "Andrew has been a little naughty in his attention to the rules but has been a very good MP for 26 years and it would be sad to lose him."

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Speaking Up Against The Speaker

LibDem parliamentary Candidate for Reading East, Cllr Gareth Epps is one of 56 PPCs to sign an open letter expressing disappointment with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin MP, and calling on him to consider his position.

Cllr Epps is backing up LibDem leader Nick Clegg's extraordinary and unprecedented call for the resignation of the Speaker of the House as a first step to regain trust in the political system of the country damaged by the expenses scandal.

Mr Martin is due to make a statement which he hopes will quell concerns about the scandal by setting out his proposed course of action, although it it not known whether he will address a motion of no confidence in the Speaker due to be tabled by Conservative Douglas Carswell (a first in over 300 years), as it is within the Speaker's remit to ignore such a motion if it is unsupported by a wide enough spread of members.

The Speaker is in charge of the Fees Office which oversees parliamentary expenses, as well as being responsible for the smooth running of the chamber in his role as presiding officer or chair of the House of Commons. He is expected to remain politically impartial at all times.

Oranjepan asks:
Who will return order to this troubled house?

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Update: Both local MPs have said Mr Martin's removal from the speaker's chair was necessary. Martin Salter regretted the move and said he was "not responsible" for the inexcusable claims made by MPs on both sides of the house, but Rob Wilson pointed out that Mr Martin had previously been found guilty of dodgy claims of his own.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Recommended Reading List #24

Rachel Cooke reviews a biography of 'one of the finest yet sadly neglected novelists of the 20th century', Reading's own communist Elizabeth Taylor, who was born in 1912 as Betty Coles.

At Mrs Lippincote's, A View of the Harbour and A Game of Hide and Seek are "funny, savage and full of loneliness and suppressed emotion", while Angel and Mrs Palfrey At The Claremont were recently adapted for the cinema.

These elegant works are best devoured enviously alongside violet creams. Apparently that's code for 'a real treat'.

Tributes Flow After Principled Resignation

"I feel it is the best thing, for both the club and myself, for me to leave," said Steve Coppell in a statement as he stepped down from his position as manager of Reading FC earlier this week.

Suggestions of his imminent departure had been circulating for weeks as the team ran out of steam in it's promotion bid, failing to win any of it's last nine home games, before being knocked out with home and away losses in the play-offs.

Commentator Paul Fletcher says he expected the brand of attractive football fostered by Coppell at Reading would see the team bounce back from relegation from the premiership at the first attempt. He adds that this style all seems to stem from the "steady calm and sense of equilibrium [which] surrounds his sides."

Meanwhile the fans response is one of inevitable resignation. Disappointed, but praising the virtues of the man as he steps down with his pride intact. He was "honest, intelligent and highly principled; we may not see his like again."

Local MPs were quick to capitalise on Coppell's departure by grandstanding in Parliament.

Rob Wilson MP and Martin Salter MP tabled a joint Early Day Motion praising Coppell's exemplary conduct and his display of "honesty, decency, modesty, and professionalism" in the service of his team and community.

Oranjepan says:
If only we could expect the same level of integrity from all public figures and representatives.

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Related reading: RRL#5 BBC's Paul Fletcher praises Coppell's management style.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Bracknell Tory MP Resigns After Exposure Of Expense Abuses

With the continuing drip-drip of information being released to the public by the Daily Telegraph ahead of the full publication by parliamentary authorities, Conservative MP for Bracknell, Andrew MacKay has become the first victim of the expenses scandal.

Mr MacKay resigned from his role as parliamentary adviser to party leader David Cameron after it was revealed he claimed over £22,000 last year for his second home allowance while his wife and Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, Julie Kirkbride, claimed similar amounts for another property also designated as a second home - while they both continued living together!

Mr MacKay apologised profusely after being found out only one day after telling the Bracknell Standard he believed there was nothing 'unreasonable' in his claims, saying it was an "error of judgement".

