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University of Reading consulting on St.Patricks hall redevelopment

Artists impression of the new halls.

The University of Reading is this week seeking feedback from residents on their proposed changes to St.Patrick’s hall before submitting a planning application. You can also view the proposals and submit comments online from Thursday 26 October to Thursday 9 November at reading.ac.uk/st-patricks-project/.

There will be a small exhibition of the proposal boards in the Lower Lobby of the Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Building at our Whiteknights campus on Friday 27 October from 11am to 3pm. Students and staff are welcome to come along during the day.

Local residents and neighbours are encouraged to submit their thoughts on the proposal on the above email address. I will be meeting with resident groups, the Council’s planning department and the University before the application is submitted to hear from all sides.

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Alok Sharma’s thought & actions on education

I recently received a letter from Reading West MP Alok Sharma after I had emailed him as part of the NASUWT campaign on school funding. There appears to be a big disparity between Alok’s words and his actions, so I thought I’d have a go at translating.

He starts by saying “I am enormously grateful for the work they do to ensure  children have the best chance to succeed in life”. What he probably meant was, I’ve consistently voted to cut your pension. Mine’s gone up.

On teachers pay he says “The recommendations are consistent with the Governments 1% public sector pay policy”. What he probably meant was, I’ve consistently voted to cut teachers wages. Mine have gone up.

   

Alok says he wants fair public sector wages “while balancing this with being fair to other taxpayers”. What he probably meant was, we spent £1bn to cling on to power, cut taxes for the richest and most powerful.

On teacher numbers Alok says”Im encouraged that there are more teachers in our schools than ever before”. By this point I think Alok had just given up…..

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Nationalisation and Tory profiteering

I was interested to read Newbury MP Richard Benyon’s comment piece in this week’s Reading Chronicle. It would appear Mr Benyon is not a fan of nationalising industries. I won’t bore you with graphs, talk of natural monopolies, dynamic efficiency and elasticities. Instead I will just point out some facts and inaccuracies Mr Benyon appears to have missed. Mr Benyon says that “Nationalised industries were a shambolic drain on public finances”. I wonder if he includes in this the subsidies that are provided to our current “Privatised” system of railways. Whereby in 2015-16 the railways received £4.8bn in net Government support, double the level from 1985 under the oh so terrible British Rail. (Figures from the ONS). This of course has not stopped these private firms paying out dividends to shareholders. So, overall UK tax burden has gone up (we are paying more to the exchequer), Rail subsidies have risen and dividends paid to shareholders have risen. Or more simply, Robin Hood in reverse. The poor are paying more in tax to subsidise rail shareholders.

Mr Benyon goes on to say “If the national debt increased by this much we would have to spend at least £7bn more on debt repayments every single year”. This from a man in the Government that has increased the national debt to 88% of GDP, the highest level since 1996 and lest we never forget, the Tories in the last 7 years have increased national debt more than all Labour Governments put together, ever! Not finished there, Mr Benyon compares this figure to what we could spend it on. “The equivalent of 81,000 nurses, 69,000 teachers and 66,000 police officers”. Its so nice that he now cares. Nurse numbers have fallen by nearly 2000 between March 2016 and March 2017, 50,000 teachers left the profession in 2015, up from 10% in 2011 and police numbers have fallen by 20,000 since 2009 according to the home office. So we better not nationalise things otherwise what, the Tories will cut more public servants!? And he proudly proclaims “And that’s according to the Office for budget responsibility by the way”, yes, the same OBR that this week said there will be a huge whole in the public finances thanks to the UK’s poor productivity.

But it is the water industry where Mr Benyon proclaims the greatest expertise, he says that “around £120bn has been invested in water and sewerage infrastructure”. A very impressive figure although he doesn’t say what it was before so we have no idea if this is an increase or decrease. What I do know however is that when the water industry was privatised back in the 90’s, nearly £5bn of debt was written off. It’s easy to invest if the Government have picked up the debt tab. I also know that in the first 8 years of privatisation, profits went up by 142%. This could be due to huge efficiency increases of course. But I also know that the average water bill in 1995 was £315 per year (at current prices) but in 2015 it was £340 a year. So investment has gone up but so have prices. Or in other words, you are paying for the investment.
Benyon goes on to say “Since privatisation, Investment has been financed by an inflow of cash from around the world”. But prices have gone up? And this is one way of looking at it, the other way of looking at it is that these tax payer subsidised industries are paying out dividends to go abroad! My water company Thames water is part owned by the China Investment Corporation and the Abu Dhabi Investment authority. Why is it ok that foreign Governments can own and run our railways but not our own Government?

