The National Anthem – time for a change?

CrownI was not surprised to see the Daily Mail and other tabloids getting all upset about a politician not singing the National Anthem. Apparently, even members of the Labour Party (Margaret Beckett on the BBC this morning for one) now also think that you cannot be patriotic about the UK without singing along to this relic of our imperial past. It is about time that such people realised that many of us in this country are not monarchists and that others of us have long ago ceased to believe in any sort of god.

As an avowed democrat and atheist, I absolutely reocgnise Jeremy Corbyn’s right not to sing the National Anthem. I take the same stand myself. I would never sing it either. To do so would be about as hypcritical as it is possible to be for a republican like me.

Where other national anthems sing of love for a particular country, ours pleads with god to save our hereditary monarch. It is about time we consigned ‘God Save the Queen’ to history.

The Tory attitude to our housing problem

I was quite shocked at the breathtaking attitudes of Tory Housing Minister Brandon Lewis towards the biggest social issue of the day. In an interview with the Sunday Times he said “I’m not entirely convinced that publishing a strategy actually achieves what we want.” Apparently all the hundreds of thousands of new houses that we so desperately need are going to build themselves or was he thinking that the marvellous free market, which has never managed to build even half the houses we needs over the last decade, will somehow provide the solution.

What we really need is lots more affordable housing

What we really need is lots more affordable housing

He went on to say “if you get too much regulation in the sector, it drives down supply, and in the long run that’s bad for tenants.” I wonder which plane Brandon Lewis lives on as he clearly does not recognise the plight of millions of his fellow countrymen having to live with rent increases that have far outstripped inflation ove rthe last many years, of the hundreds of thousands of people who long to buy their own home but have no chance of doing so anywhere south of Birmingham.

Frankly if this is the man in charge of bulding the 250,000 new homes we need each year to satisfy new demands for housing then we are in a hopeless situation. I dread to think how many Tory MPs, like Brandon Lewis, are hoping that the housing market will continue to malfunction whilst pushing up the income they receive from homes that they themselves rent out privately.

I also wonder just how much money is paid in housing benefit to help those who cnnot afford the sky high rents. After all this is public money being paid over to private landlords which just continues the status quo of too many people having to live beyond their means in overpriced rental accommodation.

Joined-up Thinking between NHS and Thames Valley Police

Congratulations to Thames Valley Police and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust for putting joined-up thinking into action. Between them they have launched a Street Triage scheme.

This innovation means that a qualified mental healthcare nurse will be on hand to assis the police five nights a week Thursdays through to Mondays (so covering the busy weekend period) so that mentally ill patients can be seen and assessed by a qualified practioner rather than simply being locked away in a cell before anyone asks any questions, followed by a long, long wait to see someone qualified in mental healthcare.

On its first week of operation, covering Reading , Wokingham and West Berks, some 20 incidents were attended by a mental health nurse, saving the police many hours of time that needs to be spent on their main job of protecting the public, and, importantly, getting the right help to mentally ill patients as quicklly as possible.

It has been a long time coming but well done to all involved in this scheme.

Scandal of Tory Government social rent proposals

From a recent LGA Lib Dem Group Press Release


Tory Government proposals to reduce rents paid by tenants in social housing in England by 1 per cent a year will cost councils £2.6 billion by 2019/20, new analysis reveals.

The measure, as part of the Welfare and Work Bill, would see the rent reduction come into force from 2016 and last for four years. The cost to councils will rise from £234 million in year one, to £508 million in year two, £795 million in year three, and over £1 billion by 2019/20. By that point the annual funding gap will represent 60 per cent of local government’s total housing maintenance budget. Over the four years the total £2.6 billion will be equivalent to the cost of building almost 19,000 new homes.

Cllr Keith House, LGA Lib Dem Housing Spokesperson, said: “Liberal Democrats support moves to keep rents low but this move would hold back councils from helping government build more homes, boost growth and employment and reduce the welfare bill.

“Because around 70 per cent of council tenants receive Housing Benefit, any rent decrease will not impact them directly. Instead it will be reflected in the Department of Work and Pensions’ budget, while local councils will have to cope with the additional financial burden.”
Lib Dems are calling for the flexibility and powers for local councils to manage their own housing stock to meet the needs of local communities and employers over the long-term, as was intended by government in the 2012 housing reforms.

Keith House added:
“Many councils have already agreed long-term housing investment plans based on the future rent levels announced in March’s Budget. It is right that rents are kept as low as possible, but our analysis shows reducing rents in this way over the next four years will cost councils £2.6 billion by the end of the decade and lead to a further funding gap of £1 billion per year from 2020/21 onwards.

“There are millions of people on social housing waiting lists and councils want to get on with the job of building the new homes that people in their areas desperately need, which is the best way to reduce the Housing Benefit bill and boost growth. And Housing Associations will also be hit hard, estimating they would build 14,000 fewer affordable homes.

“It is therefore vital that these costs are considered by the Government as part of the wider debate of council funding to avoid the capacity of councils and housing associations to invest in this much-needed housing being put at risk. For instance councils should be able to keep all the receipts from the sales of their own housing stock.”

The Local Government Association has called on government to let councils take a lead role in housebuilding by lifting housing borrowing limits to allow councils to invest in new housing, giving councils the freedom to set Right to Buy discounts, and to retain 100 per cent of all council home sale receipts locally.

The Crisis in Calais – What Crisis?

EU figures show that in 2014 Europe received 626,00 asylum applications including:
Germany 203,000
Sweden 81,000
Italy 65,000
France 64,000
Hungary 43,000
United Kingdom 32,000
Austria 28,000
Netherlands 25,000
Belgium 23,000

These figures include refugees from Ukraine and the Balkans as well as Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa.

In absolute numbers, a total of almost 104,000 persons were granted refugee status in the EU-28 in 2014 (first instance and final decisions), nearly 60,000 subsidiary protection status, and just over 20,000 authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. So around 25-30% of applicants were allowed to stay legally in the EU.

It is worth noting that the total population of the EU is 500,000,000.

UN figures indicate that around 100,000 migrants made it to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of 2015.

The press are having a field day and pumping up the rhetoric about swarms of migrants crossing the channel but has anyone bothered to look at the actual numbers involved and how many asylum seekers actually find refuge in the UK?

Given the level of asylum requests over the whole of Europe (and yes the numbers will have increased in the current year) we need to ask the question why do we make such a big deal over 3,000 – 5,000 refugees in Calais? Should we not ask why we are only taking in half the number of refugees that France or Italy take in? Are we that worried by a few thousand more? Are we, as a nation, so broke or xenophobic that we cannot extend a hand of welcome to a few thousand more refugees? Are we losing our humanity?

Tory Budget Disaster

1_pound_coinWell, two days after the budget and the wheels have already fallen off George Osbourne’s ‘one nation’ proposals. Analysts from both the IFS and the Resolution Foundation have shown where the crunch is really going to hit. £12bn off welfare, taken mainly from tax credits that would normally be paid to those in low-paid jobs, as opposed to £4bn being given to low-paid workers by raising the minimum wage to £9 an hour by 2020. That just leaves a little matter of £8bn being taken from the poorest people in low-paid jobs.

I wonder who is going to be paying for the cuts in inheritance tax for millionaires?

For five years of the Coalition Government we managed to keep right wingers at bay and produced balanced budgets that actually closed the income gap between rich and poor. Now the Tories are off the leash and we can see where they are going. Not that they gave any details of where the cuts would fall before the election. It was just something that they put together in the two months since the May election.

Oh, and spare a thought for the millions of public sector workers consigned to 1% pay ‘rises’ for the next four years having been on 0-1% for the previous 5 years already.

Don’t pooh pooh this

Cat As a local councillor I get a number of residents complaining about inconsiderate dog owners who allow their dogs to pooh wherever and never stop to clear up the mess. But until today I had never heard of a problem with cat pooh. Now, one resident has contacted me about cat pooh in his garden. It struck a chord with me as we have recently returned from a week away to find cat pooh in our garden. And this was not the first time we have been left fuming about cat pooh, about which there seems very little that we innocent victims can do other than clean up somebody else’s mess and get on with our lives. However, I did some googling and came across this site with lots of useful information for those having to deal with cat pooh:

Cat pooh clearly makes a lot of people irate judging form the number of comments on the above website but it is worth a visit if you are one of them.

House Building

It was good to see that there was a marked increase in new homes completed in the first quarter of 2015, up around 25% over the same quarter last year but still the overall figure for the last year is just 125,000 houses when we really need more than double that number even to keep pace with growing demand, never mind reducing the backlog.

The really bad news is that only 20% of new homes in the last quarter were housing association builds and only 270 new council houses were built in that period.

These figures are dire and are condemning millions of people to live in unaffordable private rented accommodation for many years to come and it is the government that picks up much of the costs in meeting claims for Housing Benefit.

We desperately need more affordable housing all across London anmd the South of England. Councils need to be able to borow more money to build homes that people can afford to rent.

20 mph across Reading

Yesterday evening I heard yet again the same old story from Labour councillors about the need for 20mph limits in one particular estate in Reading. They do keep popping up with the same idea, namely that we can create a patchwork of 20mph areas across Reading, but they absolutely refuse to take the bull by the horns and implement 20mph limits on ALL residential roads in Reading. Do they really think that a patchwork of some 20mph alongside some 30mph zones makes much sense? Drivers need to know and understand traffic regulations and zipping between 20mph and 30mph zones does not make it easy for the driver to know which zone he is driving in.

What is so wrong with doing a big promotion across the town, engaging with residents (in a referendum, if necessary, next May) and going for 20mph limits across ALL residential roads in Reading. Why is it good for Dee Road Estate all of a sudden but not for Elvaston Way (where we asked for a 20mph zone six or seven years ago).

There is no logic to a piecemeal approach when almost everywhere you ask people they all want 20mph zones by a large majority.

Wake up Cllr Tony Page, smell the coffee, and move to implement 20mph along all residential roads across the whole town.

20 is Plenty for all of us! Visit the website at

20s Plenty

Yet another smash in Mayfair

Mayfair smash 4 Aug 2014 cropped

I am losing count of the number of smashes in Mayfair since the council stopped residents parking on their own driveways. Today’s smash (see above) is the fourth or fifth involving cars running in to parked vehicles or drivers causing accidents whilst reversing out of their driveways between parked cars.

I am not sure how long it takes for this Labour council to recognise that stopping residents of Mayfair from parking on their own driveways is not just nonsensical, it is also downright dangerous.

Tilehurst residents overwhelmingly support the experimental ban on verge and pavement parking but the council’s pigheadedness over Mayfair is causing huge concern over the whole scheme.