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EXCLUSIVE: The new NHS goes for bigger – will it be better?

The first details of how the proposed major – and highly controversial – changes to the NHS planned by the coalition government will affect this area have been revealed to Marlborough News Online in an exclusive interview with Dr Jonathan Glover of the Marlborough Medical Practice.

He says doctors in our region are being encouraged to set up a consortium covering most of East Kennet and North Wiltshire – on a ‘bigger the better’ basis. It will have a budget from NHS headquarters to commission hospital services and other treatments for at least 180,000 people.

The Wiltshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) which it is partly replacing, covers about 455,000 people.

This is despite the clear aim in the government’s health White Paper to bring the NHS closer to patients with “local consortia”. The slogan was to ensure the reorganisation put “patients at the heart of the NHS.”

Dr Glover is somewhat disappointed the consortium will be so large.

Dr Glover said his colleagues were told they had to go along with the plans to become commissioners for the NHS. These are not yet law, but they are continuing their planning even though the Bill’s progress through parliament was ‘paused’ by the prime minister so doubts can be heard.

No one knows if after this ‘pause’ major changes will be made to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s scheme. But Dr Glover expects people other than GPs to be drafted onto the consortia - councillors, other health care professionals or patients.

As yet there’s no mechanism for GPs to consult patients on the changes which include greater access to NHS funds by private companies. The fear expressed by many health professionals and politicians is that this is backdoor privatisation of the NHS.

In Dr Glover’s view this part of Lansley’s plan “needs reining in a little bit.”

Dr Glover also revealed that part of the costs of setting up the consortium will be met by a payment from central funds of £2 per patient. In addition some savings GPs are currently being required to make will pay for start-up admin costs.

Before the consortia take over the budgets from PCTs (scheduled for April 2013) they will have to have staff in place and find a headquarters. Some staff will come from GPs and their existing support staff, others will come from the PCTs.

On Savernake Hospital, Dr Glover confirms that no one knows yet what its future will be, but he and his practice colleagues want to see greater use made of it. He adds: “I don’t think we’re going to be given the free rein to run Savernake.”

Read the full interview with Dr Glover in Marlborough News Online – Features.

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Double joy for steam fans

Steam buffs gathered along the Bristol to London Paddington rail line on Easter Sunday to watch a former Great Western Railway express locomotive pass through the Marlborough area.

The Great Britain IV was pulled by various locomotives through Scotland, Wales and the west country as part of a nine-day tour of the UK.

It's final leg, from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington, saw it pulled by the 5029 Nunney Castle.

The Nunney Castle has a strong local heritage. It was built at the Swindon Works in 1934. When it retired from service in 1964 it became the last last steam loco delivered to Barry Scrapyard by rail. It was rescued in 1976 by the Great Western Society at Didcot.

It passed through the Marlborough area at lunchtime on Sunday, and was captured by our photographer at a local steam landmark – Crofton Beam Engines – which were pumping for the first time this year.

The beam engines, one of which is the oldest working beam engine in the world, will be in steam this coming weekend – April 30 to May 2 – too.

Both the 1812 Boulton and Watt and the 1846 Harvey engine are in working condition, and are steamed publicly on several weekends through the summer months from a coal-fired Lancashire boiler.

When the pumping station is in steam, it actually carries out the job for which it was built. The electrically powered pumps that now normally do the job are switched off.

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Dancing kites fly the Easter message of freedom

For a faith based upon Resurrection, it is a striking irony that it is Crucifixion that Christian artists, sculptors and poets have found easier to portray.  The hymns and paintings which contribute to worship on Good Friday out number those whose subject is Easter Day.

We should not be surprised by this, however.  The Cross is rooted in human experience, whilst Resurrection is always ahead of us and images of suffering are more concrete than those of joy and new beginnings.

The Church has long been aware of this challenge and one of the first ways it gave expression to the Easter hope was to worship facing east - facing that is the rising sun and the new day.

Churches of course are built on an East-West axis and on Easter morning many Christians gather for a sunrise service.  Marlborough Churches Together start their Easter celebrations at 5.30am on Martinsell Hill when we greet the risen Jesus as the sun rises.  Watching the sun rise is a simple but powerful symbol of the new life and possibility that Easter represents.

In the morning we then worship in our different church buildings.

The outdoor theme is continued at the end of the day when we congregate on the College Playing Fields (access off Leaze Road) at 4.00pm to fly kites.  In certain parts of the world, notably the Caribbean, kites are flown as a symbol of the Resurrection and here in Marlborough we like to do the same.