It emerges that Mr MacKay and his wife have both been claiming the full amounts of their second home allowance for "eight or nine years".

Mr MacKay subsequently told the BBC that he would answer to his constituents for his behaviour, although Mr Cameron has threatened to expel members who didn't repay excessive claims and he may be deselected in the meantime anyway.

Last year he opposed the Conservative whip to reject reform of the expenses system.

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To view the interview in which Mr MacKay attempts to provide an explanation, click here.

Conservative party leader David Cameron says in an interview that it was the 'right' decision for Mr MacKay to resign as his aide.

Andrew Neil interviews a contrite Andrew MacKay on the Daily Politics in which he accepts he may repay as much as £1/4m and says "makes him look rather foolish".

Click here for full coverage of details surrounding Mr MacKay's resignation.

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Update: LibDem PPC for Bracknell, Ray Earwicker, has commented that it is "no wonder Andrew Mackay voted to keep his second-home allowance last year," and estimates Mr MacKay has claimed £285,000 towards the cost of his £2m home in London.

He also calls for a full explanation "for the way in which he has exploited the current arrangements".

Paul Walter does his sums and works out how much Mr MacKay has ripped the taxpayer off for. Though there's no charge for this accountancy service.

Mark Reckons is "absolutely disgusted" by the behaviour of his representative. He calls for his MP to seek a new mandate from voters by forcing a by-election which will enable residents to give their verdict.

Mark previously wrote to Mr MacKay and received a reply regarding his opinion why he opposed reform of the expense system.

He also reports BBC South's Peter Henley's comment that the Madejski Stadium may be the only venue with sufficient capacity to satisfy public demand!

Bracknell Blogs asks 'how could he not know what he was doing was wrong?' and also calls for a by-election to be held.

Radio Bracknell publishes a statement by Mr MacKay advertising the public meeting to be held next Friday, 22nd May. Time and location as yet unknown.


David Cameron: "Clearly it is very embarassing; a very bad case."


Andrew MacKay mobbed by journalists.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Scramble Follows Conservative Resignations

The declaration of the candidates fighting to fill the vacancies created by the resignation of two sitting Conservative on local councils has been made.

No sooner than the starting whistle was blown and Cllr Willis has shown that a real contest is underway as he fires the first shot in an attempt to score partisan points.

Meanwhile Labour will no doubt be accused of inconsistency for failing to put up any candidate against the BNP after recently coming in for much criticism for hyping up the threat of undesirable parties.

The council By-elections for Wokingham Without ward on Wokingham Borough Council and Loddon Airfield ward on Woodley Town Council will coincide with the European elections on Thursday 4th June.

New Briefs Or New Broom For LibDems?

Hot on the heels of the news that Reading's LibDem group would reshuffle it's frontbench team they have now announced their new roles.

Cllr Kirsten Bayes will step up from deputy to group leader, while Redlands colleague Cllr Daisy Benson will take over as deputy.

Conservative councillor Richard Willis has attempted to stir up mischief by suggesting - due to the sudden turnaround in personnel - that the end of Cllr Epps 12-month tenure indicates a split in their ranks, despite expressions of continued support as he fights the Reading East parliamentary seat.

Meanwhile Jane Griffiths is cautiously impressed by the LibDems. That two women have risen to fill the top two party positions on merit clearly strikes a bigger blow for equality than her own former party has been capable of achieving locally.

Cllr Goodall says he is proud of his party and points out several reasons why the LibDems are more relevant than ever, as he hopes they will continue their current momentum.

Oranjepan asks:
Will the LibDem reshuffle mark a change in their style or a change in substance?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

'Former Reservoir Is A Green Lung'

A public meeting has been organised for 7.30pm on Wednesday 13th May in the Downshire Square Church Hall prior to a consultation on revised plans to develop the Bath Road reservoir site.

The plans for the 5.4 acres site will be exhibited in the same building on Thursday 14th & Saturday 16th May.

