Thursday, 11 April 2013

Have Your Say

Consultation on £1.5million begins

The consultation on how to allocate the £1.5 million received as a Section 106 contribution from the Battle Hospital re-development starts next week!  Battle councillors started pushing for this consultation in December 2011 when the Primary Care Trust withdrew from the planned medical centre.
Residents in the consultation area will receive a questionnaire by post but you can also complete the survey online (see button on the right).  There is a launch event at Battle Library on 16 April where Battle councillors and council officer will be available to discuss how the money can be spent and any ideas you may have.  I have to admit I am really looking forward to seeing what you, the residents, think is important and the ideas you have.

Monday, 1 April 2013

This day will go down in infamy

Today, 1st April 2013 Britain changes: welfare, justice, health cuts take effect. Sadly this is not an April Fools Joke.

Is dishonesty endemic in this Government?
Do any of them really care about you and me?

A new world heaves into view this week with sweeping changes in the fields of welfare, justice, health and tax.
 Monday 1 April - Bedroom tax introduced 
The aim is to tackle overcrowding and encourage a more efficient use of social housing. Working age housing benefit and unemployment claimants deemed to have one spare bedroom in social housing will lose 14% of their housing benefit and those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25%. An estimated 1m households with extra bedrooms are paid housing benefit. Critics say it is an inefficient policy as in the north of England, families with a spare rooms outnumber overcrowded families by three to one, so thousands will be hit with the tax when there is no local need for them to move. Two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled.
Savings: £465m a year. As many as 660,000 people in social housing will lose an average of £728 a year. 
Monday 1 April  - Thousands lose access to legal aid
Branded by Labour a "day of shame" for the legal aid system, the cutoff to claim legal aid will be a household income of £32,000, and those earning between £14,000 and £32,000 will have to take a means test. Family law cases including divorce, child custody, immigration and employment cases will be badly affected.
Savings: a minimum £350m from £2.2bn legal aid bill.
Monday 1 April - Council tax benefit passes into local control
Council tax benefit, currently a single system administered by the Department for Work and Pensions, is being transferred to local councils with a reduction in funding of 10%. Council tax benefit is claimed by 5.9 million low-income families in the UK. The new onus on councils has come at a time when local government funding, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has fallen by 26.8% in two years in real terms. A Guardian survey of 81 councils last week found many claiming they face difficult cuts, with almost half saying they were reducing spending on care services for adults. This also comes at a time when 2.4m households will see a council tax rise.
Savings: up to £480m a year, but depends on decisions of local councils. 
Monday 1 April - NHS commissioning changes for ever
An NHS commissioning board and a total of 240 local commissioning groups made up of doctors, nurses and other professionals will take control of budgets to buy services for patients. They will buy from any service providers, including private ones so long as they meet NHS standards and costs. Strategic health authorities and primary care trusts disappear.
Costs: £1.4bn, mainly in redundancies, followed by savings as high as £5bn in 2015 owing to fall in staff numbers. 
Monday 1 April - Regulation of financial industry changes
The Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority, housed in the Bank of England, replace the Financial Services Authority. The Bank promises these changes do not represent the death and Easter resurrection of the same body. A new, proactive supervisory approach towards the City is promised, focused on outcomes rather than a tick-box culture. It has powers to prosecute, throw people out of the industry and withdraw a bank's licence. Above all it monitors risk to the financial system as a whole.
Saturday 6 April - 50p tax rate scrapped for high earners
Announced in the 2012 budget. George Osborne said the 50p rate, introduced in April 2010, caused massive distortions in 2010-11 and raised only £1bn, rather than the £2.5bn forecast by Labour back in 2009. HMRC found £16bn was deliberately shifted into the previous tax year, largely by owner/directors of companies taking dividends in the previous year when the highest rate was still 40p. Labour claims 13,000 millionaires will get a £100,000 tax cut.
Monday 8 April  - Disability living allowance scrapped
The personal independence payment (PIP) replaces the disability living allowance and, according to the DWP, is not based on your condition, but on how your condition affects you, so narrowing the gateway to the PIP.
It will contain two elements: a daily living component and a mobility component. If you score sufficient points, a claim can be made. Assessments will be face-to-face rather than based on written submissions, starting in Bootle benefits centre, handling claims across the north-west and north-east.
Monday 8 April - Below inflation uprating / real value cuts begin
For the first time in history welfare benefits and tax credits will not rise in line with inflation and will instead for the next three years rise by 1%. Had there been no change benefits would have risen by 2.2%. Disability benefits will continue to rise in line with inflation.
Savings: £505m in the first year, rising to £2.3bn in 2015-16. Nearly 9.5 million families will be affected, including 7 million in work, by £165 a year.
Monday 15 April - Welfare benefit cap
The most popular of the welfare reforms will begin on 15 April in the London boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey. The intention is that no welfare claimants will receive in total more than the average annual household income after tax and national insurance – estimated at £26,000. Other councils will start to introduce it from 15 July and it will be fully up and running by the end of September. Some estimate 80,000 households will be made homeless. The DWP says around 7,000 people who would have been affected by the cap have moved into work and a further 22,000 have accepted employment support to move into work. Households where someone is entitled to working tax credits will not be affected.
Savings: £51m over three years.
28 April  - Universal credit introduced
The new in- and out-of-work credit, which integrates six of the main out-of-work benefits, will start to be implemented this April in one jobcentre in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester. The aim is to increase incentives to work for the unemployed and to encourage longer hours for those working part-time. It had been intended that four jobcentres would start the trial in April, but this has been delayed until July, and a national programme will start in September for new claimants. They will test the new sanctions regime and a new fortnightly job search trial, which aims to ensure all jobseeker's allowance and unemployment claimants are automatically signed onto Job Match, an internet-based job-search mechanism. Suspicion remains that the software is not ready.
Making the poorest pay for the greed of others
And remember, before the financial crisis triggered by greedy American banks over-stetching themselves by making "sub-prime" loans and mortgages to people who could not afford them, the last Labour government had actually lowered the level of national debt it had inherited.
The crisis was not caused by employing doctors and nurses in the UK.
The Tories and Lib Dems supported bailing out the banks - now they tell a different story!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Open Letter to Alok Sharma - Residents Parking - The Facts
Alok Sharma is attempting to raise his profile in our part of the world. Content for the past three years to keep his head down and do nothing for the people of Reading West, he has suddenly realised a General election is not far off.
Desperately seeking anything he can claim as his in order to demonstrates his effectiveness as our MP, he has resorted to borrowing from the Labour Party. Devoid of ideas he has put his label on a piece of work he had no hand in. Over the coming months we will seek to demonstrate why we are asking the question. Is Alok Sharma the worst MP in the country?
Councillor Hacker Has written to Mr Sharma pointing out the error of his ways:
Dear Mr Sharma
In reference to your recent ‘report back to Battle Ward’.  I was surprised to see you claim credit for persuading the council to:
  • Increase the number of free books of visitor permits to households located in a permit parking zone from one to two.
  • Begin issuing visitor permits, valid until 10am the following day, rather than 8am.
  • Look favourably upon, and within reason grant, requests for allocation of visitor permits above the total official annual allowance of seven books per household.
I am sure you will recall that the changes you claim to have reversed were brought in by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition council in 2010/2011.  You did not object to these changes when your Conservative colleagues on the Council were making them and you suggest the changes were not properly consulted, presumably by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition?
Only at a later date did you object to these changes AFTER the Labour controlled Council had already reversed the unpopular and unfair changes to the residents parking scheme by increasing the number of free books of visitor permits to two and pledging to return the 10am cut off time once the existing stock of permits has been used.
As a Labour council we have listened to residents and made the changes they asked for when we were back in control of the council.
We have also recently re-affirmed our commitment to the first parking permit being free and we ensure any changes to the residents parking scheme are fully consulted, as you well know.
I hope to see more care taken in your claims in future literature.
Yours sincerely
Sarah Hacker
Labour Councillor, Battle Ward
Press at the time:  The article in the Reading Chronicle makes it clear he was criticising the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition yet on his leaflet he makes it seem as if  he was criticising Labour!  Both articles make it clear the unpopular changes he refers to were made by the coalition and that they had already been changed by Labour when Alok Sharma decided to speak up!  I wonder if we'll get a leaflet correcting these mistakes?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Is Alok Sharma the worst MP 
in the country?

