Friday, 31 July 2009

Stephen Barber Appointed Chair of Joint-LSCB

Wokingham Newsblog draws our attention to the appointment of Stephen Barber as chair of the new joint Local Safeguarding Children's Board (LSCB).

The board is the umbrella organisation which will bring together and help coordinate efforts between the local authoritiy, the police, the probation service, the health service, youth service Connexions and other the voluntary sector workers 'to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people'.

Wokingham, West Berkshire and Reading borough councils all praised the high-profile appointment in their press releases announcing his 30-years worth of experience at the top of his profession in some of the most demanding inner-city boroughs in the country which was followed up by a succession of significant regional postings including Oxford Brookes University, Making Children Count project, Oxfordshire Council for Voluntary Children's Service, Parents and Children Together (Reading) and the Hampshire and Thames Valley Circles of Support and Accountability. He is also a member of the registration and conduct committee for the General Social Care Council.

Mr Barber said of his appointment "I am looking forward to making my contribution to protecting children by chairing the safeguarding boards from an independent position."

Oranjepan says:
He is clearly the outstanding candidate for the role, who is also blessed with exceptional local knowledge.

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Meanwhile elected representatives on the blogosphere have exposed the political divide illuminated by the issue.

Redlands LibDem, Cllr Daisy Benson offers a comprehensive view as she wishes Mr Barber the best of luck.

She explains the context of the systemic problems in the field which led to the criticisms of Berkshire councils resulting from the lack of scrutiny undertaken by councillors. But, she argues, it is not a party political point to ensure elected representative are held accountable for the services they are responsible for.

She highlights LibDem calls for more focus and effort in scrutiny, because without openness and accountability the real-world problems which we read about in media headlines and aggravations we all experience just get swept under the carpet and are allowed to continue unabated. In an illuminating comment she writes:
"Scrutiny has helped drive improvement in adult social care services where previously performance has been regarded as weak by inspectors - so much so that the Lead Member himself credited scrutiny with helping to improve the service."
On the other side of the fence Peppard Conservative Cllr Richard Willis reproduces the press release with an additional comment from his party's opposition spokesperson and chief scrutineer for children's services Cllr Jaimie Chowdhary.

Cllr Chowdhary uses the platform provided by his ward colleague to attack the "worrying under-performance" exposed by recent audits.

Cllr Willis concludes by welcoming Mr Barber to the job and offers the hope that "he is successful in ensuring that everything possible is done to keep children safe".

Oranjepan asks:
If opposition spokespeople are happy to complain in the media after the event, why didn't they do their jobs on the relevant committees at the time to prevent recurrence of problems (for which they are paid through the allowance system)?

Do the Conservatives expect the independent chair of the LCSB to do their job for them?

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Click here for more background coverage on our local Children's Services

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Recommended Reading List #32

Anna Roberts is quickly turning into one of our favorite local writers with a second entry into our recommendations (here's the first). It might not be pretty reading, but she regularly digs into the dirt to uncover some golden nuggets of insight.

Apparently the kerb-crawling clientele of west Reading's prostitute community includes the very 'police officers, businessmen and solicitors' who complain about the effects of the street trade and whose job it is to mop up afterwards.

With 'almost every prostitute' having a dysfunctional background and trapped in a society where individuals are unable to reconcile their public and private lives it is no wonder that the all-round suffering continues. So maybe the question she really poses is who exactly has sold their souls?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Empty Homes - Empty Promises?

Population pressures continue to cause concern about the level of housing stock in the area despite the recent drop-off in prices, and attention has turned to the large number of properties which stand empty for one reason or another.

In densly-populated west Reading, Battle ward's Independent councillor Tony Jones said the need for decent accomodation is an urgent priority and called a recent increase in the number of empty houses a 'scandal'. According to Cllr Jones Battle ward has also suffered from an above average number of squats which compounds the problems.

He praised the work of opposition LibDem housing spokesman Cllr Daisy Benson in drawing the attention of the ruling Labour party to the issue and highlighted the good work of council officers. After several years of neglect the LibDems have forced RBC to renew it's empty homes strategy, and now the public can report empty homes online by emailing emptyhomes@reading.gov.uk

Cllr Benson has taken up the challenge by writing to government minister Ian Austin MP after noting cuts in the budget of the national Empty Homes Agency. She expresses her frustration at a 3-month delay in recieving minutes of a meeting on the subject (which arrived lacking a detailed action plan) and is cautious whether the response from the minister amounts to anything more than warm words of support.

Meanwhile in West Berkshire it is recorded that over 400 properties have stood vacant for over six months as two new schemes have been announced to bring them back into use.

West Berkshire Lead Councillor for Housing, Alan Law (Con, Basildon) said, "The creation of the two schemes highlights the Council's commitment to addressing the problems that empty properties cause and to taking a practical measure to increase the supply of affordable housing for local people."

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Update: A building on Bridge Street at the heart of Hungerford which stood derelict for more than 20 years has been one of the first to be the target of new legal powers.

For more information check out the Empty Homes Agrency.

Oranjepan says:
Clearly councils can find a way where there's a will, so the public must be asking why the issue remains unsolved.

Controversial Planning Proposal For Theale Lodged

The toing and froing over the proposed development of Pincents Hill has started in earnest with the submission of a planning application for the 37 acre site by Blue Living.

The outline application includes 750 homes plus 4 offices, two restaurants and cafes, up to six shops, a 40-bedroom hotel, a healthcare centre, library, primary school and nursery.

Reading West MP Martin Salter attacked Conservatives for giving the project the 'amber light' by including it in the Local Development Framework (LDF) and commited himself to opposing it all the way, saying "Blue Living can stick all the window dressing on the application that they like, but as far as I’m concerned the vital green wedge between Theale and Tilehurst is sacrosanct."

Strong words indeed.

However LibDems councillor for Tilehurst Ricky Duveen has also expressed his alarm at Labour and tory hypocrisy over the issue by pointing out how they use the issue to galvanise electoral support which are subsequently undermined by their voting patterns when it matters.

He describes their opposition as 'bellicose verbosity', since Birch Copse's Cllr Joe Mooney chose to vote for the plans without amendment and Cllr Tony Linden failed to even turn up (Cllr Emma Webster abstained, due to a conflict of interests caused by her employment with a company involved in similar consultations - as she previously commented on this site on May 13 she was "taking further advice so that I am in a position to be able to speak against the proposal when it comes before a later meeting" although it appears she is as yet still unable to do so).

Martin Salter's habitual practice of 'betraying' his principles is also well noted (see here and here for two recent examples).

Cllr Lee Dillon reports a concerted outcry from Thatcham LibDems against inadequate public consultation undertaken by the Conservatives in West Berkshire. He explains that the LDF was not properly advertised and the relevant authorities weren't even informed - this resulted in only 90 people out of 25,000 viewing the consultation!

Cllr Jason Leake asks "How can they expect the public to appreciate the impact this will have on their lives?"

In the meantime Linda Fort reports that Cllrs Mooney and Linden, together with Tilehurst parish council chair Jean Gardner, have put their support behind a plan to give the site 'village green' status which would prevent it from being built on.

As one cynical commenter observes, all this manoeuvering is just a preamble to the real war of attrition which typically follows such controversial plans - either the public will be softened up or the application will just be watered down until politicians tire of the discussion and finally let them through.

The plans will be on show to the public in Tilehurst Parish Hall on Sunday August 9th from 10am to 4pm.

The public consultation period remains open until Thursday 20th August. Letters should be sent to Head of Legal and Electoral Services, West Berkshire Council, Market Street, Newbury RG14 5LD

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Update: Blue Living has 'vowed' that the site won't be a "typical soulless housing development" - ignoring the fact that campaigners aren't worried about the type of development, because they've vowed to oppose all and any plans.

Theale Village blog reports the deadline has been extended from three to eight weeks "because of the scale of the proposal" and you now have until September 18th to send in your comments on the consultation.

Oranjepan asks:
Will the Save Calcot Action Group maintain momentum, or will they be stonewalled by the combined weight of concrete and cash? The planning authority is required to read all submissions, so if you have an opinion to express, why don't you sent it in?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Swan-Upmanship

A selection of news outlets (Windsor Observer, BBC, Reuters) have reported that HM Queen Elizabeth has visited the annual swan-upping ceremony on the Thames for the first time in the course of her reign.

The historic event dates from the 12th Century when the monarch (who is the default owner of all unmarked swans on open water) would have all swans counted and weighed to enable sufficient numbers were available for feasting.

Today, however, it is practiced for more conservational purposes.

In an apparently unrelated event Crowthorne Amateur Dramatic Society will be presenting a series of performances entitled 'Her Majesties Revels' in Crowthorne from 30th July - 9th August.

To find out more visit the Crowthorne Amateur Theatrical Society website.

In the meantime Prince Harry was a well-entertained visitor at the British Moto GP at Donington Park last weekend, but it is not known if any members of the royal family are expected to be in the audience at the local Parish Hall.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

No Time To Waste

The RE3 partnership of Reading, Bracknell Forest and Wokingham borough councils recently staged the official reopening of the Smallmead and Longshot Lane waste management facilities.

The Smallmead site opened on 7th July and the Longshot Lane site on 13th July.

The councils have formed the RE3 partnership to coordinate waste policy across the three boroughs and are working with Waste Recycling Group on a £610m 25-year scheme to improve waste management and recycling and reduce the need for expensive and environmentally unfriendly landfill.

The two locations have been transformed in a massive 'redesign and rebuild' project (Smallmead took 28 months and Longshot Lane 14 months to redevelop), which includes a household waste recycling centre, a materials recycling facility and a waste transfer station. Smallmead has also opened a visitor centre to help provide information and educational facilities which will cater for 2,000 schoolchildren every year.

In all Smallmead represents a £22m investment and will be capable of dealing with 75,000 tonnes per year of material for recycling and have capacity for 200,000 tonnes of waste transfer material (WTM). Spokespeople explained that the key feature was the ability to increase WTM management from 25,000 tonnes per year which will enable proper sorting of recyclables - thereby allowing for economic marketing of the produce.

Oliver Burt, project manager for RE3 partnership, said the openings were "the culmination of 10 years' of work" as the week had been planned for since 1999.

A selection of council representatives praised the development stating that it was an example of a successful Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project at a time of economic difficulty. Bracknell Forest Council leader, Cllr Paul Bettison (Con), said that it is a "high quality, long-term solution", while Reading's lead councillor for Environmental Matters and Sustainability, Cllr Paul Gittings (Lab), said it provided "first-class facilities and great value for money".

Bracknell Blog reports a personal perspective that the town waste facilities are 'much improved'.

Elsewhere Gideon Mack notes that Britain has taken back a consignment of clinical waste a Swindon-based company was attempting to export to Brazil - exactly the sort of thing developed countries should be able to deal with ourselves.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Tories Agree Inflation-Busting Rise In Allowances

Wokingham Conservatives have pushed through a 9% rise in allowances which will see the basic councillor package increase from £6,750 to £7,360pa.

Council leader Cllr David Lee defended the rise because it was recommended by an independent panel made up of residents.

Last year councillors rejected the recommendations for a modest increase which could be sustained without creating wild fluctuations from year to year. Tories argued that the economic pressure facing the council meant it was unfair to create additional burdens at that time.

Meanwhile, opposition LibDems argued that current economic pressures made such a massive rise unjustifiable this year. Group deputy, Cllr Stephen Conway explained that this is an area of high public sensitivity, especially during a period when the council is cutting services in a drastic search for savings (some might say they are scraping the barrel...).

Wokingham Council Tax was increased by a near-maximum 4.68% this year.

Oranjepan asks:
What is the point of an independent panel if you only accept it's recommendations when you like what you hear? This was the point made by Conservatives during the fire authority allowance discussions, so why have they suddenly changed their stance?

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Click here to find out how much councillors in Wokingham claimed.

Click here for full details of the political expenses scandal in Berkshire.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Poop Scoop

Wokingham Borough Council's decision to remove dog bins as a cost-cutting measure appears to have spectacularly backfired.

Not only has a petition voicing public opposition to the removal of 245 bins surpassed the significant 1,000 signature mark, but it has also inspired such outrage that it has inspired a resident to threat a 'dirty protest' by collecting the overflow bags containing dog waste to send them to the council offices.

The council has since responded by adding 102 new litter bins and said that the responsibility for clearing up after their pets resides with the owners of animals. Lead councillor for environmental matters, Simon Weekes, he explained that the policy change had not resulted in increased fouling. Alice Murphy discovered, however, that no fines for dog fouling have been made in over seven years.

So following the 'National Poop Scoop Week' (23-28 June) when Wokingham officially reminding dog-walkers that they can dispose of bagged animal excrement in general litter bins the costs of the policy have begun to emerge.

According to Wokingham Newsblog the council has paid £16,000 in the hope of saving £60,000, while Reading Post suggests the savings are actually £21,379 - in the first three months of the financial year.

It should be noted that Defra official advises properly bagged animal waste poses no direct health threats to the public.

