Wednesday, 28 March 2012

NHS debate last night

At last night’s full Council meeting Labour’s out-of-date (& copied from another authority) NHS motion brought out some home truths.  My colleague Cllr Dave Luckett spoke powerfully, raising facts Labour tried hard to ignore:

"We will be judged on our record on the NHS.
·        We promised to increase spending on the NHS and we are boosting spending on the NHS
·        Since the election we have however made cuts in the NHS, yes we’ve cut £4.5 billion of bureaucracy and ploughed it straight back into patient care. The amount of bureaucrats is down by 5,000, but the number of doctors has gone up by 4,000
·        In-patient and out-patient waiting times are lower than they were at the election
·        We promised extra money for cancer drugs, so far 10,000 people have got extra drugs through that fund
·        We have an 100,000 extra patients treated every month
·        The number of people who are in mixed-sex wards down 94%
·        Hospital acquired infections down their lowest ever level

This is happening not through sticking to the past, it’s through reform as well as extra money.
We saw in the past what happened under Labour – spending £6 billion on the failed NHS computer system, £250 million on private sector operations that were never carried out. The most shocking of all a private finance initiative that we are still tied into that charges parts of the NHS £300 for a person to change a light bulb. That’s right £300! I had to double and triple check that figure.

Labour will no doubt come back and say they’ve changed, they’ve learnt their lessons, but we only have to look at the one part is already run by Labour, in Wales. Labour has cut the money, and waiting lists have gone up with over a third of people waiting longer than 18 weeks.

I know which I’d prefer, I care passionately about the NHS, I will fight for it to be the best it can and I know our Prime Minister feels the same way."

Lib Dem Cllr Daisy Benson raised Manchester’s proposed charge for drunk people admitted into A&E which had been in the press earlier in the day [an ill-conceived, abhorrent proposal by Labour-run Manchester in my opinion].  In response after pondering the news, Labour’s Cllr Bet Tickner showed her party’s true colours saying “well it is expensive”...without voicing any disapproval whatsoever.  So much for Labour’s false criticisms of Government policy…

The alarming truth is Labour is not fussed about keeping the fundamental principle: that the National Health must remain free at the point of service!

Friday, 16 March 2012

No 22 Bus route to return to Priest Hill

James Freeman, chairman of Reading Buses, announced last night the number 22 bus will revert back to the pre-September 2011 route.

He was speaking at the Traffic Management Advisory Panel to a report looking to create sufficient space on Priest Hill for buses to pass. The relevant extract states:
4.2 Reading Buses are proposing to reintroduce the previous levels of bus services in Priest Hill. The existing levels of on-street parking reduce traffic flow at certain periods of the day and week. To improve public transport provision and journey times for the benefit of all passengers a managed approach to parking must be considered. It is propose [sic] to introduce a short section of no waiting at any time to provide a passing place that will protect the route. Liaison with the Residents and Reading Buses will be completed prior to commencing the formal procedure
James Freeman said "We do intend to go ahead as soon as practicable which in reality is likely to be early summer.  We expect that in consequence of Reading Buses changing the route of Pink 22, the Community Link buses 18 and 28 will be withdrawn from Caversham Heights and redeployed elsewhere in Caversham to meet other needs.”

Those residents I told last night who have responded to me so far are very pleased.  Safety and timing issues were top of their concerns, with journeys to work or school often being delayed by buses unable to keep to the timetable.

It is welcome news that Reading Buses has listened to the public and taken appropriate action.  As soon as the implementation date is confirmed I will post again. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Baseless Financial Claims

Leader of Reading Borough Council Cllr Jo Lovelock has made some far-fetched claims in her time.  A recent favourite she often makes, both in meetings and in Labour literature, is her claim that Reading has suffered worse cuts from central government than Wokingham.  However the facts show that not only is Reading’s formula grant more than 2½ times that received by Wokingham, but that despite having a larger population, Conservative-run Wokingham BC has suffered a bigger percentage cut than Reading.

Consistently Wokingham BC has received one of the smallest grants in the country from central government, leaving a larger share of its budget to be taken from local Council Tax payers.  A Reading resident receives £326 (formula grant of £50.266 m divided by 154,200 population) from central government whereas a Wokingham BC resident receives just £112 (formula grant of £18.240 m divided by 163,200 population). 

Cllr Tim Harris, Conservative Group Leader said, “It is imperative the public have both complete transparency from and confidence in the controlling administration.  Reading is a very different borough to Wokingham, with very different funding requirements, so regular comparisons are not helpful.  In spite of the regular spin trotted out at council meetings and press releases, it’s clear from these figures that Reading gets significantly more funding, and had a smaller cut.  Our Group will continue both to highlight inconsistencies such as this and lobby central government to maximise the funding available to our Borough.”

Residents can judge for themselves.  By the way the population figures (2010) are from the Office of National Statistics.  

I doubt an apology will be forthcoming from Labour: however in light of the above I’ll be interested to see if they continue repeating their baseless financial claims.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Tackling Loneliness and Housing Issues

I spoke at tonight’s Cabinet meeting to the following officer-led reports, the papers for which you can find here  First was item 14 on Reading’s Time Bank Pilot.

I welcomed Time Banking as its benefits are great.  The concept is very much the "Big Society" at work.  Time Banking has come about out of the necessity following the sad change in our society whereby roles traditionally done by family and neighbours are left empty leaving many residents isolated.  Residents offer what they can do for others and exchange it for what they need for themselves using hourly credits.

I cited Bracknell’s example where they have a directory matching people for things ranging from giving lifts, companionship going to the cinema – for walks or cycle rides, to simply listening.

