While I have been busy working with local residents to save Clayfield Copse car park from the Labour administration’s plans for a “micro park and ride” scheme it has not passed my attention that at long last work began at the end of last week on the appalling potholes at the Budgen’s precinct car park. As a local resident and regular user of the shops there I have seen many occasions when motorists and cyclists have suffered with the poor state of the car park.
In August last year I wrote to the managing agents (Wolfe Property Services Ltd) to ask for some action and I was pleased when my letter was the earliest letter cited by them in their planning application to carry out a range of repair works around the precinct. Since the planning permission was granted I have written again and telephoned Wolfe to ask when work was to begin. I also chased through the transport officers of the Council. I received an assurance that immediate repairs to the worst of the potholes would happen before the end of this month and the main work by the end of the summer.
Last week it was really pleasing to see some serious repairs taking place. Sometimes in the past repairs have been of poor quality but these seem to be of a better standard altogether. I will keep an eye on what is happening and will update again if I hear that the substantive works are due to begin.
You can see how bad some of the potholes were in my previous posting here.
There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian today showing the Conservatives remaining just 5% behind Labour after closing the gap last month:
Conservative 34% (down 2%)
Labour 39% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 14% (up 3%)
UKIP 3% (down 1%)
Underlying the stable overall picture are signs of deepening disillusion towards politicians on all sides – especially on the all-important terrain of the economy. After a month which saw the eurozone crisis reach new heights, voters are increasingly disinclined to believe that the government or the opposition will do much to help them weather the storm.
When asked to put aside party preference and consider only who they would trust to run the economy properly, just 36% of voters endorse David Cameron and George Osborne, which is a substantial eight-point decline on the 44% rating they enjoyed on the same questions just a month ago. The only comfort for the prime minister and chancellor is that their Labour counterparts have taken an identical eight-point dive in the financial trust stakes, falling from 35% to 27% over the same four weeks, with growing numbers refusing to indicate trust for either team.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1002 adults aged 18+ on 22-24th June 2012. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.
Since 11 June, when, at Labour’s Cabinet meeting, I objected to plans for Park and Ride at Clayfield Copse, I have been inundated with emails from users of the car park protesting at the plans to charge £4 for anyone who parks more than 2 hours (Mon to Sat). The Labour plan would see the installation of pay and display meters under the management of National Car Parks Ltd (NCP). Since the Labour administration has just scrapped the Sunday and bank Holiday reduced rate in all the Council’s other car parks there is a very real fear that this plan would be the thin end of the wedge leading to the proposed 2 hour free period disappearing in time.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been in contact with many local groups and individual car park users to get their views and their support for a petition in opposition to the plans. I have spent hours meeting with people, answering emails and on the telephone about this issue. I have been helped by people who have organised a leafletting campaign suggesting that people contact me with their views. So far I have had several dozen emails, with only two people equivocal or in favour.
I have worked with my colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale and others to organise a photoshoot at the car park today with Rob Wilson MP, Residents’ Associations, Friends of Clayfield Copse, members of Caversham AFC and Caversham Park Tennis Club and local residents. In all about 100 people turned up this afternoon and most were happy to gather at the car park entrance for a photo. Interestingly the Independent Councillor for Peppard ward also showed up and had his former Independent colleague there snapping photos.
It was a fantastic turnout and it just shows how the community can be motivated when a much loved facility is threatened. I do hope that together we can persuade the Council to dump this plan.
If you want to add your voice to the protests please either comment below this posting or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: I have written to the Chronicle to correct the inaccurate report given by their article on 14 June when they wrongly stated I supported these schemes at Cabinet. I didn’t. I said my Party supports park and rides in principle but then went on to explain in great detail why I had many concerns over the plans for Clayfield Copse in my ward.
The Independent Councillor for Peppard ward admitted that he had failed to read the papers properly and had “missed” this crucial proposal. He then echoed almost everything I had said to the annoyance of the Leader of the Council who allowed him to speak despite him not having indicated to speak on the item as is usually required under the rules.
