This week with Brian 7 to 14 September 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including the X factor, being lucky, back to basics, Adolf’s fault, effectively bankrupt, hundreds of services, migration pay-back, policing the gnomes, Spanish football, a giant hamster wheel, seemed like a good idea at the time, compost, the first hundred days, the one-year rule, pandemic hounds, turning back the clock, angry executives, Devon’s coasts and three words.

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

Further afield

There was a point on Thursday when we didn’t think we would get this, or anything else, finished. As those of you who got our apology email last night will know, we had one of those IT nightmares that make you yearn for the days of quills, parchment and carrier pigeons. Sort of fixed now (we hope). I’ll write more about this next as one of the reasons for the crash provides quite an instructive story. Anyway, apologies for the delay, is what I’m trying to say.

[more below] 

• Concrete

RAAC is certainly this week’s acronym with PMQs on 6 September being dominated by the matter, all manner of accusations being levelled at the government including that Rishi Sunak was a “cowboy builder.” The PM claimed he acted decisively. It’s certainly true that action was take, The bigger questions were whether not should have been taken in July, or in 2018 when the extent of the problem first became clear, or in 2010, when the new “we’re all in it together” government led by the hapless David Cameron decided to cancel the school building programme.

In her resignation letter to Rishi Sunak, Nadine Dorries said that “It is a fact that there is no affection for Keir Starmer out on the doorstep. He does not have the winning X factor qualities of a Thatcher, a Blair, or a Boris Johnson, and sadly, Prime Minister, neither do you.” It’s hard to disagree with this. There have been some positive bits on news recently but, rather as Biden is finding across the water, none seem to cleave to him. Rather, he seems smitten with what could be called bad luck. He announced a migrant boats week and the figures rocket and his flagship barge has to be evacuated because of Legionnaires’ Disease. The new school year starts and schools have to close.

Thatcher, Blair  and Johnson – and Churchill – were lucky PMs because they had circumstances they were able to turn to their advantage and had the panache to do so. The debacles of the poll tax, Iraq and partygate will mark them down, but Dorries was right to say that had that X factor. So too did Churchill: and, in a very different way, Wilson (the last two were the only PMs since WW2 who lost an election and then stayed on for long enough to win the next one, which shows staying power if nothing else).

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary at the heart of all of this, has been given a tough time this week. I’m not sure this is entirely deserved. However late the decision was, closing or not closing the schools would have attracted equal opprobrium. I rather like the idea of a minister saying, as she though off-mic, “does anyone ever say ‘you know what, you’ve done a fucking good job, because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing?'” That seems a fair summary of what has happened so far. As this article in The Guardian also points out, she’s not one of the white, male Oxford-educated PPE graduates who seem to make up most of our cabinet at any one time.

The whole business is an omni-shambles that seems to date back to the chaos of the late 2010s when no-one could think of anything apart from Brexit; or to the austerity government of most of the 2010s; or to the quest for cheap building solutions in the from the 1950s to the 1990s, partly due to the need to repair infrastructure damage caused by, and address social inequalities exposed by, WW2; or, if you’re taking the long view, Adolf Hitler. Anyway, we have to deal with it now. It should have been sorted ages ago but it hasn’t.

Meanwhile, the Loughborough University team that alerted the government in the first place has said that “tens of thousands” of other buildings needed to be checked as well.

• Bankruptcy

Anyone who dives deeper into what I write for PP each week will know that I try to cover the work of the local councils in our area, mainly West Berkshire, as closely as I can. Different councils provide different services (our administrative geography is in a rare old muddle) but all have had severely increasing costs. This is particularly the case where social care, adults and children’s, forms part of the council’s responsibilities. In West Berkshire’s case, this accounts for over 50% of its expenditure.

It’s well known that increasing life expectancy creates increasingly complex challenges for the social-care system. No proper reform of funding this has been carried out for decades. This is due to the inadmissible truth that we simply cannot afford to provide the same level of care as was promised when the welfare state was established after WW2. No government can face up to saying this: but, in the meantime, the burden of providing this care falls on councils.

The government can say that it is their responsibility to sort this out. The reality is that this is a national problem for which the councils are merely statutory agents of Whitehall. They cannot stop providing social care to balance their books, in the way that a private company can shed a service: as Boots has recently done by stopping providing an automatic repeat prescription service.

