This week with Brian 29 September to 6 October 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including the only show in town, total popular support, a proper defence, other problems, six ugly sisters, playing politics, feeling the pinch, canine stress detectors, surprising relationships, cost-of-living help, money in 7/8, Loadsamoney, inflating money, money owed and 1.4 trillion years.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening)

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• In news terms, there’s only one show in town at the moment: the so-called mini-budget. The word is a double misnomer. It’s not a budget as it doesn’t contain any costings. It’s also certainly not mini, in the sense that it’s had only a minimal or a minuscule effect. Two articles on the subject might be of interest: this one, by me (The market bites back); and this one from someone who is, unlike me, a financial grown-up – John Shepperd, the Economics Advisor for Butler Toll Financial Advice.

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• The Russian government has announced that the five-day referendum conducted in four regions of Ukraine asking the residents if they wanted to join Mother Russia have “secured almost total popular support.” And there was me hoping for life-edge Brexit-like result. There didn’t seem to be anything too much wrong with the way it was handled: or would you disagree?

It appears that – purely for reasons of security, of course – armed soldiers  would turn up, and turn up again if you were out, and ask you to say which way you wanted to vote. To save the residents the trouble, they would helpfully fill out the ballot form for them. How much better is this open, labour-saving and home-visit system than the secretive closed ballot in a draughty village hall that we have to put up with? I mean to say, you could get up to anything in a curtained voting booth and no one would be any the wiser. We all have our different democratic paradigm: this is Russia’s.

The other great news for these residents is that, as the regions are due to their free and fair mandate about to be incorporated into Russia, they will then be properly defended. The Ukrainian government clearly can’t do this: only a few months ago they were being over-run by a foreign army. That isn’t going to happen again, nuclear weapons if necessary being used to protect them.

Given all the love and support that has been lavished on these people it seems churlish for the West and everyone else to be complaining. After all, they’re Russians now – that’s what they said they wanted to be. Look, I’ve got the ballot sheets if you don’t believe me: “yes”, “yes”, “yes”, over and over again. They’re our people so we can do what we want with them. Capeesh?

• So, things could be worse here. All problems are, however relative and subjective. For many, these will include how they are going to pay fuel bills, buy food and cover the cost of their loans or mortgages. Click here to see some of the help that’s available in this area (several of these relate to national, rather than regional or local, initiatives).

• As I’ve mentioned a few times before, the matter of climate change is a perpetual Cinderella when it comes to news coverage. It is forever being shoved aside when its pushy, ugly and nasty step-sisters (Brexita, Coronavira, Borisa-Scandale, Putina, Inflatione and Trussonomica, to name just six) decide that they want to hog the limelight.

One of the tropes about greening-up is that it’s going to cost an obscene and impossibly amount of money.

Well, it’s not going to be cheap: but, as this excellent article in The Conversation where the bean-counters put it in the balance sheet depends on whether it’s regarded as an investment or a subsidy. If an investment (which is what it is, certainly now) then the expenditure makes a good deal more sense.

The article also challenges some other long-held views. Green energy will make electricity more expensive – wrong. Fossil fuels don’t receive subsidies – wrong. More jobs will be lost than will be gained by switching to sustainable supply – wrong.

The other point it makes is that the cost of doing nothing, or not enough, is an estimated £7 trillion. This has probably risen a bit as a result of the insurance claims triggered by the latest hurricane in Florida. Yes, I know  I’m assuming that this was caused, or made as bad as it was, by climate change. However, I don’t think I’m too out of step with prevailing scientific views so I think I’ll risk the wrath of the climate-change deniers just this once.

• If you do a web search for “quotes about politicians” or similar you will be presented with a galaxy of epithets, few of them complimentary, about the people who are – through, democratic process, coup d’état, accident of birth or our sheer bad luck – in charge of things. If there is a way of organising matters other than by having political parties then no one has hit upon it.

Nationally, where really big decisions are taken, I can see that having various groups between which you can choose every five years or so makes a certain amount of sense. I’m far less convinced as to how effective useful or necessary this is at a local level, though. Click here to read my thoughts on this in an article called Playing Politics – which is, basically, what it amounts to most of the time.

• Apparently, dogs can tell whether someone is stressed from smelling their breath. That would work for me 100% of the time. If I get that close to a dog I am immediately stressed as I’m worried that it’s either going to bite me, try to mate with my leg or, even worse than either of these, lick me. I don’t know if either Kwasi Kwartang or Liz Truss have a dog. If so, these pets would currently be well advised to keep as far away from their owners as possible if they don’t want to get knocked flat out by the politicos’ stressed breathing…

Across the area

• News from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your district, county or borough council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

Inflation starts to bite

Everyone is feeling the pinch right now, including our local councils. The most recent meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Executive on 22 September had as its main item a financial summary: including the Treasury Outturn report, the agency notes on this ran to 55 pages 23 to 78). You can click here to see the document.

If you do a search for “inflation” in this the word crops up 33 times, which perhaps tell you all you need to know. Point 7.2, for instance, refers to the cost of construction materials likely to rise by 8 to 10% during 2022. Point 4.5 warns that there will be increased borrowing costs on capital works: for interest rates are going up as well. How many times is that phrase mentioned? 15.

