Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Local Politics’

FOODBANKS: Why do we need them?

In R.Richardson on January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

A report from Ruth Richardsonfood-pot-kitchen-cooking.jpg
Our Co-op Member Group meets regularly to discuss topical matters – usually concerning the co-operative movement – but not always.

In November we invited Sandi McDonagh, the PR and training manager of the Forest of Dean foodbanks, to come to talk to us. I warned Sandi that we were a small group, but she assured me that she’s happy to talk to groups of any size including schools, the W.I., housing associations, etc.

The Forest has a foodbank in each of the three main Forest towns, and a large warehouse at Cinderford. It operates under the auspices of the Trussell Trust, a countrywide organisation and by far the largest provider of food banks, now having 400 outlets – a number which has doubled in recent years. Last year over one million three-day food “parcels” were provided.

OTHER FOOD BANKS:

There are other foodbanks in the Forest often run by churches, such as the “Lord’s Larder” in Newent. The need for and use of foodbanks is considerably greater than official statistics show – the Government doesn’t want to lend credence to the idea that its policies have exacerbated need among the less well off!

Sandi showed us the vouchers that clients have to obtain from bodies such as schools, town councils or surgeries, and present them to receive food. Different size boxes are filled at the warehouse to cater for families of different sizes, and the boxes are decanted into bags.

A box contains enough food for a family for three days, and a client can visit the food bank three times in six months. It’s not intended that there should be long-term reliance on the foodbank (The Tressell Trust doesn’t have the resources for that) and what is provided is intended to see a family through an emergency.  Extra food can be provided though for families with school-age children during school holidays when the children will not be getting their free school meals.

At present the Forest foodbanks are supplying donated hats, gloves and scarves and also Advent calendars and tins of chocolate for families. Sandi made the point that the warehouses are well stocked at present because of harvest festivals and also because of people’s generosity in the run-up to Christmas. Often there’s a bit of a shortfall after Easter.

Sandi mentioned that while all donations are welcome they are over-flowing with tins of baked beans and soup! Last year the turnover of food in the Forest was fifty tons.

HELP WITH ADVICE:

All the foodbanks are attended regularly by a representative from Green Square, a Gloucester-based body which advises on housing and debt management, and sign-posts clients to other organisations as appropriate.

Universal Credit which we reported on in our last issue is now being rolled out in Gloucestershire. Although the Government has tweaked its legislation a little, it is still expected that the change over will lead to an increase in the use of foodbanks of 17 per cent in the run up to Christmas.

* Collection points for donated food (tins and packets) are situated in many supermarkets and churches. Or go trusselltrust.org to find your nearest collection point.

R.R.


EDUCATION MATTERS: FACING UP TO WORK LOADS

In September, as we reported in our last issue,  a new large teachers’ union  came into being –  The National Education Union (NEU). It was formed through the merger of the NUT and the ATL.

It’s worth looking at their website, in particular at their campaign to reduce  teachers’ workloads. The average working week is 54 hours for a classroom teacher and 60 plus for subject heads or senior management . The NEU has detailed advice advice on how to “develop a workload  campaign in your workplace”.  The step-by-step guide looks practical and helpful, though whether hard-pressed teachers will have time to put it into practice is doubtful – even with the long-term objective of reducing the workload.

AN EXERCISE IN ASSET STRIPPING:

Another story that we covered in our last issue was the collapse of  the Wakefield Academies Trust. An article in  the Guardian detailed the asset-stripping that occurred in the year or so before the Trust’s demise.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds were transferred into the Trust’s accounts from schools such as Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy or Heath View Primary School, when they joined the chain in the last two or three years.

Even when a budget deficit was evident, the Chief Executive, Mike Ramsey, was paid £82,000 for fifteen weeks’ work. £440,000 was paid to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsey and his daughter . But, says a draft Department of Education report, there is no suggestion of fraudulent activity. The full report has yet to be published.

NICE WORK (?):

A Times Education Supplement investigation discovered that a quarter of  England’s best paid academy leaders received pay increases of  ten per cent or more last year. The investigation analysed the top salaries at 121 academy trusts and found that on average the pay was a fifth more than that of the Prime Minister. The Department of Education commented: “It is essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards.” One wonders if Mike Ramsey from the Wakefield Academies Trust was one of the “best people”?

A NARROWING CURRICULUM?

Amanda Spelman is the head of Ofsted.  Recently she condemned the narrowed down curriculum resulting from the focus on passing SATS and GCSEs .  Her comment infuriated teachers who for years  have been railing against league tables, SATS and continual assessment.

