Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Question of Dignity

At Monday's Cabinet meeting I spoke on the Developments in Adult Social Care report.

First I commended the Conservative-led government for being the first to bring in a cap to the amount any individual will have to pay towards their residential care.  The limit of £75,000 will help many, many individuals and families here in Reading as well as across the country, by preventing them from having to sell off their own home to pay for their residential care when they are most vulnerable.

The announcement of the cap, made earlier this month, can be read here.

Then I moved on to speak about the Dignity in Care launch event, which my colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale and I attended on 22 January.
click on the above to enlarge

Organisations signed up to the Dignity Charter [see right - click to enlarge].  As you can see, it highlights common-sense but ever so important ways for professionals to treat the town's frail and vulnerable with the dignity they deserve.  [The Dignity Charter is in line with the government's Think Local Act Personal vision].

At Cabinet I said that it would do no harm for this to be extended to include treating everybody with dignity and respect!  I alluded that in just the last few weeks some Labour councillors have written disparaging remarks about officers: I commented that this is unprofessional and disrespectful, especially bearing in mind officers are in a very difficult position to answer back.

I expressed my hope to the Chair that she would agree her administration needs to set an example fit for all to follow.  Sadly, she didn't.

I was very disappointed with her and her Cabinet colleagues' reaction as it undermines the important work officers like Suzanne Westhead and her team have been putting in to improving care, raising awareness and getting service providers to demonstrate their genuine commitment to delivering a high standard of care with dignity at the heart of their respective services.

More details about Dignity in Care are on RBC's website here including a resource pack, monitoring procedures and training.

Peter Henley, BBC Political Editor South of England, was at the launch event and wrote this.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Future of Residential & Day Care in Caversham Heights

Arthur Clark Residential Home
At last night's Cabinet meeting the future of residential & day care in Caversham Heights was discussed.

The Arthur Clark Residential Care Home, which provides care for 24 residents plus 2 respite care beds is in need of £1 million improvements/refurbishment if it is to be brought up to modern standards.

Albert Rd Day Centre
The adjacent Albert Road Day Care Centre has a capacity of 20 - though currently a daily average of 13 clients. As it shares services with Arthur Clark, for the Centre to continue as a single entity officers estimate £400,000 would be needed to bring it up to a decent building standard.  It gives carers a life-line by providing them with a break from their important role.

The Director, Avril Wilson's report sets out the necessity to either temporarily close both buildings to carry out extensive refurbishment to bring them up to the new standards: or permanently close them both.

On behalf of the Conservative Group I said that any proposed closure needed to be handled incredibly carefully and sensitively, but even more so places like these where there are vulnerable, elderly residents.  Much has been learnt over the years here in Reading since the heartache caused by the closure process in 2002 of Wilton House and I said that I'd been reassured by my briefing with Avril Wilson last week as officers are very much aware of the issues at stake.

I raised the fact that moving frail elderly individuals can have a dramatic affect on their health so only when it is absolutely essential should this be done.  I acknowledged that a difficult decision has to be made in this instance and pledged my Group's support to help work this through.

The Conservative Group naturally would like Reading's residents to have excellent care and accommodation and noted that the private sector provides better accommodation at a reduced cost.

I asked that if the Labour administration decides on closure, that they put the utmost effort into:

  • Keeping residents, loved ones and staff fully informed and up-to-date
  • Keeping friend groups of residents together
  • Keeping residents close by and accessible to loved ones
  • Optimising the closure timing to minimise disruption to residents; and
  • Work with the local ward councillors and respective shadow spokesmen
Labour was grateful for the cross-party support and agreed the report's recommendation to go out to consultation, the results of which are expected in the summer.  You can read the full report here.

By the way, last week I'd asked Avril Wilson what the policy was about admitting residents into Arthur Clark and was pleased to hear officers had decided not to allow any new admissions whilst the consultation was taking place.  This is sensible - much better to put residents elsewhere until there is certainty over the future.  I asked if there was capacity elsewhere in Reading: the answer was yes.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Traffic Disruption in Reading

Over the next week severe disruption to traffic will be caused by road works in Reading.