Bracknell, like Reading, has a Local Exchange Training Scheme (LETS).  I was glad to hear Labour’s Lead Councillor intends to consult and work with the local LETS participants to see how the Time Banking pilot might best complement their scheme.

Lastly I asked her to ensure further review of best practice elsewhere continues; that others’ mistakes are avoided and most importantly, that outcome measures such as the level of improvement/benefits to participants’ quality of life alongside cost analysis are defined and assessed.

Agenda item 15 had three sub-reports all falling under broadening the regulatory framework for private sector housing.  Again it is officer-led and I welcomed it as it provides more tools for bringing homes up to “Decent Homes Standard”.

Four grants were covered in item 15a, the first of which was the Flood Resilience Grant a response to the CCEA Scrutiny Panel’s recommendations back in 2008 – will provide up to £500 to means tested residents living in the flood plane.  RBC estimates 200 properties may be eligible.

I welcomed this initiative which aims to help the most needy buy manual or automatic air brick closures, door dams and dams for downstairs WC’s.  The fear of a flood, as well as the consequences of one, is not to be underestimated.  These loans will enable eligible residents to reduce their stress and worry.

The Energy Efficiency Top-Up Grant is also means tested and up to £500.  It broadens the help given to ensure loft insulation can be fitted by providing someone to clear necessary space by temporarily moving stored obstacles to create or enlarge a loft opening.  Afterwards the fitter would also replace the stored possessions.

Another two tools added to RBC’s portfolio (still in 15a) are the Flexible Loan Scheme and the Empty Homes Affordable Housing Project.  The first provides loans to people not eligible for grant aid for approved repairs or improvements which bring a property up to the Decent Homes Standard. The loan is secured by a charge on the property.  The second provides a loan for 5 years with a term fixed to bring the property back into use.  It can be combined with an empty homes grant.

For details on the two bids RBC has submitted for the Empty Homes Affordable Housing Project see paragraphs 4.19 to 4.26.  If successful, it is hoped 26 empty homes will be brought back into use housing 104 people at an affordable rent for a lease of between 2-5 years; and furthermore, in partnership with Radian Housing the second bid will bring back 5 larger properties which will be converted into specialist supported housing providing a lease period between 10-15 years housing 24 people.

Item 15b dealt with the introduction of Neighbourhood Improvement Zones.  I supported Cabinet’s decision to implement selective licensing in the private rented sector as roads affected where Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are rife suffer considerably.  Too many private rented properties in our town fail to meet the basic standards so it will be good for officers to be empowered.

The last of the reports, item 15c was about the implementation of an Article 4 Direction relating to HMOs.  Appendix 2 detailed surveys officers have carried out as well as the results of a questionnaire.  As I said at the meeting, I’m sure residents and councillors alike will be eager for implementation; however I supported avoiding possible litigation and therefore introducing a non-immediate Article 4 Direction to allow control on the number of HMOs in the defined area (predominatly around the University). 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Spring Clean

The buds are swelling, the bluebells' greenery is forming, the first blossom is flowering and all over Britain communities are gathering for the annual spring clean.

Sadly though my generation should have brought up the next to enjoy and cherish nature, too many give not a moment’s thought before carelessly discarding the wrappings having consumed the ready contents.
Now, whilst the bare contaminated earth is exposed by winter’s suppression, groups like the one I joined yesterday afternoon bagged what should never have been left behind.

We picked up empty cans, crisp packets and the like blown through from Highdown’s playing fields into the ancient beech and oak woodland around. The warm sun streamed through the leafless canopy, a lone woodpecker’s tapping penetrating our friendly chatter before the cackle of a jay.  
Andrew Waters, Ed Hopper & me behind some of the rubbish
You don’t have to wait for Reading’s annual RESCUE clean up to take pride in your area and make a difference. When you see litter in your road, don’t just walk by: pick it up if safe and dispose of it.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Andrew Marr this Sunday

Last month I wrote about the launch on 14th March of the Mike Campbell Foundation, a charity whose goal is to work to restore human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe and other South African Development Communities (SADC) countries.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, Dr Paul Negrut (from Romania) and Ben Freeth MBE (a cousin of mine) are the speakers Kate Hoey MP will be introducing at The Royal Geographical Society.  The event is a sell out, but if you've missed out on getting a ticket you can watch the Archbishop of York and Ben this Sunday on the Andrew Marr programme which starts at 9 am on BBC1.

I will post a link as soon as the BBC makes one available on BBC iPlayer.

Update: For a limited time you can watch the clip from about 44 minutes in here

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Playground Fun & Safety

This afternoon PCSO Karen Vaughn and I took up Caversham Primary School's invitation to be interviewed by Year 3 children.  The idea came about as a result of the yellow zig zag lines Karen & I helped the school lobby the Council for last year.

We sat in the sunny playground with the pupils taking turns to approach us.  They worked in threes: the first in charge of a microphone (which doubled as a recording device); the second looking after a clip board with their pre-prepared questions; and the third asking their questions.  The Deputy Headmistress watched from a distance, giving encouragement and keeping an eye out to make sure everything ran smoothly.

To begin with the children were a little shy, but soon they relaxed and got into their roles as budding reporters!  They asked intelligent questions about safety which Karen and I answered as best we could.  The children listened very carefully to our replies.  One girl stood out in particular because she put into her own words what she thought I had said to ensure she'd understood me.  An extremely useful technique whether she wants to become a reporter – a teacher or even a Member of Parliament in years to come!

Although the topic was a serious and important one, both Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - and by the look of it so did the delightful pupils.