News

VIDEO: Newbury Lib Dem puts West Berks cuts on National Agenda

This post was first published on 12th March 2016

Today, at the Liberal Democrat National Spring Conference Judith Bunting spoke about the need for sound and stable public finances at local and national level, and the devastating effect that that Tory cuts are having on our young people:

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Good morning, Conference.  I want to highlight the link between the need for sound and stable management of public finances and the devastating effects the current Conservative drive to kill off local authority funding by central government is having on the education, training and aspiration of young people around the UK.

George Osborne’s commitment to reduce government funding of local councils to zero by 2020 has not received enough attention in the press. That’s one for the journalists in the hall – the Conservatives have not been challenged nearly enough on what result this draconian change of funding is going to have.

I was the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Newbury in West Berkshire in 2015. We currently have a Tory MP and a horribly Tory Council – they lead the council 48 to 4.

Last week, they imposed £10m of cuts on our public services. In a few weeks time they will be making a further £6m of cuts. They are closing bus routes, school bus subsidies, children’s centres, funding for charities like Mencap and Time to Talk, and they are about to close 8 out of 9 of our libraries.

There are other cuts as well, but so much of the damage is falling on the back of our children, that I worry for the future. I really do. I am not convinced that many Tories, including our MP and our Council, have given a second’s consideration to how this mis-management of public finances is going to affect our young people.

Whatever happens in the future, however, we are unlikely to ever be able to turn the clock back and restore the funding that Richard Benyon’s government is removing from local authorities, so how will Councils in the future achieve sound and stable management of public finances at a local level without a government settlement.

To answer this, I look to Liberal Democrat led Councils such as Eastleigh, now, and Portsmouth, as was. These teams set up additional income streams some years ago now to take the pressure off their public services. For example:

  • In Portsmouth, the council has for a long time had external businesses that they run to make a profit. It now owns and lets a number of extensive 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
  • This £150m asset management plan has enabled 13 years of real term cuts in council tax and no front line service cuts.

If a small council like Eastleigh can find ways to raise money without increasing the very unfair council tax and can still provide the services people need, why can’t West Berkshire Council?

Ambitious and imaginative councils can run good services without pushing up the council tax. A senior source at the LGA recently vouchsafed to me that the only way Councils are going to manage in the future is going to be to own and let property. What is West Berkshire and other Conservative Councils doing, but selling off property for short term gain.

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.

We sorely need a Liberal Democrat hand on the tiller. In government, to halt the mean-spirited cutting of George Osborne, and at the local level, in West Berkshire, to put some vigour and commitment into the funding of our public services.

The only way to achieve this is to develop strong, clear policies, like this the Economic Policy before us today and to restore some good sense and sound management to public finances in government and in local authorises across the UK.

Newbury and West Berkshire March for Europe

This post was first published in 2017.

West Berkshire was well represented at the March for Europe in London, with members of West Berkshire Stronger Together EU (WBSTEU) and Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats on the move.

We joined with many thousands of people to march from Marble Arch, down Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, then along Whitehall to Parliament Square. We heard rousing speeches from Tim Farron on Park Lane, before the march began. He was in front of the crowd again at Parliament Square with the Guardian reporting (at 14:10) as follows: ‘Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron cemented his growing role as the political leader of the Remain movement with a well-received address to the Unite For Europe march in Parliament Square.’

Many speeches followed, with excellentt contributions from Alistair Campbell, Peter Tatchell and David Lammy. The big finish came with Nick Clegg, who was excellent, as ever: “Sadness has given way to a perpetual sense of anger about the choices that Theresa May and her government have taken since [the EU Referendum].”

“It was a choice to pull us out of the customs union, it was a choice to embark on that demeaning bout of transatlantic obsequiousness,” Clegg explains, as he accuses the prime minister of “threatening to turn our country into a bargain basement cowboy economy”. (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2017/mar/25/brexit-protest-thousands-march-in-london-to-unite-for-europe-live?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

If you would like to join your local Liberal Democrats and work with us,
please sign up online and drop me a line at judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

EU rally in Newbury

Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 17.31.00.jpgSite under construction. This post was first published in 2017.

The recent West Berks Stronger in the EU  rally, saw a good cross-party crowd gather and march through in Newbury town centre.

Speakers included Paul Field of the Greens and Jonny Roberts from Labour, and myself representing Liberal Democrats across Newbury and West Berkshire.

Before the rally, I was asked by a couple of people why we were bothering, given the Brexit process is underway now and the Article 50 bill has been passed by parliament. For me the answer is clear and was put perfectly by Andrew Rawnsley in this Sunday’s Observer:

“The hard Brexiters … did not stop campaigning when the referendum result came in. They continued agitating and with a burning ferocity that was amplified by the Brexit press at its most megaphonic. They did so to ensure that they could impose their interpretation of what the referendum meant.”

Meanwhile, the views of area’s like Newbury and West Berkshire and other places and people who voted Remain are being drowned out. Local businesses are being hurt, prospects for employment are worse and EU funding that supports local charities, farmers and work-place training is on the line. None of these are academic worries, they add up to hundreds of jobs, hundreds of lives.

Remain MPs, like our own, Richard Benyon, have caved in and voted to support Article 50 and against the amendment that would have ensured that all EU citizens legally living in the UK on June 23 – the date of the EU referendum – would have their right to stay protected. I have met people on the doorstep who moved to Newbury and Thatcham years ago – some 15 to 20 years ago – to work for great businesses like Vodafone and Stryker, who have married, had families and are happy here, part of the local community. And now, they have no idea whether they will be allowed to stay.

If Remainers do not keep up the pressure, the UK is going to be hit with the hardest of hard Brexits, which was not on any ballot paper I saw on 23rd June.

So join us. We may not be able to change the direction of travel, but we can influence the Brexit destination where this ends. 

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 following Grenfell Tower (1): Question to 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 following Grenfell Tower (2): Response from Council

04 JULY 2017

Written response received from Councillor Hilary Cole, West Berkshire Council:

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!

 

General election June 2017: Comment on results

Judith with supporters in Newbury Marketplace

Support in Newbury constituency for Liberal Democrat candidate Judith Bunting has grown significantly since the 2015 election. Polling 13,019 votes in last week’s June 8th General Election, Judith’s share of the vote soared from 15 per cent to 21 per cent.

Commenting on result, Sue Farrant, Chair of the General Election campaign in Newbury said:

“Judith Bunting fought a very positive and energetic campaign for the Liberal Democrats in Newbury and was an outstanding Parliamentary Candidate who presented real vision for change and a strong voice against Conservative cuts to our schools, hospitals and public services.

“The substantial increase in vote share for the Liberal Democrats in Newbury is testimony to a hard-working and popular candidate. Judith Bunting achieved this despite a national swing to Labour which may in Newbury prove to be short-lived.”

Judith Bunting said:

“It was an honour to contest this seat on behalf of a strong Liberal Democrat team. I would like to congratulate Richard Benyon on his re-election and thank voters in Newbury for supporting me in increasing numbers. It’s been a very exciting campaign that has moved us forward on the ground with a huge number of new members and volunteers lining up to support the party here boding well for the future. The strong showing here alongside the fantastic election victory for Layla Moran who took Oxford West and Abingdon from the Conservatives suggests that the party is moving forward once again in our region.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to stand up to a bad Brexit deal that will cost jobs and put up prices and in Newbury and West Berkshire we will continue to fight for a better deal and more money for the NHS, schools and public services.”