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Update: Cippenham Park in Slough has been subjected to an attack, with bagged dog waste hung from trees over a public bridleway. A
spokesperson for the council said "This is not only littering, but could also be a health risk."

The petition (with 1,600 signatures) against the Conservative bin plan was rejected. LibDem Cllr Phil Challis commented, "The idea you can put dog poo into waste bins used for general litter may be legal, but that does not make it the right thing to do in a civilised society."

Oranjepan says:
there is an unpleasant smell wafting around these budget cuts!

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Economy - A Variable Picture

Regional business leaders are reporting that although the worst of the recession is over recovery is not guaranteed, after publication of the British Chambers of Commerce’s most recent Quarterly Economic Survey.

Key indicators in the service sector remained steady while manufacturing improved in the three months to the end of June.
Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Group policy executive Claire Prosser explained that taxation and red tape are rising up the agenda, but the prospects of employment are improving.

This is borne out by figures from across the county: in Slough a significant rise in jobless totals (to 4.5%) was matched by falls in the Newbury area (to 2.5%), while in Reading the rebalancing economy was made plain by a drop of 4 claimants (to 4.3%) and Wokingham (from 2.1% to 2.0%). Nationally unemployment claimants stand at 4.1% of the workforce.

Interestingly Reading Post selectively reports only the first half of the story.

Meanwhile, the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) are optimistic that the recession is 'bottoming out' as confidence returns, despite more companies than not fearing further declines. The organisation also announced further support with a new £20m fund for innovative and high-growth businesses.

The recent 'Credit Crunch Summit' organised by the Federation of Small Businesses convened for the third time in Reading where a Small Business Engagement Accord was signed by leaders of all local political parties as part of a '12-point plan' to help ensure this important sector is given solid underpinning at a time of trouble. Measures included £85,000 provided to the Reading Credit Union to support business planning.

Regional Chairperson of FSB Thames Valley Robin Lawrence explained:
"the Accord also puts in place a structure to help ensure that councils and businesses work in partnership to ensure the continued growth and prosperity of the local economy."
A thriving sector of locally-owned businesses is key to the success of the economy and through their 'Keep Trade Local' campaign the FSB raised issues of consultation and planning, taxation and business rates, transport and parking and crime as central to their needs.

Mr Lawrence added that "by following the principles of the Accord, we can work together to ensure that the voice of small business is central to any future consultations."

Radical local blogger Gideon Mack described his epiphany when he grasped how local trade is a vital part of ensuring the conjoined interests of a sustainable economy and environment - you can't have one without the other!

Meanwhile Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty accused Labour of playing party politics over the serious state of the economy by scheduling the summit at short notice in an attempt to freeze them out of a cross-party event, while LibDem Cllr Daisy Benson was refreshingly surprised to find her earlier scepticism of the value of such events misplaced.

She also describes her worry over the employment chances of young people leaving education after explaining that
"In Reading, the number of teenagers not in education, employment or training is already too high. The impact of the recession will only make things ten times worse for these young people and their families."
Following up, Cllr Benson reports on figures showing how the economy is disproportionately affecting young people with college courses threatened and pointedly concludes that the Labour regime has failed a whole generation by introducing a culture of debt.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

It's A Peach!

Local bloggers have unified in their condemnation of newly selected prospective Labour candidate for Reading West Naz Sarkar after he was ambushed by Andrew Peach during an interview on local radio.

Mr Sarkar betrayed his lack of local knowledge by failing to understand the reference to the 'IDR' and refused to be sidetracked as he continued to make partisan arguments.



The political scoop was immediately passed to Conservative blogger Cllr Richard Willis where Mr Peach obviously knew it would gain maximum exposure and the guffaws have since continued to reverberate among the local chattering class.

Cllr Dave Luckett was sharp in picking up the potential damage to Labour's election chances in the seat and has undertaken his best efforts to circulate the gaffe as widely as possible. He notes that it has been picked up by national journalists Oliver Kamm, Paul Waugh and Iain Dale as well as several other outlets, all of whom infer that the Waltham Borough Councillor's self-embarrassment is indicative of the wider 'malaise' in Labour ranks and think this bodes well for the tory challenger.

Cllrs Willis and Luckett somewhat exaggerate the impact of this wholly predictable error by comparing the spiralling viewership of the video (currently over 3,000 views) to the popularity of a 'sensational' attack by eurosceptic Conservative MEP Dan Hannan (over 2m views) from the floor of the chamber in Brussels.

He also reports that both ConservativeHome and LabourHome (among others) are scathing about the candidate.

Adrian Windisch, as the Green Party candidate, can't help himself from wallowing empathetically in the pain of his competitor and compares it to other gaffes - including one of his own, where he failed to remember what Reading's renowned '3B's' are.

Meanwhile Jane Griffiths and The Flashing Blade take a more personalised slant on the motivations involved, suggesting that more sinister political machinations are afoot. They both think that Martin Salter MP ensured "the most hapless possible candidate" was selected because he wanted to look good as the political tide turned, which would set up a potential fight-back in future years and enable him to get a tighter grip on the party direction.

Howard Thomas of the Common Sense Party wryly suggests that Mr Sarkar should have been able to avoid the pitfall since he obviously was able to use a sat-nav to get to Reading in the first place.

Finally, in perhaps the sharpest comment of all, LibDem Cllr Warren Swaine calls Mr Sarkar a 'muppet' for falling for the ruse and points out the attempt to bulldoze through the embarrassment by talking about future cuts to be made by Conservatives was apposite since he may only end up with 10% of the vote!

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Update: Nowtas sums up: "a terrible candidate giving a risible performance, but let’s not forget the terrible radio presenter on a typical crappy local station too."

Oranjepan says:
Naz Sarkar will find it hard to shake his earlier reputation as 'gaffe-prone' with any more repeats of this ilk.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Round-Up: The Tilehurst Terrorist

I am Junius draws our attention to the case of Neil Lewington, who has been found guilty at the Old Bailey of 'having explosives with intent to endanger life' and 'preparing for acts of terrorism'.


Media Circus

The local press has had a field day with the story and completely went to town by publishing a series of reports on this national news story.

Reading Post reports on the trial opening, the delay in reaching a verdit, his conviction, the prospective custodial sentence, before allowing coverage to proliferate in the hope of gaining the exclusive insider information.

According to the news editors, 43-year-old Mr Lewington, who resided with his parents in Church End Lane until his capture, wanted to 'rid the country of non-Brits' and had a directly racist agenda epitomised by the fact he amassed a collction of offensive 'jokes', which combined with an unquenchable anger and ultimately combined to set him on a path to consider violent action.

