This week with Brian 9 to 16 March 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including small boats, Match of the Day, a left-wing comma and an Oxford one, 170 trillion pieces, a benevolent squire, “two cups” Jinping, two leaking shoes, plastic addiction, peacefully grazing on the lawn, a home-loving crane, miracles, budgets, disaffection, discounts, re-branding, cheese graters, worms and £88.88.

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

• If a Conservative PM senses that the party needs to put its internal differences aside and rally behind the cause then a tub-thumping speech on something relating to immigration usually does the trick.  Rishi Sunak has been all over this recently with promise that he’ll “stop the boats”. Until recently, any mention of small boats making their way across the Channel would make us think of Dunkirk: no longer.

[more below] 

I don’t know know much about how the asylum and refugee system in the UK works. If Kier Starmer is right, then the government doesn’t either, as he maintains that fewer than 1% of those arriving in small boats have had their applications processed (which could, of course, be a reason why HMG wants to control this). Inevitably, there have been accusations that it offends numerous tenets of decency and compassion. Even MotD presenter Gary Lineker has got involved, and had his knuckles rapped by the BBC for doing so. The Guardian says that this policy is based on what it claims is a failed system in Australia and holds out no hope for its success. The Conservative MPs seem to like the idea, though, and a bill is expected to pass through parliament in the coming months. And, as we all know, once you pass a law against something then the problem immediately disappears…

To me, any solution seems like trying to come up with a different kind of umbrella when what’s really needed is to stop it raining. This is, however, beyond our power. Unless life in a large number of countries can be made significantly better and safer, some people will want to try their luck elsewhere, whatever the risks. The USA was built on exactly this dynamic (though, of course, it had rather more room). Rightly or wrongly, the UK is seen by many as a good placeo (this article on the Info Migrants website is one of many that offers some reasons for this perception. It also points out that, if benefit income were the main factor, several countries including Germany and Greece would be more attractive). If the fact that our country is diverse, is fairly humane and tolerant and has a decent benefits system, I suppose we should be flattered.

• Civil servants are up in arms over claims that Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accused them of being part of the problem. A recent email sent to thousands of Conservative supporters blamed “an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour party” for the government’s failure to stop Channel crossings. I haven’t seen the email, but The Guardian, The Huffington Post and the BBC all agree that these were the exact words used (mind you, they might be seen as part of the problem as well). The civil servants have demanded an apology.

Three things strike me about this. The first is that, although the BBC said it was “signed by” the Home Secretary and The Huffington Post that it was sent out “in her name”, it now appears that, according to the BBC, she “did not see that email before it went out.” Does that mean that she can as a result dissociate herself from what it said? I appreciate that busy politicians can’t see everything that they nominally sign but most of these would be formal or comparatively unimportant matters. This one claimed to reveal her own state of mind on a burning topic and, moreover, accused Whitehall of connivance in the problem. Didn’t someone think to show it to her?

Second, phrases like “left wing” are largely relative. I suspect that most people in the country, including many in her own party, would be so described by her. A term of opprobrium loses much of its force if it includes practically everyone.

The third is that the phrase “an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour party” doesn’t actually accuse the civil service of being left wing (I’m not sure if this is the aspect they are most annoyed about, however). Look at where the comma is. The “left-wing” only definitely applies to lawyers. You could argue that it applies to the other two (certainly it does to the Labour Party, but its position is well enough known). “An activist blob of the Labour Party, and left-wing lawyers and civil servants” would leave no doubt, though Jacob Rees-Mogg would deplore the Oxford comma. It’s therefore unclear if SB thinks the civil service is left-wing or not. However, we now know she didn’t even see the email.  Does someone at her HQ think that she believes that but phrased it this way to give her a bit of an out? Or was it just sloppy writing, as the unexpected, almost childish, use of the term ‘blob’ also suggests? As with so many political questions, the more you probe, the more the truth seems to recede.

One thing’s for sure: she must by now be used to being generally unpopular. Home Secretary is one job when you can never, ever have anything but bad news to deal with. The “stop the boats” campaign might have led to some flag waving from the benches behind her but it seems unlikely that this euphoria (which is not widely shared) will last for long. The problem is effectively insoluble given the way the world is going.

Scientists have estimated that there are 170 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, with the Med, the Yellow Sea and the attractively named Great Pacific Garbage Patch being the three worst-affected areas. This article in National Geographic has some particularly harrowing facts as to the extent of the problem. All this started only about a hundred years ago and has increased pretty much exponentially since, with half of all plastics ever made having been manufactured since 2007. Every year, a further eight million tonnes find their way into the oceans. Some of these will take over 400 years to break down. Even large pieces are very hard to gather once at sea and this becomes impossible when they’ve been broken down into micro-particles. A vast amount of research points to this causing numerous nightmares for wildlife of all kinds, ranging from turtles or whales being entangled in discarded material right down to declining egg yields in oysters. It’s a colossal problem and one in which pretty much every human on the planet is to some extent complicit.

The trouble is that plastic is incredibly useful. It has all the advantages of its drawbacks, being waterproof, durable, light and available in a massive range of variations. Leaving aside all the rigid plastics in things like pens, computers and spectacles, it’s virtually impossible to receive or send a parcel or make a purchase at a supermarket without encountering some kind of flexible plastic wrapping. Moreover, this – unlike most of the rigid stuff – ceases to become useful as soon as we’ve unpacked what it contained (which may itself be plastic). Then what do you do with it? To some extent, plastic is a bit like asbestos and perfectly safe as long as it’s in use. The problem comes when we try to dispose of it.

The UK is a prosperous, centralised, compact and well-organised country and yet even our best performing local authority (St Albans) in 2020 recycled only two-thirds of its re-cyclable refuse. For those in Blackpool, St Helens, Newham or Tower Hamlets the figure is less than 20%. Statistica claims that in 2022, the UK recycled only about 44% of its plastic waste. (It’s uncertain how much of the other 56% might end up in the sea but, given our geography, a fair amount.) If 44% doesn’t look great, it gets worse elsewhere: the global amount of plastic recycled is, according to the OECD, a mere 9%.

In retrospect, it seems extraordinary that it’s only in the last couple of decades that we’ve given any thought at all to disposing of the by-products of energy (in the case of fossil fuels) or actual stuff (in the case of plastic) on which the way of life of the majority of the population is increasingly predicated. A final irony is that, as regards global warming, plastic is not the biggest enemy. Plastic bags, if re-used, are probably more efficient than paper ones, if these are only used only once. Food production – which Our World in Data suggests accounts for perhaps a third of greenhouse-gas emissions – would probably rank even worse without plastic as so much of it would not be kept fresh. Indeed, without plastic, it would probably be impossible to feed the world’s population of about eight billion, well over half of whom live in cities. These urban landscapes may be built from steel, brick, concrete and glass, but they are built on plastic. Without the stuff, life as we know it wouldn’t last for a week; and probably not a lot longer elsewhere.

The problem seems less a question of weaning ourselves off plastic use – which is probably harder than quitting fossil fuels – than of working out how to dispose of it. A solution may in time arise but this isn’t going to work if most of it is slowly dividing, but not decomposing, in the ocean. We perhaps need to be constantly reminded that it’s a problem that needs to be fixed, in which case it needs to be on dry land, probably visible and certainly easily accessible. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…

• Another more-or-less full house at the Valley Film Society this week to see Downton Abbey: A New Era. This is likely to be the last outing for the franchise as carrying on without Maggie Smith’s Dowager would be worse than Jeeves and Wooster without any aunts. Like many others we were suckers for the TV series. This sort of thing is not to everyone’s taste, but to criticise it for being elitist, escapist and nostalgic, as some have done, is slightly beside the point as these are exactly the things Julian Fellowes set out to do. The film itself makes full use of two stunning locations, each of which is the setting for two preposterous but enjoyable plot-lines. The French-based one could have been devised by Nancy Mitford, while the one set back at Grantham HQ was a mash-up of Singing in the Rain and Pygmalion. Very well done, though and worth a watch if you fancy spending a couple of hours in a version of 1930 in which the squires were benevolent and everyone knew their place.

• Those watching secretive and tightly controlled regimes such as those in China, Russia and North Korea are ever on the lookout for small signs that might betray who is where in the pecking order. For these three countries, no one can be in any doubt who’s the top dog, though it doesn’t do any harm for the leader to emphasise this now and then. China’s supremo, for instead, was recently spotted at the National People’s Congress – probably the world’s largest rubber stamp – with twice as many beverage containers as any of his underlings. To me, he’ll now always be Xi “two cups” Jinping.

• “Tightly controlled” is certainly not a term that can be used to describe HS2’s finances. Opinions vary as to what the whole thing might cost, but figures have been suggested that are north of the psychologically important £100bn mark – when the number of numerals taken to write out a number itself runs into double digits, you really have to sit up and take notice. This article on the BBC website says that “construction is to be delayed in a bid to cut costs.”

A strange thing about HS2 is that the less miles of line are proposed to be built, the more expensive the project seems to be. The extension to Leeds was canned in 2021; these latest delays are likely seriously to slow down work between Birmingham and Manchester; while New Civil Engineer suggested last month that the East Midlands leg may be scrapped as well. This just leaves a railway line running initially from a derelict area of NW London to Birmingham, opening in about ten years. Meanwhile, the vast beast that is Project HS2 has been grazing peacefully on the Treasury lawn for many years now and this delay is only likely to prolong its stay. I’m sure there are many people who believe that this is the best use of £100bn to spend on our creaking railway system: it’s just that I’ve never met any of them.

• The world’s weather is increasingly erratic and many people on the planet would probably happily trade our often gloomy but generally not life-threatening climate for what they have to endure. None the less, all experiences are ultimately subjective and personal and I can only live in the weather which is around me at the time. On Wednesday it was sleet from above and slush below. One of my email correspondents that day observed that “sleet is the disappointing second LP after the glorious first album of Snow.” I’ll go with that. As for slush, it’s a good way of finding out how many of your shoes leak (aside from indoor shoes and walking/gardening boots I really have only one pair which are used for all intermediate purposes). Today, while leaving the Hungerford Leisure Centre, I discovered that both the left and the right have holes in them…

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

Budget politics and the politics of the budget

West Berkshire Council’s budget was agreed on 2 March. I understand that pre-meeting cross-party discussions took place to avoid some of the unedifying procedural car crashes which had attended earlier Full Council meetings on this matter. The occasion was summed up by WBC’s Deputy Leader Graham Bridgman in his recent ward newsletter as follows: “agreed procedures, and a lack of any amendments proposed by the Liberal Democrat opposition, meant that the meeting took far less time than in previous years – just over three hours, including breaks and public questions on budget items.”

The Green Party, however, put in eight amendments. Normally such gestures are just that – opposition amendments are proposed, given a cursory debate with some political grandstanding and then defeated. On this occasion, however, four of these (providing funding for urban trees, watering these in case of drought, wildflower verges and a new road safety officer to implement the School Streets programme) were accepted by the administration. Another, regarding the Watermill Theatre, was rejected seemingly only because WBC would rather wait until the results of discussions involving MP Laura Farris were known.

None the less, four out of eight ain’t bad. Councillor David Marsh told me on 3 March that “this is the first time since the Conservatives took control of the unitary authority in 2005 that any opposition amendments to the budget have been successful.”

A couple of days later, a Lib Dem spokesperson explained their party’s lack of motions by saying that “this is a Conservative budget for a Conservative programme which we believe won’t be followed by the incoming Council in May. We know [the Conservatives] will vote down any amendments as you always do, so it really isn’t worth time spent preparing them when time is better spent listening to voters.” Certainly the “as you always do” can now be disproved. There’s a feeling that the larger of the two opposition parties (the Lib Dems currently have 16 members as against the Greens’ three, with 24 Conservatives) missed a trick and was put on the back foot by the evening’s unexpected turn of events.

Why, given their normally comfortable majority, did the Conservatives decide to accept the Green’s amendments? There are, I think, three reasons. First, a glance at the matches above shows that, if both the opposition parties voted together on an issue, the Conservatives would only have a majority of five. Something between three votes against and six abstentions would have changed the result. Given the current mood in the WBC Conservative camp (on which more in the section below) a few members voting with the opposition could’t be ruled out. With an election looming, a defeat on even one budget amendment would have sent a poor signal.

The Conservatives were, I think, pretty smart in this. By accepting these amendments from the Greens they not only staved off a possible unedifying defeat but also accomplished two other things. The first was to show that they were happy to endorse and fund extra spending on environmental measures; the second was that they can, between now and 4 May, more easily refute claims that they never pay any mind to opposition proposals. Both of these will be useful cards to play when the battle starts in earnest.

The bonus ball they received was that the Lib Dems did not submit any amendments. This enabled the administration to make both these points without conceding that their major opponents might actually have any good ideas. (They do have some very good ideas, as do all the parties. None of them acquires a monopoly of truth by dint of the ballot box, though we must all accept that gives the victors the right to make most, though perhaps not all, the decisions.)

The Greens were, I think, pretty smart as well, in that they engaged with the pre-meeting discussions and proposed a number of amendments that were positive, reasonable in scope and cost and which jived well with the popular mood, particularly given the mood in the Conservative ranks.

Council Leader Lynn Doherty described the budget as “carefully thought-out and balanced” and which “properly funds the services that improve our neighbourhoods and everyday lives” and “continues to invest and focus on the priorities of our residents.”

All this is, of course, but one salvo in the election battle. There are a number of things which I think the current administration has done well, and I have said so. By other tests, however, it comes out less strongly. This section is, however, about the budget meeting: so I shall stop here for now and return to the other matters in a future column.

Disaffection in the ranks

There’s an article in Newbury Today with the headline “War breaks out among West Berkshire Conservatives as councillors confirm they will not stand in May elections.” My only criticism of the article (or perhaps just of the headline) is that it suggests this is a recent development. It isn’t.

As anyone who has been following these and other columns over the last few years will know, I have been reporting on the increasing estrangement between two WBC Conservative councillors, Claire Rowles and James Cole, and the party which they represent. This interest is partly because we cover life in and around Hungerford particularly closely, and both of them are currently ward members for Hungerford and Kintbury. It’s also because I’ve usually found myself in agreement with them on issues on which they’ve chosen to make a stand. They’ve also been excellent and principled advocates for their residents, which is after all the main part of the gig they got elected to do. Doing all this has at times required an independence of thought and action which has brought them into conflict with their party. They will not be re-standing for office in May. This will be a loss to WBC but also to the residents of their ward. However, it’s good that a high bar has been set for the I’m sure excellent members who will be elected to replace them.

I know Conservative councillor Andrew Williamson far less well, mainly because he represents a ward (Tilehurst and Purely) in the extreme east of the district, which we do not cover. I had a phone chat with him on 8 March and he confirmed that, after having been persuaded to stand by local residents, he had been unprepared for the peculiar nature of a political council when he had not previously been a member of any party. I’d add that I received today one glowing testimonial about him from a WBC Councillor although this person was not a member of his party.

Before you start thinking that this is an anti-Conservative diatribe, you’re wrong. Whichever party was in power under the cabinet system (which most councils follow) could easily be in the same situation, and I suspect that many are. I have not been, am not and never will be a member of any political party. I have done my best to look at WBC’s work over the last four years and call what, in my opinion, is good and what is bad. The problems that these three, and perhaps other, members have faced has nothing to do with the inherent behaviour of one political party but with the way in which local party politics works. I tried to explain in this article why I think that most such political behaviour at this level is not only corrosive but also irrelevant.

Much has been said and written about how a wider range of people need to be attracted into local democracy. Many of these will come from a background in business such as – to pick three at random – construction, insurance or the law, where decisions are arrived at as a result of negotiation rather than imposed by idealogical supremacy. There is very little that needs to be ideological about a council like WBC but much that needs to be arrived at by negotiation. It seems, however, that some important aspects of many councils’ decision-making ignores this aspect. I admit that, from everything I’ve heard, there’s a good deal of cross-party work, although (wrongly, in my view), this usually cannot be reported. The overall dynamic, however, seems to be an idealogical one. This has little relevance to an organisation which is, let’s face it, primarily a provider of local social care.

No one has a monopoly of the truth. If any candidate tells you that they do, or their party does, they’re lying. Truth cannot be proved at this or any other political level. What can be are integrity, effectiveness and independence of thought, even if these conflict with political orthodoxy. Your councillors are elected by you, not by their party. Make sure they live up to this. The colour of the rosette is irrelevant.

Five questions

None the less, rosettes are being worn. Blue and orange ones will predominate in West Berkshire (and the Vale) but there will also be a fair few green and a smattering of red ones. I’m not aware of any independents, an almost extinct beast in this part of the country. Only one has ever been elected to West Berkshire Council, in 2000. That aside, only the Tories and the Lib Dems had ever won any seats there at all until the Greens picked up three in 2019. As these sortable series of charts show, it’s not unusual to have all four main parties (as well as independents and “others”) represented on councils. Only one, Barking & Dagenham, has no opposition members at all.

All candidates standing in West Berkshire should by now have received an email from me, via their party HQ, inviting them to answer five apolitical questions which will help introduce them to the voters on equal terms. If you are a candidate and haven’t received these, please get in touch with your local party. Once I have enough to get started (I’ve had about 25 replies so far) I’ll arrange them by ward with all the candidates’ answers set alongside each other (and without any comment from me).

Please note that I need to hear from all candidates individually, not en bloc from their party HQ.

If you are standing as an independent, please contact me at brian@pennypost.org.uk.

BR (aka LRIE)

I recently received a press release from West Berkshire Council saying that the “London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) is to be renamed Bond Riverside after an identity competition.” This was “a competition aimed at 16 to 18 year olds in which schools and colleges across West Berkshire were invited to put forward their visions for the rebranding of the London Road Industrial Estate. The objective was to involve a younger demographic in the process of creating a new identity for the industrial estate as well as give them real-world project experience.”

Congratulations to Molly, Xander, Toby and Denis from Newbury College for coming up with the name that was selected by the four-person panel. The “Bond” in the name refers to author Michael Bond, creator of the world’s second-greatest fictional bear (sorry, Michael, but there’s only one Winnie-the-Pooh) who was born in Newbury in 1926. Many feel that his connection with the town has been insufficiently celebrated. Michael Bond and, through him, the well-meaning but accident-prone Paddington, will now have the former LRIE as their memorial.

My only other observation is that throughout the many long years of unsuccessful efforts to turn it into something more mixed-use, the area was known as an industrial estate. Last year, however, London Road Industrial Estate was re-visioned (as an industrial estate), so it seems ironic that “industrial estate” has now been removed from the name.

I’d also like to support WBC leader Lynne Doherty’s comment that “I hope that this can be a gateway into future local projects involving more collaboration between us and our local young people in school or college.” Councils are often seen as remote, faceless and mysterious entities by the residents (over whom they wield sometimes more, and sometimes less, power that these residents might believe). This is particularly the case with younger people, who are, of course, going to be around when the long-term consequences of any decisions the council makes now become apparent. Getting local students involved in a re-branding exercise is a small step but it’s one in the right direction.

Seventeen homes

On 6 March, West Berkshire Council announced that a new £6m scheme will enable a mix of flats and houses to be purchased, jointly funded by West Berkshire Council and the government. £2.5m of the expected £6m cost of the project will come from the Government’s Local Authority Housing Fund.

As WBC’s statement explains, “in recent months West Berkshire has seen Ukrainian families arrive in the district following Russia’s invasion of the country. Within the district there are around 500 Ukrainians living with local hosts, but there’s increasing pressure on housing displaced people with other options, such as a hotel, being used. There are currently 30 families (161 people) living in a hotel. In the past couple of years, the district has also taken in a number of families as part of the Afghan resettlement scheme. Recognising the impact of resettlement schemes on local authorities, the Government has allocated £500m to English councils facing the most significant housing pressures.”

It is intended that this will fund the purchase of 17 dwellings: 15 will be one-, two- or three-bed homes while the other two will be four-bed ones. The government grant will cover 40% of the purchase price of the smaller homes and 50% of the larger ones, plus in each case up to £20,000 for renovation costs. WBC will fund the remainder, using a loan from the Public Works Loan Board. The move is intended, as the WBC statement described it, “to help address the immediate pressures as well as build a sustainable stock of affordable housing for the future.” 

