Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Nitty Gritty

Following on from the outburst of comment regarding the winter weather problems and my attempt to provide a round-up summarising what happened it seems only a few days of introspection elapsed before more questions have arisen.

Cllr Benson provided a detailed account of the current council policy, which notes the proritization of primary routes.

However she also picks up on the out-sourcing of the management contract for 'winter traffic maintenance' to WPC Consultants, which in turn is responsible for managing the gritting contract with JH Cresswell & Sons.

In extreme conditions secondary confirmation of action is required to be provided by RBC authorities to take account of changing needs.

Obviously with such a divided structure communications can become easily strained.

As she continues, each side will need to respond to some serious questions about their performance in the policy review that has been scheduled for 28th January.

Meanwhile Cllr Benson is also concerned about the lack of leadership provided by the politicians who are nominally in charge of the structure.

So she may be glad to hear former Labour councillor and transport supremo John Howarth step up onto his soapbox and criticise a "widespread failure for individuals to take responsibility" as 15 years of progressive cuts to winter maintenance as the council was forced to look for ways to save money - perhaps it really is an honest mea culpa, or maybe he is just falling on his sword because when push comes to shove Labour doesn't believe in collective responsibility after all.

Local Conservative MPs John Howell and Rob Wilson continue to blame local council's simple lack of contingency planning and the amount of money in council coffers, while belatedly calling for a review of procedures to discover what conclusions should be drawn.

And although council services struggled to keep roads clear this caused a thorough depletion of gritting stockpiles, there are only enough supplies to cope with six more days of frost...

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Update: On my other blog I compare the structural flaws which lead to the weather chaos with the structural flaws which lead to the credit crunch and the MP expenses scandal... and find some striking similarities.

Howard Thomas is worried authorities in Reading are oblivious to the temperatures.

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Related reading: Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woes Grip Region; Anger Grows At Failure To Prevent Traffic Chaos; Whiteout Fallout Continues; Views and Perspectives; Round-up: What Went Wrong With The Winter Weather

Hospital-area Parking Problems

Concerns continue to be raised about the apparant profiteering on peripheral Hospital services by local NHS trusts desperate for funding.

Royal Berkshire Hospital in central Reading is on Cllr Benson's patch, so we might expect her postbag to fill up with complaints from residents who are concerned about the overspill from visitors unwilling or unable to pay the high charges.

Meanwhile Labour member Andy Peacock reports Health Minister Andy Burnham MP's response.

In comparison to the free car parking at hospitals in Wales and Scotland the average hourly charge in England is £1.09.

As Mr Burnham says, "The time has come for a fairer, more consistent approach."

Meanwhile LibDem PPC for Reading East Cllr Gareth Epps points out how the matter is connected to general government policy.

The reduction in funding grants is actively encouraging Reading University to increase development on its land with the new privately-owned 700-room Mansfield Hall of residence, which will have no social facilities or car-parking.

So residents can expect greater congestion in the future...

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Update: Elsewhere a committee has been set up to review car park policy at five hospitals in Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead. Submissions will be accepted until 15th February in time for findings during March.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tory Leader 'Target' Questions

The news that Conservative Party leader David Cameron is coming to town to answer questions on the NHS as part of a series of Town Hall meetings across the country called 'Cameron Direct' has stirred the local commentariat from its' hibernation.

Cllr Dave Luckett points out it is unusual for politicians to face the public without a script as he promotes the event on 8th January.

Registration is required to attend the event via email cameron@readingwestconservatives.com.

Cllr Luckett argues that because the meeting is open to the public there will be no planted audience members, although attendance is limited to venue capacity and normal expectations are that loyal supporters would be first in line to make their reservations.

But John McGarvey takes aim at the 'cheesily-named initiative', suggesting it is no more than a paper exercise for publicity purposes rather than a serious attempt at engagement.

Under scrutiny are the reasons why questions are restricted to one topic only.

Reading West candidate Alok Sharma seems confused in his statement:
"It’s a great opportunity for everyone - of any political persuasion - to come along and raise their issues, questions and concerns with him [...] it is also a chance for everyone to have their say."
Perhaps he's just surprised when there is any active response at all!

Which may explain Reading Post's choice to use a particularly unflattering photo showing the wannabe-PM himself to be confused and surprised.

John also criticises the lack of information on the venue and the way the local association are hyping up their interactive, multi-media approach to promote inclusivity with 'questions from the online community' - whoever that may be...

This blog has certainly not been requested to offer any feedback, nor is it apparent anyone else from the general Berkshire blogosphere has!

Meanwhile Dazmando is sceptical about tory attempts to win over steadfast opponents by public relations and spin.

He suggests Conservatives are just relying on a vague perception of openness to seep out into the electorate to sway the few votes needed here and there to gain a majority.

Mark Thompson says the tory behaviour is a cynical and brazen attempt at pure electioneering - he reckons it is a tactic which may work in the short-term, but will harm any longer-term ambitions by further undermining trust in leading politicians and the political system.

Paul Walter is more direct in his comment than any party leader could ever hope to be - he shoots straight from the hip (although I don't think that's him in the video).

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Oranjepan asks:
What would you ask Mr Cameron?

Update: Don't bother - the event is cancelled because of the weather. Reading is obviously too far off the beaten track between Westminster and Witney for the prospective PM and the snow is obviously too extreme compared with Mr Cameron's regular skiing holidays.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Berkshire Hunters

The political divide is in evidence once again as the traditional Boxing Day confrontation between pro- and anti-hunt campaigners provides an excuse for each side to rejoice and indulge in some old-fashioned festive fisticuffs.

Anneliese Dodds mounts up in favour of animal rights to warn about the risks of voting for a Conservative government at the next election in a few months time, making the claim that "the vast majority of people in both urban and rural areas are against fox-hunting being made legal."

She makes a passionate plea that "today must not be the last 'cruelty free' Boxing Day".

But this only puts John Redwood MP on the scent, giving him the prime excuse to launch a vicious outburst against 'class warriors' and their 'detoffication agenda'. This is something to get your teeth stuck into, and conservative attack dogs are clearly trained hunt in packs in the comments.

Though it would be unfair not to mention that Mr Redwood also draws an interesting comparison on the urban/rural, working class/landed gentry split.

