School cuts – West Berkshire Council proposes charging schools who need help

Judith Bunting at Park House School, Newbury, during
the recent election campaign.
With Ian Millar, Head of Physics.

This week West Berkshire Council announced plans for financial “task forces” to be sent into the district’s struggling schools to help heads manage their budgets. They are also threatening to charge any school that requires ‘the task force intervention’.
Judith Bunting, Parliamentary Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in Newbury, said: “This is another shockingly negative move from the Conservatives on West Berkshire Council. They present this issue as if our schools are failing, In reality, the actions of West Berkshire Council and the Conservative Government mean that many local schools have not only suffered significant cuts to their funding, but at the same time are being expected to provide more services around children’s mental health and other matters.”
Judith continued, “West Berkshire Council should be glad to help schools doing their best to keep up standards of education under such onslaught, not chastise them and then charge them for the privilege.”
This week, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary Layla Moran told national press about the hypocrisy surrounding Justine Greening’s announcement £1.3bn of additional funding for schools. In reality, she said, this ‘additional funding’ will come from “efficiencies” from within the education budget:
“This is a desperate attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Instead of providing the £4bn of extra funding promised in their manifesto, the Conservatives are recycling cash from the education budget. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Schools are still facing cuts to their budgets once inflation and increasing class sizes are taken into account.
“Children only get one go at education. We need to invest more in our schools to ensure that no child is left behind.”
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About time too!

west-berkshireIt is good to read about West Berkshire Councils’ plan to invest in our local community, but given Richard Benyon MP and his Conservative colleagues on the Council have held power for so long, do you not find it just a bit galling that they are only just taking action? Whatever, we have to be pleased they have finally listened to Liberal Democrat reason.

Since the beginning of this year, myself and the Liberal Democrat Council team have been pushing hard for the Council and our MP to take a more ambitious approach to managing local authority funding (see links below) and providing examples of Councils elsewhere who are making the investment approach work. The£150m asset management plan developed by Eastleigh Council, run by Cllr Keith House and the Lib Dems, has enabled 13 years of real term cuts in council tax and no front line service cuts.

With examples like this to follow, it is good news that WBC is entering into a multi-million pound joint commercial property venture with the Greenham Common Trust (GCT). If well managed, letting these properties will provide an additional income stream to help pay for much-needed public services and take the pressure .

Congratulations and thanks are due to the Greenham Common Trust for enabling this investment. 

28th January 2016: More ambition from our MP please!

15th February 2016: What other Councils do

19th February 2016: Picking up litter while West Berkshire burns

23rd February 2016: There is another way to tackle these cuts

28th February 2016:  Councils should invest in the local economy

22nd March 2016: Councils need to do more to generate income

17th May 2016: Newbury and West Berks deserves more ambition



Newbury Football Fun Day and update

It was lovely to meet everyone and see the action at Newbury Football Club today. The annual Fun Day and Penalty Shoot out at the ground in Faraday Road drew a huge crowd. Lovely sunshine, good turnout and an impressive amount of activity on the pitch – what’s not to like?

At the moment though the club is in limbo. West Berkshire Council (Conservative)’s plans for the development of the London Road Industrial Estate are still uncertain and little practical is expected to happen for 3 – 5 years. This week the Council offered Newbury Football Club a one-year extension on their lease. While that’s to be welcomed, NFC Chair Lee McDougall has proposed a longer extension with a break clause in it, to come into effect only when action actually takes place on development at the London Road Industrial Estate. The club would agree to move when that day comes. This is a very professional approach to the issues at hand, but no answer is yet forthcoming from our lovely Council.

When my own son was growing up, we were fortunate enough to live in the catchment of Brentford FC. Brentford runs a fantastic Football in the Community scheme and their Council in Hounslow and neighbouring Richmond and Twickenham, then LD, used to bend over backwards to help them do their work. They recognised the importance that lively community football could bring to the health and spirit of our children.