Councils cannot became bankrupt in the way that a company can but they can (on the sole authority of the chief financial officer) issue what’s known as a Section 114 notice, which is to admit that it is effectively bankrupt. New non-essential spending must be stopped and the possibility exists of direct control from Sw1 – a kind of combination of being in special measure and being on a very public naughty step.

Birmingham is the latest to undergo this humiliation and has issued this statement about its predicament. This does not include a reference to a disastrous IT project.

Why does this matter to those of us who don’t live in Birmingham (or Croydon or Thurrock of other S114 victims)? Two reasons.

First, because councils provide hundreds of different services, many of them unglamorous. If you don’t live on the edge of the health, age, disability or income scales or have dependents who do then you might not benefit from these. However, the way society is organised is predicated on the idea that spending about 80% of an area’s income on about 15% of its population is morally and socially just.

The providers of most of these services are local councils, which for a long time, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, have not been funded properly. If the services they provide collapse then so too does the social compact that has been in place since the late 1940s.

Secondly, Birmingham is not only the largest council (in terms of population) in the UK but also in Europe. If, many other financial officers in challenged authorities up and down the land must now be thinking, it can issue a S114, what’s the shame in our doing so? We should be prepared to see more of these.

• Migration

It was suggested to me this week that the challenges we in the UK have with asylum seekers are as nothing compared with those faced by other European countries, the source being an online article a national paper to which I don’t have access. These figures from the US-based Pew Research Centre claim rather that the UK is accepting more of the “unauthorised immigrants” that its population would suggest.

The details of which country is accepting or being subjected to (depending on your point of view) more or fewer of these people who are (again depending on your point of view) escaping persecution or merely seeking a better life is in many respects irrelevant. Anywhere that offers a moderate climate, a stable system of governance, an inclusive welfare state and pre-existing  multi-culturalism is going to be attractive to refugees of all kinds.

The UK possesses all of these advantages. It could be argued that we exploited these for the best part of two centuries across about a quarter of the world and as a result grew rich, something that as a nation we still retain. The migrants who want something better are, perhaps, a reveals of the colonial movement that Britain was som much part of.

These historical speculations aside, the crisis – no other word seems to serve – is the result of a number of chickens coming home to roost. Climate change, wars (many of which had their origins in Europe, wherever they were fought) and centuries of global inequality have led to what we are now seeing on the small boats.

You don’t do this kind of thing unless you’re desperate. Turning them back is like trying to stop the tide with a piece of plywood. Fixing the problem would involve a time machine. Expect, therefore, more of the the same. The migrant crisis is a barometer of our global satisfaction index. At the moment, is has to be regarded as pretty low. We can try to stop the boats but that ain’t going to stop the problem.

• Basics

One of the signs that all other approaches have been tried to fix a problem, and that these have not succeeded, is when the latest approach is described as being “back to basics” or “common-sense”. The latest exhortation to the police from the Home Secretary to solve more crimes contains both these phrases. The new directive that “all reasonable lines of enquiry” be used to solve more crimes including small thefts and shoplifting offences sounds great but it’s slightly like passing a law that says that water must from now on flow uphill. This article in Police Professional looks at this issue but is short on any detail as to where funding might come from for what will, presumably, be a considerable extra workload.

The article makes two points which caught my attention. The first is the Home Secretary’s claim, or implication, that the first job of a place force is to be “victim-focussed.” This is a moot point. Many might say that the first job of the police is a more general one, to support the edifice of the state.

The second is the claim from Minister for Crime and Policing Chris Philp that “there is no such thing as a minor crime”. This creates another eye-catching headline but makes about as much sense as saying that there’s no such thing as a minor injury.

• Gnomes

Years ago, sitting around chatting with some friends late one night, someone asked us to suggest what was the most frightening thing each of us could imagine finding unexpectedly. After some thought, one person suggested “finding a clown in my wardrobe.”

I knew exactly what he meant: they’re creepy things at the best of times. I was reminded of this when reading this story which had been pointed out to me by Penny Post’s occasional Wales and Cambridge correspondent, John Williams. It appears that gnomes are being left in people’s front gardens by burglars in North Wales. The police suspect that, if they aren’t removed within a few days, the thieves know the house is probably empty and can safely be broken into. 

If this is true, it seems like an ingenious, if rather risky, undertaking. It could on the other hand just be someone who likes gnomes and thinks that there should be more of them seen around the place.

This also set me thinking of how the new policing guidelines (see “Basics” above) might be applied to this. Is leaving a gnome in someone’s garden a crime? It’s clearly not theft as you’re adding, not removing something, although that defence wouldn’t work for someone leaving a bomb in a restaurant. Trespass may have happened but I’m not sure if this is only a civil matter. In any case, the gnome could have been lobbed into the garden from the street. Littering, then? Is that not a civil matter as well? If, as is alleged, the motive were sinister then that would make it a criminal offence but you’d have to prove intent. The “I just like gnomes” defence might work well here.

According to the Home Secretary’s new guidelines – and as there is, according to the Minister , “no such thing as a minor crime” –this will the same level of resources as would be used to investigate a mass shooting.  I look forward to news of some early arrests.

• And finally

• Spain’s women have recently won the World Cup but the occasion has not led to the outpourings of joy in the Spanish FA that one might have expected. The fall-out from that kiss continue, lawyers now having got involved (never a good sign), while the trophy-winning manager, Jorge Vilda (who is seen as a close ally of the disgraced but not departed Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales) was sacked last week. And now the female players are going on strike over money. Look – if winning the competition is causing you this many problems we’d be happy to play the match again.

• The above-mentioned PP correspondent John Williams is on fire this week as he’s also drawn my attention to this wonderful story of a man from Florida who tried to cross the Atlantic in what was in essence a giant home-made hamster wheel. To make matters more exciting, the article reports that he set off on his voyage “as officials were preparing for the arrival of a major hurricane.”  Mind you, people were probably just as scathing about some of da Vinci’s ideas. “What’s that, Leo?” they’d ask as he proudly showed them a drawing of his latest contraption. “It lets you travel underwater,” he replied. “I haven’t thought of a name for it yet.” “Goes underwater?” they laughed. “Get out of here, you crazy renaissance man!”

• This reminds me of my favourite ever seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time story which I shall now once again relate (I haven’t managed to find the article so have to rely on memory). About 25 years ago a man, this time from California, thought it would be quite fun to levitate himself. He tied several large helium-filled balloons to a garden chair and, armed with only an air rifle to shoot the balloons when he wanted to descend and a six-pack of beer, cut the rope.

Unfortunately he’d got his maths wrong. Rather than rising gently to about roof-level, the chair shot up to about three thousand feet, giving him the fright of his life and completely spooking the passengers and crew of an airliner  coming into land at nearby Los Angeles Airport. His gun (and his beer) having been lost during his ascent he had lost all control over the situation; if indeed he had ever had any. He drifted around for a bit like Winnie-the-Pooh until the balloons started to deflate of their own accord: then he slowly came back down to earth, only to get tangled up in some mains electricity cables just before he got there.

He survived the incident, presumably a wiser man. I can’t recall what he was charged with: where would you start? Anyway, don’t try this at home, kids…

Across the area

• Free compost

A reminder that on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 September 2023 there will be a give-away event at the Padworth Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF), Padworth Lane, RG7 4JF, between 10am and 4pm where residents will be able to pick up Veolia’s locally produced soil conditioner for free. The soil conditioner is produced at Padworth from food and garden waste collected across West Berkshire and is being provided free of charge to West Berkshire Council residents through its partnership with Veolia.

For more information, click here.

• The first hundred days

The new Lib Dem administration was sworn in or whatever the ceremony involved on 25 May, so they’ve had just over a hundred days with their hands on the levers. This seemed like a good moment to reflect on what has and has not been accomplished.

Ross Mackinnon, leader of WBC’s Conservatives had the same idea and sent round a press statement on 13 August which provided his party’s take on how things were going. Green leader David Marsh added some thoughts of his own. So did I. Read more in this separate post.  

• The one-year rule

All organisations, whether they’re the ruling party of a country or a local newspaper delivery company, come up with plans or projects. Some will work fairly quickly. Others will run into problems or resistance, in which case you have to decide how long you keep pushing before you pull back or shift direction. The time will come when when, without some change of approach, things are only likely to get worse. Realising when this point has been reached is a matter of fine judgement. Good leaders are perhaps defined by how well they recognise it.

Thinking about local councils, I’d suggest that this moment often comes about a year after the initiative has first been mooted. If by then you are still having problems with getting anything done,  you may be on the wrong track.

Looking back at West Berkshire Council’s main challenges (see “The first hundred days” above for more on these), there are five that fit into this category – CIL charges, Readibus, Faraday Road, the LRIE and NE Thatcham. Apart from the last, all had their origins in the final years of the last administration but one. All started badly and got worse. In all cases, opportunities to stage an honourable re-grouping were missed.

It may be necessary to apologise. Doing this is often seen as a weakness: in fact, it takes strength. This is something else that gets harder to do the longer you leave it. If too much time has passed an apology may be too complicated and also seen as inadequate.

• Residents’ news

The latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council covers a withdrawn appeal, crumbly concrete, compost (see also above), careers, heritage days, school streets, a childcare survey, MMR jabs, emergency services day and volunteering.

• News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.

West Berkshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council.

West Berkshire Council is looking for your views on local bus services. To take part in the survey (which closes on 10 September), please click here.

Click here to sign up to all or any of the wide range of  newsletters produced by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest West Berkshire Council Residents’ Bulletin (generally produced every week).

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Vale of White Horse Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by the Vale Council.

Click here for latest news from the Vale Council.

Click here for the South and Vale Business Support Newsletter archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).

Click here to sign up to any of the newsletters produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.

Wiltshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Click here for the latest news from Wiltshire Council.

Swindon Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Swindon Council.

Click here for the latest news from Swindon Council.

Parish and town councils

• Please see the News from your local council section in the respective weekly news columns (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• Other news

Click here to take part in the consultation about West Berkshire’s bus services (closes 10 September, so very soon).

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 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 dogs with behavioural problems as a result of growing up during the pandemic (much as some children have demonstrated).

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subject of school buildings, censorship, debunking and a timid decision.

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









































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































• Nothing to see

One of the many problems that emerged when the time came to sell the Millennium Dome in London was that there were no clear record of what was in, or on, the building, who owned them and what obligations attached to these. The due diligence and record keeping had been rushed, and in some cases not done at all. There was, obviously, a fairly large ticking clock demanding that the thing be opened on time: but even so…

Much the same thing, admittedly on a rather smaller scale, appears to have happened when the Faraday Road ground was closed in June 2018. This was a WBC asset, although some things may have been owned by others, such as the football club. Knowing what’s there and to whom everything belongs at any change of tenure seems a pretty basic requirement of any organisation. The place was, so the wisdom then ran, to be mothballed and eventually bulldozed, so perhaps this wasn’t seen as important. Matters did not, however, develop remotely as the administration had planned.

Surely the officers should have anticipated this. “What you want to do may happen but it may not. Either way, we need to have a record of what’s there.” Items such as the stand (now in Hungerford), the permitter fence (whereabouts unknown) and the club house (demolished after an arson attack) could have been crossed off the list as they vanished. As it is, we don’t know exactly what was there.

All this became even more important because of the debate about whether or not Monks Lane would be a replacement facility. Sport England’s guidelines are clear that a facility at least as good as that closed has to be provided before development starts (a point WBC did not recognise at the time, but does now). If Monks Lane is not to be built, then Faraday Road needs to be restored to at least the condition it was in before in every significant respect. Not having a single and authenticated point of reference for this makes this task harder. If there is such a document, it’s never been cited in the numerous exchanges on the subject in which different people have claimed different things about the place. There’s also the wider point that for a council not to keep such a record is, at best, insouciant. Might this also have happened elsewhere in the district?
















• Recycling slots

West Berkshire Council has announced that the availability of appointments at our (HWRCs) across the district will increase.


Household Waste Recycling Centres

“This collaboration with our waste contractor, Veolia, will provide more flexibility and capacity during the most popular time slots for residents,” , “and comes just in time for the summer season and the upcoming bank holiday. Additionally, to better serve the community, our Newtown Road HWRC has extended its operating hours on Thursdays, closing at 8.00pm until September. With a total of 628 daily appointments now available at Newtown Road and 488 at Padworth Lane, we aim to accommodate more residents and make recycling more convenient than ever before.”


the statement says









• Residents’ news

The from West Berkshire Council covers a fostering football sponsorship deal, recycling, the Lido, career opportunities, a search for poets, the Wizard of Oz, consultations, a summer fete, a community garden and the Festival of the Moon.


latest Residents’ Bulletin















• News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.









West Berkshire Council

• for details of all current being run by West Berkshire Council.


Click hereconsultations

West Berkshire Council is looking for your views on. To take part in the survey (which closes on 10 September), .


local bus servicesplease click here

• to sign up to all or any of the wide range of   produced by West Berkshire Council.


Click herenewsletters

• to see the latest West Berkshire Council (generally produced every week).


Click hereResidents’ Bulletin

• for the latest from West Berkshire Council.


Click herenews









Vale of White Horse Council

• for details of all current being run by the Vale Council.


Click hereconsultations

• for latest from the Vale Council.


Click herenews

• for the South and Vale  archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).


Click hereBusiness Support Newsletter

• to sign up to any of the produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.


Click herenewsletters









Wiltshire Council

• for details of all current being run by Wiltshire Council.


Click hereconsultations

• for the latest from Wiltshire Council.


Click herenews









Swindon Council

• for details of all current being run by Swindon Council.


Click hereconsultations

• for the latest from Swindon Council.


Click herenews









Parish and town councils

• Please see the section in the respective (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): ; 


News from your local councilweekly news columnsHungerford area; ; ; ; ; ; . Lambourn ValleyMarlborough areaNewbury areaThatcham areaCompton and DownlandsBurghfield areaWantage area





























• Other news

• A reminder that   has challenged primary age children to read up to six library books in the until 15 September and to collect free incentives from their local library for their achievements as they read, with medals and certificates for everyone who completes the challenge. .


West Berkshire LibrariesSummer Reading ChallengeMore details here













































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































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

• about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from  and how you can help.


Please click here for information Ukraine

•which are offering a . If you are aware of any others, let us know.


Click here for a post listing the various places takeaway and/or delivery service

• The   that (unlike ours) are very scared of cucumbers.


animals of the weekare these cats

• The of the includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, Newbury Wharf, bollards, pollution, overgrown paths, cycles of violence and trains to Oxford.


letters section Newbury Weekly News 

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


good causes 

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So already we’re at the Song of the Week. A bit of 80s nostalgia and Turn Back the Clock by Johnny Hates Jazz.

• So next must be the Comedy Moment of the Week. A bit more Fry and Laurie for you, and Daamn!

• Which only leaves us with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What do the words rotator, deified and racecar have in common? Last week’s question was: Which is the only county in England with two coastlines? The answer is Devon, with one on the English Channel and one on the Bristol Channel.

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


2 Responses

  1. Re Kennet Centre redevelopment: 19 affordable homes does not seem very many for a development of this size. Is this correct?

    Would it be possible to trial the use of black typeface (rather than grey) to assist those with poor eyesight? I do wear glasses but lately find your grey print rather challenging!

    Sorry you’ve been having computer problems lately.

    1. Hi Lynne,
      Thanks for taking the trouble to write.

      To take your main point first, I’m sorry that you find the typeface shade hard to read and Penny and I have discussed your comment. When we re-launched the website about four years ago, this shade was picked as a compromise, though I can see this clearly doesn’t suit you. Solid black can be quite exhausting to read and also, we felt, didn’t make bold text stand out sufficiently clearly.
      I’m afraid that we have no immediate plans to change this. It would require site-wide alterations to Penny Post. The problem with these is that they might not in every case effect every post and might cause unforeseen clashes or other issues. Also, it would only be to replace one non-perfect solution with another.
      One suggestion, which I imagine you’ve tried, is to adjust the brightness and contrast on your monitor.
      I’m sorry we can’t be of more help. We would love to be able to provide PP’s text in the colour, font and weight that each viewer prefers. Maybe one day this will be possible. Sadly, it isn’t now…

      Regarding your comment about affordable homes, this is a rental-only development and I’m not sure if the same policy provisions apply as for homes for sale. However, this being a brownfield site, one would expect a 30% affordable housing provision, of various kinds. This would suggest 63 or 64 homes were planned in total. The new application hasn’t been validated, but should be soon, and until that’s out we won’t know how many homes are planned. Without digging back through articles and files I can’t say how many were proposed before but I think it was more than this.
      Of course, the number of affordable homes that are proposed and the number that are actually built are, thanks to viability assessments and other horse-trading tactics, rarely equal. Developers exist to make a profit and so will explore avenues to maximise this, just as any other business will. This often puts them in an adversarial position with regard to the planning authority.

      Brian Quinn

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