Richard Willis's Blog

First for local news and first for comment

Royal Navy Seizes Major Drugs Cache in the Caribbean

A Royal Navy warship has helped police in the Caribbean snare a drugs haul that could have been worth £1.5 million on the UK market.

During an aerial search of the waters around the island of Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory in the Leeward Islands, HMS Manchester’s Lynx helicopter crew spotted a power boat and directed Royal Montserrat Police boat to intercept the vessel.

While police mobilised a team towards the boat, the Lynx’s aircrew then discovered twelve 25kg bales – later found to contain cannabis – landed on a nearby local beach. HMS Manchester used her Lynx helicopter to transfer the bales to a viewing area, which was the nearest point of access for local police to collect the drugs. Five men from the speedboat were arrested and are now in police custody. Local police have estimated the value of the haul at £1.5m.

The Commanding Officer of HMS Manchester, Commander Rex Cox Royal Navy, said: “I am delighted that cooperation between the Royal Montserrat Police and HMS Manchester has resulted in the seizure of a significant quantity of narcotics.”

The Lynx aircrew became aware of the speedboat while transporting Cdr Cox to shore to conduct official visits in Montserrat. The boat aroused suspicion because it was running on two large engines and was carrying two spare engines.

HMS Manchester is anchored off the coast of Montserrat as part of her Atlantic Patrol Tasking (North) Deployment in support of the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean region.

The Type 42 Destroyer’s visit to Montserrat was specifically aimed at allowing her command team to meet with the government, ministers and Commissioner of Police on the Island to discuss the support she can provide in the event of any natural disaster which may occur.

The ship’s main mission in the area is to provide regional assurance to the overseas territories, disaster relief during the hurricane season and counter-narcotics operations.

Two of the Ship’s Company on board HMS Manchester, CPO Sullivan and PO David, are returning to Montserrat after their involvement in the disaster relief and eventual evacuation operation following the volcanic eruption in 1995. They served at the time on HMS Southampton, another Type 42 Destroyer similar to HMS Manchester.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Defence | Leave a comment

New ComRes Poll – Tories 9% Ahead of Labour

There is a new ComRes poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent which confirms recent polls showing Conservatives and Labour up at Lib Dem expense:

              Conservative             40% (up 4%)

                                        Labour                      31% (up 1%)

                                        Lib Dem                    18% (down 5%) 

In other findings:

·         The Tories have increased their support among 25-34 year olds, and the Lib Dems have dropped in this group.
·         Tory support reaches 45% among people in social group AB and 49% among over 65s.
·         Only 68% of people who voted Lib Dem in May would still vote Lib Dem now – however this support is more likely to go to Labour than the Conservatives.

ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1003 GB adults on 25-27 June 2010.  Data were weighted demographically and by past vote. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Full tables are at

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 4 Comments

New ICM Poll – Tories and Labour Up at Lib Dem Expense

There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph confirming the trend of most recent polls with the Conservatives and Labour up at the Lib Dems’ expense:

            Conservative              41% (up 2%)

                                                  Labour                       35% (up 4%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      16% (down 5%) 

Both ICM and YouGov are now showing the same general picture with the Tories over 40%, Labour up to the mid 30’s and the Lib Dems well below 20%.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New YouGov Poll – Tories Up Again to 43%

There is a new YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showing the Conservatives continuing their post-Budget climb to a new recent high of 43%:

            Conservative              43% (up 1%)

            Labour                       36% (up 2%)

                                          Lib Dem                     16% (down 1%)

Labour are also up but the Lib Dem slide is continuing. All changes are within the margins of error but at the moment the Lib Dems do not seem to be benefitting from the coalition government. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some more left wing support is drifting across to Labour.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 2 Comments

Blogging and Council Work

To all my regular readers I would like to apologise for the somewhat irregular postings of late. Since I was appointed as Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Planning and Transport I have hardly had a single evening without at least one meeting, and on some occasions as many as four. In addition the number of emails I am receiving has approximately doubled. They all need reading and responses, often generating further meetings. Oh and by the way I also have a full-time job based in London.

I am not complaining but I want readers to understand why I have not been posting almost every day as I was before. I expect that things will begin to settle down and the summer Council “recess” should help reduce the number of meetings. One of the reasons for so many meetings are the issues that Labour left behind when they lost office. They left a situation where the bus shelter contract expired and the new contractor had a lead time of several months before new shelters are to be installed. Many people are rightly angered at finding no shelters at most of the previous shelter locations and having to stand.

I seem to have inherited a summer of road works, with works around the station coinciding with necessary utility works to replace gas mains etc across the town. The workload has then been added to by the Government’s need to sort out Labour’s national economic mess with the resultant cuts in some Council grants, including some transport grants.