However the local tabloid did get the scoop with an interview with former girlfriend, Theresa Quelch, who described his unreliablility and attention-grabbing antics.

Reading Chronicle published for-the-record reports of Mr Lewington's arrest, his remand in custody, the delayed verdict and his conviction, while Newbury Weekly News also reports the story in a more succinct single article.

Google News provides a more comprehensive round-up of the thousands of articles published and the inevitable speculation and more-or-less casual interpretations on the matter.


Odd-ball or Real Threat?

Interpretations of Mr Lewingon have varied in range from being an 'immature alcoholic' to a white supremacist and real threat to national security and social cohesion, who exposes an underlying alienation in modern UK culture.

The BBC's Dominic Casciani provides an 'official' view of the case of Mr Lewington.

He explains that the apprehension of the man who has been found guilty and imprisoned for conspiring to commit explosions was a matter of chance by an alert Police officer, who called in a public order offence.

The investigation quickly escalated as 'improvised incendiary devices' (tennis balls filled with explosives) were found among his hand luggage, while a search of the Church End Land premises revealed an amateur bomb-making factory with apparent instruction literature from a small underground para-military group and extreme right-wing propaganda.

Mr Lewington refused to respond during 14 interviews and further investigation by counter-terrorism officers found no connection with any other group known to pose security threats. He had been unemployed for 10 years and was known to indulge in threatening behaviour.

It is likely that the full truth of the matter will remain a mystery until his defensive psychological shield is let down.


Local Reaction

Nowtas cites the New Statesman to suggest one reason the story hadn't previously been as widely reported as might otherwise be expected is that Mr Lewington is a white Briton from a comfortable middle-class suburb, reflecting the news media agenda as directed from political leaders at their target audience (the voting electorate).

Meanwhile Gideon Mack expresses his frustration and ire at extremists on both sides - he says racist terrorist Mr Lewington and religious terrorist Muhammed Gul could happily have satisfied themselves by blowing each other to bits while saving the rest of us the bother of dealing with their sad and lonely existences - harsh, perhaps, but it reflects the ironic truth that law-abiding citizens are always the victims of misguided fanaticism.

Oranjepan asks:
Whatever the real motivations and intentions of this middle-aged man from suburbia it is good that he has been picked up before he could cause any real harm, so it's possible to hope that he may now get the guidance he needs to make something productive of his life. It is a shame that a man could fall so far through the net in one of the most prosperous parts of the country before he was picked up and we should consider how many other people are becoming isolated and set adift in our community in this day and age.

What is being done to ensure nobody is left behind?

Salter's Standing So Low After 'Solo' Debacle

Anger is mounting against the soon-to-depart MP for Reading West, Martin Salter, after he has been publicly shamed by a national newspaper for saying one thing and then doing the exact opposite - again.

This time it regards the case of Gary McKinnon who has been fighting extradition to the USA on politically-sensitive charges of computer hacking, which may result in a prison sentence of up to 60 years. While US authorities consider the actions he took under the online pseudonym 'Solo' deliberate and malicious, he describes any damage he may have caused as 'accidental' and a result of the US Military's 'amateur' IT security systems.



Mr McKinnon suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and a cross-party coalition of supporters argued that if any trial is to be held then the UK is a safe location for it, while it would also minimise disruption to his defence and reduce distress caused to his family.

74 Labour MPs (including Mr Salter) eventually signed Early Day Motion 2388 to express their opposition to the proposed extradition, but when the matter was voted on in the House of Commons 59 (including Mr Salter) actually voted in favour of the extradition.

Cllr Swaine is clearly disgusted by the behaviour of Mr Salter, highlighting the fact that the words 'cowardly', 'rank hypocrisy', 'failed', 'betrayal', 'turncoat' and 'lack of integrity' were used in connection with him. He also recalls that Mr Salter displayed the same attitude when signing an EDM in support of the Gurkha Justice campaign but failed to turn up when it mattered.

Jane Griffith's is almost gleeful in her by-now traditional 'told you so' mode.

Mr McKinnon now faces extradition where he faces two years in a maximum security facility before a preliminary hearing can be arranged.

The case highlights injustices resulting from a UK-USA treaty (signed into law as the Extradition Act 2003) designed to capture terrorists, but which has previously been used to extradite the NatWest Three and others on more general charges.

The treaty has caused massive controversy among civil liberties campaigners due the lowered burdens of legal proof and enshrined legal inequality between nations. Human rights campaigners are also unhappy that reduction in entitlements to legal aid affects the right to an adequate defence in areas often without legal precedent.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Remember Dementia

Somewhat appropriately I've forgotten to mention that among other things this is National Dementia Awareness Week.

Rob Wilson MP didn't as he popped into the London Street offices for their official opening last Friday lunchtime.

He fulfilled his ceremonial duty of thanking staff and volunteers for their efforts as he helped raise awareness of the concern. To find out more contact Reading & District Alzheimer's Association.

Meanwhile Elizabeth Thomas has a fun test to discover whether you are a sufferer...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Recommended Reading List #31

Customer complaints continue to flow into the offices of Thames Water at the rate of 100 per day, so readers may be interested to hear what Chief Executive David Owens has to say as he heads towards three years in the job.

When Australian investment bank Macquarie paid £8bn to German utility RWE in October 2006 leaks were gushing at a rate of 85om litres per day, but with a pipework replacement programme running at 300 miles per year this figure has dropped to 600m litres per day - so how much more can be done to improve the service?

The leveraged takeover means Thames Water has been particularly affected by the credit crunch and the company has courted controversy with regulator Ofwat by proposing to increase bills by 17% - nevertheless, in an interview Mr Owens says customers are "getting a great deal".

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Press Criticised For Sensationalising TVU Shake-up

The future of further education at Thames Valley University has been the subject of some controversy after the Board of Governors reached a decision 'in principle' to divest further education provision from it's Reading campus.

A six-month review has been commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council and will decide how course provision will be restructured.

Cllr Gareth Epps, LibDem PPC for Reading East, said "This is the clearest sign yet of an ill wind being blown over further and higher education."

Calling for Labour to stop it's counterproductive education cuts, he added that
"The first priority must be to ensure quality sixth form provision for Reading students. Those students intending to go to college in September, in particular, deserve reassurance after TVU's sudden announcement."
Professor Peter John, the Vice Chancellor of TVU, responded:
"We want to assure students that our plans for the future of the Reading campus will not impact on their studies. The changes are about the management of courses in the future rather than the courses that will be available. We believe that the needs of all learners, employers and employees in Reading are best served by recreating separate further education provision for the region."
But it's not just courses at TVU's Reading campus which are due to be reorganised. Slough will also see changes in a move which is claimed "will be closely aligned to the skills needs of Slough employers," according to TVU Deputy Vice Chancellor, Ian Tunbridge.

