This week with Brian 21 to 28 September 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including a climate change, leaks, floods, a third-choice goalie, two worst mistakes, a toxic brand, bad actors, prevailing mores, the Fat Controller returns, a successful life, a suggested apology, the wrong town, lost communities, a missed window, agency staff, water scrutiny, sporting scrutiny, tangled seals, solar deals, national express, not speaking English, two undefeated winners, a short coastline and a week off.

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

Reuters reports that Rishi Sunak will give a speech this week “in which he is expected to delay some of the government’s policies to reach net zero emissions by 2050, saying the response to the climate change should be more proportionate.”

[more below] 

• Climate

Proportionate to what? To the extent of the threat or the the chances of his party getting re-elected? Not a day goes past but that there is more bad news – from Libya, Antarctica, the USA, India – about the extreme disasters that are being visited on us by climate change. At present, our best model is that this is caused by human activity resulting in a creation of greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2. Most countries have introduced measures to combat this. There’s no doubt that these will involve some tough times. However, if we accept that the problem is a real one we can’t delay mitigation just  because it’s inconvenient.

Either we believe in climate change or we don’t. If we don’t, scrap all the net-zero rules. If we do, implement them properly. It’s a about as daft as saying, in the middle of a global pandemic, that we’ll go back to having some attempt at social distancing but only after a month-long government-sponsored pizza-fest and lager-frenzy called…oh, I don’t know – “eat out to help out” or something like that.

Michael Gove has said that the ban on sales of new fossil-fuel vehicles – one of the things that Sunak has threatened to row back on – is “immovable,” so we’ll see what happens between him and Sunak. Mind you, Gove has said things before that proved not to be true, such as in 2010 when he thought that investing in schools maintenance was a bad idea, something he’s since admitted was his “worst mistake”.

Labour has said that, if it gets elected, it will reverse this reversal. Even the car manufactures, whom one might have expected to be behind Sunak, seem underwhelmed. The BBC reports that the Ford and BMW have told Sunak they need more certainty, Ford adding that it has made investment plans based on the 2030 target. Other manufacturers have since echoed these remarks.

It’s possible, of course, that the 2030 goals were not likely to get hit. That isn’t the point. By kicking the target down the road we are sending the message that (a) we can’t his targets and (b) the interest of our economic performance is more important than contributing to a solution. If we aren’t likely to meet the targets we should ask why. Changing the deadline is just dismal.

It appears the volte-face was leaked by someone in government or Number Ten, in which case Sunak is probably pretty cross that he had lost control over his machinery. Or is he? Stories are often leaked so as to judge public reaction to the plans. If this is negative then they can always say “it’s not our fault if you choose to believe tittle-tattle in the press.” On this occasion, though, he seems to indifferent to the immediate response, gambling on the fact that it will play well with the voters come the hustings.

Others in his party seem less sanguine. Michael Gove, as mentioned above, has said that the current  policy is “immoveable”,  Boris Johnson has urged the PM “not to falter” over the green pledges while Chris Skidmore, who led a government review into net zero, has described the likely U-turn as “potentially the greatest mistake of Rishi Sunak’s premiership,” before adding “so far”.

• Arbitrary targets

The Telegraph has written today that Sunak’s announcement has “jump-started” the election campaign.  The article goes on to say that “the Conservative Party may be split on environmental issues but the electorate favours a moderate approach, balancing concern about the Earth with an unwillingness to meet arbitrary targets.”

I find the use of the last phrase rather odd. Any target is to a large extent arbitrary as regards its date (unless there’s some other event that can’t happen until the target has been met) and I suppose any date like 2030 that ends in a 0 or a 5 does have the look of the nearest round number. The same can be said for what’s to be achieved by this time, such as the sale of all new fossil-fuel cars. That seems quite specific to me. If the ambition had been to cut them by say 80% then that would have been arbitrary.

