This week with Brian 7 to 14 December 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Your Local Area

Including an unprecedented national catastrophe, CoJo in the dock, sophistry and falsehoods, four questions, two separate things, just one word, exceptional cases, housing invective, PR opportunities, certainty and stability, consultation consequences, a perfect marriage, the end of a nightmare, cheap money, no agreement, Auntie’s increase, five times round the earth, the correct successor, many permutations and watching the wheels.

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

I have some sympathy with any Prime Minister finding themselves dealing with an unprecedented national catastrophe. It was a time of deep uncertainty with families and friends sundered. There were many different opinions flying around and no certainty about what was the best, or even the possible, courses of action. Many who previously held one view have had cause to change their minds. Even now, the full consequences have yet to be measured. We’re talking about something which has profoundly altered Britain, though no one can yet say quite how. Certainly those at the helm at the time have questions to answer.

[more below]

• CoJo

But enough about Brexit. This was not what the former PM-but-one was being quizzed about this week but the far more serious, and certainly far more deadly, Covid pandemic. I’ve only seen a few clips of his performance but what I did see (perhaps due to the editing) cemented in my mind the idea that he is far more at home with the big picture and the sweeping rhetorical statement than with the detail. The detail was, admittedly, shocking and ever changing. Even so, I sense a lack of grip.

The Guardian’s headline to this summary of his performance is that he “wasn’t properly warned”, which could be translated as “someone else’s fault”. The article also suggested that he “portrayed himself as at the mercy of a government-wide mindset of understandable complacency, given that earlier viruses such as Sars and Mers had not led to this.” However, by February 2020 there was surely a building wave of alarm that we might be dealing with something out of the ordinary. I’ve just dug out an email on 26 February 2020 from a friend who’s a Computer Science Professor who, referring to an early story about Covid, said “this is far more worrying” (than the other global matters we were discussing).

Sky News leads with “Whatever Boris Johnson said at the Covid inquiry, the evidence pointed to failures in leadership,” stressing that he used the enquiry to bat off criticisms of his leadership style. There have been many of these, the most telling being former aide Lee Cain’s that the then PM “had the wrong skill sets” for battling the pandemic. We obviously all have to play the opponents we’re drawn against with the hand that life, fate or whatever has dealt us. BoJo was elected because of Brexit, not to lead us through a public-health catastrophe.

The Sky article suggests that, while he suggested he accepted ultimate responsibility for the decisions taken – he could do little else – the fault was in the advice and the ability of any of the machinery of government at his disposal to give expression to his decisions. My recollection is different – confusion, inconsistency and lack of clarity characterised the 2020-21 period.

The BBC’s coverage is mainly concerned with his apologies: to the victims, their families, to former senior civil servant Helen MacNamara and to those who claimed that the Covid meetings were “too male-dominated.” He also admitted that Matt Hancock – whom Johnson retained as Health Secretary until he defenestrated himself in June 2021 – had “defects” and that he, Johnson, was “late to twig” how serious Covid was.

Other views exist. However, from what I’ve seen so far from Boris Johnson, I find it hard to change my mind that he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nor do his previous (with Brexit) or his subsequent (with partygate) acts of brazen mendacity incline me to take a more charitable view.

Who, however, might have done better? His hero Churchill, perhaps? WC was dealing with a very visible enemy and told a number of lies in order to help defeat it. Boris’s enemy was invisible (and by some batty opinions non-existent, a creation of a massive conspiracy).

It’s perhaps ironical that Boris Johnson – who, perhaps more than any other PM, achieved office through sophistry and falsehoods  – should have been brought low by a deceitful enemy. It must have been maddening for him to find himself combatting an opponent even more shape-shifting and devious than he was himself.

• Rwanda

We seem to be burning through Home Secretaries quite quickly. We’ve had seven appointments in the last seven years (Braverman twice and four changes in two months during the mad summer of 2022). The current incumbent is James Cleverly, formerly the Foreign Secretary. The change of role has got to be seen as a demotion.