It has not all been problems and cuts though. I have been working with Council Officers on a range of radical measures that should go some way to getting Reading moving again and mark a change from Labour’s failed local transport policies. I will be making an announcement shortly when the final pieces of the plans are finalised.

It is fantastic to finally be a part of a team that will deliver real change for Reading after so many years of Labour’s stale thinking and ever higher spending. The work load is huge but if we get this right I believe that the benefits will be huge for Reading people. In the meantime I will attempt to keep up reasonably regular postings.

June 25, 2010 Posted by | General Musings, Local | 3 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Budget Boosts Tories to 42%

There is a new YouGov poll for the Sun showing the Conservatives hitting a recent record high of 42% after the budget:

            Conservative              42% (up 2%)

            Labour                       34% (up 2%)

                                          Lib Dem                     17% (down 1%)

The YouGov data shows the Tories at 41% before the Budget and at 42% after, although the difference is within the margin of error. The pre-Budget poll findings were Conservatives 41%, Labour 33%, Lib Dem 18%.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 4 Comments

Labour Councillor Defects to Conservatives

Before the General Election there was quite a wave of defection of Councillors across the country to the Conservative Party. Many of these were from minority ethnic representatives. I am pleased to report that another Labour Councillor has joined that stream with Cllr Rakesh Pabbi down the M4 in Slough crossing the floor.

The Conservative Group on Slough Council now rises to 9 members. So come on Labour members of Reading Borough Council, you know it makes sense!

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Local, National | 6 Comments

New Ipsos MORI Poll – Tories Increase Lead to 8%

A new Ipsos MORI poll has been published tonight for Reuters showing the Conservatives 8% ahead of Labour:

            Conservative              39% (up 3%)

                                                        Labour                       31% (up 2%)

                                                        Lib Dem                      19% (down 8%)

This is the first post-election poll from MORI and the big changes merely bring it into line with other recent polls from other organisations.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New ICM Poll – Tories 8% Ahead of Labour

There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian confirming the trend of most recent polls with the Conservatives comfortably ahead of Labour:

            Conservative              39% (no change)

                                                  Labour                       31% (down 1%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      21% (no change) 

The change is minimal and well within the margin of error.

Voters remain keen on the coalition. Between them, the two parties involved have the backing of 60% of voters. A small majority, 54%, think David Cameron is doing a good job. Only 22% say he is not, giving him a net approval rating of 23 points. But 25% have yet to make up their minds.

The prime minister is more popular than either the government as a whole or the chancellor. On balance, 45% think the government is doing a good job and 22% think it is not, a net positive rating of 23.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Bike Weeks Gets Underway

Bike Week in Reading got underway yesterday. Unfortunately I could not attend yesterday’s launch event as I was at my ward surgery but I did manage to get along to Prospect Park this afternoon to see the events in the park. There were stands from the various Reading cycle groups and a great opportunity for people to try out bikes thanks to “Cycle Experience“.

Many people have told me that they don’t feel safe cycling in Reading and I am determined to do what I can to make cycling safer and more popular in the town. I am in discussion with cycle groups and Council Officers about implementing some low cost safety measures and I would like Reading to achieve accreditation as a Cycling Demonstration Town. There will be a lot of work to get to that level but I am determined that we make a start. Officers have put in a lot of work over the last year developing new maps of our existing cycle routes and signing them better but more can be done. I would be interested to hear suggestions from readers.

June 21st sees Cycling for Health at Palmer Park Sports Stadium, East Reading from 11.30am-1pm. People can develop their cycling skills and build up their confidence in a safe environment. All types of bike are available or people can bring their own. Accessible Cycling takes place at the stadium from 5pm-6pm, open to families and children with disabilities and is the opportunity to try out adapted bikes.

A seven-mile led rid along the River Thames from Twyford to Ericsson in Vastern Road, Reading, is being held on June 23rd. A second ride from Prospect Park to Ericsson will also take place that day. There is also a CTC ride that day from 7.30pm. On and off road rides are available meeting at the fountain by Caversham Bridge.

Cyclists are invited to tuck into a free breakfast at The Hexagon from 8.30am on 24th and a led ride from 100, LongWater Lane, Green Park on the 25th. Cyclists interested in taking part, should contact

Then for final weekend of Bike Week activities, Broad Street Mall will be bustling with promotional stands on Saturday, 26th. A family bike ride will also take place that day. The ride begins at midday and heads down to the canal for a picnic. People can dress their bikes at the stand in Broad Street from 10.30am.

And on Sunday, 27th, Reading CTC is leading an on-road ride at 10am. A Reading to Bracknell ride will leave Palmer Park Sports Stadium at 11am.