In Newbury, we are really lucky to have an efficient, active team at NFC. If only our Council could see the importance of this. By the time I left the Fun Day, Richard Benyon had dropped in [a little surprising given his formal position that this is a “local matter” in which it would be inappropriate for him to get involved (!)], but no one from the Council had visited to see the club in action.

On the club’s website Lee McDougall says: “We passionately believe football, like all sport, inspires young people and provides a focus  for personal and physical development from early years into adulthood. We’ve seen first-hand how sport can turn lives around. Newbury does not have enough community football facilities, the only all-weather outdoor, floodlit , artificial turf training venues are in a few large secondary schools and in high demand from commercial organisations. Also, the town is lacking quality grass pitches to meet the sporting demands of local children. If you value local youth sport, please help us by watching the video, signing the petition and sharing them with your friends and family …” Read more here.

Once again, children are bearing the brunt of this Council’s lack of engagement and indecision. I understand there is the potential for outside funding to pay for 3G Astroturf to create a pitch that could allow a couple of hundred additional boys and girls to play each week, on top of the 360 that train with the club already, but with no certainty of tenure and no alternative location being suggested, the club can’t pursue such possibilities. And NFC do pay rent for this pitch, by the way, and they pay themselves for the upkeep of the ground.

Back to the positive in of all this, though. Seeing so many Newbury youngsters fit, healthy and engaged with their sport, today, made for an uplifting morning. Keep up the good work Newbury Football Club and Newbury Community Football Group. Our kids need you!

May-June 2013 128_1024
Couldn’t resist adding this photo with my own kids at Wembley to watch Brentford in the play-offs in 2013. A lovely day, tho Brentford lost (again!).







Councils should invest in the local economy

West Berkshire Council should invest in our local economy.

This week, at the Liberal Democrat party conference, I made a speech about the need for more ambitious local authority funding, with reference to the horrendous cuts to services we are seeing in West Berkshire. West Berks District Council is the epitome of un-ambitious when it comes to finding ways to pay for much-needed services like libraries, buses and respite care for families taking care of children and adults with mental health issues.

The cuts are entirely ideological, being imposed by George Osborne who believes in providing minimal government support for society, and enacted by West Berkshire Conservatives, who largely agree.

As a Liberal Democrat I wholeheartedly disagree with both the conservative ideology and the way that our local authority and MP are caving in without a fight. For instance, in a letter to the Newbury Weekly News last week Councillor Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) claimed that Councils have four options only to solve the current problems: to increase charges for services, to increase council tax, to cut internal costs, or to reduce local services.

This is not true. Authorities across the UK, from Swindon and Basingstoke, to Eastleigh, Portsmouth and North Yorkshire, are engaged in positive schemes to generate income which they are using to cushion the ‘George Osborne effect’.

In my speech to conference, I highlighted the ambitious, imaginative approaches taken by Eastleigh and Portsmouth Councils, back when Liberal Democrats were in charge.

Clip (33 secs):


Here is the full speech (03mins 20secs):

“I call on the council to show some ambition and
take positive action to find a new way to
tackle these cuts.”


On Monday night, at a public meeting in Wash Common organised by the campaigning group West Berkshire SOS, Judith Bunting lambasted West Berkshire’s Conservative Council for the unimaginative way they are tackling the current funding crisis. The following statements summarise the thrust of her speech:


“Other Councils have anticipated cuts in government funding and taken positive steps to raise additional income which is protecting their libraries and public services.”


“The Conservatives on West Berkshire Council slashed children’s mental health services last year and now threaten our libraries and bus services. Funding for Mencap and other charities is being removed, the Corn Exchange and Watermill Theatres are losing their grant support, and this all comes on top of cuts to adult social care already underway.”


“What steps are the Conservative Council taking to halt the destruction of our community? What initiatives have they taken to raise more funding outside of parking charges and council tax? As far as I can see, absolutely none. Last May, councillors awarded themselves a 16.5% increase. Why don’t they start fixing the current problems by giving that money back to the people?”