Projects with have been approved and perhaps procured should be fine but there are likely to be a lot of long-worked-for and much-needed schemes which will need to be put on the back burner or ditched altogether.

Even more of a worry is what will happen to services. Many of these such as social care and education are statutory. Others like refuse collection, highways and libraries are also essential but the council has greater power to decide where things can be cut (with the latter, of course, we have been here before). Areas like arts, heritage and conservation are doubtless even more vulnerable. Planning we know is already under-funded (certainly as regards enforcement) and this financial gloom is unlikely to improve it.

At the very bottom of the pile are wholly discretionary matters like grants to voluntary groups. The sad fact is, as shown by the Community Response meeting in Newbury earlier this month, that these will need more funding rather than less if they are not to become completely overwhelmed.

Fortunately, some extra government money is already in place for councils to spend. The Household Support Fund, for instance, provides WBC with £694,000 to support vulnerable households most in need of help with rising living costs and free school meal vouchers. Some of this is ring-fenced for helping older residents. On 29 September, WBC announced that it allocated £50,000 each to Greenham Trust, Age UK Berkshire, Age Concern and the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire. This will “help them provide additional support to pensioners, including both new and existing users of those services who these organisations either already work with or those accessing their services for the first time.”

More of the same needed please, Ms Truss. Remember Covid? Once you turned matters over to local organisations, things started to work much better. I don’t see what this should be any different. In any case, it looks like you’ve got your hands full with other stuff at the moment…

Cost of living support hub in West Berkshire

A new Cost of Living Support Hub is being created to support residents facing financial hardship this winter. This will provide a single point of contact for residents struggling with the rising cost of living. It will provide advice as well as matching residents’ needs with support provided by local charities and voluntary organisations. It’s expected to open in the coming weeks, with more details about how to access it announced soon.

The new hub is being created by West Berkshire Council in partnership with Greenham Trust and the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire  and will see it work closely with the local community and voluntary sector.

Ahead of the launch in October, initial activity will include working with partners to map food providers and other voluntary sector support for residents affected by the cost of living to ensure a comprehensive range of support is available to refer residents to as required.

Speaking about the new Cost of Living Support Hub, Leader of West Berkshire Council, Councillor Lynne Doherty, said: “This new hub will provide a one stop shop for residents struggling with bills and wanting to find out what help is available locally. It will bring together different agencies, skills, knowledge and service provision to ensure residents are supported through a tough winter. Through the pandemic and the support provided to Ukrainian families we’ve seen what can be achieved when the community comes together and I’ve no doubt this hub will also make a difference for vulnerable residents.”

Chris Boulton, CEO of Greenham Trust: “This winter is going to be particularly hard for many people. Working closely and collaboratively with the council and voluntary sector, the hub will mean we can support local people across the whole community who need it the most as quickly as possible. In times of crisis, we need to act fast. This hub will do that.”

Volunteer Centre West Berkshire Director Garry Poulson says “We know that the voluntary and community sector will be pulling their considerable weight and assisting people and their families at a time of great stress and strain. This hub will seek to ensure that no one falls through the cracks and gets the help they need, be it emotional, practical or financial help via the dozens of organisations in West Berkshire that have an empathy with the plight of people in these  tough times”

The Cost of Living Support Hub will be the latest in a range of support for residents impacted by the rising cost of living. This includes:

  • A £694,000 Household Support Fund
  • A £100,000 Emergency Cost of Living Fund – support frontline charities to help residents
  • Launching a new online resource to help residents worried about paying bills find out about help available locally: https://www.westberks.gov.uk/cost-of-living

WBC’s environmental news

A bumper issue of WBC’s environmental newsletter this month: click here to read it.

Items covered include a look back at green September, energy advice for the home, free trees, a sustainable business webinar, bike clubs, ditching the car, a visit to the district’s recycling centres, food-waste collections, sustainable dining, a better bus service between Lambourn and Swindon (any chance of one between the Lambourn Valley and Hungerford?), and a message from the North Wessex Downs AONB.

Other news

• Over 3,000 children took part in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge in West Berkshire Libraries. The theme of this year’s one was “Gadgeteers”, a celebration of creative thinking and teamwork, which was developed by national charity The Reading Agency in partnership with the Science Museum Group. Read more here.

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in Berkshire.

Click here for the latest museums newsletter from WBC.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest Covid newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animals of the week are these ones that have created some surprising relationships between each other.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of more tales from the queue, dog areas, Eagle Quarter and rough justice.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So we’re into some quantitative easing with the Song of the Week. Money is the theme this week: and in my view probably the best song written about this tricky subject was by Pink Floyd. Just so you’re in no doubt as to what it’s about, it’s called Money. And here it is

• Please raise your interest rates for Comedy Sketch of the Week. Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney character back in the day was kind of funny: now his bailiff character is less so and probably about to happen to people given the way things are going. None the less, if only to escape to the past, here’s his routine from 1993’s Comic Relief.

• And so we end with a U-turn that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: To the nearest £10bn, what is the UK’s national debt? Last week’s question was: If you have a conventional Rubik Cube and make one turn every second, how many years would it take you to get through every possible combination? The answer is about 1.4 trillion years. That’s certainly as long as it took me to do it: don’t want to go through that again…

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area please click on the appropriate link

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale