This week with Brian 11 to 18 May 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including the blue wall crumbles, the cost of a crowning, sending out some invoices, a perfect description, Trump in court again, Jacob’s deadline, a new leader, modern love, catsurfing, a pool supervisor, a tongue-lashing, the last match and four champions.

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

• So, the local elections are finally over and the results have produced some very clear winners and losers, particularly in West Berkshire. The Conservatives had been in power since 2007 but control has now passed to the Lib Dems. You can read more on this and the contest generally in this separate article.

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• The coronation is also now behind us, the flags and bunting back in their boxes in a million attics while the orbs crown, sceptre and all the other paraphernalia are back behind lock and key in the Tower. Harder to pinpoint is how much it all cost.

So far, a lot of figures have been bandied about. This table from Statistica suggests something between £50m and £100m: a pretty wide range, although some put it even higher. This is at least double the most expensive previous one (George VI’s), when adjusted for inflation. Security seems to be the main reason for the increase. The world was, as events were to prove, a perilous place in 1937 but threats are vastly more sophisticated now.

Indeed, police on the day found threats in the most unlikely places. One of these was in the form of luggage tags carried by the anti-monarch group Republic. Despite the fact that Republic had been discussing its participation at the event with the Met for several months, this didn’t cut any ice on the day.

The luggage tags were seen as a means – though not a very good one – for the protestors to “lock on” to an object. In what Republic’s Leader Graham Smith called “an outrageous affront to democracy”, he and others were arrested and spent several hours in custody. The Met has since been forced to make, according to iNews, “a humiliating climbdown” over its handling of the affair. Issuing apologies is something its PR team is probably getting quite proficient in. The incident has also led to calls for the 2023 Public Order Act, the ink on which is barely dry, to be reviewed on the grounds that some of its provisions are dangerously vague.

As to the cost, this article in The Guardian suggests that the event should be paid for by the King, given that it’s recently become clear that his personal fortune would be more than able to cover this. Critics also argue that he is the monarch anyway and so doing something on this scale is pointless. It’s true we’re in a cost of living crisis but the money spent on the coronation would, if distributed, only work out at about £1 each (most of which would doubtless be swallowed by bank charges). There’s also the argument that this is a state event and that if it’s going to be done at all, it should be done properly. Furthermore, if Charles were to be told he was paying for it he could reasonably have demanded to call the shots in what form it took. It’s all too easy to imagine that he and the government might have had differing views on this.

There’s also the question of whether or not the coronation expenditure is in fact not a cost but an investment which would show a net profit. CNN quotes James Hardiman, a senior analyst at the British Retail Consortium as saying that “retail sales are usually boosted by large national events. Given the King’s coronation will be such a historical event, we expect an even larger uptick.”

Entertainment Daily has suggested a yet higher cost, referring to the Sunday Mirror’s estimate of  £250m. However, the article also quotes a “source” (whatever that means) as suggesting that “worldwide TV rights will more than cover the cost.” Whatever it is.

The answer to this may never be known. In any case, there are many definitions of what constitutes expenditure which could push the event into the black.  Is it really a good thing if some of this “profit” came from our buying millions of plastic Union Jacks, perhaps manufactured in China, many of which would be thrown away? One benefit was probably to the country’s hard-pressed hospitality sector, which has suffered a series of hammer blows in recent years.

Furthermore, although the gap between this coronation and the next will be less than the 70 years since 1953, these events don’t happen that often. Presidential inaugurations in the USA take place every four years. The Washington Post estimated that the 2017 US inauguration cost $175m to $200m – the majority of which was funded by the taxpayer – so putting it in the same ball park as last weekend’s festivities. I doubt US inaugurations do much for the country’s domestic or international tourism figures.

It certainly could be argued that the coronation was an unnecessary event: however, it seems to have been a popular one which for the most part brought people together and provided a welcome break from day-to-day life. The same can not be said of two other recent-ish public events with a similar price tag: the 2016 referendum and the 2017 general election. Neither was constitutionally necessary but took place only in an attempt to solve problems in the Conservative Party. If we’re going to be issuing invoices for discretionary events, then £250m to Tory HQ might be the place to start. 30 days settlement please, Rishi, or we’ll have to start charging interest – and, as you know better than anyone, those rates are going up all the time.

• The next invoice might be sent to Boris Johnson. This BBC article claims that “taxpayers are being billed up to £245,000 to cover the cost of Boris Johnson’s Partygate inquiry lawyers” and that he is “facing growing calls to cover the legal costs himself, as the bill for his defence team increased this week for a second time.” It appears that the Treasury did not agree to use public money to pay the bills but that Team BoJo relied on “a long-standing precedent that former ministers are supported with legal representation.” The BBC quotes the Treasury’s rulebook as saying that its approval must be sought for costs “which set precedents, are novel, contentious or could cause repercussions elsewhere in the public sector.” All four of these outcomes apply to the grotesque spectacle of a Prime Minister being forced to hire lawyers to defend himself against charge that he had misled parliament about lockdown-breaking parties.