However, as this archived article from the Hunt Saboteurs Organisation (about the fear of rioting around Mortimer West End which pervaded throughout the mid-to-late 1990s) shows, the real issues are less about the perceptions of cruelty associated with blood sports than the civic disorder and overzealous response which inevitably surrounds events.

Meanwhile the South Berkshire Hunt and Old Berkshire Hunt have reorganised online in recent years to promote their interests and support a review of the current legislative bans.

In particular the Old Berkshire Hunt helps coordinate the vote-ok coalition to oppose anti-hunting MPs and campaign for a repeal of the Hunting Act.

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Update: The debate inspires me to offer a few thoughts about the subject on my other blog. Readers may not be surprised that I don't sit easily with either side.


Oranjepan says:
Just don't confuse the issue with the cockney rhyming slang, whatever you do!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Round-Up: What Went Wrong With The Winter Weather

#rdgnews - Accusations are being thrown back and forth as a big debate has emerged over why hundreds of thousands of people were forced to suffer unnecessarily due to the extreme conditions of the past few days.

In a selection of earlier posts (Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woes Grip Region; Anger Grows At Failure To Prevent Traffic Chaos; Whiteout Fallout Continues; Views and Perspectives) I've attempted to document a wide range of bloggers reactions.

Sky News' Jo Couzens provides the best report of the shocking scenes which have now caused questions to be raised at ministerial level as the events threaten to escalate and have national consequences, as the issues take on a multi-faceted character.

Reading Guide has the best album of photos.


The practical debate

Questions have been raised regarding the failure to prepare adequately for weather which was forecast a week in advance and an apparently insufficient robust or flexible contingency plan.

Of particular concern is an over-dependence on assistance provided by civic-minded members of the public as emergency services were inundated and overwhelmed or otherwise unable to cope under the conditions - health and council services were restricted due to staff availability, while the AA described Monday night as its' busiest for 25 years!

A dispute over the particular means of dealing with the conditions has also raised it's head with different groups making claim and counter-claim about the prioritisation of road clearance and the choice of snowplough or grit or other means.

Of particular concern is the worry that supplies of grit may be being rationed, especially after this was raised as an issue in February.

Equally, civil authorites' control of communication channels was brought into focus as voluntary and commercial methods including local radio stations, blogs and social media sites became the routes by which information was spread fastest.

However it seems a unique combination of events conspired to exacerbate initial problems until a snowball-effect grew beyond all control.

Apparently gritting had occurred in accordance with policy, but was washed into drains during the day, leaving little time for regritting to take place before the snows hit.

As the temprature dropped rapidly a weather front brought heavy precipitation which hit at the worst possible time at dusk, on the shortest day of the year - just ahead of evening rush hour - and the snows hit so heavily that the first falls froze creating treacherous conditions. The initial traffic problems were caused before resources could be sent out to deal with them and were subsequently hampered by road blockages and effective gridlock.

In a fast-moving situation it appears there was some confusion over control choices, causing delays in issuing public advise to avoid travelling during the blizzard and swamping the road network.

So if it wasn't a lack of preparation it was a lack of proper coordination and decisive leadership caused by structural weaknesses in the institutional framework of the multi-agency plan.

With a panoply of authorities with different areas of responsibility (eg unitary authority councils, county fire service, multi-county ambulance service, regional police authority) communication was key to preventing a wholesale breakdown in order, and time was of the essence.


The political debate

As I followed the developing story it seems LibDems were first to pick up that something was going wrong.

Avid communicator Cllr Daisy Benson was active on twitter as members of her party attended the formal memorial service to the late local party leader Bob Green and were caught in the first snows. Cllr Warren Swaine was wryly amused by the surprise that sensible precautions aren't always taken.

Meanwhile local opinioneer the Common Sense Party's Howard Thomas kept up his criticism of council waste as he worried February's supply shortage had been repeated as budget shortcuts were made under political pressure.

Conservatives followed up in vocal outrage that problems had been allowed to occur. Reading East MP Rob Wilson was critical, but Wokingham's John Redwood called the reponse to the extreme conditions 'pathetic' and Cllr Willis said the council had been 'caught on the hop'.

Obviously questions had to be asked, and this blog came under attack for thinking aloud why right-wingers were making such a noise without publicising exactly what questions they wanted answers to.

This was in marked contrast to Labour's Martin Salter who used his intimate connections with every local body to produce a weighty tome in an attempt to dominate attention and sweep up every possible ounce of publicity (even aggressively bumping other interviewees on BBC Radio Berkshire) while playing to his political base by applauding council workers.

In Wokingham a similar case of politicking was evident as Labour PPC George Donaldson applauded the council workers at the tory-run council, while LibDem PPC Cllr Prue Bray offered a more rounded view reflecting her dual role by comparing structural imbalances that lead to systematic biases.

Greens, meanwhile, gleefully attacked all and sundry for playing partisan games with the issues by taking different political perspectives - before offering their own!

Among the non-partisan bloggertariat there was a high level of anger, confusion and frustration at the disruption to daily life, but equally a sense of joy could be detected as the snows made a clear break from ordinary routine which allowed people to reassess their personal situations.

However as a final word the ultimate underlying sentiment was one of gratitude that things weren't nearly as bad as they might have otherwise been!


Oranjepan says:
Whither the weather indeed!

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Update: It appears the snow has cause a crack in the Conservative ranks to open up - Leader of RBWM council Cllr David Burbage has attacked Wokingham MP John Redwood for encouraging inaccurate criticism of councils.

Snow Patrol - Views And Perspectives From Across The County

#rdgnews - From the Treetops in Newbury the festive picture seems almost perfect, but bloggers differing reactions continue to drift in.

Elsewhere in West Berkshire Paul Walter's Liberal Burblings privides a video view of Thatcham, Phil Spray takes a bleak photo of the A4 while Tim Liew reflects that the world didn't end despite hysteria not being far away.

On the other side of the county Windsor Fire Station points out the short-sightedness of trying to cut the 'operational resilience' of emergency services when the unexpected can take anyone by surprise at any moment.

In Wokingham Cllr Prue Bray points out there has been a completely mixed picture of reactions reflecting the particular geography of each area.

She notes how Reading suffered due to the urban nature of the authority and gridlock meant gritters and snow-ploughs simply couldn't get through.

Sky News' Jo Couzens details the chaos which descended on Reading as four inches of snow were 'dumped' on the town.

