The issue of Savernake Hospital’s future and the burden of its Private Finance Initiative (PFI) payments was back on the floor of the House of Commons this week – in oral questions and in a written question about PFIs in general by Devizes MP Claire Perry.
In his answer to Mrs Perry the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said that ‘much’ of the Labour government’s hospital building programme using PFIs ‘was unaffordable and poor value for money.’ Though it was not clear whether he would apply the ‘unaffordable’ or the ‘poor value for money’ to the rebuilding and extension of Savernake Hospital.
Mr Lansley said a Treasury review of the PFI system had found ways to save ‘up to five per cent’ on annual payments for future PFI projects.
During a series of oral questions to Mr Lansley, four conservative MPs asked what could be done to help trust hospitals in their constituencies which were suffering under heavy PFI charges.
Then Mrs Perry wanted to know what the Health Secretary will do to help smaller hospitals which house ‘vital local services’: “In addition to struggling hospital trusts, many, many community hospitals throughout the country, such as Savernake Hospital near Marlborough, are also labouring under the burden of an enormous PFI contract and having the indignity of vital local services hollowed out under that lot’s leadership on the Labour benches.”
Mr Lansley told her that he and his ministers were sympathetic to her concerns and went on: “By devolving commissioning responsibilities to clinical commissioning groups [CCGs], I expect the local clinical leadership, understanding fully the contribution that community hospitals can make, to be supportive of that in their commissioning intentions in her constituency and others.”
After this exchange Mrs Perry tweeted: “Sec of state answer to my Q- no more money for struggling pfi hospitals like Savernake but they will be supported by local commissioning.”
But will they? Will the new GP-led CCGs which are taking over from the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), be able - with ever tighter budgets - to make better and more local use of community hospitals like Savernake?
In an interview with Marlborough News Online, Jeff James, the Chief Executive of NHS Wiltshire (the county’s PCT), pointed out that CCGs are intent on bringing more testing and treatment into their surgeries – offering the localised service Lansley’s Health White Paper promised and saving GPs and the NHS money.
“With diagnostic technology becoming cheaper and more reliable, and investigative technology more available, out-patient clinics in hospitals will be undermined.”
And Mr James cited a presentation this week to NHS Wiltshire’s Stakeholder Assembly by Dr Jonathan Rayner who is a GP in Ramsbury and a leader of the CCG (known as NEW for North East Wiltshire) that will serve the Marlborough area.
Dr Rayner explained how diagnosing skin problems had been brought into the surgery – with the latest equipment, training and a visiting specialist. This saved patients long and frequent journeys to Great Western Hospital or Savernake, enabled doctors to be better equipped and trained, and saved money for the NHS, for doctors and for the patients.
And who, when Mr Lansley’s complex restructuring is complete, will pay Savernake’s PFI charges? In other words, who will own Savernake once the PCT is dissolved?
Mr James said he did not think a CCG would be given ownership of a PFI-based hospital. The cost and the complex accounting regime they require would put a disproportionate burden on them and skew their commissioning decisions.
The Department of Health is still wrestling with the problem and Savernake might end up being ‘owned’ by the NHS Commissioning Board (a new nation-wide quango that is being established over the next eighteenth months) or by an existing body, like NHS Estates which looks after parts of the health service’s complicated property portfolio.
The full interview with Jeff James will be on Marlborough News Online as soon as possible.
When the unemployment figures were published last week the headlines picked out the soaring increase in youth unemployment across the nation. In the last quarter (July to September) there were 1,090,000 young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four claiming job seekers allowance.
That was a rise of 67,000 on the previous quarter and a rise 112,000 compared to the same quarter last year. One in five young people is now out of work. The total number and the rate of unemployment – 21.9 per cent – is the highest since these figures were first collected in their current form in 1992.
Few commentators noticed another statistic: during the last quarter (July to September) 43,000 women lost their jobs bringing the total number of women claiming job seekers allowance to 1,090,000 – the highest that figure has been since 1988.
Taking all the age and gender groups together, unemployment in the constituency rose in October 2011 by fourteen-point-five per cent against October last year.
A few days after the national statistics, the unemployment rates for each constituency are published. These do not break the total figures down by gender. But they do give a picture of youth unemployment in the Devizes constituency.
Although the total numbers may not look big, it’s not a pretty picture. In October last year the number of unemployed youth fell by 39.7 per cent. In October 2011 it rose by 43.2 per cent.
This huge jump will partly be explained by the coalition government’s actions: fewer people are going to university because of the rise in tuition fees and fewer are going to colleges because the Education Maintenance Allowance has been abandoned. And when young people choose to go to work rather than continue in education, they find suitable jobs are not there.
But this increase is not unique to the figures for October 2011. The annual increase – that’s the 2011 level compared to the same month in 2010 – in those aged twenty-four and under who are claiming job seekers allowance has risen sharply for several months:
-- July 2011 showed an increase of 5.8 per cent over July 2010.
-- August 2011 showed an increase of 10.9 per cent over August 2010.
-- September 2011 showed an increase of 23.1 per cent over September2010. And now we get October 2011 showing an increase of 43.2 per cent over October 2010.
However, the actual numbers affected within the constituency are still small: 315 people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four were claiming benefit in October 2011. Numbers alone do not tell the stories of those who cannot find work.
Coinciding with the publication of the unemployment figures, Devizes MP, Claire Perry, issued a statement welcoming “the creation of almost 2,000 apprenticeships” within the constituency.
During the 2010-2011 academic year “1,840 apprenticeships were delivered in the Devizes constituency” – an increase of 16 per cent on the previous academic year. It is, however, not quite clear what now constitutes an apprenticeship.
Mrs Perry said: “This is great news for the businesses and young people in the Devizes constituency. Nationally, a record rise in apprenticeship numbers, particularly in Advanced ‘A’ level equivalent qualifications shows the Government’s commitment to helping employers train the skilled workers they need to build a stronger economy and sustainable growth.”
And the Skills Minister, John Hayes, shed a little more light on the matter when he said the government aims to “help young people who currently lack basic skills make the grade for an apprenticeship, our Access to Apprenticeships programme will provide 10,000 work experience and training opportunities every year.”
More than 100 fish including brown trout and grayling were rescued from the River Kennet at Manton, near Marlborough, on Thursday.
The main pic shows Environment Agency Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley transferring a brown trout to a flowing section of the Kennet
Responding to a report by a member of the public, Environment Agency Fisheries Officers successfully netted the fish from isolated pools in a section of the river that had dried up as a result of the exceptionally low rainfall.
Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley told Marlborough News Online: “This is the first time we're carried out this type of operation so late in the year. Fortunately we were able to transfer the fish downstream to a location with a secure flow of water.”
The Environment Agency is collaborating with Action for the River Kennet (ARK) and local river keepers to protect fish stocks in the upper Kennet during the danger moments created by low flows of water, which is also piped to Marlborough households.
“We are currently in contact with British Waterways regarding a potential water quality issue in the canal around Bedwyn,” added Officer Horsley.
Environment Agency Fisheries Officers Andy Killingbeck and Dan Horsley netting fish trapped in pools
Environment Agency Fisheries Office Dan Horsley transfers a brown trout to a transport tank
The dry bed of the River Kennet at Manton
A dead grayling
Environment Agency Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley and riverkeeper John Hounslow transfer rescued fish to a flowing section of the Kennet
Fisheries Officer Adam Hilliard recovers a dead grayling
Environment Agency Fisheries Officer Dan Horsley transfers a brown trout to a flowing section of the Kennet
One of the young brown trout saved by the Environment Agency Fisheries Officers
Memories of an unknown lad who became his lodger in London will be revived for Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, when the internationally renowned concert pianist Andreas Boyde comes to town at the end of the month.
Andreas is to give a charity concert recital at St Peter’s Church – and a piano workshop at St John’s School – at the end of the month to raise funds for the mayor’s two charities, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance and the Helen & Douglas House children’s hospice.
As a child in East Germany, Andreas he went to a school for the musically super-talented and played the piano for the likes of the East German Communist boss Erich Honecker when he visited Dresden.