“Councillor Crumly’s letter (NWN 18th Feburary) claimed that Councils have four options only to solve the current problems: to increase charges for services, to increase council tax, to cut internal costs, or to reduce local services. This is not only extremely short sighted but it is just not true. Authorities across the UK, from Swindon and Basingstoke, to Eastleigh, Portsmouth and North Yorkshire, are engaged in positive schemes to generate income which they are using to cushion the ‘George Osborne effect’.”


“Since 2013 Local Authorities have also had the power the power to keep up to half of any business rate growth in their area. West Berkshire Council’s response to this is to lose Bayer to Reading, lose Hitachi, lose Amec and force numerous local traders out of business.”


“West Berkshire has £4.9m kept as reserves, the District’s ‘rainy day fund’. Well. I have news for West Berkshire Council, it’s raining right now. I call on the Council to use these reserves now, begin the process to set up income generating schemes, and give time for communities to develop their own schemes which can plug the gaps in their short-term funding. We have a wonderful volunteer force in West Berkshire, but it is wrong for the Council to depend on volunteers to take all their responsibilities.”


“I call upon the council to show some ambition and take positive action to find a new way to tackle these cuts.”


Judith Bunting is the Parliamentary Spokesperson for Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats.



Picking up litter while West Berkshire burns

Please find below, for your reference a letter published in the Newbury Weekly News, Thursday, February 18, 2016 by Cllr Crumly, the Conservative Member for Thatcham Central.

In this letter, Councillor Crumly claims that West Berkshire Council has four options only to solve the current problems:

a) to increase charges for services,

b) to increase council tax,

c) to cut internal costs, or

d) to reduce local services.

I disagree wholeheartedly.

This approach is not only extremely short sighted but it is not true. Local authorities across the UK, from Swindon and Basingstoke, to Eastleigh, Portsmouth and North Yorkshire, are engaged in positive schemes to generate income which they are using to cushion the ‘George Osborne effect’.”


I am taking the extraordinary step, here, of including the whole of his letter below. It is from the Newbury Weekly News edition of Thursday, February 18, 2016. [NWN, if you are unhappy with my posting of photograph, please let me know and I will take it down asap.]

Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 13.15.31.jpg

What Other Councils Do …


If anyone tries to tell you that it’s unrealistic to fight the cuts being imposed by the conservatives on West Berkshire Council, here’s a little ammunition:

Eastleigh Borough Council has a £150m asset management plan which has enabled 13 years of real term cuts in council tax and NO CUTS TO FRONT LINE SERVICES.

Eastleigh Borough has a population of ~129,000 and the Council has been Lib Dem controlled since 1994.

Meanwhile, in West Berks, our Conservative Council over the past 9 years has sold off all kinds of assets, retained no interest in commercial developments and allowed major employers to leave our area. Result?  We face many significant cuts.

Where is our Council’s foresight?  Where is the planning?  Where is the hard-headed determination to do the best for West Berks?



Regarding Eastleigh, the broadbrush headlines, which I guess is what you want, are that back during the financial crash, faced with the failing of a major local venue, Eastleigh Council didn’t kick Hampshire Cricket Club out (as WBC are doing currently with Newbury FC). Rather, the council stepped in as funder. They BOUGHT THE GROUND and leased it back. With a major Hilton Hotel, conference and banqueting facility and spa on site, plus an 18 hole golf course, they have ended up with:

* net income at maturity to council on roughly £35m investment of £1m each year

* 500 on and off site jobs for economy created

* annual local economic impact £50m

* venue saved and one of top wold cricket grounds created

In contrast to the above, when sitting on the Faraday Road site which included light industry, potential for housing and larger development, and a football ground – The conservative run council in West Berkshire Council sat on its hands. 

I heard it personally from Gordon Lundie: WBC did not develop the Faraday Road Site earlier because of the financial crash.

What Eastleigh did in 2008 is a fantastic example of how a forward thinking council, that wants to invest in the local community and infrastructure, can make things work.