In short, WBC will be picking up 17 homes, fully re-furbished when they’re finished, at about half price. In the short-term they’ll be used to ease the issue of refugee resettlement but will then be made available to people on WBC’s housing list. I spoke to WBC’s Housing portfolio holder Howard Woollaston about the initiative and he said that “with this amount of government subsidy, this should be cost-neutral at worst.” Much will depend on what the PWLB rates are at the time of taking the loans. he also pointed out that there was capital growth to factor in as a balance-sheet item.

It’s not yet been decided whether these homes will be taken directly under WBC’s control or transferred to a housing association such as Sovereign. If the former, this might mark the start of WBC becoming a home owner and home builder in its own right. As I’ve mentioned several times before, something of this nature seems to be needed to address what many agree is a severe shortage of affordable homes in the district and one which the current reliance on the private sector for homebuilding seems unable to address.

One reading of the figures behind the scheme suggest that the government might have recognised this as well. The scheme is a £500m one from which WBC is getting £2.5m. This is 0.5% of the pot. However, WBC’s population is only about 0.25% that of England and Wales, so the district appears to be doing twice as well from this as its population suggests. Two possible inferences follow from this: either West Berkshire has accepted more refugees proportionate to its population than have other districts; or, as suggested above, Whitehall has recognised that WB’s social-housing problem is twice as acute as the national average. 

The idea of WBC rolling up its sleeves and getting the spade out would certainly attract popular support if clearly presented by any party as an election pledge. One current problem is certainly that PWLB rates are currently at a historic high as a result of the Truss-Putin effect. These are, however, likely to fall perhaps later this year, following the likely downward direction of Bank of England interest rates. The cheaper the money is, the more viable such schemes become. There should also be no risk here either of the new housing company going spectacularly off the rails nor of a large-scale default on the loan – West Berkshire is not Croydon, Thurrock or Slough and I’m sure has no desire to emulate them.

Other news

• The Department of Education has validated a phonics scheme developed in West Berkshire for national use. Read more here.

• West Berkshire Council will receive £353,000 from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in Round 1 of the Planning Software Improvement Fund to begin a major improvement to its digital services and systems used by applicants and the planning service. Read more here.

• West Berkshire Council has announced that it is “cracking down on littering and fly tipping” in the district – easier said than done but the aspiration is a sound one. Click here to read more on this.

• WBC is also “pleased to announce that we have been allocated just under £1.4 million to directly help local households most in need with essential food and energy costs via the Household Support Fund (HSF). To date, this brings our total HSF allocation to £3,474,248.15.” Read more here.

• A reminder that bus journeys across West Berkshire are capped at £2 for a single journey and £4 for a return journey until 30 June 2023 as a result of a government-funded scheme.

War.Art.Hope is a thought-provoking exhibition that showcases the work of three Ukrainian artists. Click here for more information.

• West Berkshire Council is “inviting residents and businesses across West Berkshire to take part in its draft Local Transport Plan survey by providing your views on our draft priorities and objectives to improve transport facilities and travel options.” You can read more here. This closed at midnight on Wednesday 22 March.

• Seven local charities will share more than £15,000 following successful bids to the West Berkshire Community Fund. The fund is allocated annually by West Berkshire Council with good causes able to bid for additional funding to support specific projects.” For more information, click here.

• West Berkshire Council’s sustainable warmth scheme helps “to make homes cheaper, warmer and greener through funded energy-saving improvements.” More details 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.

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 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 Health and Wellbeing in Schools 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 animal of the week is this Sarus crane from Uttar Pradesh: having been nursed back to health by a farmer, the bird now rarely leaves his side.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of sewage, Basildon’s silent majority, disabled parking, pantomime night and council tax.

• 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, it’s the Song of the Week. Let’s go a bit ’70s West Coast in the company of Jefferson Starship’s Miracles.

• Which means here must be the Comedy Moment of the Week. James Ancaster’s diatribe against cheese graters normally works for me, so here it is.

• And we wind up with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is one (moderately) interesting way by which you could have £88.88 in your pocket? Last week’s question was: A man recently survived for 31 days lost in the Amazon jungle by eating what? The answer is worms. I don’t even want to think about that…

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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