Just before the Berlin Wall came down, Andreas won a British Council scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. And that’s when he linked with the mayor, a student seeking somewhere to live.
“We lived in Islington close to Highbury football stadium and used to take lodgers from the Guildhall -- they provided a very civilised class of lodger,” recalled the mayor.
“So it was that Andreas came to live with us on the fifth floor for several years, while he studied with the quite famous, but now dead, Jimmy Gibb.”
“After about a week we had to ask him not to practice on our 100 year old Broadwood grand -- a soloist expecting to be heard at the back of a concert hall is a bit fierce on an old piano -- and he went to the practice rooms at the Steinway Hall and a proper Steinway piano.”
Andreas, now 34, is an established as a major international concert pianist, playing all around Europe, North and South America and the Far East. “But we have always kept in touch and now I am delighted he is coming to Marlborough to boost my charities,” added the mayor.
He will be at St John’s for a one-hour piano workshop for students on November 24 and the following evening will be offering a programme of Brahms, Haydn, Liszt and Robert Schumann at St Peter’s Church.
Tickets for the 7.30pm concert costing £5, including a glass of wine, can be obtained at Sound Knowledge and the White Horse Bookshop.
A major four-day consultation exercise is to be launched on Monday to give Marlborough residents a chance to express their views on continuing plans to revamp the historic town hall.
The aim is to seek support for the council’s project to make improvements that will enable better use to be made of the building, in particular providing better value for money for local council taxpayers.
And it is being carried out against a backdrop of controversial claims that the council wants to dump the million pound plus cost on local residents, which have been proved to be totally fallacious.
More than £250,000 in grants and donations have enabled the council to carry out already highly visible improvements to the town hall entrance and in particular to the assembly hall, now fitted with big screen and sound facilities first used at the time of the Royal Wedding in April.
And the improvements will be staged over time, as and when the finance, partly through low interest Public Loan Board finance now extensively used by Wiltshire Council and town councils throughout the county, becomes available.
As from Monday, residents will now have their chance to see in detail plans of the proposed further changes, bringing into action former unusable areas, to make their own suggestions -- and to give their views on the project.
Councillor Guy Loosmore, chairman of the council’s Property Committee, which has masterminded the plan, told Marlborough News Online: "This is an exciting proposal to transform the use of the building into a living, breathing focal point for the community.”
“And at the same time we want Marlborough town council’s activities to be open seven days a week while at the same time maintaining the heritage of this iconic landmark.”
“We hope that many people will come in to see our proposals and respond to the consultation. This plan is about turning the building into one that is fit for the future of this town”
The consultation event will be held in the town hall over four days from Monday to Thursday next week.
An exhibition will be on view between 10.30am and 4:00pm, and on the evenings of 23 and 24 November between 7.00pm and 9.00pm
“We shall also be mailing out a leaflet to all households in the town asking informing them of the proposals and asking for comments,” said town clerk Liam Costello.
It is approximately 100 years since the last major work was undertaken on the town hall and the building was in a state of neglect when this council came to power in 2007.
“Slowly and surely we have moved to allow the building to command respect in the town,” said former property committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts. “I started not long after taking office to seek funds to do just that.”
“Councillor Loosmore took my work forward very positively. The new steps replaced badly worn access and discretely created disabled access to the court room area in a way which is completely inclusive.”
An essential part of the project is to transfer the council’s current offices at No 5 High Street back to the town hall by bringing unusable areas back into action, then renting out No 5 to add to the council’s income stream.
And it is hoped that all future elections, parliamentary and council, will again be held in the town hall in the heart of Marlborough.
“This council has a good track record of consultation,” added Councillor Pitts. “We hope as many people as possible will visit the town hall and see the plans.”
“We will listen, take onboard the community’s view and develop and enhance the project based on those views. We are keen to show how we can extend on the work to date, which has been overwhelmingly well received.”
“We hope to show with this public consultation what careful considered design can produce in a sustainable way, which enhances the building, reduces its operating costs, and allows flexible spaces which can be used in many ways to contribute to the life of the community.”
The newly enthroned Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam (pictured), is making his first visit to Marlborough on Monday when he will talk at St Mary’s about his beautifully illustrated new book, Art of Worship.
It is based on his exploration of paintings in the National Gallery, opposite St Martin-in-the Fields, on the edge of Trafalgar Square, where he was vicar since 1995, through readings, meditations and prayers.
The event has been arranged by Mustard Seed, the religious bookshop and coffee house in Waitrose car park, whose £5 tickets for the 7.30 on event includes wine and £1 off the price of the book.
“Art can often take us outside ourselves, beyond our everyday concerts,” said Rachel Maurice, whose has organised the event with her husband, an ordained priest at St Mary’s.
“The Bishop’s thoughtful and often highly personal observations encourage private prayer, contemplation and meditation. The book is a rich resource for anyone seeking stillness, and shows how art can be a powerful starting point for worship.”
The event is one very much welcomed by Marlborough’s rural dean and rector, the Rev Andrew Studdert-Kennedy, who has been to Salisbury to meet the new Bishop, now returned from a nine-day visit to the Sudan.
“I am very impressed with him,” he said. “He is a very interesting person and also an extraordinarily nice man, very thoughtful and a genuinely humble person. He really listens to people.”
“I think his appointment as Bishop of Salisbury is fantastic. The diocese is very lucky to have him.”
Tickets for the evening are available from Mustard Seed, phone 01672 511611.
The story of the unique restoration of the interior of Avebury’s historic manor is coming to a screen near you very soon – very near you. In fact it’s a prime time television series on BBC1.
The Manor Reborn is a four-part programme made by the BBC in collaboration with the National Trust. It starts on November 24 and stars Penelope Keith (of the iconic series To the Manor Born) and Paul Martin (presenter of the antiques show Flog It!) – and, of course, the historic rooms of Avebury Manor itself.
The four sixty-minute programmes will chart the ambitious renovation of nine of the manor’s main rooms to reflect the lives of people who lived in the five hundred year-old manor during six periods of British history: the Tudors, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and the early twentieth century. For the most recent period they’ve created an art deco room.
The series illustrates the story of British design across five centuries. It draws on a wide range of craft and furniture-making skills and reveals how ‘the home’ was invented. And it’s not just about the manor’s interior – a kitchen garden has also been restored.
Presenter Paul Martin is no stranger to this area. He used to own The Table Gallery antique shop in Marlborough and now lives in Seend. He and Penelope Keith are joined for the series by experts including the architectural historian Dan Cruickshank, gardener David Howard, interior designer Russell Sage and historian Anna Whitelock.
Sarah Staniforth, the National Trust’s museums and collections director, explained the ideas behind the renovation and the series: “An empty house is like a blank canvas, so this was an exciting opportunity to interpret the interiors in an authentic but imaginative way. The Manor Reborn has broken new ground in how we bring our places to life and we hope that Avebury Manor will be an inspiring experience for our visitors.”
One of the great advantages of the scheme is that it provides what is called ‘an immersive experience’ for visitors. It will be one of the few National Trust houses where people are invited to touch, handle, sit on and enjoy every element of the house.
During filming – which began in April – two young visitors were encouraged to climb into a Queen Anne bed and see what satin sheets feel like. Watch the programmes and see whether their experience made it into the edited programmes.
The presenters and the experts were joined by volunteers, apprentices and a whole team of talented craftsmen and designers. Local villagers were also invited in during the restoration process.
Jan Brunning lives in nearby Beckhampton and serves on the committee of the Avebury Society. She was invited in to see the work that’s been done: “It is a wonderful attempt to recreate the settings of the lives of people who lived in and enjoyed Avebury Manor through its five hundred year history.”
Jane was especially impressed by the carpets which have been individually designed and woven to fit the period of each room. Another room she mentions is the dining room which is fitted out as it would have been in the eighteenth century when the manor was owned by the trader Sir Adam Williamson who became governor general of Jamaica. That room features quite a collection of antique tea caddies.
If you want to see the rooms for yourself, the Manor will be open – in the first instance – from November 19 to December 19, from 11.00 am to 3.30 pm with last entry at 2.30 pm. Entry will be by timed tickets available from Avebury’s Barn Gallery – fifteen people will be allowed in every fifteen minutes.
It’s planned to re-open the Manor during February 2012’s half-term week. Beyond that plans have not been finalised. Having had a preview of the rooms, Jane Brunning is certain it will be very popular attraction.
And if you’re short of Christmas present ideas, there’s a book to go with the series: The Manor Reborn – The Transformation of Avebury Manor by Siân Evans. On sale at the recommended retail price of £20.00.
Teachers will drop dead from exhaustion if they are forced to work longer under the government’s new pension and extended working proposals. And teaching recruitment too will be put into jeopardy.
That is the grim warning that has come from Dr Patrick Hazlewood (pictured), headmaster for the past 16 years of St John’s School, Marlborough, who declares he would have chosen a different profession if the proposed new conditions were in force when he became a teacher earning just £1,780 a year in 1976.
While he hopes that strikes by the teaching unions will be avoided by positive government action, he fears that St John’s will have to close its doors to its 1,700 students on November 30 if 25 per cent of the teaching staff of 125 walk out on strike.
“We are not a child minding business,” he insisted in an exclusive interview with Marlborough News Online.
And as unions ridiculed the government’s latest suggestion that teachers should go on strike for just 15 minutes and save losing a days’ pay, Dr Hazlewood declared: “I am certain there is a legitimate grievance here.”
“For three of the unions who are about to take strike action if things aren’t resolved, that is something that teachers have never done before. It gives an indication of the degree of anger there is, but I think it is more than anger.”
“It is the degree of what this actually is. And while I hate to use the term unfair because it sounds like a child moaning, it is literally an unfairness because it has no basis in fact.”
He does not belong to the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members – there are 365 in Wiltshire whose schools could be hit -- have voted to strike for the first time ever in the union’s 114-year history.
Yet Dr Hazlewood, who has won international recognition for St John’s, still attacked the government’s “steamrollering manner” in reducing teachers’ pensions and extending the retirement age and accused it of failing to check the facts, especially the fact that teachers’ pensions schemes are currently running in credit, not a deficit as some politicians have suggested.
“The teachers pay huge amounts into their pensions already,” he pointed out. “The amount that goes in each month is about seven per cent of the teachers’ salary. That has been met by a sum from the employers. And that has been true for many years.”
“Whilst the government does seem to have done the basic calculations, it hasn’t checked the current basis of the pension scheme. When that question has been asked of them, they have sort of fudged it.”
Teachers currently earn £27,000 to £30,000 a year with final salary scheme pensions at just under £10,000, but if an average salary scheme is imposed they will lose out considerably, having to pay more for a reduced pension.
“If the pension age is to change as well, then that is another problem,” he protested. “It is a complete madness as far as I can see. For those who know what teaching is like, it is a very draining activity.”
“You imagine 30 children of whatever age in your classroom all through the day. Most parents may find one child difficult but 30 constantly through the day. The pace of education today is so intense that teachers are very worn out.”
“By the time they reach the age of 55 they are looking for early retirement because they simple can’t cope any longer. As a head, I would hate to be presiding over a school in which people were dropping dead, literally dropping dead from exhaustion.”
“It is really that bad. It is that serious.”
“We have very few teachers over 55 here at St John’s. Those that have not taken early retirement have stepped down, either to a lesser post but usually to part-time contracts.”
“Quite a number of my staff who are over 55 work three days a week. That’s the only way they can see they can get to retirement in one piece.”
He believes there are bigger issues too if the government’s proposals are enacted. They will seriously impact on teacher recruitment.
“Senior leaders of the profession like myself could earn a lot more doing jobs elsewhere,” he added. “The government will find it has a headship recruitment crisis in particular. If I had known if something like this was going to happen a long time ago, I would not have come into the teaching profession.”
He views with sadness a strike, an action that was a last resort by teachers and enormously regretted. “I hope the government will negotiate properly and effectively,” said Dr Hazlewood. “I desperately hope that this strike can be avoided.”