Adrian Windisch says Reading became famous for all the wrong reasons.

A selection of video views are provided by Redlands LibDems and as well as Simon Arthur.

Wendy was simply glad to be housed in comfort for the night in a hotel in Pangbourne.

Elsewhere coach driver Stephen Clynes reports his travel time from London to Cardiff tripled according to his digital tachograph "all because Berkshire County Council could not get it's act together and grit the major roads in it's area."

With 2,000 drivers stuck and thousands more abandoned, he notes the matter has now reached ministerial level.

The mini users forum is also filled with a selection of horror journeys from the area.

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Update: Chronicle editor Maurice O'Brien is quick off the mark to attack the chaotic scenes as a result of 'one-size fits all' government policy.

On my other blog I'm just angry that there's so much finger-pointing and not enough people taking responsibility.

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Previous reports: Whiteout Fallout Continues; Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woes Grip Region; Anger Grows At Failure To Prevent Traffic Chaos

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Whiteout Fallout Continues

#rdgnews - A veritable blizzard of reactions has tumbled out of the ether in response to the effects of the past few days winter weather.

Plenty of criticism has been laid at the door of authorities for an apparent lack of preparation, the failure to provide a sufficiently robust plan of action and being slow to respond to the changing situation.

However it seems a unique combination of rain washing away grit before a sudden massive downfall hit commuters in the middle of rushhour prevented authorities from realising the danger or dealing with it once it started to get out of hand - leading to a snowball effect where things just got worse.

Gideon Mack is typically extremely direct in expressing his anger, while Ceramix is more philosophic, calling his experience 'A Nightmare Before Christmas'.

On the political front Cllr Willis says he is glad the worst is now over and argues that it was unrealistic to expect councils to respond in the half hour between the Met Office warning and the beginning of the snow fall.

He claims he can now analyse what went wrong while explaining that he has asked for briefings and saying "what we need now is a considered investigation into the circumstances leading to yesterday’s severe weather."

He offers his readers the assurance that Conservatives are asking serious questions about the matter (although he doesn't give any details) while paying tribute to council workers who came off leave and out of hours to do their jobs.

He does however offer the insight that gritting is not always the best way of dealing with heavy powder snow - he states urea is better, although I doubt he is intentionally advising members of the public spray roads themselves!

Meanwhile Cllr Benson reprints the latest official statement from Reading Borough Council.

She describes RBC's decision to blame the inaccuracy of weather reports 'slightly dubious under the circumstances' given weather forecasts issued throughout the preceding week and the fact it took seven hours from the onset of the snowstorms to issue advice against travel.

Caroline Eveleigh is also concerned about the lack of official information provided and expresses her frustration that the authorities seem to get caught out every time any severe weather hits. She is sympathetic to the problems of performing under pressure but asks "surely tax payers deserve better?"

According to Labour MP Martin Salter the Met Office Warning was not issued until two hours after snow began falling. He provides a list of questions and suggestions including an increased focus on transport pinch-points. He argues that
"there is no doubt that better planning and better contingency arrangements can be put in place and that we need improved communications with both residents and businesses."
Mr Salter recognises the efforts of civic-minded citizens and staff, one of whom was Jim Beeer who cheerily describes how his good deed for the year was mentioned on GMTV!

Rachel Eden notes the fact that gritters were out on the roads at 1am, but in accordance with council policy many main roads were prioritiesed over side roads - something which caused Giovanni a few moments of concern as he was moving house in the weather...

Elsewhere West Berkshire spokesman Phil Spray has recently moved from Salisbury to Thatcham - he was obviously glad to have a shorter journey!


Oranjepan says:
With another night of freezing temperatures already here we can expect snow to be replaced by ice and further lingering problems into the rest of the week - so make sure you are prepared for invisible dangers on the roads.

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Update: The local NHS has issued some essential advice on ensuring health problems are kept to a minimum.

Thames Valley Police has also issued essential advice on coping with the weather problems.

Rachel Eden reposts Martin Salter's comments that blaming one section or group is often all too easy to do.

Cllr Daisy Benson rounds up a selection of twittered comments and picks up on the official responses from RBC, which she says highlights the weaknesses of a range of official communication protocols.

Howard Thomas says he didn't see any gritters and concludes the local council organisation is a 'shambles'.
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Previous reports: Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woes Grip Region; Anger Grows At Failure To Prevent Traffic Chaos

Singers Shine Light On 'Sewer Abuse'

Thames Water public relations have issued an online release of a 'reworked version of the centuries-old Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' as part of their 'Bin It, Don't Block It' campaign.

They've really entered the information age having been featured on ITV's Grimefighters and with a facebook page to advertise waste related issues.

The industry has even designated 19th November as World Toilet Day.

The team of flushers are making a seasonal plea to raise public awareness of the problems cause by blockages cause by the public putting unsuitable waste into the drainage system.

This can include anything from seemingly harmless turkey grease to sanitary items such as nappies or wet wipes to condoms or other miscellaneous items which can cause back-ups into internal plumbing - all the worse during freezing weather then pipes routinely burst.



Reading has a reputation as a blockage hotspot resulting from aging infrastructure, so Reading East MP Rob Wilson was clearly speaking from personally experience when he commented on the launch of the campaign to say that "sewage flooding into people's homes and gardens is extremely unpleasant and should be unacceptable."

According to a survey conducted by the company 41% of people admitted flushing unsuitable material.

The company estimates it is forced to deal with as many as 60,000 avoidable solid blockages every year, which in the cause of some icky situations as well as higher bills for consumers.

Thames Water advises you to 'love your loo' and be aware that only biodegradable products are suitable for the system.

While the company is working for improvements in labelling on consumer products they warn that 'flushable' does not mean a product is intended to be flushed.

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More about Thames Water

Anger Grows At Failure To Prevent Traffic Chaos

#rdgnews - Continued heavy snowfall throughout yesterday caused more problems on roads in the area.

Transport has become treacherous as roads suffered gridlock and buses struggling on ice in the freezing conditions, while some delays were noted on the railways.

South Central Ambulance Service reported a 70% increase in calls as the Chilterns and North Downs were among the heaviest hit areas in the country, while the AA reported it had responded to almost three times the number of call outs and spokespeople urged the public not to place extra strain on overstretched services.

Even Royal Berkshire Hospital closed its' doors to non-emergencies as 273 admissions were made for weather-related injuries (such as sprains and fractures).

BBC reports that "extreme caution" has been advised when travelling.

RBC is clearly also suffering from a number of staff who were unable to make the journey into work as the authority issued a two-line statement telling people not to travel unless 'absolutely necessary'.

West Berkshire reports that the household waste recycling centre is closed and gritting supplies are available to keep routes open, but spokesman Phil Spray explained it is council policy to concentrate resources in areas of higher usage.

North of the river in more hilly territory Chiltern District Council has suspended waste collection until after the holidays.

Meanwhile Libdems have upped the stakes as conditions start to have an effect on services.

Cllr Benson is shocked by the deterioration of conditions and has called for a review into Reading's emergency response capabilities.

Over in Bracknell, Dazmando describes a situation which is hardly any better.

Cllr Warren Swaine notes the irony how "winter sneaks up and catches up catches everyone unawares" - it's almost like the authorities need a direct advance warning of a specific threat to be prepared!

But Conservative Cllr Richard Willis doesn't think any serious questions need asking - he says today's unexpected snows just caught the local highways team 'on the hop'.

Wokingham MP John Redwood disagrees - he calls the situation 'pathetic' and says he will be asking questions of the council and Highways Agency.

Labour PPC George Davidson says this is an interesting position that Mr Redwood is attacking Wokingham's tory-run council, while he is defending it...

However the Baglady notes the problems were caused by the snow falling on ice which had lain in place for several days and asks 'Where were the gritters? The snow ploughs?'

For a look at the severity of some of the problems tinnion's rdg photo blog gives a view of some of the misery.

Will Hughes sardonically describes scenes of carnage (thanks for the pic), while Emma marvels at the spirit of resilience as she was snowed in her office in Three Mile Cross as 'Better than the Blitz' (she should really work in PR, oh, wait...)

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Update: Maxwell Kusi Obodum reports Reading Borough Council has 'ample' stocks of grit. Gritters spread 125 tonnes last night, according to council spokesperson Sarah Bishton, but were hampered by the volume of abandoned cars.

Meanwhile Natalie Slater describes how two public refuge centres were set up in the Oracle shopping centre, as a joint statement was issued by TV Police and RBC advising drivers not to travel where possible and not to abandon cars - seven hours after the snows started!

Elsewhere Mike McNamara is glad winter snow is only an occasional event - he'd hate to think what would happen if it was more frequent!

Pete simply wishes against a 'White Christmas' - quite forcefully!

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Yesterday: Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woes Grip Region

Recommended Reading List #42

The festive season is party time - time to hang up your inhibitions and let your hair down!

Joe Knipe certainly did when he got taken to the Girl Action Christmas bash this weekend - although his bashfulness is touching there's probably a good reason why he's a bit coy... something to do with a moral code apparently!

But the recommendation is not to support any boastful antics, but because he provides an example that being more open and less self-conscious in his self-expression is a way to find and spread a bit of peace and joy during the holidays.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woe Grips Region

Winter snow and ice has struck, but with the seasonal wonder of a prospective white Christmas concern is growing that authorities have again failed to prevent havoc spreading by preparing adequately as roads are closed to traffic and some drivers are failing to stop after causing accidents in the hazardous conditions.

Head of Response for Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service Andy Mancey said, "Road conditions are treacherous in many parts of Berkshire."

Cllr Benson worries many roads and pavements have been turned into 'deathtraps' due to insufficient gritting and hundreds of thousands of residents and commuters are facing the risk of unnecessary accident and disruption to daily life.

International communications expert Neville Hobson is fully aware of the potential for problems having just returned from Las Vegas. He discusses the 'complete chaos' caused when the Channel Tunnel was forced to close and is 'astounded' by the way the company has handled the public outrage.

Meanwhile Howard Thomas offers some common sense opinion that it is "nothing short of a disgrace that our council are either incapable or unwilling to do their duty."

He recalls the events of February when Reading Borough Council was heavily criticised for failing to stock up on sufficient grit, while Cllr Benson is frustrated by the lack of information explaining what is being done to deal with the immediate problem.

Elsewhere Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead provides a page of advice. They warn travellers to take extra care whatever form of transport you take.

Icy Road Safety is a good US website providing advice on how to prepare yourself for the worst. For the more ghoulishly inclined they have a page-worth of video footage showing some scary accidents.

For up-to-date information check out the satellite images on RainToday.

Friday, 18 December 2009

LibDems Ready For Fight In Reading West

The contest to replace veteran Labour MP Martin Salter in the Reading West seat continues to heat up as LibDems announced their shortlist of candidates vying for a place on the ballot.

The three hopefuls include three well-respected figures including two from West Berkshire and one from Reading.

Cllr Tony Vickers is a former Lieutenant-Colonel and chartered surveyor who currently represents Northcroft ward in Newbury, Alex Payton is a barrister who is a former mayor of Thatcham and Cllr Daisy Benson will be well known to readers of this blog as a highly active representative of Redlands ward in Reading.

The three candidates will be attempting to sway Liberal Democrats ahead of hustings on Friday 8th January when a vote of members will take place.

The party was forced into the late re-selection after Oxford councillor Patrick Murray decided to stand down as the prospective candidate with rumours circulating that the seat is winnable with the right candidate. Between the 2001 and 2005 general elections LibDem support grew from 12.8% to 15.8% of the vote.

Leader of the LibDem group on Reading Borough Council Cllr Kirsten Bayes has publically offered a vote of confidence in Cllr Benson (who is her ward colleague), who also seems to have the support of the Campaign for Gender Balance lined up behind her.

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Update: Second ward colleague Cllr Glenn Goodall has given Cllr Benson his backing.

Adrian Windisch approves of the fact that all three candidates are more local than Patrick Murray.

Linda Fort notes the announcement.

For more details Anthony Wells' profile of Reading West constituency and comment thread is worth a look.

Awaiting the winner will be a candidates including Naz Sarkar (Labour - blog), Alok Sharma (Conservative Party - website), Adrian Windisch (Green Party - blog), Bruce Hay (UKIP - website).

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More from On The Election Trail

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Round-Up: Emerging Scrutiny On Ambulances

Everyone knows you dial 999 for an emergency service, but the most recent annual report by the Care Quality Commission raised questions about the standard of local ambulances [download pdf1, download pdf2, data on response times by month in 2009] - it suggested they may be in need of a call-out themselves!

Although several areas were shown to be strong, the politically sensitive areas of response time and quality of care were the two performance measures which came under particular criticism.

The shock waves from the report certainly took their time to ripple out among the local commentariat.

Lucy Crossley missed the scale of their impact by downplaying the results as 'mixed'.

First to pick up the explosive nature of the report was LibDem Bracknell blogger and health campaigner Darren Bridgeman, who was shocked that this report showed South Central Ambulance Service to be the third worst in the country!

Several days later the service was forced to apologise for 'totally unacceptable' service lapses.

Chair of Reading Housing, Health and Community Care Scrutiny Panel, Lib Dem Cllr Daisy Benson said the report was a "real concern" and asserted the importance that the providers of vital local services are held accountable for their performance levels, while Labour's Cllr Pete Ruhemann said there was a need "to get some answers - in public."

In Hampshire Will Carson reports that Romsey MP Sandra Gidley was forcing "crunch talks with health bosses".

Natalie Slater provides some more background.

South Central Ambulance Service is a three-and-a-half-year-old service which was formed from the merger of the former ambulance trusts covering the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire.

It is now based in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

She also got quotes from SCAS spokesperson Sarah Eastman ("disappointed") and Chief Executive Will Hancock ("we have a robust action plan").

Meanwhile on her own blog Cllr Benson noted several difficulties with providing an effective local service to a population of over 4m.

A scrutiny meeting was dutifully scheduled for 8th December.

Darren Bridgeman followed up by noting problems with staffing shortages are having a detrimental effect, which Mike Pyle reported in more detail - apparently cost of living problems are creating havoc with staff retention and recruitment can't keep pace.

Thankfully Cllr Daisy Benson and Darren Bridgeman also provided a write-up of last week's scrutiny panel.

The Redlands LibDem chaired the committee while the Bracknell Blogger posed some questions.

SCAS provided seven reasons why the service may not be up to scratch, including a big increase in the calls logged, but this was not enough to prevent councillors from across the region of accusing them of running a 'two-tier' service at a joint review group attended by representatives from all four counties.

Speaking on behalf of the joint board Henley councillor Dr Peter Skolar described a big disparity between the service provided to rural areas and urban areas which appeared to be designed to manipulate the response statistics so that the targets could be met more easily.

Providing another perspective on the story local blogger Baba Mzungu gives an insight into the more drastic health situation facing people on the edge of Lake Victoria in Africa - where no ambulances are available.

He says that at a basic level everything all comes down to money, while problems all stem from a lack of it!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Time's Up For Rodgers

#rdgnews - Beleaguered football club manager Brendan Rodgers has left his position 'by mutual consent' and 'with immediate effect' after less than half a season.

The team is floundering just one place above the relegation zone and with the worst home record in the division.

The former Chelsea youth team coach was brought in in a £1/2m deal from Watford to replace Steve Coppell in the hope that a similar understated style would replicate the form which took the team into the top flight for the first time in club history.

The intrigue is spiralling as the club attempts to temper suggestions of a high-level split with 'no further comment', although 36-year-old Rodgers was described as in 'bullish mood' ahead of this weekend's fixtures and a club event was only hastily cancelled as the events unfolded.

It is assumed that the management team Rodgers assembled will also depart, as the club declared that Chief Scout Brian McDermott will take temporary charge.

Recent fan sites have seen an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the failure to gains results or give an indication that a future upturn is likely.

According to Hob Nob Anyone? Rodgers has been under pressure since the second-half of October.

Steven Woodgate offers some tactical insights in a wittily entitled post 'Had McAnuff' - he identifies a lack of talent in the players who Rodgers brought in as replacements for those who came close to securing promotion last year, but that an upturn in form over recent weeks had coincided with a recognition that they play within their limitations.

Ben at The Offside analysed the recent home defeat to Derby. He summed it up: "yet again, for a countless time this season we squandered a lead and ended up losing."

And the season so far was encapsulated in the incident when Shane Long was sent off. Starting to get towards full fitness a dozen games in to the season he displayed his lack of temprament and reacted badly to an in-game decision.

Floody went into a bit more detail, explaining that the team is generally "unfit, confused and... utterly devoid of confidence" due to a lack of internal stability and tactical incoherence. He suggested that the weak management structure would inevitably collapse unless the personality rifts were overcome.

The (unofficial) Reading Fan blog describes the period as an all-round disaster and turns attention to potential successors, among whom former target Darren Ferguson has recently become available.

Fans have been typically outspoken on BBC forums with the finger of blame being pointed in all directions.

Meanwhile the club fan forum has lit up with over 300 comments in only a few hours since the news became official with some serious questions laid at the door of leading figures at the club.

Google aggregates more.


Oranjepan says:
Reading Football Club is at a crossroads with chairman Sir John Madejski failing to sell the club before the recession hit home after openly touting for offers. Fans are divided and leadership is now required to show whether the organisation is committed to improving standards or just surviving at this level.

Bosses Back Buses

The political dog-fight surrounding the future of Reading Buses continues without abatement.

At an emergency meeting on Thursday 10th December Conservatives on Wokingham Borough Council agreed a £100,000 subsidy for the public transport company.

Reading East MP Rob Wilson organised a public meeting at Bulmershe Youth Centre on 11th December which was advertised as an opportunity to discuss proposed changes, but it seems primarily to have served the purpose of informing the 100 members of the public who attended, suggesting the deal had been cooked up in secret without the input of the the people who to all intents and purposes were being consulted.

Reading Buses recently overhauled the executive structure of the company and Chief Executive James Freeman was thanked by Mr Wilson, who said: "Thanks to their efforts, and others behind the scenes, I think that this is a good if not perfect result" which "[made] sure that this issue was resolved as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile Earley Town Council has also intervened to write to Reading Borough Council in which they 'express concern' at the potential loss of a link to the district centre while insisting that certain standards of frequency are retained.

The row boils down to proposals to tweak bus routes and timetables which would enable the 62 line to be scrapped as it is replaced by the 19 and 22 routes, however concerns are rife that this could prove counterproductive as more bus travellers may be put off by constant chopping and changing at a time when Reading Transport can't afford to lose any more passengers.