University managers have signalled their intention to 'minimise the impact on courses and on staff', and it is not expected that there are to be wholesale redundancies as a result.

However this hasn't stopped some from whipping up the spectre of industrial confrontation, despite the declaration that only one FTE teaching job at Reading is effectively redundant.

So it's interesting to read one TVU teacher speaking out on the subject from the sharp end.

The vocational business course remains over-subscribed for the next academic year, but he recognises that the economic situation is causing many young people to think again about staying in education.

He points out that the role of the press is crucial in forming perceptions and makes a sharp criticism of 'sensationalist' headlines which proclaim the impending closure of courses: using public spaces to spread uncertainty is damaging as it could actually drive potential students away.

Oranjepan says:
With confidence in civic institutions on the line the 'fourth estate' must also recognise its responsibility to the public not to sacrifice long-term interests and education for short-term commercial imperatives.

IT, Data And Human Rights

Technology will always advance, so the political debate is always about shaping the direction of progress to ensure it is to overall the benefit of society.

Eton & Castle councillor Liam Maxwell wrote a recently published Centre for Policy Studies report explaining exactly where he thinks government IT policy has gone wrong.

He reminds us that only 30% of IT projects commissioned by government actually work and argues that as only one in every four-hundred contacts between government and the public use online services back-office administration offers huge potential savings equivalent to over £16bn per year.

He says "at bottom Labour just doesn’t get it" and states that this is partly a political and cultural issue.

Not only could it halve the annual IT spend, but by "giving us back our data will save us money, make government IT more effective and make the delivery of services better."

Meanwhile The Guardian investigates how the Human Rights Act regulates the use and access of data in different public sector departments.

They report that people with ongoing suicidal feelings who were released from hospital in West Berkshire without access to support were able to be provided with help because of provisions for Human Rights assessments. Elsewhere Bracknell Forest was one of five local authorities across the country to be given funding for the Rights Respecting Schools scheme which was described as a lifelong "guide to living".

Monday, 13 July 2009

Scrutiny On the Administration: Expenses

Another political squall has broken out over the abuses of expenses - but this time it isn't politicians who are shouldering the blame, it's the bureaucrats.

Figures released show council staff at Reading Borough Council are allowed to claim travel expenses at a rate five-times higher than comparable authorities; whereas in Wokingham essential travel for work is reimbursed at 38.7p per mile, Reading pays £2.10 per mile!

The three represented political parties joined forces to wholeheartedly condemn the outrageous practice (no doubt also tempted to point out the holier-than-thou sanctimony of some critics), while Unison Branch secretary Brendan Carr stoutly attempted to defend the discrepancy by citing the "closely defined local definition of essential car use" as justification.

All of which possibly explains why LibDem parliamentary campaigner Cllr Gareth Epps choose now to describe new research highlighting just how little confidence in our public institutions there is.

And he is apparently reading from exactly the same script as reputed commentator (and Reading expat) Charlie Brooker.

Going into greater detail, the TV presenter and journalist outlines how a succession of scandals have rocked faith in our public institutions - from Parliament and the Police to television and print media to banks and the economy in general.

Meanwhile Elizabeth Thomas points out that nobody is immune from the temptation of cheating when they think they can get away with it.

Scrutiny On The Administration: Pay & Conditions

The annual round of trades union negotiations for staff in the public sector has brought the bread-and-butter issue of pay under the spotlight.

With a budgetary squeeze it came as no surprise that the deal offered would not be as generous as in other years. Anna Roberts reports that as many as 113 (out of approximately 5,000) council staff may be affected by a new pay grading, while pressures of legal challenges to diffential pay scales will also need to be handled carefully.

Union officials were predictably angry that their members are in the line of fire and that some of those who can least afford it are due to lose out.

Meanwhile pay for the top bureaucrats in the borough was noted when a reply to that longstanding question was given to a Conservative enquiry at a recent council meeting - apparently 5 borough executives earn salaries above £100,000 per year, in addition to two Head Teachers paid for out of the public purse.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Unpleasant Viewing

Video is often indisputible and can provide solid evidence for criminal or civil investigations (even if it's for driving above the speed limit). So a spate of recent cases has shown just how powerful a tool it can be.

CCTV pictures from Winnersh Station are being used to track down and identify 4 young people who may have been involved in a case of criminal damage, while CCTV was also used in a case of a fight on a petrol station forecourt where charges were reduced to a public order offence from the more serious ABH.

Meanwhile mobile phone footage published on YouTube gives a visceral picture of a fight which broke out among 'revellers' returning from Henley Royal Regatta.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Recommended Reading List #30

Narrowboat blogger Zulu Warrior regularly passes through Reading via the waterways, so he offers an unique and alternative perspective on the changes the town is undergoing.

As the first boater on the scene when a body was recently pulled from the Fobney Lock he asks "Is Reading a no-go area now?" but nevertheless concludes that Reading "really is a town which deserves more visiting boats".

Sanctions-busting Reading Company Pleads Guilty

In a landmark hearing Reading-based company Mabey & Johnson has declared that it would plead guilty to 10 charges of corruption and violating sanctions.

At Westminster Magistrates Court the modular bridge-building firm admitted it had attempted to influence public works contracts during the 1990s by bribing officials in Jamaica, Ghana and Iraq.

Mabey & Johnson accepted that it had paid almost £400,000 to Saddam Hussein's regime in contravention of the terms of the UN oil-for-food programme and will now face a series of fines and reparations in sentencing at Southwark Crown Court. Five of eight company directors have resigned since the prosecution was announced in spring 2008. An SFO-approved independent monitor has also been appointed to oversee future dealings.

Speaking for Mabey & Johnson, managing director Peter Lloyd said:
"We deeply regret the past conduct of our company, and we have committed to making a fresh start, wiping the slate clean of these offences."
Meanwhile legal expert Dan Hyde from Cubism Law praised the prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office and explained that it would likely lead to further cases:
"Now the SFO has had a success with this type of action, it could signal increased interventions and prosecutions of UK companies which have foreign dealings."
Corporate corruption is a notoriously difficult charge to gain convictions on - particularly in the area of defence contracts - so the move has pleased campaigners who have long been hindered by a combination of legal deficiencies and political interference at establishment level. It also signals a turnaround from the hypocrisy of British criticism of corruption in developing countries while turning a blind eye on City of London practises which feed it.

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Update: Gideon Mack gets down to basics stating that the rules of the game are generally understood.