This will now become a gaming centre
So much for localism! A government inspector has overturned Reading Borough Council’s decision to refuse permission for a Gaming Centre on the Oxford Road.

Battle councillors and residents worked hard to get the original application refused by the Planning Committee because they felt it would have a detrimental impact on the area. The decision by the committee, which is an all-party committee, was unanimous.
Sadly and in the face of strong local opposition, the applicant decided to appeal against the decision. Following last weeks public hearing, set up to examine the appeal, a Government Inspector overturned the original decision in favour of the appellant. This now means the way is now clear for the gaming centre to open.
I find this decision repugnant and it goes against all that is decent. As councillor Sarah Hacker has said, this is a crushing blow to our community.  Put simply this decision is a slap in the face of ordinary people who want a decent place to live and care about the community they live in.
Despite being given only 4 days notice of the hearing, instead of the statutory 2 weeks, a number of local people attended the hearing. The inspector seemed to make no allowance for the fact that local people would have been nervous and possibly intimidated by the situation. Most certainly they would have been unfamiliar with the process. At one point I felt he was unreasonably aggressive towards a constituent which may have put others off speaking. I am extremely grateful for those who were able to attend the hearing their support was invaluable.
Battle councillors fought alongside residents to stop a Tesco opening opposite Oxford Road Primary School and we lost. We have fought alongside residents to stop a gaming centre opening on the Oxford Road and we have lost, but where was Alok Sharma, our MP, in all of this? The answer is ‘nowhere to be seen’.
Is Alok Sharma the worst MP in the country?

