Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It's Tree-time!

For the first time in its history Reading Borough Council has pledged to provide an annual budget to pay for the relacement of dead and dying trees in residential roads in the borough.

Councillors are set to approve up to £200,000 over the initial two-year period after council officers responded to new guidance on the protection and management of trees in conservation areas and along green corridors.

Reading borough council has also encouraged residents to participate in its' consultation (click here) to provide information on areas where trees have been felled or are in need of replacement.

Labour's Cllr Tony Page commented on his 'delight' at changing policy,
"The funding is intended to be a starting point for identifying further resources and attracting external funding for a wider programme of tree replacement."
LibDems have celebrated their success in pushing for this measure after a two-year campaign against the Labour-run council. Cllr Daisy Benson wittily offers congratulations to those involved for forcing Labour to 'stump up' the cash.


Oranjepan says:
Homeowners will welcome the move to ensure trees are a more common sight - especially following the housing market crash, given that experts estimate they make an area more desirable and can add 10-15% to house prices compared to bare streets. As will environmental campaigners who encourage more greenery to combat street-level pollution and noise from traffic.

However it is unfortunate that RBC's consultation period is set to close today rather than have a standing contact as this only discourages public engagement and may mean a number of areas in need of help are overlooked.

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Related Reading: It's Tree O'Clock

Political Fight Over Play Areas

After nearly six months of work Reading East's Palmer Park and the adjoining adventure playground have been unveiled to the public following a £146,000 investment.

The improvements include giant boulders for scrambling, buddy swings, a rope-end swinger, a ground-level trampoline and open-air table tennis tables as well as innovative acoustic play equipment all aimed at encouraging 8-13 year olds out into the open to enjoy fresh air, exercise and a wide range of organised activites.

300 beech trees were planted by residents in December to form a hedge, while the seeding of a natural play area with wild plants will help spur appreciation for the natural environment.

£1m funding has been provided by the government over three years to Playbuilder which is being used pay for the refurbishment of over 20 play areas in the borough, while Marks & Spencer is donating the 1.85p profit it makes on it's 5p single-use carrier bags to the Groundwork environmental charit.

Alongside Palmer Park, Tilehurst's Robert Hewitt Recreation Ground, and the play areas in West Reading's Beresford Road and Longbarn Lane have also seen works started, while Reading East is set not to miss out as other areas lined up for improvements will include Mapledurham, Emmer Green, Meadway and Christchurch Meadows.

Reading's Lead Councillor for Children's Services Cllr John Ennis expressed his delight at the completion of the first project in the scheme, saying, "I'm sure generations of East Reading children will benefit enormously from it."

On his own blog Cllr John Ennis reprints the press release with an additional quote from his party colleague and Lead Councillor for Culture and Sport, Cllr Graeme Hoskin, who said, "This is another major milestone in our programme of improvements for play areas across Reading."

LibDem Park ward candidate Alex Kirke is delighted that the park's facelift and hopes he will be able to 'contain his inner child' now that it is reopened. He celebrates his good fortune to live so close to one of Reading's most beautiful parks, arguing that "It is a hub to the community and it is essential that continue to maintain and preserve it."

Meanwhile, just as several playareas are earmarked for improvements, Conservatives in Abbey ward are campaigning for the closure of a playarea in Denbigh Road.

Abbey Ward candidate Andrew Waters sent an open letter to complain about noise from late-night drinking alleging drug dealers use it to conduct their trade, arguing that the play area should be converted to gardens.

He pointed to a survey conducted by his party that 75% of resident are in favour of closure of the green space.

However the Bell Tower Residents Association conducted their own survey finding a majority of residents want to keep it open to the public and had written to the council to object to the proposed redevelopment of the plot.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

De-sacre-ated

Reading councillor Cllr John Hartley has been kicked off a the council's SACRE advisory board for poor attendance.

The Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education meets only three times per year to advise on religious education syllabus and acts of worship in the local authority schools, but Park ward's Cllr Hartley hasn't attended any in the past twelve months or excusing himself from attendance.

Cllr Hartley explained, "I wrote to the chairman apologising for not having sent my apologies," adding that he was happy to be updated by his party colleague Cllr Gul Khan.

Acting SACRE chairman Rabbi Zvi Solomons responded to Labour's Park lead councillor for education after the belatedly communication, saying the board now considered the position 'vacant and forfeit', adding that
"some councillors have the attitude towards religion and religious education that they don't take it as seriously as they should."
Scalp-hunters have been circling around Cllr Hartley for some time as evidence piles up of his attitude towards his official duties - he is also regularly ranked at the bottom of casework totals.

And Conservative Cllr Willis is noticably triumphant as he tries to score political points ahead of the vital local elections, describing how "further humiliation has been heaped on the tottering Labour minority administration."

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Background: Conservatives Call For Hartley's Head

Stampede For Reading Festival

3,500 Reading Festival Tickets have gone on sale to local residents ahead of widespread release, just as the headliners are confirmed.


Reports of overnight queuing at the Hexagon and in the Oracle heightened the sense of anticipation of the annual cultural highlight.

10-time veteran festival-goer Jim Beeer is less than impressed with the bands scheduled.

He comments that Guns'n'Roses are a long way from being the same band they were 20 years ago when they were at their peak, while several of the other main attractions send him headed in the other direction at a quick lick.

Jim even goes so far as to say he's looking forward to going somewhere other than Reading for August Bank Holiday.

But that hasn't stopped Sophie Rose from squealing with excitement about getting her tickets as she gets caught up in whirl and commitment of her first festival.