The kites dancing in the sky speak of freedom and spontaneity, borne aloft by an invisible wind which powers their every movement.  The fact that we fly them next to the Town Cemetery gives an additional edge to celebration!

The rising sun and the dancing kites - two symbols of the hope and possibility that Easter represents, two ways of giving expression to the God who is always ahead of us.

Do join us at any or all of these celebrations!

Andrew Studdert-Kennedy

Rector of St. Mary's Church

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We’re being consulted about the future of the Marlborough area

The map of local responsibilities is changing under the coalition government’s legislation. At community level the Marlborough Area Board is commissioning a new plan for the whole Marlborough area.

This work is being done by the Marlborough Area Development Trust (MADT) and consultations with the public have begun. The plan will become part of the government’s localism and ‘Big Society’ strategies and feed into Wiltshire Council’s wider plan.

The new plan replaces the one published in 2004 that was supposed to run till 2014. But it had no proper way to measure results or anyone to monitor whether it was being effective.

MADT chairman, Martin Cook, describes the new plan as “a document that details the concerns, aspirations and priorities of everybody who lives in the community area.”

It must also take notice of those who come into the area to work, and of concerns that cross through the area – such as transport links, rivers and wider organisations.

The plan will not authorise policies or projects. It is advisory.

But Martin Cook stresses it is essential that people in our area do express their priorities so those higher up the chain of government, right up to Whitehall, can act on them and finance them. If an issue is not logged in the plan as a priority it may well be ignored and be denied the necessary resources.

However, it’s as well to note that this is not a ‘planning permission’ exercise. It will not decide where new housing or new roads will be. It’s not about someone’s plans to build a garage too close to your kitchen window. It is about overall priorities.

If you think Marlborough is big enough and needs no more housing – say so. If you think it needs a rail link – say so.

Martin Cook is passionate about the consultation process. Originally a farmer in south-west Australia, he’s taught at St John’s for twenty years and is now the school’s Director of Logistics. He not only knows the area very well indeed, he teaches geography so he’s well versed in the problems of rural communities.

The consultation’s main feature is its on-line survey The site is now live. By using it your priorities are taken into account just as you enter them – without interference from anyone else.

You just log in with your name and e-mail address (the site is absolutely secure.) There are paper surveys available – from the library. And there will be three consultation meetings – at St John’s School, in Aldbourne and in Lockeridge. (See Marlborough News Online What’s On section for details.)

It is expected the plan will be published by the end of January 2012.

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Inflation busting price rises at Marlborough Leisure Centre

If you were tempted to smile – even faintly – at news that the nation’s inflation rate went down in March to 4% from February’s 4.4% rise, new price increases at Marlborough Leisure Centre might wipe that smile away.

Among the price rises, the members’ rate for a 45-minute fitness class went up this month by 20.5% - from £4.15 to £5.00. For non-members the price rise was a mere 7.5%.

Members will now be paying £3.50 for a 45-minute ‘Easy Line’ fitness session – that’s a rise of 29.5%. And non-members will now pay £4.10 – a rise of nearly 8%.

But at least the cost of the centre’s popular pay-as-you-go membership card remains fixed at £11 a year for adults and £5.50 for juniors.

A Wiltshire Council spokesperson told Marlboroughnewsonline:

“The council is in the process of standardising prices across all council-run leisure centres so charges are fair and consistent and reflect the cost of providing the facilities.”

“In order to align fees the price of some activities have increased slightly more than others but across the board they remain very competitive. Substantial discounts are still available at centres through the Leisure Card scheme.”

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Let’s take politics out of education demands Tory MP Claire Perry

Praise for today’s much maligned teachers has come from Tory MP Claire Perry – and with it a surprising plea for politics to be taken out of education.

Speaking at a conference held at Marlborough College, aimed at making the town a “leading international hotbed of learning by 2020”, Mrs Perry stepped out of party political lines when she referred to a conference suggestion that education should be taken out of political control.

“I don’t know if I have said that but I really agree with that,” she told an audience of 90 attending the Project Excalibur conference. “We have had far too much political manipulation of the education system, and indeed the NHS but that’s another story, where politicians think that they know better than teachers and education professionals.”

“I don’t think there should be a free-for-all but I think this notion of a scenario-planning session for what works for us -- not for what the government thinks works for us -- is incredibly important.”

“Also actively going out and trying to make these changes now rather than being told what to do in five or ten year’s time.”

She added: “I believe this conference is the first example of this sort of project in the country and I am so excited about it.”

“I have written to Michael Gove (the Education Secretary) because I think all schools should be doing this.”

