Monthly Archives: March 2013

Election Pledge 3: Defending Our NHS


Tomorrow, the 1st of April 2013, is a day that will always be infamous in the history of Britain’s greatest institution, the National Health Service. The changes forced upon the NHS by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition, which come into effect tomorrow, will signal the end of the NHS as a public service and bring about its eventual destruction. Nobody voted for these changes, they were in no party’s manifesto. They are motivated by a hard right-wing Conservative Party’s desire to destroy the NHS. Pure and simple.

I regard defending the NHS, and preserving as much of it as possible until a Labour government can reverse the Tory-Lib Dem vandalism, as the most important objective of being in politics at this time. ‘Politics’ is regarded as a dirty word by many people because of the disrepute that many politicians have brought upon themselves by the expenses scandal and reneging on manifesto promises and the like. However, it was politics that gave us the NHS, where everyone in Britain is cared for when they are sick regardless of their wealth or social standing. The NHS is how we, as Britons, decided we want to look after each other, and politics made it happen.

Politics is coming to Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham on 2 May 2013 and I am your Labour candidate for Surrey County Council (SCC). The council has a ‘health scrutiny’ role and if I’m elected I will use this to defend and enhance our public NHS.

Windlesham Doctors

My top priority for Windlesham will be to return a doctors’ surgery to the village in one form or another as quickly as possible.

Windlesham has the worst public transport links of any of the surrounding villages so if any village needs and deserves a doctors’ surgery, it is Windlesham. Many people here are finding it difficult to access primary healthcare already. After 2 May I will work immediately to resolve this.

I led the campaign to save the Windlesham branch of the Lightwater Surgery and spoke to scores of people who were distressed by losing the surgery. I spoke in favour of the new Field of Remembrance pavilion at the borough council Planning Committee and this could be a good interim location for GP services.

I would like to see a new, purpose-built doctors’ surgery in Windlesham as a new stand-alone GP practice. As your county councillor, I will lobby the new NHS Commissioning Board to establish this as soon as possible. The planned new homes on the DERA site on Chobham Common are predicated on there being a GP surgery in Windlesham, so the new practice could serve them too, along with many patients in Lightwater who are dissatisfied with Lightwater Surgery and their rip-off 0844 phone number.

SCC has built up huge cash reserves and the Chief Executive tells me that they should be reduced by around £100m. This doesn’t mean that cash should be wasted, it should be invested for the benefit for Surrey residents to achieve a return better than the 1% per year that they are currently earning. Many private companies fund and build doctors’ surgeries and charge a market rent based on long term contracts and earn a healthy return. I would like to see SCC do this with its excess reserves by building, or more likely re-building, a doctors’ surgery in Windlesham for a new permanent practice to set up.

Don’t Keep Me Waiting

In Chobham, patients tell me they have to wait for 3 weeks for an appointment with the doctors. This is unacceptable. If elected, I will ensure that this returns to an acceptable level. If new premises are needed then patients’ interests should be the prime consideration of a new location.

Vote Labour on 2 May

I am an experienced community activist and I know how to ensure patients come first in NHS decisions. I am lobbying the new doctors’ groups, called Clinical Commissioning Groups, to use only ethical providers of healthcare as part of country-wide campaigns.  

This is my third pledge: I will not rest until Windlesham has its doctors’ surgery back and I will fight the privatisation of the NHS until my last breath.

Richard Wilson

Labour Candidate for Surrey County Council 2 May 2013 

Election Pledge 2: Save Bagshot Library


Conservative Surrey County Council doesn’t like libraries. For over 30 years they have been trying to close them down. Their latest scheme to close libraries is called the Community Partnered Library (CPL) scheme. I covered this folly here.

Windlesham and Chobham were the first to lose out when the mobile library was scrapped. This is from SCC’s Cabinet meeting of 1 February 2011:

SCC Cabinet 1 Feb 11a

Then on 27 September 2011, the Cabinet agreed with these two cuttings:

SCC Cabinet 27 Sep 11a

SCC Cabinet 27 Sep 11b

This shows that SCC were planning to blackmail communities into taking over the running of their libraries on pain of closure.