But underlying the service issues are deeper questions about the continuing public ownership of the company and an ideological debate about the best means of providing what customers want for the prices they can afford - Wokingham's Conservatives are currently investigating means for competitive tenders, while Labour in Reading is committed to public ownership and accountability through the ballot box.

Elsewhere the Audit Commission's OnePlace site gives public transport in Reading a coveted 'Green Flag' to indicate 'exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from', although Wokingham gains none.

In their citation the Audit Commission describes how
"there is excellent cooperation between Reading Buses and the Council so the buses run on schedule. Bus priority lanes and satellite tracking give details on where buses are which has improved journey times and gives effective real-time passenger information. The Partnership is also introducing a live information feed to alter traffic control sequencing to give individual buses priority to reduce delays. Waiting times at bus-stops have reduced by increasing use of passes and smart cards. The number of passenger journeys increased by 970,000 in the past year and customer satisfaction is over 70 per cent."

Oranjepan asks:
Conservatives are in a pickle on the bread and butter issue of public services.

They don't want to be seen as hurting a popular local service, but at the same time they don't want to upset their more ideological supporters who fervently oppose state control of business.

So do secret deals to provide subsidies cut the mustard?

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More on Reading Buses

Friday, 11 December 2009

#Meteorwatch Hits Newbury

@NewburyAS has been abuzz with activity as the Newbury Astronomical Society is recording the rising anticipation ahead of this weekends three-day culmination of the Geminid meteor shower.



Adrian West explained that the expectations of clear skies will mean a spectactular (if chilly) show will be provided across the northern hemisphere.

The best opportunity to get a good viewing will be on Sunday evening when as many as 100 meteors an hour will leave firey tails in the heavens.

The shower is created as an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon reaches the closest point on its' elliptical 1.4 year orbit of the sun.

It is a relatively new event having being first recorded in 1862, despite being one of the most spectacular, and is so-called because the shower appears to radiate out of the Gemini constellation.

Previous 'star parties' hosted by the society website have attracted large global audiences and this event is expected to help the organisation see out the International Year of Astronomy 2009 with a big bang.

For the best tips follow the hashtag #meteorwatch and @NewburyAS on twitter - the party officially starts on Saturday 12th December at 7pm and is expected to continue for about 48hours.

But the best place to see it all is by going outside and having a look for yourself - don't forget to make a wish!

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Update: LibDem Cllr Glenn Goodall is optimistic about the prospect of a dedicated UK space agency - and he says the figures show it makes sound economic sense.

On the Beat, On the Books

#pbr - In the Pre-Budget Report this week, Chancellor Alistair Darling produced the seemingly magical rabbit from a hat as he announced 'efficiency savings that would not hurt frontline services'.

Alan Travis reports that it is politicaly unpalatable to reduce policing numbers, especially heading into a general election, but that £1/2billion savings would be found over the next four years. He explains that this is predicted to be found through greater control of logistics, central procurement methods and better management of staffing (including reductions in overtime).

However with a statutory duty to ensure the Police are properly resourced the local Thames Valley Police Authority has been discussing budget proposals.

TVPA Chairperson Khan Juna explained that members have been working "to develop a budget which strikes a balance between effective policing across the Thames Valley and the difficult financial climate we are in."

Chief Constable Sara Thornton said she had proposed a 2% increase in council tax precepts in combination with £5m savings (split 50-50 between staff and non-staff costs) and that this will enable the force "to increase the number of police officers in line with the growing population and will post 73 officers from support roles to operational policing."

On the mean streets of Reading the impact of the changes are already being noticed as police have shifted tactics in an attempt to 'disrupt' criminal activity without making arrests which would require administrative support.

But TVPA Treasurer Bob Atkins issued a note of concern that this could still leave the authority facing an annual £10m deficit in its £369m budget as the £141m central government grant is cut by 5% - particularly as the proposed savings are an increase of more than 50% compared to £21.6m reported in the past three years.

BBC Berkshire reports discussions are ongoing and likely to see adjustment before TVPA agrees a budget on 19th February 2010.

Elsewhere Matt Wilkinson interviews departing Assistant Chief Constable Nick Gargan as he is promoted to the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), who is concerned that current growth in policing numbers is unsustainable.

He explains that there are 4,250 police officers employed by Thames Valley Police compared to 2,683 ten years ago, about 3,000 against 1,142 civilian support staff and 520 among the new rank of Police Community Support Officers.

The issue has taken on a direct political context in Reading with the loss of joint-funding from Reading University for a team of local PCSOs which hit recent headlines.

Labour campaigner Anneliese Dodds has come out in favour of the budget cuts while supporting PCSOs at the expense of Police Officers (who are fully trained, insured and have also the power of arrest).


Oranjepan says:
With improved reporting of crime statistics, greater community participation in deciding Police priorities and further emphasis on smarter policing (such as the development of NPIA and anti-crime panels) continued growth in pure policing numbers could hurt the ability of the Police to protect the public effectively.

It is not acceptable that financial resources are distracted from where they are needed in reaction to political pressure ahead of a general election.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Round-up: Death Of A Mayor

Former Mayor of Reading and Freeman of the borough Bob Green has died aged 72 - and local sources have been quick to mark the passing of the well-known and respected veteran politician with tributes in inimitable indivudula style.

Reading Borough Council issued an official notice in the news section of its' public website. He is described as having a reputation "for honesty and fairness" across the political divide and "one of life's true gentlemen".

Mr Green served 13 years on Reading Borough Council since the authority was established in 1995 (having sat on Berkshire CC previously), becoming Mayor for the millenial celebrations in 2000 and was elected only the seventh Freeman of the borough in 2008.

The official quotes from the leaders of the three political groups on Reading Borough Council are chronicles by the newsdesk of the local press, and reprinted by the Labour-leading Reading News Items and Green party activist Adrian Windisch.

LibDem leader Cllr Kirsten Bayes described Mr Green as "a fair-minded, dedicated public servant, devoted to Reading and its people" and a personal mentor to her.

Labour leader Cllr Jo Lovelock siad he was respected for his intelligence and politeness, while Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty called him a model councillor who was an example to all.

Conservative opponent Cllr Richard Willis manages to get in several partisan digs while describing Mr Green as unfailingly courteous, who was "a good debater and always had a the ability to speak fluently and spontaneously."

