Friday, 11 August 2017

Redlands Ward Public Surgery - Saturday, 12 August

Cllrs David Absolom, Jan Gavin and I will be holding our regular Labour Councillors' Ward Public Surgery for residents at Hexham Road Community Centre, Hexham Road, between 10.30am and noon tomorrow.

No appointment is necessary and discussions are strictly confidential.

Ward surgeries are held on the second Saturday of each month, alternating between St Lukes Parish Hall, Erleigh Road and the Hexham Road Community Centre.

David, Jan and I also undertake "street surgeries" on other Saturdays and weekdays - so watch out for the window poster coming through your letter-box!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Examination Results Days 2017

The release of the examination results dates in 2017 are:

  • A Levels - Thursday 17th August
  • GCSE Levels - Thursday 24th August

Good luck to all who await their results.

But remember, academic results do not define a person. They may open some doors, or force some to find different doors to step through and beyond. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Redlands Matters - Summer 32017

Most residents in Redlands will have received their copy of our ever popular "Redlands Matters" newsletter (if not, its on its way!) but here's a copy anyway - and a link if you find it easier
Let us know if you haven't had your copy (and include your address).

Anyway, the summer edition features Matt Rodda's election as the new Labour MP for Reading East, details of a review of the area wide residents' parking scheme (and a link to report illegally parked vehicles), exciting plans for South Reading Community Centre, information about Japanese Knotweed and an invitation to comment on the effectiveness of the 20mph zone.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

UNISON Victory For Everyone At Work

So many working people previously denied justice by our own government

UNISON has won a landmark court victory today (Wednesday) against the government, which means that employment tribunal fees will now be scrapped.

The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – has unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.

The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals. This is since July 2013, when fees were introduced by Chris Grayling, the then Lord Chancellor.

Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees, says UNISON.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.

“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.

“It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.
“These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”

UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna said: “The Supreme Court correctly criticised the government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament.

“The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to Parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law. UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”

The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.

– The judgement UNISON v The Lord Chancellor [2017] UKSC 2015/0233 can be found here
– The seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand.
– The judges also said fees were set so high, it “has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, and also put off more genuine cases, than the so-called vexatious claims the government claimed fees were meant to deter.
– The Supreme Court stressed that the administration of justice is not merely a public service, where courts and tribunals are only of value to the “users” who appear before them and who obtain a remedy. They said access to justice is of value to society as a whole, especially where cases establish legal rules and principles of general importance.
– The Court said UNISON’s evidence showed the fall in claims when fees came in was “so sharp, so substantial and so sustained” that they could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes. It also held that fees particularly deterred the kind of ‘low-value’ claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.
– Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013.
– Fees started at around £160 for a type A claim (for example wage claims, breach of contract), and £250 for a type B claim (unfair dismissal, race and sex discrimination). There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunal attracted an additional £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.
– A timeline of the various stages in UNISON’s legal challenge, which began in October 2013 is here.
– UNISON has a number of case studies who would have been unable to seek justice without the support of their union.
– The government’s employment tribunal fees review published in January showed that £27m was collected in fees from 2012-16.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Welcome: Newly Qualified Teachers

Newly Qualified Teachers in Reading
I was delighted to welcome a group of newly qualified teachers to the Council Chamber in Reading to celebrate the completion of the first year of their teaching careers.

Representing schools from all parts of the town, primary and secondary, their enthusiasm, excitement and pride shone through.

Though some will now pursue their careers elsewhere, many of those I met were intent on teaching the children of Reading for many years to come. Congratulations and good luck!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Don't Let The Government Behead Democracy

"The government has triggered Article 50 - which means we are leaving the EU. But the battle for our democracy and our rights has only just begun."