Had I not spotted this plan for Clayfield Copse and Palmer Park and raised objections it would have gone through on the nod!
My earlier article about this is here.
UPDATE2: The Reading Post has a very fair article on this here.
There is nothing ordinary about the leaked plan to restore ‘O’ Levels. Education Secretary Michael Gove has struck a chord with many around the country and in the Conservative Party with his reported plans to replace the debased GCSE examination system inEnglandwith a more rigorous academic exam by 2014. For years, since the GCE and CSE were merged into a single GCSE exam, critics have noted the year on year increase in the pass rate and the consequent need to differentiate the real high fliers with a new A* grade. The ability to take and retake individual modules (unlike the old ‘O’ Level) has also made it easier to pass. So many pupils now gain an A grade and so few fail that many have derided the GCSE as mediocre and almost worthless.
Gove’s plan reportedly includes a return to individual science subjects of Physics, Biology and Chemistry rather than the current fashion for a “Combined Science” GCSE. He also proposes that the top stream of mathematics students should study calculus. Less academic students would study for a more practical or vocational qualification with a focus on basic numeracy and literacy. In many advanced nations this would be seen as common sense and in most cases existing good practice but here the howls of protest from the left have already started.
In my view it is unarguable that the GCSE (which was introduced by a Conservative government) has been debased over time. Private schools have already begun moving to alternatives and few overseas nations have adopted the British GCSE, in contrast to the ‘O’ Level which is still used elsewhere around the world despite it falling out of favour at home.
My father was the chairman of the South Western Examination Board and oversaw the introduction of that body’s Physics and Science GCSE papers in the 1980s. There was great pressure to make the new GCSE exam a success and I well remember my father being very frustrated at the immediate “dumbing down” of the exam questions compared to the ‘O’ Level paper. That only became worse over time. It was well known at the time that the jump from the standard expected at GCSE to the standard of A Level in the Sciences and Maths grew significantly. It was less so for Arts subjects. The knock on effect throughout the education system was noticeable and employers can too often be heard bemoaning the shortage of British engineers, scientists and mathematicians.
Michael Gove also proposes to scrap the secondary school national curriculum and operate with a single national examination body. The national curriculum has often been attacked for being too prescriptive and Gove plans to allow Head Teachers to determine their own priorities for their school in discussion with teachers, governors and parents. This makes sense in the majority of cases but has its own risks. Some will remember the reasons for the national curriculum’s introduction (again by a Conservative government) when thousands of pupils were being failed by “loony left-wing” local education authorities and trendy lefty teachers who put political posturing ahead of good education. There has to be a tough inspection regime to prevent this happening again.
I have reservations about a single examination body. I can understand the thinking, in that it prevents schools picking the easiest exam paper to boost their position in league tables and it ensures a common standard acrossEngland. However, it reduces competition and choice, which are fundamental Conservative principles, and puts control into the hands of a single body. It would certainly require a tougher regulatory regime to ensure that the highest standards are maintained and that the recent scandals of leaked papers and selective briefings for some teachers do not happen.
Whatever the new exams are called they have the potential to become a new “gold standard” in education. It is also important that the exam for the less academically able is well supported and respected by employers. IfBritainis to be successful we need to provide the best education for the next generation and we cannot afford to have so many youngsters leaving school functionally illiterate and innumerate. Overall I am delighted by Michael Gove’s boldness and that he clearly has the interests of future generations of youngsters and the British economy at heart. The leaking of these proposals before they could get through the normal internal government processes is regrettable but the whining of Trades Unions, some Lib Dems and others on the left must not be allowed to derail this sensible and long overdue reform.
There is a new YouGov poll for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper which shows Labour’s lead cut to 7% with the Lib Dems back ahead of UKIP once again:
Conservative 34% (no change)
Labour 41% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 10% (up 3%)
UKIP 8% (down 1%)
This poll shows UKIP on 15% in London and 9% in the South, Midlands and Wales. The Government’s approval rating is also beginning to show some signs of recovery from its post-Budget depths.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 10 June.
