Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Future of the Arthur Clark/Albert Road Day Centre Site

On Thursday 7th October Reading Borough Council's Labour administration is proposing what should happen to the Arthur Clark/Albert Road Day Centre joint site.  I sit on the relevant Committee and will be representing the views of my ward residents.

If you have an opinion please let me know your thoughts before Thursday. You can read the report here and the appendix.

Essentially Labour wants agreement to sell off the site for new Extra Care Housing. They are proposing that the land is surplus to requirements and the Feasibility Study they have commissioned sets out the demolition of the current buildings, replacing them with a new building comprising 40 extra care flats which would be for rent, with associated ancillary facilities.

As I also sit on the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) of course I keep an open mind to proposals until any future planning application comes before PAC.

My question to readers is should this site's future be kept open to other possibilities at this stage?  Residents I have spoken with already are keen that Residential and Respite care, as well as Day care facilities are considered seriously.  What do you think?  You can contact me on 07717 292003, send me your views to my email address: or write a message on this post.

Thank you to those who have shared your views with me already.  This is an important site, particularly for residents living north of the river and I hope the administration will listen and act upon the public's wishes.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Heights Family Fun & Information Day

Do come along to St Andrew's Hall, Albert Road, Caversham Heights, this Sunday between 2 and 4 pm to have fun and learn more about The Heights new primary school.  The parent group behind The Heights will be there, me included.

In September 2014 The Heights will be opening its doors for its first intake of pupils, serving the west of Caversham (predominantly Caversham Heights).  This is the area where historically there was little realistic chance of a school place in whichever local catchment primary school. This forced families into their cars to primaries further afield, dispersing children to a variety of other primaries, breaking up local friendship groups formed amongst neighbours, toddler groups and in preschool settings.

The 20th October offers families the chance to learn more about The Heights whilst there'll be fun activities for children.  Highlights include:

  • Advice on how to make a primary school admission application
  • Sight of the school uniform
  • Copies of the prospectus 
  • Launch of the new website 
  • Bird of prey display
  • Interactive story-time by the Enchanted Players
  • Face painting
  • Crafts corner with the chance to create artwork to be displayed in the new school
I will post a link to The Heights' new website upon its launch.  To read my previous posts about the school, see the Education Label, near the top right hand side of my Homepage.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Nationwide Meetings for Members

- UPDATE - meetings cancelled.  Campaign a Success!

Rob Wilson MP has set up two meetings for Nationwide members to discuss the Building Society's recent announcement that the Caversham branch is to be closed.

The meetings are to give members an update and hopefully the opportunity to question a Nationwide representative (although they haven't yet confirmed acceptance of their invitation).

The meetings are:

7 pm on Monday 30 September in St Barnabas Church Hall, St Barnabas Road, Emmer Green; and

4 pm on Tuesday 1 October in Caversham Baptist Church, Caversham.  For further information see Rob's website

Unfortunately I am unable to come to either meeting as I will be in Manchester, but I hope that as many of my Mapledurham Ward residents who are Nationwide members will be able to attend one of the meetings.

Chris Walton, Chairman of the Caversham Traders' Association, has set up a petition which you can sign here

Monday, 9 September 2013

An Important Day for the Future of Education in Reading

Two events happen today which will have an important bearing on secondary school provision for Reading:

This morning sees the start of the Planning Inquiry into Reading Borough Council's refusal of planning permission to Taylor Wimpey of 193 homes on the old Elvian School site. The WREN group - West Reading Education Network fervently believe the site should be retained for school use and aspire to build a new secondary free school on it.

Earlier this year WREN was given government approval for their secondary school bid, but securing their preferred site is going to be decided this week by the Planning Inspector at the Inquiry which is taking place in Reading's Town Hall.  If you support WREN's aims, do show your support by attending however much you can of the Inquiry.  It is going to be in the Waterhouse Chamber.  Today's hearing will be 11 am - 1 pm, 2 pm - 5 pm.

The Reading West MP, Alok Sharma, will be speaking at the Inquiry in support of WREN.

For further information go to WREN's website

As mentioned last week, in East Reading, Maiden Erlegh School is holding an information evening to give parents interested in their proposed new secondary school - to be situated in the heart of East Reading - an opportunity to ask head teacher Dr Peter Thomas and his team questions.  Do go along between 6 and 8.30 pm to Maiden Erlegh, Silverdale Road, Earley, Reading, RG6 7HS tonight.

The Reading East MP, Rob Wilson, had approached Maiden Erlegh with the idea of them setting up a new school having listened to his constituents' wish to be able to benefit from the school's excellent education.