In any case, the point is that by whatever method the targets have been set. Perhaps they are now seen as unachievable – but that’s not the same as saying that they’re somehow random or capricious.

• Goalkeepers

The more of hear of Rishi Sunak’s pronouncements, the less impressed I am with him. He seems to be someone who’s quite a good middle manager for a large company but somehow lacks, as Nadine Dorries said, that X factor. Mind you, BoJo had the X factor and look what happened to him.

Sunak is, of course, only our third-choice PM. In footballing terms, that’s like having a third-choice goalkeeper on the pitch for the last third of a cup final. The first one got sent off for a large humber of rule violations shortly before half time. His replacement lasted about five minutes and then went mad. Sunak’s the rookie replacement. Meanwhile, as the match drifts towards a penalty shoot out, the opposing centre forward (who hasn’t found the net too many times) is shaping up for a showdown. It’s not a very edifying thought. Give me Hartlepool v Rotherham on a rainy Tuesday evening any day.

• Brand

I’ve never cared for Russell Brand that much and never found him that funny. He seemed in any case less concerned what people thought of his than with his self-image, a cross between bodacious highwayman, priapic elf, armchair revolutionary and hyper-active new-age savant. Opinions differ about whether he’s a good writer or an awful one, a sincere or a cynical commentator, a talent or an imposter. Now the questions being asked are more serious.

There are too many stories about him at present to link to any as these will all have been superseded by others before you read this. There will be more.

If anyone has five or so minutes empty, then I can self-interestedly suggest that you have a listen to a song called Bad Actors that I wrote a few years ago, inspired by Ursula Macfarlane’s superb 2019 til Untouchable about Harvey Weinstein. Other bad actors are waiting to be exposed.

II have just one one word of caution. In the self-righteous media frenzy that often attends reporting of such issues there’s generally a lack of context. I accept that what the two above-mentioned people did (or, in Brand’s case is alleged to have done) , and Jimmy Saville before them, was very badly wrong. However, every crime, incivility, or inappropriate remark has to be judged according to what not the law  but also the social mores that then prevailed. There is no such thing as an absolute moral code – were there to be so we would all long have agreed what was right and wrong – but only one that evolves over time. To accuse Jefferson of being a bad man because he owned slaves or Henry VIII to be sexist because he executed two of his wives is rather to miss the point.

We are all the product of the time in which we live and not subject to some absolute standard of behaviour. Ultimately, humans are just animals with a thesaurus and are subject only to whatever limitations we feel society can impose on us. Some of us feel that we are entitled to get away with more than others. Hitherto they’ve largely been proved right. Hopefully, this might be starting to change.

• And he’s back…

The Fat Controller has returned from his trip to Russia in his armour-plated and treat-stuffed train to a rapturous and doubtless completely un-choreographed welcome at Sodor HQ. The photo on this Reuters report shows a long line of people (all for some reason wearing clothes in the four traditional printing colours of cyan, magenta, yellow and black) who seem to be enjoying what almost amounts to a collective orgasm. If he’s had the World Cup in one hand and a cure for cancer the reaction could hardly have been better. The building itself – presumably Pyongyang railway station – looks like a pretty grim place, a cross between a multi-storey car park and a meat market. This is probably about as close as many of the population will ever come to meat or a car.

It’s very easy to mock Kim. I suppose that’s why I do. It’s also true that he’s a very dangerous man, particularly for any of his subjects who don’t toe the line. He’s also a very successful one. Humans have controlled the planet not because we’re stronger than other animals or perhaps even in some ways more intelligent but because of our unique ability to act in a collective and flexible way. If you can control the collective action, you control everything. It certainly helps  when your two predecessors – the Great Controller and the Dear Controller in North Korea’s case – happen to have been your father and grandfather but many others have made less of similar advantages.

