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Home-Start is calling for new volunteer parents

Jane is a young mum who has just had her third baby.  She has no family or friends nearby and is feeling lonely, exhausted and overwhelmed.  She would like support from another parent, especially from someone with time to listen.

The Home-Start charity needs new volunteers who can be trained to help and support families like Jane’s who live in the Kennet areas of Marlborough and Devizes and the South Wiltshire areas of Larkhill, Downton, Mere and Whiteparish.

The Home-Start team is especially keen to find volunteers who will be able to provide support in Tidworth and Amesbury and in the surrounding villages.  Home-Start’s trained volunteers support both non-military and military families.

Their next volunteer training course will run on May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and June 6 and 27 at The Beeches in Bulford.

Volunteers should contact the Home-Start offices:  Marlborough 01672 515686 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Amesbury 01980 676237 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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Historic crane returns to Burbage Wharf

An important piece of canal heritage has returned to Burbage Wharf after an absence of five years.

The Burbage Wharf crane is the last surviving example of seventeen cranes along the 86-mile stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Bath and Reading.

Two hundred years ago those cranes loaded and unloaded goods from and onto canal barges, travelling along a busy trade route that was the equivalent of the M4 today.

The crane was originally constructed in 1833 and was used to load and unload coal, timber, lime, bricks and other commodities at the then-busy wharf.

But by the 1950s, when commercial traffic on the canal ceased, the crane was in a state of disrepair, and many original parts were missing altogether, as metal pieces had been salvaged and melted down to help the war effort.

Project manager John Webb, of the Inland Waterways Association, told Marlborough News Online: “A replica Burbage Wharf crane was erected in 1978. But the crane had been hewn from soft wood and slowly deteriorated. This new crane is made of English oak from Herefordshire, and will last considerably longer – perhaps as long as the original did.”

The first replica crane was dismantled and removed in 2007. The new crane was made by volunteers based at Claverton pumping station near Bath, which uses a wooden wheel to lift water up 48 feet from the River Avon to the canal above.

Volunteer Patrick Lawrence said the building of the new crane had been a four-year labour of love for fifteen volunteers.

“The only original piece of the crane is the two-tonne stone counterweight,” he said. “The oak was delivered cut to size, but had to be hewn and put together at Claverton.”

The wooden structure was transported from Claverton to Burbage Wharf in two parts back in November. A large modern crane was needed to lift the structures over the roofs of the two cottages to the towpath, where it was assembled.

The erecting of the crane, whose jib is 30 feet long and which stands at over 20 feet at its highest point, was officially celebrated yesterday (Monday, March 5) when a token ceremonial load was lifted by president of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, David Bruce, and the last cobble stone – bearing the date 2011 - was laid by South West regional chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, Chris Birks.

It will make an unusual feature for whoever buys the 18th century farmhouse and adjoining cottages, on whose land the crane resides. The property is being sold by The Crown Estate through Carter Jonas for £900,000.

  • The crane is on private property, but is best seen from the Burbage Wharf bridges on the A346 Marlborough-to-Burbage road, or from the canal towpath, which can be accessed via a track on the southbound side of the bridges. Visitors should be aware that the bridges form a narrow part of an extremely busy road without a footpath.

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Lansley aims to end doctors’ criticism of the coalition’s NHS Bil

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley has sent (February 16) an email to the “leaders of all prospective clinical commission groups (CCGs)” reassuring them they’ll be fully in charge of commissioning health services in England once the primary care trusts are abolished in March 2013. This follows criticism from GPs that too many regulators are being put in place to oversee their new commissioning duties and that their freedom to commission will be much reduced.

As Marlborough News Online has reported, some local GPs have voiced this criticism and following our reports a copy of Mr Lansley’s email has been forwarded to us.  It seems to reflect the government’s anxiety that they may be losing the argument over their NHS reforms.

The email opens: “I am writing to you to set out the important freedoms you can expect when the Health and Social Care Bill is passed into law and when CCGs take on their full statutory responsibilities. You will no doubt be aware of some of the interest the Bill’s return to the House of Lords is attracting in the media. This is not unusual for high-profile legislation, and I would like to reassure you that the Government remains fully committed to the successful passage of the Health and Social Care Bill.”

Mr Lansley then gives his reassurance to CCG leaders on three main counts:

“1. You will have the freedom, with your new powers and responsibilities, to commission services in ways that meet the best interests of your patients.”  He tells the GPs: “It is a fundamental principle of the Bill that you as commissioner, not the Secretary of State and not regulators, should decide when and how competition should be used to serve your patients’ interests.”

This is a remarkable u-turn as from the general election onwards Mr Lansley and the Cooperation and Competition Panel have been telling commissioners when and how to put services in the hands of various kinds of private provider – what this government used to call ‘Any Willing Provider’ and then changed to the softer ‘Any Qualified Provider’.

“2. You will have the freedom to work with whoever you want to in commissioning health services.”  This section of Mr Lansley’s email is all about the fears that the CCGs’ support services – such as payroll, record keeping and analysis, HR and financial control, all work previously done within the PCTs – will in future be carried out by large privatised companies which will to all intents and purposes take over the commissioning work.

This refers to the widely voiced criticism that the CCGs, sometimes clubbing together to pay for support services, will merely be reinventing PCTs, just on a slightly smaller scale.

Mr Lansley puts the onus firmly onto the GPs: “Whatever commissioning support arrangements you choose, you will always retain responsibility as a CCG for the commissioning decisions you make – the Bill does not allow these decisions to be made by other bodies.”  This, of course, provides cover for other parties to put forward commissioning plans – so long as they are signed off by CCGs.

“3. You will be free from top-down interference.”  Mr Lansley tells the GPs leading the CCGs that they “…will have the legal responsibility for the NHS budget entrusted to you from April 2013 onwards, and the legal power to use it in the interests of your patients.”

In fact the CCG leaders will not have responsibility for the NHS budget for England – as a quarter of it or about £20 billion will be kept back and used by the NHS Commissioning Board for, amongst other things, directly commissioning primary care and specialised services – and to create a system to  ‘oversee ’ the CCGs.

Mr Lansley also tackles the criticism he’s heard from some CCGs that the clinical senates (which he writes without capital letters) being set up in response to last summer’s re-think on the Bill, will not be able to ‘second-guess the decisions you take.’  He reassures the GPs that these ‘senates’ will only “advise both CCGs and the NHS Commissioning Board on clinical issues at a broad strategic level.”

There are two elements of the coalition government’s policies for the NHS in England that are not mentioned in Mr Lansley’s email.

First, there is no mention of the local authority-based Health and Wellbeing Boards (H&WBs).  These are supposed to be responsible for assessing the health needs of their whole area – rather than just the needs of the area covered by each CCG.

The policy in the coalition agreement was to elect people onto the PCTs to give, as the Lib Dems wanted, democratic legitimacy or accountability.  When Lansley suddenly decided to abolish PCTs, the Lib Dems needed to find some other way of getting their democratic legitimacy.  They chose the H&WBs.  But as the Bill’s is written only one elected councillor has to serve on each of these Boards (this may be increased by amendment in the House of Lords.)

However, this appeased the Lib Dems’ demands for democratic input. The precise role of the H&WBs and their place in the new hierarchy of quangos is still not clear.  It is well known that some councillors thought the H&WBs would allow them to commission NHS services.

Mr Lansley’s words of support for the CCGs make it quite clear the Boards will do no commissioning. And their omission from Mr Lansley’s email makes it unlikely they will ever be a threat to the ‘freedoms’ promised to GPs and their CCGs.

The other startling omission is that there is no mention at all of Mr Lansley’s mantra for patient power which featured so clearly in the White Paper that preceded the Bill: “No decision about me without me.” In the world of GP power that Mr Lansley portrays in his email, the role of the patient has disappeared.

This is almost certainly because some GPs in the CCGs had begun to see a nasty conflict of interests between what patients would want and what the GPs would want to commission.

In case GPs leading CCGs really were beginning to feel unloved, Mr Lansley has soothing words for them: “Your desire to improve services stands as testament to your dedication as public servants. In return, the Government will hold true our word to give you the powers and freedoms you need to deliver better services for patients.”

As one doctor expressed it to Marlborough News Online, some doctors feel they are being set up to take the blame when the money runs out for the NHS.  Will they then be seen as ‘dedicated public servants’?  Others believe there will be conflicts of interest with some GPs taking advantage of the reforms to bring more work into their surgeries, so earning themselves more money. Will they then be seen as ‘dedicated public servants’?