Conservative 33% (no change)
Labour 41% (no change)
Lib Dem 9% (down 1%)
This is consistent with most other recent polling showing Labour’s lead steady at 8-10%.
Conservative 32% (no change)
Labour 42% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 9% (down 2%)
UKIP 8% (up 1%)
In further findings:
In your view, does each of the following statements apply or not to the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne?
Is out of touch with the public
Does apply 59%
Does not apply 20%
- It is particularly dangerous for Mr Osborne that older age groups, who are most likely to vote, are the most critical. Older people are more likely to think that he is “out of touch”, with 63% of those aged 45 and over saying that it applies to him.
Is too posh to understand the financial pressures on ordinary people
Does apply 55%
Does not apply 23%
Comes across as arrogant
Does apply 52%
Does not apply 24%
Has made too many mistakes to be taken seriously
Does apply 48%
Does not apply 25%
Is an able politician
Does apply 31%
Does not apply 39%
Is doing a good job in difficult times
Does apply 27%
Does not apply 46%
Is leading the country’s economy in the right direction
Does apply 25%
Does not apply 46%
Should be replaced by someone like William Hague
Does apply 21%
Does not apply 34%
Don’t know 45%
- The don’t knows have it.
Finally, we asked if people agreed or disagreed with this statement:
I am satisfied with the way George Osborne is doing his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer
(In the most recent MORI survey (April 2012) 28% said they were satisfied and 58% dissatisfied.)
The UK Independence Party equalled its ComRes record of 8% in voting intention, just one point behind the Lib Dems, and our other questions confirm the Eurosceptic mood of public opinion. We asked if people agreed or disagreed with the following:
The British people should have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether or not Britain should stay in or withdraw from the European Union
Agree 71% (81% in May 2009)
Disagree 14% (17% in May 2009)
- This is consistent with polling over the past decade on this issue, which shows demand for a referendum has declined since 2009, but hardly supports the Prime Minister’s claim that there is “no appetite” for a referendum. His own voters are the most supportive – 77% support a referendum compared with 69% of Labour voters and 63% of Lib Dems.
Having a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU would probably result in this country’s withdrawal from it
- This runs counter to much commentary on the question, which suggests that opinion would shift in favour of the status quo in a referendum campaign.
Leaving the EU would be worth the economic pain, if any is caused, for the freedom it would give the UK to make its own laws
- Again, the answers are surprising, it being assumed that perceived economic interests would dominate. Older age groups are almost twice as likely as younger age groups to agree. There is also a trend by social class with lower income groups most likely to agree. Both Conservative and Labour voters are more likely to agree than disagree, while this is reversed for Lib Dems.
The Conservative Party is unlikely to win the next General Election
- One in five (20%) Conservative voters agrees, compared with over half of Lib Dems (52%) and 76% of Labour voters
I would prefer another Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government to an outright majority Conservative win at the next general election
- Half of 2010 Lib Dem voters (50%) agree with this whereas only 16% of 2010 Conservative voters agree. Also interesting is that 62% of current Lib Dem voters, and only 17% of current Tory voters, agree.
David Cameron leaving his daughter in a pub on Sunday was the sort of mistake any parent can easily make
- There is no gender gap, but older people are more forgiving on this question: 57% of those aged 65+ agree compared with 39% of those aged 18 to 24.
While many parents might by mistake forget to take one of their children with them when they leave somewhere, it is not something a Prime Minister should do
Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,014 GB adults online 13-15 June 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.
On Monday night I attended a meeting of the new majority Labour administration Cabinet. Opposition Councillors do not sit on the Cabinet (there are 9 Labour Councillors) but with prior notice we are allowed to speak. I had given notice that I wished to speak on several items. One of them related to increases in car parking charges in the car parks owned by the Council but managed by NCP. The Labour administration proposed to remove the £1 Sunday and Bank Holiday rate at the Hills Meadow and Kings Meadow car parks and charge the normal rates which will be up to £7. They are also scrapping the Sunday and Bank Holiday rate at the Cattle Market and the free parking on Saturdays between 1pm and 6pm at Hills Meadow.
