Hundreds of rail customers are responding to a survey launched by Pewsey Train Watch to prove the economic need for the extension of the electrification of the First Great Western service to London Paddington.
And with the closing date for responses 9am on Sunday, you too can add to the growing pressure for the Department of Transport to extend electrification beyond the currently proposed cut-off point of Newbury.
“We're having a fantastic response to the survey and, at time of writing, we have over 1,600 responses,” Pewsey Train Watch spokesman Karl Lloyd told Marlborough News Online today (Friday).
“We need to keep the numbers climbing, though, as the more responses we get the more robust and credible our data will be when we present it to ARUP, the consultants the Department has appointed."
“In particular we need more coverage in the Hungerford and Kintbury areas as, with no user group in Kintbury and only a very small fledgling group in Hungerford, it's proving a little more difficult to get the message through there."
“To an extent we also need more coverage in Westbury as this is quite an important station in the mix. I'm frantically digging out as many media outlets as I can in what little time we have left to try and get the message through.”
Typical of the responses and ideas being promoted is one rail user who wrote: “Importantly I use the link for access to Europe via Eurostar. Without the service, or with a change at Newbury, I would fly instead - thus adding to road traffic, increasing my carbon footprint, and reducing train service use.”
Another pointed out: “Leisure use would be much higher with more weekend and late services. For example, on a Saturday I can get from Pewsey to Hungerford, but not back!”
Business users with clients in London find the rail service “unreliable and problematic,” as well as trains so full there are no seats while the First Class carriages are virtually empty.
One respondent said: “We run a B&B dependant on guests arriving on good public transport, preferably train, as we have Green Tourism Awards.”
Said another: “I would travel for leisure more -- but the lack of late services mean we are unable to go out in London, for example to the theatre,” and yet another pointed out: “Travel twice a year for business but would use it more if there was a better service and I had a seat.”
Mr Lloyd, overwhelmed with the replies, added: “We've rather thrown ourself to the wind with this as, having promised ARUP that we'd contribute figures to the process, we're now committed to doing so whatever the number say."
“Luckily, so far, the responses are all trending in the right direction and we should be able to make a serious contribution to bolstering the economic case for extending electrification.” Various options being considered, which cover the stations at Kintbury, Hungerford, Bedwyn, Pewsey and Westbury, will lead to improved rail services with electrification.
The Pewsey Train Watch survey is aimed at quantifying the value that the trains contribute to local economies served by Kintbury, Hungerford, Bedwyn, Pewsey and Westbury stations.
“Please take this opportunity to help ensure your county gets the rail services it deserves by completing the survey and tell others about it,” said Dr Sam Page of Transition Marlborough, which is also urging people to play a part.
Click here to complete the survey
Closing date for survey is at 9am this Sunday!
All submissions are anonymous.
Dr Steve Rowlands is a GP in Trowbridge – but his main role just now is to be an important link between the current NHS and the one the coalition government has created after its radical, top down reorganisation. He’s the man who will tackle the dilemmas the new NHS system faces – among them the new NHS 111 service, more privatisation and squeezed finances.
Sometime during the night of March31/April 1 he will change from having two jobs - Medical Director of the outgoing NHS Wiltshire (PCT) and Chairman of the incoming, GP-led Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – to being the leader of the CCG.
In fact, of course, the CCG has been operating in shadow form – while NHS Wiltshire has remained ultimately and legally responsible for patient safety and the bank accounts.
The CCG is already involved in the current problems thrown up by the government’s decision to replace NHS Direct with the NHS 111 telephone triage service. The contracted private company, Harmoni, should have already replaced NHS Direct, but the live launch had to be delayed as tests were unsatisfactory – some very unsatisfactory.
[See News in Brief for latest development.]
Dr Rowlands told Marlborough News Online: “It isn’t going well”. But as the PCT had scheduled an emergency meeting on the contract that afternoon, he could not say much more except to emphasise that “The most important thing is the safety of the public.”
One of the last minute issues dogging the imminent change-over has been the raft of regulations from the Department of Health making CCG’s put services out to competitive tender. This can only lead to fragmentation among a multitude of private providers: what one former NHS official for the south west called ‘the demolition of the NHS and the public health system’.
The first regulations were withdrawn after protests – from CCGs among others. The new lot of regulations appear to be little different. As one lawyer puts it, they ‘are likely to have the effect of both permitting and promoting the transfer of NHS services to the private sector.’
Dr Rowlands says this is “A nightmare. It’s crazy.” When the reorganisation began he took “The Machiavellian view that they’d give the job to the GPs – who’d fail – then they could privatise it all.” Now he’s changed his mind.
Having seen the GPs in action he believes “The great strength of the GPs is that they’ve the vision to challenge what’s going on – and to make the system work.”
He knows these new regulations will bring problems: “It’ll be very expensive for us. Competitive tendering is becoming a growth industry and it’s mostly lawyers involved.” He thinks the Wiltshire CCG is big enough and with the resources to be sustainable and take on those bills.