'Benefit cuts forcing young mums 

into prostitution'

Sex industry support worker says welfare reform to blame. Get Reading January 18. 
This is the shocking story we thought we would never have to tell. Alok Sharma, our mince-pie eating, ribbon cutting MP should hold his head in shame. It must be remembered he went from nothing straight into Parliament. He has no credentials except he wanted to be an MP. When has anyone seen him on the Oxford Road?
However, one thing is clear, he has supported his Government and their attack on ordinary people every step of the way. Alok Sharma MP has done nothing to support our town and most definitely he has done nothing to support the Oxford Road community I and my colleagues represent.
Where was he when we tried to stop Tesco opening another store on the Oxford Road because it was in the wrong place and would damage business? Where was he when we tried to stop a Gaming Centre opening on the Oxford Road because, as the police said, it would attract anti social behaviour? Where has he been as we work against crime, prostitution and drugs along the Oxford Road? Where was he when we challenged licensing applications, early on a Friday morning at the Civic Centre, to restrict business opening times and alcohol sales along the Oxford Road? What support has he and his Government ever given to the Oxford Road community? He and his Government have made it harder to challenge licensing and planning applications as we work to protect our community.
Surely he has to be the worst MP in the country. In my view Sharma MP is a shambles and not worthy of representing our community in Parliament, we deserve better. I look forward to 2015.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Medical Centre Up-Date

Medical Centre victim of Tory cuts

The PCT have confirmed they can no longer provide a medical facility for the Oxford Road community on the former Battle Hospital site (Tesco, West Village) as promised. 
The PCT say that, Conservative led Government cuts means that they cannot afford to take forward the plans for the Battle site and that the health centre is no longer a viable option. Instead they have decided to invest in the Walk in Centre in the Broad Street Mall.  As well as being available to all Reading residents it is our understanding the Centre is expected to take pressure off A&E at the Royal Berks. It has also been suggested the centre is designed to take pressure off our local doctors. However, the Centre is hardly local to Battle ward so it is hard to see how that is supposed to work.
We are deeply disappointed to break this news to you, especially as so many of you helped us campaign successfully, we thought, for a local medical facility.
The profile of the ward has changed since 2005 when we first consulted local people on what benefits they would like to see come from the West Village development. Many resident in Battle Ward today will not have taken part in the 2005 consultation. Residents priorities may have changed since then and as such we believe we need to start again and find out what you would like the money spent on. The figure we are talking about is in the region of £1million plus, this could be used to do an awful lot of goof in Battle ward.
In 2005 we campaigned for a medical Centre, that will not happen thanks to our Tory MP Sharma and his Government. In 2013 we have secured £1million pounds plus for our community, the final figure has yet to be agreed with the developer.
We have insisted Reading Borough Council carry out a public consultation before a single penny is spent, they have agreed to do that. Look out for our consultation in the next few weeks.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Winter Watch - Helping Vulnerable Residents Stay Warm This Winter

On a personal note, I am on the mend, my family and friends are looking after me. Sadly, many vulnerable people in Reading are not as lucky as me. Please do your best to help your neighbours because the Government won't.

Keep warm and well this winter
Winter Watch offers advice and help to older people, people with disabilities or long term health conditions and families with very young children whose health and well being is most at risk because their homes are cold and damp.

This includes:
  • advice on reducing fuel poverty
  • encouraging people take up the grants available to improve the insulation and heating in their homes.
  • Helping people get minor repairs carried out to their homes to stop draughts and protect them from the cold
  • introducing some energy efficiencies such as loft and/or cavity wall insulation.
Winter Watch is provided by the Council in partnership with local voluntary and health services to ensure that people can get the help and advice you need as a matter of urgency.
Other residents who are struggling to cope with their energy bills are also encouraged to contact independent agencies such as the Reading Citizens Advice Bureau 0845 071 6379 (mention the Winter Watch Project)
If you, or someone you know is struggling to keep warm this winter please contact Adult social Care Services (number below) URGENTLY for advice.

0118 937 3747

To view the information leaflet click on the Winter Watch button.