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references: Reading Post, BBC, Guardian, FT, Daily Telegraph, Times Online, Reuters, Construction Europe, Radio Jamaica, Google.

Making A Brighter Splash

Reading Post advertises an event planned this weekend which hopes to encourage street artists to design and paint a mural at Loddon Bridge Road and divert their instincts away from the more spontaneous pursuit of grafitti tagging which causes unwanted damage to property.

The event will is targetted primarily at teenagers and PCSO Vicky Williams will be working with the Make A Difference project and local urban artist and student Callum Kirkland from 11am on Saturday at the Winnersh Showcase Cinema.

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Update: The painters do their work.

For a greater investigation of the issues BBC Berkshire delves into the Great Graffiti Debate.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

'Cull-A-Councillor' Debated

Independent Battle ward Councillor Tony Jones yesterday presented his proposals for a reduction in the number of local politicians.

He argued that by reducing the number of councillors by a third this would save borough taxpayers a significant slice of change (approx 0.1% of the total budget) and force the less active among the current intake to buck up their ideas.

Cllr Richard Willis reports Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty argued strongly in favour of the move and added his support to all-out elections once every four years - a move which would enable his party to consolidate a growing stranglehold on the local borough.

On the other side Cllr Benson argued for the LibDems against the move which she said was not in the interests of her constituents as it did not discriminate between good councillors and bad councillors, while Cllr Willis paints Labour as opposed through fear that their number would inevitably be cut.

Meanwhile Cllr Ricky Duveen (Tilehurst, LibDem) warns of the unadvertised consequences, which may or may not be intended. Fewer councillors will reduce the council's effectiveness by shrinking the talent pool for executive and committee posts where scrutiny is undertaken and the increased workload will lead to calls for politicians to become full-time public employees - ultimately reversing any savings made.

He says that although it may grab a few headlines, this suggestion is one which is unlikely to increase democratic participation.

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Update: the recent reshuffle in West Berkshire provides an example of a potential problem which could be created by reducing the number of elected representatives.

Howard Thomas bemoans several councillors 'invisibility'.

Oranjepan asks:
what is Reading's political priority - to save money or to improve society?

New Body In Newbury Environment Portfolio

With expenses and politician's second jobs under the spotlight West Berkshire's Conservative administration has been forced into a sudden reshuffle.

Despite being in the position for only 3 months Lead Councillor for the Environment, Speen's Markus Franks has been forced to stand down over potential conflict of interest issues after taking a job with Sovereign Housing Corporation.

Cllr Franks will be replaced by Chieveley's Cllr Hilary Cole.

The Robot Response Team

With modern technology becoming ever more pervasive in society two examples of how it is having a positive influence on our lives have come to light.

Royal Berkshire Hospital has begun using it's new £1.2m da Vinci robo-doctor as a regular technique during keyhole surgery, initially in gynaecology, urology and ear, nose and throat procedures.

Dr Adam Jones said, "The recovery is faster; shorter hospital stays with less painkillers afterwards."

A campaign has been launched to buy the machine and ensure it is able to be offered as a permanent facility.

Meanwhile a chemical fire at Membury Airfield resulted in GHOST bomb-disposal robots being used to check on the condition on unexploded acetylene cylinders in Aviation Enterprises' 80mx40m windturbine development factory.

The factory was destroyed, but luckily there was little further damage and no loss of life.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Cont Ed Cut

Reading University Council voted on Tuesday to close it's School of Continuing Education following funding cuts which meant it would be looking to fill a £1/2m shortfall.

A variety of options have been sought to keep access to education open for mature students at all levels and while some courses may be transferred to TVU, Oxford University has agreed to operate a programme of public courses from Reading's Whiteknights campus from 2010.

Course restructuring has been ongoing since the announcement first came to light, with the Professional Management Programme transferred unchanged to the Henley Business School and the Town Hall lecture series continuing. The future of Day Schools, the Wide Language Programme and the Careers Studies Programme are still unconfirmed but Reading University has responded to the public pressure by making commitments to work with other institutions to ensure student disruption is minimised.

The Workers Educational Association has also held discussions with the University of the Third Age and other providers such as New Directions to ensure short academic courses are available more widely - showing that the economic case for a more proactive attitude, reaching out into the local community to expand student enrollment has gained weight.

Meanwhile, former Cont Ed student June Stoute watches on somewhat wistfully as her son graduates.

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Update: Linda Fort quotes RACE campaigners Paul Kingston and Lindsay Mullaney. They said:
"While we cannot claim our campaign persuaded the university to find innovative ways of continuing these courses, we are sure our petition – signed by over 900 students – was an indication of people’s strong feelings over this matter."
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History: Funding cut announced; Campaigners get organised; Action plans take shape; Decision time

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Stresses Of The Job

A recent survey into the mental health of politicians has been published.

It showed that while almost one in every five MPs have experienced problems at one time, around one in every three said the stigma surrounding the issue and the potentially negative reactions from colleagues and in the media meant they were less likely to be open about their concerns and this would reduce the likelihood that they would seek appropriate treatment.

Paul Jenkins of mental health charity Rethink said that public representatives need to be free to bring their personal experiences to bear without being "gagged by the prejudice, ignorance and fear surrounding mental illness" - worries that clearly were left to fester as recently as the 1945-50 parliament when 4 Labour MPs committed suicide.

The survey was to support a submission made Rethink as part of a campaign to repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Conservative Peer Earl Howe argued that Section 141 is in contravention of the Human Rights Act 1998, while the example of Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (who was reelected after admitting his own experiences) proves that mental health concerns are not a barrier to gaining, staying in or being effective in high public office.

LibDem Reading West parliamentary candidate Cllr Patrick Murray has publicly backed the campaign to end the discrimination and remove the stigma which "leads people to suffer alone and in silence". He describes the current system in this country as a 'tragedy' urgently needing reform, and in a powerful statement said:
"People who are suffering at the moment need to know that they are not alone and that you can recover and make a positive contribution to society. I know that because I’ve been there, genuinely believing that there was no hope, no chance of any kind of a life... I recovered and got myself into a position where I could potentially help others."
Former Reading East MP Jane Griffiths (who has been the subject of a whispering campaign against her on this issue) agrees that stress is an inherent part of the reponsibility of representing a constituency, but sweeps concern about those pressures under the carpet by saying it is no more stressful than teaching or cleaning.

Tony Partridge meanwhile discusses his own experience of depression as a student and the paralysing moodswings which accompanied it. He is nevertheless capable of looking on the bright side by reminding himself that admitting to weakness is a strength as it enables you to see your weaknesses, understand them and learn from them.

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Update: Jane has responded, apparently she thinks this was some sort of personal attack.