Although the Wiltshire CCG was formed after they were told three smaller CCGs covering the county would not pass the authorisation process, they have kept the locality structure. So three semi-autonomous groups (in our area it is NEW - for North and East Wilts) will have devolved budgets so they can, up to prescribed spending limits, introduce innovation from the bottom up.
In the past, GPs ideas have often got lost as strategic decisions take priority: “Now they can say – let’s try it out.” As MNO has reported, one of the first ideas out of the blocks has been a new regime of dementia diagnosis.
The locality structure does leave GP’s with an awful lot of meetings to attend – and only the central board meeting will be open to the public. Dr Rowlands frowns a little: “As an individual I want to be absolutely as open as possible.”
No one wants the CCGs to be accused of being unelected people making decisions behind closed doors.
Dr Rowlands knows about making unpopular changes. He survived the closure of Trowbridge Hospital. He thinks people can get too attached to buildings: “I fully appreciate the emotional attachment to buildings, but it’s the services that matter.”
Wiltshire CCG’s unique selling point is its intention to bring health care ‘Closer to Home’. The cynic might think this just means GPs commissioning more treatments in their own surgeries – and so getting richer.
When Marlborough News Online asked Dr Rowlands what ‘Closer to Home’ means he gave an example that’s already being worked on: “The way I see it working, your GP will have a risk management tool – he can call up a Mr Smith on his computer – and he’s your fifty-first most high risk patient – ranked in terms of likelihood of ill health from present conditions and taking into account existing records.”
If this Mr Smith moves up the list – perhaps his chest gets weaker – one of the new CCG’s Case Managers will ‘actively manage the patient’. If he’s in more danger of falling in his home, the Case Manager will get him the appropriate help and aids – getting him occupational therapy, physio or whatever.
There may be technology to use too. Dr Rowlands has seen remote tele-surveillance in use in the United States and thinks it could count as a useful ‘as-well-as-not-instead’ tool - not a total replacement for meeting the GP face-to-face. The GP is integral to this teamwork – and in our area, the team can call on the advice of a gerontologist from the RUH in Bath.
“We want to provide a wrap-around care service to fit the individual - of which the GP is a central part.”
The process of this huge reorganisation has been tough and chock-a-block with corporate, personnel and personal dilemmas: “There’s been bereavement and uncertainty” as people leave, teams are broken up and new jobs are advertised.
Recently, Dr Rowlands been through three checks: as an individual by a national body, he helped the CCG through authorisation and he has just been revalidated as a GP – “Quite good for an old man!”
He says: “Both the PCT’s interim Chief Executive, Ed Macalister-Smith, and its Chairman, Tony Barron, have been most supportive of the new CCG – and of me personally – and have left us in a good place financially.”
Now the finishing line and the starting line are just days away, he’s excited: “We’re ready to run. And we’ve got a tremendous team – a really, really good team.”
Willie McIvor of Marlborough Mobility Store at the controls of a top of the range scooterMarlborough’s impressive new Mobility Store opened its doors yesterday (Wednesday), just a stone’s throw from the tiny extension to the Kennet Pharmacy premises launched last September on the other side of Figgins Lane.
With some 2,000 square feet now available to display a vast range of products and services – from a top of the range scooter costing £5,000 and electricity-operated reclining chairs to wheeled walking frames and traditional commodes – it has an expanding market in which to operate.
That was the vital message as Chancellor George Osborne announced a no growth budget – it’s “all goodies tomorrow, not today,” as one critic put it.
“We may have opened at a tough moment economically but, at the same time, we have great mobility as the population is ageing and in need of our help and advice,” Willie McIvor, one of the three directors behind the enterprise, told Marlborough News Online.
“Eighty to 90 per cent of our customers are, of course, age related. So we have an expanding clientele – and with this, our third mobility store, we have the experience to provide for their needs as well as servicing their scooters.”
With an upmarket population, the new Marlborough Mobility Store is able to provide a pick-up service facility for scooter users in the community as well as seven dedicated free parking spots outside the spacious new premises.
“We take a van with a ramp to people’s houses and bring their scooters here – and then take them back again – as part of our servicing facility,” explained Mr McIvor.
“We were unable before to show the full range of mobility scooters and reclining chairs now available. Sales were low because we just didn’t have the floor space, and all the scooter servicing was done at our Mobility Store in Wroughton, near Swindon.”
And he added: “The joy of the job is to see the smile on people’s faces as they drive off for the first time on their scooters. But we do screen our customers carefully to ensure that they are capable of controlling them.”
“When somebody buys a scooter we take it to their house and give them a test drive in their local area just to make sure they are safe and know what they are doing taking them on the pavements of the town.”
Prices for scooters range from £300 for second-hand machine to £5,000 for a top of the range machine with, at £2,500, a big three-wheeler machine that looks like a Harley Davidson motorbike.