However, the proposal which most surprised me, and which seemed to have been shoe-horned into the report, was the plan for “micro park and ride” schemes at Palmer Park and Clayfield Copse. The report suggested that NCP would be tasked to set up pay and display machines in the car parks, with an initial 2 hours free but a charge of £4 over 2 hours (Mon to Sat) which would also act as a bus ticket for the existing bus services which pass by both sites.
As a ward Councillor for Peppard ward, in which Clayfield Copse sits, I am very aware of the many local groups and individual residents who use the car park, as well as the poor state of the car park there. I raised concerns to Cabinet that the car park was pot-holed and not fit to take the significant increase in usage which a park and ride scheme would entail. The car park needs immediate repair and longer term a proper metalled surface laid. Also some existing users of the car park would be likely to stay longer than 2 hours and would resent a £4 charge. There is a thriving group of football teams who meet there, a tennis club, and very many local people who walk their dogs and enjoy the neighbouring copse and playing fields.
I also noted that whilst the report specifically stated the charging regime for Palmer Park, it had omitted to detail Clayfield Copse! This clearly unsettled Cllr Tony Page, the Labour Lead Councillor, who had failed to spot this omission when he was sent the draft report, and he began flicking through the pages of the report and muttering to the Leader of the Council. I asked that the matter be deferred and consultation be undertaken with the ward Councillors before any proposal was decided. In response to my speech Cllr Page acknowledged the omission and the need for work to improve the state of the car park. He also agreed to discuss my concerns with Council officers and consult with the ward Councillors.
Since the Cabinet meeting I have had the opportunity to consult with many users of the Clayfield Copse car park and it is clear that there is significant concern at what is proposed. Many people have emailed me and I have already met with reprentatives of Caversham Tennis Club and Caversham AFC who often have to use the car park for much longer than 2 hours if they are having a tournament. Today I visited the car park which was full to overflowing, with cars parked outside on the grassed verge and in nearby residential streets. There may be capacity at certain times but not at the times when a park and ride would be most likely to be used, namely at weekends.
My Conservative ward colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale and I will be making strong representations to the Council urging the Labour administration to think again and quickly. The micro park and ride proposal as presented on Monday evening is simply not workable.
There is a new Ipsos MORI poll reported today for the Evening Standard showing the Labour lead dropping slightly to 9% after last month’s poll had the lead jumping to 10%:
Conservative 31% (down 2%)
Labour 40% (down 3%)
Lib Dem 10% (up 1%)
Approval ratings for the government and the three party leaders have not moved significantly in the last month but seem to confirm the trends since the beginning of the year.
- A third (34%) of British adults are satisfied with the way David Cameron he is doing his job as Prime Minister while 58% are dissatisfied. Mr Cameron started the year with 46% satisfied and 47% dissatisfied with his performance.
- Ed Miliband’s satisfaction ratings have improved since the start of 2012. While the percentage of those satisfied with his performance has remained stable over the last four months (35% are satisfied), there has been a decline in those who are dissatisfied (48% now compared to 56% in January 2012).
- A quarter (26%) are satisfied with the way Nick Clegg is doing his job as Deputy Prime Minister and around 63% dissatisfied, a decline from 32% satisfied and 55% dissatisfied in January 2012.
- Satisfaction with the government has also been fairly stable over the last three months, 28% are satisfied with the way the government is running the country and 66% are dissatisfied. This compares with a peak of 40% satisfied in January.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,016 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 9-11 June 2012. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
HMS Diamond, which played a starring role in Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations earlier this month, sails from Portsmouth on Wednesday (June 13) for her maiden operational deployment to the Middle East. The Type 45 destroyer, which launched the Diamond Jubilee weekend with a spectacular ceremonial entry into Portsmouth on June 1, will spend six months carrying out maritime security patrols in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and the Gulf, replacing her sister ship HMS Daring. The ship will be acting as part of the Navy’s standing commitment in the Middle East, providing a range of capabilities from counter piracy to reassurance of the UK’s allies in the region.