John McGarvey at Reading Roars noted that the increased capacity of the event has ensured locals 'have first dibs' on tickets, but expressed concern about the risk of paying £175 in the expectation of a 'killer headliner' only to be disappointed.

He also warns against buying tickets just on the off-chance, as resale is prohibited and 'ticket touting is evil'.

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Update: According to most commentators (Viagogo, Angry Ape, Digital Spy) the highlight of the festival will be the reunion of Pete Doherty and Cal Barat for the first major performances of The Libertines since their acrimonious split in 2004.

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More Reading Festival coverage

On Politicians And Elections

Media types love to chatter about how new mass media forms will affect public decision making, so they may be interested in how the upcoming general election is seeping out into the non-political blogoshere as members of the wider public start to consider which way to cast their ballots.

Evangelical Christian Richard Walker has an informative video in which faithful MPs from all sides discuss the way ethics shapes all form of belief and how they understand the relationship between religion and politics.

He also links to a religiously-themed quiz which may indicate who your ideal cabinet would include - though be warned if you don't like partisanship, through this he apparently has his own 'essentially conservative biases' revealed to him.

Meanwhile independent-minded Emily O at Babyrambles is conscious that politicians are trying to woo the mumsnet generation and holds off committing to any one side to demand pledges to a selection of 'family friendly' policies relating to the economy, taxation, education and health.

Emily says she feels privileged to have the vote, but wishes politicians could be more honest and upfront with their plans so she can make a better-informed decision

She also adds a well-balanced conclusion:
"I'm interested in the fundamental stuff that will help my family be happy and secure. The same as everyone else really. The fact I'm a mum is almost irrelevant."
Meanwhile Joanna at eco-congregation Greening St John's tells members of their congregation to "ask the climate question" at hustings in the marginal East Reading constituency.

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More from on the election trail

Monday, 29 March 2010

Newsweek: Reading Politics

***New Feature***

Newsweek is a catalogue of political stories culled from other local sources brought to you by Reading List.

It's always worth collecting together a selection of individual news stories to compare and contrast what's being said by people on different sides, so here's a selection of issues making headlines during the past week:

If you've seen any local political stories which you think are worth wider attention, please let us know so they can be added to this Reading List catalogue.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Maidenhead Tories In Plot Turmoil

Ruling Conservatives in the Royal Borough are reeling as a series of disclosures have highlighted the internal conflicts in their party.

Council-funded political advisor Andre Walker resigned after he was recorded discussing deputy leader Cllr Alison Knight in a mobile phone call on a train.

You can listen to the full recording here.

He apologised for describing her views as her 'injected with poison' and for calling her 'a total liability' as he plotted with the other caller, who it is suggested would be in line replace her.

Opposition LibDems called for an investigation into the identity of the other caller who hoped to benefit, apparently claiming that this shows Conservatives to be wasting public money serving personal ambition - not the public interest.

Meanwhile suspicion has spread further through the tory ranks as Eton Wick's Cllr Stephen Smith contacted national party leader David Cameron to urge him to take action against the plotters and reunite the feuding factions.

The developments deal an extra blow to the party, coming only recently after it was discovered controversial backer Lord Ashcroft had been registered as an 'overseas elector' in Maidenhead while refusing to declare his 'non-dom' tax status - which means Conservative agents in the area covered up the fact that he was avoiding more than £100m in taxes leaders were convinced he promised would be paid to the Treasury.


Oranjepan says:
Maidenhead has long been known as a tory stonghold - this news only adds weight to the argument that safe seats breed complacency and corruption.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Conservatives Divided On Support For Equality

Controversy has struck the Conservative party after leader David Cameron stumbled in an interview when challenged on equality issues.

In particular the question of whether Conservative Lords would be allowed a free vote on allowing civil partnerships to take place in places of religious worship caused him to get his wires crossed which ultimately lead him to request censoring the video edit.

Luckily LibDem Paul Walter has saved Mr Cameron's 'meltdown' for posterity.

Paul picks up on interviewer Martin Popplewell's quote that pleas and arm-twisting were to be employed to cover-up the real story about the potential Prime Minister's inability to be frank and open about his policy positions.

Elsewhere centre-right commentator Graham Pointer delves more deeply into the matter.

He contradicts gay Conservative frontbencher Nick Herbert MP (telling him he should only speak on matters relating to his shadow portfolio) to argue that the provisions of the Equality Bill amendment contravenes Church of England laws. He points out that while civil partnership ceremonies may now take place in churches they will still not be able to be conducted by members of the clergy, or have any hymns or readings which refer to the religious basis of the ceremony.

Graham states Maidenhead MP Theresa MP really should be making a statement to clarify where the party stands, but she noticably steered clear of controversy in her contribution to the debate to add her voice to the consensus on supporting women's rights in society - possibly a case of admission by omission.

Meanwhile Maidenhead United Reformed Church elder, Chris Campbell, has been prominent in applauding the reform which would allow him to cement his civil partnership in his church.

He explains that God is 'at the heart' of his relationship, adding, "it seems bizarre for the law to insist that religion should play no part in our marriage!"

And religious think-tank Ekklesia has welcomed the amendment to the Equality Bill, although they note the subject of same-sex relationships continues to divide religious communities - not least in Berkshire [1], [2].

Several prominent Conservative Lords voted against the amendment and Bishop of Bradford, Rt Rev David James, argued it confused the civil partnerships with marriage.

Mr Campbell countered that this was his intention, declaring that "today, we are one step closer to being married in a very meaningful way for us."