The Aegeas Bowl, as the development above is now called, is only part of the £150m asset management plan that Eastleigh Council have developed which has enabled 13 years of real term cuts in council tax and no front line service cuts.


Letter to the Editor – More ambition from our MP please!

To the Editor, 

In just one week we have had reports of the imminent loss of three important community facilities across West Berkshire: the Jubilee Sports Centre in Kintbury, the Youth Centre in Hungerford and Thatcham Priory which was, until recently, being developed as a Town Centre hub for the community.

I understand West Berks Council’s current frustrations at the short-notice reduction in our government support but why, after 9 years in power, have the Conservative team and our MP not set up additional income streams to protect grants to Town and Parish Councils and our public services?

In Portsmouth, the Council owns and lets large buildings to the HMRC and other commercial operators. Eastleigh Council is part owner of the Ageas Bowl Cricket ground, Hotel and Spa, a profitable enterprise, which supports their schools, libraries and community centres. Further afield, in 2007 North Yorkshire County Council set up NYNet, a public sector controlled limited company that delivers broadband services to outlying villages. This enterprise is reported to have already generated sufficient profit to subsidise two district nurses and a village library; last June NYCC actually increased funding for their at-risk libraries by £175,000

Meanwhile, West Berkshire Council sells off every building it can for short-term gain. It is currently in the process of handing the Market Street development over to private owners, retaining no interest in any future rents. They have also in recent months allowed Hitachi, Amec and Bayer, one of Newbury’s largest employers, to slip through their fingers to Reading, taking all their business rates with them. 

Compared to other Councils around the UK, West Berkshire seems regressive and unambitious. Our MP does little to encourage them to aim higher. How are we going to manage in the future without any imagination or ambition at the helm? 


Judith Bunting
Parliamentary Spokesperson
Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats
07914 835 073

Education – Open letter to Michael Gove

Judith Bunting addressing sixth-formers at Kennet School
Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing from West Berkshire, where we have a problem in our education system which I am hoping you, as Secretary of State for Education, can help explain.
West Berkshire recently ranked one of the best places to live in the UK (top 20% places to live). It is the kind of place where kids receive encouragement at home. The area’s relative affluence also means Conservative led West Berks Council is not strapped for cash. Despite these positive factors, educational attainment across the district is in decline.
In 2011 on average 58.2% of pupils across the UK achieved five good GCSEs. In West Berkshire this figure stands at 60.1% (figures here 2011). In 2012, the equivalent figures were 59.4% and 57.2% (figures here 2012) . As the National average for students obtaining 5 good GCSEs went up by 0.8%, results in West Berkshire went down by 2.9%. In a single year, results in Newbury and West Berkshire fell by nearly four times the national average.
If that doesn’t persuade you we have a problem, let’s try another example: From 2011-2012, the percentage of the district’s pupils gaining A* to C grades in English fell by 9.86%. The Council blamed this on a national downturn in GCSE results. The national downturn, however, was only 2.71% (English figures here). Once again, a downturn of nearly four times the national average.
For students’ performance to fall so dramatically across the board, the failings cannot be with individual schools. The problem must be systemic. Such decline cannot be allowed to continue.
Mr Gove, as a local resident I can tell you that West Berks is not a below average place. We have fantastic teachers, parents and schools who know education is the key to empowering the next generation and to employment in the skills economy of the future – which, locally, means with industries such as Vodafone, Bayer and AWE Nuclear.
I recently started a petition – Education for a Fairer Future – because I believe the educational decline in West Berkshire must be addressed. I am also meeting local head teachers to discuss what they think could be done to improve results across the District.
I am writing to you to ask whether the Department of Education will help me investigate why West Berkshire is under-performing in education, before the decline in our local schools damages the futures of young, striving students in Newbury and West Berkshire.
As a good Liberal Democrat, I am copying David Laws in on this enquiry. I will also be sending a copy of this letter to our local paper, the Newbury Weekly News.
Yours Sincerely,
Judith Bunting
07914 835 073
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Newbury and West Berkshire
The Liberal Democrats