For further information, including the opportunity to register your interest, visit website

Today also sees the opening of the University Technical College, UTC, in Crescent Road, East Reading. More on this later.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Maiden Erlegh School announces bid to create new Secondary

Today Maiden Erlegh School announced their bid to create a new secondary satellite school for 11 - 16 year olds located somewhere in East Reading.

Information will be posted on ME's website tomorrow (4 September), and on Monday 9 September interested parents are invited to visit an Information Evening between 6 and 8.30 pm at the school.

Peter Thomas, Maiden Erlegh's head teacher will be executive headteacher of the proposed Free School and he aims to replicate all that is good about Maiden Erlegh.

Parental support is needed to prove to the DfE that there is the local support, so if your child or children are starting Year 4, 5 or 6 this week, do visit Maiden Erlegh's website to register your support for the bid.  Similarly if you know anyone who might be interested, do let them know.

This is extremely welcome news.  A substantial shortfall of secondary school places is forecast in Reading. Added to this, parents in East Reading are not all able to get places for their children in the highly successful Maiden Erlegh School so this bid to create a linked school provides an exciting opportunity for more families to benefit from the school's much admired ethos and education.

The Reading Chronicle has this report

Rob Wilson MP said “Maiden Erlegh is an outstanding school which has demonstrated yet again with its results this year that it provides a first class education to local children. I approached the school to work with me on a Free School bid so that this excellence could be available to even more local children because it is what many local parents tell me they want. 

We already know that there is going to be pressure on secondary school places, but I also think it is very important that local parents do have a choice of good schools to send their children too. I hope parents will get behind this bid, where there is clearly a proven track record of providing a high quality education.”

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Aftermath of Reading Festival: Camping Equipment Sale

With this year's Reading Festival over and the clear up in progress, do make the most of the sale this Sunday at Mapledurham Pavilion of the nearly new camping equipment sale between 10 am and 4 pm.

It is staggering what festival goers leave behind: once used tents, sleeping bags, wellies and other camping paraphernalia.

Thanks to volunteers who are helping clear the site and sort through the equipment you can benefit by getting excellent quality goods at knock-down prices.

The Warren & District Residents Association has worked with Festival Republic to organise the clear-up. All money raised will go to the regeneration of the Pavilion for the benefit of the whole community.

Do put this Sunday 1st September in your diary and find yourself real bargains.

Mapledurham Pavilion is on the Upper Woodcote Road (A4074), RG4 7LB

Update: For further information, see today's GetReading (30 August).  Here's the link

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Much Needed Resurfacing Work Across Reading

The programme of road resurfacing is due to start tomorrow, Monday 22nd July, and will last for 7 weeks (weather permitting). The programme should therefore be completed on Friday 6th August.

The resurfacing works will be carried out by Eurovia Infrastructure Limited, on behalf of Reading Borough Council, and have been timed to coincide with the school summer holidays. Advance warning notices will be erected on site and letters delivered to affected properties.

The areas we are intending to resurface and expected durations are as follows:
Rotherfield Way/Southdown Road – Hemdean Road to Evesham Road (Peppard / Thames Wards) – Monday 22 July, expected to last 3 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation.

Prospect Street – Henley Road to Church Street (Caversham / Thames Wards) – Thursday 25 July, expected to last 2 days. Working hours 9.30am to 3.30pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation.

Church Street Prospect Street to Church Road (Caversham) – Sunday 28 July, expected to last 2 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route will be in operation.

Eastern Avenue – Full length ( Redlands / Park Wards) – Monday 29 July, expected to last 4 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation.

St Peters Hill/Church Road - Darell Road to Church Street (Caversham/Thames Wards) - Tuesday 30 July, expected to last 5 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route. No works over the weekend and the road will be open at this time.

Wokingham Road - Cemetery Junction to Palmer Park Avenue ( Redlands / Park Wards) - Saturday 3 August, expected to last 6 days. Working hours 10am to 8pm on the Saturday and 8am to 8pm for the remaining days. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation.

Oxford Road Alma Street to Norcot Road (Norcot Ward) – Tuesday 6 August, expected to last 3 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route will be in operation.

Westwood Road School Road to Armour Road ( Kentwood / Tilehurst Wards) – Friday 9 August, expected to last 5 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation. No works over the weekend and the road will be open at this time.

Shinfield Road Elmhurst Road junction ( Redlands / Church Wards) – Friday 2 August and Saturday 3 August. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Road remains open, works carried out under temporary traffic lights.

Bridge Street, Caversham – Richfield Avenue to Church Road (Abbey / Caversham Wards) – Saturday 10 August, expected to last 2 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route will be in operation.

Christchurch Gardens – Full length (Katesgrove/Redlands Wards) – Friday 9 August, expected to last 2 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation. No works over the weekend and the road will be open at this time.