Ekklesia's founder identified the growing diversity of partnership arrangements as indicative of the need for a more wide-ranging reform of marriage law. Symon Hill said, "It is important for the religious liberty of the faith communities concerned."

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Update: LibDem Cllr Glenn Goodall says the the tories have shown their 'true colours' on the issue, arguing they are 'not liberal, not progressive and not fit for government'.


Oranjepan says:
Conservatives are in a bind - they cannot make their minds up because they don't want to upset potential voters, but they still need the support of their ideologically-motivated base.

That's not the strong leadership they argue is needed - no wonder Mr Cameron was so easily flustered!

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More on equality issues

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Bishop's Progress

It has been announced that the Bishop of Reading, Rt Rev Stephen Cotterell, will be leaving his post to become the 10th Bishop of Chelmsford.

He explained that the feeling is one of 'coming home' for him.

Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev John Pritchard, summed up the "bold evangelism... and inspired communication" which marked his charge's period in office.

The Reading Post is less deferential towards the man they describe as a 'self-styled crazy bishop'.

Bishop Cotterell was appointed in 2003 after the previous nominee stood down in a row over homosexuality which threatened to provoke traditionalists into schism. The seven-year tenure has also been marked by turbulence surrounding Bishop Cotterell's interventions in political debate.

However in a clear indication of the direction of the Church, he is credited with successfully helping to oversee a redefinition of the role of religion in society through the espousal of causes such as opposition to nuclear weapons and the Trident replacement at Aldermastion's nearby Atomic Weapons Establishment, so the move will be seen as a vindication of his ministry.

He has already declared his mission in Chelmsford to highlight environmental issues and reconnect with young people. He called for the church to be a vocal opponent of racism as he urged against voting for BNP candidates in Essex, adding, "I am hungry for us to be a church that connects with every person and every community."

His latest podcast sermon leaves a tantalising series of hints about his recent thinking.

In a less-than-veiled criticism of the media he identifies his role as a 'sentinel' who looks beyond immediate concerns to warn about the threats which face society and offer a path "to show us where we're going".

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Update: Robert Warlow reports Bishop Cotterell's reaction to his royal nomination as an 'immense privilege'.


Oranjepan asks:
The journeying clergyman with the populist left-wing touch may be returning home but this promotion shows his card is already marked for a higher calling.

Will Reading's next Bishop stir the mix of politics and religion equally strongly?

Is Chelmsford really a more important ecclesiastical seat than Reading?

Monday, 22 March 2010

Unwelcome Guests

The usually tranquil village of Cookham hit the headlines this weekend as a couple were turned away from a guesthouse in the village on account of their sexual orientation.

Owner of the Swiss B&B, Suzanne Wilkinson, said she refused to accept Michael Black and John Morgan as guests because homosexuality is "against her convictions" and she refuses to accomodate homosexual couples in the same bed.

She added, "I would have offered them two single rooms but we were fully booked as it was a Friday night."

Director of public affairs for gay rights group Stonewall, Derek Munn, described the incident as an open and shut case of illegal discrimination.

The matter has since been referred to Thames Valley Police and the couple are considering whether to initiate civil proceedings.

Messages of support and other offers of help have also been received.

The Christian Institute is advising the couple on their potential defence, arguing the law affords protection on the grounds of religious liberty, as Mrs Wilkingson explained,
"I don’t see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I’ve held for years just because the government should force it on me... I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house."
Speaking on behalf of the Christian Institute, Mike Judge said,
"Whether you agree with the Wilkinsons' beliefs or not, a diverse society is one that respects diversity of opinion. Surely the world is big enough to let people disagree... Suing someone because you don’t like their beliefs is illiberal, undemocratic and has no place in a free society."
But being refused access to rooms booked well in advance is not the same thing as just disagreeing with a person's beliefs, however sincerely held they may be.

Tim Trent is suitable shocked by the incident, taking the internet adverts for the guesthouse to task arguing this shows it to be a commercial enterprise.

He points out the inaccuracy of the phrase 'A warm & friendly welcome awaits all guests', saying "Well, obviously unless you are gay!"

Tim also argues that civilisation is based upon the toleration of differences, adding that the provision of twin beds would have averted the controversy of offended feelings.

He is incredulous that such discriminatory attitudes persist today, comparing the prejudice to the racism which lead to violent segregation in societies during the 20th century.

Elsewhere Caron muses that the concept of racial or ethnic prejudice would fill most people with digust and that it has been necessary to enact anti-discriminatory laws precisely to prevent a reversion to such horrors.

Meanwhile the satirists have taken up the story, to pose the question whether it's actually more a matter of thin walls and voyeuristic tendencies on behalf of the moralising owners of the establishment.

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Update: @qwghlm's Chris Applegate sardonically quotes 1 Peter 4:8-9
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling."[1]

Oranjepan asks:
If the Christian attitude is not to turn one's back, but to turn one's cheek, who is the more Christian here? Reverse the situation and ask what the response would be - would Christians with strong beliefs be turned away?

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More equality issues

Friday, 19 March 2010

Winslet And Mendes Separate Over Mutual Differences

Reading's golden couple, Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, have announced they are to separate.


The two Oscar winners, who married in 2003, released a statement through their publicists stating that they are both saddened by the development but that
"The split is entirely amicable and is by mutual agreement. Both parties are fully committed to the future joint parenting of their children."
Local celebrity columnist Paul Robins writes for 'The Diary' that the partnership hit the rocks on the set of Revolutionary Road in which Mendes directed a series of 'steamy' sex scenes involving Winslet.