Newsbiscuit's spooky kid thinks Labour MP's should be pushing for the assisted suicide of Gordon Brown's career, who after all seems intent on committing political suicide. Yes, it is suppposed to be satire, so there's a message in there too.

An Ispos-Mori poll provides evidence that people often cling with increasing desperation to crutches using 'stress' as an excuse.

Elsewhere Dr George Simon asks whether the mental health crisis is a consequence of overreliance on curing problems created by our modern society rather than prevention.

Oranjepan asks:
Don't you want to know what issues and experiences the people you might vote for are dealing with and can bring to bear on the job? Are those pressures something that should be blithely accepted, or is there something that can be done to make life more bearable?

Scrutiny of Childrens Services Ongoing

With the recent attention given to the scandals in Reading Borough Council's Children's Services department political the issue has turned into something of a hot potato.

So when statistics were presented to the council's own scrutiny panel showing assessments completed on time to have dropped significantly since management changes were put in place, questions were certain to be raised.

Labour lead councillor for the service Cllr John Ennis and Conservative opposition spokesperson Cllr Jamie Chowdhary engaged in a tit-for-tat slanging match over the relevance of the statistics, while LibDem spokesperson Cllr Kirsten Bayes stuck to the task and wrote to RBC chief executive Michael Coughlin asking for a more detailed explanation.

Mr Coughlin provided a full statement detailing how changes to the management procedures meant statistics are now being collected in a slightly different way. He said that although this would inevitably create a lag in reporting as the changes funnelled through the administrative system he was confident that "no children are being placed at undue risk because of this improvement in our process and recording."

Cllr Bayes was not prepared to comment on the response, but offered her hope that this would indeed prove to be the case as future statistics are published.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Top Of The Berkshire Blogs - June 2009

There's been an overwhelming response to Reading List's blog ranking exercise, with a large number of new entries on Wikio's directory.

Of course no ranking system will ever be definitive so Reading List encourages all bloggers to participate and apply to add their blog to the Wikio directory - the more the merrier!

So here is the full list of Berkshire's top blogs:

#28 - John Redwood's Diary (-6)
#31 - Mark Reckons (+ 37)
#73 - Boulton & Co (-15)
#309 - Reading List (+184)
#361 - Richard Willis's Blog (-18)
#449 - Scaryduck (+99)
#483 - Redlands Libdems (-12)
#533 - Bracknell Blog (+34)
#563 - Sean Green's Blog (New Entry)
#647 - Jane Is The One (New Entry)
#715 - Reading Roars (+10527)
#718 - Cllr Glenn Goodall (New Entry)
#851 - naws (New Entry)
#852 - Green Reading (New Entry)
#890 - NYOOTW (New Entry)
#955 - Was Was 'ere (New Entry)
#1012 - Cllr Prue Bray (New Entry)
#1015 - Gideon Mack - Orangutan (New Entry)
#1016 - gco2e (New Entry)
#1017 - Cllr Ricky Duveen (New Entry)
#1042 - Neville Hobson.com (New Entry)
#1078 - Grasp The Mettle (New Entry)
#1079 - David Burbage's Weblog (New Entry)
#1204 - Andy Peacock (New Entry)
#1205 - Bloggy Blanc (New Entry)
#1206 - Right To Common Sense (New Entry)
#1321 - Beasley's Place (+56)
#1641 - Thames Valley Mums Blog (New Entry)
#1708 - Ticking To A Different Tock (+2790)
#1709 - Windsor Judo Club - (+4125)
#1710 - windsorfirestation.co.uk (+4373)
#1711 - EJBC (+5082)
#1712 - Libertarian Party South East - (+7196)
#2226 - Marketing By Permission (New Entry)
#2706 - The Mysterious World Of Matt Blackall (New Entry)
#2707 - Adrian Hollister (New Entry)
#2708 - East Berkshire Green Party (New Entry)
#2813 - Want to be a free thinker, but still a nice person (New Entry)
#3613 - British Royal Wedding (New Entry)
#4162 - Ramblings of a Pheasant Plucker (New Entry)
#5342 - Lazy View (New Entry)
#5828 - Berkshire Websites (New Entry)
#6064 - Goring-on-Thames (New Entry)
#6644 - Berkeley Blog (New Entry)
#8727 - Thames Rail (New Entry)
#8836 - matthewmillen.co.uk (New Entry)
#9084 - Sophie Berkshire Escort (New Entry)
#9467 - The Flashing Blade (New Entry)
#9466 - The Age Of Stupidity (New Entry)
#9468 - Cllr Dave Luckett (New Entry)
#9469 - Cllr Emma Warman (New Entry)
#11212 - Brian Moore - KAMInsighter (New Entry)
#13479 - The Timber Yard (New Entry)
#14266 - ClayHill Newbury (New Entry)
#14295 - Ramblings of the Bum-Nosed Weasel (New Entry)
#14406 - berkshireborn (New Entry)
#14426 - Basildon Blog (New Entry)
#14434 - Kurly Wurly (New Entry)
#14496 - Greening St John's (New Entry)
#14508 - Volunteering With RISC (New Entry)
#14521 - Prof Will Hughes (New Entry)
#14549 - A moment of clarity (New Entry)
#14558 - z0man's Political Thoughts (New Entry)
#14601 - Magic Photography (New Entry)
#14761 - The Wease Is Mighty (New Entry)
#14780 - Treetops - One-day Classes in Newbury (New Entry)
#14782 - Sport Minded (New Entry)
#14828 - my random rants (New Entry)
#14865 - Knit Happens In Newbury (New Entry)
#14843 - Para//elism (New Entry)
#14873 - hang-on (New Entry)
#14899 - Organised Randomness
#14912 - Macbeth Insurance Brokers (New Entry)
#14956 - Owt4Nowt (New Entry)
#14494 - Yasmin (New Entry)
#15013 - Reading Youth Sikh Association (New Entry)
#15017 - Reading Toy Run (New Entry)
#15191 - Scribblings (New Entry)
#15203 - The rise and rise of social media in UK retail (New Entry)
#15240 - mishaps (New Entry)
#15333 - what's the idea (New Entry)
#15360 - dot.green (New Entry)
#15385 - Jazz From Geoff (New Entry)
#15291 - DTT's Memoirs (New Entry)
#15432 - Reading Driving School (New Entry)
#15468 - West Berkshire Mencap (New Entry)
#15582 - Royal Windsor Eats (New Entry)
#15604 - Slouching Towards Thatcham (New Entry)
#15613 - Woz Write's (New Entry)
#15663 - Through A Peep Hole (New Entry)
#15672 - Stumbling blocks to stepping stones (New Entry)
#15689 - Cruising on the River Thames (New Entry)
#15690 - John Llewellyn Blogs France (New Entry)
#15691 - John Llewellyn Blogs (New Entry)
#15711 - Let's push the big red button anyway (New Entry)
#15716 - Some Thoughts (New Entry)
#29943 - Cllr Lee Dillon (New Entry)

If you want to be ranked you can add your blog here: http://www.wikio.co.uk/addblog - and don't forget to let us know either!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Expenses In West Berkshire

Following a recent report of the impact of the expenses scandal on the local political scene Reading List raised questions of the identity of the individual banned from making future claims for first-class rail travel.