According to Thames Water, the reservoir will be made redundant later this year and the site is ideally located for additional housing needs.

Following rejection of an earlier plan for 120 homes, Kennet Properties are due in June to submit an application outlining proposals for 96 new homes.

Conservative candidate Alok Sharma explained his objections, "the ‘new’ plans will not be fundamentally different from those previously submitted and they clearly have not taken into account the view of the community."

Local campaigners said that over the course of 150 years in active service the reservoir has been isolated from human contact, in the process developing into a wildlife haven where deer, badgers, birds and numerous other species have made themselves a natural home.

They also claim the site is not viable and proposals to devlop it for housing contradicts the definition of sustainable development - not least because it will mean more cars so close to the air quality management area (AQMA) at the Bath Road/Tilehurst Road junction.

"Local people would very much like to see this site preserved and used as a community wide resource," according to the Save The Bath Road Reservoir Campaign coordinators, Mel Woodward, Sarah Hayter and Graham Griffiths.

The online petition is still open if you wish to register your opposition to the plans, but it is also important to make it a worthwhile exercise by participating in the consultation and making sure the developers know the views of residents.

For more information visit the Save the Bath Rd Reservoir campaign site.

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Update: We know where Adrian Windisch get's his news.

Blasting The Nasty Party

In another sign that the government is heading for a pounding at the June 4th Euro Elections, Labour has evoked the spectre posed by minor parties as several prominent local figures expressed concern about their continued ability to motivate voters.

Martin Salter said less than eight per cent of the vote is required to win a seat under proportional representation and any reduction in his party's vote, which gained one of the eleven south-east regional seats in the last Euro election, could allow others in.

Anneliese Dodds was more desperate and urged supporters who stayed away last time to reconsider, and Jo Lovelock cited an example from 15 years ago warning that community relations could be 'poisoned' by a visible representative of public opinion.

And Labour provides an example of how it is using resources to further it's national electoral agenda by organising a local forum to focus on how to spend a growing allocation of government funds to tackle extreme political attitudes.

Meanwhile, the consensual view of other parties is that the tactic of scaring people with the perceived threat of gains by fringe groups is counterproductive as it gives them the publicity they crave, rather than offering any real reasons to go to the ballot box and vote positively.

Former Labour MP Jane Griffiths slams her former colleagues for attempting to bully voters and legitimising the beliefs of those they disagree with.

Local maverick Howard Thomas points out that the issues addressed by smaller parties shouldn't be ignored, as this creates a breeding ground for dissent.

Which is exactly what is done on BracknellBlogs, who the dissect claims made in a recent BNP election pamphlet.

Oranjepan asks:
Do you know who your Euro representatives and candidates are, and more importantly, what they stand for?

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Final Load

The local blogosphere has been rocked by the news of the demise of anonymous cult satirist Mick Spreader, who has announced he is to 'hang up his keyboard'.

Independent Cllr Tony Jones writes a bad poem in eulogy, while Cllr Goodall picks out several of his best moments in rememberance of good times past.

Mick signs off with this final quote and warning:
"Reading now has a burgeoning local blog network so hopefully someone else will take up the mantle of poking fun at the pompous, the smug and the jobsworths of Reading and continue to expose lies and hypocrisy where they see it.

Don't leave it to the press!"

Friday, 8 May 2009

Pandemic Panic Subsides Into Sense

NHS Berkshire East PCT has announced that 'swine flu' has hit Berkshire, as a 20-year-old man from Slough who was experiencing symptoms on a flight back from Mexico was confirmed as being infected with the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Dr Angela Snowling said "it’s not very nice, but neither is it very serious."

The local health authority is also helping distribute a government leaflet to every household providing information about what the virus is, what is causes, how it spreads, what can be done to stop it and what you ought to do if you think you have it.

You can also download a digital version of the leaflet here.

Both Reading and Bracknell Forest Borough Councils have responded to public fears by releasing statements emphasising how good basic hygiene will prevent infection.

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Elsewhere Matt Blackall exhaustively discusses the origins of the disease, suggesting that the mutation of a potentially deadly virus is the fault of global free-market capitalism.

Cynical nihilist Charlie Brooker wholeheartedly disagrees, explaining that people are easily scared of things they don't like which can't be controlled.

He says:
"Sadly, our magic controllable world is an illusion bearing little relation to the one we actually inhabit, where bad things sometimes occur for no reason. But rather than come to terms with it, we stubbornly refuse to accept the entire concept of risk, hence our neurotic hunt for the nearest scapegoat the moment anything goes wrong - or even looks as if it might."
Viruses spread and mutate - it's what they do.

Meanwhile others are taking a more lighthearted view.

Mick Spreader expects his alter ego to be smeared for spreading a new 'extra A' strain.

Noddy330 laughs in the face of fear and Cousin Gideon pushes the perverse logic to the extreme.

However the final word must go to the incomparable Charlie 'it's all balls, except when it's not' Brooker.
"Blind fear is counter-productive, but so is blind denial... it might be a good idea to, y'know, actually follow the medical advice by carrying tissues and developing a fairly studious hand-washing routine."

'Save Our Brains'

Protesters fighting Reading University's proposal to close a second department this year gathered en masse on Wednesday outside Earley Gate to demonstrate their opposition as the University Senate met to discuss whether to implement the propsals.

Campaigners are unhappy about the level of consultation as suggestions continue to circulate that the final decision is cut and dried.

However the Senate decided against voting on the proposals in order to assess alternative arrangements, which may include transferring the department to another institution.

University spokesman Alex Brannen explained that a £450,000 government funding cut to ELQ qualifications in 2009/10 at Reading meant other courses would have to subsidise the department to keep it open.

Meanwhile an unnamed tutor commented that "the local community has been let down" as the closure will "leave a gap in the heart of Reading intellectually and culturally."

"Thousands of people participate and are involved in lifelong learning which the Government is supposed to be promoting and showing there is life beyond watching the wall and retirement."

Continuing student Sara Scott, said "We should be encouraged to keep ourselves intellectually alive rather than sitting at home waiting for dementia to hit us."

Reading University later released this statement:
"The Senate has urged the University to apply its best endeavours, in collaboration with other parties, to facilitate the continued availability of public programmes in the locality. This view was reached by consensus and no vote was taken. The view of the Senate will now be passed for consideration to the University’s Council, the University’s governing body."
Reading University Council will meet on Tuesday 7th July to make a final decision over whether to close it's School of Continuing Education.

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Update: In other news statistics provided by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education show the proportion of adult learners has fallen to it's lowest level since Labour came to power.

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History: Funding cut announced; Campaigners get organised; Action plans take shape
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Reading Action on Continuing Education provides further information on the campaign.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Caught In A Speed Trap

Tom Riall, 49, has been found guilty of driving his Volvo at over 102mph in a 70mph zone on the A14 in Suffolk. Sudbury magistrates banned him from driving for six months and fined him £300 plus costs.

Just another ordinary day in court, you might think.

But Mr Riall, from Berkshire's idyllic Ufton Nervet, just happens to earn £150,000pa as chief executive of Serco Government Division, which operates 5,000 of the UK's 8,000 Gatso speed cameras - you know, the ones which catch you speeding!

So it should be no surprise that you can almost smell the delicious irony dripping through the numerous reports - here is a leading businessman who preached one thing and did the exact opposite.

Mr Riall pleaded guilty and issued a formal apology, but this wasn't enough for road safety charity Brake with whom he promoted the 'Safe Drive Stay Alive' road safety campaign last year.

The campaign charity summed up a nation's thoughts as it released a statement, "He has obviously shown a disregard for the law that his company is instrumental in upholding."

Perhaps other motorists should be glad he doesn't have a penchant for really fast cars!

In a perverse twist Mr Riall pleaded extreme hardship as he asked for a driving ban not to be imposed, claiming it would cost £30,000 to be chauffeured around the country in the course of his business.

You can watch Mr Riall's public statement here.

Meanwhile Howard Thomas is more cynical about the use of cameras for enforcement and on a slightly different tangent Pete Moring discusses a potentially infallible technological form of intervention to prevent such double standards - the black box.

Oranjepan asks:
Is the punishment a taste of his own medicine and a case of poetic justice, or is it a minor diversion for this locally-based high-flier?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

'Kingmaker' Epps Steps Down

In another signal that a general election is only just around the corner leader of the LibDem group on RBC, Cllr Gareth Epps has stepped back from this frontline role after only a year in the job.

He described it as a 'exceptional' period for his party during which the transition to NOC from a Labour-dominated council has given his team of councillors additional responsibilities.

Cllr Epps said, "When I took over as leader, we were entering an uncertain and turbulent situation in Reading, with a new chief executive, and many new councillors replacing long-standing Labour opponents."

He cited major successes in forcing an independent inquiry into school admissions, delivering on environmental crime enforcement and opposing unfair rent rises on council tenants.

Cllr Epps also played kingmaker when it came to the protracted discussions over RBC's annual budget, which eventually saw almost all LibDem amendments adopted as the deadlock between Labour and Conservative parties threatened to send council services into limbo.

LibDems are expected to announce their new group leader next week, as Cllr Epps will now concentrate on efforts to become the MP for Reading East.

Cllr Epps also advocated his commitment to the cause of local people, saying "Liberal Democrat councillors have continued to outwork and outperform [all other parties]."

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Previous election results (2001), (2005) [ref]
Con: 13,943 (32.0%), 15,557 (35.4%)
Lab: 19,531 (44.8%); 15,082 (34.3%)
LibDem: 8,078 (18.5%); 10,619 (24.2%)

Reading East is the LibDems 39th highest target seat.

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Update: Mick spreads malicious gossip that the LibDems won't even need to phone a friend in order to decide who replaces Cllr Epps.

Implacable Conservative rival Cllr Willis claims Cllr Epps stood down because of splits in the 8-strong LibDem group, not because we are now less than 12 months before a General Election.

Cllr Swaine shows his support for his ward colleague. Cllr Goodall says Cllr Epps remains popular and influential.

Oranjepan says:
With a strong local candidate and a track record of delivery Cllr Epps makes Reading East a serious contest - expect fireworks (of the political kind)!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Round-Up: Station Designs Move Ahead

The massive redevelopments at Reading's Station Hill have been given the full treatment by local journalists and bloggers recently.


Station Hill
New plans show the site will eventually house over 1m sq ft of mixed-use space in five skyscrapers reaching up to 120m (400ft) height after a previous plan was vetoed last year with English Heritage and CABE expressing concern about the scale of the impact of such a development.

Reading Guide's 'Editor John' is excited by the plans but notes some incongruity in the extended back-and-forth manner of accepting a bigger version of something which was put on hold because it was too big. The central location of the site meant it was always likely to be a drawn out affair, however, as attested to by this 6-year-old thread from skyscrapercity.

So it strikes a discordant note that Sackville director Ian Smith says of the plans that "the overall size density has been reduced by 24 per cent," while it is simultaneously described as being 'bigger and better'.

Conservative MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson, also supports the plans. He said of the changes made in the intervening review, "it has addressed the concerns raised in the original plan, with more public space and better access for pedestrians." Which is what you'd expect as the site will now cover 5.1 acres (up from 3.5 acres).

Local businessman and consortium leader Sir John Madejski has been on a promotional campaign as he hopes to win backing for his commercial proposals. The plans were laid out in an exhibition last weekend and it is expected that a planning application will go to the council in June with the hope that work will begin in 2011 and the expectation that the first phase will be completed by 2014.

You can view the architects designs here.

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Reading Station
Reading Chronicle helpfully provides a timeline for the plans.

Leader of RBC, Labour's Cllr Jo Lovelock could hardly keep her hat on, effusively hyping the new station as the best thing to hit Reading "since Brunel was alive."

Executive director of Reading UK CIC, Tim Smith, is most worried about any further potential delays considering total passenger numbers using Reading station are expected to double from 17m to 35m within the next decade. He urged, "the sooner we can get this going, the better for Reading."

However Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty took a slightly different line as he determined to be 'open' to ongoing discussions about the specifics of the scheme.

Which is probably a prudent course as LibDems are less convinced, offering only cautious support. Despite new £4.3m funding for an upgrade to nearby bus and taxi stops, they demand all forms of transport should be taken properly into account.

LibDem leader Cllr Gareth Epps said, "There is a huge danger that Reading loses an unrepeatable opportunity for a world-class transport interchange."

Transport spokesman Cllr Ricky Duveen explained, "we should be putting passengers first," adding that although regeneration is welcome, the council "cannot allow... regeneration at any price."

This echoed Network Rail's Robbie Burns, who, in announcing Bechtel as the engineering partner for the rail realignment, said, "Passengers and freight users are at the core of our work."

Cllr Willis notes the potential for controversy, but says "key for me is that as the plans evolve all users are informed and consulted."

Nonetheless Cllr Duveen states on his own blog that there is a larger lesson to be drawn from this saga.

He highlights the limitations of the current planning system when two massive developments are occurring side-by-side, but without coordination with what the other is doing.

Reading Forum also has an open thread for discussion.

Oranjepan says:
As the plans for the much-needed improvements in and around our stations steam ahead, we should ensure we aren't railroaded into hastily accepting anything less than everything we need.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

How Green Is Green?

Green activist Adrian Windisch has launched a broadside against local PR consultancy Green Issues, which handles the communication strategy for a range of projects, including the Pincent's Hill development.

The Green Party candidate comes out against the urban regeneration projects they are involved with as he argues they are "anything but green". He says the company should instead be named 'Grey Party leftovers' due to their employment of specialists in political communication, which includes some politicians (or maybe he's just miffed that they won't employ him to use his skills...).

Meanwhile Matt Blackall writes in a similar vein, pointing out how the urge for popularity leads "many companies and politicians... to jump on the populist bandwagon". He draws our attention to leading wind energy generator Vestas, which Alex Race reports recently slashed employment due to declining government investment in renewable energy projects.

As Clare Buxton asks: did the government do enough for renewables in the budget?

Just as a 'green new deal' is widely considered [Gordon Brown PM, United Nations, Conservatives, LibDems, Green Party] to hold many answers to the current economic difficulties Matt says, "if now was not a perfect time to create jobs, expand what should be a thriving energy industry and fight climate change then I do not know when is," but adds that we may actually be "being betrayed by those pretending to be ‘green’," due to different interpretations of what this means.

A national lobbying group has been set up to push the idea of investment in the low-carbon economy, as it is claimed only 0.6% of the recent government stimulus package is aimed in this area. While this may be seen as negligible by some, others say proposed environmentally-friendly measures are not sustainable.

Check out The Independent's 'Green List', with which it compiled from a desire "to provoke a debate about what makes a good environmentalist" [1].

Oranjepan asks:
What exactly does is mean to be green?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Jail For Six In Slough 'Ghost Voter' Trial

Paul Walter reports that the 6 men convicted of electoral fraud in Slough have been given custodial sentences of between four months and four-and-a-half years.

Three of the men admitted the crime, while another three were convicted by a jury.

Two other men, including former Conservative deputy Mayor Mohammed Aziz, were cleared of conspiracy after the jury was unable to reach a verdict, but prosecutors will not seek their retrial.

Hundreds of false names were created by the men in the weeks running up to the 2007 local election as they registered them at a succession of rental and non-existent properties. These new additions were then used to effect a shock upset in the Slough Central ward where Conservative Raja Khan unseated respected veteran Labour councillor Lydia Simmons. Mr Khan has since been expelled from his party.

Electoral Commission chief executive Peter Wardle offered the reassurance that although this type of crime is relatively rare the sentence passed demonstrates the seriousness with which it is treated, saying "we want every voter to be confident that their vote is secure."

Similar accusations have been made elsewhere across the county, most notably relating to the 2005 local elections in Reading's Redlands ward when the now departed chief exectutive of Reading Borough Council Trish Haines concluded that "the irregularities did not have an impact on the overall results."

Oranjepan says:
If the public is to have confidence in the system all frauds should be prosecuted to ensure there are no future irregularities. To let one go sends entirely the wrong message.

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Update: Howard Thomas offers some reactionary common sense.

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History: Case Opens; Convictions Gained.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Uni Pressured To Save Cont Ed

Efforts by campaigners to oppose Reading University's proposed closure of the School of Continuing Education has received a boost with the addition of a new supporter.

Reading West MP Martin Salter has signed the petition and written to Reading University Vice-Chancellor Prof Gordon Marshall explaining his reasons for opposing the proposal.

Linda Fort advertises the need to keep up the pressure ahead of the 6th May discussion by the University Senate and the final decision by the University Council, due on 7th July.

Coinciding with the annual conference of Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) in Brighton, Rebecca Attwood recently described how adult learning courses across the country are being affected by cuts - even Thames Valley University is reviewing its Associate Student Scheme.

Meanwhile Tony Partridge writes about his personal experience of the conflicts which can arise when an individual stops the continuous process of education.

Oranjepan asks:
Although every signature on the petition is to be welcomed, can these education campaigners expect to receive the same level of support from Mr Salter as the Gurkhas?

Pressure Grows On Labour MP

Gurkha campaigners continue to show an indomidable spirit in the face of the enemy as they thanked supporters for helping force the embarassing climbdown by the government.

The defeat of the government over its refusal to lift restrictions on the settlement of Gurkhas has seen an overwhelming show of support for the opposition but now the pack is asking questions about those who act in our name, or at least who promise as much but don't deliver.

Focus has settled on local Labour MP Martin Salter who has attracted plenty of publicity (see photo and here) on the populist issue.

With a significant population of Nepalese nationals resident locally it was seen as a natural fit for Mr Salter to chair the parliamentary group to fight for Gurkha rights within the heart of our democracy at Westminster.

However when push came to shove during the parliamentary vote Mr Salter failed to represent the views of those he volunteered to speak on behalf of while continuing to benefit from their gracious hospitality and hard work.

Reading List first published the opinion that Mr Salter's continuance in his position of chair of the parliamentary group is now untenable and this has now been repeated by public figures of all political colours.

Conservative councillor Richard Willis has commented that "Martin Salter has lost all credibility on the issue of Gurkha rights" and said "he cannot continue as Chairman of the Parliamentary group". Cllr Willis described Mr Salter's behaviour as a "betrayal" of the Gurkhas, of which he ought to be "ashamed".

LibDem councillor Warren Swaine said every MP who didn't support the campaign should be ashamed but reserved his contempt for Mr Salter, who he lampoons through his satirical alter-ego, explaining Salter has made a mockery of himself and democracy.

Green candidate Adrian Windisch also calls the Reading West MP a hypocrite and adds a list of other pet peeves.

Meanwhile anonymous pro-democrat Martinsnottheone describes the situation as a new hypocritical low for Mr Salter.

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Update: Jane Griffiths highlights more of Mr Salter's inconsistencies.

LibDem PPC for Reading West, Cllr Patrick Murray says 'Martin Salter put loyalty to Brown before loyalty to the Gurkhas'.

Paul Walter launches a full-barrelled attack on Salter.

Oranjepan says:
The Khukuris are out for Mr Salter!

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More on the Gurkha residency campaign.
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