But maybe, just maybe Mr Benyon has his own agenda? I say maybe, a quick glance at the register of members interests tells me that he is director of UK Water partnership which is a not for profit company set up to promote the interests of the UK water sector. Not for profit for some but Mr Benyon is paid £15,000 a year for 12-14 days of work to do this job. So much like the railways, Governments are not to profit from it but fine for shareholders and individuals.

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John Madejski academy shows rapid improvement

South Reading secondary school the John Madejski academy has undergone a rapid improvement in standards in the last year, Schools regulator Ofsted have said. The school continues its journey to an outstanding school and is now out of special measures. The staff team lead by Principal Laura Ellener have shown great determination and spirit to keep the school improving. More can be read on the schools website

New Ofsted grading for JMA after “rapid process of transformation”

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Northumberland Avenue resurfacing work

A section of Northumberland Avenue between Hartland road and Honiton road will be resurfaced this month. The Highway Maintenance Team will commence a trial of an alternative pot hole repair system on roads where the depth of defects are below the current 50 mm depth investigatory level. The repair system is a quick / speedy solution that will seal the road in advance of the coming winter. It is not anticipated that much disruption will occur as the solution is a quick process and moves along the length of the road fairly quickly.  The works will take place sometime during the week starting 2nd October.

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Councillors help clean up Rabsons Rec.

Councillors and volunteers after a successful mornings clean up.

Church and Whitley Ward Councillors joined volunteers to help clean up Rabsons Rec. Church Ward’s Ashley Pearce and Eileen McElligott donned high viz jackets and grabbed litter pickers to work their way round the Rec. Half a dozen bags worth of rubbish was collected leaving the park in a cleaner state than before.

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn conference speech

Today Jeremy Corbyn further outlined his vision for Britain when this divided and incompetent Government finally falls. At the closing of the Labour conference in Brighton, the Labour leader promised rent controls to help stem exorbitant rate rises and to repeal the damaging policies of austerity amongst other things. More on Jeremy’s speech can be read here.

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October events

  • Councillors surgery: Ward Councillors and the Whitley area PCSO will be at The Whitley Cafe on Saturday 7th October from 10.30am-12pm. Please come along and discuss any local issues.
  • Ward meeting: The regular meeting of Church Ward members and Councillors were we discuss local issues will take place on Saturday 7th October at 12pm at The Whitley Cafe.
  • Rabsons Rec clean up: Councillors will join volunteer s with litter pickers to help give Rabsons Rec a tidy on Sunday October 1st at 10.30am. Meeting in Academy sport car park.
  • ACE (adults, education & children’s services) committee meeting: Church Ward Cllrs Eileen and Ashley will be in attendance as Chair & Vice Chair respectively on Thursday 5th October at 6.30pm at the Civic centre. 
  • Aspire2 Quiz: A Labour team will enter the local children’s charity Aspire2 quiz on Friday 13th October at 7pm at Ridgeway school.
  • Planning meeting: This months planning committee meeting including some involving Church Ward will take place on Wednesday 11th October at 6.30pm at the Civic centre.
  • Canvassing: Councillors and members will be discussing parking issues with residents on Wentworth Avenue on Saturday 7th,  Sycamore & Hazel Crescent on Saturday 14th and Northumberland Avenue on Saturday 28th October, all at 11am. 
  • Full Council meeting: Church Ward Cllrs will be in attendance on Tuesday 17th October at 6.30pm at the Civic centre. 
  • St.Patrick’s hall exhibition: Reading University will be consulting on their latest proposal for the redevelopment of St.Patrick’s hall on Wednesday 25th October at 5pm in the Shamrock room within the hall.
  • John Madejski academy open morning: Cllr Pearce will be visiting the rapidly improving JMA secondary school on Hartland road to speak with the Principal Laura Ellener on Monday 30th October at 9am.
  • Newsletter delivery- The latest copy of the Church Ward Rose will be delivered towards the end of October to keep residents up to date with what their Cllrs have been doing in the past months.
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Academy sport swimming pool to be updated

Academy Sports swimming pool will temporarily close on October 2nd for urgent refurbishment works. The Northumberland Avenue pool was transferred back into the management of Reading Sport and Leisure this year, after being operated and managed by the John Madejski Academy since 2007.

The Council is now replacing much of the original plant and equipment at the pool as part of a major investment programme which will allow the pool to operate in future years. Work on the site will include fitting a new boiler to heat the pool and installing a new ventilation system. The council has reprogrammed school swimming lessons while it is closed.

Councillor Sarah Hacker, lead member for sport, said: There is never an ideal time to close a pool, particularly for this length of time, but I hope regular users of the facilities will appreciate that these are major improvement works, which make a complete closure unavoidable.

“Much of the fabric of the pool at Academy Sport has been in place since it opened in 1983 and now needs complete replacement. Officers are taking the opportunity to carry out a number of improvement works at the same time to avoid future inconvenience. We expect the pool to be open again early in the New Year when swimmers can look forward to a much more pleasant swimming environment and more reliable facilities.”

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New Directions reopens in Whitley

Mayor Rose Williams opening the new facility by JMA.

Ofsted rated good adult education centre new directions reopened its doors after a quarter of a million pound refurbished. The new site is next to John Madejski academy on Northumberland Avenue and will now again being providing a range of courses to help adults learn. More can be read here.

*Photo courtesy of The Whitley Pump.

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The road to Privatisation in education?

“Defund, make sure things don’t work, get people angry, you hand it over to Private capital”- Noam Chomsky.

This is the view of historian and economist Noam Chomsky on the standard model of neo-liberalism in privatisiations. This argument is currently being used more for how the NHS is being treated but is education really that far behind? Since 2015 when the Conservatives won a Parliamentary majority, the number of schools in deficit has risen from 8% to 18%. This is a huge number of schools that are dipping into reserves, making staff redundant or cuttiing down on resources. The graph below shows spending per pupil in both Primary and secondary schools over the last 25 years. From 90-97, under John Major’s conservative government, spending broadly remained flat. Then from 97-2010, spending increased hugely under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown’s Labour Governments. Now, this money may not have been spent completely wisely or efficiently as I hear some Tories say but few people say spending money on education is a bad thing. In Economics we call it a “supply side policy” or basically an investment. The country spends money now so that workers of the future have higher skills, produce more and earn more money. Simple. I would also argue that this large increase was due to 25 years of under investment by Tory Governments in buildings, resources and staff wages that were all hugely neglected and had left education in a crumbling state come 1997. From 2010-2015, education spending is broadly flat under the coalition Government, so maybe the Lib Dem’s did tame the Tory free marketers in education. Then from 2015-17 education spending per pupil falls, for the first time since the mid 90’s. No wonder many young people and parents of young people believe this Government doesn’t care about them. Then there are predicitions based on the parties 2017 manifestos, only Labour said they would increase education funding. In short, the Tories have not increased education spending in around 20 years of Government. A shocking endigtment.

But, a spokesman from the Department of education says “The Government is spending £40bn more in 2016-17, the highest amount on record”. This claim is frankly laughable. Well not the claim, but what it hides. Let’s take a family of 3, 2 parents and 1 child. Currently they spend £250 a week on shopping. A second child comes along and now they now spend £251 a week on shopping. This is the highest amount ever!! True but this in no way reflects the true cost reality, and this is what schools are facing. Below is the only graph that matters when it comes to this. Spending PER PUPIL is to fall by nearly 10% between 2015-2020. The other bars show why, pupil numbers have jumped considerably, as have costs such as the apprenticeship levy and national insurance contributions that Government has placed on schools. The Government was also fond of saying that “Budgets have been protected”, at worst this is an outright lie, a clear deception at best. The overall (nominal) budget remains broadly the same for 5-16 education, but this does not include the cost increases pointed out or post 16 education. These budgets therefore have been cut. Why do our 16-18 year olds deserve less than their predecessors or those in the year below them? The excellent NUT campaign at this year’s election pointed this out and poll numbers as well as my own experience on the doorstep show that parents felt the same.

So spending has gone down, only the most deluded or Tory amongst people will deny this. But what about the rest of the developed world? I’m not a great fan of international comparisons, PISA tests are not a reliable comparison, and anecdotal stories of great education systems in Singapore or Finland are just that really. Every countries context and circumstances is different. But we can compare how much each country spends on education as a proportion of GDP. GDP measures what a country produces each year so its equivalent of saying what percentage of your income per year do you spend on housing say. Below is the OECD (major economies) and what % of their GDP they spend on education. The UK is 18th below the OECD average. But it is something else about the graph I’d like to focus on. The blue bar is the amount spent on private education. The UK’s is around a third of overall spending, higher that the “free market” USA. Part of this is the UK’s historic class system and huge private school fees for the top 7% of the population. But part is also the fragmenting of schools. Academy chain bosses can now pay themselves large salaries. Schools can “buy in” services. Parts of schools are contracted out. All of this is money that you pay in tax and is finding its way to private shareholder hands to educate your children. I received a brochure through the post recently in my role on the Council’s education committee from a company that provided “education solutions”. It was a glossy 8 page booklet that I read from cover to cover several times. I had no idea what they actually did. They introduced their team, a lawyer, a marketing manager and yes some ex teachers, but I had no idea what “solutions” they provided. Is this the future?

The other part of this private education spend is on the explosion in private tuition. I am in no way speaking out against tuition, I have been a tutor for students in the past and I know that many of my students have used a tutor and found it useful. But the graph below demonstrates many interesting things. Firstly, tutors are used to get into grammar schools. One of the Tories great policies for social mobility does nothing of the sort and they know it. You need to pass a test to get in and those with the most money and sharpest elbows will always find a way to boost their child’s chances in this. The graph on the left also says that the average fee per hour of tutoring is £40. To put this into context, the minimum wage per hour is £7.50. I know many parents struggle to get their kids the best education, some working all the hours God sends to fund a private school place or private tutor and I am not knocking that. But the more there is a creep or expectation of private tutoring, the greater the gap will become because many cannot afford this. The graph on the right below shows that to tutor a 5 year old, people are charging £30 an hour. Just think about that, a FIVE YEAR OLD! After school they are not playing, discovering, enjoying life, they are being tutored. To me that is frankly ridiculous but is part of a culture where all that matters is exams, even at key stage 1.

I don’t know if this is or was a great plan by Cameron and now May to defund the education system so much that privateers step in. But it is what is happening. Chomsky said people get angry as the service fails, I would like students and parents to get angry. But not at the schools or teachers, I’d like students and parents to get angry at this Government who have wilfully underfunded and fragmented education.

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September events

  • Councillors surgery: Ward Councillors and the Whitley area PCSO will be at The Whitley Cafe on Saturday 2nd September from 10.30am-12pm. Please come along and discuss any local issues.
  • Ward meeting: The regular meeting of Church Ward members and Councillors were we discuss local issues will take place on Monday 4th September at 7.30pm at 101 Northcourt Avenue.
  • Planning meeting: This months planning committee meeting including some involving Church Ward will take place on Wednesday 6th September at 6.30pm at the Civic centre.
  • St Barnabus Church fun day- The Church on Shinfield Road will be hosting a free fun day on Saturday 9th September from 12-3pm. More can be found here
  • Northcourt Avenue Residents Association meeting: Cllr Pearce will be attending the NARA meeting to discuss parking issues on Wednesday 13th September at 7pm
  • Freshers week: This years intake of new students at Reading University arrive the week beginning Monday 18th September. Local members will be manning a stall at the event.
  • Ridgeway Governors meeting: The first Governors meeting of the new school year will take place on Thursday 28th September at 7pm at Ridgeway school.
  • Canvassing: Councillors and members will be discussing parking issues with residents on Northcourt Avenue on Thursday 28th September at 5.30pm and Saturday 30th September at 11am. 
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Potential new artwork for Church Ward

One of the potential new art installations I

Church Ward could potentially gain 2 new art installations soon if passed at this month’s planning committee. The art work is part of the funding received from the new Tesco depot in Whitley, part of which promised money for new art in South Reading. The wire structures will be on Northumberland Avenue by Geoffrey Field School, one of a Rabsons Rivers player and the other a set of dinnerladies from the school.

More information on the application can be found here

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Jeremy Corbyn visits Reading-Again!

Reading East MP Matt Rodda with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn paid a visit to Reading for the second time in three months to speak to local residents about fuel poverty and the housing crisis in Reading. Mr Corbyn, alongside our new MP Matt Rodda, spoke with homeless charity Launchpad about the acute housing shortage in the South East and the problems it is causing. He also blasted the Government for not allowing Reading Council to build more Council homes. Mr Corbyn said “The root cause of homelessness in places like Reading is expensive private sector houses. Ultimately the answer is investment in council housing, but it is also giving local authorities the power to convert former industrial properties and office properties into social housing.” Mr Corbyn then visited a resident in Whitley to discuss the growing problem of fuel poverty and rising energy prices. Labour would cap energy prices and provide a boost to all households.

 

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Secretive NHS plans move forward

The 4 local Clinical commissioning groups or CCG’s that make the decisions on health care planning for the Royal Berks and local GP’s are to merge. This has been done due to Tory Government NHS budget cuts and takes decisions further away from local people. These plans have been drawn up behind closed doors and without any accountability.

More can be found here.

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Cressingham Road repairs take place

The dip in the road now repaired.

The long standing issue of a dip in the road surface of Cressingham Road has finally been repaired after months of Councillor complaints passed on from residents. If there are any issues on roads near you, please let us know and we will do all we can to get the Council to take action.

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Council owned company to run children’s services

Reading Borough Council proposes to move to a new model for delivering children’s services in the form of a Council-owned company.

As part of its ongoing improvement journey, the Council is recommending setting up a wholly-owned Council company to build on progress made to date and to deliver long-term and sustainable improvements for children and young people in Reading.

The stand-alone company will focus solely on the operation of children’s services, allowing social workers and other staff to concentrate on their core day to day activity of helping to keep children safe and delivering a range of other services to children, young people and their families.

It would have its own independent board and a decision-making process, separate to the Councils. It would also operate within its own ring-fenced budget. The Council will however, continue to hold the company to account for performance.

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