Reading Post offers a more personal view, interviewing his widow, Jill. Linda Fort explains his passion for dramatic arts lead him to become a founding member of the Caversham Theatre group and notes that he had spent his final day at a local farmers market and watching rugby highlights before passing away peacefully at home in his sleep.

Mr Green had been suffering from prostate cancer and as recently as this summer used the unique insights of his experience to intervene in the row over NHS funding. He described his treatment at the Royal Berkshire Hospital's cancer unit as "absolutely wonderful," "rapid and efficient" and "without fault".


Oranjepan says:
I met Bob Green on a number of occasions and can only echo the sentiments of others.

He was a strong personality with an incomprable depth of experience and knowledge of a wide range of issues who let his passion for a subject show through. His love of the theatre gave him a dramatic flair which made him an excellent performer in council debates to enliven even the driest of dull political topics.

Reading's civic life is all the poorer for his passing.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Recommended Reading List #41

Caroline Eveleigh uses her blog to evangelise about ways in which the level of performance can be raised in all sorts of unsuspecting areas - including in a recent post discussing the highly-relevant subject of how to measure the performance of local politicians!

It is something of a specialism for her as a company director of Anatec, a local software company which specialises in performance management, business intelligence and "getting the best out of people, teams and organisations."

Caroline offers the useful insight that all statistics are a management tool and as such are a way to measure accountability. She explains that although current public sector performance indicators are "not a perfect measure... they are a lot better than nothing."

Interestingly she raises the idea of a national league table for local politicians, arguing that improvements in tracking and publication of the figures will ultimately drive improvements in political performance as voters gain better information to inform decisions made at the ballot box.

However she signs off leaving a tantalising warning that the risks and opportunities in the use of statistics are the same in politics as they are in business - provided they are used sensibly they can be extremely valuable...

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More on 'Who Is Your Hardest Working Councillor?'

Monday, 7 December 2009

Bikers Buoy Toy Run

Organisers have described the 24th annual Reading Toy Run "a huge success" after an estimated 2,000 bikers overwhelmed roads from the former county hall on their journey to Wokingham in the name of charity.



Christian bikers congregated from across the country to support the event which collects toys on behalf of children's charity Banardo's.

The organisers have a website and a facebook group to promote the annual event, but some grouchy commenters were still unhappy.

Complaints about the lack of signage along the route meant and the difficulty in marshalling some locals were left unaware or underwhelmed by the impending bout of festive spirit.

They were left with the impression of official indifference to the event that may have prevented it from becoming an even greater success.

'Reading Biker' said it would be his 16th year participating, but expressed hope that the toy run would continue to grow in future years.

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Update: Reading Post has a good picture gallery of some of the fancy dress worn on the day.

Round-Up: On The Crest Of The Wave

#TheWave - Last Saturday local political activists descended on London to be part of a 'Wave' of coordinated demonstrations across the globe.

It was all in the aim of helping build pressure show their support for action on environmental targets ahead of the UN conference on Climate Change taking place in Copenhagen this week.


All Colours Offer Support

Reading eco-congregation St John and St Stephen organised a group of marchers and took lots of good pictures to give a sense of what it was all like.

But while Greens and LibDems from Reading were out in force Conservatives and Labour members stayed at home.

Labour's Rachel Eden says she was 'disappointed' to only make it to the station to see demonstrators off and MP Rob Wilson met with protesters, stating that he thought "it [was] great to see so many local people getting involved and keeping the issue of climate change high on the political agenda."

It was the same story in West Berkshire as Adrian Hollister reports that there was a good turn-out from Green party and LibDem members.

On the other side of the county David Young repeats the message that it's important to remember the issues cut across party lines.


The Climate Change Debate

Steve Gabb is concerned that the pressure on negotiators must be maintained and Darren Bridgeman says the debate can't wait.

Meanwhile Wokingham MP John Redwood attempted to frame the issues by describing four different sides of sceptical opinion which he says are all directly opposed to the 'fundamentalist global warmers'.

He places himself in the pragmatist camp of opposition, supporting sea defences such as a new Thames barrier and greater self-sufficiency. However he is also opposed to any new taxes or regulation which may hurt business, so we may ask how he hopes to pay for this.

BBC handily provides an thorough summary of the main complaints made by sceptics.

Tommy Gilchrist is concerned that the conference will fail to bring about any effective or binding agreement simply because rich people find it inconvenient and will use any excuse they find - he's clearly supporting the G77 group of developing nations who argue that the common interest of all humanity should be preferred to narrow national interests.

Reading West MP Martin Salter ramps up the hyperbole saying that "time is running out" and it is almost "too late to prevent a disaster for future generations". He argues that 'climate change denialists' must be challenged and a binding international agreement must build on newly introduced legislation.

Matt Blackall picks up on sceptics criticism of the scientific evidence and posts an excellent video taking aim at conspiracy theorists and 'McExperts'.

Clearly it is all a complex series of intertwined issues. Rob Fisher makes the point that as with all scientific research or practical applications openness in the only way to ensure reliability.

-

Update: Gideon Mack really doesn't like the way climate science has been politicised!

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More on the UN Climate Conference at Copenhagen

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Top Of The Berkshire Blogs - November 2009

Check out the risers and the fallers with Reading List's exclusive chart of the best blogs in the area!

Of course no ranking system will ever be definitive so don't forget to tell us about any sites you think we may have missed in the comments section and add them to the Wikio directory - the more the merrier!

Here's a rundown of the Top10 for November 2009:

1 - #20 (-6) - Mark Reckons
2 - #54 (-5) - John Redwood's Diary
3 - #63 (-2) - Boulton & Co
4 - #195 (-15) - Bracknell Blog
5 - #207 (-42) The Salted Slug
6 - #310 (-14) - NevilleHobson.com
7 - #418 (+41) - Reading List
8 - #468 (-136) - Richard Willis's Blog
9 - #495 (-74) - LPUK South East
10 - #658 (-146) - naws

Read last month's Top10.

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The main trend of the month was for strengthening of the political blog scene.

Reading LibDem Cllr Glenn Goodall, Maidenhead Conservative Right To Common Sense, and East Berkshire Green Party blogs were were all significant climbers, while fiercely independent Chairman Bill also made his thoughts count.

But the local blogosphere has taken on a distinctly less butch appearance with Babyrambles, Baglady and WendyHome all continuing steady progress up the charts.

