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New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Static at 8%

There is a new YouGov poll for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper which shows Labour’s lead constant at 8% with the Lib Dems pulling away from UKIP:

                   Conservative               34% (no change)

                   Labour                         42% (no change)

                                                     Lib Dem                       10% (up 1%)

                                                     UKIP                               6% (down 1%)

Over the last week Labour’s lead has oscillated between 8% and 11%.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 19 July.

July 31, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | 2 Comments

London 2012 Olympics

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last week but I have been extremely busy at work in support of the Olympic games. As well as my more usual “day job” I was also involved in marshalling the Olympic Torch Relay through Uxbridge. However, I did find time on Friday night to watch the opening ceremony and what a fantastic spectacle it was! The concept of telling the story of the best of British history was original and at times mind blowing. I was amazed as the green fields were stripped away to set the scene for the industrial revolution, wowed as the chimneys rose from the ground, and truly staggered at the beauty and ingenuity behind the concept of the forging of the Olympic rings and them coming together overhead.

The NHS scene was beautiful and fantastic for the participation of kids from Great Ormond Street Hospital. Anything which raises the profile of the hospital and the great work it does for sick children is well worthwhile. I would imagine that the worldwide profile it received on Friday night will boost its donations income for a while. The dropping in of so many Mary Poppins figures to banish the demons of children’s stories was as unexpected as it was delightful.

The Bond sketch was also inspired. I expect that many people, like me, had thought that the Palace scene would include a look-alike playing the Queen and were as stunned as I was when the REAL Queen turned around and said “Good evening Mr Bond”. To see her playing a full part in the sketch alongside Daniel Craig was a big surprise. Let’s not forget that HM Queen Elizabeth is Head of State of 16 different nations taking part in the Olympics, plus several British Overseas Territories which also compete in their own right.

Rowan Atkinson injected a further dose of humour into the event, reprising his Mr Bean character in the Mike Oldfield section. He is a face instantly recognisable around the world in a role which needs no translation. I was less convinced of the relevance of Mohammed Ali or the musical contribution of Sir Paul McCartney. Both are considerably past their best and Mohammed Ali didn’t appear to be aware of where he was or what he was doing. However, that is a minor criticism.

The end of the ceremony was breathtaking. Having David Beckham and Sir Stephen Redgrave bringing the Olympic flame on the final leg of its journey was great but passing the flame to the younger generation was simply brilliant. I was wondering what the copper containers were all about and could not see how the flower-like structure they were placed on would work but when they started to rise and form the cauldron I could only say “wow” and then “wow” again at the brilliance of the concept. How much more relevant it was to have each competing nation bring in a part of the cauldron which then unites to form the receptacle of the flame than have a single bowl which has no use after the Games finish. I understand that at the end of the Olympics each of the 204 nations will get to take home their copper container to keep.

I do not share the negative and rather silly views of the critics of the whole event. Some people are very quick to criticise and moan about these Olympic Games. The nitpicking and complaining from some quarters have almost become an Olympic sport in their own right! In my opinion the opening ceremony was a great skate through British history and some of our key achievements and values. No one party owns the NHS or industrial capitalism and there are people on the left who will laud the enterprise of the early pioneers of capitalism just as there are many on the right who value and support the NHS and the principle that it remain free at the point of use. Three cheers for Danny Boyle and the team which put together such a magnificent and unique opening ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Let’s now get behind all of our athletes and make these the best games for all participants but especially the British and Commonwealth ones! I have tickets for both the main Olympics (Women’s Hockey) and the Paralympics (Wheelchair Fencing) and am looking forward to attending my first Olympic Games. Since it is in Rio di Janeiro next time, I doubt it will be my last!

Olympic_Ceremonies_London_2012_Opening_Ceremony

July 30, 2012 Posted by | International, National | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Down to 8%

There is a new YouGov poll for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper which shows Labour’s down to 8% with the Lib Dems and UKIP both up slightly:

                   Conservative               34% (down 1%)

                   Labour                         42% (down 2%)

                                                     Lib Dem                         9% (up 2%)

                                                     UKIP                               7% (up 1%)

As I noted the other day Labour’s lead is now as often below 10% as it is above. Labour have sometimes had a lead of 10 or 11% with YouGov but this is now less common than a couple of months ago.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 9 July.

July 19, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | 1 Comment

U-Turn Confirmed on Clayfield Copse Park and Ride Plans

Tonight at the ruling Labour Group’s Cabinet meeting the plans for micro park and ride schemes at Clayfield Copse and Palmer Park were finally killed off. The Cabinet accepted that the plans would cause problems for existing leisure users and that the (so-called) consultation had been badly flawed. Of course this would not have been achieved without the magnificent support of so many people across Reading who united to oppose the plans at both sites.

In Peppard ward local residents, sports groups, environmental groups and people from all parties and none came together to fight the plans for Clayfield Copse. Together with my Conservative colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale, I led a campaign which involved a protest meeting at Clayfield Copse, a public meeting in the Emmer Green Youth and Community Centre and a petition which was taken door to door by local people and supported by the sports clubs and local shops. When the announcement was made at full Council that the plans would be withdrawn we already had over 400 signatures!

Tonight at Cabinet in response to my statement about the U-turn on the micro park and ride sites proposed for Clayfield Copse and Palmer Park, Cllr Tony Page sought to deflect his embarrassment by making the claim that I had endorsed the two sites when I was Lead Councillor, in the Council’s small bid to the Local Strategic Transport Fund. This is completely untrue! The bid was successful in bringing £4.9m to Reading for schemes such as the large cycle hire scheme I proposed but at no point did it include plans for micro park and ride at Clayfield Copse or Palmer Park. Don’t just take my word for it, you can find the bid on the Council’s website here or you can read the actual bid document here. As you will see, the bid endorses park and ride, and micro park and ride, in general terms but does not mention sites at all. I have always supported park and ride schemes but they must be in the right place!

Immediately Independent Councillor Ralph spied what he thought was another bandwagon and tried to leap aboard but he had clearly not read the small LSTF bid, just as he admitted he hadn’t read the Cabinet papers which orginally proposed park and ride for Clayfield Copse.

Despite Cllr Page’s bluster and Cllr Ralph’s opportunism, residents can rest assured that this ill-conceived plan is now dead. Leisure users at Clayfield Copse and Palmer Park should note Cllr Page’s pledge not to seek to resurrect the plans at some future date and the promise I extracted, reiterated tonight through gritted teeth, that the Council would repair the pot holes at the entrance to Clayfield Copse.

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Local | 4 Comments

New Populus Poll – Labour Lead Cut to 6%

There is a new Populus poll in tomorrow’s Times which shows Labour’s lead over the Conservatives being cut to 6%:

      Conservative              34% (up 1%)

      Labour                        40% (down 1%)

                                                           Lib Dem                       12% (up 3%)

                                                           UKIP                             TBC

This is the lowest lead for Labour for a while and suggests that the days of consistent double digit poll leads from most major pollsters may be over for now.

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Defence Secretary Unveils New Wildcat Helicopter

The Defence Secretary has today unveiled the first of a new fleet of Wildcat helicopters and confirmed a £250M contract to support them. The first of 62 Wildcat helicopters have been handed over to the MoD by manufacturer AgustaWestland at the Farnborough International Air Show. The Somerset-based firm is benefiting from the £250M support and training contract that is sustaining 500 jobs. The Wildcat is a greatly upgraded version of the tried and tested Lynx helicopter and used to be known as “Future Lynx”.

The MoD is buying 34 Army Wildcats and 28 Maritime Attack variants which will replace the Lynx fleet operated by the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm. The first to be handed over to the MoD are Army helicopters, which will come into service in 2014. The first Royal Navy Wildcats are due to be delivered for training later this year before coming into service in 2015.

The Army Wildcat will primarily be used in a reconnaissance role, providing protection to soldiers on the ground. The Maritime Attack version will protect the Navy’s fleet around the world.

Both variants have more powerful engines than the Lynx, enabling Wildcat to be used on operations all year round in extreme conditions. The Wildcat also has a more robust fuselage to give better protection to the crews. Both variants are armed with a General Purpose and Heavy Machine Gun and the Navy’s helicopters will also carry Sting Ray Torpedoes. Army and Navy pilots will use high-tech interactive displays thanks to state of the art glass cockpits.

The £250m Wildcat in-service support and training contract with AgustaWestland will provide a specialist training centre at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, where the Wildcats will be based, that will include flight simulators and a wide range of other equipment to train pilots, ground crew and engineers.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Wildcat represents a considerable advance over the current Lynx helicopters, bringing greatly improved performance and capability. The contract to provide training and support will keep them flying wherever they are needed.

“These helicopters will be a key part of the future equipment programme for the Armed Forces that will see £160 billion spent over the next ten years. By balancing the budget, we can deliver the airframes and the millions of pounds of support they require.”

Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall said: “This is an excellent helicopter, which is very important to the Army Air Corps. We will be seeking to get it fully operational as soon as possible.”

Chief of the Naval Staff, First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope said: “Wildcat represents the latest generation of multi role helicopter that has been specifically procured to operate from ships of the Royal Navy. With state of the art sensors, equipment and weapons, it will be an outstanding asset that will maintain Royal Naval units at the cutting edge of worldwide maritime operations.”

July 11, 2012 Posted by | Defence | 1 Comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead at 9%

There is a new YouGov poll for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper which shows Labour’s lead at 9% with the Lib Dems and UKIP both down significantly:

                   Conservative               35% (up 1%)

                   Labour                         44% (up 3%)

                                                     Lib Dem                         7% (down 3%)

                                                     UKIP                               6% (down 2%)

There have been a lot of polls from YouGov since I last reported on them. Some have shown Labour in double digit leads and some not. However, there has been a general nudge upwards in the Conservative share, seemingly at the expense of UKIP. The Lib Dems are down at their record lowest ever level.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 20 June.

July 9, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | Leave a comment

Audit and Governance Committee – 5 July 2012

Today has been a busy day on Council business. This morning Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale and I held our regular monthly surgery at Budgen’s  Precinct in the Readibus. It was a quiet surgery for issues but we had several people coming up to congratulate us on our campaign to save Clayfield Copse from the Council’s micro park and ride scheme. This afternoon I was pleased to attend the Homecoming parade for 7th Battalion, The Rifles, at Brock Barracks. Bad traffic meant that some of the senior guests were late arriving but the Duchess of Gloucester was there to present campaign medals to lads who had returned from Afghanistan.

However, the main issue I wanted to write about was Thursday’s Audit and Governance Committee meeting. I only joined the committee this May but I was keen to get stuck into scrutinising some of the Council’s contracts and spending. The papers for the meeting did not disappoint me. There were a number of nuggets of information.

Agenda item 9 was draft end of year accounts for 2011/12. Appendix B had some interesting information:

– Bus Lane Enforcement is showing an “overachievement of income” of £1,242,000. That is a huge sum of money and is propping up many other areas which are in deficit.

– The Residents’ Parking scheme continues to be hugely in deficit and the recent changes by the Labour administration will make this worse. There was an overspend of £66,000 on the scheme and an “under-achievement of income” of £134,000. So a scheme which was already about £300,000 in deficit has deteriorated further by about £200,000 over the last year!

Of most interest to me was the news in Agenda item 5 that the Council’s internal audit team is conducting an investigation into the procurement of the bus shelter contract. As you would expect the Council papers are quite vague about what is an ongoing investigation but they do state that this is linked with “a national investigation being undertaken by the Office of Fair Trading”. Under questioning officers stated that their investigation covered both the national element and also the local handling and procurement of the contract. I had long suspected that something strange happened with this contract, as the outgoing contractor ripped out their shelters several months before the incoming contractor, JC Decaux, was ready to install their new shelters. I had many discussions with Transport Officers to seek to improve the contract terms to the benefit of Council Tax payers and was pleased when we got the net cost down to zero from the £80,000 cost I had inherited from Labour.

I intend to ask further questions about this and will be looking out for the investigation report.

 

July 7, 2012 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

Labour U-Turn Ends the Park & Ride Threat to Clayfield Copse

Thanks to all the brilliant efforts of people across Reading, tonight at the Full Council meeting Councillor Tony Page announced that the Labour administration are abandoning their plans for micro park and ride schemes at both Clayfield Copse and Palmer Park.