He notes that the subject matter of the film 'may have tempted fate' since it was also about a disintegrating marriage. And Geoffrey MacNabb investigates whether the stresses of the production process is likely to cause a rupture.

But perhaps it wasn't so much as case of life mirroring art as a master of his craft dictating the course of events. With rumours circulating that Mendes may have already begun an affair with Frost/Nixon star Rebbeca Hall did he have an ulterior motive in choosing this project?

An alternative undercurrent has also emerged with suggestions that the couple 'grew apart'. However this appears code for differences of opinion regarding career choices.

Following her split from the renowned master impresario Winslet is reportedly consoling herself in retreat in Mexico and may be considering a reconciliation with first husband, the more politically-minded independent producer/director, James Threapleton.


Oranjepan asks:
Interestingly for such a story with far-reaching name recognition it is only mainstream commercial publications which have covered it - nary a blogger has bothered to write a comment.

Does this indicate the true level of interest in celebrity gossip?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Blitz On Potholes

As the financial year winds towards it's close money has apparently been found in council budgets to spend on fixing this winter's spate of potholes.

In West Berkshire £200,000 has been found "to bring roads... back up to acceptable standard", according to the upbeat executive member for transport, Cllr Dave Betts.

In Bracknell £100,000 will be spent replacing temporary 'plugs' with lasting repairs.

And in Reading a blitz on the problem has been undertaken in preparation for the heavy footfall of this weekend's half-marathon.

Race director Chris Summer explained that safety concerns for runners had caused the burst of activity, despite some suggestions by cynical commenters that the matter is being given prioritisation to enhance the image of the town rather than provide for the daily routine of residents.



Meanwhile Wokingham's Cllr Prue Bray worries that potholes are an endless problem.

She notes that although many have been filled in recently the roads are in such a state that new ones keep cropping up and asks if anyone is keeping count.

So it's worth looking at potholes.co.uk which has a geo-list of pothole locations and is tracking how quickly they are repaired, while the Fill That Hole reporting site has compiled a league table of local authorities according to their responses to reported problems.

Berkshire's councils rank as follows (out of 212 councils nationwide):

#15 Bracknell Forest - 57% fixed
#21 Reading - 54% fixed
#30 Windsor & Maidenhead - 48% fixed
#41 Wokingham - 43% fixed
#42 Slough - 41% fixed
#78 West Berkshire - 33% fixed


Elsewhere Patrick Barkham asks 'Why are our roads full of potholes?'

To which Rachel Lefort answers: the estimated 2m potholes arising every year are a result of what the Local Government Association claims is an £8bn shortfall in the required transport budget and that this leads to an inevitable postcode lottery in the volume and speed of repairs.

Yet government departments appear locked in an divisive battle to paper over the cracks by trying to decide when a hole becomes a pothole according to the size of the damaged road surface.

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Update: Labour's Cllr Tony Page has expressed the fear that repairing all the potholes within Reading borough boundaries will cost 'many millions of pounds' to do the work satifactorily, yet Anneliese Dodds proudly boasts of the £106,600 being spent on the roadworks.

Reading spokesperson Sarah Bishton said the council works teams repaired 165 potholes every day while also undertaking a significant programme of resurfacing work, however commentators reacted with extreme scepticism to this figure leaving the impression that she had confused daily with weekly figures.

Claire Smith reports RBWM has mended 4,500 potholes since Christmas after the worst winter in 30 years.

LibDems in West Berkshire have seized upon the claims made by the ruling Conservatives, arguing that roads are in an 'appalling' state.

Cllr Keith Woodhams commented, "Standards are nowhere near acceptable." He said, "Many roads in the district... have been left in an appalling state for months," adding that the low quality of repairs meant many potholes reappeared soon after they were supposedly fixed.

Scaryduck notes how anger at potholes is literally exploding out of this world!

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Background: Potholes Pile Up; Potholes Get Political, Beneath The Surface; Filling A Gap

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Don't You Just Hate It..?

The occasional '5 things' meme has reared it's head. If you've ever felt like venting then this is a particularly entertaining way of doing it - just have a read and find out!

Joey Nova seems to be generally annoyed with media-inspired outrage and the shallow self-congratulatory narcissism of good intentions.

And Jim Beeer is equally wound up by the fakery in contemporary culture.

But whereas Joey feels the ability to express his distaste for those elements in society helps make it more bearable, Jim wonders whether the only answer to the destructive two-party political situation is to emigrate...

Meanwhile AmyKate gets wrathful about the misuse of data.

She explains how marketing mailshots are often inappropiate on so many levels and says, "what really frustrates me is when these companies don’t make sensible – or any – use of the data they have."

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

More 'City' Views

Reading expat @pollypissypants (Clare Auchterlonie) writes a guestpost for Smitten By Britain from the comfort of her Californian abode.

She gives an excellent travelguide recounting several of the major identifying features of the area (including an impressively artistic photo album).

But she also tells the (mainly American) readers: "Surprisingly, given its size, Reading is not yet officially a city."

Meanwhile the Disco Vigilante makes his first 'real foray' for some time into the centre to sample the nightlife of the town.

He is not particularly impressed by the suffocating un-cosmopolitan and unwelcoming air suffusing the attitudes of at least some of the inhabitants and vents about how they easily ruined an evening of average entertainment.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Crime Confusion Stirs Fresh Controversy

Anna Roberts reports on the latest batch of crime statistics released by Thames Valley Police.