However the prize for the biggest mover clearly goes to Berkshire Blog Review, which rose almost 20,000 places to sit just under the 4,000 mark - clearly a lot of you are following this list!

Kudos to all the local writers out there for making this one of the most vibrant local blogospheres in the country - keep it up and watch out for next month's list!

-

Read the full chart for November 2009.

Click here for the full archive of earlier charts.

And if you still want to know more, why not check out the guide: Why It Matters... Blog Rankings

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Who Is Your Laziest Councillor?

#rdgnews - It's six months now since the last time I reported on the levels of enquiries each of Reading's 46 councillors make on behalf of the public, so it's about time that I followed up.

Redlands' Cllr Glenn Goodall was the first to publish the most recent list of 'Acolaid' statistics (taking the period July-October 2009).

He highlights the fact that 6 councillors failed to make any enquiries whatsoever during this period, while 21 councillors made less than 10.

By comparison the top three were Cllr Page (Labour, 67 enquiries), Cllr Benson (LibDem, 50) and Cllr Epps (LibDem, 47).

Cllr Daisy Benson is proud of the consistent effort each of the members of their LibDem team puts in and says the community feels the benefit of the hard work.

Independent Cllr Tony Jones has argued that a number of councillors are lazy and could be cut with no discernable difference in the effect to the public.

Linda Fort reports that the statistics don't tell the whole story.

She questions Mayor of Reading, Cllr Fred Pugh, who has regular public engagements and states the desciption of laziness isn't fair. However, as the representative of a single-member ward his zero enquiries may seem to be leaving residents in the lurch.

Both Cllr Pugh and Park ward's Cllr Hartley claim they bypass the system of logging enquiries because it is time consuming and as experienced councillors they have connections with the right council officers who they can go to directly to get the work done.

But Park ward Green party candidate Rob White is particularly aggravated by the lack of evidence Cllr Hartley and his Labour party colleague Cllr Merriot can show. He says the lack of evidence is proof they are both 'rubbish'!

Meanwhile Cllr Willis doesn't think the number of enquiries made by councillors is relevant - he decides instead to count the number of meetings he attended (and those he sent apologies for missing).

He also reports that the old Acolaid system of reporting on councillor enquiries has been been replaced with a more efficient system called 'Front Office'.

Earlier this year Bracknell LibDem Mark Reckons gained national attention during the expenses scandal for analysinging the statistical connection between the size of politicians' electoral majorities and their level of corruption.

His work was referenced by at the highest levels as supporting the case for political and electoral reform - could the same be said for their effectiveness?


Oranjepan says:
It's a good thing the system is changing, now there is no excuse for any councillor not to use it. It is not acceptable that public representatives subvert agreed processes - because that distorts the political debate and leads to bad decisions.

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More on 'Who is your hardest working councillor?'

Bus Company Turn-a-round

It is hoped that a 'shake-up' in the management structure of the publicly-owned Reading Transport Ltd will bring bring recent turmoil at the company to the end of the line.

Chief Executive James Freeman confirmed the departure of operations and finance directors Sam Simpson and James Carney explaining that the moved is hoped to save the company nearly £1,000 per week as the company reported a reduction in turnover of more than 10%.

The announcement lead to renewed debate between political parties when it was discussed at a meeting of the council cabinet.

Labour chairperson of Reading Buses Cllr Stuart Singleton-White said the move was essential to keeping services going, but Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty demanded to know why the changes were only happening now when it was in trouble.

Labour deputy leader Cllr Tony Page struck back, arguing that the troubles were the delayed consequences of a botched reorganisation more than a decade ago after the last recession and reiterated his commitment to a publicly-owned transport company.

He raised the spectre of a earlier Conservative plans to privatise the company, explaining that most towns would 'love' to own their own transport.

Public ownership enables the public to hold the business accountable through elected representatives and thereby make changes which are in the public interest.

Meanwhile LibDem leader Cllr Kirsten Bayes heralded the move as a 'fresh start' for the company which will strengthen leadership on the board.

In a separate move the maintenance contract for Reading's bus shelters will be changed after a report exposed a "lack of high quality maintenance regime" by Clearchannel, which was described as "a real disincentive" to passengers.

JC Deceaux has been awarded the £80,000 contract from January 2010.

-

Update: A public meeting to discuss the proposed changes to bus services in Woodley has been organised. It will be held at Bulmershe youth centre on Friday 11th December.

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More on Reading Buses

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Political Division Over Social Cohesion

A school in Slough became the centre of a political firestorm at PMQs last week as opposition leader David Cameron accused it of being a 'front' for a terrorist organisation and that money from a Government fund designed to combat violent extremism was being diverted to promoting terrorism.

The Conservative party leader launched a volley of attacks, followed up later by shadow education secretary Michael Gove, criticising the use of £113,000 of taxpayer money. They claimed that the head teacher of the Slough school had links to the Islamic Hizb-ut-Tahrir group (which campaigns for a single unified relgious state among Muslim people) and who had previously described western culture as "dangerous" and democracy as a "corrupt tradition".

Mr Cameron was later forced to apologise for getting his facts wrong when it emerged the money did not come from the 'Pathfinder' fund.

Nonetheless bloggers have passed judgement.

Jane Griffiths is clearly very angry that her former comrades in the Labour party have accepted the politicisation of the education system - particularly when the politics is not her own.

Steve Borthwick is equally forthright. He opposes faith schools on the principle that they are by nature divisive.

This lead to the somewhat unusual action of BBC Berkshire taking a formal stance in trying to explain the political contention in an attempt to defuse the explosive emotional atmosphere.

Interviewing a spokeperson for the Centre for Social Cohesion and a local member of the ACCORD group they highlighted how the episode does raise ongoing questions - particularly about the existence of 'faith schools' and the place of certain political groups in society.

Meanwhile South Today political correspondant Peter Henley explains that the storm was deliberately brewed in order to drive a wedge into public opinion and create a clear dividing line between Labour and Conservatives ahead of the next election.

He says the simple existence of controversy does give the indication that the government is not doing its' job properly.

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Update: Urban Complexity quotes from Richard Bellamy's introduction to citizenship:
"Citizenship is a condition of civic equality... [which] not only secures equal rights to the enjoyment of the collective goods provided by the political association but also involves equal duties to promote and sustain then - including the good of democratic citizenship itself."


A powerful statement, indeed. It is all about education!
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