Diamond’s build-up to the deployment has been extensive, having been thoroughly trained and assessed for every eventuality by the Navy’s naval training organisation, Flag Officer Sea Training. Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said: “The deployment of HMS Diamond this week marks another watershed for the Type 45 programme, with three of these highly capable destroyers now on operations worldwide. I wish her success in her Middle East deployment where the security of the international shipping lanes continues to be of the utmost importance. The Royal Navy continues to make a significant contribution to protecting the freedom of the seas and Britain’s interests across the globe.”
HMS Diamond was launched in 2007 and commissioned into the fleet in 2011. She is the third of the Navy’s six Type 45 air defence destroyers. Four have been commissioned and the remaining two will enter service over the next two years. The Type 45 Destroyer is the largest and most powerful Destroyer ever built for the Royal Navy. It provides UK Defence with a world class military capability. All six vessels have been launched and four are now based at their home port – Portsmouth Naval Base.
The prime role of the Type 45 Destroyer is Air Defence – protecting UK national and allied/coalition forces against enemy aircraft and missiles. The Type 45 is fitted with the UK variant of the world-leading Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS), including the UK designed Sampson multi-function radar. This system, named Sea Viper by the Royal Navy, has set new standards in Air Defence, capable of defending the Type 45 and ships in its company against multiple attacks from even the most sophisticated anti-ship missiles and aircraft.
The Type 45 is not only a world class Anti-Air Warfare Destroyer – it is also a multi-role, general-purpose platform, able to contribute effectively to a range of world-wide maritime, joint and Coalition operations. The build programme has protected thousands of jobs in the UK maritime sector. It has led directly to a substantial increase in investment in the skills and capabilities that the Defence Industrial Strategy identified as crucial to the UK’s ability to continue to deliver sovereign capability to the armed forces.
There is a new YouGov poll for today’s Sunday Times newspaper which shows Labour’s lead steady at 8% with the Lib Dems falling behind UKIP once again:
Conservative 34% (no change)
Labour 42% (no change)
Lib Dem 7% (down 1%)
UKIP 9% (up 2%)
Labour’s lead seems to have slipped back to under 10% from the previous heights of 12-14% we were seeing in polls a month ago. The Lib Dems and UKIP are continuing to fight it out for third place in YouGov polls, although most other pollsters find the Lib Dems firmly in third place with UKIP fourth.
In the detail of this poll the Conservatives are rather implausibly on 31% in Scotland, level with Labour and ahead of the SNP!
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 24 May.
This Saturday 9 June between 1030am and 1200 noon Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale and I will be holding the first of our monthly fixed site surgeries in the Readibus at Budgen’s Precinct. We have compared diaries and booked dates which are mutually convenient for the rest of the year. This marks a sharp change of approach from previous Peppard Conservative surgeries when Cllr Ralph would just book the surgeries without any reference to me or consideration of my availability. This sometimes made it difficult for me to attend the dates chosen by Cllr Ralph.
Since I am discussing surgeries it is worth nailing a few of the lies which have been spread by the now Independent Councillor for Peppard ward. Throughout the election campaign a lot of mud was thrown by the Independents, most of which was untrue and to which I agreed not to respond at the time. Now I am under no such constraints and readers will gain more insights in due course.
To assist readers I will quote from the Independent Councillor’s most recent statement in the June edition of ‘Village Voice’ magazine published across Caversham Park Village. He says: “Having organised monthly surgeries on a Readibus at the Budgens Precinct every month since my first election in 2004, I regret that the last one in April was cancelled at short notice. It seems that Cllr Willis, who had not attended our surgery at Budgens for nine months, had laid claim that the booking was for a ‘Conservative’ surgery – and Jamie and I had become ‘Independent’.”
The second sentence is untrue in every respect. I did not attend the monthly surgeries at the Readibus from September 2011 onwards. This was the time when the relationship between the two Cllrs who were to become Independents and the rest of the local party broke down following them making a series of untrue accusations in the local press and other public forums. I agreed not to attend monthly surgeries with them in order to avoid any confrontation which might enflame the situation. Instead I conducted weekly walking surgeries around the ward during which time I delivered Council-produced surgery fliers and picked up issues from residents I spoke to. Anyone who can count (clearly not Cllr Ralph) will also note that during that time prior to April 2012 I did not attend SEVEN monthly Readibus surgeries. I can be so certain of the dates etc because Cllr Ralph missed the July surgery, leaving Cllr Chowdhary and I to cover it, as he was abroad. Both Cllrs Chowdhary and Ralph then did not show up at the August Readibus surgery, which I therefore covered on my own! Cllr Ralph may wish to try to make some sort of political point but it would be better if he told the truth to residents.
The second point above is around the booking of the April Readibus. This was booked as a Conservative Councillor surgery by Cllr Ralph and the Council produced fliers and posters for it featuring all three Conservative Councillors and placed the information that a ‘Conservative’ ward surgery was to take place into the local press. After Cllrs Ralph and Chowdhary decided to resign from the Conservative Party Cllr Ralph approached the Council to ask them to produce a second set of fliers and posters for an ‘Independent’ surgery on the same date. The Council officers were rightly concerned at this request to usurp a booked Conservative surgery and the request for a second set of printing and therefore rang both me and Cllr Ralph to express their concern. However, as Cllr Ralph was out of the country they couldn’t speak to him. It was put to me that this was booked as a Conservative surgery and was now being claimed by the Independents. Since Cllr Ralph had caused this confusion I was quite happy to agree to the Readibus being cancelled and each of us making our own arrangements for our surgeries.
It is important that the record is put straight but I am pleased that this silliness is now behind us and am greatly enjoying working with Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale in the best interests of the residents of Emmer Green, Caversham Park Village and Micklands.
For those who live in the ward you might like to note that we have booked Conservative ward surgeries at Budgens Precinct car park in the Readibus on the following dates from 1030am-1200 noon: Sat 9 June, Sat 7 July, Sat 4 August, Sat 1 September, Sat 6 October, Sat 3 November and Sat 1 December. Please come along and see us.
In addition we plan to conduct periodic walking surgeries to keep up the high level of contact with local residents which I have achieved since September last year.
On Friday night I went to Vue Cinema in Reading to see the new movie Prometheus in 3D. I deliberately hadn’t read up on the film, having just seen the trailers and been very impressed. I therefore didn’t have any particular expectations or preconceptions.
The main plot is set in the future but the film begins with an alien humanoid on Earth drinking a fluid which kills him and decomposes his body which falls into a river and the DNA recombines to form the beginnings of life on Earth. The narrative switches to an archaeological expedition in Scotland finding a pre-historic cave painting which includes a crude star map of the same constellation as others found across the world from other civilisations.
The main element of the story is an expedition launched in the space ship Prometheus to find the destination shown in the star map. The crew comprises artificial life-form “David” played by Michael Fassbender, archaeologists Dr Elizabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace and Dr Charlie Holloway played by Logan Marshall-Green, and ship’s captain Janek played by Idris Elba. Guy Pearce makes an appearance in heavy prosthetic make up as billionaire businessman Peter Weyland, sponsor of the expedition. His seach for a means to extend his life leads him to seek out the destination shown in the star map.
On arrival at the planet the crew finds an apparently non-natural feature which they explore with the expected lack of caution in this genre of film. Their attempts to understand what they have found are aided by what appear to be holographic replays of some of the events of the aliens who inhabited the planet. David clearly seems to have more knowledge than the rest of the crew and he discovers some chambers on his own, one of which contains one of the aliens shown at the start of the film, still alive in stasis.
Most of the crew meet grisly ends but one does manage to escape the planet to continue the search for what are know as the “engineers” who were the original source of life on Earth.
I won’t go too much into the plot or some of the surprises as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. It is an utterly captivating film from beginning to end. It avoids the pitfalls of so many sci-fi films of unbelievable sets and weak scripts. For those fans of the Alien series of films it links in well and answers some questions whilst posing new ones.
The effects are superb and the whole experience had me on the edge of my seat. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Alien series or films or similar sci-fi films. I will be going back to see it again!