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

Thatcham Quarry – do you have questions?

I will be sending questions to Grundon Sand and Gravel and the owners of Waterside Farm. Any residents who would like me to submit questions on their behalf are welcome to contact me at: judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

Last week, I visited Grundon Sand and Gravel Ltd in Colthrop to lobby estates director, Andrew Short, on behalf of local residents who are opposed to the proposed quarry at Waterside Farm in South Thatcham. Judith is the parliamentary candidate for Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats.

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The real problem, is that plans for the quarry are proceeding without Waterside Farm even being recognised as a preferred site for development by West Berkshire Council. The Council’s plans for Minerals and Waste Sites are so many years behind that Grundon feels the need to proceed before they are completed.

The result is that plans for development in our area are being driven by the needs of industry, rather than the needs of residents. Once again Richard Benyon and his Conservatives on West Berkshire Council are dropping the ball.

Waterside Farm is a lovely area, which is well used by walkers, riders and schools for recreation and keeping fit. The quarry will not block any paths or bridleways, but will obviously destroy the attractive environment. It will also disrupt the local wildlife, although Grundon have said they are willing take the nesting times of ground-nesting lapwings into account.

Residents who live near the Waterside Farm area are of course worried by the prospect of the noise, dust and environmental upset that can come with having a quarry at the end of the garden and they have started a campaign to stop the development.

At the meeting, Andrew Short told me that Grundon is open to listening to residents’ concerns and will do everything they can to make the development acceptable, but the company is keen to press ahead. This is not what residents want.

I have also approached the owners of Waterside Farm, St John’s College, Oxford. The St John’s team has offered to answer any questions residents may have after the public open day, which was held at Thatcham Football Club this week.

I will be sending questions to Grundon Sand and Gravel and the owners of Waterside Farm. Any residents who would like me to submit questions on their behalf are welcome to contact me at: judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

“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.

 

 

Bunting welcomes funding changes for social care but slams local Tories for past funding decisions

 

Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson Judith Bunting, today welcomed the government’s upcoming changes to health and social care funding and their tightening of the rules as to how this funding must be used. Norman Lamb’s changes mean people in Newbury and West Berkshire with ‘substantial’ social needs should now get a better deal from West Berkshire Council.

Judith requested an urgent meeting at the Department of Health to discuss the imminent crisis in care in West Berkshire caused by the mismanagement of local health funding by Richard Benyon’s Conservative Council. For the past ten years the Council has provided social care only for those in ‘critical’ need.

Judith said: “The number of older people living in West Berks has gone up by more than 30% in the past ten years. During this time, West Berkshire Council has resolutely refused to respond to this change in population and cover the care of people in ‘substantial’ need. ”

At the meeting on Monday, Minister for Health, Norman Lamb, told Judith Bunting and the Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader, Jeff Brooks: “There is no way we could possibly justify giving additional funding to West Berkshire and the two other Tory councils who now have to adjust their care levels to ‘substantial’ from ‘critical’ only. All other Councils in England already fund care for people with substantial needs. To provide additional funding now would be to penalise every other Council in England for taking good care of their residents.”

Commenting, Judith Bunting said: “That the money provided by government for this has been spent elsewhere, is the Council’s choice. I have long been concerned that our resources for vulnerable people in West Berkshire are under-used, while those in ‘substantial’ need have been going without assistance. In 2013 I met Sybil Flinn at the Resource Centre in Hungerford (see above). The care offered by the team there was outstanding and with the right funding they could easily have catered for more clients.”

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, also refused Richard Benyon and his Council’s plea for more money to make up the claimed ‘shortfall’ in funding.