This & next weekend Vastern Road will be closed in one direction which today has greatly impacted traffic over Caversham & Thames Bridges, as well as round the IDR.  Further details are available on RBC's website.  You will be best off on foot or two wheels if you want to get over one or other bridge!

From Monday part of Friar Street will be closed for up to 5 days.  The section between Greyfriars and Station Road will have emergency repairs to the damage caused by the wet weather, snow and ice.  Buses will be diverted.  Information on locations of temporary bus stops can be found at the bottom of RBC's page.  Friar Street should reopen late on Friday 22nd February.

30 Years Service at The Avenue School!

Jenny with Symon
It isn't often someone achieves 30 years of service, but that is what we celebrated with Jenny Hood at The Avenue School yesterday.

Jenny is a wonderful character, loved by all. Over her 3 decades at the school she has risen through the ranks and now is the Performing Arts Manager.

A party was laid on in the school's Square to celebrate her landmark achievement, catered for by members of staff with Jenny's family, ex-colleagues and friends, some current staff and me as her guests.

Symon Cooke, Assistant Head Teacher, took everybody back in time to Jenny's little known TV appearance on Crackajack. To everybody's great amusement Jenny relived the experience by answering an Avenue School-themed Crackerjack quiz.  It was no surprise though that she aced the Royals questions as she is a loyal Royals fan!
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For readers info, I'm the chairman of governors at The Avenue Special School.  Anyone coming through the doors cannot help but be impressed as the pupils and staff have an incredibly positive outlook on life and put all their energy into making the most of every day.  The building is fantastic too, though it is worth noting the school achieved its "outstanding" Ofsted rating at the old site before relocating to its current state-of-the-art premises in Conwy Close.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Caversham Heights News

A quick update on what's been going on locally in the last week or so (in no particular order):
Courtesy of Marc Dillon's website

  • The repairs and reinstatement of Westdene Crescent following the burst water mains have been finished.  The gas mains works are ongoing in Woodcote Way 
  • Potholes have been filled in: the worst was in Richmond Road, with Wincroft and Fernbrook Road also having been dealt with yesterday.  Although logically I'd hoped all the ones in Caversham Heights would have been done at the same time those in Shepherds Lane are yet to be tackled (though I've been assured they are scheduled for repair)
  • Last Saturday (9th February) the Warren & District Residents' Association held its first Valentines Ball.  The Crowne Plaza event was packed and we were all entertained by Marc Dillon - a past finalist of Pop Idol 2.  Final figures are awaited, but it looks as though a further £7,000 was raised towards rebuilding Mapledurham Pavilion!
  • Chazey Rd access
  • RBC's Park's Department, with help from the Probation team and local volunteers, has quickly and efficiently improved the woodland path and vehicular access from Chazey Road to Mapledurham Playing Fields.  Following a resident's concerns about the boggy condition of the vehicular access that I raised with officers, masses of wood chips were delivered and then spread by Probationers.  As you can see in this photo the vehicular access now looks attractive and usable
  • The environmental clear-up of Mapledurham Playing Fields has been postponed until Saturday 23 February.  Locals keen to help look after the woodland and playing fields are invited to gather at 9.30 am in the orchard area.  Tools and training are given.  If you'd like to come along do ring:  9473294 in advance
  • The Heights Primary School application: news is awaited as to whether the parent group behind this new Free School bid is going to be offered an interview.  Elsewhere in Reading the WREN secondary school bid group heard this week their interview date, so fingers crossed for both The Heights and the East Reading Secondary School bids [links in my list of other websites on the right-hand side]

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Reading Labour Reverts to Type

Local Conservatives have condemned the decision of Labour controlled Reading Borough Council to reject a grant of £700,000 from Central Government and instead raise local Council Tax by £1.2m.

Conservative Group finance spokesman, Cllr David Stevens, said; “At Westminster and in Reading Labour still fail to grasp the seriousness of the dire financial situation they have caused. They really think that borrowing more, taxing more and spending more will save the day. Only Conservatives fully realise how much has to be done to rebalance the public finances. The coalition at Westminster is making progress but it will be a long and painful haul. Meanwhile we have to protect an ageing population and find school places for Reading's children. When will Labour acknowledge their responsibility for creating the crisis in the public finances?”

Group Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “It is disappointing, but unsurprising, that Labour controlled Reading Borough Council revert to raising Council Tax. They invariably express their concern about pensioners and the low paid, but then hit them with more taxes. In levying this additional tax, Labour has chosen to reject a grant from the Government worth £700,000. Instead they land local residents with an additional bill of £1.2M. Was it not possible to find any other savings in the council's budget?”

It is interesting to note that whilst many people are suffering pay freezes or having to find additional part time work, the Council's wage bill is forecast to rise by almost £1M next year. After paying off one chief executive with an extremely generous severance cheque they now employ a new one on a salary and benefits worth more than that paid to the Prime Minister.

It is also worth noting that until the Conservative-led coalitions took control at Westminster and in Reading and introduced a Council Tax freeze, local taxes in Reading rose by more than inflation year on year, making it the most expensive Unitary authority precept in Berkshire.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Equal Civil Marriage Vote

At the start of  the 2012 Reading Pride march

I hope Equal Civil Marriage is supported today in the House of Commons as I believe anybody wishing to pledge to spend the rest of their life in a loving relationship should be able to marry their partner.

Society's view is ever evolving and it is time gay couples received the same dignity and respect for their long-term relationships as straight couples.  I have come to this view as I hope others not yet there will do so soon.

Update:  The vote was carried with 400 in favour and 175 against.  Here in Reading Rob Wilson MP abstained (read his statement) and Alok Sharma MP voted in favour. 

I watched much of the debate and was particularly moved by Mike Freer MP's speech.  He has had a partnership for the last 21 years and 6 years ago entered into his civil partnership. 

He said "My civil partnership was our way of saying to my friends and my family, this is who I love, this is who I am, this is who I wish to spend the rest of my life with...  I'm not asking for special treatment, I'm simply asking for equal treatment..."

"But sometimes leadership is doing what is right not what is popular and I congratulate the Prime Minster on leading on this."

Margot James MP and Nick Herbert MP also spoke particularly well and I agreed with what I heard of David Lammy MP's speech too.

It was right that MPs were given a free vote and across the board each MP chose to support, abstain or vote against.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Spurious Debate Over Primary Curriculum

At Tuesday's Council meeting the Labour Group tabled a motion asking for Mary Seacole not to be removed from the Primary Curriculum.  Their motion though had a fundamental problem, namely Mary Seacole is not on the Curriculum so the Secretary of State for Education cannot remove her!

In advance of the debate I did my homework and amongst other things spoke with the Head Teacher of my local primary.  I found out:

  • Current Curriculum: Primaries may choose to teach either "Victorian Britain" or "Britain since 1930"
  • Mary Seacole, Florence Nightingale and other notable individuals from the Victorian era are mentioned within the non-statutory guidance notes as examples of people who had significant impact on Victorian Britain about whom pupils may benefit from learning about
  • My local primary chooses to allocate one lesson in Year 5 to pupils to cover important Victorians including Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole
  • In the last few weeks there has been quite a commotion in the national media

I agree with what primary teacher Tim Taylor wrote in the Guardian: that "teachers view this whole kerfuffle as a non-argument."

He goes on to say "The challenge, for both schools and curriculum designers, is to take the vast amount that we want children to learn and make it meaningful, memorable and useful.  The danger at the moment is we could spend all our time squabbling and arguing over the details, while ignoring the really important questions."

I also share his view that "the Mary Seacole row misses the point because it focuses on the content of the national curriculum rather than its purpose.  It's an unnecessary diversion.  Good teachers will teach children about Mary Seacole if they study the Victorians not because they have to, but because she represents an important change in British culture and society."

At Tuesday's meeting I tabled an amendment on behalf of the Conservative Group that made sense.  We asked RBC to write to Reading's primary schools to encourage them to continue to opt to teach pupils about Mary Seacole within their structured coverage of history because she represents an important change in British culture and society.  The Greens, Lib Dems and Labour voted against, choosing instead to go with Labour's nonsensical original motion.

You can read today's coverage in the Post [on the left] by clicking on it.