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

New ComRes Poll – Public Divided on Tax Rises vs Spending Cuts

There is a new ComRes poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday which shows little change from the General Election result:

               Conservative             36% (down 1%)

                                        Labour                      30% (down 3%)

                                        Lib Dem                    23% (up 2%) 

Some other questions were asked about the upcoming Budget on Tuesday:

I would be prepared to pay more income tax rather than see public services cut”
Agree 48%
Disagree 45%
DK 7%

· There are no major demographic patterns but there are among voters – 51% of Tory voters disagree, as do only 38% of Lib Dems and 34% of Labour supporters

The coalition government is deliberately exaggerating the financial problems to justify cuts to the public sector”
Agree 38%
Disagree 49%
DK 13%

· Younger people are the most suspicious of the government’s motives on this measure, as are DE voters and Scots
· There is a huge party variance: 19% of Tory voters agree, compared with 34% of Lib Dems (which strikes me as remarkably high) and 66% of Labour voters

Methodology note: ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1004 GB adults on 16-17 June 2010. Data were weighted demographically and by past vote. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at

June 19, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Armed Forces Day in Reading – 27 June

Armed Forces Day in Reading will be marked with a free event taking place in Forbury Gardens on Sunday 27th June. Reading Borough Council has organised a host of events which will take place from midday until 5pm.

Armed Forces Day (formerly Veterans’ Day) was launched in 2006 to honour Britain’s armed forces past, present and future and is a celebration of the achievements of the armed forces, who live and work in our communities.

The Band of the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will begin proceedings and perform from the bandstand in the Forbury Gardens from midday until 1pm. Dame Vera Lynn tribute act Diane James will then take to the stage, followed by Reading Central Band of the Salvation Army.

There will be face-painting, balloon modelling and a climbing wall to entertain younger visitors to the event. People are welcome to bring along a picnic, so they can sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. To compliment the activities and entertainment, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will host a static vehicle display in Broad Street, while the Band of the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will perform from 2pm-2.30pm on The Oracle Riverside and from 3pm-3.30pm in Broad Street. Reading’s Armed Forces Day celebrations culminate at the Gardens at 4pm in an Armed Forces veterans badge presentation.

I will be there in uniform as it is one of the few occasions when it is appropriate to attend a public Council organised event in uniform.

Up and down the country, towns and cities will fly the flag for our armed forces. Reading’s flag will be flown from the Civic Centre from Monday June 21st to Sunday, June 27th.

The Broad Street Mall will mark Armed Forces Day on Saturday 26 June the date of the main national day this year. Fundraisers from the Royal British Legion and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will be in the centre from 10am-4pm. Also on June 26th, from 7.30am-8pm the Royal Berkshire Army Cadet Force mark the 150th anniversary of the Cadet Forces by taking on a triple challenge in Broad Street. Go and see them in Broad Street as they attempt to climb up and abseil down Mount Everest, row across the English Channel and back again and then cycle from John O’Groats to Lands End all in one day. All monies raised will go to the Army Benevolent Fund.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

Treasury Announces Result of Review of Pending Projects

Today, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced which projects re-submitted to the Treasury will be suspended and cancelled as part of a review of all spending decisions taken since 01 January. Projects have been cancelled where they were not affordable, did not represent good value for money, or where they did not reflect the Government’s priorities.

The Chief Secretary also announced today an urgent review of inherited spending commitments for 2010-11, where funding was reliant on underspending through the End Year Flexibility (EYF) system, or additional funding from the Reserve. It was unrealistic to expect underspending would have occurred on a scale necessary to fund all these commitments – consequently, at least £1bn of commitments will have to be cancelled. The review will exclude commitments for military operations and the financial package agreed with the Northern Ireland Executive to support the devolution of policing and justice powers. 

Spending re-approvals since 01 January

217 projects were re-submitted to the Chief Secretary for re-approval, totalling £34bn. Projects have been cancelled where they have not demonstrated value for money, and suspended where more detailed work is needed as part of the Spending Review process. The Chief Secretary agreed with departments:

·         12 programmes will not go ahead that would have cost nearly £2 billion over their lifetime.

·         12 programmes will be suspended that would have cost £8.5 billion over their lifetime.

Further details, including a list of projects that have been cancelled or suspended, are set out below.

Departmental reviews of spending decisions that did not require Treasury approval will be completed and announced by Departments by the end of June.

Commitments reliant on underspend – End Year Flexibility and the Reserve

The Government has inherited approximately £9bn worth of spending commitments for 2010-11 that were not fully funded. These commitments planned to rely on underspending across Government for their funding as part of the End Year Flexibility system and additional funding from the Reserve.  As there was no reason to suppose that underspending on a scale necessary to cover all commitments would occur, and there is insufficient contingency in the Reserve to cover the remainder, it is expected that the Government will have to cancel at least £1bn of commitments where there is no money to pay for them. 

The Government will therefore review in detail all existing EYF and Reserve deals, with the exception of commitments for military operations and the financial package agreed with the Northern Ireland Executive to support the devolution of policing and justice powers. The Chief Secretary has begun discussions with Departments, and details of the action taken will be set out at the Budget.  

1.    List of projects cancelled*

Department  Project  Total Lifetime Cost (£m) 
Department for Culture Media and Sport Stonehenge Visitor Centre*** 25
Communities and Local Government Local Authority Leader Boards 16
Business Innovation and Skills Sheffield Forgemasters International Limited 80
Department for Work and Pensions Rollout of the Future Jobs Fund**
(Part of £6.2bn Announcement) 
  Six month offer recruitment subsidies
(Part of £6.2bn Announcement)
  Extension of Young Person’s Guarantee to 2011/12  450
  2-year Jobseeker’s Guarantee 515
Department of Health Active Challenge Routes – Walk England 2
  County Sports Partnerships 6
  North Tees and Hartlepool hospital 450
Local Government Local Authority Business Growth Initiative (LABGI)
(Part of £6.2bn Announcement)
Regional Development Agencies Outukumpu  13
Total     1,927 
Included as part of the £6.2 billion announcement.  370 

* All Treasury spending approvals between 01 January and the election were reassessed. The projects identified for cancellation would cost a total of nearly £2 billion over their lifetime had they been continued. Of these some have already been cancelled as part of last months announcement to reduce spending in 2010-11 by £6.2 billion, the resulting overlap is worth £370 million.

** Includes efficiency savings from tighter management of under performing Future Jobs Fund providers.

*** Government funding for this programme has been withdrawn. If non-government funding is identified approval to proceed could be given.

2. List of projects suspended* 

Department  Project  Total Lifetime Cost (£m) 
Department for Culture Media and Sport Libraries Modernisation Programme 12
Communities and Local Government Sheffield Retail Quarter 12
  Kent Thameside Strategic Transport Programme 23
Business Innovation and Skills University Enterprise Capital Fund 25
  Newton Scholarships 25
Department of Health Health Research Support Initiative 73
  Leeds Holt Park Well-being Centre 50
Ministry Of Justice Birmingham Magistrates Court
(2010-11 element included in £6.2bn Announcement) 
Ministry Of Defence Successor Deterrent Extension to Concept Phase Long Lead Items** 66
  Search and Rescue Helicopters** 4,676
Department for Transport Search and Rescue Helicopters – joint procurement with MoD** 2,338
  A14 Road  1,114
Total     8,508

* Projects that have been suspended will be halted for the time being and considered as part of the spending review process announced last week. The 2010-11 costs associated with Birmingham Magistrates Court (£37 million) are included in the £6.2 billion 2010-11 savings.

** Successor Deterrent Extension to Concept Phase Long Lead Items will be reviewed as part of the broader Trident value for money review, which will report in the coming weeks. Search and Rescue Helicopters will be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

2.     Building Schools for the Future: The Government inherited a large number of school building projects approved in recent months as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. The Secretary of State for Education has previously announced that he is looking at the whole BSF programme, including those projects entered into before 01 January. Tough decisions will need to be made on reducing costs and addressing where spending has been over-committed. The Secretary of State will set out next steps shortly.

3.     Departments will be able to provide more detailed information on their own projects that have been cancelled or suspended today

4.     End Year Flexibility (EYF) is a mechanism whereby departments may carry forward unspent Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) provision into later financial years.  The Treasury budgets for EYF by using total underspends in any one year, to pay for total EYF claims in the same year. However, if underspends are not large enough to cover the amount of EYF that has been committed to departments, then the difference will need to be funded in the first instance from the Reserve, and subsequently through additional borrowing.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | National | Leave a comment

New(ish) Harris Poll – Lib Dems at 25%

There is a new(ish) Harris poll in today’s Metro which shows Labour and the Conservatives up 1%:

           Conservative              36% (up 1%)

                                                                                 Labour                       30% (up 1%)

                                                                                 Lib Dem                      25% (down 2%)    

The Lib Dems are down 2% but their 25% share is much higher than other polls are showing at present.

Harris Interactive polled 1,906 adults across Britain between June 1 and 9, so this poll is older than the recent YouGov and BPIX polls.

June 14, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New BPIX Poll – Public Backs Big Cuts in Spending

There is a new BPIX poll in the Mail on Sunday which sees the parties largely resume their pre-election campaign positions:

                                                                    Conservative              39% (up 5%)    

                                                                    Labour                      32% (up 2%)

                                                                    Lib Dem                      19% (down 7%) 

The poll also contains findings which suggest that the public backs big cuts in spending and some tax rises. However, cuts in the NHS, winter fuel allowances and student loans are not popular:

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 6 Comments