The headline figure shows crime in general to have fallen by 7%, while robbery and vehicle theft has fallen considerably. 18,934 crimes were reported in the 11 months to the end of February 2010, which compares with 20,310 and 21,010 in the same period in 2009 and 2008.

Reading's Superintendent Jim Weems said 'things are going in the right direction' as these figures showed a three year decline in crime reports in the area.

However Thames Valley Police recieved a 'poor' rating on crime detection in its' annual assessment by HM Inspectorate of Police as the authority was given an overall 'fair' rating.

Thames Valley Chief Constable Sara Thornton responded by explaining that Police priorities have shifted as the policy of recent years has emphasised crime reduction and efforts to improve confidence and satisfaction with the service they provide.

Crime statistics are a highly contentious area as they are increasingly politicised by different parties in an attempt to make political capital out of them. Recently Conservatives were strongly criticised for building a climate of fear ahead of the general election, so it was a positive move to see Superintendent Weems get involved in the discussion on managing crime statistics.

He highlighted the force's online crime mapping tool, which is becoming a powerful weapon in the fight against crime, although this only began to satisfy the critics.

Yet a variety of commenters suggested there is a problem with community engagement that leads to reduced reporting of offences and this may be distorting the statistics and undermining their relevance.

Perhaps Superintendent Weems missed an opportunity to advertise Thames Valley Police's online crime reporting tool - you can find it here: - https://reportonline.thamesvalley.police.uk/

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Update: Anna Roberts notices her oversight and does a good job picking up the pieces. Now I wonder where she got that from?


Oranjepan says:
The crime profile of an area is a constantly changing challenge: governments will always say they are tackling problems, while oppositions will always say they are not or that more can be done.

But there will always be crimes so long as there are criminals, and there will always be criminals so long as reform is required.

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More stories about local crime issues

The Office for National Statistics produces more statistical reports on crime

Sunday, 14 March 2010

J.O.B.S.

John Lynes reports the news on behalf of regional recruitment company Ashdown Group that unemployment officially recorded a small fall in the latest period.

According to Chief Executive of the Recruitment Employers Confederation (REC), Kevin Green, the UK jobs market remains fragile, but "improving employer confidence is resulting in a more positive outlook on hiring intentions over the coming year."

However Mike Greenshields picks up on a local rise in Slough, where seasonal trends have contributed to an increase in the unemployment numbers to 4.6%.

He says this contradicts evidence of growing confidence levels shown in surveys conducted by Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Slough's nattily-titled Commissioner for Opportunity and Skills, Cllr Fiza Matloob, downplayed any wider influences on the economy, arguing that the local rise is a simple seasonal issue as readjustments are made due to the end of temporary contracts in the retail sector from the Christmas period.

However long-term and youth unemloyment continue to be a matter of pressing concern for local politicians.

Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Reading West, Cllr Daisy Benson, has made this issue a feature of her campaign.

In a typically thorough post she gives credit to the variety of local agencies who are helping reduce the number of NEETs and argues that "We cannot afford both as a society and as an economy to overlook any young person."

She also provides an interesting selection of detailed statistics and a pertinent video - well worth a watch.

Unemployment figures also caught my eye recently. With a national jobless figure of 7.8%, this represents a 50% rise since the start of the credit crunch.

I identified the controversy in the use of official statistics, commenting that "desperation for good news and talking up the positives at the expense of realism quickly leads to delusion and disillusion."

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Axis Of Authoritarianism

Reading List has been pointed in the direction of an interesting analysis of MPs.

PublicWhip and TheyWorkForYou collated data from parliamentary votes on behalf of LibDem Voice to rank MPs according to how authoritarian they are.

They used 10 areas as criteria:

1. ID Cards
2. Control Orders
3. Freedom of Information Exemptions (MPs Expenses)
4. Extradition Act 2003
5. DNA Database
6. Abolition of Parliament Bill
7. 90 Days Detention
8. Trial Without Jury
9. Freedom of Speech
10. Intervention in Coroner's Inquests

and used the information to compile a list of all 646 MPs.

Berkshire's MPs rank as follows (score 100 - most authoritarian; score 0 - least authoritarian):

1= Martin Salter (Reading West) - 100
259= Fiona MacTaggart (Slough) - 73
418= Rob Wilson (Reading East) - 9
542= Adam Afriyie (Windsor) - 3
542= Richard Benyon (Newbury) - 3
542= Andrew MacKay (Bracknell) - 3
542= Theresa May (Maidenhead) - 3
542= John Redwood (Wokingham) - 3

The usual caveats apply about taking this list at face value, as party tactics always play a part in each vote, but it nevertheless provides a good insight into what each individual and group actually stands for.

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More from On the election trail

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Casework Competition

The latest revised Acolaid statistics have been released - revealing how hard your local councillor works for you.

Details here covering the period July 2009 to February 2010.

The subject of reporting councillor statistics has been a regular source of controversy (see here for a round-up), while the matter was recently used to heap further embarrassment on under-fire Cllr John Hartley (Labour, Park ward) by opponents.

Topping the list of active representatives was Labour's deputy leader Cllr Tony Page (Abbey ward) with 167 recorded casework enquiries.

LibDems Cllr Daisy Benson (Redlands) and Cllr Gareth Epps (Katesgrove) followed in second and third with 128 and 116 respectively, while Labour's Mike Orton (Whitley) was the only other councillor to score over 100 pieces of work.