Oxford Road - Sections from Overdown Road to Borough Boundary ( Kentwood / Norcot Wards) – Thursday 15 August, expected to last for 4 days including the weekend. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation.

Kendrick Road – Full length ( Redlands / Katesgrove Wards) – Tuesday 13 August, expected to last for 4 days. Working hours 10am to 8pm on the Wednesday and then 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route will be in operation.

The Forbury – Sections from Market Place to Valpy Street (Abbey Ward) – Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 August. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation for the duration.

Caversham Road Chatham Street to Abattoirs Road (Abbey Ward) – Monday 19 August, expected last 2 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Road remains open, works carried out under lane closure.

Southampton Street Crown Street to IDR (Katesgrove Ward) – Monday 2 September, expected to last 2 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route in operation.

Redlands Road – Sections from Elmhurst Road to Morgan Road ( Redlands Ward) –Tuesday 27 August, expected to last for 4 days. Working hours 8am to 8pm. Full road closure required with a signed diversion route will be in operation. No works over the weekend and the road will be open at this time.

NB: All programmed dates are subject to change depending on weather conditions.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Education & Excellence

Many parents in Reading have had a poor lot for far too long as far as education for their children is concerned.  An historic lack of strategic planning by the Labour-led Borough Council and a resulting shortage of places at the best schools has led to widespread parental dissatisfaction and many children forced to attend schools out of Reading.

Over a decade ago, on offer day, I remember how shocked I was not to be offered a place at either of my two local in-catchment primary schools for my son.  Both schools had good reputations, so my husband and I didn’t mind which we were offered, but to have no place whatsoever was alarming and unsettling.

After several anxious weeks, eventually our son was offered a place at our nearest local primary.  Naively we thought our school admissions problems were over.  However, after he started school the catchment areas were changed by the Council, so our younger child was unlikely to be able to go to her brother’s primary, even though we hadn’t moved house! 

Another parent and I then researched the town’s birth rate and proved the local schools north of the river were likely to continue to be oversubscribed every year.  We campaigned for siblings like my daughter to have protection and after some months, we were successful.  The Labour administration was forced to concede and correct this blatantly unfair admission rule.
My children in 2001

Generally however, even back in 2001 there was an annual problem of families in parts of the town failing to get places at their catchment school because of the Labour administration’s failure to deal with the evident lack of places.  It was also an era when too many Reading schools were failing to provide the quality of education expected by parents across the town.

My experience highlighted to me the importance of providing sufficient school places for children to be able to be with their older siblings in the same primary as each other, and of course for all schools to be offering a good standard of education. I became a Conservative Councillor because I was determined to do what I could to make this become a reality in Reading

It was the Conservatives on Reading Borough Council who supported my campaign back in 2001 and it is a Conservative-led Government which is now leading the way in allowing for more school places and for school improvement.  Where the Labour Council has failed to improve Reading’s schools and failed to build the new schools necessary to meet the demand, the Government’s reforms mean motivated and engaged parent groups, backed in some cases by specialist education providers, can address the shortfall.  This Government’s transformation of the education system is enabling the conversion of poorly-rated primaries into new academy primaries, the expansion of high performing existing schools and, where there is the demand, the opening of new free schools.

I believe a good education, which supports each child to reach their full potential and prepares them for adulthood, in a setting that best suits their individual needs, is what the vast majority of parents want and expect. 

From September 2013 teenagers will have the opportunity of going to the new East Reading University Technical College (UTC) where expertise from its IT and engineering sponsors will provide an up-to-the-minute education to complement the national curriculum.  Rob Wilson MP led the way in getting this exciting new type of school for Reading which elsewhere has engaged and energised students which the regular secondary system often fails to engage.

Also in September 2013 a new Free School for pupils with autism will open, filling a gap between main stream and special schools which will complement the Ofsted-rated “Outstanding” Avenue School Academy on the adjacent site.

In September 2014 the West Reading Education Network (WREN) Group is set to open a new secondary school in West Reading, with The Heights Group set to open a new primary school serving Caversham Heights.  Both are Free Schools which would not have been opened under any other Government; they will provide much needed capacity and are supported by a ground swell of parental and community support as well as their respective Conservative Members of Parliament.