Speaking on behalf of West Berkshire Council Sue Broughton confirmed by email that "the councillor in question was Councillor Alan Law."

Cllr Alan Law represents Basildon ward for the Conservative party.

The full list of allowances claimed by West Berkshire councillors can be found here.

Birch Copse's Cllr Joe Mooney (Con) was the highest overall claimant, claiming £2,830.60 additional expenses for the 12 period covering the financial year from April 1st 2008 to March 31st 2009.

13 of West Berkshire's 52 councillors did not claim any additional expenses.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Conservatives Catch Fire Over Expenses

With the recent heatwave comes the threat of fires.

Fire Chiefs have warned that fire can strike anywhere and at any time, so it is important to be careful to avoid injury or damage to property. Fire safety does not stop at the front door, and whether it is barbeques or the disposal of cigarette ends simple precautions against carelessness will prevent unforeseen tragedy and regret.

Fire Brigades are there to answer your call, but they warn a fire in a forest in the country or in a town alleyway can easily and quickly spread out of control, whatever the cause.

Meanwhile the provision of Berkshire Fire and Rescue has again come under the spotlight.

RBWM council leader Cllr David Burbage has attacked the 'software sausage machine' of centralised government guidance procedures and called for changes to allow local people to set local priorities as a way to protect closure of fire stations, such as those threatened at Windsor, Sonning and Dee Road in Reading.

However, while the Conservative spokesperson opposes local taxation powers to support local decision-making his colleagues are more ambivalent about taking money from the local fire budget without putting anything back.

Francis Batt reports that anger was fueled at the annual meeting of the Fire Authority when members voted themselves a 400% increase in expenses only moments after rejecting a rethink of a reduction in service involving the night-closure of the Windsor station!

Windsor Fire Station was flabbergasted by the announcement that only three Conservative councillors on the board (Christine Bateson, Phillip Bicknell and John Lenton) abstained from the vote which increased their basic allowances from £412 per year to £1,800 per year, noting that only LibDem Kathy Newbound of the representatives from RBWM voted against the rise.

Campaigner Richard Coates called it "an absolute disgrace" that all this additional money is to be taken out of the Fire budget, explaining that
"Members have voted themselves a rise in their allowances, plus extra travel and accommodation expenses which over the course of a year will be the equivalent of three whole time firemen's salary, enough to keep Windsor station open during the night hours."
Cllr Warren Swaine says this is what happens when you give tories a free reign, while Cllr David Burbage notes a recent speech made by David Cameron MP highlighting the need for transparency as a way to force elected representatives to improve their behaviour.

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Update: Conservative chairman of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority Cllr Dr Paul Bryant (Peeen, West Berks) defended the massive increase. He said it was the first rise in over ten years and explained that "it is important that local representation should not be restricted to the well off", claiming that the additional costs "will not have a detrimental effect on any of Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service's operational or support activities."

LibDem Cllr Prue Bray was outraged in response. She said "We were appalled at the greed of the Tories, especially at this time of recession, when residents of Berkshire are struggling to keep their jobs and their homes," calling it 'ridiculous' that the Conservative majority on the authority was able to ignore opponents and could effectively award this pay rise to themselves.

According to Reading Post only one of the four Labour members were in attendance at the meeting. Reading's Cllr Paul Gittings voted against the rise.

Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) explained that the package will cost £77,000 extra per year, and said "The Fire Service's finances are very stretched, and they should be spending their budget on firefighters and equipment, not on greedy councillors."

Meanwhile Cllr Bryant responded by claiming the allowance freeze had been an 'oversight' before stating that "the group... had got an independent person to look at it, [so] if we started to fiddle with their recommendations, why bother to ask them."

Windsor LibDems provides the full voting list.

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Royal Berkshire Fire Authority comprises 25 local councillors representing the six Berkshire unitary councils (3 from Bracknell Forest, 4 from Reading, 5 from RBWM, 3 from Slough, 5 from West Berks and 5 from Wokingham), and includes 16 Conservatives, 4 Labour, 4 LibDem and 1 Independent.

For more information please read the members handbook.

Oranjepan says:
A fair reward for a fair job is fair enough, but not when it comes at the expense of vital emergency services.

The Medium Is Not The Message

Local councillor, Redlands' Cllr Daisy Benson (LibDem) has been praised by The Times' Rachel Potter for her innovative use of social networking media.

In particular noted by The Times were efforts to engage with typically disengaged students and young people during the recent scrutiny review of issues in private rented housing, which disproportionately involves them.

Cllr Benson advertises the methods which you can get in touch with her and explains that she and her colleagues communicate with members of public "in a variety of traditional and non-traditional ways including using blogs, press articles, street-letters, telephone, email, Facebook and more recently Twitter."

She also highlighted the power of communication tools to engage with loal residents, which is at the heart of traditional community politics, but offered the stark warning that although "it’s cheap and it reaches a lot of people, but it wouldn’t be suitable for every issue or every audience," as it is important to have balance and target information appropriately.

She points out a variety of recent LibDem campaigns to clean up Grafitti, to oppose the closure of Reading University's School of Health and Social Care and to save the Jolly Anglers pub have reached a wider audience and brought the issues under closer inspection because of their efforts.

Local Government Association programme director for media and campaigns, Edward Welsh, said the decline of local newspapers is one factor in the growing popularity of social networking, and described how "Councillors have fewer channels available to them to speak to the public and so the online community is rapidly growing in importance."

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Recommended Reading List #29

Librarian Rhys Tranter is a fan of modernist author and playwright Samuel Beckett, so he's obviously excited to note Reading University's scheduled international symposium hosted by the Beckett International Foundation. It will take place on September 25-26th under the title "Humanity and Animality in Beckett".

A new set of publications of Beckett's work (including readers editions, critical editions, collected works of poetry and fiction) have all been enabled by research in the Knowlson archive of letters and papers owned by the towering literary figure, now held at Reading University.

Oranjepan asks:
What are we waiting for?
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