Meanwhile 15 of Reading's 46 councillors recorded less than a tenth of that number in the same 10 month period. In this hall of shame were (in alphabetical order):

Terry Byrne (Con), Minster, 3
Jon Hartley (Lab), Park, 4
Greame Hoskin (Lab), Norcot, 7
Azam Janjua (Con), Church, 1
Peter Jones (Lab), Norcot, 5
Dave Luckett (Con), Caversham, 10
Chris Maskell (Lab), Battle, 7
Shirley Merriot (Lab), Park, 2
Fred Pugh (Con), Mapledurham, 5
Mary Singleton-White (Lab), Whitley, 8
Jeanette Skeats (Con), Thames, 4
Richard Stainthorp (Lab), Katesgrove, 5
David Stevens (Con), Thames, 1
Mike Townend (Con), Church, 10
Debbie Watson (Lab), Minster, 4


LibDems complete about double the amount of casework per councillor than Labour members, and treble that of Conservatives.

Redlands ward has the most active councillors, with 246 Acolaids between Cllr Benson and her two LibDem colleagues, Cllrs Bayes and Goodall.

This compares to those at the at the bottom of the list:

Park Ward (2 Labour, 1 Conservative): 32
Minster Ward (2 Labour, 1 Conservative): 36
Thames ward (3 Conservatives): 38
Church ward (3 Conservatives): 50


Another interesting feature of the report are the differences between ward colleagues. In a number of cases it is noticable that one councillor has a far larger share of the casework than others.

This tendency is highly marked in Abbey Ward, where full-time councillor Tony Page combines his deputy leadership duties with an active presence in the community responding to 176 enquiries, while his colleague Mohammed Ayub undertook only 16 enquiries in the same 10 month period and Bet Tickner recorded 33.

In leafy Thames ward it appears a strict division of duties has been agreed, with David Stephens focussing almost exclusively on policy work, former mayor Jeanette Skeats prefering the social life afforded by committee work and Isobel Ballsdon clearly enjoying her role as a community activist with 33 of the 38 pieces of casework.

But the biggest disparity in workloads is in deprived Whitley ward where Mike Orton's 106 Acolaids far outstripped the combined sum of Jim Hanley's 15 and Mary Singleton-White's 8 casework totals.

Rob White takes aim at 'lazy' councillors, as he claims to have completed 'over 150' pieces of casework as a prospective candidate this year alone - in what sounds suspiciously like a commitment to maintain this level of activity were he to become the first Green party councillor.

He also calls on his opponents to hand back their £8,385 allowances if they don't do their jobs (although Cllr Hartley also collects over £4,000 Special Responsibility Allowance as Lead Councillor for Education).

Cllr Glenn Goodall provides an in-depth analysis of the stats. He is particularly pleased that the statistics rebutt any inaccurate or malicious claims made for partisan reasons.

He also notes that the Park ward Labour candidates previously mocked opponent Cllr Wazir Hussain for not holding surgeries, yet now he has reported 26 enquiries in 10 months compared to 6 between Cllrs Hartley and Merriot in the same period!


Oranjepan asks:
A number of the 'lazy' councillors identified above are either standing down or likely to be unseated at the next round of local elections, how can they be incentivised not to give up as soon as they see the writing on the wall?

If you have a problem your local councillors are here to help you - why not contact them directly or pop along to one of their public surgeries?

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More on 'Who is your hardest working councillor?'

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Recommended Reading List #53

@Babyrambles tentatively poses the intriguing question "Is there anything you won't blog about?"

Emily explains she has the 'very British' habit of keeping away from any subject that would cause her any personal embarrassment.

Reading List has a specific 'news' theme, so obviously it's unlikely we'd ever get round (ahem, down) to discussing those topics Emily touches on as examples here, but it is nevertheless a fascinating question about our individual self-imposed limits.

Extrapolating outwards it also opens up a range of issues at the root of questions of how personal morality and public law can, should and does interact. Are you prepared to self-censor, or do you reserve the right to fully explore and express every part of your thoughts and experiences? And in the counterpose, what level of intervention would you support in any given situation, and how far would you go to impose your authority and will on it?

With an election just over the horizon these questions strike at the heart of some of the political choices members of the public will face at the ballot box. How we answer them will go a long way to determine what the future will look like.

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More Recommended Reading List

Recommended Reading List #52

In a double header business intelligence expert Caroline Eveleigh picks up on the use and abuse of performance metrics inside the NHS.

She was disturbed by reports that internal NHS statistics had been manipulated for the benefit of public relations, quoting the line
"Most targets and standards appear to be defined in professional, organisational and political terms, not in patients' experience of care."
She states that
"It seems that performance measures were able to wipe away 250 years of performance improvement by not following the most basic of health procedures."
But she doesn't just leave it there. Following up, she also looks at the statistical measures in use, in particular mortality ratios between hospitals, instructively explaining how the 'mis-match between reported performance and actual performance' is a limiting factor in bringing about greater justice and value for money.


Oranjepan says:
Just imagine what a powerful social tool would be created if the political leadership was inclined to favour more open and honest reporting!

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More Recommended Reading List

Monday, 8 March 2010

Henley's Hustings - #rdgwest

#rdgpol - Hustings are part of the time-honoured tradition of election campaigning and a mere 50 years after they were first adopted televised leadership debates have been one of the enlivening themes of 2010.

That's not to say Charlie Brooker has gone all weak at the knees in prospect of a revolution in the mind of the public. Repeat: Charlie Brooker has not gone all weak at the knees.

For him "TV still fascinates and horrifies politicians in equal measure." He says it is a 'magic amulet' that has the potential to hypnotise and beguile, or, equally, to explode in your hand at any moment. The problem being that TV has a "laser-like ability to magnify physical flaws or tonal cock-ups... no matter how eloquent you are."

