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Local News Dec 7-14 2017

Including social mobility, league tables don’t lie (or do they?), two turn-ons in Thatcham, planning judgement in Kintbury, Universal Credit in Swindon, an award nomination in Boxford, a letter from CALA Homes, Funding consultations, Hungerford’s PP newsletter, police and roadwork updates, M4 closures, good causes celebrated, three local towns with something in common, a 100pt splash heading, green-bin charges, bees, crossing the line and deep-fried calamari.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

Roadworks updates. Click on the links for news regarding West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon. In particular, there will be roadworks on the A339 both north and south of the Robin Hood Roundabout until mid-October which will result in lane or road closures. Click here for information on forthcoming closures on closures, partial closures and delays on the A34; and here for the same on the M4.

• The recent full closure of the M4 between J13 and J12 will be the last for the time being as the work is proceeding ahead of schedule. Some full overnight closures of this section will be required and these will be publicised here and elsewhere..

Neighbourhood policing updates. For the Thames Valley Police’s ‘Your Local Area’ page generally, click here. For specific areas, click here for Hungerford and Lambourn; click here for Newbury Town Centre; click here for Newbury Outer; click here for Bucklebury and Downlands; click here for Thatcham, Aldermaston and Brimpton; click here for Wantage and Grove; click here for Wiltshire East (including Marlborough); click here for Swindon and other parts of Wiltshire; click here for Hampshire.

• Please click here for more about the tri-service station in Hungerford and policing in the area generally.

• A number of community minibus and car schemes provide transport services for – but not exclusively for – older and disabled people. You can click here to find more about the range of services (and volunteering opportunities) in West Berkshire. Click here for services in Wiltshire and Swindon.

District, town or parish council contacts. To view the contacts page for Hungerford TC, click here; for Newbury, click here; for Thatcham, click here. If you live in the Vale of White Horse area, click here (and here for Wantage); if you live in Wiltshire, click here (and here for Marlborough). For Swindon, click here.

• There has been quite a lot of publicity surrounding the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation Report, highlighted by the fact that the entire board resigned last week in protest at the government’s failures in this area. According to The Guardian, this “will be seen as a direct challenge to May’s vow in Downing Street to place fairness and social justice at the heart of her premiership,” a claim that I’d have thought was in any case becoming increasingly difficult to justify. The report itself looks at 16 indicators including education, employability and housing prospects of people living in each of England’s 324 local authority areas and highlights those areas where people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most and least likely to make social progress. The Commission was established in 2010 with a duty to assess progress in social mobility in the UK. The 2017 report can be found here. It’s a long-ish document, but the foreword on pp iii to viii is worth reading, as is the league table (yes, another one) on pp 167 to 175.

• The report doesn’t pull any punches. Britain is ‘deeply divided’; the geographical disparities in social mobility have been ‘neglected’; the government’s track record on social mobility has been ‘lamentable’; there is a ‘fracture line’ in our labour and housing markets; five million workers, mainly women, are ‘imprisoned’ in a low-pay trap; our professions are ‘remarkably unrepresentative’ of the public they serve; the connection between social class and educational success is ‘entrenched’; and overall the problem is ‘getting worse not better.’ And this is just from the first page of the foreword. It’s doubtless possible to quibble with some of the methodology and the periods from which the statistics were taken (as West Berkshire Council has done) but even a brief glance through the document suggests something we probably all suspect: despite numerous initiatives and hours of political rhetoric, where you are born and your family’s circumstances and not your aspirations, intelligence or abilities remain the biggest single factors in determining how well you will get on in life.

• Going back to the league table, football managers are fond of saying that these don’t lie. Councils, schools and other bodies affected by a low position are less likely to take this view. So, how have our councils fared? Basingstoke is 118 (out of 324), South Oxfordshire is 178, Swindon is 221, Wiltshire is 251, Vale of the White Horse is 256 and West Berkshire is 265 (not 317 as reported in the NWN). A spokesperson from West Berkshire was quick to point out (see this week’s NWN) that the report is ‘confusing as it uses data from different years’: I imagine that the Commission used the most recent reliable information it could get. The spokesperson goes on to cite several other reasons why the council was doing less badly than the report suggested or had improved since the period to which the figures referred. I can’t comment on the specifics of this, but presumably many other would make the same claim. 265 out of 324 is not a great result and the fact that our neighbours are in the same broad lower-mid-table area suggests that there is some geographical logic to all this. All but three of the top 20 were in London, which perhaps shows better than anything else  what is really going on in this country. At the other end of the scale, council leaders from West Somerset might want to look away now: your council came bottom. Again, there are probably several reasons why they are claiming this is unfair.