If you need a hip replacement you will soon be able to choose where and when to have it done with no interference from the Primary Care Trust (PCT) – or, in the future, from GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups that will replace PCTs in 2013. That’s the result of a ruling by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, making it plain that in the government’s eyes patient choice trumps everything else.
Lansley’s ruling this week follows the recommendations of the Co-Operation and Competition Panel in July when they addressed a complaint from a private health care provider, Circle Health, that NHS Wiltshire and the adjacent PCT (Bath and North East Somerset) were making unfair restrictions on their access to patients for elective surgery like hip and knee replacements.
The new ruling bans PCTs from enforcing minimum waiting times on referrals and putting caps on the number of operations a provider can carry out – actions that “do not take account of the healthcare needs of individual patients.”
In the paper entitled ‘Patient Choice’, which details the acceptance of the Panel’s nine recommendations following Circle Health’s complaint, there’s just one reference to the cost of this new policy: “The Department [of Health] agrees that it is not in patients’ interests for commissioners to restrict choice of provider on the basis of their relative costs….”
In publishing the new rules, Lansley said: “PCTs have to manage resources carefully but they must do so without restricting patient choice.” The new rules are to be brought in as quickly as possible, but must be in place by 31 March 2012.
The good news is that this will avoid the NHS Wiltshire having to find between four and eight million pounds from this year’s budget to accommodate these rules. But the impact of the ruling on next year’s NHS Wiltshire budget will be considerable.
It is also noted that the Health Secretary did not impose fines on NHS Wiltshire and on Bath & North East Somerset PCT. Perhaps this is a sign that some in the Department of Health recognise how difficult managing the costs of treatment really is - and how difficult it will prove for the new Clinical Commissioning Groups.
Even if NHS Wiltshire’s ongoing campaign to make the savings ordered by the government is totally successful, it already looks as though there may be a £23million gap in 2012-2013 between expenditure and income. And that’s without taking account of these new ‘patient choice’ rules.
Twenty-three million pounds will probably be well below five per cent of NHS Wiltshire’s income for next year – depending on whether the uplift the government provides is a real or an unreal increase. But it’s not the only pressure the commissioners will face.
It is certain to impact on NHS Wiltshire’s careful plans to pay off the debt it inherited when it was formed in 2006. At the end of March 2009 this debt stood at £27,415,000. By the end of this financial year it is expected to be £16,990,000.
But the costs of the coalition government’s major NHS reorganisation, the negligible increase in the budget decreed by the government for 2011-2012, the unforeseen costs of the new patient choice ruling and the expectation that the government will find new challenges that have to be met without extra funding (like Lansley's new move against waiting times), will make for what one non-executive director called “a really awful” final year for the PCT’s finances.
And as far as putting the patient first is concerned, the financial squeeze may well mean there will be ‘a big step down in activity from this year to next year’ – which is a polite way of saying there will have to be cuts in services.
For more on the background to this ruling go to our original story on Circle Health’s complaint and the Panel’s ruling.
The Aldbourne Band is ending 2011 on a strong note – they’ve been awarded second place in the open section at the sixty-fifth annual championships of the South West Brass Band Association. The contest was held at the Riviera Centre in Torquay with thirty-seven bands competing for the top prizes.
Musical director David Johnson chose an extremely challenging test piece for the band – On the Shoulders of Giants composed by Peter Graham. This piece was commissioned for the British Open in 2010. The ‘giants’ that the music reflects are the composers who have influenced the style of brass bands over the past hundred years.
The piece took a great deal of concentrated practice and rehearsal.
The band’s chairman, James Sheppard said: “It was great to see so many supports and ‘Friends of Aldbourne Band’ with us on the day. We had a marvellous result being placed above four other championship section bands.”
“We achieved the task we’d set ourselves – to play a challenging test piece in preparation for the area finals in March 2012.”
The adjudicator, Peter Bassano, praised the band’s performance and even noted the loud, prolonged and enthusiastic applause from the audience who appreciated a piece well executed.
The band has now moved up into the top world rankings and lies at sixty-first in the world. The band aims to be within the top fifty by this time next year.
You can hear the band play at several Christmas concerts including one at St Michael’s Aldbourne at 7.00pm on Sunday, December 11.