Well, he's the expert.

Nevertheless he seems to be undecided whether there's a fine line or a massive gulf between pure entertainment and meaningful engagement.

But Prime Ministerial debates aside, the competitive debate has long been an eagerly anticipated event among provincial candidates and activists as a rare occasion to leave their mark. And so it proved when the three main contenders for the Reading West seat went head-to-head on the regional slot of the BBC's Sunday political magazine, The Politics Show.

Cllr Richard Willis, Charles Hindhaugh and John McGarvey were on standby to advertise proceedings.

BBC South's political editor, Ian Paul also provides a handy (and detailed) overview as an appetite whetter.

Reading is described as a 'yo-yo town' where support for political parties swings. Reading University's Dr Philips Giddings describes Reading as typical of the south of England, as an area which is constantly growing and changing - which makes for constant political challenges.

You can watch it all again as Peter Henley grills Cllr Daisy Benson, Naz Sarkar and Alok Sharma on iPlayer for the next week (from 27.30-47.30).

Cllr Willis didn't feel 20 live and unedited minutes was enough to get into the issues affecting one constituency - so we can assume he doesn't think 3x90 minute debates among the Prime Ministerial candidates will barely scrape the surface of the nations 650-odd seats either.

But it seems the main problem was the unproductive 'bickering' between Labour and Conservative candidates which ate up so much of the time and sapped the energy from the debate.

Sarah Sharpe and Josh Harsant agreed with Cllr Benson that the issues should be more important than the egos involved.

Reading's Member of the UK Youth Parliament, Josh Harsant, went into more detail on his own blog. He argues people don't want representatives to claim endless credit for themselves, but to represent them. He asks:
"do people want to vote for people who bicker and get nowhere? No; they want someone who identifies the issues, responds and does something about it!
Green party candidate Adrian Windisch disagrees. He seems to want to turn the debate into a discussion on his pet ideas. He obviously felt somewhat aggreived for being excluded from the debate, but hemakes up for it by giving a short recap of the three main topics (health, education and housing).

Meanwhile LibDem Cllr Warren Swaine goes hunting for some evidence of his opponent's mistakes and finds a prime example where what was said on air was the opposite of what is being said on the ground.

And finally, West Berkshire's ever diplomatic communications officer Phil Spray provides judgement - he calls the result of the debate a score draw.

But then it's not all or just about winning, is it?


Oranjepan asks:
What are the big issues for you?

Have your say in the comments - you never know, there's always someone reading!

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Update: Jane Griffiths is more concerned about where the interview was held.

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More from on the election trail

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Top Of The Berkshire Blogs - February 2010

It's back! It's bigger and better than ever! Check out the risers and the fallers with Reading List's exclusive chart of the top blogs in the area!

Of course no ranking system will ever be definitive so don't forget to tell us about your blog in the comments section if you think we may have missed it - then it too can be added to the Wikio directory - the more the merrier!

Here's a rundown of the Top10 for February 2010:

#1 (><) - Mark Reckons
#2 (><) - John Redwood's Diary
#3 (><) - Boulton & Co
#4 (><) - left outside
#5 (+2) - Liberal Burblings
#6 (-1) - Bracknell Blog
#7 (-1) - Another Green World
#8 (+1) - The Salted Slug
#9 (-1) - Reading List
#10 (><) - The Cartoon Church

Check out the full chart for the month.

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February was another strong month as local bloggers continued to advance. Berkshire's top10 all comfortably sit inside the national 300, compared to the 350 last month, while the national top1000 now includes 26 local blogs (up from 24). A total of 166 blogs are listed.

It was also a bumper month for the number of significant climbers.

Richard McKenzie gets the award for the biggest rise, gaining 20,925 spots to move from 155th to 23rd. But pushing him all the way were The Virtual Victorian (147th to 35th), Green Gabbles (159th to 41st), Greenconstructionuk (154th to 45th), Reading Geek Night (151st to 59th), Urban Complexity (138th to 66th) and Open to Persuasion (131st to 79th), which all rocketed up more than 15,000 rungs on the ladder.

Steady progress was also made by Graham Jones' Internet Psychology (up from 112th to 63rd), as well as Cllr Alvin Finch's Stuff (39th), RobWhite's Bloggy Blanc (29th) and Berkshire Blog Review (28th).

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!

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Click here for the full archive of earlier charts.

Click here for run-downs and analysis of previous months charts.

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

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Recommended Reading List #51

Local cartoonist Len offers a particularly wry perspective on life and he regularly manages to stir a smirk of recognition from the editorial team here in the Reading List bunker.

And so it was with this excellent posting showing the mundane origins of the inspiration behind his ideas.

The pictures are self-explanatory really, but we also fully recognise the purpose for getting actively creative too - Reading List applauds you Len Hawkins (though we're less sure about that job as chief designer at Ferrari)!

Conservatives Call For Hartley's Head

#rdgpol - After spending last month on the defensive Conservatives in Reading have gone on the attack in what some commentators are calling a pre-emptive strike to take over control of the Cabinet.

Local tories have called for Reading's lead councillor for Education, Park ward's John Hartley (Labour), to be removed from his position by lodging a motion of no confidence against him.

But because the council remains in the balance Conservatives can also be seen cranking up the pressure ahead of a vote on 30th March.

Cllr Richard Willis attempted to build some anticipation for the move by preannouncing via the #rdgpol hastag that he would publish some 'key news' on his blog.

