Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Forest of Dean’

THE SCOURGE OF “UNIVERSAL CREDIT”

In A.Graham, R.Richardson on November 7, 2017 at 6:51 am

Explained by RUTH RICHARDSON

Universal Credit was introduced in 2012 as part of the Welfare Reform Act (sic). Its aims were to simplify the system whereby clients claimed a number of benefits with a multiplicity of forms to fill in. It also aimed to encourage people into work and to make sure that work paid. And, it was claimed, the system would reduce fraud and be cheaper to administer.

The transition to Universal Credit from so-called “legacy benefits” such as Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit has been gradual. But it is the Government’s aim that the roll out should be completed by 2022.  A report from the Trussel Trust [1] lists a number of points of difference from the previous system.

These include:

  1. A six-week delay for first-time claimants.
  2. Payments made in arrears with housing benefits paid directly to claimants rather than landlords.
  3. New forms of conditionality for claimants both in and out of work.
  4. Digitisation of how payments are managed (ie, on-line communication regarding benefits).
  5. Some reductions in the amounts received.

The Trussel Trust report detailed the problems clients face in coping with these changes.  The six week delay in the first payment hits particularly hard and food banks report that this alone has led to a 65 per cent increase in referrals.

Digitisation seemed fraught with difficulties with misinformation, claims being lost and documents misplaced.  To speak to an advisor directly, claimants have to hold on for an average of 40 minutes (at no small cost).  In fact the administration in general seems to be in disarray.

Since Universal Credit has been introduced, Food Banks have seen increasing problems with mental health, debt, work issues and housing. The report emphasises that where possible clients are sign-posted to local support services such as Citizens Advice – though these services are often stretched with a waiting list for appointments.

CALL FOR RE-THINK:

This report was published in April this year.  More recently, a newsletter from the Trust asks for the Universal Credit roll-out to be halted.  The Trust asks the Government to re-think the six-week waiting time for a first payment and to tackle the poor administration that can lead to ever longer waits.  More support for claimants could be provided through programmes like Universal Support [2]

Meanwhile the Trust calls for a  pause “particularly until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income and no food in the cupboard.”

It is feared that as winter approaches problems will only get worse for the most vulnerable in our society.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Trussel Trust is the largest provider of Food Banks in the UK. Like many charities (such as Amnesty International) it bends over backwards to appear non-political.

[2] Universal Support is a partnership between the DWP and local authorities to give advice on the transition to Universal Credit.


FOCUS: What happened to public transport in the Forest?

a Clarion report by A. Graham

There was a time when we were well served by bus and rail services both in and out of the Forest of Dean – but sadly those days have long since gone.

The network of bus services is now dominated by Stagecoach, whilst all that’s left of the public rail service are the trains that serve Lydney station.  The network that once ran up into the Forest (and indeed across the Severn) has long since gone (true, we have the Dean Forest Railway, but that is basically a tourist-style “heritage” line).

ON THE BUSES:

The bus network in the Dean, and indeed beyond, was swallowed up through a ruthless takeover of other local companies in Gloucestershire by the Stagecoach group. It followed a series of acquisitions by the company throughout the country.  When Stagecoach finally set its sights on our neck of the woods in the early 1990s, it took over four companies in one fell swoop – Cheltenham & District, City of Gloucester, Stroud Valleys – and Red & White Services with its network of routes in the Forest and into South Wales.

The “Red & White” company had its head offices in Bulwark, near Chepstow, though its roots were in Lydney, having been founded by the John Watts’ group of companies between the wars. In 1950 Red & White was brought under public control along with other major bus undertakings throughout the UK. Routes were co-ordinated in order to provide an integrated network of services throughout the country, and fare levels were controlled.

In the Forest, there were two major bus service “hubs” – one in Lydney and the other in Cinderford. In Lydney (as an example) there was a sizeable bus depot and a cafe. The main service operated from Gloucester through Lydney and on to Cardiff – whilst there was also a service up to Hereford. From Cinderford there were connections with the Western Welsh company’s buses.

“DE-REGULATION”:

All this came to an end with legislation passed by the Thatcher Government in October 1986. This de-regulated the way that buses were operated, and effectively ended public control. Before then there had been a legal obligation on bus operators to provide adequate services, whilst any changes in routes or fares was subjected to scrutiny.

CHAOS – FOLLOWED BY CO-ORDINATION:

The immediate result of the legislation was chaos, when any old Tom, Dick or Harry who felt that he/she could run a bus service could buy up an old bus or two and put it on the road. In many parts of the country, timetables ceased to have any meaning. But then came a phase of co-ordination, with the big companies putting the privateers out of business. Within a short while Stagecoach and the “First Bus” groups established a virtual monopoly in their respective areas.

It should, though, be noted that for a while some well-established local operators (such as Soudley Valley Coaches, Cottrells, Willetts and – of courses – Bevans, continued to provide an adequate network of local services in the Forest – but over time they were put out of service or taken over. Now only Willetts and Bevan’s survive.

OFF THE RAILS:

What of the rail network that once served the Forest? Much of it survived the notorious “Beeching Report” (although there was a degree of shrinkage), but the old Forest and Wye network suffered a mortal blow with the destruction of the old Severn rail bridge in 1960. After a decade of inaction it was finally decided to demolish it in 1970.

When John Major came to power he decided to de-nationalise British Rail and carve up the remnants of the network into an overlapping patchwork of franchises. At the present time, our last remaining railway line is served by two passenger rail companies – Arriva and CrossCountry. Both are now owned by Deutsche Bahn (the German state railway) – although their franchises are up for renewal. So, as they say, watch this space!

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Obituary: BART VENNER: “THE QUIET MAN”

In Obiturary, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:41 am

The Crematorum, near Cinderford, was packed to capacity for the funeral of Bart Venner at the beginning of August. Indeed many of those who came to pay their respects to Bart were unable to get into the building.

Many of us knew Bart through the Labour Party, which he always served faithfully and well.  But there was more to Bart than this. Although not a Forester by birth, his dedication to the Dean gave him the right to regard himself as one.

He came here back in the ‘fifties to take up a training course at the old Parkend Forestry School. And he worked for the Forestry Commission all his working life.

A QUICK REPLANT:

One story told about his forestry work was of a visit to the Dean by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. They planted young oak trees in the plantation beyond Speech House. When they departed, the trees were promptly dug up and taken away as souvenirs. Forestry Commission workers, including Bart, were called out hastily to plant replacements… no names, no pack drill, of course.

Norway spruce were also planted, and, despite a bout of appalling weather in the early 1960s, they also survived as a testament to Bart and his fellow Forestry workers.

Another story from his young Forestry days dated back to the last war, when soldiers used trees for firing practice, peppering the trunks with lead. When the trees were felled for timber, merchants were advised to use metal detectors to check for “lead poisoning” before applying a chain saw to the felled tree trunks.   .

A LABOUR STALWART:

Bart’s allegiance to the Labour Party was engrained in him, like the lettering in a stick of rock.  He held a number of offices within the  Party, including as councillor on the District Council   It’s worth noting, as well, that he was always a  good friend to the Clarion, taking a quiet interest in our paper, and even contributing to its columns.

PEDALLING AWAY:

Bart’s other interest was reflected in his membership of the Forest’s cycling club, and his fellow members were well represented at his funeral. Bart had asked that mourners should attend the event dressed in “something colourful”, and his fellow cyclists came along dressed suitably in their lycra cycling gear.

Those who knew Bart always had a sense of affectionate respect for him. Tributes included the fact that he “was a thoroughly nice chap” and “a true gentleman.” He will be particularly missed by his family.


MEDIA WATCH: STOP PRESS: THE “CITIZEN” BECOMES A WEEKLY

by a Clarion correspondent

So our long-established local evening paper, the Citizen, is ceasing to publish on a daily basis and now will be coming to us on a weekly basis instead.

This should come as no surprise to its readers. It’s happened before in towns and cities across the country as our local press has been cut back, to meet falling sales, and (more important to publishers) cuts in advertising revenue. A number of cities have suffered as their local daily papers have become weekly papers. In many places even local weekly papers have been axed, in a cull of the local press across the UK.

CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP:

For many decades the Citizen and its sister paper, the Cheltenham-based Echo, were owned by the Daily Mail group, which also controlled other local papers throughout the country. The Citizen tended to reflect the business-orientated views and coverage of the Mail group in its pages. But then, a few years back, the Mail decided to sell off all of its interests in the local press – and the Citizen and Echo both passed into the hands of the Mirror group.

A change in the tone of the papers was soon apparent. But, it seems, economies still had to be made. The first, took place when publication of the Citizen was moved out of Gloucester altogether – to the Echo offices in Cheltenham.

Shared facilities didn’t stretch as far as combining the two titles into one paper, however. Perhaps the new owners decided that was a step too far! But it was a far cry from the days when our Citizen managed to produce local editions for the diverse areas in its catchment area – such as the city of Gloucester, the Stroud Valleys – and, of course, the Forest of Dean.

“HEART THROB OF THE COMMUNITY”:

Once upon a time local newspapers represented the heart throb of the local communities where they were published. They were bought eagerly when they appeared on the streets or in the newsagents. Some older folk may remember when daily papers (local and national) would include a “Stop Press” column to be filled with any “breaking news”, as we call it today, just as the paper was about to be roll on to the presses. Others would run to two or more editions.

Those days have, of course, long since gone. And newspapers have had to move with the times. They are no longer just in competition with each other but also with other, more immediate, sources of news such as television or on line, on the ‘web.

But our local press still, or should, perform a function. It keeps members of local communities in touch with each other. It can ferret out the minutiae of local life or provide a platform for local issues and debate.

In the Dean, we still have the Forester, not to mention the “freebie”, the Review (both, incidentally, now owned by the Tindle group), both of which appear weekly and are published in the Forest. And both still maintain a reasonable coverage of local affairs.

WHAT ABOUT THE CITIZEN?

So, what of the Citizen? In September, the paper announced its decision to go weekly. In explanation of the move, it declared: “We still have a loyal print audience but the majority of the people who read the Citizen and the Echo do so just once a week.

“Daily readership is coming more and more from our website Gloucestershire Life and our digital audience – not just on the site but across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – is showing amazing year-on-year growth. And our digital advertising revenues are growing at the same rate.

“In making this change, we’re acknowledging and reacting to how our readers behave.”

Thus says the Citizen spokesperson. She doesn’t explain, though, why the Citizen plus Echo couldn’t use these rising profits from its online activities to cross-fertilise a daily print edition of its papers. Neither does it give any figures on possible loss of jobs involved in the switch from a six-day a week publication to a weekly.

Of course more and more newspapers are adding “on line” editions to their print versions. The Daily Mail on line edition is particularly successful. But it should not be at the expense of print editions.

When Caxton developed the printing press in the Middle Ages he revolutionised communication. It allowed the emergence of newspapers from the 17th Century onwards. Not immediately, maybe, but over time they became the major source of communicating news, opinion, debate, and so much more.

It would be a pity if yet more printed newspapers are superseded by the more ephemeral on line alternative when it comes to communication.

 

EDUCATION MATTERS & HEALTH WATCH

In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am

COMING TOGETHER:

Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”

SATS SCRAPPED FOR 7 YEAR-OLDS:

Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.

CUTS IN FUNDING:

School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.

TROUBLE UP NORTH:

We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”

SCHOOLING IN FINLAND:

Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”

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HEALTH WATCH: OPPOSITION TO FOREST HOSPITAL PLANS

When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.

SOME ANSWERS?

The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.

NEED FOR CAMPAIGN:

There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:

Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”

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THE TRASHING OF YORKLEY COURT FARM

In A.Graham on May 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

On March 10th bailiffs and security guards, acting on behalf of local developer, Brian Bennett stormed Yorkley Court Farm. They were there to stage a forcible eviction of the “eco-gardeners” who’d been in occupation of the site for some years.

This was the second attempt by Bennett to evict the occupants – and this time it was in earnest. Farm buildings were trashed, and the iconic tower that stood at the farm entrance was demolished.

Since Mr Bennett mounted his first attempt to take over the farm from the occupants the “eco-gardeners” have gained quite a lot of sympathy from those in the area – many of whom saw the re-vitalisation of the once derelict farm as both a credit to those who’d been working it and an asset to the wider community. Harassment by hired security guards hadn’t helped Mr Bennett’s cause.

SUPPORT:

Indeed, after the eviction was mounted a walk along a right-of-way through the farm’s fields was hastily organised in sympathy with the “eco-gardeners”. The right-of-way had long been used as a route for local folk to take a stroll or to exercise their dogs. But there’s been a number of complaints of threatening behaviour by security guards towards those engaged in such harmless pursuit.

This support was reflected in the columns of the local press. On the letters page of the Forester, for example, Coun. Andrew Gardner (Lydbrook and Ruardean) reminded readers that the occupants at Yorkley Court had been in residence for six years, “growing organic food and following an environmentally friendly lifestyle”.

yorkleyCourtHe reminded us that the previous owners of the farm had died intestate, but that “relatives gave permission for the community to reside in the grounds”. He went on to suggest that a public inquiry into the whole affair “must urgently be implemented”.

Another letter suggested that scenes surrounding the eviction would lead onlookers to think that it was Al-Qaeda in occupation of Yorkley Court.

Over 70 police officers were counted at one point, some in riot gear. A helicopter flew overhead for the best part of two days. A police presence may well have been justified (if only to keep an eye on Bennett’s security guards), but in this case it looked as though the numbers were there to intimidate.

Letters of support for the eco-warriors continued in the following week’s issue of the Forester – with an added news item pointing out that a footpath adjoining the farm had been closed without notice, “at the request of the police” – in order, it said, to help in the eviction of the occupants.

WHAT NEXT?

At the time of writing, the eco-gardeners have left Yorkley Court farm with the defiant message, “our homes are gone but our community will live on.” 16 arrests were made and the homes of the occupants were demolished.


WHO’S BRIAN BENNETT?

BRIAN BENNETT, the man behind the eviction of the occupants of Yorkley Court Farm, is a developer. His major achievement was the transformation of Vantage Point near Mitcheldean into a busy industrial park after the closure of the Xerox works on the site (Xerox, incidentally, once employed over a thousand at its works there. By the time it closed it was down to about 80).

BENNETT INTERESTS:

Over the years Mr Bennett has accrued a wide range of interests to add to Vantage Point. The number of companies he has registered are too numerous to mention here. Some indeed may at present be dormant. But they include the following:

  • Allaston Developments Ltd.
  • “Bee Green Energy Ltd., which was set up to develop wind farms.
  • Whitecroft Properties Ltd, registered in May 2003
  • And, last but by no means least, Yorkley Court Farm Ltd. which was registered on 27th April 2014.

Incidentally, it was on the 29th June 2014 (the same year) that bailiffs and security guards first entered Yorkley Court Farm to try to evict the occupants. On this occasion the confrontation ended in a stand-off, and the security guards were withdrawn. Mr. Bennett, it would seem, has collected a range of irons in his fire.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The dwindling world of local newspapers

dinosaurWhat’s been happening in the world of local newspapers? Once they were the lifeblood of their communities. The means whereby folk found out what was going on, or kept in touch. They were the local heartbeat.

But sadly no more. Over the past few years they have been going down like ninepins. Many long established papers have folded, others have been sold on. Some local dailies have even found themselves relegated to weekly publication.

There’s one simple reason. They’re no longer as profitable as they used to be. Once they could be a licence to print money. Advertising poured into their columns. But no more. That precious revenue is going elsewhere – and some like the Daily Mail group (which owned amongst many other titles, the Gloucester Citizen), started to cut back. There were rumours that the Citizen was to be put up for sale. But then finally three years ago it passed to consortium called “Local World”, in which the Daily Mail still kept an interest.

 

But cutbacks have been made. Local news coverage has been pruned, to the point that the Forest now only has a couple or so pages of coverage once a week. Local columnists have all but disappeared.

In more confident times, the Citizen had taken over our own local weekly, the Forester – once a broadsheet owned by the Bright family. Later, as profits started to shrink, it was sold on, to the Tindle group (which owns our weekly freebie, the Review).

Now, though, more change seems to be afoot in the consortium that controls Local World. As we on the Clarion slowly go to press the news is that the Trinity Mirror group is to buy (possibly) a controlling interest in the Local World group.

Well, at least it isn’t Rupert Murdoch.

A special prize for dictators?

Who’d have thought it? A small news item caught my eye which stated that this year’s “Confucius Prize” (described as China’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize) has been awarded to… wait for it … Robert Mugabe.

I just wondered what the qualifications were to win what I presume is regarded as such a prestigious award? Longevity, perhaps? I’m sure Confucius would have had something pithy to say about it.

Tough being rich:

What is it with money for some people? That inner drive to accumulate more and more millions despite the fact that you end up with far more than you could ever spend in one lifetime?

Something like one per cent of the population now have more dosh than most of the rest of us put together. Yes, I know, most of us would like a bit more cash to ensure the security of a decent home, enough to spend on food, clothing, and what I believe are called utilities. With, of course, some extra for such things as holidays or leisure activities. But most of us don’t really hanker after the millions that pour into the coffers of the uber-rich. Do we?

But it seems that even these multi-millionaires have their problems. Call it conscience, if you like. Many have become aware of their privileged position and have become troubled by it.

Well, fear not. There are now psychologists who are only too happy to offer therapy, counselling, and the whole package, to help such people get over their guilt. (Or as it’s now labelled, “wealth fatigue syndrome”). At a price naturally.

Of course there’s one simple solution to the problem. Give all your surplus millions away. Try indulging in a bit of wealth re-distribution. I expect there are plenty of accountants willing to help out, and I’m sure the wealthy can afford the fees.

Meanwhile I can rest assured knowing that whatever problems I may have, at least I don’t suffer from “wealth fatigue syndrome”. If only.

Dinosaur

Education Matters: TROUBLE AT DEAN ACADEMY

In R.Richardson on March 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

It was back in March that we reported on the troubles facing the Dean Academy in Lydney. Originally it had been Whitecross School, and its transfer to academy status in 2012 had been marked by controversy. It seemed that few parents wanted the change (either of name or status).

Back then the sponsor of the new academy was a group called the Prospects Academy Trust. But then Prospects was required to shed six schools from its “portfolio”, because of the inadequate provision of services.

CHANGE AT THE TOP:

The Dean Academy was one of those that were offloaded. It lost its sponsorship in July 2014, and consequently was left without a sponsor for ten months. But earlier this year, the school acquired its new sponsor, the Athelstan Trust – and its Head, David Gaston, was able to put a very positive spin on future prospects for staff and pupils alike.

SPECIAL MEASURES?

However, following a recent Ofsted inspection, it now seems that the school is likely to go into “special measures” – an Ofsted term which basically means there is cause for grave concern. This will be the second time in four years that the Dean Academy has been placed in special measures. The head, David Gaston, who sounded so upbeat only a few months ago, has now left and there is an acting head.

Councillors have called for a definitive statement from the school, but at this stage nothing has been forthcoming. The school’s website is bland and says all the right things, but there is no way to access the results of any Ofsted inspections. We hope to be able to report more at a future date.

Meanwhile, a recent report in the Forester struck a more positive note. A new “Learning Resources and Literacy Centre” was opened by Mark Harper MP in November. It is, in fact, the re-modelled library and it cost £195,000. It’s true that no additional books appear to have been purchased, but never mind, there are extra laptops, rolling news on screens and under floor heating. Wow! Surely that will boost performance?

PRIVATISATION ACROSS THE WORLD:

An interesting article in the Morning Star caught my eye recently. It concerned the creeping global privatisation of education.

There has always been a small elite who send their children to private schools and pay high fees. But now private schools that target the middle class are emerging in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil.

Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing chains of schools in these countries. Such schools attract children already in government schools whose parents can afford modest fees.

UNDERMINING OPPORTUNITY

But they do nothing to extend access to education for the 58 million children who are out of school worldwide.

Moreover, they undermine government schools, as funding is often based on the number of pupils. One commercial education chain is Bridge International, expanding in Africa at the rate of one new school every three days. It’s funded by hedge fund speculators.

Three recent reports indicate that the Department for International Development is increasingly channeling its public funding towards supporting the privatisation of education around the world.

RUTH RICHARDSON

OBITUARIES: TANIA ROSE

In Obiturary on March 9, 2016 at 1:25 pm

tania_roseA friend of the Clarion

Tania Rose, daughter of Morgan Philips Price, has died at the age of 95. She had a long life, and a fulfilling one. She was married to artist Walter Rose and outside her attachment to politics and the lengthy parliamentary career of her father she developed other interests that took her on parallel paths.

She was born in Germany during those turbulent pre-Hitler years of the Weimar republic. Morgan Philips Price was there as a reporter on events for the Daily Herald (then edited by George Lansbury). He’d married Lisa Balster, secretary to Rosa Luxemberg, and Tania was born amidst the political chaos that marked the rise of Nazism.

Later she was to edit her father’s reports, which were published by Pluto Press in 1996 under the title ‘Despatches from the Weimar Republic’ (And later reviewed in the Clarion).

RETURN TO BRITAIN:

With the rapid rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, the family returned to England. Philips Price re-engaged himself in politics, and finally became MP for the Forest of Dean constituency in the 1930s (defeating the incumbent, a member of Ramsey MacDonald’s “National Labour Party”).

Philips Price was to remain the MP for the Forest right through to the mid-1950s – the longest serving member for the constituency. As for Tania, in 1943 she married William Rose, an American who’d joined the Canadian Black Watch regiment to fight the Nazis during the war. After the war ended Rose settled in Britain with his new wife – and it was then that Tania found herself embarking on a new career.

NEW DIRECTIONS:

With her husband she co-scripted a number of films, including Genevieve, the Ladykillers and It’s a Mad Mad World. Probably her best known collaboration though was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, released in 1967, and starring Katherine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy – in its day, a ground-breaking and timely production.

Sadly, perhaps, this film script collaboration ended when she and her husband divorced. But Tania remained active, serving on the Race Relations Board and then the Commission for Racial Equality. She finally retired in 1980, but carried on writing – including a couple of pieces for the Forest Clarion in 1996. She also wrote a biography (Twas Brillig) – and edited her father’s reports from Germany.

As her health deteriorated, she was given what she described as a “grace and favour” apartment in Tibberton Court. She continued to support the Clarion though her contacts lessened as her health waned.

Her funeral took place at the Forest Crematorium on October 22nd.

LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

In C.Spiby on October 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

by Carl Spiby

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

C. Spiby is a member of Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party and was on its Executive Committee. He was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. He remains a Labour party member but has resigned from the local CLP Executive and handed over Social Media duties for FoD CLP.

foof

Education Matters: “LES GRANDES VACANCES”

In R.Richardson on September 2, 2015 at 4:15 pm

School’s out! Six glorious weeks for the kids to do nothing much but “hang out”, apart from a family holiday holiday break involving sun, sand and too much ice cream

At least it used to be like that, but – as Rosie Millard in the “i” newspaper points out, life for today’s school children isn’t as carefree as it used to be. Her youngest’s teachers recommended 15 to 30 minutes a day on “on line” platforms (?), to ensure that he doesn’t fall behind.  For older children there’s the summer reading course – a book a week to be ticked off and a German text-book to work through.

“Les Grandes Vacances” are no longer what they used to be for kids – and let’s not even start on how it’s changed for teachers!

DRIVING THROUGH THE EDUCATION BILL:
Laura McInerny of the Guardian believes that the first hundred days of a new Parliament is the time for pushing through radical new policies.  The Education Bill certainly carried further policies already outlined – in particular the drive to ensure that all schools become academies (readers are reminded that all secondary schools in Gloucestershire except one are now academies).  Now “coasting” schools, as identified by Ofsted, will be marked down for intervention.

JUST COASTING ALONG:
Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, was pushed in Parliamentary Question Time to define a “coasting school”, and floundered. But since then a fairly loose definition has been arrived at. A school will be judged on its performance over a period of three years  as to whether or not its pupils have achieved their potential based on their starting point (we reported in the last issue on base line testing for four year olds to be introduced as a pilot in September). The brightest should be stretched and the less able supported.  If these criteria are not met, the governors will be required to begin the conversion to academy process.  Most worrying, consultation before the academisation process begins is to be scrapped.

DISAPPOINTING QUESTIONS:
Labour tabled some amendments to the second reading of the Bill, mostly concerned with the professionalism of the academy chains who sponsor schools , requiring them to be Ofsted inspected as are local authorities. But I was disappointed to realise that if these amendments were adopted, then Labour seemed to be happy to go along with the increasing spread of academies countrywide, and the consequent erosion of local authority powers.

PROMOTING MILITARISM:
Browsing through the informative website , “Schools Week”, I came across the surprising news that cadet units in state schools are to be increased five-fold  by 2020 at a cost of £50 million. At present out of 275 cadet units nationwide, only one hundred are in state schools.
The Combined Cadet Force which runs half of these says that this expansion is “part of the Government’s aim to promote military ethos in schools  and to instil  values in young people that will help them get the most out of their lives.”
Forces Watch, which is a campaign group looking at army recruitment, is of the view that £50 million is a huge amount of money to fund more military activities in schools at the expense of universal provision across the curriculum.

IN THE FOREST:
There are now three schools in Cinderford which are judged to be inadequate. We’ve reported before on the former Heywood Community School, which lost its sponsor, E-act, some months ago. It was renamed Forest High School, and is now run by sponsor South Gloucestershire Schools Academy. The recently appointed head says that they have “already taken positive steps to turn the school around.”

The two primary schools in special measures are St. White’s Primary and St. Anthony’s – a free school.

Both schools issued positive statements from their heads, but Graham Morgan, district and county councillor, said that “education was ruined when it was taken out of local authority control. That’s the crux of it, it’s semi-privatisation …  the sooner it is put right the better for everybody.”

We whole-heartedly agree with you, Graham – but sadly we don’t think it will be put right any time soon!

RUTH RICHARDSON

CLARION ONLINE SPECIAL – LABOUR LEADERSHIP: the Corbyn Question

In A.Graham, C. Mickleson, C.Spiby, Editorial, O. Adams, T. Chinnick on June 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm

The appearance of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the Leadership of the Labour Party has caused quite a stir. Even our own Editorial Committee at the Clarion cannot agree on a single line of support. But Corbyn presents a unique opportunity at a unique juncture in the history of the modern Labour Party.

Alistair Graham, Editor-in-Chief at the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion offered the opening shot with his report:

“Suddenly, the contest for the Labour leadership has become more interesting.  With other contenders for the position staking out their positions to the right of centre (even Andy Burnham, it would seem!), we now have a genuine left-wing candidate for leadership. Jeremy Corbyn.

For most of us on the Clarion, Corbyn seems to tick the right boxes. For the record, he’s been MP for Islington North since 1983. He’s a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and is an active supporter of CND. He also supports animal rights and was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner. He’s been an active trade unionist – and in his favour, too, is the fact that he’s got the record for submitting the lowest expenses of any MP.

So, what’s not to support?  Well, there’s that hoary old chestnut, the argument that he can’t win the leadership anyway.  A vote for Corbyn would be a wasted vote. Another argument claims that if he did win, it would make Labour “unelectable”. The Socialist message, it seems, does not attract the electorate.  So we have to compromise our own commitments and “play it safe”.  There are also those on the left, but not in the Labour Party, who might argue that it’s all irrelevant anyway.  We need a broad-based, anti-austerity, anti-Tory, coalition to build a campaign to oppose the atrocities committed by the Cameron-Osborne government.

Certainly we need such a campaign, and hopefully the Clarion would be part of it. But wouldn’t it have more impact if it was also backed by the Labour Party and its leader? After all, at the end of the day, if we’re to defeat the Tories it will be at the ballot box. And the only alternative Government under our present voting system would be Labour. Surely we need a government that can phase out “austerity”, re-build the fractured NHS, give us the kind of education that our children (and their parents) deserve, as well as boosting welfare to the levels where it can serve society adequately. If so, we need a Labour government that can act with conviction.

A final thought – those who see themselves as on the left wing of Labour should back their convictions. A sizeable vote for Corbyn would send a message through the Party that the membership wants change. And if Labour has a future in serving the people, change may well be necessary.”

But Forest Anarchist and HOOF secretary, Owen Adams disagrees:

“…while Corbyn might be the nicest, soundest person in the world, he is a lone voice in a party that as a machine supports neoliberalism, refuses to acknowledge or apologise for unleashing massive instability and mass murder on the world from its Iraq misadventure, and is ultimately concerned with “winning” in a rigged parliamentary system no matter what it has to do. I’ve already heard people saying “Oh Corbyn would make Labour unelectable” – which to me sums up why Labour is redundant as a force for positive social change and anything approaching socialism.

All this is a major diversion for what should be going on – mass direct action using whatever means necessary against this massive theft of our public resources by the ruling class. We’re wasting far too much energy looking for a figurehead and flogging the dead horse that is Labour and parliamentary (so-called but not) democracy.

Some people in Cheltenham and Gloucester have formed a non-politically affiliated group called Anti-Austerity Gloucestershire and we’re trying to get off the ground a fighting fund so we can print leaflets – the leaflets will include a hotline number for anyone immediately facing eviction, and the idea is that there is also a telephone tree for people to turn up to block bailiffs. That’s the kind of activity that I would rather focus my energy on, not pursue a long-faded dream of a party that cares a jot about the working class. Of course, I hope Corbynites will also participate!”

Labour member and activist from Monmouth, Tyler Chinnick argues…

“My view is the one derided and mischaracterised by Owen.  I won’t bother refuting the nonsense about Iraq or neo-liberalism but I will say that our ideals are worth absolutely nothing if we are not in a position to implement policy.  For that reason I do not support Jeremy Corbyn because although he is closest to my own views he has no chance of winning.  Labour is redundant as a force for ‘positive social change’ if it is not in power.  Winning elections and becoming the government is what political parties are for.  (According to Owen the very raison d’etre of all political parties makes them illegitimate.)  Also the fact that we have an electoral system Owen disproves of does not make it ‘rigged’.  Our best option in terms of parliamentary politics is to support a candidate who combines left values with the level of pragmatism necessary to win.  So far the candidate who best fulfils this brief is Andy Burnham.

It makes sense that The Clarion should back Corbyn since his politics are closest to our mission statement.  It’s clear though that mine and Owen’s positions are irreconcilable so perhaps the editorial line should reflect the fact that we all share his politics, feel kindly disposed towards him personally and are glad he is on the ballot but that we differ on whether he should be supported or not.”

Clarion Left Inside columnist and the Agent for the Forest’s own Parliamentary candidate for Labour (Steve Parry-Hearn), Carl Spiby added:

“Clarion readers will have read in my column previously that I was of the opinion that Labour had more chance under Andy Burnham than Ed Miliband. But now, since our defeat, Burnham has wandered rightwards chasing votes for the win whatever the cost to Labour principles. I will vote for Corbyn as he is the articulation of everything the Clarion has stood for; of everything we tried to achieve in Steve Parry-Hearn’s campaign; and he stands for what most of the Labour members I know joined Labour for.

But I have also argued that compromise is important too. And it is. That view is still a valid one. And yet here is an opportunity to really see if socialism in our time can win in modern Britain. I doubt if we’ll get another chance – not for a generation at least.”

The Clarion welcomes your views, either via e-mail or on our Facebook page. We even still enjoy a good letter on paper.

OTHER REPORTAGE

HEALTH WATCH: OPEN ALL HOURS?

Cameron’s latest wheeze to try to persuade us that he really cares about the NHS is a scheme to get surgeries throughout England to provide a seven-day a week service for their patients.

Local surgeries are usually the first port of call for those suffering from health problems. They are in the front line, and it’s vital that they can function efficiently.

With surgeries already over-stretched and GPs over-worked, it’s difficult to see how Cameron’s plan can be achieved. It has all the signs of having been scribbled hurriedly on the back of an envelope. Or perhaps thought up in the shower? But Cameron thinks he has the answer. He’s going to recruit 5,000 new doctors to plug the gap.  Or so he claims.

PIE IN THE SKY:

But those in the profession believe that this is just pie in the sky. Dr Chaand Nagpaul is the GP committee chairman of the British Medical Association, and he’s pointed out that the number of doctors working in surgeries is about to plummet as GPs seek to retire – or even look for more congenial work overseas. According to a recent BMA survey, one in three general practitioners intend on leaving within the next five years.

He’s claimed that the Tories are likely to “fail dismally” to fulfil their pledge to recruit 5,000 new doctors – which would have to be over and above those planning to quit the NHS.  “It’s absolutely pointless promising five thousand extra GPs within this Parliament if we lose 10,000 retiring in the same period,” he declared.

Other critics of the Cameron plan have also pointed to the folly of trying to foist it on an NHS that’s been starved of staff and resources.

FRAGMENTATION:

Meanwhile, the carve-up of the NHS continues. There’s been the continuing privatisation of services, and the announcement that Greater Manchester would gain control of its own health budget, under the supervision of an elected mayor – a move described by campaigner John Lister as “the balkanisation of the Service”. There was, of course, no consultation with the public, or those working within the NHS in Manchester. And they’re not exactly happy about it.

Meanwhile, there are siren voices who’ve come up with even more crazy ideas. Francis Maude, for example, would like to see hospitals “opt out” of the NHS and go it alone. Even worse, the US boss of NHS England is a great fan  of the American-style health insurance scheme, which is cash limited – thus leaving the patient  to  top it  up out of his/her own pocket if the cost of the treatment is greater than the insurance cover allows for.

With friends like that in the wings, what chance would the NHS have?

AG