Meeting: Wednesday 6th September 2017, 7.30pm at RISC, London Street, Reading 

briefing published by Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now argues that the powers contained in the "Great Repeal Bill" present a fundamental threat to a number of areas, including:
  1. Workers’ rights in particular the rights of agency workers, protections for working time, and enforcement of the prohibition on discrimination.
  2. The environment in particular ensuring that environmental protections are effective, and polluters bear the cost of pollution, water safety, and air quality.
  3. Human rights particularly prohibitions on the torture trade and protections for privacy.
  4. Consumer protection particularly the regulation of dangerous chemicals and food safety.
  5. Financial regulation particularly in the event that Brexit negotiators are unable to secure the concessions required to maintain the City of London’s access to the EU.
Campaigners will seek to amend the Great Repeal Bill extensively to ensure that rights are preserved. This will include a sunset clause for the delegated powers in the Bill, and a guarantee that that the powers the Bill provides will not be used to reduce substantive individual rights and protections – forming the basis of a Judicial Review if this were to happen.

Labour MP Clive Lewis said: “The Tories are using the Brexit process as a means of undermining democracy and our rights. I and other MPs will use every opportunity to amend the Great Repeal Bill to ensure rights are preserved and the government does not award itself the powers of a renaissance monarch.”

Dr Sam Fowles, author of the report, said: “The Great Repeal Bill creates the opportunity for the government to remove rights and protections to which it objects without going through the usual mechanisms of democratic accountability. This report highlights those policy areas to which the Conservative party has already shown hostility, including protections for the environment, workers, and individual privacy. These rights are at risk unless the bill is amended.”

Meeting: Wednesday 6th September 2017, 7.30pm at RISC, London Street, Reading

Friday, 14 July 2017

Berkshire West Accountable Care System - The Shape Of Things To Come

Let's face it, if you ask most people what an STP is, a not uncommon response is a shrug of the shoulders or a glazing of the eyes and are just as likely to say "sticky toffee pudding" as "sustainability and transformation plans".   
Yet these plans, drawn up in secret last year, could have a profound impact on the delivery of health and social care services across the country.
However, having skipped any real public consultation on the STP for the Reading area (which was included with Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, West Berkshire and Wokingham) local health bosses have decided to race ahead with another bowl of alphabet soup, called an ACS.
So locally our ACS, or Accountable Care System (based on the Berkshire West 10 partnership of health organisations and local councils), has been launched as part of an initial group of eight across England. The claim is that with better joined up working between GPs, hospitals, councils and other care providers, a better service will be delivered on the front-line to the patient - and a cheaper service to the tax-payer.
All good then.
But if its that good, why the lack of public engagement? Or is it that they think they know best and we should just leave it to them?
And without getting to immersed in this stuff, Simon Stevens the boss of NHS England told a Parliamentary Committee that the next step for an ACS would be become an ACO (yes, I'm sorry!) or an Accountable Care Organisation, which effectively would replace a partnership with a single business entity (based on the insurance based health systems in the United States).
However, that's in the future.
Of more immediate interest (or concern, depending on your point of view) is that all the new ACSs "must assertively moderate growth, achieve quality targets and deliver a single financial control system by April 2018".
Perhaps they will tell us sooner or later how they intend to "assertively moderate growth" in the year ahead - will this mean longer waiting lists? - because they certainly haven't told Reading Borough Council.

Monday, 10 July 2017

No Closure Plans For Chiltern Edge School

Copied below is today's press release from Oxfordshire County Council and response from Reading Borough Council

"No closure plans following Chiltern Edge consultation"

Plans to allow more time for Chiltern Edge School to raise education standards are being put forward following a consultation into the school’s future.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet will be asked to set up an external review of improvements made by staff in the coming months, as the Sonning Common-based school tackles the serious issues highlighted by Ofsted and ongoing financial problems. The review would take place in October and a progress report would be brought to the council’s cabinet in November.

The council launched a consultation on 27 April seeking views on the potential impact of a decision to close the school, and whether other solutions could be found to ensure good quality education in this part of Oxfordshire. This followed the release of an Ofsted report which rated the school Inadequate in almost every area assessed, and the placing of the school in Special Measures.

A report on the outcome of the consultation, together with recommendations for the external review will be considered by the council’s Cabinet next Tuesday (18 July).

Working towards lasting solution

The council’s newly appointed Cabinet Member for Education Hilary Hibbert-Biles said: “We are working towards a lasting solution which both enables the school to stay open and delivers the much-needed improvements demanded by Ofsted. Our number one priority remains to ensure that good educational opportunities are available to children in this part of Oxfordshire.

