Boxford Masques – From stump to stage

A report, here, from last week’s Newbury Weekly News, on my contribution to this year’s very excellent Boxford Masques:

The performance runs from 26th – 31st July. Tickets are £9 and £12 and can be booked by the Watermill Theatre website: https://www.watermill.org.uk/the_boxford_masques_2017_at_welford_park_all_at_sea

The play is great fun, like Noel Coward with a pantomime atmosphere. At the same time, amid the musical and romantic comedy, Geraldine McCaughrean has woven a warm, approachable exploration of the rights of refugees. The stage is set at Welford Park. Do bring a picnic, or there is a barbeque on site as well as coffee, cake and beer tent.

 

 

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’.
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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.”
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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.”
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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:
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“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.
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“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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Follow Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats on Twitter, here: @wberkslibdems

Follow Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats on Facebook, here: www.facebook.com/WestBerksLibDems

News and views from Judith Bunting can be found, here: www.judithbunting.co.uk or @JudithBuntingLD or www.facebook.com/JudithBuntingforNewbury

Vince Cable and the Preying Mantis of Coalition

Having Vince Cable as our leader during the changes and challenges of Brexit negotiations will be an excellent outcome. .
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I regret Tim Farron’s passing. He was a great help to people and campaigns in our own constituency. I would also like to register, here, the amazingness of what he has achieved as our Leader in the past two years. When you think of the 2015 election results – see later for Vince’s comments on the preying mantis of coalition – who would think that we could have increased our membership so dramatically, so quickly, so that now membership of the Liberal Democrats is the highest ever.
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The current hung parliament is a real climb down for the Conservatives. Cross-party collaboration is going to be an intrinsic part of what’s to come, which Tories will hate and Labour may resist, putting party before nation, as ever, but it is an exciting thought for anyone willing to work cross-party. Now, they stand a chance of getting through policies from their various manifestos. For the Lib Dems this means reforms in housing, NHS and mental health funding. And Vince drives a hard bargain.
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I have known Vince for a few years, now. He is direct, unflinching and tough enough to take on the big boys. When I delivered my first leaflets, they were to support his campaign and it was he who essentially lured me into becoming an activist. If you would like to know more about his current views – see his interview on the New Statesman website fro 5th July 2017:

Vince Cable: Theresa May’s Tory conference speech “could have been taken out of Mein Kampf.
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My personal favourite passage is the comment he makes about coalition, right at the end of the piece:  ‘ “I have the metaphor of mating with a praying mantis,” he says, as his pale blue eyes twinkle with amusement. “You get eaten at the end of it. We don’t want to go down that road again.” ‘
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Working with Vince Cable, after the Business Breakfast at the Regency Hotel in Thatcham, 2012.

Fire Safety (1): Question to West Berks Council

Following the recent tragic events at Grenfell Tower in London, the question of fire safety in our Council owned and controlled buildings in West Berkshire has been raised with me by several residents and local party members. I recently sought reassurances regarding fire safety from West Berkshire Council, with respect to:

  • local schools
  • social and affordable housing developments
  • taller blocks at the Racecourse development
  • the urban village planned for the Market Street area
  • high rise blocks currently being considered for the Stirling Cables site

The question was submitted on June 22nd for the meeting held on Tuesday 4th July. The Council’s response was given by Cllr Hilary Cole.

Fire prevention should not be a political issue. We all want Council residents, tenants, offices and schools to be safe.

I welcome Cllr Cole’s reassurances that West Berkshire Council is working to establish where cladding exists on all Council owned buildings, including our schools, and will be conducting a precautionary survey of any cladding identified.  I look forward to hearing the results of Cllr Cole’s investigations.  This is critical, even for low-rise buildings.

We must ensure that we have robust systems in place to prevent such a tragic event happening here.

The Council’s response can be read in full here.

Fire Safety (2): Response from West Berkshire Council

04 JULY 2017

Written response received from Councillor Hilary Cole:

Thank you for raising what is a very important issue, as it gives me the opportunity to reassure the residents of West Berkshire and give a detailed response to your question.

Everyone at West Berkshire Council has been shocked and saddened by the terrible fire at Grenfell tower. Our thoughts are with those who died in the fire and we send our condolences to their families. We must also remember that a great many residents have also been injured and left homeless and we wish them well as they recover from this terrible ordeal.

I also want to pay tribute to all the agencies and individuals who have responded to the incident at the time and in the days and weeks since. It has been a real community effort and I commend those communities for the compassion, selflessness and generosity they have shown.

These events have, understandably, caused concern across the country that a similar tragedy could occur elsewhere. Here in West Berkshire we have plans in place to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident happening in our district.

West Berkshire Council has always, and will continue, to take its responsibilities around fire safety very seriously. This includes both the occupants of, and visitors to, its own buildings and those of partner organisations and privately owned property. We are not complacent however and as a result of the fire we have begun some specific activity which I have outlined below.

I think it will also be helpful if I outline the current position in West Berkshire.

West Berkshire Council currently has no high rise residential blocks (which are defined as being 18 metres or taller, which equates to blocks of 6 storeys or more). The Council has, however, been in conversation with a wide range of local organisations to ensure that processes are already in place, and to consider whether any new activities can be introduced. We want to ensure that all sensible precautions have been put in place to minimise the risk to the public.

This has included dialogue with the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Sovereign Housing Association, the Education & Skills Funding Agency, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association.

WBC owned buildings (inc. Schools)

With regard to its own buildings, the Council has an ongoing rolling programme of reviewing and renewing its fire risk assessments which cover both its school and non-school buildings. In addition, the Council’s Health & Safety Team undertake health and safety audits of all properties. This also covers fire risk and ensuring properties are managing this effectively.

The Council has a fire safety improvement programme in which we have invested more than £1.5m over the past four years. This includes £400,000 allocated to be spent this financial year. The work programme has seen fire detection systems, emergency lighting systems and building fabric work undertaken on the majority of its properties ranging from schools, care homes, administrative buildings and libraries.

Schools

The Council’s School Estate Officers are responding to the Education & Skills Funding Agency queries related to school buildings which will confirm that there are no high rise school buildings and only a single circumstance where a residential property is located within a school building. This is a single caretaker property.

Fire Suppression Systems (sprinklers)

With specific regard to sprinklers, the Council has a Fire Suppression System Policy for its own buildings which requires that all new buildings and major refurbishments which meet the policy criteria will have a risk assessment undertaken. Where this risk assessment recommends it, sprinklers will be installed. For both Council-owned buildings and privately owned properties where a Building Control application is submitted for construction, alteration or extension and come within the control of the Council’s Building Control service, the regulations applicable at the time will be applied, including with regard to fire suppression systems (such as sprinklers).

In addition, the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service have said that whilst Building Regulations do not require the fitting of sprinklers in all new buildings, they are recognised as a very effective means of protecting life and of limiting fire damage to the property and the environment. They actively promote the fitting of sprinklers and consistently recommend their installation. I can confirm that the new primary school, Highwood Copse, which received planning permission only last Wednesday at a meeting of the Council’s Western Area Planning Committee, will have sprinklers installed

Housing

With regard to the provision of housing stock, West Berkshire Council has a small amount of directly owned housing stock all of which is low rise and low occupancy.

Sovereign Housing Association is the largest housing provider in West Berkshire. I am pleased to report that Sovereign has written to us confirming that:

  1. it has no high rise blocks in West Berkshire;
  2. it holds up to date fire risk assessments; and
  • it has increased inspections and visits by its housing teams to reassure tenants.

HMO’s (Houses in Multiple Occupation)

For Private Sector Housing, the Council’s Environmental Health Team has evaluated known houses in multiple occupation and no direct risks have been identified. Through existing joint protocols with the Fire Service it is expected any fire safety issues will be identified and addressed.

Private developments – control

For the construction, alteration or extension of a building, and where this comes within the control of the Council’s Building Control Service the building regulations and associated legislation applicable at the time will be applied.

For current construction, the need for fire suppression, cladding compliance and other safety requirements are determined by the Building Regulations 2010 (as amended) and guidance within Approved document B (fire safety) Volume 2. However, it should be noted that not all building work is controlled by the Council’s Building Control service. Where a notice is served to advise that an Approved Inspector is providing the building control service, at that point the Council has no further jurisdiction. An example of this is the Racecourse development for which an approved inspector was used.

Civil Contingencies

The Council is prepared to respond to a broad range of civil emergencies and have plans in place which are regularly tested internally and also with other agencies. This includes a Major Incident Plan and a number of other plans associated with it including a Rest Centre Plan, Vulnerable People Plan and a Major Incident Support Team Plan. These all relate to how people will be supported if they are involved in an emergency and have to be evacuated from their home. These plans not only involve Council Officers but voluntary agencies, other partner agencies and mutual aid support from other Local Authorities.

Our contingency plans cover a wide range of scenarios ranging from fire and flooding through to emergencies at the district’s nuclear sites. We test them regularly, including one recent exercise testing the response to an emergency at AWE. The exercise saw participation by more than 400 people representing 40 agencies which shows the importance we all place on having plans in place and regularly testing those plans.

These plans have also been used for real incidents in recent times including for a Thames Water outage in June 2017 and the flooding in 2014. As a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, these plans will be reviewed and amended as necessary along with the Emergency Planning Training Programme.

In addition, the Council’s Civil Contingencies Team has been engaging with other responders across the Thames Valley in particular the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service in relation to any buildings in the area, not just our own buildings, which may pose a risk to the occupants.

It is important to note that as part of our Member Development Programme, all Members have had Civil Contingencies training, so that they are aware of the role they should play within their communities, should a major incident occur. 

Next steps

At West Berkshire Council we are in a good place but we do not want to become complacent. You will recall I mentioned earlier that the Council does not own any high rise residential blocks and that Sovereign does not have any rise blocks in the district. However, the Council has created a working group to examine any risks, look at any lessons that can be learnt and address them. The group, which includes the Housing, Education and Planning services, are conducting a range of activities including:

  1. Reviewing all Council building fire risk assessments
  2. Contacting the Responsible Person at each Council property to emphasise the importance of continuing to keep the health and safety reporting system up-to-date
  • Write to all contracted providers of services where people are placed by the Council, seeking assurances that fire safety systems are in place for their building
  1. For ALL Council owned buildings including schools (but excluding Academies), the Responsible Person for each building is to be asked if cladding exists on their building. Where cladding is used, regardless of the type, a precautionary survey by a competent surveyor based on the recommendations of the DCLG & RICS will be undertaken.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to outline the Council’s position and to inform our communities of the seriousness with which we take our responsibilities to keeping our communities safe, so once again. I thank you for your question.”

 

Fabulous Football

 

 


331 players, 56 trained, volunteer coaches and hundreds of supportive parents – what’s not to like?

It was lovely to meet coaches, players and parents of AFC Newbury, last weekend, for the presentation of the annual football awards.

This year, I had the pleasure of presenting to the under 7 year olds. And it was a real pleasure. Teamwork, exercise and having fun – and boy, did those boys did they look like they had fun. Football and other sports are an essential part of a healthy childhood and a real benefit through the teenage years.

Here in Newbury we are very lucky. Our footballing community is strong. AFC Newbury alone has 331 players, 6-17 yrs old, as well as 56 trained, volunteer coaches, and literally hundreds of supportive parents. We also have a thriving ladies team and, of course, Newbury FC.

When my children were growing up, we were fortunate to live within the compass of Brentford Community Football and they made a huge difference to the way parents, teachers and kids engaged with the game. Always setting a good example. Always promoting enjoyment and engagement, as well as excellence.

In places like Brentford and Woking, the local Council supports the development of sports and sports’ facilities. West Berkshire Council should similarly get behind the excellent activity that’s going on in our community and cooperate in the sensible development of the ground at Faraday Road.

Whenever you have the chance, please get behind Newbury Community Football Group, of which I am proud to be a part, and support our campaign for sensible development of Newbury football ground, for the benefit of the whole community.

Please share this post with anyone you know in AFC Newbury or the parents of any if he boys you recognise in the photos.

And last but not least – CONGRATULATIONS to all the lads I met today and to their parents. Keep up the good work!

 

Come and join us! Annual summer party in Newbury.

Come and join us for the annual Liberal Democrat
summer party in Newbury.

Lovely food, marvellous music, good company and delicious complementary drinks. Partners are welcome and there is lots of space for children. This is a fantastic relaxed opportunity to compare notes on what should happen next.

Discount price for tickets are available before June 25th. Please book for purposes of catering.

Full details and location, below:

Tickets:
  • Full Price – £25
  • Booked before June 25th – £18
Children are welcome:
  • 10 – 16 years £10 for Early Bird, or £15 if booked after June 25th
  • 5 – 10 years £5
  • 0 – 5 years FREE
Payment details:
  • Electronic payment: sort code 09-01-27, a/c no 40156134. As reference, please use “[surname]9717”
  • Pay by cheque: Payable to “Newbury Liberal Democrats” and send to Balu Sudra, 1 Old Landry Cottages, Crookham Common Road, Crookham Common, Thatcham, RG19 8BB.

Lib Dems will invest more than £28m to protect school funding in Newbury & West Berkshire

Featured Image -- 744The Liberal Democrats have announced they will invest £28,953,046 more in schools and colleges in West Berkshire over the next parliament.

The funding for West Berkshire would reverse cuts to frontline school and college budgets, protect per pupil funding in real terms and ensure no school loses out from changes to funding arrangements.

£754,957 of the funding would be spent on protecting the Pupil Premium, introduced by the Liberal Democrats to help the most disadvantaged children.

Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat, said:
 
“We all know that children in Newbury and West Berkshire are being put under enormous pressure, in overcrowded classes taught by overworked teachers – but Theresa May doesn’t care.

“Under the Conservatives, funding per pupil is set to see the biggest cuts in a generation, while billions of pounds are being spent on divisive plans to expand grammars and free schools.

“This extra £28m of funding would ensure no school and no child loses out.

“We will reverse crippling Conservative cuts to school budgets and invest to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.”

Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said:

“A landslide for the Conservatives would allow Theresa May to take parents across the country for granted and cut our schools to the bone.

“Only the Liberal Democrats can provide the strong opposition Britain needs to stand up for Newbury.

“Vote for the Liberal Democrats and you can change Britain’s future.”

Judith about town education view

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Liberal Democrats commit to ending rough sleeping in Newbury

housing (2)

The Liberal Democrats have become the first major party of this election to commit to ending the “national scandal” of rough sleeping across Britain, including in Newbury and West Berkshire.

Latest official figures for West Berkshire show that 14 people were sleeping rough in Newbury in the Autumn of 2016, almost double the number of people in 2013. Local groups who work with homeless people, such as Loose Ends and West Berkshire Homeless, put the current number much higher at 25 people.

It is a scandal that so many people are sleeping on the streets in 21st century Britain.

Here in Newbury, we all know that as well as the people who have been ‘counted’, many more sofa surf or are in insecure accommodation for only the occasional night, and we know we have single homeless people and couples who are sleeping rough. That is why I welcome this commitment by the Liberal Democrats to end homelessness in the UK.

The series of measures to end rough sleeping, laid out by the Liberal Democrat national party, include introducing a Housing First provider in each local authority that would put long-term homeless people straight into independent homes rather than emergency shelters.

The news comes as a coalition of homelessness charities, including Centrepoint, Crisis, Homeless Link, Shelter and St Mungo’s, have called on political parties to commit to end rough sleeping in Britain.

By increasing practical support for homelessness prevention and properly funding emergency accommodation, we can end rough sleeping in Newbury and West Berkshire and across the country.

We will ensure that each local authority has at least one provider of Housing First services, to allow long-term homeless people to live independently in their own homes.

The evidence suggests that supporting people with a long-term, stable place to stay is far more successful in tackling homelessness than constantly moving them through the chain of different temporary accommodations.

Under this government, homelessness has soared and young people are being been stripped of housing benefit, threatening to make matters even worse.

This election is a chance to change the direction of this country and stand up for a can-do Britain that is open, tolerant and united.

Judith Bunting – Campaigning for Better Education in West Berkshire

In early 2013, Judith Bunting kicked off West Berks Lib Dems’ campaign: Education for a Fairer Future.

The campaign was launched against the backdrop falling GCSE results throughout West Berkshire and average achievement levels at GCSE which were below the national average. In addition, in June 2013, it got worse, when Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw,  highlighted West Berkshire as the Local Authority with the widest gap between the achievement of the lowest 20% of our students and the average:

“Strikingly, the Ofsted report, Unseen Children, shows that areas where poor children are doing worst in terms of educational opportunity are relatively prosperous parts of South East England, like West Berkshire. As a local authority area, West Berkshire:

  • Has the worst attainment in the whole country at primary school
  • Has the second worst attainment at secondary school
  • Is in the bottom three local authorities for qualifications at 19.”

How could this have happened? What have Conservative Councillors been doing since 2005, when they took control of West Berkshire Council, to allow standards in our schools to fall so far? What has MP Richard Benyon been doing to keep the the Council’s eye on the education ball?

At the same time as educational standards have been falling in Newbury and West Berks, the Council has been cutting funding for school support officers, year on year. Each time they make these cuts, Lib Dem Councillors point out the dangers in what they are doing and make a stand. Each time, the Council Leaders do not listen.

No one goes into education to make things worse for children. The problems we have been seeing are too widespread to be the fault of one particular set of teachers or any specific school.  I started the Education for a Fairer Future campaign to draw attention to this widespread problem and to try and ensure West Berks Council does more to support the futures of young, striving students in Newbury.

Since the Education for a Fairer Future campaign was launched, the Council has put an additional £400,000 into the schools budget. They also committed to giving John O’Gaunt School £1m for new buildings. Great stuff – glad they’re listening – but why do our children have to wait for the bad headlines, before the Council takes action?

  • We must put pressure on the council to increase secondary and primary education provision for the 4,000 new houses being built in Newbury.
  • We must ensure the Council does not cut away support for school support officers any further.
  • The Local Education authority needs to provide inspiring leadership and provide the training and advice schools need.

We all must work together to do the best for our children.