People with a social need for such machines can apply for grants from Wiltshire Council for scooter. “As long as they have a chronic condition such as arthritis, it’s a self-declaring scheme – you don’t have to be diagnosed – and you don’t pay VAT on the machines,” revealed Mr McIvor.
But scooters are but one part of the business.
Stair lifts, seats you can fit in your shower, disposable bed protectors, wheelchairs and even little hooks you can put on an electric plug to make it easier to pull out, pliable cutlery, hearing aids are all available.
“And for people who have just come out of hospital there are commodes,” said Mr McIvor. “If you can’t get from your bed to the toilet, then commodes are important. “They have always been there is history – along with chamber pots.”
The full launch of the new freephone NHS 111 non-emergency service that is replacing NHS Direct in Wiltshire has had to be postponed. After a period of tests it was supposed to go live today (March 19.)
In deferring the launch NHS Wiltshire and the new Wilthsire Clinical Commissioning Group have taken into account the serious problems the provider, Harmoni, has been encountering during the test period.
The commissioners for Wiltshire are taking legal advice on the contract terms before deciding when the service could go live. In the meantime NHS Direct is continuing to operate.
In NHS 111 tests on ‘out of hours calls’ during evenings and at weekends far too many calls were not answered within the required time limit and ambulances were called out for people who definitely did not need them – apparently in one case to someone with a sore throat.
The South Western Ambulance Service (which now covers our area) told Marlborough News Online: “We are continuing to receive calls from the 111 service where it transpires that an ambulance response was not what the patient needed or expected – and we are asking crews to log those incidents.”
“However, there have also been many instances where it was absolutely appropriate for an ambulance to respond to a 111 call as a medical emergency – including patients not realising they were suffering a heart attack or a stroke.”
While the ambulance service are very pleased that the system is operating in the best interests of emergency patients, they are having to work with the 111 service provider to eliminate call-outs that waste ambulance journeys.
Following the coalition government’s decision to replace NHS Direct, NHS Wiltshire awarded the £6.5 million contract to Harmoni after a full tender process. Soon afterwards Harmoni was bought by another private health care company, Care UK.
As Marlborough News Online reported last year, the launch of the service on a tight timescale featured high on NHS Wiltshire’s risk register. Extra resources were brought in to help with the launch.
Harmoni, who state that all their employees are fully trained before they start work on the live system, have brought in two qualified paramedics to work in the call centre: “This enables us, commissioners and the ambulance service to identify and resolve issues as they arise.”
Harmoni’s Regional Director, Ann Smith, said on March 15: “I am confident the NHS 11 service is working well and is safe.
The Crown Estate issued a statement today (March 18) confirming it has sold the majority of its Savernake Estate to the owner of Ramsbury Estate for an undisclosed sum. The sale was first reported by Marlborough News Online on Saturday (March 16.)
The 8,700 acre Savernake Estate lies to the south west of Marlborough and consists mainly of agricultural land comprising twenty-five agricultural holdings and thirty-one residential properties.
Ken Jones, Director of the Rural and Coastal Portfolio for The Crown Estate said: “The buyer is a well-respected local landowner with significant land holdings in Wiltshire and will make an excellent home for the Savernake estate.”
Steve Humphris, of Countryside Solutions, agents for the buyer said: “This purchase compliments our client’s established local land holdings and will provide continuity of estate management.”
The Ramsbury Estate already has significant land holdings in Wiltshire, including 900 acres of land purchased from The Crown Estate in 2012. The Crown Estate originally purchased the Savernake Estate between 1949 and 1952 from the Marquess of Ailesbury.
The statement concludes: “The Crown Estate is, by area, the largest commercial rural landowner in the country. Its 360,000 acre portfolio includes farmland, forestry, housing and minerals, which raise money for the benefit of the nation; last year The Crown Estate paid £240 million to HM Treasury.”
Over the weekend, two of the tenant farmers whose farms are part of the Savernake Estate land sold by the Crown Estate to Stefan Persson’s Ramsbury Estates Limited, have now spoken – on condition of anonymity – to Marlborough News Online. While being shocked at the news of the sale, they are taking it as ‘a positive thing’ and giving their new landlord ‘the benefit of the doubt’.
They have heard that Ramsbury Estates act as what they term ‘an old-fashioned reasonable landlord’ and that the company has been investing in the farms they have already bought in the area. Recently the local Crown Estate regime has not been keen to invest in buildings and drainage and so on.
They are not surprised tenants were not given the opportunity to buy their farms because prices fetched in such sales are often quite low and the Crown Estate is obviously out to maximise its gains.
One of the farmers had seen the rent he paid to the Crown Estate rise by more than fifty per cent over the past six years. They are waiting to see how Ramsbury Estates will manage this large amount of land – which nearly doubles the company’s holding in the area.
Val ComptonSome justice is in sight for Marlborough town councillor Val Compton, who organised a boycott campaign against Caffe Nero opening without planning consent in the High Street and then being revealed as paying no corporation tax in the UK.