“The first important steps have been taken by the school’s very capable new leadership team and it is right that more time should now be given for the school to turn itself around. Many people will also be aware that we are in early discussion with the Regional Schools Commissioner and a potential sponsor for Chiltern Edge School.

She added: “During my meetings with school staff, families and campaigners, I have been impressed by the tremendous level of support for the school and the high regard in which it is so obviously held – despite the very serious criticisms from Ofsted. I have heard those voices loud and clear both in person, and in the statements of support submitted to the consultation.

“I know the last few weeks have been a very difficult time for staff, pupils and their families, and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the consultation to help find a solution which, above all else, will bring about the much needed improvement in the education of local children.”

Consultation responses

The vast majority of the 1,029 responses to the consultation were opposed to any proposal to close the school, and most stated that the school should be given more time and support to improve and stay open. There were also many responses which disagreed with the Ofsted judgement, saying the criticism did not reflect their experience of the school.

Only a few responses were supportive of a closure proposal, raising concerns over the ability of the school to turn itself around quickly enough and the impact this would have on children’s education.

A full overview and breakdown of consultation responses is included in the Cabinet report.

Positive developments

A number of positive developments have taken place during the consultation period, including the appointment of an Interim Executive Board at Chiltern Edge, led by an experienced former Headteacher.

An interim Headteacher with a proven track record of school improvement was also appointed, taking up her position on 5 June. She has put in place a range of actions and strategies aimed at addressing the numerous weaknesses identified.

Meanwhile the council is in early discussion with the Regional Schools Commissioner, and with a potential sponsor for Chiltern Edge School, the Maiden Erlegh Trust – a multi-academy trust based in Wokingham."

- end of press release -

Reading Welcomes Future Plans for Chiltern Edge School

NEWS that Chiltern Edge School is expected to be saved from closure has been welcomed by Reading Borough Council.

The Cabinet Member for Education at Oxfordshire County Council has confirmed today that she will not be recommending the closure of the school at the authority’s cabinet meeting on 18th July.

Reading has been lobbying for the school to remain open after its future was thrown into doubt following an ‘Inadequate’ judgement from Ofsted inspectors.

Councillor Tony Jones, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Education, said: “I’m delighted that Oxfordshire’s Cabinet Member for Education, Hilary Hibbert-Biles, has decided not to recommend the closure of Chiltern Edge School.

“The news will come as a great relief to parents, pupils and teachers at the school who have had to live with a high degree of uncertainty over the last three months.

“The consultation held by Oxfordshire showed an enormous amount of support and affection for Chiltern Edge and I witnessed this myself during a number of public meetings I attended.

“However, we must not forget that the school still faces a number of challenges and must overcome the serious issues highlighted by Ofsted and its ongoing financial problems. Providing good quality education for pupils, many of whom are Reading children, must be top priority and I wish all concerned well in securing a sponsor for the school.”

Oxfordshire County Council announced a consultation on the possible closure of Chiltern Edge on 27th April after the school was placed into Special Measures.

There was strong support for the school to remain open among the community and Reading’s Council leader Cllr Jo Lovelock, Cllr Jones and senior officers met with Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth to express their concerns.

A report on the outcome of the consultation and recommendations for an external review of the school’s progress will be considered by Oxfordshire’s Cabinet next Tuesday (18th July).  

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Erleigh Road Community Garden

The poster on the garden gate says it all - a great community initiative taken by the church!
Access is to the right hand of the parish hall.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Redlands Public Surgery Today

Councilllors David Absolom, Jan Gavin and Tony Jones hold public surgeries for residents in Redlands all the year round.

"Just Walk In" surgeries are held on the second Saturday of every month, alternately at St Lukes Parish Hall, Erleigh Road and at the Hexham Road Community Centre. 

Surgery hours are 10.30am until noon.

No appointment is necessary, and all discussions are confidential.

The calendar for the remainder of 2017 is as follows: 
  • July 8th - St Lukes 
  • August 12th - Hexham Road 
  • September 9th - St Lukes 
  • October 14th - Hexham Road 
  • November 11th - St Lukes 
  • December 9th - Hexham Road 

We also undertake regular "street surgeries" on  most other Saturdays in the year. This is where we deliver notices to you a day or two beforehand, then on the following Saturday morning, if you want to see us you all  you have to do is put up the "Please Call In" notice in your window

Friday, 23 June 2017

School Holiday Dates In Reading

Following representations from parents and headteachers, Reading Borough Council will adopt new school term dates for the academic year 2018-19, so giving everyone time to plan for the changes.

This will mean that Reading will adopt the October holiday (22nd-26th Oct 2018) and Easter (8th-23rd April 2019) in line with other local authorities.

There will be no change to the dates already published for 2017-18.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reporting Illegally Parked Vehicles

The extension of the residents parking scheme in Redlands has proved hugely popular.

However, there are times when vehicles without permits ignore the rules.

If that's the case you can report them by visiting the enforcement service at: 

Click on "Report an illegally parked vehicle" and then you can either log on or "continue without an account".

You will be asked for details of the vehicle, registration number, colour, location. The reports are sent directly to the Civil Enforcement Officer base for them to review and action. If there is a CEO in the area, they can be directed to the road ASAP.

Let us know how you get on.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Thank You For Giving Us A Labour MP!

Thank you to all the door knockers, envelope stuffers, polling station counters, leaflet deliverers and countless other helpers who delivered the campaign to make Matt Rodda as our Labour MP in Reading East.

In Redlands we pride ourselves in working all the year round and now we have an MP who will match that commitment.

Get in touch if want to be part of our winning team.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Redlands Ward Public Surgery - Saturday, 10 June

Cllrs David Absolom, Jan Gavin and I will be holding our regular Labour Councillors' Ward Public Surgery for residents at Hexham Road Community Centre, Hexham Road, between 10.30am and noon tomorrow.

No appointment is necessary and discussions are strictly confidential.

Ward surgeries are held on the second Saturday of each month, alternating between St Lukes Parish Hall, Erleigh Road and the Hexham Road Community Centre.

David, Jan and I also undertake "street surgeries" on other Saturdays and weekdays - so watch out for the window poster coming through your letter-box!

And The News Keeps Getting Better ...

Anneliese Dodds and John Howarth
With the largely expected news of the election of Anneliese Dodds in Oxford East thoughts will soon turn to her position as an MEP.

The European Parliament procedures say that should she choose to resign that position in order to concentrate on her new role as an MP in Westminster, then her place would be open to be taken by the next candidate on the Labour Party South East list at the time of the last European Elections in 2014.

That person is former Reading and Berkshire councillor John Howarth.

If it works out this way John would be a great advocate for Reading and the South East in Brussels.

Reading East: Job Done

Well done Matt Rodda, Labour MP.
A pretty rotten night for all the other parties in Reading East.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Schools In Reading Are Improving

This is a copy of my opinion article in this week's READING CHRONICLE

Schools in Reading are improving

A quick glance at our Key Stage 2 results shows that of 152 councils in England, Reading was judged to be 149th in 2013, 130th in 2014, 103rd in 2015 and 50th in 2016. And this year for the first time in 10 years schools in the borough achieved above the national average results.

This progress should not be taken for granted. We can note, but not be complacent, that the majority of children in Reading already study in good or outstanding schools. Our vision is for ALL pupils have that facility as soon as possible.

We must continue to offer school leaders, teachers, pupils and their families, a positive message of hope and constructive help. Practical steps have already included:

  • Undertaking a £61million school expansion plan, ranging from 10 new classrooms at Alfred Sutton Primary to a completely brand new school at Reading Girls.
  • Launching a 3 year schools’ performance improvement plan, which specifically includes support for closing the gaps in academic achievement and reducing the obstacles to recruiting and retaining teachers and school staff.

However, it is frustrating how little direct power the council actually has on the delivery of education in the town. For example:

  • The long-awaited decisions on the possible development of a new primary at Mapledurham is stuck somewhere in Whitehall
  • Oxfordshire County council recently launched a consultation on closing a secondary school where the majority of pupils come from Reading without even telling us.
  • Free schools can pop up anywhere rather than where a new school may be needed, regardless of the impact on existing schools.
  • Schools can decide to turn themselves into academies without any refunding of millions of pounds borrowed by the council for their improvement.

I am proud of the work Reading Council does in a relentless search to improve schools for all.