Subsequently he described the Conservative position, explaining why Cllr Hartley should be axed.

It all relates back to statements Cllr Hartley made during a debate at the 26th January council session on a motion against homophobic bullying which were later shown to be untrue.

Here's how Reading List covered the debate at the time.

Church ward's Cllr Tim Harris proposed a motion to agree a resolution against bullying, but Cllr Hartley responded that the council is already a member of Stonewall's 'Education Champion's Programme' to infer that the motion was unnecessary.

Conservatives were attacked by LibDems for sending out 'mixed messages' on gay rights, which obviously struck a nerve as tory leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty accused opponents of 'politicising' the issue.

And now Conservatives sense an opportunity to exert a price for the hit they took.

Cllr Hartley defended his inaccurate statement by pointing his finger at council officers for providing him with bad information, arguing that it is water under the bridge as RBC now in the process of signing up to the programme, adding that,
"There's no disagreement between the three main parties on the substance or importance of this issue, but the Conservatives are clearly in a mood to make mischief because we're nearing an election."
But Conservative critics continue to circle around Cllr Hartley, stating that his consistent non-attendance at 'vital' council committees within his portfolio shows he does not take his duties seriously.

And Park ward candidate for the Green Party, Rob White, has offered his view.

Rob picks out the low levels of casework his opponent does for residents, suggesting this is indicative of Cllr Hartley's capacity to undertake all the responsibilities he has accepted.

However he gives his opponent the benefit of the doubt, saying it must be shown he deliberately misled the council for it to be a sacking issue, otherwise an apology should suffice.

Meanwhile the result of any vote looks to be very much up in the air as it would depend on LibDems who hold the balance of power - and they appear to be sitting firmly on the fence. Cllr Kirsten Bayes expressed her caution towards the move,
"We'd need to see the details of the Conservatives' motion, and to hear Cllr Hartley's explanation on any concerns. It's important to be fair to everyone involved."

Oranjepan says:
Conservative group leader Cllr Cumpsty was extremely wrong - as recent events have shown, it is obvious that bullying is a highly political matter!

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Update: Linda Fort offers a friendlier assessment of the political challenge facing Cllr Hartley.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Potholes Pile Up

Following on from previous posts, the continuing irritation of potholes on our roads remain in the mind across the county and beyond.

In Wokingham Cllr Prue Bray managed to report 29 potholes in one week, while Paul Walter reported 8 in West Berkshire in just one day!

On cue, West Berkshire have announced an increase of 50% (an additional £220,000) to the emergency road repair budget,

Elsewhere Scaryduck reports on the £1m bill to fix potholes in Banbury, while according to the Local Government Association the national cost could easily reach £100m as 1.6m new potholes have been reported.

But a solution is available...

About 50 UK councils have acquired new Jetpatcher machines, which use the 'velocity patching technique' and is estimated to be 80% more cost effective than traditional road repairs, offers reduced repair time (and therefore disruption to traffic) of a third while lasting longer and is more environmentally friendly too.


Oranjepan asks:
How many avoidable accidents have occurred as a result of inadequate repairs due to outdated resources?

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Background: Potholes Get Political, Beneath The Surface; Filling A Gap

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Flattering To Deceive?

#rdgpol - Regular readers will know Reading List has been closely following the debate surrounding Reading's bid for city status.

And it appears developments to promote the move have now reached the highest levels when Prime Minister Gordon Brown commented during a pre-election visit that Reading 'deserved' the title after he was challenged on his initial description of the town as a 'great city'.

Rachel Eden overlooks this gaffe by her party leader highlighting his manner of justification that Reading has a 'great community spirit'.

Meanwhile local business groups have been going out of their way to promote the bid on the grounds that they think it will give a much-needed economic boost to the area, despite previously promoting a separate report showing Reading and the Thames Valley are relatively much better off than other areas of the country.

Paul Robins picks up on a report describing Reading as one of Euope's top 'micro-cities'.

Executive director of economic development company Reading UK CIC, Tim Smith, described the placement above over 200 urban centres with more than 1/4m population as an 'independent accolade' to be proud of, identifying the strength of local communications infrastructure as the major factor behind the judgement.

He was supported by the chairwoman of Reading's Federation of Small Businesses, Nicky Goringe Larkin, and deputy leader of Reading Council, Cllr Tony Page, who attributed Reading's beneficial geographical location as their main grounds for gaining for city status.

Linda Fort outlined the raging political debate on the issue.

Conservatives have offered unconditional support to the Labour colleagues, arguing 'this is about leadership."

But LibDems have been more cautious, suggesting that residents are unconvinced of the value it offers and practical policies need to be prioritised at this time.

And this appears to be an opinion borne out by local commenters - one says a successful bid will be worth no more than two seconds of air-time on national news, a second argues local political leadership needs to lose their 'village mentality' before the title is deserved and another states civic pride shouldn't depend upon outside recognition.

Elsewhere the significant question of whether the title would in any case be awarded to the borough authority or the conurbation was sidestepped when council leader Cllr Jo Lovelock assertively claimed, "it’s not about our boundaries," adding "it’s very much about recognising... we are the historic county town of Berkshire."


Oranjepan says:
From out of the mouths of politicians themselves!

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Update: Steve Borthwick says 'Reading has hit the big time' now that Prime Minister Gordon Brown recognised the bid and given it his personal endorsement.

Steve says he thinks it is a great idea even though the only 'extra stuff' deliverable will be an increase in outside recognition and prestige which won't make any difference to the ordinary 'citizen'.

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