“Clusters of schools should be coming together to do this. I think it is hugely, hugely valuable. I think it’s just front and centre of this change in attitude towards education and the role of education that our Government is trying to achieve.”

Mrs Perry, who went to a comprehensive school before becoming the first member of her family to go to university, and then on to Harvard Business School, praised the last Labour government for creating school academies.

“They just didn’t seem to have the political will to go far enough and I think we have got that and we are so supportive as a Government of what is actually happening here today,” she pointed out.

She posed the question - What is it that we want? for the audience, which included representatives of all Marlborough’s schools, plus the feeder schools that send pupils to St John’s Comprehensive, where she is a school governor.

And she answered: “Well I think we want...the education and learning...lives and again one of the quotes which may not be up here is the fact that learning should be exciting for the whole of your life.”

“If you are taught properly, if you are given a thirst for knowledge it is something that never leaves you and that is clearly an incredibly important thing to do.”

“But secondly we want an education to be a sort of an engine of social mobility through building skills and aptitudes from receptiveness towards new experiences and that sounds very mechanical.”

“I also wouldn’t want to suggest that social mobility is just entirely defined by money but giving the child who has never had the experience of playing a musical instrument or never read book or never seen a play.”

“All of those, the richness of that experience – I think that is part of social mobility as well and clearly we want our education system to do that.”

Mrs Perry, whose own children go to boarding school, totally supported the government’s vision to allow funding to follow the pupil as an “important part of opening up the landscape of school with extra support for the disadvantaged.”

It was part of a vision “where teaching is the most valuable professions,” she said. “I personally feel we have undervalued our teachers, we have accepted poor performance in our teaching profession in a way that we wouldn’t accept it in other professions.”

“We have not reached out enough to people who could be fantastic teachers but perhaps have not gone through the traditional route which is why things like TeachFirst and Troops into Teachers I think are incredibly important initiatives.”

“Again, it (politics) is the hardest thing I have ever done, I think it takes a certain sort of person to do it. And if we can get the teaching right, we can achieve so much.”

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No fuss, no fanfares as the million pound Pewsey Road bridge opens at last

No fanfares, no flags, no fun, no welcoming speeches of delight.

Marlborough’s new million pound Pewsey Road bridge, the bane of business and residents’ lives since May last year when traffic chaos hit the town, finally opened yesterday (Thursday) lunchtime.

More than 100 traders were emailed by the Chamber of Commerce and invited to be there at 8am when a BBC radio team was due to be present to record the occasion – and people’s reactions to a controversial scheme shopkeepers claimed to cost at least £200,000 a week.

Nick Fogg, former Marlborough mayor and a member of Wiltshire Council, which paid for the project, was there to welcome cars cross the River Kennet two-way once again and give it his local government blessing.

But he was politely told that the opening had been delayed – until 6pm.

Yet, when a reporter and photographer from Marlborough News Online returned 10 hours later, they again found the bridge deserted – because it had already quietly opened at lunch time  and traffic was running smoothly.

Perhaps Wiltshire didn’t want to make a fuss given all the ill-will the replacement project created.  It was carried out by contractors Osborne after the old bridge, built circa 1925, had been assessed as sub-standard because the steel reinforcement within its concrete frame had rusted badly.

Traders declared that the economic impact of the road’s closure had never been considered by Wiltshire Council, which said they could claim a reduction in their business rates, a fact that proved untrue.

And nobody had the nerve to challenge the council in court with a claim for compensation.

But, as Mr Fogg declared: “The council’s down in Trowbridge and to them this is some insignificant bridge in an obscure part of the county – and it’s been a bit of an embarrassment to them.

“They obviously didn’t want any more publicity. For them, it’s been something of a bridge too far.”

Meanwhile, we can reveal that this is not the first time that the Pewsey Road bridge has been the centre of..........

Dr Peter Davison, the celebrated George Orwell guru who lives in Marlborough, tells us:

“After almost a year of diversions, disturbance, and loss of trade to Marlborough, it looks as if Pewsey Road bridge is almost finished – at heaven knows what cost".

“It so happens that I am at this time reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, published last year.  His first chapter starts with an interesting story that makes a striking comparison with the bridge saga.  ‘In the autumn of 1850, in Hyde Park in London, there arose a most extraordinary structure’.  It covered nineteen acres and had ‘enough room for four St Paul’s Cathedrals’ and there was an avenue of full-grown elms within it".  

“At the time it was the biggest building on earth, so a mite larger and more imposing than Pewsey Road Bridge.  This was the Palace of the Great Exhibition, opened in 1851.  It was 1,851 feet in length, so celebarating the year of the opening of the Exhibition, 408 feet across and some 110 feet in height".