At that time they drew up a second hitlist of libraries to suffer the same fate a year later:

SCC Cabinet 27 Sep 11c

I worked with the excellent pressure group, SLAM, Surrey Libraries Action Movement to oppose these closures. SLAM took SCC to a judicial review and won. Later SCC admitted that the CPL scheme wouldn’t actually save any money at all. This is from the Cabinet meeting of 24 July 2012:

SCC Cabinet 24 Jul 12

It was a poorly conceived policy and SCC missed every opportunity to consult properly with communities and find a solution. They decided to press on with the CPL scheme rather than lose face.

I visited Bagshot Library today to collect a library book I ordered and took a last look round because if another Conservative is elected to SCC from this area, its days are numbered.

Bagshot Library - soon to be history?

Bagshot Library – soon to be history?

Saving Bagshot Library

If elected on 2 May, my first task will be to save Bagshot Library. I will work with other county councillors who oppose the library’s closure. This could include the chairman of SLAM, Lee Godfrey, who is standing for election too, in Chertsey. 

In other counties, parish councils have taken over libraries from the county council, and the funding that goes with it. I would like to see Windlesham Parish Council do this in Bagshot. It would need to become a ‘Quality Council’ first and I’ll help them achieve this. This could secure the paid librarians who could work alongside volunteers. 

The building which Bagshot Library uses belongs to Surrey Heath Borough Council and is in a poor condition. There are many empty shop fronts on Bagshot High Street. I would help Bagshot Library negotiate a lower rent either from SHBC or from a landlord of a vacant shop in an even better location in Bagshot. 

Vote Labour on 2 May 

This is my second pledge: I will be a true ‘partner’ of Bagshot Library. I won’t allow the Tories to shut it down.

Richard Wilson

Labour Candidate for Surrey County Council 2 May 2013

Election Pledge 1: Supporting Families in Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham


Families are under pressure. Household bills are rising fast and salaries are not keeping up. Schools are being squeezed and parents are concerned about their children’s education. Activities for young people of all ages are difficult to access in our area.

If elected on 2 May, I will be a champion for hard-pressed families.

School Uniforms

Local parents tell me that they worry about the cost of school uniforms. I will work with local schools and retailers to help reduce this. Schools can choose to use generic garments for most of their uniforms, which can be supplied cheaply because of economies of scale across the country. School specific items, such as blazer badges and ties, should be as inexpensive as possible.

I would like to see local retailers, such as the proposed new Waitrose store in Bagshot, help to keep school uniform costs down for parents. By working together with schools and businesses, I will make reducing the cost of new school uniforms and sports kit a priority as your county councillor.

Also, as pupils move through the education system, their previous items of school uniform should be available to the next generation. I will support schools in setting up pre-owned uniform exchanges. The prospect of finding the money for new school uniforms every summer is hugely stressful for many families. I want to end this major drain on household finances.

Play Areas

Children’s play areas are provided by either parish or borough councils. Parents in Chobham tell me that they are not impressed by the play area at the rec ground. One mother even said she feels forced to drive her children to Sunningdale to play.

Chobham Parish Council told me they are aware that it needs improvement and I believe that they take the issue seriously. However, play areas are usually funded by mandatory contributions from property developers and because Chobham is in the Green Belt the parish council does not receive much money this way.

Families in Chobham shouldn’t suffer poor facilities because of lack of developers’ funds. County councillors receive “members’ allocations” which they can use to help fund small local projects. I would use such funds to improve the Chobham play area so parents don’t have to drive their children elsewhere. This would reduce traffic and help local retailers since many families would walk down Chobham High Street to reach the play area.

In Windlesham and Bagshot there is more property development so the parish council there has access to funding for play areas. However, they have chosen to spend this money on hanging basket stands, but not hanging baskets, and a “bus shelter” which is more accurately called a “shelter” because buses won’t stop there! They also bought a new council noticeboard.

In the absence of support from the parish council, I would encourage local businesses to help set up and improve play areas in Bagshot and Windlesham.

Windlesham Field of Remembrance

The planned new pavilion at the Field of Remembrance would provide an ideal venue for youth groups such as the Scouts and Guides. It would be a good central location in Windlesham for a nursery too. Improved changing facilities would increase participation in football and cricket by young people. As I have stated before, I’m strongly in favour of this project.

I would support the fundraising for the new pavilion by asking county council staff to help me approach bodies such as the National Lottery and central government departments to obtain grants. Local philanthropists and businesses could be assured of the project’s potential by it having the full backing of the local county councillor, if I am elected.

