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."
It has finally been agreed that the ownership of Savernake Hospital is to be transferred to Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (GWH). Savernake is currently owned by NHS Wiltshire, the Primary care Trust for Wiltshire which will disappear on 31 March.
NHS Wiltshire’s commissioning of health care will then pass to the new Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), but the Group is not allowed to own properties. The delay in the decision on the future ownership of Savernake Hospital was caused by its Private Finance Initiative (PFI) annual debt repayments – which next year will reach about one million pounds.
Savernake Hospital is now mainly used by GWH and they have a community health team based there. GWH told Marlborough News Online that they will be pleased to be taking responsibility for this hospital:
“We're deeply committed to investing in and developing our community services. The trust has always expressed a willingness to take on responsibility for the Savernake Hospital building when NHS Wiltshire is dissolved at the end of the month. Now that Monitor’s position has been made clear, a formal decision by the Trust Board will now be made at its next meeting at the end of this month."
"As a local organisation responsible for delivering community services across the whole of Wiltshire, we feel well placed to respond to the needs of the people of Marlborough and the surrounding towns and that is why we were keen to explore the possibility of ownership of the building transferring to the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust."
They have been improving the facilities there – notably with extra beds and the mobile chemotherapy unit: “We're deeply committed to investing in and developing our community services.”
With such a large PFI debt, the transfer to GWH had to be signed off by Monitor – the body that ensures NHS foundation trusts are ‘well governed and financially robust’ – because the transfer was thought to be large enough to ‘materially impact’ on GWH’s financial position.
Today (March 15), just sixteen days before the deadline and with assurances from GWH that “it has taken all possible steps to mitigate any financial risk from this transaction”, Monitor has allowed the transfer to go ahead.
To take over Savernake Hospital GWH will have to extend its long-term borrowing capacity. So there was a sting in the tail to Monitor’s agreement: “However, we have told [GWH] that if it fails to address the identified risks, and runs into serious financial trouble in future, Monitor would take this into account when deciding what regulatory action if any, it is required to take.”
Joan Davies, Chairman of Savernake Parish Council who has been involved with the hospital for forty years and with the Friends of Savernake Hospital, has been waiting patiently for a decision on its future ownership: “I’m absolutely delighted. We couldn’t have had a better decision.”
The decision comes almost exactly a year after Claire Perry MP asked the then health minister, Simon Burns, about the future ownership of Savernake Hospital. Mr Burns told Mrs Perry that no handovers would be signed off until ‘holding arrangements for PCT’s PFI schemes’ are resolved.
Val Compton, a long-term campaigner for Savernake Hospital, was also delighted about the transfer to GWH - describing it as 'brilliant news': "I feel this puts Savernake on a far safer footing than it has been for some considerable time and will sleep just that little bit easier in my bed tonight. Claire has managed to keep this problem constantly near the surface and I feel without this effort we could just have sunk without trace."
It took a long time to reach a decision when it was clear the government’s ‘stability fund’ for PFI hospitals would not include PCT properties and the PFI would stand.
Savernake Hospital was largely re-built, extended and re-equipped between 2003 and 2005. Despite the sale of adjacent land for housing, the then PCT had to find nearly seven million pounds in PFI financing.
The PFI payment includes all maintenance and equipment replacement. The current owners of the PFI contract have just received planning permission to put high quality double glazing into the older Gilbert Scott designed part of the building and are now lagging and re-tiling the roof to reduce heating costs.
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.
Mark, Emma and Mum marvel at the effect of Dry Ice at the St John's Academy Science FairIt was raining, it was cold, parked cars stretched back to the main road, and the crowds thronged into St John’s Academy for the fourth annual Science Fair. Run as part of National Science and Engineering Week, the Fair is designed for families with plenty of hands-on activities for the young – in fact for all the family.
In the atrium you could test your powers of estimation with paper-clips, create intricate structures out of spaghetti and make oboes from milk-shake straws. Or you could build your own Stonehenge and wonder at the model of Crofton’s famous pumping station.
There was a splendid and very much working Victorian ‘harmonograph’ drawing extraordinarily satisfying spiral designs as its pendulums interacted.
Dr Mark with some of his enthuriastic audienceThe first show of the day completely filled the Theatre on the Hill for Dr Mark Biddiss’ Cool Science and Maths Show. He used to be a space scientist working at London University on NASA projects – now he can fly a miniature rocket across the front of the stage using just water and a foot pump.
His audience – which stretched from infant school age to grandparent age – was fascinated different sized balloons that danced over a hair dryer, coloured balloons that did or didn’t burst when caught in the light from an overhead projector, a pen-cap submarine that moved effortlessly up and down inside a bottle of water…and much else besides including some tricky maths.
He showed us the maths problem which added up to ‘a grey elephant from Denmark’ – and those who got that one wrong were just ‘statistical outliers’…remember that when you next get an exam answer wrong.
He also produced the maths formula that always ends up at seven: choose any number between one and nine: add four, multiply by two, add six, divide by two and finally subtract the number you first thought of. Magic.
At the end of the show, several very young members of the audience insisted on shaking Dr Mark’s hand – just in case he had something hidden up his sleeve? Goodness knows what his afternoon audience were going to be treated to at his Tricks of the Mind session.
Back in the atrium St John’s Eco Racing team were selling small rabbits made by the school’s very own 3-D printer. The bare bones (is that a technical term?) of their new chassis were on show with its tiny engine and washers made to the students’ design by the 3-D printer.
They were very grateful for a £200 grant from the Rotary Club to help with materials.
They hope to get their new car to do 500 miles to the gallon – an amazing target whatever the Chancellor fishes out of his budget box next Wednesday. They will be taking part in the national trials at Malory Park trials on June 18 and are sure the new car will be ready by June 17.
Good luck to them…and very good luck to all the youngsters who found the science activities and the maths so enthralling.
Olivia decides whether to eat or buildJamie tries the Straw OboeOllie learns how to programme a RobotRowan builds her RocketTheo builds a skyscraperZoe braves the Smell Identity tubeBethany guesses the soundThomas carefully adds to his buildingTom Alfie and Charlotte dig for bones and buried treasuretSimon looks to the heavens
Models from Spirit at Marlborough Fashion Show in 2011Award-winning independent fashion chain Spirit has gone into administration, with the loss of around 20 jobs.
The firm – which had branches in Devizes and Bradford on Avon, and until recently Marlborough and Frome – was well known for its high-end lines appealing to a market of thirty- to fifty-somethings.
The Frome outlet has continued as a clothing boutique under new ownership, while the leases on the Marlborough shop has been taken by a gifts supplier.
Sprit opened its first boutique in 1999. In 2010 readers of the Gazette & Herald newspaper voted the Devizes store The Best Boutique in Wiltshire.
This week, the firm appointed Bristol-based Mazars as liquidators.
In November, Chamber News reported how the Marlborough branch was looking to sublet the top floor of its two-storey premises in marlborough High Street in a bid to manage the £31,500 PA rent.
Proprietor Rose Webster said: “People look at Marlborough, they see the grand High Street and the College and they assume there are millions of shoppers. There aren't; and the economic downturn since 2008 has had a serious knock on profits.”
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.”
Protestors Margie and Nick Jackson, Peter Coleman, Vivien Clark and Roger EllisA tree planting ceremony on Marlborough’s historic Green turned sour as orchard-makers were met by a handful of vociferous protestors – and torrential rain.
Marlborough Community Orchard volunteers have planted 217 fruit trees - 171 of which have been rare Wiltshire apple varieties - over the past two years, in a bid to make Marlborough a 'Town in an Orchard'.
The scheme has, until now, received town-wide support and in January, the group led 200 supporters wassailing around Marlborough's ancient orchards.