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A model of Marlborough’s past saved for the future

A friend discovered it in a garage in Devizes packed with historical antiques for sale.

And when Val Compton saw it she fell in love with an architectural model of a slice of Marlborough’s past and bought it.

Now the model has taken over the dining room table of her home in Kennet Place, but local activist Val is delighted to show off the vision of Hughenden Yard, off the High Street, she now owns.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she told Marlborough News Online. “It’s all to scale, the cars, the trees, the buildings, everything about it is perfect and virtually as it is today.

“I knew I had to rescue it because it was really something that belonged in Marlborough.”

The model is of the phase two development by Chartwell Heritage plc, carried out in 1987 to a design created by architects Corstophine and Wright, based in London and Warwick, and shows one or two elements that were not completed.

Val hates the idea of the model being lost again and leaving Marlborough again. So has persuaded Marlborough town council to buy it for £35 – the price she paid – so that it can be put on display at some time in the future.

 “There is the possibility of having a museum here one day, which is so, so needed,” she said. “If the town hall improvement project goes ahead, then this model would be ideal to have on display.”

And former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, who chairs the finance committee, agrees and is asking the council to endorse buying the iconic model.

“It’s stunning, a piece of Marlborough’s history,” he said. “We must have it.”


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Ideas pour in for boosting the future use of Marlborough’s railway path

A host of good ideas for the future came from members of the public who attended last week’s open meeting of the Friends of the Railway Path held the Calley Memorial Hall, Chiseldon, reports chairman Dick Millard.

The aim of the meeting was to discuss how the path could be made better and more enjoyable for users.  Some of those taking part were cyclists, some walkers and some were horse riders.

And all of them knew about and used the path.  

Among the many suggestions made were calls to:

1. Provide better signing, particularly through Chiseldon, and in Marlborough.

2. Develop better access for a variety of users, especially at the Marlborough end of the path.

3. Identify parking areas for horse boxes.

4. Give better views of the surrounding countryside while preserving the habitat value of hedges and  trees.

5. Make much more information available on the history of  the path and the landscape which it traverses.

6. Create more things to look at and do on the way.

The committee of the Friends of the Railway Path will now start to develop a plan for what to do, and start to find suitable sources of funding.

If you would like to suggest something, please contact the Friends of the Railway Path, either via their website at, or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Are Wiltshire hospital meals REALLY the most expensive?

On Wednesday morning (January 11) the Daily Telegraph’s front page, lead story was headlined: “Hospitals feed patients on 90p a meal, official figures show.”  The story was also given wide publicity as one of the morning paper front pages shown on the previous night’s ITV News at Ten.

The newspaper’s report – using figures from Andrew Lansley’s Department of Health – highlighted Wiltshire NHS as spending more on food and drink per patient per day than any other primary care trust. But was the report accurate?

Picking up the headline, the Telegraph said that “the lowest spender was Western Sussex Hospital Trust which was listed as paying £2.57 a day to feed each patient” – presumably that is where their 90p came from – rounded up for headline purposes from 86p. The Telegraph then wrote that “several other trusts spent less than £1 on each meal”.
Quite how that justified using ‘hospitals’ in the plural for the headline is not clear.  Nor is it clear why the headline used the present tense when the figures were for 2010-2011 – that’s up to the end of March 2011.
However, there is a major problem with the figures.  They were not collected to any standard formula.  This means that some of the costs quoted were for ingredients only and others included the costs of buying, storing, cooking and delivering the meals.
The Telegraph did approach Western Sussex hospitals who explained that their figure only covered ingredients.  If they had included “the total cost of sourcing, preparing, cooking and serving food and drink” their figure would have been about £8 per patient per day.
That was not enough to get the Telegraph to change their misleading headline.
The Telegraph also assumed that you can simply divide the daily cost by three to get a per meal cost. But breakfasts generally cost considerably less than the main meal of the day and suppers will cost a sum in between that for breakfast and the day’s main meal.
Apart from the figure for West Sussex, another figure caught the eye: Wiltshire NHS was spending £22.31 per day per patient – the highest.  This was computed including all the additional costs like cleaning the canteen and providing meals for visitors and the catering staff’s employment costs.
But even this figure has no relevance at all to the present situation.  Wiltshire NHS has not provided a single hospital meal since June 2011 when – on government instructions – its community hospitals were handed over to be run by the Great Western Hospitals Foundation Trust.  And GWH told Marlborough News Online that the current figure for its community hospitals – including Savernake Hospital – would be closer to £15 per patient per day for ingredients and preparation.
The £22.31 and £15 figures really only emphasise how very expensive it is to run small community hospitals spread across a huge county, when the large acute hospitals can buy ingredients and services in bulk and therefore so much more cheaply.
In the latest assessment of hospital food, GWH was rated as “excellent” and for the record the 2010-2011 figures showed GWH’s daily costs for food and drink per patient at £5.50.
Responding to the report, the director of the GWH department that provides food and drink, Mark Bagnall, said: “We put a lot of effort into providing patients with a choice of high quality, nutritious food and prepare almost 580,000 meals a year at the Great Western Hospital.  No one wants to be in hospital in the first place so it is important that patients receive the food they need to recover.”
And he emphasised the differences size made to the cost of meals: “With such a large number of meals being produced we can achieve large economies of scale which means we can produce good food at a lower cost than some smaller organisations and our current average spend per patient per day is around £6.00 - which is broadly in line with many other Trusts of this size.”
The figures, issued through the NHS Information Centre, appeared in an agency story (Press Association or PA) timed at 02.49 am on Wednesday morning (January 11).  But the Telegraph headline was shown on television at about 10.25 pm the previous evening. And the Telegraph’s journalist had had time to include extra research and comment.
So it seems likely the figures were leaked to the Telegraph well ahead of the PA story.  Both the Telegraph and PA stories included long quotes from the health minister, Simon Burns.
What’s the game?
A clue comes in the Telegraph’s own story: “Government sources said last night that concern about the poor state of nutrition in some hospitals had prompted David Cameron’s warning last week about declining basic standards of care in the NHS.”  So this, it appears, was designed to support the prime minister’s campaign.
Or perhaps this was an attempt to deflect attention away from health secretary Andrew Lansley’s problems over the faulty breast implants crisis.  This issue has forced him to criticise the private health sector – to which he is about to hand over large parts of the NHS.  And also means he has to extend regulation and its attendant bureaucracy.

Alternatively, this could simply be part of the coalition government’s longer term plan to destabilise the NHS and so make it easier to justify its costly reorganisation and the surreptitious moves toward privatisation.
The Department of Health has pointed out that the money hospitals are spending on food has gone up over the past five years.  The average per patient per day in 2005-2006 was £6.53 and in 2010-2011 it was £8.58 - which somewhat undermines the Telegraph's headline.
Marlborough News Online is making enquiries to find out why this information was published at this time and in such misleading form.

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Plans for a diamond-shaped orchard as a tribute to the Queen’s jubilee

A diamond-shaped orchard growing amid wild flowers in a spot with its own picnic area – that is the vision for the apple tree orchard being planned for Marlborough Common.

Details of the tribute to mark the anniversary of the Queen’s 60 years on the throne were given to Marlborough town council’s Amenities and Open Space Committee on Monday by Philippa Davenport, founder of the town’s Apple Day initiative.

But before it goes ahead the council is to consult with the Commons User Group on its proposals for an area some 30 by five metres near the site of the Marlborough Rugby Club, off Frees Avenue.

“We need to float the idea to get reactions,” said committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts, who pointed out that the apple trees will all be rare Wiltshire varieties.

And Philippa added that they would be half-standard trees so there would be no danger of people climbing them and possibly falling to the ground once they have grown.

There will also be another area of mixed fruit trees, including plums and pears. “And the fruit will be reachable to pick,” she said.

Councillor Peggy Dow declared: “Having a picnic area will be an ideal way of encouraging people to use this spot.”

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The future of publishing lies online

Three Wiltshire-based authors shared their publishing experiences at Marlborough Library to a crowd of would-be authors to celebrate National Libraries Day on Saturday.

The main message of this talk seemed to be that unless you are an established author or writing a series in a popular genre then expect little support from either agents or publishers.

Print publishing is in disarray, hard hit by the electronic format, and the main bookshops and online retailers push a few best sellers at the expense of other authors.

Self-publish an e-book, promote it on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (though don't let these sidetrack your writing) and then expect – and consider - a traditional publishing deal only when your sales hit 100,000 plus.

Mavis Cheek, who spoke alongside fellow writers Helen Slavin and James Aitcheson, gave a potted history of how she became a published author of some twenty-five years and fifteen books.

Most memorably she received her best advice when taken out by a publisher – to tell her why her first book would not be taken up. “It wouldn't happen over lunch today,” Mavis remarked.

Mavis became a writer after she fell pregnant and needed something to do that “made me a viable member of society” whilst she brought up her child, a situation mirrored by JK Rowling decades later.

A working class girl who had the right look for the 1960s arts vibe, Mavis spent over ten years working for an art publisher and then an eminent gallery before taking an arts degree.

Her first efforts at writing aimed for her to become the next Virginia Woolfe 'with no humour whatsoever,' however a publisher who recognised her underlying talent recommended that she write funny books.

And thus she become the 'Godmother of Chick Lit', a label she resists with a wry smile.

James Aitcheson, who was brought up and lives in Mildenhall, published his first book, Sworn Sword, in 2010, which he began writing whilst on a post-graduate creative writing course at Bath Spa University.

This is the first of a three book deal with Preface Publishing, the second instalment of which he is completing for release this September.

The series is set in England 1067, the aftermath of the Norman invasion, and is told from the point of view of Tancred, a Norman oath-sworn knight.

Trowbridge-based Helen Slavin began as a script writer, cutting her teeth on scriptwriting factories such as EastEnders and Holby City, before writing novels such as The Extra Large Medium and The Stopping Place.

Her fortunes in book publishing has been mixed as a 'mid-list' author; her first three novels were followed by a meeting with her publisher Pocket Books where 'I wasn't even bought a coffee'.

With Helen's suspicions raised, she was told that a book series – especially with a supernatural theme - was where it was at and what did she think?

Helen left the meeting having promised a three book series featuring a Swedish vampire detective. “I didn't like him,” she said, “And a troll ate him in the third chapter.”

So Helen decided to self-publish which is not the 'vanity' project it once was when the printed format was the only option.

In these days of the Kindle, smart phones and tablets, authors can easily convert their hard work into a self-distributing e-book format and promote the book themselves.

Whilst waiting for a response from her publisher regarding the first novel written after the beverage-free meeting, werewolf-themed Will You Know Me?, Helen has published this and her following two books online through Amazon.

The host, Marlborough Library, ended the event by announcing that in a few weeks time borrowers will be able to download books onto their e-readers, though not as yet to the Kindle due to compatibility issues.

Follow them on Twitter @wiltslibraries 

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Lansley’s NHS reorganisation Bill goes back into intensive care

On Wednesday (February 8) the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Bill reappears in the House of Lords for its report stage.  The government have tabled 136 amendments described as ‘concessions’ – but calls to stop the Bill are growing.

However, stopping the Bill is problematic.  Prior to parliamentary approval, the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley has driven ahead with changes which would be hard to reverse.

In our area, NHS Wiltshire (the primary care trust or PCT) is already being split into three Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) which are run mainly by GPs.  The North East Wiltshire CCG (or NEW) covers the area from Ramsbury to Corsham.

In other areas these CCGs are already (before they’ve been fully approved) setting budgets and commissioning health care. Doctors in Wiltshire took a little longer to decide how to divide the county up, but members of the three CCGs are now working with the PCT and executive directors of the PCT are assisting the CCGs with governance issues.

The PCT itself has made the 45 per cent savings in admin costs that Lansley demanded and from March 1 will be ‘clustered’ with the Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) PCT.  The regulations have been changed so these ‘clustered’ PCTs can merge their budgets – it’s not yet clear how far the Wiltshire-BANES ‘cluster’ will be a merger.
The merged or ‘clustered’ PCTs will only last till 31 March 2013.  They are not statutory bodies, but they could be taken to judicial review over decisions they take.

Further up the chain, the south west strategic health authority has already merged to become part of NHS South of England – stretching from Dover to the Isles of Scilly.

To get a new view of the coalition government’s reorganisation of the NHS, Marlborough News Online contacted Dr Huw Williams who was a partner in a Trowbridge surgery for twenty-nine years.  He retired two years ago and now works two or three days a week at the surgery mainly in its specialist cardiology unit which he helped set up.

As he is not part of a CCG Dr Williams can give his views on the Bill as an experienced yet  disinterested doctor.

Dr Williams’ main fear is that there is no evidence that the new system for commissioning will work: “I’m against GPs being given a lot of commissioning – I don’t think they’re any good at it. No one’s suggested getting train drivers to run a city’s transport system. Just because GPs are near to the patient it doesn’t mean they’re expert at commissioning services.  It’s a delusion.”

He looks back to the experiment of practice-based fundholding, when some doctors showed responsible corporatism while others proved very poor at controlling funds and some “rogue doctors” flourished: “Commissioning groups with a hundred GPs? No way they’re all going to agree – let alone behave in a sensible way.”

Dr Williams is worried by the “inevitable conflicts of interest” as many GPs will be providers of services at the same time as they commission services – whether it’s Dr Williams’ cardiology unit or a surgery that rents space to therapists.

One of the things he fears most is political interference: “Left to the politicians you’ll get examples of people misunderstanding the difference between needs and wants.  It’ll be decision-making by decibel – he who bangs the desk loudest gets results.”

However, he does think that part of the trouble the government now faces has come from the concessions Mr Lansley has made after his Bill was first paused for alterations and then savaged by the Lords.  It was “tokenism”, he says, to add one hospital doctor and one nurse onto each CCG: “What on earth is she or he going to be doing? It’s a bit of a dog’s dinner.”

However, Dr Williams says that once you’ve decided on a way to operate, “The more you dilute the less chance you have of getting people involved who can make a difference.”

Government ministers have dismissed the recent high decibel opposition from GPs – from both the doctors’ union, the BMA and from the Royal College of GPs.  They do not seem to realise that many of the concessions they make to the plans simply alienate GPs.

As Marlborough News Online has been reporting (see items in August 2011 and this month), GPs do not like the way the initial promise of power to commission has been eroded with more and more bodies and duties inserted into the system to look over their shoulders and monitor them.

On the other hand, as Dr Williams puts it, “patients’ expectations have been raised” by such promises as “No decision about me without me” which was at the heart of the White Paper and is being strengthened in government amendments to be debated this week in the House of Lords.

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Disability Living Allowance: a PERSONAL VIEW of government cuts

The coalition government are pushing through Parliament reforms to the Disability Living Allowance. They want to take 500,000 people off this benefit by 2015 and cut the costs of assisting the most seriously disabled by twenty per cent.
Max Preston is a freelance journalist who lives in Lockeridge.  A recent graduate of Leeds University’s broadcast journalism programme, he uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy and currently receives Disability Living Allowance. This is his personal view.

When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition took office in 2010, I – unlike a great many of my generation – held out some degree of hope.  Under Labour, dealing with the various implementing entities for disability-related policy had been an unnecessarily bureaucratic chore made all the worse by startlingly frequent passive aggression on the part of their administrators.

It is still beyond me as to quite why I – with a diagnosis of quadriplegic cerebral palsy (CP) confining me to a wheelchair for life – needed to check in with these people on at least a semi-annual basis to reassure them that I was, indeed, still profoundly disabled and really-rather-put-out-about-it. Having said that, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)  themselves have been – more often than not – courteous, helpful and disarmingly cognisant of how much of a pain-in-the-backside it is to have to deal with their paperwork.

After the election, I had hoped that the Lib Dems would provide a moderating influence on disability-related policy by offering a counterweight to Tory right-wingers, that efforts to cut back red tape would not be made merely for their own sake, and that David Cameron’s empathy thanks to his experiences with his own late son, Ivan (whose degree of CP was far more severe than mine), would win the day. Thus far, my optimism has not borne fruit.

Among other things, I use Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to fund a specially-adapted car which is driven for me to hospital appointments, grocery shopping excursions and – perhaps most importantly for a recent graduate – job interviews. In fact, it also pays for part of my food bills, as eating healthily (and therefore more expensively) is absolutely crucial for someone with as sedentary a lifestyle as mine.

Without DLA, I could not have gone to university and laid the foundations for what I hope will be a productive and fulfilling career in journalism. 

Whilst I understand that the government wishes to substantially reduce the number of people in receipt of this type of benefit, a far more sensible course was suggested in the House of Lords by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, formerly of Paralympic fame and now a steadfast crossbench advocate for the disabled.

In short, it was grossly irresponsible of peers to vote down her motion that DLA’s putative replacement – the Personal Independence Payment (or, unfortunately, PIP) – be extensively piloted before it is launched.

In its quest to make what are admittedly necessary cuts across many facets of British life, the government has lost sight of perhaps its most fundamental mandate, one to which every government is beholden: to take care of the most-vulnerable among us first. To invoke what is probably a well-worn cliché: this is not an issue of left-and-right, but of right-and-wrong.

People do abuse DLA, but this attempt to stamp out such wrongdoing appears to cut first and ask questions later, simply in order to appease the need for overall fiscal stability.

The coalition’s most fundamental mistake with regard to benefits policy precisely and dangerously mirrors that of recent Labour governments. Namely, there appears to be a presumption of guilt – that you’re trying to get one over on them – rather than innocence.

That mind-set starts from an unhelpful, even noxious place that makes staff unnecessarily hostile, gives recipients an unduly guilty conscience and renders politicians apathetic at best and cold-hearted at worst.

Admittedly, with a condition as severe as mine, one would like to believe that any reduction in my own benefits would be minimal. But having lost the support of even The Daily Mail on this issue, Messrs. Cameron and Clegg must pause to consider what they want their legacy to be.

They had an opportunity to take a commendable, non-partisan moral stand, just as they did alongside Joanna Lumley and the Ghurkhas, even as Gordon Brown refused to join them – and they have inexcusably failed to do so. Now, the DWP will have to screw up PIP before they can put it right, and hundreds of thousands of already disadvantaged people will find themselves even more marginalised and overburdened as a result.

It is worth remembering that while his premature death was undoubtedly a tragedy, Ivan Cameron was a child of privilege, and the support system that his parents rightly placed around him would have always ensured him the best-possible standard of care... because they could afford it.

The Prime Minister has, in the past, earnestly put himself forward as someone with first-hand experience of dealing with the travails of disability. As it stands, however, he has entirely abrogated the responsibility due to his own son’s memory - and he should be ashamed.

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Marlborough’s only bookshop faces a challenging future after Christmas success

1325863256 small1325863256 smallMore than a million kindles may have been sold over Christmas, but Marlborough’s White Horse bookshop still beat all expectations and came up trumps with sales, especially of local books.

However, owner Michael Pooley recognises that all independent bookshops face a challenging future, revealing: “Our worry is that ebooks are eroding the business all the time.”

“It is very difficult to see how independent bookshops can get involved selling ebooks.  Publishers are thinking of various ways but I fear it is not the way ahead for us.”

“I don’t know if 2012 is going to be a make or break year but it is going to be an extremely difficult one.  And some independent bookshops will undoubtedly disappear.”

White Horse has had a good year in general, sales boosted in particular by the second Marlborough Literary Festival in September.  “We have done much better than we expected,” Mr Pooley told Marlborough News Online.

And to an extent the bookshop, which he has owned since 1973, is protected because it owns the freehold of the premises.

“The main problem is that part of the business we are in of selling books is now being done cheaper elsewhere,” he pointed out.  “And it is not Amazon that is to blame.  They are more interested in selling pet food and other things.”

The failure of online Amazon to ensure deliveries of book orders did, however, play a part in the White Horse bookshop’s success.  So too the fact that there was a full week’s trading in the run up to Christmas Day.

The dangers ahead lie in whether major chain stores like Waterstones can survive the exploding sale of ebooks.  “They are under threat,” he said.

“So it is going to be very interesting to see their results because they are very much in the same market as us.”

Local books that sold well included Roger Day’s Look, Duck & Vanish, a history of 6th Marlborough Battalion of the Wiltshire Home Guard and a history of the Free Family in Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Valley by Martin Crook with Jan Free.

PD James won the race when it came to fiction.  But because there was a good spread of fiction available, no one single title sold out, which was very much the same for a wide range of cookery books, basic titles like River Cottage Veg selling well along with Heston Blumenthal.

“Customers don’t come in here and inquire about ebooks,” he added. “That is what is so strange, but it is also why I don’t really think we can get involved selling them.”

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