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.

Budget today – Success for West Berkshire charity campaign

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Lobbying for the WBRRC, JB with (L-r): Lord Newby,
Tim Farron MP and WBRRC’s Andrew Sharp; JB accosting Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, last October.

Fingers and toes were crossed earlier this week for news in the Budget for one of West Berks local charities.  I am glad to report success for West Berkshire Rapid Response Cars. Their campaign has reaped a reward in this year’s budget. 

Back in 2012, Andrew Sharp, the Chair of Trustees for The West Berkshire Rapid Response Cars got in touch to ask if I could help with their long running campaign to get VAT relief on the purchase of new rapid response cars.

Each car costs about £20,000 and VAT relief would provide the charity with the £4,000 it takes to equip a standard vehicle as a car appropriately decked and equipped for emergency paramedic use.

All money for the cars comes from fundraising in and around West Berkshire on charity collecting days, crafts fairs, and the wonderful Greenham Common Trust.

IMG_2627 - Version 2Cars are operated by South Central Ambulance Service and driven by SCAS paramedics, like Jerry,on a volunteer basis during off duty hours. They are based in rural corners of West Berkshire, such as Yattendon and Kintbury, where it takes ambulances far too long to reach. The Service should not need additional help from the WBRRC to cover the more remote parts of West Berkshire, but they do, and as long as emergency cover is not reaching our residents fast enough, I am delighted to have been able to work with the charity to achieve this reform.

The WBRRC drivers attend crises across West Berkshire, giving emergency help, sometimes standing ambulances down, sometimes ferrying the walking wounded to hospital in Reading, Swindon.

After three years of letter writing and lobbying and watching Air Ambulance and Rapid response boats – both charities we heartily support – get tax breaks in two budgets, at the end of last year I finally got the ear of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, our Danny.

The budget announced this Tuesday includes the following phrase:

2.112 Rapid response vehicles – The government will provide a grant to support charities providing rapid response vehicles for medical purposes.

We understand that the grant is a sum of money set aside to go towards compensating rapid response car charities for the VAT they pay on cars and equipment and look forward to discussing the size of the grant with treasury officers as soon as possible. (Just can’t wait!)

Huge congratulations go out to Andrew, Deborah and everyone who has supported the charity and the campaign over the last few years.

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Dan Rogerson, DEFRA Minister, visits West Berks

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Dan Rogerson being interviewed by Judith Bunting, Parliamentary Candidate, Newbury and West Berks Lib Dems.

DEFRA Minister, Dan Rogerson, came to Hamstead Marshall, recently, to meet West Berkshire residents at the Elm Farm Organic Research Centre.

Judith taxed the Minister on rural broadband, Thames Water, council housing and her campaign to get proper funding to maintain lively, vibrant rural communities.

“Urban areas receive £153.47 per person more than rural areas, each year, via the current local government finance settlement. This is unreasonable,” Judith Bunting said.  “That much money could add up to a lot of additional services for local residents.”

As MP for North Cornwall Dan has a lot of sympathy for the rural funding campaign.

Save our Footpaths

As Minister for rural affairs, Dan has been an enthusiastic supporter of ramblers, footpaths and walking, overseeing the investment of £5.3m to speed the opening of the full English coastal path.  The audience at the event included members of the local Ramblers Association and the Mid and West Berks Local Access Forum, who pressed Dan on the recent withdrawal of govt funding for the Environmental Stewardship Scheme.

This withdrawal sadly threatens the future of 11 popular routes in West Berkshire, including paths at Little Hidden Farm and the Eddington Estate, near Hungerford, and circular walks at Earl’s Court Farm, near Lambourn. Judith encouraged the groups to keep lobbying West Berks Councils to work with our local landowners to encourage them to keep the routes open.

“Walking is good for health and community, she said, “Not to mention the benefits walkers bring to the village economy, in the for of pubs and restaurants!”

Good news followed, as Nic Lampkin, Director of Elm Farm Organic Research Station, stood up and confirmed that the circular walk at Elm Farm, will remain open after the Environmental Stewardship scheme comes to an end. (See: https://judithbunting.co.uk/2014/11/17/good-news-for-ramblers/.)

 

Discussion during the evening also covered actions against flooding this winter, including cracked sewers along the Lamborn and Pang Valleys, in Newbury Centre, Woolhampton and East Ilsley, and how we can make Thames Water act to remedy the problem. Dan has promised to help me get access to the highest levels of the Environment Agency, to fund out what they are doing to ensure Thames Water live up to their commitments.

We also covered the problems suffered in West Berkshire villages with rural broadband; and the need to renew the council house building scheme in West Berkshire and across the country – an idea which received warm applause around the room.