Last night I chaired a public meeting at Emmer Green Youth and Community Centre (see photo above)  at which over 100 people expressed their concerns, anger and opposition to the plans for Clayfield Copse. The meeting was attended by the Deputy Head of Highways and Transport Ruth Leuilette who listened and took away with her the strength of local feeling.

I was angered to learn that despite his public protestations of support for our campaign, Independent Peppard Councillor Mark Ralph had in fact sought to have the public meeting with Transport Officers cancelled, by raising objections to their attendance at the meeting. He was told that we had every right to organise a public meeting and invite Council officers to attend. That didn’t stop him attending and playing to the gallery!

Earlier in the same day my Conservative ward colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale and I met with the Head and Deputy Head of Highways and Transport to make the case against the plans. We also handed over no less than 45 objections to the plans based on the emails we have received from local people.

Tonight at the Full Council meeting the President of Reading Athletic Club presented a petition against the proposal at Palmer Park and it was in response to this that Labour’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Planning and Transport, Cllr Tony Page, announced a U-turn for both sites. The final decision will be made at the Cabinet meeting on 16 July but Cllr Page has made it clear what the decision will be!

I have no doubt that the combined efforts of everyone involved in the campaign made the Labour administration realise that they had not properly thought this through and had failed to consult people properly.

Jane and I would like to thank everyone who supported and helped with our campaign to protect Clayfield Copse. It has proven what can be achieved when elected Councillors, local groups and societies, and local residents all work together.

July 3, 2012 Posted by | Local | 2 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Labour’s Lead Cut to 9%

There is a new ComRes telephone poll published in tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Labour lead being trimmed to 9% with the Lib Dems also up sharply:

           Conservative            33% (up 1%)

                                        Labour                      42% (no change)

                                        Lib Dem                    13% (up 4%)

                                        UKIP                            3% (down 5%)

In further findings:

The poll suggests that people are evenly divided over whether the Government’s own policies or the single currency crisis is to blame – despite repeated claims by David Cameron and George Osborne that the turmoil in the euro is having a “chilling effect” on the UK economy.

Asked whether the Government is more to blame than the eurozone crisis for the lack of economic growth in Britain, 43 per cent of people agree and 42 per cent disagree, with 14 per cent saying “don’t know.”

More than a quarter of Conservative voters (27 per cent) agree that the UK Government is more to blame, while 64 per cent disagree. Over a third of Liberal Democrat voters (36 per cent) agree, with 51 per cent disagreeing, while Labour supporters agree by a majority of Labour 58 per cent  to 30 per cent.

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 1,003 GB adults by telephone 29 June – 1 July 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.

July 2, 2012 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

Public Meeting Tonight – Micro Park and Ride at Clayfield Copse

Tonight at 6.45pm I will be hosting a public meeting on the Council’s proposals for a “micro park and ride scheme” at Clayfield Copse. The meeting will take place in the Emmer Green Youth and Community Centre, Chiltern Court, off St Barnabas Road. At my request, the Deputy Head of Highways and Transport, Ruth Leuillette, will be attending to explain the Council’s thinking on the plans and to take questions.

Since I first spotted the plans at Cabinet on 11 June and raised a series of objections I have been overwhelmed by the level of support which I and my colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale have received. We started a petition which has been taken door to door around the area and local people have joined us in getting signatures and publicising the public meeting. Around 100 people also turned up at the car park to protest.

The plans are for NCP to take over the running of the car park and install pay and display machines. The first two hours would be free of charge but a £4 charge would be levied for longer than two hours and the ticket could be used to ride on the buses. The proposal was that this should apply from Monday to Saturday but since our campaign, and that in Palmer Park, began the Labour administration has indicated that it would consider charges only applying from Monday to Friday. However, since the administration has just agreed to scrap all Sunday and Bank Holiday concessions at its existing NCP run car parks many people fear that the initial free parking period would not last long!

If you can, please come along to the meeting at 6.45pm tonight.

You can read more in the Reading Post here and the Reading Chronicle here.

July 2, 2012 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment