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Marlborough puts on its glad rags

Chamber president Paul Shimell celebrates the opening of the Marlborough Fashion Show with Rachel Fisher from Joules, and Lisa Sprouting and Karen Coulthard from Phase Eight.Chamber president Paul Shimell celebrates the opening of the Marlborough Fashion Show with Rachel Fisher from Joules, and Lisa Sprouting and Karen Coulthard from Phase Eight.Marlborough put on its glad rags for a night of fashion on Thursday, when 10 boutiques paraded their wares in front of a capacity audience at Marlborough Town Hall.

Models sashayed down the runway to a pounding dance music soundtrack, showing clothes stocked by local independents and multiples, including Joules, Rowlands, Spirit, Landmark, Phase Eight, Belles, East, Joan Pressley, Kath Kidston and Jigsaw.

For the organisers Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, it was a chance to show what the town had to offer ahead of the festive season and the month of late night openings when, from November 24 when the town's lights display is switched on, shops will be open until 8pm every Thursday until Christmas.

Chamber president Paul Shimell told the audience: "Effie Robins, the manger of Joules, and I realised that Marlborough town needed to fight back against the recession, so in order to bring the town together we put on this fashion show.  We were so overwhelmed by the amount of traders willing to take part, that we felt we could raise money along the way for the major's charity, Wiltshire Air Ambulance."

The event, which raised £1,000 for the Air Ambulance Appeal, was compered by Liz Williams, owner of The Perfumery in High Street and a herself a former fashion model.

Before the fashion show started upstairs, guests were treated to a glass of champagne courtesy of Waitrose and invited to browse stalls selling the wares of more local shops.

In all, 24 local businesses were involved in putting on the show ­ a feat described by Mr Shimell as a great community effort.
Effie Robins and Sam Candy, from Joules, toast the success of the event with a glass of champagne.fEffie Robins and Sam Candy, from Joules, toast the success of the event with a glass of champagne.fHats off to them - Inge Valentiner, Charlotte Saker and Harriet Booth from Charlotte Quest in High Street brought along some of their beautiful home wares.Hats off to them - Inge Valentiner, Charlotte Saker and Harriet Booth from Charlotte Quest in High Street brought along some of their beautiful home wares. Sammy Waddell of Lovely Stuff shows off her lovely stuff. Sammy Waddell of Lovely Stuff shows off her lovely stuff. Models from Joules, Spirit, Kath Kidston and Joan Pressley show off some of Marlborough's eclectic range of fashion. Models from Joules, Spirit, Kath Kidston and Joan Pressley show off some of Marlborough's eclectic range of fashion.

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Marlborough loses out on subsidised bus routes

When the increases in car park charges across the county were announced in April 2011, Wiltshire Council’s press release said they were “designed to protect subsidised bus services….  Any additional revenue generated from the changes will go straight into protecting bus services.”

It would appear, from the information supplied to Marlborough News Online by Wiltshire Council that Marlborough residents are losing out, and a significant proportion of what we pay in parking charges funds bus services in other areas of the county.

This policy is justified by the statistic that forty-four per cent of households in the county have limited access to a car with sixteen per cent having no car at all.

The total income from car parks in the county administered by Wiltshire Council was forecast in the budget for 2011-2012 to be £9,292,000.  (For a likely shortfall in that expected income see: 'High street woes? Don’t blame parking charges says Wiltshire Council report'.)

When costs of maintenance, wardens, collecting money from the ticket machines and so on, were taken into account, the net value to the Council this year was to be £6,641,000.  How much of that sum is spent on subsidising bus routes?

The Council has also justified steep increases in some towns’ car parking charges on the grounds they want to harmonise the varying charges they inherited from the district councils when Wiltshire became a unitary authority.  Have they also harmonised the spread of bus subsidies?  Is it fair to our area?

For the current financial year the Council allotted £5,167,760 to pay for or subsidise public bus services.  But this figure includes £1,112,800 spent on Salisbury’s park-and-ride buses – that’s 21.5 per cent of the total amount.*
(These figures do not include the Council’s budget for community bus services - about £175,000* - or concessionary fares, school buses and other public transport costs.)

Some bus routes are paid for in full, others are subsidised to allow companies to run services which may not be economically viable at certain times of day or on certain days of the week, but which the council deems are needed to get people to work, school or college.

The money pays for all or parts of:
- thirteen local Salisbury services;
- twenty-five “rural/interurban services radiating from Salisbury/Amesbury” (none of which pass through Marlborough);
- 112 “services in other parts of Wiltshire” of which thirteen serve Marlborough (including the now reduced Bath service.) *

Is Marlborough getting its fair share of the Council’s spend on bus subsidies?  It’s hard to tell without more detailed figures, but it does not look as though the money is very evenly spread.

In January 2011, Councillor Dick Tonge, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways and transport, told Salisbury Area Board that £1.2 million of the 2010-2011 bus subsidy money was spent on routes in the Salisbury area.  Adding in the park-and-ride bus services, that means forty-one per cent of the county’s total bus subsidy (money coming from car park charges across the county) was spent in the Salisbury area in 2010-2011 – a proportion that will not have changed much for the current year.

It is difficult to prise out of Wiltshire Council precise figures for a town’s car park revenues.  But at the Council meeting in July 2011 figures were presented showing income during the first quarter (April to June) for each of Salisbury’s off-street and on-street car parks.  If the first quarter’s figures are maintained until the end of March 2012, Salisbury will contribute £2,816,400 to the county’s total car park revenues – that’s about thirty per cent.

From the figures it certainly appears that the Salisbury area is getting more than its fair share of bus subsidies.  And, of course, Salisbury has the advantage of a rail service, whereas a Conservative government stripped Marlborough of its rail connections in 1963.

One question that comes to mind is whether the difference between the income from car parks and the money spent on bus subsidies (over one million pounds) is just set against the total public transport budget.

However, there is one other very pertinent question raised by these figures: who will subsidise the buses if, as many people hope and a few expect, car parks are handed over, under the government’s ‘localism’ legislation, to town councils?

(* Facts and figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests.)

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Help ARK create a large wildlife pond in Stonebridge Meadow

Stonebridge Meadow, site of the proposed large wildlife pondStonebridge Meadow, site of the proposed large wildlife pondARK (Action for the River Kennet) has launched a Grand Pond Raffle to raise funds for the proposed large wildlife pond in Stonebridge Meadow adjacent to the river Kennet as it flows through the middle of Marlborough.

"A pond in the meadow will add a new habitat for wildlife and will also be a wonderful place for children to learn about all the plants and creatures that inhabit a natural pond" said Anna Forbes, ARK's Grand Pond Raffle organiser.

"Local businesses have been extremely generous and we have over forty prizes, first prize is a £200 voucher for David Dudley, we also have meals for two, family passes for days out and a wide range of other fantastic prizes" she added.

Other major prizes include a day's flyfishing on Marlborough College's two trout ponds, six bottles of champagne donated by Hamptons International and a round of golf for four at Marlborough Golf Club, as well as many other smaller prizes.

The raffle will be drawn next April at ARK's Spring Stonebridge Meadow Day on 29th.  This event is open to everyone. The day will have a range of wildlife walks, a children's nature trail and lots of other activities.

Tickets cost £1 each and can be purchased from the Town Council offices at 5 High Street (opposite the Town Hall), or directly from Anna on 01672 511 028

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Wiltshire health matters: behind the headlines - checking the health of our NHS

Nationally the NHS has come in for some dreadful headlines in recent weeks.  Indeed it’s quite hard to keep up with the flow of reports and statistics – both official and unofficial.

Late on Monday evening (October 17)  the Guardian’s  main online headline ran: “Revealed: how NHS cuts are really affecting the young, old and infirm – Services slashed affect patients on frontline such as pregnant women and elderly despite assurances they would be protected.”

Leaving aside the headlines about the passage through Parliament of the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Bill and the dire warnings from some of its critics and from health professionals, we can dig through the data behind the headlines to run a quick health check on some of our local health care provision.

Waiting for treatment

August’s figures for the time taken from referral to treatment showed a rise in the number of patients waiting longer than the all-important recommended maximum ‘waiting time’.  Across England there was a forty-eight per cent rise in patients waiting more than eighteen weeks to be treated in hospital: “Sharp rise in NHS patients waiting more than 18 weeks for care”.

Nationally the average waiting time for those completing referral to treatment in August was 8.1 weeks for those admitted to hospital and 4.1 weeks for those who did not need to be admitted to hospital.

For NHS Wiltshire patients admitted to hospital, the average (median) waiting time from referral to treatment was 10.9 weeks – only eight PCTs recorded longer waiting times.  But the percentage of NHS Wiltshire patients admitted to hospital and treated within the eighteen week target was a respectable 93.5 per cent against the national average of 90.4 per cent.

For those not admitted the average (median) waiting time was 4.8 weeks with 97.7 per cent completing referral to treatment within the eighteen week ceiling.

For Great Western Hospital the average (median) waiting time between referral and treatment for patients admitted to hospital was above the national average at 12.7 weeks. Yet the average (median) waiting time from referral to treatment for those not needing hospital admission was 3.6 weeks – well below the national average.

And 98.1 per cent of non-admissions were treated within the eighteen week limit – against the national average of 97.3 per cent.

Care of the elderly by hospitals

Some of the most alarming and outraged headlines concerned the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) report on the care of the elderly in hospitals.  Based on unannounced inspections in April this year, this looked at two elements of that care - patient dignity and nutrition.  The report did not look into the elderly’s medical treatment.

The headlines were damning: “Treatment of the elderly is a national disgrace” (The Independent.)  Under the headline “Our nurses must go back to basics”, the Mirror’s veteran columnist, Paul Routledge, said: “Making nursing a graduate profession has been a medical success and a caring disaster.”

The Great Western Hospital was among those criticised in the report – but not as harshly as were some hospitals. For the full story and GWH’s response, read Marlborough News Online here.

While the CQC’s national report was very worrying indeed, there was also worrying news about the capability of the CQC to monitor care properly.  While the coalition government has cut the CQC’s budget by about one third, its remit has been widened to include GP’s premises and it currently has about two hundred staff vacancies.

The wait for diagnostic tests

August’s monthly data from the Department of Health showed a growing number of people in England were not getting one of the fifteen key tests - like scans and gastroscopies – within the NHS’s recommended six week waiting time: “Patients waiting too long for NHS scans”.

NHS Wiltshire scored well in this data even though  August’s figures are liable to reflect appointments postponed because of holidays and specialists on leave.  Out of a total of 4,427 tests in the fifteen categories, nineteen were performed beyond the six week wait and three were beyond thirteen weeks.  Some of those may have been based on rogue data recorded by the first time use of new software.

To take one of the more common diagnostic tests as an example: out of 1,633 non-obstetric ultra sound tests commissioned by NHS Wiltshire, 1,233 were completed within four weeks and none ran over the six week waiting time.

The NHS’s budget

On October 7, NHS managers called on the government to be more honest about the financial challenges facing the NHS in England.  They fear that the public will hear the government’s claim to have increased spending in real terms and not understand when cuts have to be made.

The Primary Care Trusts are facing cuts to their staff, huge savings and the intricacies of the government’s developing and changing restructuring plans.

When in April a Marlborough News Online writer challenged Devizes MP Claire Perry’s upbeat press release  – “Claire Perry welcomes £19 million extra for NHS in Wiltshire” – the Conservative Research Department did finally agree that the increase over inflation was “marginal”.

In fact it was 0.1 per cent.  To call the 0.1 per cent an increase at all increase was optimistic based as it was on an inflation figure of 2.9 per cent with a 3 per cent funding increase.  That was what the promised ‘real terms’ increase meant.

Even with pay freezes and job losses, the NHS has to cope with the steep increases in fuel and energy costs and other inflationary pressures.  At the same time, NHS Wiltshire has to meet its share of the national target of £20billion in savings and to pay off the debt inherited from its predecessor care trusts.