• The next round of funding cuts imposed by the government on local councils is unlikely to make this problem better. From 2019-20 the plan is that councils will be funded largely by the retention of business rates. This will surely make it even worse. If there is a relationship between a council’s ability to attract businesses and its problems of social mobility attainment then it’s probably an inverse one. If the government is going to address this by redistributing some money from rich councils which have, literally, more money than they need to others which have far less, then we seem to back to where we are now but starting from a much more inequitable basis. Maybe I’m missing something important about all this – please let me know if so.

• West Berkshire Council has already started a consultation process about the 2018-19 budget proposals: you have until 10 January 2018 to make your views known. It seems from this document that most of the £10m shortfall will be covered by a rise in council tax and by making the council ‘even more’ efficient. Three so-called frontline services will be affected, however, by far the most serious of which is cutting its funding to West Berkshire Citizens Advice from £120,000 to £40,000. This seems a particularly savage measure. I’m unsure what percentage of WBCA’s total funding this is; also of how this organisation is funded in other areas. For many people, the Citizens Advice is an essential shield against the occasional tyrannies of large organisations such as utility companies, banks and, indeed, local councils. As a means of making life still more difficult for some of the most vulnerable members of society this move could hardly be bettered. I shall be making this point when I respond to the consultation.

• One of the other revenue-raising measures proposed by West Berkshire is a charge for green-bin collections. There’s a good letter from Phil Wood in the Newbury Weekly News this week pointing out some of the drawbacks of this scheme. As with the Citizens Advice, I don’t know how this is handled in other council areas. Does anyone know?

• As well as the above-mentioned one, the letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes a question about whether plastic is recycled by West Berkshire Council, a suggestion that the Didcot to Southampton Railway be reopened, the proposal that West Berkshire is too small to be cost-effective and should merge with a neighbouring council, further examples of a postcode lottery for the council’s school transport policy and some Voltaire-like support for Stan Green’s regular contributions.

• The familiar December crackdown on drink- and drug-driving was announced this week by the local police forces.

• West Berkshire has been selected as one of  25 local areas in England for the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) campaign develop coordinated, designed to provide effective support for people experiencing multiple needs, made possible by new funding from the Big Lottery Fund. You can read more here.

• Please click here for the latest news from Hungerford Town Council.

• The recent Penny Post Hungerford contains a round up of recent events in and around the town, including a review of the Town Council’s activities (including the recent Full Council meeting), a report on the Christmas lights switch on, news from the High Street, the Rugby Club, Berkshire Age UK and Barrs Yard, reading recommendations and various tips for coping with Christmas as well as out 2017 prize quiz. You can see the newsletter by clicking here. If you do not receive it every month and would like to, please email penny@pennypost.org.uk.

• Since the above newsletter was published, Penny Post has received a press release from CALA Homes on the subject of the Salisbury Road development. The main part of this has been published in full here. Aside from the slightly odd description of the site being both ‘close to the centre’ and ‘on the southern edge’ of Hungerford, the only thing that immediately strikes me is the S106 payment, about £175,000 of which will be allocated to Hungerford Town Council for local causes. I’ve written before in this column about how S106 payments sometimes turn out, for one reason or another, to be rather less than was originally agreed. I hope that won’t be the case on this occasion. I also understand that were Hungerford to have had a neighbourhood plan in place (something which will be being discussed at an open meeting at The Hungerford Corn Exchange on Monday 22 January) then the Town Council would have been able to claim 25% of the total S106 payment, ie about £290,000.

• Meanwhile, in nearby Kintbury, HM Planning Inspectorate has upheld West Berkshire’s decision to refuse permission for a 72-home development as the exceptional circumstances for building on an AONB had not been demonstrated. I’m a bit confused by this: what exceptional circumstances were demonstrated with the same issue at the above-mentioned Salisbury Road site? You can read more on p19 (of the Hungerford edition) of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

• What do Marlborough, Wantage and Hungerford have in common? See a few paras down for the answer.

• We mentioned last week that there’ll be a public meeting in Great Shefford on Tuesday 12 December to discuss the flood alleviation scheme and the fundraising that will be required to make this happen. The venue has yet to be decided but will probably be either the primary School or the Village Hall. For more information, ask Ray at the Great Shefford Shop.

• Many of you will be aware that a stunning Roman mosaic was uncovered in Boxford earlier this year – click here for more. It’s recently been announced that this has been nominated for the Research project of the Year (2018) in the Current Archaeology Awards. You can vote for it (by 5 Feb 2018) by clicking here (the project’s official name is Bellerophon in Boxford: a mythological mosaic revealed).

• Please click here for the latest news from Newbury Town Council: and here to see NTC’s archive of monthly newsletters.

• There will be free parking in Newbury’s Kennet Centre and Northbrook multi-storey car parks on Thursday 14 December.

• Congratulations to all those who helped with the NWN Over 80s Parcel Fund last Sunday – see pp8-9 of this week’s NWN for a report and photos.

• Please click here for the latest news from Marlborough Town Council.