A letter in the “i” newspaper from a retired teacher expressed their views succinctly.

“I was a teacher for 43 years and had to endure a rich, vibrant and interesting curriculum being systematically eroded and turned into a narrow, blinkered, unimaginative, boring regime.”

Another letter commented  that test results decide…

“Ofsted grading, pay increases and the head’s future” so schools then “focus on results to the detriment of everything else. Who’d have thought it?”

DO IT YOURSELF?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reported on the lengths that some head teachers are going to, to keep costs down as their budgets undergo the heaviest cuts in a generation. They are carrying out the work of caretakers, support staff and maintenance men.

One head spent his summer holidays repainting the school, whilst another has had to let the playing fields go to seed as he cannot afford to mow them.

Schools funding levels have been frozen whilst costs have increased. Which means a shortfall in real terms of around eight per cent.

Ruth Richardson.

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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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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:06 am

dinosaurThe Rees-Mogg view on Foodbanks

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the old Etonian MP for North East Somerset, recently voiced his views on Food Banks,

His opinion wasn’t exactly the kind of outright denunciation that we’ve heard from other Tory leaders in the past. Indeedy, he found that the growing use of Food was “rather uplifting”.  After all, he mused, they showed what a “good, compassionate society we are”.

After all, said Rees-Mogg in a radio interview, “I don’t think the state can do everything that it tries.”

Well, it might if it tried. But a Tory-run state doesn’t even try.  It may be quite ruthless in making cuts, but it doesn’t even try to make provision for the growing number of people stuck on or below the poverty level. Under the Tory Government poverty has increased steadily.

But Rees-Mogg denies that. He declares that the increase in the use of food banks has come about because more people in need now know that they’re there. Before Labour “had refused to tell them”.

Eh?  What kind of blinkered world does Rees-Mogg live in?  No wonder he’s the favourite amongst Tory Party members to be the next Party leader.

What me? Party leader?

Another MP who may be touted (or not) as next Tory Party leader is our own Mark Harper.  When asked by the Citizen whether he might throw his hat into the ring, he denied any such thought.

It seems that his name was included in a list of possible contenders published in the Sun newspaper.  But Harper declared in the Citizen that he was focusing on supporting the Prime Minister in “delivering a successful Brexit and making improvements here at home” (sic).

That’s a good boy, Mark. I wouldn’t get ideas above your station if I were you.

Ours not to reason why:

I’m indebted to Terry Haines, Co-op Party member and one-time mayor of Gloucester, for this letter which appeared in a recent issue of The Forester.

“Meeting a respected community leader, who had canvassed with me for a “Remain” vote, I asked: “Voted yet?”

“Yes, OUT, the council didn’t collect my bin last week”.

Another pensioner colleague voted “Out”, annoyed her surgery had re-arranged an appointment.

Earlier I was vehemently told by a “Leave” voter, proudly polishing his new BMW in a street where 40 per cent of the cars were German: “listen mate, the Germans will always want our cars.”

I canvassed many old and poor people epitomised by the “Alf Garnett “diatribe: “I’ve lived under 19 different prime ministers and been poor under every single one.”

This solid “Leave” vote was surprised to find we were in the EU the next week. They were suffering from the 15 per cent rise in retail prices and the losses in the emigrant services they need from their NHS and caring services. Many thought we would be back to the Empire and its imported riches.

Should our country be subjected to such fickleness?”

Indeed, Terry. Indeed.

Cost of Yorkley Court:

It was revealed last month that the cost of evicting those who occupied Yorkley Court amounted to a staggering £150,000.  So now we know where the money went in this whole shoddy business.  The biggest amount was the cost of the overblown police presence at the site, with legal costs also adding to the total sum.

And what was gained by this eviction?  As I see it, nothing at all. But in my opinion. We lost a praise-worthy initiative from a group of eco-farmers (following in the footsteps of the 17th Century “diggers”)

Dinosaur

 

CLARION COMMENT: HOW MAY MANAGED TO LOSE HER OWN ELECTION

In Editorial on September 22, 2017 at 1:02 pm

What can we say about May’s decision to hold a snap election that went so sensationally wrong for her?  A miscalculation? An example of hubris writ large?  This and much more has already been said in the media and by commentators galore.

Let’s just say that May managed to undermine her position as PM in spectacular fashion, and turn her slender but workable majority into no majority at all. She now has to rely on the dubious support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist MPs. The DUP, for goodness sake! That really is scraping the barrel!

And it’s a bit rich when we consider the Tory attempts to smear Corbyn with allegations that he’d supported armed Irish Republicans!