The company, which legally used avoidance on its last known profits of £39.9 million by being registered in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, is to be hit by Chancellor George Osborne’s budget.
He revealed in the House of Commons on Wednesday that the government had come to agreements with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands to put an end to international companies using them to avoid their tax obligations.
And that has delighted Councillor Compton, an independent co-opted member of the town council, whose boycott campaign last year highlighted a Sunday Times story that exposed the tax loophole used by major firms.
She said at the time: “I will never support businesses I feel are immoral or downright selfish money grabbers. I will never drink Nero coffee and I urge other people to just consider, before they go into Caffe Nero, if there is another business where there money could be better spent.”
In a statement to Marlborough News Online, she now adds: “What angered so many people, when Caffe Nero opened its doors in the High Street, was the arrogance with which they did so, deliberately not seeking planning consent until the last moment, then the subsequent revelation that they are one of those offshore companies that apparently pays no corporation tax in the UK."
“I am delighted to note that their arrogance, as far as taxation is concerned, has blown up in their face, with the agreement the government has reached with the Isle of Man, to end the tax avoidance of companies like Caffe Nero, who are based there."
“Caffe Nero may have won their retrospective planning application appeal, much to the chagrin of many, but at least there is some form of justice on the financial front”.
And she added: “There may not have been much in the budget to shout about, but when it comes to genuine justice for the big multi-nationals – I do have a tendency to simply shout Hurrah - very loudly!”
Flag of the Archbishop of Canterbury flying over the Town HallThe Papal flag that flew over Marlborough Town Hall to mark the election of Pope Francis was replaced today (Thursday) with that of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, to mark his formal enthronment.
Justin Welby, who is 57 and a former oil company executive, is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and serves as head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the world's 77 million-strong Anglican Communion.
The event took place at Canterbury Cathedral, which dates back to the year 597, before more than 2,000 people, among them Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, plus Prime Minister David Cameron, and numerous religious leaders.
For the first time in history, a woman, the Venerable Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury, carried out one of the two enthronement ceremonies.
She firstly installed the archbishop on the diocesan throne in the cathedral, before he was then sworn in as the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev Robert Willis, on the marble chair of St Augustine.
Some people protesting against government welfare cuts gathered outside the cathedral before the ceremony began.
The Archbishop’s flag flew in Marlborough on the instructions of the Mayor, Councillor Edwina Fogg, a member of the Catholic church, who ordered the Papal flag to fly over the town hall for the first time since the Reformation.
The Mayor told Marlborough News Online: “The churches in Marlborough embraced the ecumenical movement many years ago and the relations between the congregations are harmonious."
“On certain occasions, as with the celebration of the Queen's accession in February, there is shared worship. The clergy meet together for prayer on a regular basis, where they bring the concerns of the community before God."
“The Chaplain that I chose is the Rev. Heather Cooper, a Methodist minister, who has been a great support during the year. The Mayor and councillors visit all the churches for civic services, welcoming this dialogue and well established link. There are obviously few people of other faiths here but the expressed views of Christian leaders are of respect and promoting harmony amongst peoples.”
Marlborough’s Rector, the Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy, who watched the enthronement event on TV, told Marlborough News Online: "I valued the new Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon for its clarity and confidence and I instinctively warm to his approach."
“Of course from a human point of view, his is an impossible job but luckily he is not asked to carry it out in his own strength but in God's, and with the prayers and good will of millions of Christians not just in this country but around the world."
“Whilst welcoming him and the sense of excitement that his appointment has created, it is important to be realistic with our expectations. The well being and flourishing of the Church depends on all Christians not just those in positions of leadership!"
“At my own ordination, I remember someone praying 'May your first mistakes be small ones'. I hope Archbishop Justin will not take it amiss if that is my prayer for him at the beginning of his archiepiscopacy."
The Electoral Commission has gravely criticised last November’s first ever elections for new Police and Crime Commissioners, declaring the low poll of 15.1 per cent the lowest recorded level of participation at a peacetime non-government local election in the country.
And in a hard-hitting report issued today (Tuesday) it revealed that in Wiltshire the total number of spoilt ballot papers was such a high percentage of the overall votes cast that handling them cost the taxpayer £30,000.
Only one in five people had enough information on their commissioner candidates to make informed decisions, the Commission points out and calls for significant changes to be made before the next PCC elections in 2016 and for future referendums.
Labour have demanded an apology from the home secretary for the "serious failings" her department made in holding the "shambolic" elections.
Jenny Watson, who chairs the Electoral Commission, revealed: "There were many different reasons why people didn’t vote last November and like any election there’s a limit to how much these can be addressed by decisions Government can make. But one of them was not knowing about the candidates and something can be done about that."
“It’s not enough to think that simply holding an election will inspire participation. That's why at the 2016 PCC elections a candidate information booklet must be sent to every household."
And she added: “Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy. It’s vital that the rules surrounding them are clear, workable and in place in good time. The rules for these elections were confirmed unacceptably late causing confusion for candidates and electoral administrators."
“The Home Office doesn’t have experience in preparing for elections and they need to be better supported in future by the parts of Government that do.”
The independent elections watchdog discovered that the most common reason for not voting was a lack of awareness about the polls (37 per cent).
Circumstances, such as a “lack of time” followed at 31 per cent. Another eight per cent said they were uninterested, seven per cent thought the elections were not important.
Over a quarter -- some 28 per cent -- of people said they knew “nothing at all” and 48 per cent knew “not very much” about what the PCC elections were about.
More than half – a total of 55 per cent -- of respondents found it difficult to access information about the candidates standing in the election.
The Commission also found that the government order setting out how much Returning Officers could spend to run and promote the elections locally came into force on 13 September, just three and a half weeks before the start of the election period.
Guidance on funding from the Home Office arrived only four working days before the election.
The Commission also conducted a survey of candidates that stood at the elections. It showed that almost half (44 per cent) said it was difficult to get the 100 signatures required for their nomination to stand while 74 per cent of independents agreed / tended to agree with this.
Thirty nine per cent of candidates also said it was difficult to raise the £5,000 deposit required for their nomination, which compares with the £500 deposit and only 10 signatures to secure a nomination for parliamentary elections.
Matt, Badger and Elinor - on a fine dayElinor Goodman, former Financial Times Parliamentary reporter and Political Editor of Channel 4 News, is launching a fund raising campaign for Marlborough Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). She wants organisations and companies to hire her to give talks on her experiences – with fees great and small going to the charity.
Elinor who lives near Marlborough at Wilton, is Chair of the local RDA. She says that raising funds is getting harder and harder and that as expenses rise funds are needed more and more. The RDA relies on the generosity of local horse owners and of Ken and Jilly Carter of Manton.
The owners bring their horses by horsebox to the Carter’s excellent indoor riding school and children from local schools get to ride the horses both in the covered school and, when it’s not raining, outside. But local authorities and schools are feeling the pinch so much that some cannot afford the transport or afford to spare a teacher to oversee the special needs children.
Sometimes children need three helpers – one each side of the horse and one leading it. Riding offers a unique form of therapy for the young with many levels of special needs.
During a day they will give one hour sessions to thirty-two riders – each of the eight horses and ponies doing two rides. The day Marlborough News Online was there Matt from Pewsey was riding Elinor’s own horse, Badger.
Elinor, Babdger and MattMatt was simply bursting with enthusiasm at the opportunities RDA gives him: “This opens up a whole world you didn’t know existed. There’s nothing bad I can say about riding.” There were lots of helpers there that day including four girls, all students from Marlborough College.
Elinor hopes voluntary groups will collect £200 from their members to hear her talk on her years reporting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – complete with behind the scenes disasters and triumphs. Or talk about Prime Minister John Major’s reaction to a pretty fierce press – and some scurrilous cartoons.
Elinor has a great deal of experience in the problems and politics (with both a small and large ‘p’) of rural life – she chaired the last government’s Rural Housing Commission, and later served six years as a Commissioner on the Commission for Rural Communities (which this government abolished and which closes on March 31.)
More recently Elinor has been one of the panel of six Assessors assisting Lord Justice Leveson during the inquiry into the ‘Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press’.Good exercise for all
Higher up the pay scale from voluntary groups, companies needing a speaker for their annual staff dinner might pay as much as £500 – all going to a charity that really does make a difference.
Help to make that difference has just come from Bedwyn's pantomime team who have given the Marlborough RDA £1,000 from the proceeds of their recent show. "It was", says Elinor, "a wonderful surprise and extremely generous."
There’s more information on Marlborough RDA’s Facebook page.
Snowbound Communities MarketHeavy morning snow yesterday (Sunday) hit the Marlborough Communities Market in the High Street, and though stalwarts turned out it was an overall disaster for trade. “The weather is an absolute stinker,” market organiser Ellie Gill told Marlborough News Online. “It all looks picturesque but it’s not exactly ideal trading conditions.
“We had at least 10 stallholders who couldn’t make it. Some were snowed in, some people just didn’t want to get out of bed. And I can’t blame them.
“But we are carried on regardless of the weather and we had a really nice mix of stalls nevertheless for those interested. Coming to the market is still a really good shopping experience.”
Meanwhile, plans are going ahead for a Communities Market with a difference on June 2. “This will take the form of a Big Lunch in the High street,” said Ellie. “Details are being worked out with Transition Marlborough and we shall announce them as soon as we can.
“But do book the day in your diary.”
Neil HamiltonChancellor George Osborne has been accused of “fiddling the figures” in his latest Budget and to have used dodges and stunts to try to baffle the voters while even his austerity policies are not working.
The charge comes from Neil Hamilton, chairman of UKIP in Wiltshire, as his party’s surge in the polls after overtaking the Tories in the Eastleigh by-election is heading towards 20 per cent -- with the Tories only at 30 per cent.
Hamilton, the 64-year-old former Tory MP and barrister with an expertise in taxation law, has made a clinical analysis of the Budget and issued the results in a mocking statement to Marlborough News Online.
He declares: “Wasn't there a whiff of Harold Wilson and Denis Healey about the Budget? Wheezes, dodges and stunts to please sectional interest groups like potters and beer drinkers. Meanwhile, George Osborne ignores the elephant in the room -- the vast and growing financial deficit."
“He says he has reduced it -- but that's by 'one-off' fiddling of the figures -- by transferring the Post Office pension fund assets to the Treasury and shunting QE electronic cash-creation balances from the Bank of England to the Treasury."
“Here's the reality: the government borrowed £100 billion in the year ended 1 January, which was £8 billion more than last year."
“In 2010, Osborne said he would cut State spending by four percent by 2013. In reality his so-called austerity policies have pared a pathetic one per cent.
“He also forecast a budget surplus by 2015. Ha! Ha! That was always unrealistic because it depended on growth of nearly three per cent a year -- higher than the British average in our lifetime.”
Far from creating a surplus, according to Hamilton, the deficit is £120 billion this year and the Treasury now forecasts it to be the same in 2014 and 2015. The deficits will almost certainly be higher still, as the economy goes into triple, then quadruple-dip quasi-recession, he suggests.
And he adds: “In 2010 Osborne also forecast the National Debt would peak at 85 per cent of GDP in 2012 and then fall. The reality? He now predicts it will peak at 97 per cent of GDP in 2015 - making Britain equal to the Eurozone's Club Med countries."
“The fiddling about in the budget does nothing to address the economy's real problems -- public sector spending out of control -- NHS, Education, social security all ring-fenced -- overseas aid set to rise still further, rising green taxes making energy dearer and exporting British jobs etc. etc."
“Oh, and how does scrapping beer tax increases fit in with Dave's plan for minimum alcohol pricing? Answer: "Er, um, hmm........"
What of the Budget's two big ideas?
“Subsidising house-purchases will only push up house prices and transfer default risks from banks and building societies to the Treasury,” insists Hamilton, who has announced that UKIP will contest the local Wiltshire Council elections in May and all Wiltshire’s parliamentary seats at the next general election.
“Has Osborne learned nothing from the US sub-prime disaster – remember Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- which triggered the banking crisis in 2008?"
“Cutting employers' National Insurance is good but inadequate. It is a tax on jobs and should be abolished by merging it into income and corporation taxes."
“Fiddling with tax breaks for specific industries is a mug’s game. There is no way the government can know which industries to promote, and these projects inevitably collapse into a mess of over--complicated grant schemes and politics-driven bailouts of failing firms. Only consumers can pick winners.”
Hamilton believes that Osborne still doesn't understand supply-side economics -- cutting taxes and current spending to boost growth.
“The Government admits the 50p tax rate lost the Exchequer £7 billion a year, as very high earners quit the country -- as in France now,” he says. “Tax revenues generally are below forecast due to slower economic growth."
“By 2015 tax receipts are estimated to be £62 billion lower than forecast in 2010. So borrowing will be much higher."
The National Debt was £750 million when Osborne took over. “It will be £1,500 million when he is chucked out in 2015 -- £25,000 for every household in the country."
“Public spending has risen 53 per cent in the last 10 years. Osborne has heroically cut it by one per cent in a series of 'austerity budgets'. He has become the Viv Nicholson of Whitehall."
"Spend, spend, spend". Cyprus, here we come!”
Tory MP Claire Perry has revealed that her marriage to her New Zealander husband Clayton has broken down and that the couple are about to split amicably after 17 years together.
The dashing MP, who has three children, tells her local newspaper that she is announcing the news to avoid any gossip or wild speculation that someone else is involved.
“Our marriage has become increasingly difficult for several years,” she says. “It’s nobody’s fault, no one has behaved badly, we have just grown apart.”
“We both have extremely demanding jobs and for some time we have been going our separate ways. But we still live under the same roof in Wiltshire and in London.”
“Just because you break up with someone, you don’t stop loving them. It’s hard on the children. They all know the situation and they are very sad about it.”
“Most children want mum and dad to be together, but it is just not possible.”
The couple, who are both 47, met in New York when they were both involved in the banking industry and married there. They later settled near Salisbury, when they returned from America. Mr Perry worked as an asset manager in financial services.”
Their three children, Sophie, 16, Eliza, 13, and Hector, who is 10, are all at boarding schools.
Mrs Perry, who became MP for Devizes at the 2010 election, tells the Devizes Gazette and Herald that discussions are continuing between her and her husband about the next stage of their lives prior to seeking a divorce.
“It is completely amicable,” she adds. “this is not the War of the Roses. There has been wild speculation that one or other of us is involved with someone else, but I can assure you that is not the case.”
“Although this is a private matter within my family, I wanted my constituents to know the facts from me through their local newspaper and not from gossip or tittle-tattle.”
“I can assure them that this will not affect the way I represent them in Parliament.”
Mrs Perry, who worked for Chancellor George Osborne before entering politics, succeeded Michael Ancram, the Tory Cabinet minister, as MP for Devizes after he retired from politics.
She is currently PPS to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
Praise from Claire Perry for the Chancellor’s budget decisions
Claire Perry has given her support to Chancellor George Osborne’s budget, praising in particular “many good things especially the cuts to corporation tax and the huge reduction in employer National insurance costs.”
She adds: “With inflation going up and wage growth subdued, it was great to hear that you will raise the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000 by next April, which will mean on average that our local families pay £700 a year less in tax than they did in 2010, and three million people across the country will pay no tax at all, including more than 4,000 people in the Devizes constituency.
“We need our cars in rural Wiltshire so once again your freeze in fuel duty will be a great help. For an average local driver this means a tank of petrol is £7 cheaper than it would have been if you had carried out all of the fuel duty rises proposed by the last government.”
And Mrs Perry points out: “We love our local pubs in Wiltshire and are proud to be known as ‘Wadworthshire’ after our famous local brewery and so many of us raised a glass to celebrate the cut in beer duty (one penny) you announced – we have campaigned hard for this.”
“I have suggested – not entirely seriously – that we re-name one of our famous dray horses after you, but my constituents said they would rather stick with Prince, Monty and Max, if you don’t mind.”
Changes to the Marlborough to Great Bedwyn bus services come into operation on April 23 -- Shakespeare's traditional birthday -- following Wiltshire Council’s decision to cut its funding to the service by £50,000 a year, not the £90,000 originally proposed.
The changes were reviewed at a meeting Transition Marlborough’s transport group hosted with the council’s transport officers who are responsible for drawing up the new Bedwyn bus timetable.
Wiltshire councillor and Cabinet member Richard Gamble and Steve Smith from the Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group also attended this meeting, at which Shelley Parker, Marlborough's new town clerk, represented Marlborough Town Council.
“We wanted the new timetable to be adjusted so that the buses would link with as many trains as possible, with a minimum six minute gap before the train arrives,” explained Dr Sam Page, who chairs Transition Marlborough.
“We were also keen to ensure that bus fares are kept as low as possible, facilities are improved for cyclists and we wanted to look into the possibility of laying on extra buses to serve local events, such as Marlborough’s Jazz Festival and Mop Fair.”
The transport officers explained that the funding cut of £50,000 per year means that, after April 21, the bus service from Marlborough High Street to Bedwyn station will not begin until 10.05am and the last bus back will leave Bedwyn at 19.50pm on week days.
The 07.05am bus to Hungerford, which links with the 07.34 fast train to London Paddington, will be retained. This means that the following “asymmetric” journey is possible for commuters who want to leave their cars at home and cut carbon emissions.
Valuable concessions will include a £1 only fare for “Early Bird” passengers travelling either to Hungerford or Bedwyn before 10am and to anyone returning from Bedwyn to Marlborough who has a valid train ticket.
The first bus to Hungerford and the last bus from Bedwyn will begin and end in Barton Park, Marlborough.
“Wiltshire Council is willing to lay on extra buses to ferry passengers to and from Bedwyn station during special events, such as the Jazz Festival and Mop Fair,” added Dr Page.
“Marshals can be provided to enable buses to stop in Marlborough town centre during special events.”
Councillor Gamble promised to look into the possibility of installing improved signage, a bus shelter and pull-in, as well as secure cycle racks at Great Bedwyn station.
The Wiltshire Council officers also stressed that the early evening buses may be cancelled after one year if they are not well used.
However, in order to build passenger confidence, the Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group are requesting that the train company, currently First Great Western, refund taxi fares for passengers who miss the last bus because their train was delayed.
Transition Marlborough’s transport group members are planning to meet with the Bedwyn bus operator to discuss waiting times.
Extensive consultation carried out by Wiltshire Council to seek the views of users and other interested parties on two draft timetable proposals produced 88 responses to a questionnaire.
Eighteen written responses were received to a letter that was distributed widely to Town and Parish Councils, local councillors, transport user groups, and a range of local and special interest contacts identified by Wiltshire’s area board managers and the council’s equalities team.
A petition with 435 signatures was also received opposing the proposed reductions in service.
The questionnaire and letter summarised the reasons why a reduction in service is necessary, and the rationale for the draft timetables that were proposed, and asked for information about any specific hardship that might result if they were implemented.
The letter drew attention to the possibility of developing local initiatives, through the area boards and community area partnerships, to meet some of the specific needs that might be identified in this way.
Alternative proposals to achieve a similar level of financial saving with less impact were also invited.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer used his budget speech (March 20) to give the Bank of England a more flexible task in controlling inflation. However, following the release of the March employment figures shortly before he spoke, it is the difference between the rise in wages and the current inflation rate that has dominated many economists’ commentaries.