Why would anyone want this job? Someone has to do it but it only ever brings bad news. These might be the questions that are asked:

  • Do you mind being heckled at conferences by organisations such as those representing the police, the prison service and the border forces, as well as by civil rights groups?
  • Are you OK with the idea of only ever having bad news to announce?
  • Do you have a current passport (despite the job title, you’ll be needing to spend time in central Africa)?
  • Do you believe in all respects in the wisdom of the Rwanda refugee plan?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions and have a seat in the House of Commons – or, failing that, in the House of Lords – then assuming DBS checks and references are OK, the job is probably yours.

James Cleverley, the latest unfortunate person to occupy this role, signed a Treaty with Rwanda this week, claiming that this “addresses the concerns of the UK’s Supreme Court.” We shall see. What seems certain is that little else is. There’s now a provision, dealing with the issue of refoulement, that the refugees should remain in Rwanda or be returned to the UK in exceptional cases – by its nature, this phrase can’t define what these cases might be as otherwise they wouldn’t be “exceptional”. There’s no clarity on how cases will be tried, nor how many people this will involve, nor how much it will cost the UK government (so far the bill is reckoned to be £140m, although no one has yet been sent there).

Not all the Tories agree. Robert Jenrick has recently resigned saying that the measures “don’t go far enough”, while Suella Braverman has said that her party faces “electoral upheaval” unless the flights go ahead. This is quite a clever statement by the twice Home Secretary. Even if all proceeds as the government would wish, it’s highly unlikely any flights will take off this side of the next national vote at which the Conservatives will probably suffer an “electoral upheaval” in any case. She can and doubtless will claim that this was because of people disregarding her warning. Her remark has less to do with refugees and more to do with her ambitions.

The numbers of refugees, even assuming the scheme goes ahead, are likely to be numbered only in hundreds. Has a cost-benefit analysis been done for this? The whole thing looks a bit HS2 to me.

• Cheap money and S114 club

I’ve mentioned before about the temptations that cheap money for the Public Works Loans Board presented for local councils in order to fund local infrastructure projects (which are still regarded by the PWLB as being OK) or speculative investments for profit (which are now not OK). Private Eye 1612 reports in its Rotten Boroughs section the tale of Plymouth City Council which stretched the rules perhaps beyond breaking point and in 2019 used a £70m loan to pay off part of its pension-fund deficit. As a result the auditors are refusing to sign off the accounts.

Could this lead to the next Section 114 (effective bankruptcy) notice? Others may well follow as the current budget-setting season brings home some uncomfortable municipal truths. Some may result from local imprudence: all will claim, often with justification, that government funding cuts are to blame. All councils act as the government’s agents in providing matters such as social care, education and highways. These statutory responsibilities occupy the large majority of most budgets.

Meanwhile, Coventry City Council has, according to Local Government Lawyer, “pleaded for financial assistance from the government”, adding that the council’s precarious financial position comes “despite many years of robust financial management”. If authorities that have not been guilty of bad fiscal craziness – as Birmingham, Thurrock and others have been – are starting to fail then we’re in big trouble. Almost every council is up against it and it seems impossible that the current budget-setting season won’t produce some further applications to the S114 club.

Michael Gove, however, doesn’t seem to think there’s anything too much to worry about. In a separate article in LGL, he claims that the suggested figure of one council in five facing the threat of an S114 was “an over-estimate” and that “some people in local government have been crying wolf.”

Having one side claiming that there’s a major crisis brewing and the other denying that there’s really a problem at all is not a great starting point for getting anything solved…

• Homebuilding

Regular Hungerford readers of Penny Post will know that I have, due to yet another failed deadline, re-launched some invective against the partnership between West Berkshire Council and Sovereign Housing.

This is due to its failure even to begin construction of a much-needed social-housing development in the town which has been vacant since 2017, on land which WBC itself owns. Any criticism that the council might mount against the the perfidy of private developers in seeking to extricate themselves from their obligations to build such properties as a condition of planning permission fade to nothing compared to this level of total inaction.

It was suggested to me this week that the problem might lie more with inflationary pressures and a workforce shortage.This might explain matters in the last year or so but hardly deals with the other delays. In any event, homes have been built this year, though perhaps not to the extent that many would wish. If we’re going to wait for inflationary pressures to ease then we might as well stop everything.

There’s also the PR aspect. The suggestion is a reasonable one and might have been offered as a reason. However, it wasn’t. I don’t know which of the two parties is in control of the PR on this one but they’re not coming up with any great stories.

A recent article from Reuters somewhat supports my correspondent’s pessimistic view about the state of the sector. “Britain’s construction sector activity fell sharply for a third month in a row in November,” this article claims, “led by an ongoing slump in house-building as it bears the brunt of higher Bank of England interest rates.” However, it then went on to say that the industry had experienced “lower prices for steel and timber and generally weaker demand…” Weaker demand? Not in Hungerford.

It now seems hard to imagine, but the disastrous Truss-Kwarteng experiment, which resulted in an interest-rate hike, was less than eighteen months ago. It appears that its after-shocks are still being felt. In Hungerford, the urgent need for eight social-rent houses may be partly attributable to the chaos Truss’ brief tenure in power caused. Sovereign and West Berkshire Council may be using higher borrowing rates as an excuse. However, this hasn’t been offered as an excuse for the delay in Hungerford any more than have increased costs or labour shortages.

PR consists not only in appropriating good news to your own advantage but also in using bad news caused by others to explain your shortcomings. This joint venture has so far had none of the former and has failed to use any of the latter to justify why nothing has happened. Blaming someone else isn’t very edifying but it can be effective. Perhaps its PR team could look at Boris Johnson’s performance at the Covid Enquiry and learn some lessons from that. More importantly, though, just get these houses built…

• And finally…

• It might at first glance appear odd that such a national institution as the Daily Telegraph might soon be sold to an Abu Dhabi-backed consortium: though perhaps this makes perfect sense considering how fond the newspaper has been to use opinion pieces to oppose climate change. Viewed in that light, it seems like a match made in heaven.

• The TV licence fee will rise by 6.6% to £169.50 from next April. To pay less than 50p a day to watch television, listen to radio and read a website without adverts, downloading apps, setting up accounts, creating passwords and all the rest of it still seems like good value to me. The News Quiz and MotD are worth the licence fee on their own. Paying this is also a good way of keeping ghastly organisations like Fox News at bay.

• An inquest has found that an Ofsted inspection contributed to the suicide of Caversham Head Teacher Ruth Perry in January 2023. The BBC reports that the Coroner ruled that the inspection “lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity” and was at times “rude and intimidating.” Having looked into Ofsted as a result of a perverse decision at Inkpen Primary School about a year ago, there seem to be some things badly wrong with the system, including the length of time that can sometimes elapse between reports and the fact that inspections are not automatically triggered by the appointment of a new Head: both of these risk making the reports next to meaningless.

I’m also worried by the fact that the report result is summarised in one bald word or phrase, like the “inadequate” that ran in a feedback loop through Ruth Perry’s head in her final weeks. The CQC ones are far more nuanced in this respect. So too, in fairness, are the Ofsted reports themselves, for those who bother to read the three or four pages. Imagine if you were to be defined for perhaps ten years by one word, decided upon as a result of a single short-notice visit from an inspector: how would you like that? Exactly. I don’t want to consider what my word would be…

Across the area

• The CIL nightmare 

Almost exactly three years ago, I wrote an article – How well does West Berkshire Council Tick the Box? – about problems that some residents were experiencing with Community Infrastructure Charges (CIL) which are in certain cases raised on property developments. Two cases in particular, involving Maria Dobson in Kintbury and Roger McCabe in Upper Lambourn, appeared to suggest that something had gone seriously wrong with the way the Council was treating its residents.

The issue was taken up by two councillors in particular, Claire Rowles (Conservative) and Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem). Claire Rowles was particularly interested to learn why the enforcement issues in the two cases had been handled very differently. This led her into a battle with officers and her own party which was played out in public on two occasions, at the Government and Ethics Committee in January 2022 and at the Full Council meeting in March 2022. This then led to a baseless complaint being made against her and culminated in a public defenestration later that year when she was stripped of her committee memberships.

Meanwhile, the CIL issue rumbled on. Roger McCabe (who, unlike Maria Dobson, had not paid the charge) was threatened with legal action, an uncertainty which hung over him for several years. What I was never able to understand, and what no one at WBC was able to explain, was why, if the Council felt it had such a good case, it did not take him to court.

In May 2023 there was an election and the Lib Dems made resolving this issue one of their pledges. The party duly won and has since gone back over every CIL charge raised since the system was introduced in 2016: no small task. I understand that other cases have been unearthed which may also have been wrongly charged. How many, how much is involved and how these will be resolved is a matter for another day.

As far as Roger McCabe is concerned, however, a resolution has been reached. Earlier this week, he received a letter from WBC saying that no further action will be taken against him.

I spoke to him on 7 December. “I’m absolutely delighted,” he said. “This has been hanging over me for nearly seven years and has made my life a misery. I’d like particularly to thank Claire and Andrew Rowles, James Cole and Jeff Brooks who’ve given me so much support and helped get this resolved. While I’m thrilled for myself, I’d also like to be sure that changes are made so that no one else has to go through what I and others have had to. The way I’ve been treated by West Berkshire Council has been absolutely disgraceful.”

As soon as there’s further news on the other cases – which should include reimbursement for those who were wrongly charged – you’ll be able to read about it here. I’m very happy that this sorry episode seems to have reached a conclusion. WBC has finally done the right thing.

• Balancing the books

There’s an article on p4 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News which refers to what I felt was a very peculiar meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Scrutiny Commission last Wednesday. You can read my thoughts on this here (see “An extraordinary meeting”). The NWN piece is headlined “property sale could lose millions”, which is an accurate summary of the fears expressed by the opposition Conservative Group on WBC.

In the third paragraph, the article states that “The council reported a budget overspend of £6.3m for the first quarter earlier this year so it is looking to sell up to £62m on investments it made a few years back.” This is not my understanding of matters at all. The pressures on the operating budget and the concern about the level of investment are two separate things and the latter is not the result of the former. Although the council can use money it gets from any sales to invest in infrastructure and in “transformative” projects, it can’t use these to plug gaps in its day-to-day bills. That would, as well as being highly irresponsible, be forbidden under the government’s rules and the terms of its loans from the PWLB.

The Scrutiny Commission voted to make a recommendation to the Executive that the Council “would not specify how many of its assets that it would dispose of nor a timeframe for doing so.” Given the length of time the meeting spent reading this point and given that the vote was unanimous, it would be strange if the Executive didn’t accept this and move forward on that basis.

As for the separate matter of the consultations into the various economies WBC may need to make, you can find more information on these here. You have until 11 January 2024 to have your say.

• The options for the local plan 

As mentioned last week, there’ll be a special Full Council meeting on 19 December “to approve the withdrawal of the West Berkshire Local Plan Review 2022-2029 (LPR) which was submitted to the Secretary of State on 31 March 2023, noting the implications and risks set out in the report of doing so.” The agenda for the meeting will be published here about a week before the meeting.

Shortly after the initial announcement the meeting was scheduled, removed and then re-scheduled again. It now seems definite it will be going ahead. There seem to be three possible outcomes: that the plan can be taken back and revised; that it needs to be withdrawn and started again; or that it must be passed as it stands.

The first of these is what the Lib Dems campaigned on. The second would cost a lot of money that that WBC doesn’t really have, require a lot of expert staff which it currently doesn’t really have and take a lot of time which, if the risk of having an outdated plan is to be avoided, it doesn’t really have either. The third option, being forced to pass it as it stands (despite the current administration having described it as “defective”), has happened before, including in South Oxfordshire in 2019 and also earlier this year in Spelthorne. Whitehall has powers which it’s not afraid to use.

Any delay to the plan may also compromise the various neighbourhood development plans which are being created or refreshed by several parishes, including Newbury, Lambourn, Hungerford and Mortimer. These will when completed (“made” is the official term) be slotted into the district’s local plan. Changes to local plan may require changes to the NDPs, so occasioning yet more work.

There are also ever-changing signals from Whitehall about what it wants to do about the planning system, what changes it might make to NDPs and what is going to happen to the vexed matter of the nutrient neutrality policies. The new National Planning Policy Framework may be published quite soon. Might that contain different housing numbers for the district? If so, the plan might need revising in any event.

If the plan is passed as it is, this would seem to rule out the proposed site at Colthrop. The possibility of building a much-needed bridge over the railway assumes this will happen. Local MP Laura Farris has actively promoted her desire to get this built. If Colthrop doesn’t happen, the bridge probably won’t be viable, so leaving her campaign in tatters. The decision may therefore have an impact on the local parliamentary election result.

For there will, of course, be an election within the next thirteen months. On a local level, spice will be added by the fact that Laura Farris’ main opponent will be Lee Dillon, the Leader of WBC and the person who’ll be ultimately responsible for whatever happens with the local plan. On a national level, if the opinion polls are to be believed, there’ll be a new government and the whole merry-go-round of trying to reform the planning system will re-commence, though with the roundabout probably revolving in the opposite direction.

Local plans exist to provide certainty and stability in the decision-making process. At present, we seem to have anything but. Let’s see what the 19 December meeting brings. A full assessment of what is discussed – certainly from me – may need to wait until the new year.

See the 30 November edition of this column for some thoughts on WBC’s local plan process so far.

• Consultation consequences

West Berkshire Council has launched a number of consultations designed to improve its finances. You can find more information on these here. You have until 11 January 2024 to have your say. It’s important to reflect for a moment on what the results of these consultations might be.

Some of the matters relate to the provision of non-core services like dog bins, parks maintenance, gully clearing and verge trimming. The general trend of passing responsibilities downwards from increasingly impecunious council-tax-raising authorities to towns and parishes has been going on for some time.

Assuming savings on the lines of what’s currently proposed are arrived at, one of the three consequences will follow in respect of each of the services:

  1. They will be performed less frequently or not all.
  2. They will be taken over by the town or parish council on a voluntary and unpaid basis, perhaps in conjunction with local residents.
  3. They will be taken over by the town or parish council but contracted out.

It’s unlikely that, again assuming the worst in terms of cuts, that all of the shortfalls caused by (1) will be made up by (2) and (3). The result will therefore be a reduction in the services provided.

It’s also unlikely that a town or parish council can entertain option (3) without raising its precept (the amount of money it requests from its parent authority). The result will therefore be an increase in the overall council tax bill.

The probable result is that we will therefore all be paying more and getting less.

One of the vagaries of the municipal funding system is that whereas councils that charge council tax are limited in the amounts they can increase them by (2.99% plus an extra 2% if the authority looks after social care), parish and town councils are not. We’re not talking about massive amounts of money – in West Berkshire, annual precepts for a band D property are typically in mid two figures to low three figures – but it’s possible that some will increase.

The consultations end on 11 January so it’s unlikely any clear decision on what services will be cut will be made for some weeks. Towns and parish will have had to set their budgets by then. They therefore don’t know what extra things they might need to do. Nor will they have had a chance to conduct any kind of consultation with residents to determine what people services want to see retained.

There’s a game of poker involved too. If enough parishes considerably raise their precepts to build up reserves against service cuts, WBC may feel it’s off the hook and cut with impunity. If a parish doesn’t and decides to keep the increase low, it may find option (3) is impossible to accomplish without cutting back on something else.

Where parishes and towns go for option (3), because of their lower buying power compared to WBC, it’s likely services will be more expensive. Some parishes, particularly smaller ones, my lack the time or expertise to negotiate and manage contracts. It will also add to the time and stress of the job, so reducing the number of people who’re prepared to get involved. Parish and town councillors are not paid. Clerks are, but more of their time will be needed to help organise all this. That will cost extra money too. Councils may have to call in favours from residents to perform some services. All in all, the burden on the bottom layer of councils is increasing.

They already provide valuable services to the community. To pick a few examples (there are many more), Hungerford’s has refurbished its Croft Field Activity Centre and has been vocal in trying to resolve the Chestnut Walk debacle, Stratfield Mortimer’s has taken on Sovereign in the matter of Windmill Court, East Garston’s has summoned Thames Water to a public meeting, Compton’s has been keeping a watchful eye on the decontamination progress at the former Pirbright site, Lambourn’s has ensured that the skate park and play areas have been refurbished, Aldermaston’s has long been waging a campaign against unapproved works by a concrete company and Chaddleworth’s has been trying to get  the problems of an unadopted road resolved. Many more could be added. They also act as planning consultees, as the eyes and ears of both their residents and WBC and as managers of their own assets. Now, they are being expected to take on extra tasks.

In 2010, David Cameron came up with the idea of “the big society”;  the idea that community work is worthwhile for reasons other than payment or punishment. The idea was dropped from the later stages of the election campaign. This was a shame as it was an inevitable result of the years of austerity that his government created. This austerity is still with us. For as long as responsibilities continue to be passed down, people need to step up to take them on, or the service will be lost. Town and parish councils are the most immediately local rung on the administrative ladder and so it’s on their laps that these Cinderella services get dropped.

This is not their fault. Support what they do, understand the limitations that have to work under and get involved in helping their work (perhaps by offering yourself as a councillor or volunteering). After all, to return to another slogan from 2010, “we’re all in this together.” Wherever we live, it’s our community. It’s also increasingly clear that it’s down to us, rather than anyone else, to make it work.

• Residents’ news

The latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council covers the first 1001 days, Four Houses Corner, budget consultations in Hungerford, community champions, careers, town-centre strategies, the North Wessex Downs National Landscape, Run Together, keeping warm, a foster concert, a seasonal raffle, flu and Covid jabs and a grumpy Christmas show.

• 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.

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

• More information on the town-centre strategies in Newbury, Thatcham and Hungerford can be found here.

• More information on community warm spaces in West Berkshire can be found here.

• North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) has announced the official launch of its new identity, North Wessex Downs National Landscape. Read more here.

• West Berkshire Council is calling upon local residents to nominate deserving individuals and groups for the Community Champion Awards 2023 .These are, a WBC statement says, “a brilliant opportunity to say thank you to people who have done something special for their local community and honour those individuals and community groups who have gone above and beyond to support residents throughout West Berkshire this past year.” Nominations will be open until 11 December (so not long now).

Click here for more information on the 2023 Learner Achievement Awards.

• The government has announced that the Single Fare Cap Scheme has now been extended to 31 December 2024. The scheme provides affordable bus travel for everyone across England, allowing passengers to travel at any time of the day for £2 (£4 return). The list of participating operators in West Berkshire can be found here.

Click here for more information on getting involved in a Berkshire-wide project to develop a Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS).

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 ones experiencing various mishaps. I concede that the video is mainly a series of people, or animals, falling over and breaking things: all very amusing unless it’s happening to you.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of climate examples, too much MP coverage, lifestyle;e choices, marriage rights and parking charges as a force for good.

• 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 here we are already at the Song of the Week. This weekend will see the 43rd anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. Here’s what I think is unquestionably the best post-Fabs song he did, Watching the Wheels, recorded shortly before his death.

• So next it’s the Comedy Moment of the Week is this one from QI in which Alan Davies realises that Sandi Toksvig really was a suitable successor to Stephen Fry.

• And finally, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: How many different permutations are there on a Rubik’s Cube? Last week’s question was posed at the East Garson Quiz two weeks ago by Ben Nelson of Nelson Travel and was: Which country has the longest coastline? The answer is, by a country mile, Canada. At 0ver 202,000km, it’s nearly twice as long as that of Indonesia in the silver-medal position. Were you to unwrap it it, would stretch five times round the Equator.

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 links.

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