• One of Boris’ claims was that he had “got Brexit done.” Leaving aside the question of Northern Ireland, there are also thousands of EU laws which are still on the UK statute books. The slightly odd plan cooked up by Liz Truss was that these would all automatically lapse by 31 December 2023 unless they were expressly retained. It now seems clear to the government that this just can’t happen in time and it has abandoned this deadline: one concern is that allowing them all to die would be to lose useful and uncontentious legislation.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is, predictably, furious about this. His reaction included a side-swipe at civil servants whom he effectively accused, en bloc, of being lazy and obstructive. A senior civil servant, David Penman, retorted by saying that imposing the deadline in the first place “was a bizarre way of doing business in government.” So far Jacob Rees-Mogg has not specified what terrible things he think will happen if these laws remain on the books from 1 January.

• All rather political this week, I’m afraid. Just to add to it, here’s a clip of the Speaker of the Commons doing what Speakers do best and giving a government minister (in this case Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch) a severe tongue-lashing for announcing details of the above-mentioned Ress-Mogg-baiting decision in the press before doing so to parliament. 

• The likely Republican candidate in the next US Presidential race will be someone who has been found guilty of sexual abuse and defamation. We kind of knew that anyway about Trump, but this has recently been established in court. The ex-PotUS and his supporters have, of course, claimed that this is all part of a great witch hunt.

As regards sexual abuse, there’s a lot of it about. First the CBI, then accusations against the Chairman of Tesco and, most recently, the resignation of Plaid Cymru’s leader after a damning report into the party. Who’s next…?

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

Reflecting on the election

The local elections are over and the results confirmed, indeed exceeded, the worst fears of the Conservatives. In West Berkshire, which we covered particularly closely, the Lib Dems took control of the council with a large majority. Both the leader and the Deputy Leader, as well as two other members of the Executive lost their seats. As for the other parties, the Green’s performance was surprisingly disappointing, being reduced from three members to two. Labour won its first ever place on the Council, Clive Taylor taking the second berth in Tilehurst Birch Copse by just one vote.

This leaves the overall results as 29 Lib Dems, 11 Conservatives, two Greens and one Labour. The administration therefore has more than twice as many seats as do the other parties combined. It remains to be seen if this will enable adequate scrutiny to take place. Here are a few thoughts on what happened and why

Reflecting on the coronation

On 10 May, Penny visited Educafé in Newbury, as she usually dies, on this occasion with Newbury College student Max Taucher who’s been doing some work experience with us this week. They started chatting to people about the recent coronation and they soon realised that the many and varied comments merited a separate article – so here it is

No water bonus

The Wantage Herald reports that two senior managers at Thames Water have said that they will forgo their bonuses this year over poor performance.

“Last year,” the paper says, “Thames Water chief executive Sarah Bentley received £496,000 in performance-related pay. Chief finance officer Alastair Cochran was paid £298,000 in performance-related bonuses for the period as well.” However, the firm said it had made “insufficient progress over customer service and sewage discharges.”

I’m not sure if these sums will be enough to cover the extra costs of clearing up part of our village of East Garston when a TW contractor managed to breach one of the company’s own sewerage pipes while they were at work laying a replacement. It’s not clear to me, nor to the East Garston Flood Food & Pollution Forum, how this could have happened in this age of digital scanning equipment and highly accurate maps. Perhaps the £794,000 saved from these two bonus payments will be enough to buy the right kit…

A new leader

Following the local election results and the defeats for both the Leader (Lynne Doherty) and the Deputy Leader (Graham Bridgman), the West Berkshire Conservatives have elected Ross Mackinnon as its Leader. He retained his seat in Bradfield with an increased number of votes compared to 2019 (601 v 543) but a slightly reduced share (57% v 62%). In the 2019-23 administration he was Executive Portfolio Holder for Finance and Economic Development.

In a statement released on 12 May, Councillor Mackinnon said that he would support the new Lib Dem administration when it makes the right decisions but would bring “robust and forensic opposition when it governs poorly.”

The full executive, shadow executive and committee memberships will be confirmed by 25 May when the Council has its Annual Meeting.

“It’s a huge honour to be chosen to lead the Conservative Group on West Berkshire Council,” Ross McKinnon added. “Our returning members have experience across all aspects of Council life and our new colleagues will bring welcome skills, enthusiasm and freshness to the Group. We’re all so grateful to Lynne Doherty for the outstanding leadership she brought to the Council and the Conservative Group over the last four years – she will be sorely missed by us all and has set a shining example for me to follow. 

“We pledge to work tirelessly for all residents of West Berkshire in holding the new administration to account. There are ominous signs for the district, not least in the Lib Dems’ reckless pledge to revoke the Local Plan which they previously supported, a move that will cost taxpayers fortunes and put our villages at risk of overdevelopment.”

Other news

• A reminder that bus journeys 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.

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 can be seen here. Cat’s don’t surf, right? Wrong…

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of voter intimidation, rebuilding trust, delivering promises, Derek Bentley, green energy and Greenham’s history.

• 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 arrive at the Song of the Week. I think that I’ll go for Bowie’s Modern Love.

• Which means it’s time for the Comedy Moment of the Week. Time to re-acquaint ourselves with Steve Coogan’s wonderfully downbeat Pool Supervisor from the superb The Day Today.

• So we end with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: This week marks the tenth anniversary of Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager of Manchester United. His final match in charge saw MUFC play West Bromwich Albion. What was the score? Last week’s question was: What do Belgium, Ireland, Australia and Canada have in common? The answer is that they’re the only countries in the world apart from the countries of the UK which have produced a World Snooker Champion. Belgium was added to the list earlier this month after Luca Brecel’s remarkable victory against Mark Selby.

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 b

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