Only the Conservatives have a track record of enabling parents to deliver choice and excellence in education. If you share our aspiration for a better education for all of our children in a school that suits their needs please join us in campaigning for more free schools and academies, free from the dead hand of Reading Labour Party’s control.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Conservatives condemn Labour's decision to close Arthur Clark Care Home

Arthur Clark Residential Care Home
Conservatives turned out in force for last night’s first ever meeting of the Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, and Education Committee in support of campaigners who packed the public gallery. As well as Sandra Vickers (Tilehurst), James Anderson (Kentwood) and me who sit on the committee, Cllrs Tim Harris (Church), Jeanette Skeats (Thames), David Stevens (Thames), Ed Hopper (Thames) and Richard Willis (Peppard) sat in the public gallery behind them with Reading East MP Rob Wilson. Cllr Hopper and Rob Wilson addressed the meeting as members of the public after passionate speeches from campaigner Colin Trinder and Rev Marion Pyke.
It was notable that neither Cllr Richard Davies (Caversham-Labour), or Labour’s Reading East Parliamentary Candidate spoke or even bothered to attend the meeting.
After over an hour and a half of questions, speeches and debate Labour’s Lead Councillor circulated a pre-prepared amended motion which made it clear that the decision to close both the Arthur Clark home and Albert Road Day Centre had already effectively been taken. I picked this up and pointed out that since the motion had been printed prior to the meeting the whole debate had been a waste of time as the Labour Group had already decided to close the two facilities.
Cllr Sandra Vickers spoke about how her own mother had visited Arthur Clark and told how she loved the home and the quality of care provided. Cllr James Anderson urged the Labour administration to consider this a matter for their hearts rather than their heads.
However, at the end of the debate, the Labour Councillors on the Committee voted for the motion to close Arthur Clark Home and Albert Road Day Centre. All other Councillors (apart from the Chairman who abstained) voted against the closure motion.
Cllr Ed Hopper said, “I am hugely disappointed by the decision to close the Arthur Clark Care Home which has been taken by Reading Borough Council’s Labour Administration tonight.
Over 3,600 people plus every Conservative Councillor, our MP Rob Wilson and all other opposition Councillors have all expressed their adamant opposition to this closure.
The consultation which RBC has undertaken is not worthy of the name, having ignored genuine opportunities to work with local residents and businesses to seek ways to keep this valuable Home open.”
Cllr Tim Harris said, “Once again the Labour Group has ignored the wishes of the thousands of local people who signed the petition and those who took time out to attend a second Council meeting to discuss the proposed closure. We asked the Labour administration to consider all options including discussions with possible private care providers but they chose to ignore this and the pleas from the public gallery.”
I said, “Labour is quite prepared to spend around £60m on providing new Civic Offices but they refuse to find less than £1m to undertake the maintenance backlog which has been identified at Arthur Clark home. Tonight’s meeting was a waste of time as Labour had already made their decision before the meeting even started. The consultation was a sham, just as the promised consultation on using the site for ‘extra-care’ housing for the elderly will probably prove to be.”  
Speaking after the meeting Conservative Councillors and Rob Wilson MP pledged to help the residents in any way possible to keep up the fight for the future of Arthur Clark home and Albert Road Day Centre.

Friday, 28 June 2013

D-Day for Arthur Clark Care Home

Conservatives at the Reading Borough Council meeting on Tuesday stood alongside local residents to call for the Labour administration to scrap plans to close the Arthur Clark care home in Albert Road, Caversham. Residents protested outside the Council chamber before the meeting and packed the meeting to present a petition and ask questions of the Labour Lead Councillor.
Cllr Ed Hopper with protestors before Council

Due to the large number of signatures on the petition a debate was generated at the start of the Council meeting. The Labour administration moved a weasel worded motion referring the concerns of the petitioners to the Council’s new Adult Social Care, Childrens’ Services and Education Committee which meets on Monday 1st July.

Thames Ward Councillors Ed Hopper and David Stevens then moved and seconded an amendment which called on the administration to “cease all attempts to close Arthur Clark care home”. This was supported by all Councillors except for the Labour administration. Even the single Caversham Labour Councillor and Labour’s Reading East Parliamentary candidate voted against the amendment!

After lengthy debate, Labour voted down the Conservative amendment and used their majority to push through their motion.

Cllr Ed Hopper said, “I wanted to give the Council as a whole an opportunity to say that the Arthur Clark home should remain open rather than see the decision pushed off to a committee of which only a few Councillors are members. I was pleased that so many Councillors supported my amendment but disappointed that Labour used their majority to override the views of others Councillors and the large number of residents in the gallery”.

Cllr David Stevens said, “This is the first time ever that the public has presented a petition with enough signatures to trigger a debate. I am amazed therefore that the Labour Group was not willing to listen to the strength of feeling locally and invest in this care home rather than just close it down. We will keep up the fight to ensure that the views of local people are heard and heeded.”

At the end of the evening after the presentation of the petition, exhaustive debate, and numerous questions Cllr Ralph (Independent) moved a motion which many had expected him to withdraw. It was rather after the fact, as the Labour administration had made their position clear in the earlier debate, but in the spirit of cooperation Conservative Councillors had decided to support Cllr Ralph’s motion and voted against Labour’s inevitable amendment. In the most bizarre moment of the night Cllr Ralph then voted in favour of Labour’s amendment and against his own motion!

Conservative Group Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “It was a long and heated debate but what matters in this is the effect closure would have on the many elderly residents and the removal of a facility which should be retained to serve future generations north of the Thames. Conservative Councillors will be using every available opportunity to urge the Labour administration to think again and fight for a future for this much loved home.”

You can watch the council meeting online on YouTube and see for yourself 'democracy' in action.

D-Day for the Arthur Clark care home is Monday, 1st July at 6.30 pm.  Members of the public are encouraged to attend and, if they give advance notification of their intention to film proceedings are permitted to do so.

Update  You can read GetReading's report in today's paper here.  If you have a view on the future of the Arthur Clark residential care home why don't you post a comment?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Public Meeting: Bus Update for North of the River Wednesday 19th June

My Conservative colleague and Peppard Ward councillor, Richard Willis, has organised a public meeting tomorrow night at 6.45 pm at the Milestone Centre, Northbrook Road, Caversham Park Village, about the bus services and the changes which will come once the new northern inter-change to Reading Station opens.

The CEO of Reading Buses, James Freeman, will explain the proposed changes after which he has kindly agreed to take questions from the floor.

Richard has also arranged for a senior Council Transport Officer to attend to speak on the planned new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames. This bridge was something which he proposed when he was Lead Councillor and we began the work to include it in a bid to central Government for the funding. The bid was successful and will now be built in the next year or so.

All north of the river residents are welcome to attend the meeting but if they cannot I am happy to arrange for a summary of the briefing to be emailed to them following the meeting.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Lot Going On

I apologise for not posting as regularly as I used to.  About 3 months ago I started working full time for Rob Wilson MP in his constituency office which has reduced my available time for this.  Fortunately though I am able to continue both my councillor role as well as the chairman of governors at The Avenue Special School.

Officers & councillors outside the Pavilion
For many years I've been on Reading Borough Council's Planning Committee and this morning, for about 1.5 hours, I joined other committee members on our monthly site visits.  Mapledurham Pavilion was our second stop.  One reason I'd asked for the visit was to show Labour councillors its dilapidated state.  They were visibly shocked.  I think two out of the three hadn't seen it before.  I showed them most of the inside as well whilst "Escape" (the parent & toddler group I used to run) started up its session.  But for the toddlers & mums, the hall would have been bleak too.

This reminds me that a week on Saturday, 22nd June, is the second Mapledurham Fete.  It starts at noon, carrying on all afternoon and metamorphosing into a music festival in the evening.  As last year, all monies raised will go towards regenerating the Pavilion, which could happen soon if the planning application goes through unhindered.  I'll be running a skittles stall again and hope lots of people will come and enjoy what I'm sure will be a great day supporting this excellent cause.

Getting back to this morning's visit, outside the Pavilion was a hive of activity with a multi-agency crack down led by the Police of various motoring offences.  They were: pulling over motorists for using a mobile phone, driving without a safety belt, speeding; checking for the illegal use of red diesel, ensuring anyone transporting metal had a licence, checking tyres, etc.  Also present were Council officers, independent observers & Neighbourhood Watch Group (NAG) members.  I don't yet know the stats, but was pleased to see such a big operation in action.  Sergeant Nigel Scarratt & PCSO Ian Chaston were there together with Police from further afield.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

'The Heights' Free School gets the Go Ahead!

The Heights
I was thrilled to hear the wonderful news that The Heights primary free school has been given the Department for Education's backing to open in September 2014.

The school will serve the local area in the west of Caversham including all of Mapledurham Ward, Caversham Heights, for which I am the local councillor.

At last families in my Ward will have a realistic chance of getting a local primary school place.  Every year parents are disappointed because they are unable to get their child into their designated local school.  They have been forced into their cars to drive their children to schools on the other side of Caversham or even out of the Reading Borough.

I'm especially pleased for Ruth, Polly, Susan and the other parents who have worked so hard on the bid to get to this point.  Their dedication and commitment is inspirational and I look forward to helping them get the school up and running for next September.

My colleague Cllr Tim Harris, Leader of the Conservative Group said, "This is fabulous news and I congratulate the parents involved who have been supported throughout by Cllr Isobel Ballsdon and Reading East MP Rob Wilson.  They have embraced the opportunity provided by the Conservative-led Government's reforms and galvanised local support for their Free School bid.  They have achieved what the Labour Council over the last decade has failed to deliver: a new school for Caversham."