But on Saturday (March 18) - three years since the community orchard idea was first mooted - a small group of residents noisily made their dissent known.
Peter Coleman argues with Community Orchard chairman Philippa DavenportOne of the protestors, Vivien Clark, handed out flyers describing the planting as 'vandalism' and a 'no-return ticket being inflicted on The Green.'
“I like apple trees, but... not in this spot,” Mrs Clark told Marlborough News Online.
Peter Coleman, who does not live in Marlborough, but has friends with a house overlooking The Green said the area was common land, on which no-one had the right to plant.
“Nobody asked us whether we wanted these trees or not,” said an angry Roger Ellis, who lives near The Green, with his wife Nish.
Marlborough Community Orchard supportersThree trees were to be planted by mayor Edwina Fogg, who insisted the council had played by the book.
“The idea to plant apple trees here was passed by the Open Spaces committee last year,” she said. “There was one voice of dissent from Mrs Clark, who told us she did not like the idea, but would abide by a majority decision.
“Some years ago the council planted a row of lime trees across The Green, and then planted trees to disguise the electricity station, so the idea of having trees on The Green is not a new one.”
Mayor Edwina Fogg with a label which reads: 'Dedicated to all the people of Marlborough Town in an Orchard'And Philippa Davenport, the renowned food writer and chairman of the Marlborough Community Orchard committee, said: “Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but I don't share their view.
“Before the council discussed this matter I personally went around the houses on the west side of The Green and asked residents their opinion. One lady was unhappy, but she said she would abide by the majority view.
"The vision of growing fruit trees in ones, twos and small groups, in private and public spaces, around town, creating green lungs, green views and local foods for local people, has become a reality. Marlborough is 'a Town in an Orchard now."
Ironically, the Bramley apple tree planted by the mayor was “dedicated to all the people of Marlborough 'Town in an Orchard'.” for their support of the project.
Click to enlarge images
Carol Ann DuffyHard-hitting Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the first woman and first lesbian poet to be so honoured, will be providing the highlight event for the fourth Marlborough Literary Festival in September.
And the remarkable Duffy, who grew up in a working class family – her father was a shipbuilding fitter, shop steward and local Labour councillor -- has some surprising links with the town.
As a teenage poet, Duffy, now 57, was handed a poetry prize by Sir John Betjeman, the then Poet Laureate, who was a noted pupil at Marlborough College before going to university.
It was at the College too that Duffy’s predecessor as Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, who held the post for a decade, appeared at last year’s College Summer School, reading from one of his novels.
And it was in tribute to one of the College’s most celebrated students, Kate Middleton, that Duffy, whose work has criticised expense-fiddling MPs, wrote a 46-line poem Rings for her 2011 royal wedding to Prince William.
The poem celebrates the rings found in nature and does not specifically mention the couple's names.
It begins for both to say and continues "I might have raised your hand to the sky / to give you the ring surrounding the moon / or looked to twin the rings of your eyes / with mine / or added a ring to the rings of a tree / by forming a handheld circle with you, thee, / ...".
Duffy wrote the verse with Stephen Raw, a textual artist, and a signed print of the work was sent to the couple, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their first child on its way, as a wedding gift.
And no doubt she will be writing a tribute when their potential heir to the throne is born.
Two other celebrated authors – and a wine expert -- are joining Duffy at the Marlborough LitFest, which takes place on the weekend of September 27—29, and has the local financial firm of Brewin Dolphin as its lead sponsor.
They are award-winning biographer Claire Tomalin, whose novelist and playwright husband Michael Frayn, was one of the stars of last year’s festival, and the controversial author and columnist AN Wilson, plus wine writer Malcolm Gluck.
Claire Tomalin, who celebrates her 80th birthday in June, is the author of admired biographies of Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and in particular Charles Dickens, while AN Wilson’s last book, two years ago, was Adolf Hitler: A Short Biography.
A survey showed that broadcaster and wine writer Malcolm Gluck was the fifth most recognised wine critic in the country.