Kim has defied expectations to cement his grip on power and has proved to be an adept diplomat. Opposition is inconceivable because no one knows anything else and there are no other organisations around which collective action can coalesce. In purely biological and evolutionary terms, Kim has ticked the two most important boxes – he’s survived and produced offspring. The next controller is, even as I write this, probably playing with his train set in the palace.

• And finally

The BBC reports that scenic pictures of Richmond upon Thames in London have been displayed in a branch of Greggs in the North Yorkshire market town of Richmond. It added that Greggs has been approached by the BBC for a comment. I think I can supply that on their behalf: “sorry – we made a mistake.” In fact, what we’ll probably get is “as a result of a careful review of dispatch and checking protocols in our warehouse, we have established that on this occasion the correct monitoring procedures were not followed. Several staff members have been placed on a three-week training course and consultants have been appointed to carry out a company-wide review of our marketing fulfilment processes. We take the issue of geographical integrity very seriously and would like to sincerely apologise for any offence this error may have caused.” 

• It could have been worse. years ago I remember reading a story of a couple in Poole who got an invite to the wedding of their niece, who was marring a Kiwi. Never having been to New Zealand they excitedly booked their tickets to Christchurch and a few days before the event duly set off. Judge for yourself their embarrassment when they realised on arrival that the wedding was not there but a few miles down the road from their home, in Christchurch, Dorset.

• A letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News makes a very good point about RAAC. As the problem was known about during the pandemic and as the schools were wholly or partly closed and as construction was an essential sector, could the work not have been done then? Looks like a missed window of opportunity.

• Periods of heavy rain have the side-effect of revealing how many leaks you have in your roofs and windows. Today’s downpour has so far revealed four, not the number of was hoping for. One of these is flowing out of the shaver socket in the bathroom, which is by any standards not normal. On the other hands, tens of thousands of people across the world, particularly in Libya, have had their entire communities swept away by rain. Armed with that comparison, a few leaks I can now live with.

• I was speaking to someone from Libya the other day who told me that virtually nothing of any substance has been created or maintained by the “governments” for many decades, which is why she left about twenty years ago. Since Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 the situation has in some ways got even worse with several different groups controlling different areas of the country. A major dam collapse was, in these circumstances, always likely. When the state also collapses, humans revert to an almost total reliance on local familial and community networks which, in a country like the UK, have largely been eroded. When a natural disaster destroys your village, you therefore have very little left. What, therefore, is to stop you from leaving? Someone offers you an escape route across the Med and onwards to the UK and suddenly you’re another artistic in the Daily Express.

Climate change is almost certainly a major trigger for this disaster, Reuters quoting German scientists as saying that this made the incident “fifty times more likely.” All of this makes our PM’s U-turn seem even more difficult to accept – which brings me back to where I started…

Across the area

• Agency staff

As has been well publicised, West Berkshire Council (along with most others) face severe financial pressures. At the bottom of this slippery slope is the ignominy of a Section 114 declaration, an admission of effective bankruptcy, into which several councils including Birmingham, Europe’s largest, have recently fallen. Others are teetering on the brink.

WBC doesn’t seem to be in any immediate danger but the situation is one that no council can regard with complacency. Rising costs, increasing demand for services and decreasing revenues are continuing to wreak havoc with municipal finances. All councils are looking for ways of saving costs without impacting on services, many of which are statutory. WBC, for instance, has introduced a Financial Review Panel (FRP) that meets every week to oversee all spending.

In this post, I take a look at a recent statement WBC has made about how it feels it’s doing on this issue and also have a chat with Jeff Brooks, the Council’s Deputy Leader who has several decades of experience in the recruitment industry.

• Solar Together

A reminder that this scheme is still running. WBC explains that Solar Together Berkshire is “a solar panel and battery storage group-buying scheme. It enables householders and small businesses to install Solar PV systems and batteries at a competitive price with a trustworthy, pre-vetted installer. Any tenant, homeowner, small business or common hold association in Berkshire can register.”

I understand that it has proved very popular with, so far, over 1,600 people registering and over 300 having made purchases through it. See this post for more information.

• Sporting scrutiny

The Scrutiny Commission (OSC) meeting of 20 June 2023 considered, amongst other matters, “the call-in of the Executive Decision (EX4332) of 23 March regarding revised costs and permission to sign the development management agreement for Newbury Sports Hub”, commonly known as “Monks Lane.” You can see the minutes here (item 8).

The resolution passed at the end of this item was “to refer the matter back to the Executive for further consideration, particularly in respect of the following aspects: legal costs incurred by the Council; costs incurred by the Rugby Club; any penalty fees associated with not proceeding as planned; implications for the new Leisure Contract; and the need to revisit the Playing Pitch Strategy.”

At the OSC meeting on 14 September 2023 (more information on which, including a video of the event, you can see here), the Chair, Carolyne Culver, made some opening remarks regarding this matter as well as some other points about how the documents relating to OSC meetings are prepared and circulated.

You can read more on this, including the full transcript of her comments, by clicking here.

• Water scrutiny

The next outing of WBC’s Scrutiny Commission’s (SC) – formerly the  Oversigh and Scrutiny Management Commission – will be on Wednesday 11 October. This will look at the performance of Thames Water and the Environment Agency in the district, with representatives of both organisations in attendance.

The official deadline for submitting questions has now closed. However, if you have any matters that you would like to see raised, please email the SC’s chair, Carolyne Culver, on and she will do her best (no guarantees) to ensure that these are mentioned.

The meeting will be streamed live on the Council’s YouTube channel for those wanting to follow the meeting as it happens or at their convenience later. Click here for more details. 

• Residents’ news

The latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council covers a new learning building, Newbury Show, Hungerford’s 3G pitch, scrutiny, cycling, a careers fair, a law webinar, compost, jabs, nature recovery, kids’ activities and voter registration.

• 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

• Local MP Laura Farris is quoted in this week’s NWN as saying that she fears she “is not getting an accurate picture” from Royal Mail about the poor postal service that’s been afflicting many parts of the district, including Hungerford and Thatcham, for many months. At the most recent meting of WBC’s Scrutiny Commission, it was suggested that Royal Mail might be invited to explain their position.

• A reminder that you can have a read of our assessment of how the new administration has done in its first hundred days (which came to pass in early September) by clicking here.

• WBC is consulting on its draft Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Strategy, which is open until midnight on Sunday 29 October 2023. For more information on this, including how to participate, click here.

• Most bus services in West Berkshire will be free on World car-free Day on Friday 22 September. Further details can be found here.

• Congratulations to the West Berkshire Cycle Forum which on 12 September celebrated 20 years “of unwavering commitment to advancing the cause of cycling within West Berkshire.” You can read more here.

• West Berkshire Council has announced some improvements to the district’s bus services, mainly involving Newbury, Thatcham and Mortimer.

• 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. For more information, click here.

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.

• The animals of the week are these seal pups who were release by beach-goers in South Africa after being found entangled in fishing nets.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subject debating climate science, pupil funding, vaping, HS2 and hospice work.

• 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 we find ourselves at the Song of the Week. Here’s wonderfully silly song from the divine Divine Comedy: National Express.

• Which means that next must be the Comedy Moment of the Week. And a wonderfully silly sketch from Big Train: I Don’t Speak English.

• Which only leaves the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Which are the only two clubs to have won the Champions League/European Cup twice but also never lost a final? Last week’s question was: Russia has fourteen land borders with other countries. That with Kazakhstan is the longest continuous one in the world (7,512km). With with which country does Russia share its shortest land border (of about eleven miles)? The answer is North Korea, which was crossed last week by that country’s Fat Controller, Kim Jung Un, in his armour-plated train full of flunkies, caviar and donkey meat.

We’re taking some time off so there’ll be no This Week with Brian on 28 September. Normal service will be resumed on 5 October.

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.


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