• The Christmas lights went on in Marlborough last week. We were unable to cover it, but fortunately Marlborough News Online did.

• The process of integrating Wiltshire’s health and social services – already agreed in principle by Wiltshire Council and the Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – is proving rather more complicated than either organisation anticipated. Marlborough News Online takes up the story. This related article talks about the ‘tough financial climate’ facing the country’s NHS services this winter.

• So, what do Marlborough, Wantage and Hungerford have in common (see above)? They both have a g in their names? Indeed, but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. They both have branches of NatWest Bank which are about to close? Sadly, yes. Hungerford’s will close in May next year, Marlborough’s in June and Wantage’s in May or June.

• Please click here for the latest news from Thatcham Town Council.

• A reminder that, if the weekend before last was anything to go by, the M4 closure next weekend (from Friday 8 December) will have a pretty horrible effect on the A4 between Newbury and Theale.

• Thatcham’s Christmas lights were turned on at 7pm on Friday 1 Dec with various entertainments taking place beforehand. There’s a full report on pp20 to 21 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

• Something else that has been turned on, or back on, in Thatcham are the CCTV camerasread more here.

• Please click here for the latest news from Wantage Town Council.

• If you weren’t able to make the Dickensian Evening in Wantage on 1 Dec, don’t worry – Penny did. Click here for a short video she made of the event.

• We all agree that bees are good, I think. Owners of these houses in Wantage may have another point of view…

• Any car parks operated by the Vale of the White Horse Council in selected towns will have free parking on certain days in the run up to Christmas: in Wantage, for instance, it’s every Friday. Click here for more.

• Residents of Swindon can click here for news of the current consultation about proposed changes to Swindon’s local plan. Responses must be in by 19 December.

• The Great Western Hospital is under pressure at present and has asked non-emergency patients to look at alternatives to tuning up at A&E.

• The recent launch of Universal Credit has come in for some criticism: here’s the view of the Swindon Tenants Campaign Group.

• I ran the production and editorial department of a travel-trade publishing company for several years and one of my great fears was that some temporary comment or instruction would slip through the proofing system and find its way into print. This is not one mistake but 25,000, if that’s the print run. It happened a few times, but none was as embarrassing as this one last week from the Cambridge News. I’ve often noticed that the larger the typeface, the less likely I am to notice a spelling mistake when proofing it. The more serious point that a former journalist on the paper made is that this might be the result of the fairly savage round of job cuts that the paper, like many others, has implemented recently. We need our local newspapers. Hopefully this error has helped boost its circulation.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: Hope and Homes for Children (thanks to the Christmas Wreath Workshop in Pewsey); West Berks Mencap, The Rosemary Appeal and the West Berks Therapy Centre (thanks to the 5k Santa run in Newbury); Wiltshire Air Ambulance and the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group (thanks to another 5k Santa run, this time in Marlborough); St Mary’s School, Marlborough (thanks to the Friends of Savernake); Majendie Hall Community Project (thanks to those who attended the bazaar at St Mary’s in Speen); Fir Tree School (thanks to West Berkshire Council); many charities in and around Hungerford (thanks to the Hungerford Town & Manor); Threshold Housing Link (thanks to Swindon New College student Harry Goddard); Great Western Hospital (thanks to Childs Farm); ASPIRE (thanks to the quiz at Brightwalton Village Hall last month)

• And so it’s time for the Song of the Week . This week’s is not a song but a piece of jazz by Loz Speyer (in whom I must declare an interest as we were at uni together but I hadn’t seen him for ages until we met at a reunion last week). Crossing the Line is not the kind of thing I normally listen to (more fool me) and is as lovely a piece of music as I’ve heard for some time. Give it a go.

• And finally the Quiz Question of the Week winds things up. We’ve had enough cricket questions (given the way the Ashes is going I’m pretending I don’t like the sport any more), so instead I’ll direct you to the Penny Post 2017 Quiz which contains a superb prize from the Queens Arms in East Garston. Take your pick from the 20 question on offer. Last week’s question also involved the Queens Arms and was taken from  a cricket-themed quiz there last month. The question was: between which two cricketers did the following exchange take place: Bowler (as a new batsman arrives at the crease): “I’ve been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate you, mate.” Batsman: “Looks like you spent them eating.” The answer is the South African Daryll Cullinan (the batsman) and the ever-hungry Australian Shane Warne (the bowler). Cullinan, by the way, was responsible for probably the most extraordinary reasons why a cricket ball had to be changed during a match: in a provincial game in South Africa in the 1990s he hit a six which sailed through the pavilion’s kitchen window and landed in a pan of deep-frying calamari.

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Brian Quinn

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  1. Timothy Clarke

    Hello Brian,

    Regarding green bin collection in Swindon – we pay £50 pa for a fortnightly collection of a large wheelie bin. It is actually 24 collections per year as two are missed in the new year. Hope this is useful. Tim

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