Average weekly earnings (not counting bonuses) went up 1.2 per cent in the three months to the end of January. The figure issued in February showed a 1.3 per cent increase and in January a 1.4 per cent increase.
Meanwhile inflation (the Consumer Price Index) has reached 2.8 per cent – the highest figure for nine months. This cut in the real value of people’s wages will further dampen High Street demand and mean a lower than expected rise in the government’s tax receipts.
And some experts expect inflation to break through the three per cent mark in the summer.
The employment figures themselves provide mixed messages: employment has gone up by 131,000 between November 2012 and January 2013, but unemployment is up by 7,000 to 2,520,000 people aged sixteen and over. Of those 1.1 million are women and 1.4 million are men.
There was a small drop of 1,500 in the number of people claiming job seekers’ allowance with the total number of claimants now one million below the total of those unemployed. This is because many unemployed people are not eligible for the allowance and job centres are now under pressure to apply the guidelines more strictly.
The February figures for the Devizes constituency (issued March 20) show little change. The total number of JSA claimants in February has gone up – by seven people.
The figure for those between eighteen and twenty-four claiming JSA is up by twenty. This reflects the national increase of 48,000 to 993,000 – but that figure is 45,000 fewer than for the same month last year.
And the number of workers in the Devizes constituency who have been claiming JSA for more than a year is more than twice what it was a year ago – sticking around the 200 mark.
Train passenger groups in Marlborough, Great Bedwyn and Pewsey are giving their backing to talks in London chaired by Devizes MP Claire Perry aimed at bringing rail electrification to stations beyond Newbury.
Major consultants Arup, who have been appointed by the Department for Transport to lead the Great Western electrification extension review, expect to complete their project by the end of April.
The study is particularly aimed at the economic benefit of the project, which comes at a difficult time when First Great Western is one of four rail companies trying to sue the government for £40 million over its decision to halt the fault-ridden bidding process.
And it is not helped by the fact that the January rise in train fares has angered many passengers, the more so when they are forced to stand on packed trains to and from Paddington.
But another of the problems the study faces, as revealed by Newbury MP and junior minister Richard Benyon, is inaccurate passenger figures.
In a letter to Newbury Chamber of Commerce, Mr Benyon says: “I would ask that any calculations you do with regard to the economic benefit of extending electrification to Bedwyn and beyond are based on the poor service that will be in place if electrification stops at Newbury rather than the service level that users between Newbury and Bedwyn have now.”
“In addition, I fully concur with the Bedwyn Train Passengers Group on the fact that passenger figures are grossly under-counted. Until very recently, there were no barriers at Newbury railway station and it was feasible to travel between most stations between Bedwyn and Newbury without seeing a train manager and never being asked to pay.”
“Therefore any statistics you have should be taken with a pinch of salt, and I would suggest that the figures you have had from the Bedwyn Train Passengers Group are more likely to be correct and I would request that these are used when calculating the time impact on changing trains.”
Mr Benyon is also concerned about the “the connectivity of trains” caused by delays on the line, which need to be taken into account, adding: “Missed connections have other financial implications to the train operators and for local businesses. It would be helpful if an economic element could be built in to your calculations too.”
“The local economy in Kintbury and Hungerford will be seriously damaged if the current plan to stop electrification at Newbury is not changed.”
Mrs Perry told Marlborough News Online: “Ever since the decision was taken by the last Government in 2009 to electrify the railway only as far as Newbury, people across the area have been very concerned about the likely economic impact on our region.”
“I have been working hard over the last few months to ensure that this decision is re-considered and I am delighted that we are making progress.”
“The passenger groups from Great Bedwyn, Pewsey and Marlborough are doing a fantastic job of feeding in economic and passenger data to the review and I am confident that together, we will ensure that this area is not forgotten. We need these vital transport links.”
Karl Lloyd, who represented Pewsey Train Watch with Tiffany Saddler at the Portcullis House talks, told Marlborough News Online: “It was a quite lively and certainly positive discussion and a wide range of questions were answered in a thoughtful and considered fashion by both ARUP and Martin Holt, the Department of Transport’s franchise sponsor.”
“We now have a small window of opportunity within which to comment on issues raised at the meeting and Pewsey Train Watch are working to draw together figures that we hope to feed into the process to better inform any decisions and conclusions.”
Dr Sam Page, chairman of Marlborough’s Transition Town group, which has its own transport section, said: “Electrification of the train lines west of Newbury will not only prevent Bedwyn station from becoming a neglected rural station, with a third rate service at the end of a shuttle line, but will also save at least 46 tonnes of CO2 per week.”
“The ARUP consultants that have been tasked to do this study must show that the benefits of extending electrification will exceed the costs of installing it.”
“Transition Marlborough has already collected residents views on the proposed changes, Marlborough's Chamber of Commerce now have the opportunity of letting Claire Perry and the consultants know how their businesses would be affected, both with and without this proposed electrification."