When more details are known I will post again, though do also check The Heights' website too!

Update: The WREN bid for a new secondary Free School to serve West Reading has also been successful!  For further information check their website:  Wren School

Further Update: You can watch ITV coverage of The Heights parent group, parents from the WREN group and others in an article filmed yesterday (22 May) after the announcement by following this link

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Labour's new line up

Reading’s Labour Twittersphere has broadcast nominations for the Lead Councillor roles in advance of Mayor making on 22 May.   

Three are out: Marian Livingstone, Mike Orton and Bet Tickner 

The three new are: Richard Davies, Graham Hoskin and Liz Terry 

Everybody, except Jo Lovelock, is having some change to the scope of their role

Community Involvement & Service Improvement has been ditched.  Perhaps the disgraceful prioritisation of IT equipment for councillors over decent IT equipment for the social worker team has something to do with this decision: Or maybe the Labour administration has realised (belatedly) that their “justification” was baseless rubbish.

Graham Hoskin is back on the front bench having served out his punishment for his unsuccessful leadership bid a couple of years ago.  Having had Culture & Sport before, now he has been handed Health.

Tony Jones will be Deputy Mayor again (previously having had the role in 2000), whilst his wife Liz Terry, who was elected just a year ago and hasn’t risen much in Council to speak in that time, is to cover Neighbourhoods.  Previously this had gone together with Housing but Labour has decided to split the two giving Housing to another 2012 intake, Richard Davies.

John Ennis’ role is being reduced to solely Education with Jan Gavin taking on Children’s Services & Families.

Rachel Eden has been moved to Adult Social Care replacing Mike Orton who, though his shoes are big ones to fill, his recent attendance record has not been great.

With Marian Livingstone stepping into the role as Mayor [I’m against Labour’s flouting of the traditional year as deputy before stepping up to the role of Mayor] her current lead role of Culture & Sport is being given as part of Paul Gittings’ new role of Culture & Sport & Consumer Services.  Interesting to note Labour has dropped Climate Change!

Tony Page remains as deputy leader, whilst his lead role will also cover the Environment, so will be Strategic Planning, Environment & Transport

In summary Labour's new roles & line up are as follows:

Leader of the Council (chair)                                  Jo Lovelock

Adult Social Care                                                     Rachel Eden
Children’s Services & Families                              Jan Gavin
Culture & Sport & Consumer Services                Paul Gittings
Education                                                                  John Ennis
Health                                                                       Graham Hoskin
Housing                                                                    Richard Davies
Neighbourhoods                                                      Liz Terry
Strategic Planning, Environment & Transport   Tony Page

Mayor of Reading                                                    Marian Livingstone
Deputy Mayor                                                          Tony Jones

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Welfare State's Part in Philpott's Heinous Crime

In Guido's excellent post, to which the following tweet refers, there is a must read comment which I copy below:

Guido Fawkes (@GuidoFawkes)
Welfare State Was Evil Philpott’s Accomplice

Stuart says:
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100…
If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this…

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay £1.
The sixth would pay £3.
The seventh would pay £7..
The eighth would pay £12.
The ninth would pay £18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that’s what they decided to do..
The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball.
“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by £20″. Drinks for the ten men would now cost just £80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes.
So the first four men were unaffected.
They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men?
The paying customers?

How could they divide the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?
They realised that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they
subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.
And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% saving).
The sixth now paid £2 instead of £3 (33% saving).
The seventh now paid £5 instead of £7 (28% saving).
The eighth now paid £9 instead of £12 (25% saving).

The ninth now paid £14 instead of £18 (22% saving).
The tenth now paid £49 instead of £59 (16% saving).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.
“I only got a pound out of the £20 saving,” declared the sixth man.
He pointed to the tenth man,”but he got £10!”
“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a pound too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!”
“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get £10 back, when I got only £2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”
“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!”
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!
And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works.
The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction.
Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore.
In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.
David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics.

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible

Re-posted from Pete Ross

A Spurious Argument by Labour

Reading’s Labour administration is stopping the automatic forwarding of emails from the council email account of each councillor to their personal email account. They are justifying this on the shaky grounds that this puts Reading Council at risk of fines by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

During February’s full council meeting Labour’s Lead for Service Improvement Cllr Jan Gavin produced a list of ICO fines to the Conservative Group which she claimed proved that local authorities were being fined for insecure councillor emails.

However when I worked through Cllr Gavin’s list looking carefully at each example not one supported her claim!  Some had nothing whatsoever to do with local authorities.  However those cases relating to authorities substantiated my argument: that the highly confidential papers dealt with by the social worker teams must be protected.

The London Borough of Lewisham was on Labour’s list.  Lewisham was fined £70,000 as a result of a social worker leaving highly confidential documents on a train in a carrier bag.  If only that social worker had instead held the sensitive information in a secure council net-book computer nobody could have easily read the information. 

As the public knows, social workers have a crucial front-line role protecting our town’s most vulnerable children.  They deal with highly confidential information and the pressure on them to keep looked after children safe is colossal.  It is absolutely essential they have secure, up-to-date mobiles and a net-book computer to minimise the risk of information getting mislaid.

In contrast councillors’ emails are nowhere near as confidential.  The majority of emails contain information publically available.  Confidential papers are not generally sent by email; they are couriered to each councillor.  Any emails of a confidential nature omit names, referring instead to initials, for example to “Mrs B” to prevent identification. 

Reading’s Labour Group has failed to come up with a single example of an authority being fined because of a councillor’s email going astray.

During 26th March council meeting, my colleague Cllr Andrew Cumpsty asked the Leader of the Council if she could confirm what percentage of IT kit was recycled.  Cllr Lovelock admitted that only 30% of laptops and netbooks were pre-used equipment.  This was interesting as at February’s meeting she had stated that the equipment was mostly (70%) recycled!

Instead of an apology for having misled Council, Labour’s Leader attacked Cllr Cumpsty for “putting his own convenience above the need to protect sensitive data.”  She continued that “this has gone on for long enough and he needs to understand that there has to be a date by which any insecure method of sending e-mails to Councillors will be stopped – quite simply Cllr Cumpsty will very soon be unable to access Council e-mails unless he takes up one of the solutions on offer.  He will be cut off by his own stubborn adherence to his own convenience.  I would advise him to think about how to avoid that.

Labour’s vicious attack on an opposition councillor is nothing new.  When their group loses an argument they regularly resort to this tactic.  Whenever members of the public witness such behaviour they are shocked to the core.

We opposition councillors nurse our “wounds” consoling ourselves that these are evidence of voicing the winning argument against Labour.   However the lack of respect and dignity the Labour Group shows to opposition councillors is detrimental to democratic debate and hinders the service to Reading’s residents for which we were all elected.  

I struggle to understand why Labour prioritise the provision of IT equipment for councillors over giving social workers up-to-date IT equipment. The £10,653 expenditure on IT equipment for councillors would have been much better spent on IT equipment for social workers, or even towards mending some of Reading’s pothole ridden roads.

Delaying councillors accessing emails by stopping automatic forwarding will obviously impede our ability to help residents quickly and efficiently.

It will all be down to Labour’s phoney argument.  

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Update on state of The Warren

Further to my post on Monday, I've heard back from RBC's Highways Department about the problem area of The Warren.

A letter drop, press release and signs warning of imminent works, together with arranging a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order will be carried out by RBC next week.

Details are to be agreed and finalised after a local consultation which will be carried out by the Highways Department.

In the meantime RBC has increased the number of cones and warning signs to keep vehicles and other road users away from the failed area.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Positive Change at Priory Avenue Surgery

Priory Avenue Surgery
Following my previous article on 16 January about Priory Avenue Surgery I was pleased by last week's public announcement that Specialist Health Services, a company founded and managed by local GPs, has won the contract to run the doctors' practice on behalf of the NHS starting on 1 May 2013.

There will be no change in service initially but as from July longer opening hours, from 8 am to 8 pm will be introduced with GP services available seven days a week.  For the first time surgery patients will benefit from being able to book an appointment online and have the opportunity to be reminded of their appointment by text if they wish.  This is excellent news as it will simplify and speedup what often can be a tedious process, restricted by the surgery's current opening hours.

I welcome the announcements and look forward to meeting the new GPs when next I or my family need an appointment.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Suspected Subsidence Highlighted by Pothole

Pothole in conned off part of  The Warren
This afternoon a Ward resident raised his concerns with me about a particularly hazardous pothole around which the road appears to be subsiding for a length of about 3 m.  It is near the end of The Warren in an area that has had problems before.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) officers were quick to respond to my phone call and follow-up email, sending out an officer to put cones along the road to warn drivers, runners and other road users.  I met the officer at about 5.30 pm whilst I was taking a look at the problem for myself.

Peter Brett Associates, who are consultant engineers to RBC, will be sending out engineers tomorrow morning to assess the situation.

I am always happy to take up concerns of residents and help get appropriate, timely action so do let me know if you spot something RBC should sort out.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Foster Carers & Armed Forces Excluded from Housing Benefits Reform

Further to my previous post on the under occupancy reforms to Housing Benefits (the so called "bedroom tax") the following statement has been made today by the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions Iain Duncan Smith MP setting out further protection for foster carer families and armed forces personnel living in social housing:

Written Ministerial Statement 
Tuesday 12 March 2013 
Housing Benefit reform 

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP): I am pleased to announce that we intend to lay amending regulations to clarify the size criteria rules for two specific groups of Housing Benefit recipient, Foster Carers and Armed Forces personnel. 

People who are approved foster carers will be allowed an additional room, whether or not a child has been  placed with them or they are between placements, so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months. 

Adult children who are in the Armed Forces but who continue to live with parents will be treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations. This means that the size criteria rules will not be applied to the room normally occupied by the member of the Armed Forces if they intend to return home. In addition Housing Benefit recipients will not be subject to a non-dependent deduction, i.e. the amount 
that those who are working are expected to contribute to the household expenses, until an adult child return home. 

The intent of the policy was that by using Discretionary Housing Payments, the estimated 5,000 foster carers and rather fewer Armed Forces personnel groups would be protected. We have agreed with local authority organisations improved arrangements through these regulations that puts these protections beyond doubt. 
The changes will apply to tenants in both the social and private rented sectors. 

I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that Discretionary Housing Payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with long term medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom. 

Going forward I will continue to closely monitor and adjust the implementation of the policy, including an independent evaluation by Ipsos MORI, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and the Institute For Fiscal Studies to ensure that the needs of these groups are effectively addressed in the longer term. 

This ensures this policy focuses on the key aim of bringing housing benefit expenditure under control. Under the previous Government, housing benefit almost doubled in 10 years to £20billion, with households living in homes that are too big for them, whilst there are 2 million households in England on waiting lists, and 250,000 families living in over-crowded accommodation. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Labour Ignores Plight of Families Suffering Overcrowding


Political posturing has been rife by Labour both nationally and locally over the so-called “Bedroom Tax”. 

At last week’s Council meeting I and my Conservative colleagues spoke up for the 1,264 families on Reading’s Housing waiting list suffering from overcrowding. The under occupancy reform (“Bedroom Tax” as detractors have nicknamed it) is designed to ensure that the social housing stock is best used to relieve over-crowding and free up larger Council houses for families who desperately need the accommodation.

However, at Full Council Labour used their majority to vote through a motion to write to government asking for the under occupancy reform to be suspended because they said it isn’t fair on the 1,008 households in Reading’s social housing with a spare bedroom.

There are 9,636 families and individuals on Reading’s Housing waiting list, many having been on it for a number of years.  The overwhelming majority of residents I’ve spoken to support making better use of the town’s limited supply of social housing to help tackle the backlog.  Despite this Labour wants to stop the Government’s reform which will get more families into housing right for their needs.

I met with Mrs Chidsey who together with her husband decided to downsize last year from their 2 bed Council bungalow to a one bedroom maisonette.  Mrs Chidsey told me she and her husband didn’t need all that space.  They moved so a disabled person with a carer or a family could benefit.  Their utility bills are cheaper now and they are happy they made the right decision.  She told me their daughter lives next door to a man who has a 3 bedroom council house all to himself.  In her opinion this is a waste when there are families out there squashed into tiny flats or temporary housing.

At the Council meeting I proposed some exceptional cases which officers should prioritise for using the town’s share of the £155 million Government pot for Discretionary Housing Payments.  These are households needing a spare bedroom because of medical or disability needs, residents registered to foster but temporarily without a foster child; residents with a grown up child living with them who is away on active duty with the Armed Forces.  Labour ignored our reasoned argument and our proposal to work cross-party for the good of residents.  It was very disappointing.  I, and all the families suffering from overcrowding, would like to know how Reading’s Labour administration proposes to deal with the massive waiting list.

Cllr Tim Harris, Conservative Group Leader said, “Labour’s motion did nothing to help a single household on the Housing waiting list.  Instead all they are doing is scaring vulnerable residents.  It is totally unacceptable behaviour; especially given they don’t know all the facts nor have any idea how to deal with the problem of people in over-crowded housing.  It shows them caring more about political point scoring than the needs of residents.”

It is worth highlighting that the under occupancy reform only applies to working age residents.  If a resident or household has a spare bedroom under this reform they have the following choices:
  1. Make up the difference with the reduction in their Housing Benefit so as to keep their spare room
  2. Apply to the council for financial help to make up the difference if losing their spare room will cause them severe hardship
  3. Ask the council for permission to rent out their spare bedroom. NB Their Housing Benefit would only be adjusted after the first £20 of rental income
  4. Ask RBC permission to buy their council property.  NB the government has put up the subsidy to £75,000 for those eligible for the Right to Buy scheme
  5. Downsize to accommodation which meets their needs