And lurking in the background is the Health Secretary’s forthcoming ruling on the changed emphasis of the government’s competition rules that may wipe out much more than that ‘marginal’ increase in Wiltshire NHS’s 2011-2012 budget.

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The mantra that produces New Zealand’s latest Marlborough wines

Liz SaguesLiz SaguesTwice winner the Regional Wine Writer of the year title in the annual Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards, recognised as the industry's most important, LIZ SAGUES provides an insight into New Zealand’s latest wines.

She has been tasting and writing about wine for more than 20 years, and as a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, she regularly travels abroad to taste wines in Europe and elsewhere.  Liz is also deputy editor of the Circle’s own acclaimed newsletter.

As New Zealand celebrates its largest-ever wine harvest, there’s a smile on the face of David CoxAs New Zealand celebrates its largest-ever wine harvest, there’s a smile on the face of David CoxCox, Europe director of New Zealand Winegrowers, is the man responsible for ensuring that the UK remains the top volume export destination for the bottles which will result from the 328,000 tonnes of grapes picked for the 2011 vintage.

Cox’s enthusiasm for the generous 2011 vintage may seem a little surprising give the over-supply problems of a year ago, when the widespread sight of £5 – or even lower priced – Kiwi sauvignon on UK retail shelves threatened to cut into the established quality image.

All that’s over now, he says, as figures show that New Zealand still heads the price-per-bottle league in UK sales, with the retail average at just over £6, around £1.50 more than the figure for all wine.

“Supply is back in balance,” he assured me as NZ Winegrowers showed the first releases from 2011 to UK trade and press. “Worldwide demand is increasing, we are no longer having to discount.

“Our mantra is to go back to a premium position, to sell for a premium price. New Zealand wine is worth it, and the 2011 vintage is good.”

Tasting through the 2011 Marlborough sauvignons on show confirmed that. They are certainly crowd-pleasing, soft yet crisp and generously fruited with the expected variety of flavours. The first should be on sale here soon.

Very nearly three-quarters of those grapes come from Marlborough, by far the biggest of New Zealand’s 10 wine regions and the one which put the country on the world wine map with its distinctive, exuberant sauvignon blancVery nearly three-quarters of those grapes come from Marlborough, by far the biggest of New Zealand’s 10 wine regions and the one which put the country on the world wine map with its distinctive, exuberant sauvignon blancBut as Cox emphasises, there is a lot more to Marlborough than generic sauvignon blanc. Regionality within the main area is being emphasised, with Awatere, the Southern Valleys and Wairau identified as key sub-regions.

Similarly, there is evolution of style, with more barrel fermentation and lees ageing, for example, resulting in more complex wines.

“We are seeing differences that come through in the glass,” he continued. “It is proof there is a place to go above entry level. New Zealand sauvignon, and especially Marlborough, still has legs to grow.”

That increasing variety stretches to the vine choice, too. Marlborough is also the most important region in New Zealand for pinot noir – just over 40 per cent of plantings, against 25 per cent in the cult region of Central Otago. The style is crisply red-fruited – think strawberries and raspberries – but there’s a decent tannic backbone in all but the simplest.

Cox also emphasises the importance of Marlborough’s classic chardonnay. “New Zealand chardonnay is one of the most exciting styles of new world chardonnay. There is lots of really nice clarity and minerality, particularly from Marlborough.”

And aromatic whites have a good future in the region: there are plantings of riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, even a little gruner veltliner. Cox focuses on pinot gris, arguing that the previous broad and sometimes puzzling spectrum of style and sweetness has been narrowed.

“It will be a tertiary brand after sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.”

So what of the future for a country which has such a big name with UK wine drinkers, even though it is one of the world’s smaller wine producers?

Cox isn’t looking for massive growth, though he would love to see New Zealand jump from its current eighth place in the UK to overtake its nearest competitor, Spain. That’s rather a distant prospect – there’s currently a £120 million gap in sales income to bridge – and he is realistic about what is possible.

“New Zealand cannot and does not want to be all things to all men,” he said. But he acknowledges there are two gaps in its offering which Marlborough in particular could help to fill – serious, food-friendly rosé and good fizz.

“We could be the next port of call for people stepping up from prosecco and cava,” he suggested. “New Zealand could be THE new world producer of sparkling wine.”

There’s a prospect to toast!

NB: New Zealand Winegrowers is the national organisation for New Zealand’s grape and wine sector. It currently has approximately 1,000 grower members and 700 winery members. See for more information.

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The odd couple. Review of Nikesh Shukla and Mario Petrucci

They were both poets, Londoners with non-British origins, whatever that means, but that was as far as the similarity seemingly went, in this enjoyable exposure to two very different writers.

Brought together by the Lit Fest to 'explore Britishness and non-British in writing' Nikesh is a poet, writer, screenwriter beloved of the Asian Network and Radio 1 Extra with a Spiderman comic collection, whilst Mario is an Italian 'metaphysical poet of international standing, an ecologist and PhD physicist.'

Nikesh read one of his latest short stories, To Mum, about a British family who've relocated to an Indian houseboat in the wake of a family death. The story deals both with grief and the culture they've gone back to, which should have provided a familiar comfort but which proves to be alien.

Mario related what others had written about Britishness, such as 'stoicism, education and wry humour'. For him, it was “heritage, upbringing, mores and patterns of behaviour,” he said. “I'm besotted by difference: in Britain I feel Italian and in Italy, British.”

Mario read from two of his anthologies, Flowers of Sulphur and i tulips. “I use English as a tool to create different states,” he explained. “English is the most productive; I try to make it as non-standard as I can. Italian can be too voluptuous, it sometimes lacks that hard edge.”

As well as those favourite subjects – love and passion – Mario “attempts to understand what can't be understood” such as the disaster of Chernobyl , or a “what if” exploration of a post-oil world in 2111 – a world of hardship and of stories.

Nikesh was asked where he felt most at home: India or London. His response was not India – neither parent had grown up there though they had tried to impress a good Indian culture on their son.

“When I visited my cousins in India in my mid-twenties,” he said, “they told me I was repressed. The Indian culture I had been brought up in was stuck in the 1940s. I felt more at home in Mombassa (Kenya) where my dad grew up.”

Common ground was found, around a discussion of the centrality of the mother in both Indian and Italian culture and of food. Nikesh is learning family recipes “because that smell of food means home” and Mario is the last in his family who “knows how to cook a traditional Bolgnaise.” He said to Nikesh: “We should have dinner, I love Indian.”

A footnote: at the signing I realised how hard it is to make a living as a poet and how important it is to buy their work if you like it.

The copy I bought of i tulips was one of Mario's personal stash: because with each anthology brought out by his publisher, despite Mario's reputation as a poet, he tries to buy a few hundred copies to increase the print run.

I loved Nikesh's dedication to me in Coconut Unlimited: “To Louisa Hello! Hope you like me. I am a sentient book.” I hope it isn't a warning. 

Also published on We Love Marlborough

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Marlborough News Online hits the airwaves

Marlborough News Online hit the airwaves on Tuesday, when it featured in a BBC Radio Wiltshire programme about the internet.

A campaign called Give an Hour is being run across the BBC, to persuade people to give up the hour of their time they'll gain when the clocks go back to help someone who has never used the internet get online.

BBC Radio Wiltshire was keen to look at some of the most innovative ways in which the internet is being used across the county, and presenter Mark O'Donnell spent ten minutes talking live to MNO contributor Peter Davison about the initiative.

Peter explained how hosting a newspaper on the web helped to mitigate print and distribution costs while allowing its team of journalists to react quickly to breaking news stories.

The pair also discussed the newspaper's co-operative status, in which a moral compass is embedded into the company ethos, meaning that unlike some high-profile media companies Marlborough News Online will continue to publish to the highest ethical standards.

To find out how to Give an Hour and get someone started online – and perhaps enjoying Marlborough News Online for the first time – go to

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Marlborough plans a Christmas tree with a difference

A Christmas tree with a difference is planned to welcome visitors to Marlborough in December.

Instead of putting up a traditional fir tree on The Green, the town council is considering decorating with sparkling lights the fully grown ancient yew tree growing beside St Mary’s Church, plus the avenue of lime trees running alongside it.

“The plan is the greenest of our proposals,” Open Spaces Committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts told the town council on Monday.

The mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, personally supported the proposal while other councillors felt there should be a Christmas tree on The Green as well.

“This is cracking idea,” declared the mayor.  “Having a tree on The Green is in fact difficult for motorists to see as they drive up and down”.

“But there are a lot of loose ends to this proposals.  We shall have a meeting to sort them out.”

Councillor Peggy Dow agreed that it was a good way forward, adding: “I think this is an excellent idea.”

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Mayoral praise for Marlborough News Online as we hit six months’ anniversary

Marlborough News Online welcomed its 150th Twitter follower on Friday, in the week that it celebrated its first six months of publication.

It was a landmark for the the site, which saw 1,126 visitors read 5,385 articles. Meanwhile our web stats revealed that while most visitors, predictably, came to our site from the UK, we enjoy quite a following abroad, including 22 visits from America (howdy!), eight from Australia (g'day!), three from France (bonjour!), and two each from Slovakia (ahoj!), Germany (guten abend!), Poland (czesc!), Canada (chimo!), and the United Arab Emirates (مرحبا).

Are you one of our international readers? Are you an expat who misses home, or a resident travelling for business or pleasure. We'd love to know - please get in touch! 

Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, was full of praise for our endeavours....

“Congratulations to Marlborough News on Line for
establishingitself so quickly as an indispensable
part of the townscape,”

“To have published well over 500 articles, and had
so many hits on the site within six months of
starting up, speaks volumes both for the professionalism
of the way you run it, and also for the need for
up-to-the-minute information on issues
concerning the town.  

“Congratulations to you all, and thank you.”

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The government promised NHS patients more choice – it’s on its way

Just imagine it’s October 2012 and your left foot is really painful – as in keeping you awake at night.  In October 2011 it was your right foot that hurt and your doctor sent you to the local NHS hospital for treatment at its podiatry clinic (for foot health - more than chiropody.)

By October next year, your doctor might well offer you a choice for treatment for your left foot – by your local NHS hospital, by a charity, by a social enterprise group or by a commercial company.  Podiatry was one of the services the government wanted put in the fast lane to provide competition to the NHS and choice for the patient by October 2012.

When Health Secretary Andrew Lansley first launched the policy he called it “Any Willing Provider”.  It’s now somewhat more reassuringly called “Any Qualified Provider”. We are not re-entering the era of snake-oil salesmen.  But we are entering unknown territory.

The timescale is tight. NHS Wiltshire were told late in July that they had to complete consultation by the end of September on the government’s list of eight possible services. So on September 12 they held a Stakeholders’ Assembly - gathering about sixty-five local professionals, councillors, representatives of charities and patient groups and some of the doctors involved in the new commissioning groups to help select the first three or more services. 

After much discussion three services came to the top of the list: treatment of neck and back pain (physiotherapy plus), direct access diagnosis (blood tests and more) and memory clinics (for those in the earlier stages of conditions such as alzheimer’s.)  As it turned out, podiatry was one of the services least favoured to be part of the first round of setting up competitive providers – so your left foot’s safe with the NHS till well after October 2012.

Two other services – developmental disorders (ADHD and autistic spectrum conditions) and lymphodaema (swelling caused by lymph problems) – may come into the frame once more work has been done on how they could fit with related treatments and how to specify their work.

There are, of course, a great many hoops for any potential rival provider to go through. Are they a credible outfit – with financial stability, appropriate legal status and so on? Will they improve the service to patients?  Can they find the right staff? Can they respond to referrals from GPs fast enough? What about training?

One thing is certain: there will be no protection for any kind of provider - government policy focuses primarily on effecting choice.  This is a “very explicit political judgment on how to improve the NHS.”

All this will most likely bring added headaches for GPs and their colleagues in the new commissioning groups which will take over the budgets from the primary care trusts.  First it will make control of the budgets much more difficult – even precarious.  Secondly it may often face GPs with conflicts of interest.

Will they advise patients which treatment to choose when that choice may well affect the commissioning group’s bottom line?  We may well see the rise of “patient advisers” attached to surgeries to help patients choose.

Those advisers and the complexity of overseeing and checking the new providers, tracking fragmented sources of cost and keeping clear of the clutches of competition umpires, will all involve a host of backroom jobs – or, as the government likes to call them, bureaucrats. And this at a time when most of the savings from the coalition’s radical NHS restructuring are supposed to come from ‘cutting bureaucracy’.

And no one can foresee precisely how the new commissioning groups will be able to make these services a satisfactory part of continuing and integrated treatment of their patients.

GPs and commissioning groups will be open to scrutiny and public shaming by the competition tsars that want to give non-NHS providers every chance to succeed.  This is already happening with the choice of providers for elective surgery (such as hip replacements) – see Marlborough News Online’s earlier story.

There’s evidence already that social enterprises and charities will not get any favours in this process – in fact the risks in size and sustainability they bring to the NHS may doom them. 

The social enterprise, not-for-profit group Central Surrey Healthcare (CSH) has been running community health for a large area of Surrey since 2006.  Last year David Cameron presented them with the first ever Big Society award – a recognition that CSH’s 770 entrepreneurial nurses, therapists and other community staff have been providing quality care for less money.  Even the Cabinet Office said CSH are delivering substantial improvements in quality and efficiency.

But when CSH bid for a new £500milion contract to spread their work to more of Surrey’s patients, Surrey primary care trust decided to hand the contract to Assura Medical Limited (75% owned by Virgin.)  It seems the main reason was that CSH could not raise enough money for the necessary surety bond.

Has this decision put money before quality of service?  CSH’s own contract comes up for tender in the next twelve months.  The fear is the coalition government’s rules will favour another bid from a private, capital-rich company and dish the social enterprise workers.  

And bearing in mind the experience of the health workers of Surrey, will charities and social enterprises in Wiltshire be successful when they make smaller scale bids for services under the ‘Any Qualified Provider’ label?

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Not for children? Lauren Child review

It was going to be a long shot, taking my five year old to an author's event. He has just accepted that Doctor Who is an actor, so enjoying an event by someone who wrote the books he loves was possibly a concept too far.

I expected a reading of a Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and certainly Lauren Child's new book, Look Into My Eyes featuring teenage detective Ruby Redfort. So it was surprising that we didn't hear the person who wrote them read them.

Instead this was aimed squarely at older literature enthusiasts: a discussion of where the ideas for the books came from, when she started writing, how she illustrated her books, etc. Great for me, boredom for my five year old, though there were some excellent questions from other young children at the end.

Grumbles re missing the mark for the main readership aside, I enjoyed hearing about Lauren's inspiration for Ruby Redfort. Exactly my era, childhood Lauren loved American shows such as Columbo, Starsky & Hutch and Heart to Heart, which “worried my mum,” she said. A great advert for trash TV then, as this was the inspiration for this bestselling author.

Lauren has created a character in the Heart to Heart universe: a fantastically wealthy 1970s-style world with a likeable cosiness and a child-genius lead character.

She didn't set it in modern times because: “I wanted to get away from mobile phones,” Lauren explained, “so she would be in dangerous situations where she had to use her brain. I wanted readers to care about her and – like Hitchcock films – to have its comedy moments.”

Ruby Redfort was born because Lauren was now writing too many words for illustrated book Clarice Bean, and so she was encouraged to write her first novel. Look Into My Eyes took a while to finish because Lauren 'rambled' about the characters and “hoped a plot developed – it didn't for six years.” Now the first book of a six book deal is published, Lauren feels 'terrified' at completing one a year.

In a festival exclusive, Look Into My Eyes is on sale a week before the shops, and it can be bought in the town hall until Sunday. Unsurprisingly there was a huge queue for the post-event signing.

Lauren still writes mostly in Wiltshire and she picked out a few of her local references such as Minal Cricket (Clarice Bean) and the doors of Avebury Manor, photographically featured in The Princess and the Pea.

Lauren is one of (at least) three festival authors to be a former St John's School student (the new building "looks fabulous" she said). The school should be proud.

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