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A PERSONAL CAMPAIGN:

May chose to personalise her electoral campaign. At the hustings her publicity promoted her as leader, with the Tory Party demoted to a strap line. For May the election was intended to reduce the number of Labour MPs elected to the point where they could no longer function as an effective opposition – whilst at the same time  boosting May’s own standing as she set about doing a demolition job on Jeremy Corbyn.

As it turned out the election results achieved just the opposite.  May has weakened her position in the Tory Party, whilst managing to boost Corbyn’s reputation as a leader who can win seats (some of which had rarely if ever been held by Labour before) and as an effective team player.

LOCAL RESULTS:

Here in the Forest of Dean, Labour’s candidate Shaun Stammers managed to increase his party’s vote from 12,000 to 18,000-plus. Readers can do their own maths!  It was quite an achievement considering that, by necessity, he’d been a last minute choice with no time to get “bedded in” to his role. A candidate could do with a year if he/she is to level the playing field, to get to know the voters, keep abreast of constituency matters in the local press and shape the debate rather than merely react to it. But he and the party locally ran a vigorous high-profile campaign that seem to have paid off.

As for Mark Harper, he nailed his colours firmly to Theresa May’s banner.  His election address declared that he was “standing with Theresa May”, and it included a personal letter from May herself.

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Meanwhile, in the Monmouth constituency, Labour managed to increase its share of the vote, as well. Ruth Jones, for Labour polled over 18,000 votes – an increase of nearly ten per cent.

WHAT NEXT?

In the circumstances, the future for Labour (both nationally and locally) seems rosy. It has enlarged representation in the Commons – and few dissidents within the Party are likely to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership right now. The great purge of members is now surely over, leaving only those who were expelled to lick their wounds.

Meanwhile, within the Conservative Party, the opposite is the case.  Theresa may is now a Prime Minister living on borrowed time.

But there are plenty of ifs and buts. First, the Tories are hardly likely to call another election in the near future unless circumstances force them to.  Meanwhile, if there was to be a Tory coup to replace May, we just don’t know who’d be in the running to replace her. There are those, of course, who seem happy to throw their hats into the ring (Boris Johnson and David Davies are two names that spring to mind), but who knows what future candidates may emerge from the shadows?

It was Harold Wilson who once famously declared that “a week in politics is a long time”.  As the Clarion only appears bi-monthly, many of our comments may well be overtaken by events before our next issue hits the presses.

Time, as it always does, will tell.


BREXIT?  AN EXIT IN CHAOS!

It’s difficult to envisage a situation in which so-called negotiations were carried out with so much ineptitude as those for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Cheered on by Tory “exit” supporters, Theresa May first promised a “hard exit”. Then she followed this up with the declaration that no agreement at all with the EU would be better than a bad agreement (would it really?).  There have been quibbles over the amount of money being demanded by the EU, with some Brexit cheer-leaders such as Boris Johnson declaring that we shouldn’t be paying the EU a penny (or should that be a Euro?).

BECOMING DISPLACED PERSONS?

There have been disagreements over the rights of EU citizens living in Britain. Many live and work here, and so far it’s all been perfectly legal. Should they be allowed to stay, with second-class citizen status?  With, perhaps, the threat of possible expulsion hanging over them?  So far there’s been no clear agreement, only the declaration that we should be in charge of our own borders.

And what of those Brits living in the European Union, either working there, perhaps raising families, or just enjoying retirement in other parts of Europe of their choice?   There has been no recognition of the fact that the creation of a united Europe created significant movement in population.  People could choose to live wherever they wanted in the EU, travel for employment opportunities – or settle somewhere else in Europe simply because it suited them better.

AND WHY A “HARD BREXIT”?

And why, oh why, did our Tory Government decide that it had to be a “hard brexit”?  There were to be no ifs or buts. We’d just cut ourselves off from mainland Europe, sign our own treaties and make our own way in the world – because that was what the people of the UK wanted. Well, in fact only a little over fifty per cent voted to leave. In some parts of the country a clear majority voted to stay in the Union. In Scotland it was overwhelming.  There were to be no concessions for them.

So, if we really wanted to leave, wouldn’t it have been a better strategy to go for what might be termed a “softer” strategy?  Such as that taken by Norway, for example?  Both Norway and Iceland opted to remain within the EU’s trade agreements whilst withdrawing from the political aspects of the Union.  For many in Britain it may not be ideal, but it would ensure that the massive level of trade we do with the EU would be safeguarded.

Jeremy Corbyn has now come out with his own proposals for softening the blow of our departure from the EU.  This would considerably lengthen the amount of time that we would, in effect, remain within the remit of the EU, in order to safeguard the rights of EU citizens within the UK (as well as safeguarding those UK citizens in mainland Europe). It would also mean that our present trade agreements with the EU would remain in place.  It might be termed a much “softer” departure from Europe.

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm

dinosaurPOINT TAKEN:

I’ve received a response from one of the quartet of former Labour councillors who’d chosen to resign from the party and sit on the district council as “Independent Labour”.

Bill Osborne puts a somewhat different viewpoint from what seemed to have been agreed by his colleagues.  He tells me that his resignation was in fact motivated more by his suspension from the Labour Party (at national level) which deprived him of his vote in the second leadership election  – when Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as party leader.

Bill described this as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  He also makes the point that the only reason that Labour’s NEC could provide for his suspension was that a comment Bill had made on social media “might have caused offence”.

Which, perhaps, casts a rather different light on Bill’s decision to leave Labour’s ranks. Personally, I take his point!

It’s an opt out:

I’ve always been a fan of the 1950s film, Passport to Pimlico, in which a plucky community in central London decides to opt out and declare itself independent – facing the full wrath of bureaucracy as a result.

It might not be on the same scale, but I was drawn to a piece in the Citizen the other week.  Dr. William Riches, from Newnham, has decided to declare his home an “independent republic”  His wife, Judith, has been declared president, and his children and grandchildren  are citizens.

When the UK finally leaves the EU anyone visiting his home by the Severn, Middlewatch, will have to make sure that they have their passports with them – plus a visa.  And Dr. Riches  and his family will then formally apply for entry to the European Union.

Dr. Riches (a retired university lecturer) is a much-travelled Europhile, and has worked in America, Canada and Northern Ireland.  He’s no “Little Englander”, and sees the world on a different scale than many of those who backed Brexit.  Good luck to him, I say.

Applying for European citizenship?

Of course there are other ways to make the point that you want to remain part of Europe. The kind of “hard Brexit” advocated by many enthusiasts, who believe that we can just go it alone, is bound to create mass upheaval. There are those Brits who’d chosen to make their homes in mainland Europe – as well as  those Europeans who’d chosen to make the UK their home.  Now all this is about to be torn apart.

But a new initiative is now being launched, to try to allow Brits to retain their European citizenship (as shown ou our current passports).  At present we all have “the right to move and reside freely within the territory of Member States under objective conditions of freedom and dignity.”

A new initiative is being launched to allow UK resident citizens to maintain these rights.  So, for more details, email info@eucitizen2017.org

Go on, give it a try!

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Saving our Forest way of life:

dinosaurMany old timers in the Forest regret the passing of the “old ways”. Patterns of life have certainly changed over the past fifty years or so.  Mining is now a thing of the past – apart from a scattering of free miners, and even they are fading away.

And we’re losing that thick, sometimes impenetrable, “Vorest” accent, swamped as we are by outside influences. Basically the population is changing as once settled communities are affected by the arrival of incomers in our midst.

Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on your point of view. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.

But I was interested to see in the local press that attempts had been made to raise money from the heritage lottery to save the distinctive Forest dialect for future generations.

It’s in danger of being lost completely, say those behind the bid.  They aim to make use of oral history recordings (both of the spoken and written word). Attempts will be made to introduce youngsters in the Dean to old patterns of employment – such as ochre mining and “ship badgering” (in other words tending the free-range Forest sheep).

As an old dinosaur I wish them luck. But I must confess to a certain degree of skepticism. We’re all caught up in the forces of change, whether we like it or not. The population of the Forest is changing, patterns of employment, too, are not what they used to be. The best we can hope for is to build up a bank of memories for generations to come. To let them know what our “Land between two rivers” used to be like.

Mark Harper has his say:

I read one of Mark Harper’s contributions to the Citizen the other week with a little bit of interest. Only a little, mind. He is, after all still our MP even if he has been consigned to the backbenches in the Commons.

Now he’s out of government he does seem to be scrabbling around for something relevant to say. He skirts cautiously round the subject of Brexit, before lighting on the High Speed Rail Act which will it seems generate “new jobs and economic growth”.  The trouble is that none of it really affects the Forest of Dean. And it’s somewhat overblown anyway. Our own railway connections will remain exactly the same, apart from some dubious connections in the Bristol direction from Severn Tunnel Junction.

He then lights on the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which will help local authorities improve bus services. Oh yeah? Who’re you kidding? With Stagecoach now running the lion’s share of bus services in and out of the Forest?  I don’t think so.

Then Mark seems to run out of things to say. He rather limply tells us that “the Government is getting on with the day-to-day job of running the country, as well as delivering Brexit.” Yes, that’s what many of us are afraid of.

hoof_signs_victory

Tory Mark Harper MP will be forever linked with the betrayal of what we hold dear and in common: our Forest!

But to be fair to Mark he does go on to tell us about his constituency, with people contacting him “email, phone or in writing.”  He adds that “in addition to this I have continued to attend local events, visit businesses and meet local residents around the constituency.” Well, that’s what he’s paid for.

 

All in all I got the impression that Harper, now he’s no longer involved in Government circles, is casting around to find things to say to his constituents.  But never mind. At least some would say he’s trying. Others might add that he’s very trying.

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

It seems that after trying vegetarianism we’re now being encouraged to go the whole hog (if that’s the right way to put it) and go Vegan. Veganism is the “smart way to save the planet” we’re told.

Humph. A recent item in one paper I read said this isn’t necessarily so.  It doesn’t take into account the air miles that our vegetables travel before they arrive in our shopping bags. Or unless we have our own allotments, how growing them devastates rain forests or other natural climatic regions. Not only that but those who go in for those trendy veggie boxes are more likely to throw away half the contents.

So, let’s think about our culinary habits, eh?

Dinosaur

Clarion Comment & Health-watch special: CRISIS IN THE NHS

In Editorial, R.Richardson on April 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

As 2017 dawned, crises struck the National Health Service in England. Our hospital services in particular were hit by what seemed like a sudden tsunami of patients needing treatment. The media showed us queues in hospital corridors of patients left (often overnight) on trolleys because beds just weren’t available. Or, indeed immediate treatment. It showed up a service in meltdown. Even the Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Yet it was a crisis that seemed to have a certain inevitability about it. Indeed it wasn’t really a case of if but when. A bout of bad weather together with a build-up of urgent cases that couldn’t be put on the back burner was enough to trigger the emergency. Even cancer cases were put on hold in some hospitals.

The National Health Service has come a long way since it was founded with such high expectations in the post-war years. It came into being in the summer of 1948, at a time when the country was trying to pull itself together after the devastation of war. It was the most visible, and most welcomed, part of the new welfare state being created following the adoption of the “Beveridge Plan”. The Tories didn’t like it, of course, claiming loudly that it was something that we just couldn’t afford.

We could of course afford it (as we could today if the will was there). True, the provision of “National Health” glasses disappeared, along with free dental care, not to mention modest prescription charges. But apart from that the NHS had become rooted and accepted by the time the Tories returned to power in the early ‘fifties. And the new Government accepted it as part of the status quo.

THATCHER – AND BLAIR:

It wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher returned to power that the NHS came under attack. She made it clear (at least privately) that she disliked our Health Service. But she realised that any frontal attack would be unwise, and so instead she encouraged the spread of private health care, to provide “options”. The strategy was clear. As funds were re-directed from the public to the private sector, then the NHS would decline into providing a second class service.

Certainly within Thatcher’s own period of office it failed to have the impact she desired. But when Blair came to power it seemed he had his own plans for the NHS which in many ways ran counter to the original ideals of the Service. Early examples of democratic control disappeared. Smaller hospitals and care facilities were closed, and a process of centralisation of services was introduced.

Even hospital provision in the Forest came under threat. Both Lydney and the Dilke were earmarked for closure, and were only saved after a determined and sustained campaign across the Forest of Dean.

But Blair’s biggest attack on the founding principles of the Health Service was the introduction of “foundation hospitals” in 2003. This was bitterly opposed by Labour MPs in the Commons (63 voted against it), and Frank Dobson, a former Health Minister described them as a “cuckoo in the nest”. Health campaigner, Professor Allyson Pollock declared that such foundation trusts were a “fig leaf for privatisation.”

Incidentally, one of those that applied for “foundation trust” status was the Gloucester hospital trust. Fortunately, it never went ahead.

EROSION OF THE NHS:

All these changes to the structure of the National Health Service contributed to its fragmentation. Local health boards had, by now, disappeared – and there was a blurring of the line between public and private health care.

Fast forward to the Cameron era, and the “age of austerity”. Health care was soon identified as one of the country’s big spenders which, it seemed, we couldn’t afford. Strict financial controls were imposed on health care – particularly on hospital budgets.

Of course if a patient needs treatment, he or she should get it. And the NHS was founded to ensure that the care would be available, “free at the point of need”. They shouldn’t have to shop around, or join a waiting list, let alone dig into their pockets in order to “go private”.

David Cameron was keen to point out that “we were all in this together, but by this time the lines were so blurred and care was being increasingly rationed that the NHS was struggling to provide adequate care.

A SORRY SAGA:

We’ve come a long way from the establishment of the NHS in the summer of 1948 to the sorry state of the service today. Our Health Care needs more, much more, than extra cash to fund it adequately. It also to be able to return to the principles and practices on which it was founded.

And we should also salute those who work within the service who’ve worked hard, for long hours, to keep it operating for so long – often for little reward.


HEALTH WATCH: PROMISES, PROMISES

Whatever happened to those promises that if we achieved “Brexit” there’d be all that extra money to pump back into the NHS?

The pledge was plastered all over the sides of campaign buses. It figured in speeches made by pro-Brexit campaigners. And then quietly forgotten after the votes had been counted.

Now, it seems, the opposite will be true. There will be swingeing cuts to an already cash-strapped service.

According to the BMA, £22 billion’s worth of cuts will have to be made in order to balance the books. And Dr. Mark Porter, head of the doctors’ union, charged those with pushing the cuts of using them “as a cover for starving services and resources and patients of vital care.”

“SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION”:

The cuts are all part of the new “Sustainability and Transformation” plan (revealed in the last issue of the Clarion.) The plan has been introduced with little or no consultation with those who will be most affected – the doctors (not to mention the patients!

In response Dr. Porter says, “improving patient care must be the priority… There is a real risk that these transformative plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

Meanwhile, a conference held in Birmingham to “challenge the Sustainability and Transformation Plan” back in September was organised by Health Campaigns Together. It drew a packed audience. One of its main speakers was Dr. John Lister.

“MISSING ELEMENTS”:

There are three missing elements from the NHS as we know it today, declared Dr. Lister. One, the money. Two, the staff to do the job. And, three, the evidence that the policies can deliver the expected results.

Documents produced by the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) show a reluctance to engage with this harsh reality, he said. Instead there’s an air of wishful thinking, of pie in the sky.

Consequently, plans are written not by those from within the NHS, but by lavishly paid management consultants. Meanwhile, have these consultants, however lavishly paid, offered any real evidence to support the assertions and proposals that they’ve made?

WHAT’S “INTERMEDIATE CARE”?

“What is glaringly obvious is that throughout the 51 pages of text there is not one example of a working model of the type of new systems that are proposed to replace hospital bed provision… According to another document prepared by management consultants “intermediate care” is supposed to enable the NHS in North West London to dispense with over 400 hospital beds – but the document lacks any definition of intermediate care, let alone any plans to establish or expand it.”

THE CUTTING EDGE:

Faced with this welter of confusion, Dr. Lister sees the STPs as being presented as ways of curbing health spending, to live within the impossible spending limits imposed since 2010 even while the needs for health services continue to grow.

Or, asks Dr. Lister, “is it in fact the cuts that are being driven through now on the ground, and already happening even as we plough through the small print?”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, has been busy in the media stating the case that there is not enough money to sustain services at the current level or meet increased demand over the next four years.

His options include: a reduction in the number of priorities that the NHS is trying to deliver; rationing access to care; and reducing the size of the NHS workforce.

Dr Lister retorts that “Hopson’s choice” is effectively to abandon NHS principles – or to cut the NHS to vanishing point. He adds that “most of these things are already being done in some form at local level…”

Hopson suggests a “public debate” on how the NHS should be sustained. Dr. Lister doesn’t favour the idea, in which one side “backed by the right wing media… and the backwoods Tory right that is now dominant will be urging us to turn the clock back to the 1930s drop the NHS principles and adopt some combination of charging for treatment and private health insurance.”

“Let’s fund the NHS properly from general taxation. It’s already under-funded compared to almost any comparable country, with fewer staff, fewer beds and less modern equipment than almost any developed economy.”

 

 

 

Co-op In The Forest Under Attack

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on February 23, 2017 at 1:31 pm

According to its critics, the Co-op in the Forest of Dean has been stifling competition, and forcing shoppers to travel out of the area to get a decent deal.

The brunt of the attack on the Co-op centres on plans for a new supermarket on the Steam Mills quarter of Cinderford.  This would of course pose a threat to the Co-op store in the town – as well as the many smaller shops in Cinderford.

The site was once earmarked by Tesco, as part of its expansion into the Forest – but after a long fight (led initially by Somerfield) planning permission was finally rejected at government level.  Later Asda submitted plans for an out of town store at Steam Mills – but then withdrew.

The current application appears to be developer-led. At present no particular supermarket chain has expressed specific interest, but the developers (Trilogy Development)  believe that Asda could be tempted back.

ACCUSATIONS:
At the time of writing there has been no challenge to what looks like a speculative venture.  But one (Labour) councillor from Cinderford has declared his belief that the Midcounties Co-op would mount a legal challenge.  He went on to say “All people want is choice and I believe the Co-op in Cinderford should be penalised for stifling trade.”

Such accusations seem at this stage to be somewhat gratuitous, and it might well be that it wouldn’t only be the Co-op that would suffer in the town.  It would be all retail trade in the town centre, the small shops, convenience stores, and all the outlets that have offered choice.  It could also affect other such alternative food sources as the“Forest Hub”.  Their future is bleak if more of the big supermarket chains are foisted on the Forest.

It should further be noted that Cinderford had already gained another supermarket. There is also a Lidl in the town, and it’s been trading there for some years.

But the attacks on the Co-op continue.  Another angle is that because of its obstructionist approach it’s forcing shoppers to travel out of town (to Ross-on-Wye for example) in order to do the “shopping of their choice”.  The aforementioned Labour Councillor was quoted in the Forester as saying: “anybody who goes to Morrisons in Ross on any Friday or Saturday afternoon will see more Cinderford people there than on Cinderford High Street.”

This comment is speculative to say the least. As far as I know, there’s been no scientific survey on the weekend shopping habits of Cinderford folk ~ though of course it may be that such shoppers are happy to take a day out in a town like Ross, regardless of such an ambiguous concept as “choice”!

COMPETITION INCREASING
The Co-op is of course deeply rooted in the Forest of Dean. These roots go back to the late 19th Century.  Even today it has four supermarkets in the Dean council area, as well as a number of convenience stores.

But it’s only natural that competition should be increasing. In Lydney there are two other supermarkets apart from the Co-op. In Coleford there’s also a Nisa, and a smaller convenience store – Tesco – in competition with the Co-op.  And much the same pattern is seen in Cinderford.
But still, it seems, some folk want even more supermarkets, and to blazes with the consequences.

First, there’s only so much “competition” that our Forest communities can absorb before retail outlets start to go to the wall. The first will be the smaller specialist shops, such as butchers. bakers, clothes shops, and the smaller retail “general” stores. Then the weaker supermarket stores will suffer – and only the more voracious giants will survive.

It’s not up to me to speculate on the fate of the proposed Steam Mills development.  But a retail economy based solely on supermarket shopping is not a happy trend – particularly when we consider the next trend – one in which all shopping is done “online”,  goods are just shipped from the relevant warehouse to the customer, and we never have to go near a shop or supermarket again.

Then, of course, all diversity will have vanished, and the finger-pointing as to who did what to whom will vanish with it.  And you won’t be able to blame the Co-op!

EDUCATION MATTERS: Dean Academy still seeking new Head & HEALTHWATCH

In R.Richardson on May 5, 2016 at 12:37 pm

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

“BRAIN DRAIN” DEPARTURES:

Speaking of Ofsted, its chief, Michael Wilshaw has been commenting on the “brain drain” of teachers to work abroad. He is seeking ways to persuade at least newly-qualified teachers to spend two or three years teaching here. But Ben Culverhouse, a junior school teacher from Somerset, writing in the Guardian, believes Michael Wilshaw is part of the problem. Michael Gove, when Minister for Education, instructed Wilshaw to “raise standards”. Ofsted “suddenly got nasty”. Good schools were deemed to be coasting and any weakness in a school was ruthlessly exploited.

ACADEMISATION:

This policy, of course, went hand-in-hand with the Gove/Cameron objective of academisation.

Any school judged inadequate could be forced into becoming an academy. The belief in the efficacy of a “could do better” approach to teachers and schools is epitomised by a reported remark to the Guardian by Wilshaw in 2012: “If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.” Unbelievable! No wonder teachers are leaving in droves. And pupil numbers are set to rise by one million by 2022.

BLOG LINES:

Tim Paramour, a deputy head in a London primary school (pictured above), wrote a blog which outlines his reasons for leaving teaching at the end of this school year after twelve years in the profession. He writes that unless teachers want to get their Head the sack they have to teach to a series of dull, uninspiring tests. “Got a passion for music? Primary teaching is not for you!” He wrote. “Want to inspire children with drama? Go hug a tree, you Corbyn-loving hippie. Teachers want trust, respect and the right to exercise their own professional judgement.”

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

Apart from a general teacher shortage, there are shortages in particular areas. 73 per cent of Heads say that they are having to resort to putting teachers not trained in the subject in front of classes. Maths, with 78 per cent of schools using non-specialist teachers, and Science (75 per cent) are the most worrying, and languages (33 per cent) are also having problems.

One of the side-effects of the emphasis on exam results was high-lighted by “Secret Teacher”, an anonymous contributor to the Guardian. She writes of how the A Level and GCSE groups are assigned specialist teachers whilst the others often have non-specialists or long term supply teachers. Key Stage Three (the first years at Secondary School) are the ones who lose out. “If your performance is judged completely on exam groups and you’re creaking under the strain of an unsustainable workload of 60-plus hours a week, you’re going to cut corners, and it’s going to be in Key Stage Three,” writes “Secret Teacher”.

OFF THE MARK:

It seems that our own MP, Mark Harper, is all in favour of tests. Previous expectations have been too low, he wrote recently in the Forester. He approves of the new tests this year for Key Stages One and Two (incidentally Key Stage One tests were abolished around 2000 but are now being brought back). Harper thinks it essential that schools are “held to account” for their pupils’ performance – and that they will be required to publish results. Testing and more testing Mark Harper thinks is bound to raise standards so that “the next generation have the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive global market.

DEADLINE FOR ACADEMISATION:

It was George Osborne’s budget that dropped an unexpected bombshell. We were told, abruptly, that all schools in England should become academies by 2020 – a change that will affect 15,000 schools. Teachers’ organisations were all but unanimous in opposing these plans – and Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the annual NUT conference roundly condemned the pan as “an ideological attack on teachers and on local and parental accountability.” He received a standing ovation. Meanwhile, education minister, Nicky Morgan, floundered against a hostile audience in the Commons.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that as Wales and Scotland have control over their own education, their schools will remain firmly under the direction of local authorities.


HEALTH WATCH: Under-funded NHS trusts denied funding

The majority of England’s NHS trusts are in deficit, with no way to claw their way back without making drastic cuts. Yet the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has denied them the means to get back on even keel without cutting NHS services and front line jobs.

According to recent figures, deficits continue to rise with 130 out of 150 trusts in the red, and the number is rising. Barts, in London, heads the list with a deficit of £134 million.

Meanwhile any share of the £1.5 billion “transformation fund” for 2016-2017 are to be denied them.

“BALANCE THE BOOKS”:

Hunt has demanded that trusts “balance the books without compromising patient care” if they’re to get any of the much-needed cash injection. In other words, if you really need the money you can’t have any.

Meanwhile, guidance from the NHS regulator “Monitor” has urged those trusts in deficit to agree action that would include “headcount reduction”. In other words, by sacking staff. How this is compatible with Hunt’s drive to recruit more doctors and to bring in 24-hour cover to hospitals is not explained.

Dr. John Lister, who produces the website Health Emergency writes in response: “Five years of frozen funding under David Cameron’s governments have reduced the NHS to a cash-strapped shadow of the service the Tories inherited when they took office in 2010 …. But the latest call for trusts to balance the books by culling staff is a sure-fire recipe for growing waiting lists, waiting times, trolley waits and all the misery some of us remember from the grim Thatcher years in the late 1980s.”

CARRY ON CAMPAIGNING:

Meanwhile, campaigns in defence of our Health Service and those who work in the NHS continue. In many parts of the country there have been marches in support of the junior doctors who have faced a “take it or leave it” ultimatum from Jeremy Hunt in his insistence on imposing new hours and conditions.

Other demonstrations have focused on declining conditions in hospitals – including those in Gloucestershire. In March campaigners from across the county rallied in a march through Cheltenham in support of junior doctors and to protest against the lack of adequate funding for the NHS generally. Protesters also showed their support for the doctors outside the Gloucester Royal.

JUNIOR DOCTORS TO STRIKE AGAIN:

As we go to press the junior doctors have given notice that they intend to accelerate their campaign against the new conditions being imposed on them by Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.

Further strike action will take place on April 26 and 27 – and on this occasion there will be no emergency cover provided. So what has provoked this hardening of attitude amongst the doctors?

It can be summed up in two words. Jeremy Hunt. It was his decision to break off negotiations and impose a deal willy nilly that in its present form is unacceptable to the doctors involved.

Hunt’s response was to declare that “the matter is closed.” The BMA spokesman for the junior doctors responded by saying that “The Government will bear full responsibility for the first full walkout of doctors in this country.

He went on to point out that the biggest barrier to seven-day cover is “a chronic lack of investment and a shortage of staff.”

And with the intransigence of the Tory Government, this is likely to get worse rather than better.

RUTH RICHARDSON