“It required nearly 300,000 panes of glass and its final cost was £80,000 – something like £4,500,000 in today’s inflated currency.  Punch dubbed it ‘The Crystal Palace’ and the name stuck".

“The exhibition ran for only six months and then the whole structure was taken down and rebuilt in a different configuration in south London, near Penge.  I am old enough to have seen it burn down in 1936 but, of course, the name given it by Punch has survived for that part of London and a football team.”

Dr Davison adds: “I don’t know what will be the cost of Pewsey Road bridge but at least in one important respect, in addition to its size and magnificence, the Crystal Palace can beat the building of the new bridge hands down".

“According to Mr Bryson, ‘It had taken just five months to build’”.

Wiltshire Council has never revealed in any of its progress and press reports on the bridge project actually how much it is costing – and whether delays have caused any additional fees.

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That bridge opens at last but Marlborough still faces traffic chaos

With the new Pewsey Road bridge about to be opened after months of traffic chaos, Marlborough is to be hit by further turmoil as other road works are about to take place.

Traders who have complained bitterly about the loss of business, especially in the run up to Christmas, are now to face traffic queues again as new gas main work restarts on the London Road and roundabout improvements also take place.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says the mayor, Councillor Andy Ross. “We thought we had just got our roads back. Now the euphoria of having a new Pewsey Road bridge open to traffic at last has been dissipated."

“But it may well be a case where we should grin and bear it until it is all over, rather than seek further delays.”

Traders were specifically told six weeks ago by Dick Tonge, Wiltshire Council’s transport spokesman, that there were no further roads works in the pipeline.

But then the Traffic and Network Planning Department announced that gas main work in London Road and Salisbury Road, deliberately delayed when work on the new bridge began, will be resumed on May 3 and continue until May 30.

During the first weekend – and possibly others – a one-way order will operate on the eastern end of George Lane, allowing traffic to travel only westbound between Salisbury Road and Culvermead Close. This is because excavations at the mouth of George Lane to connect up the new gas mains.

And it revealed too that this would be followed by resurfacing and traffic island works at the A4/A346 mini roundabouts in Barn Street on June 6 and last for two to three weeks. This is part of the planning gain obtained when Tesco was given permission for its new out of town supermarket – and is being paid for by the store.

The “good and bad news” was revealed to members of Marlborough Town Council’s planning committee on Monday by its chairman, mayor-elect Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson.

“Unfortunately it is something Wiltshire Council can do nothing about as it has no control over the major utilities and when they carry out their works,” he explained.

An attempt to delay the works, which will clash with the freedom of the town being given to No 4 Military Intelligence Battalion in June, is to be made by town clerk Liam Costello, but there is a more general feeling that it is best for all outstanding works to be completed as soon as possible.

Councillor Nick Fogg, who is also a Wiltshire councillor, pointed out that that BT, gas and electricity companies, in this case the Wales & West Utilities, were given carte blanche by the last government to carry out essential works according to their own timetable, something necessary in cases of emergency but not always at other times.

Wiltshire Council has consulted other local authorities and is making representations to current coalition transport minister.

“Perhaps we should suffer all the pain in one go,” Mr Fogg told Marlborough News Online. “The problem is that everyone suffers because we have a two-way cross traffic system in the town, and if one route is closed or reduced then congestion becomes chaotic.  Perhaps it is better to get it all over with.”

One trader protested: “There is evidence that Wiltshire Council gave no consideration to the economic effects of the Pewsey Road bridge replacement in the first place. We ought to seek some form of compensation.”

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The cuts and Marlborough’s library – first the good news

The good news is that despite heavy cuts to Wiltshire Council’s budget, none of the county’s thirty-one libraries will be closed and none of its five mobile libraries taken off the road.

The not so good news is that it’s planned to cut the opening hours for Marlborough’s library from 42.5 hours per week to thirty-three hours – a reduction of 22 %. There will be late opening until 7 pm on two nights a week and Saturday opening will be restricted to 9.30 am-1 pm.

The cut in Marlborough library’s opening hours is the fourth biggest among Wiltshire’s 21 larger libraries.

In the last financial year Wiltshire’s library service made cuts of 16% largely through lower administration costs and losing some senior staff. But the council’s head of library services, Joan Davis, told the Marlborough Area Board that further cuts needed this year and next (12% more) could not be made “without affecting frontline services at all.”

There will be a substantial cut in the county’s book buying budget – down from £856,000 a year to £707,000. That’s a reduction of 17.5% even though focus groups on people’s priorities for their library made it plain that “continued investment in the book stock was absolutely essential.”

The plan calls for Wiltshire’s ten smallest libraries – including Aldbourne and Ramsbury – to be run by community volunteers with limited help from trained staff. But the aim is to open these libraries for a minimum of just three hours a week.

However, villagers in Aldbourne have decided they don’t want to lose their librarian and will raise the necessary funds through council tax. This should cost the average council tax payer in Aldbourne about £7 extra each year.

So far 400 volunteers have come forward for these small libraries and training will begin soon.

Ms Davis said the use of volunteers to extend opening hours in Marlborough could not be considered at the moment.

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Great Western Hospital takes over Savernake Hospital

It looks as though the government’s reorganisation of the NHS will not mean that Savernake Hospital’s minor injuries unit will be reopening in the near future.

The primary care trust’s decision to close the unit was taken to judicial review at the High Court by local activists. But their attempt to reverse the closure was unsuccessful.

The coalition’s NHS legislation has been taken off the parliamentary timetable for some surgery – whether it’s minor or major surgery remains to be seen. But already major changes are underway to the way our local health services are run.

From 1 June responsibility for Wiltshire’s community health services will move from the primary care trust to Great Western Hospitals. And for now their contract is still drawn up and funded by the primary care trust – known as NHS Wiltshire.

The £80million a year contract will see GWH running community health care for 433,000 people across Wiltshire and into parts of the Bath and North East Somerset health region. Two thousand staff are being transferred to GWH’s payroll.

The services GWH will be providing include maternity services in most of the county (some 9,000 births a year), services for children and young people, prison health, community dental services and general medical inpatient services at three community hospitals – including Savernake.

However, GWH’s head of business development, Helen Bourner, told this week’s Marlborough Area Board meeting that reopening Savernake’s minor injuries unit was not within their contract.

“We are certainly looking at Savernake and how we can use it differently, but I would put on a caveat – that does not at this stage include re-opening the minor injuries unit.”

When the current legislation has finally become law, NHS Wiltshire may still give way to a consortium of local GPs. It would then for them to make the commissioning decision on Savernake’s minor injuries unit – and to fund it.

These changes are taking place amidst great uncertainty as rules and guidance from the Department of Health change and develop. Assuming their contract passes the regulator, GWH will have access to Savernake from 1 June.

But GWH will not be taking over the public finance initiative that provided the funding to build the new Savernake Hospital. That remains – for now – with NHS Wiltshire. But, as Helen Bourner explained, “that may change.”

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No unique parade for three global mayors of Marlborough

A unique event – the simultaneous arrival in Marlborough of the mayors of Marlborough, New Zealand, and Marlborough, Massachusetts,  is not to happen after all.

The idea of a triumvirate of Marlborough mayors going on parade was the idea of Councillor Andy Ross, whose year of office ends next month, following his own civic visit to Massachusetts and the visit of former mayor Nick Fogg to New Zealand during his year in office.

He had initially invited Alistair Sowman to fly from New Zealand to attend mayor-making ceremony in Marlborough on May 9 and/or attend to freedom ceremony being staged in June for the No 4 Military Intelligence Battalion.

And it was to that event that he suggested Nancy Stevens, the American mayor, might also like to attend, bringing all three mayors of Marlborough together at the same time.

But Mayor Sowman has had to decline the first invitation as it clashes with her own council’s budget-setting session. And both he and Mayor Stevens are unable to make the second trip unless it is linked to some economic activity that helps their local industries.

“If there was something like a wine festival where Alistair could promote Marlborough wines, then that would justify the cost,” explained Councillor Ross. “And the same consideration is needed too for Nancy in America.

“Nancy is an absolutely charming person and it would have been an enormous pleasure to welcome her here in Marlborough, but today’s economics have to come first.”

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  • 4MI-2013-11-28 030
  • Mop-Fair---10-10-09------08
  • D4S9273
  • Big-Bull
  • IMG 9097-2
  • D812668
  • Sunset2
  • TdB-Pewsey 044
  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters-2
  • Bluebells-in-West-Woods-10-05-09------30
  • Civic Selfie1
  • IMG 8472-2
  • Jazz Fest Sat 572
  • Hares 017cropped
  • ARK Manton -2012-01-14 49-
  • Christmas-Lights 15-11-20 097
  • MYFC 005
  • Xmas-Lights-2011-11-24 10
  • Duke-of-Kent 086
  • Camilla-2012-10-19 152
  • D4S0472
  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-2
  • Landscape
  • Torch-2012-05-23 093-
  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07-2