Surrey County Council has a health scrutiny role and I would use this to lobby the new NHS Commissioning Board to bring back GP provision to Windlesham. Initially, this could be part-time in a room in the new pavilion. The rent would provide another regular source of income for the Field and help sustain it financially.

Making Activities Accessible to Young People

I recently addressed the borough council’s planning committee to obtain planning permission for the Terri Jayne School of Dance to set up in Lightwater. As county councillor, I will prioritise making activities like this accessible to young people and families in our area. I have also been involved in lobbying Education Secretary Michael Gove to stop selling off school playing fields, which I talk about in this film.

I am a long-time campaigner for sustainable transport. This includes creating safe cycle routes so that young people can get around without relying on their parents to drive them. The school run blights some roads at certain times of the day and I would like to see an alternative offered.

Labour: Standing Up For Families

A Labour vote in Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham on 2 May 2013 is a vote for supporting families. Nowadays families and young people are under more pressure than ever. If you vote for me, you can trust me to be on the side of families.

Richard Wilson

Labour Candidate for Surrey County Council 2 May 2013

Windlesham Parish Council and the Magic Money Tree


Last week, like all Council Tax payers, I received my Council Tax Notice for 2013-2014.

My Council Tax Bill

As you can see, the total Council Tax is the sum of four different elements.

I already knew that Surrey County Council would be increasing my bill by 1.99% because they need the money to spend on vanity projects and stays in posh hotels for councillors.

Likewise, I knew that Surrey’s new Police and Crime Commissioner would need more money because “zero tolerance” costs a lot more than “tolerance”.

And, of course, I knew that Surrey Heath Borough Council would be putting their bit of the Council Tax up too.

These three Council taxers are all limited by the percentage that they can increase our bills. If they increase bills by over 2% they need to hold (and fund) a referendum to get our agreement. Realistically, this isn’t going to be forthcoming so they are effectively capped at 2%.

The fourth element of my Council Tax bill is the smallest but has risen by the most, by a long way. This did surprise me.

I have been trying to find out about how Windlesham Parish Council spends its money and it hasn’t been easy. Consolidated budgets were impossible to find. I attended a Council meeting and saw that some spending decisions were on the agenda. However, when we reached them they decided to move them to part 2 of the meeting where the “press and public” are excluded. I was thrown out of the meeting for this discussion.

I have often found that the more interest I show in the workings of local government, particularly regarding taxpayers’ money, the more those in power try to cover it up.

In Windlesham Parish Council minutes, a meeting was scheduled to decide the Council Tax precept for the coming year. I phoned the then clerk to find out the venue because I was going to come and listen. I was refused entry. Councils are supposed to hold meetings in public but WPC don’t do this.

Now, why did Windlesham Parish Council increase my bill by so much, 5.7%?

Parish Precepts

Parish Precepts

As you can see from the table above the total amount that WPC will receive from all of us has gone up from £265K to £273K. This is only 2.95%. However, the ‘tax base’, the effective number of houses in the parish, has fallen from 8143 to 7934. This means that to get 2.95% more money, fewer taxpayers have to pay 5.7% more.

There has been a big fall in the ‘tax base’ this year because of the Localisation of Council Tax Benefit and the fact that it was cut by 10% when it was transferred to councils from central government. Regular readers will remember Surrey Heath Borough Council imposed the harshest benefit cuts in the country, when they were asked to decide on this. You can see the reduction here:

Council Tax base SH

Since I can’t get into supposedly public meetings, I’ve been reading the published minutes of Windlesham Parish Council to see if I can work out what was in their minds. I read this in the minutes of 4 Jan 2013:

WPC 4 Jan

This helps a little, but it doesn’t reveal whether councillors knew that our bills would actually rise by 5.7% due to the reduction in tax base. Then I found this:

WPC 1 Feb

This is from minutes of 1 Feb and is actually quite serious. It shows that Windlesham Parish Council thought that SHBC would go to its magic money tree and make it all better. Ignore the unfortunate pound signs in the this minute (bizarre that nobody else spotted them, makes you wonder). It is worrying that they didn’t realise that the tax base had dropped and its effect on individual bills. Looking at the other parishes, it seems West End and Chobham both realised.

From what I can gather, Windlesham Parish Council did not intend to increase my bill by 5.7%, it was due to either incompetence or miscommunication with SHBC. I have an unrelated Freedom of Information request in with SHBC to see some communications with WPC. It is several months overdue. My suspicions are being raised that there is something to hide in the finances of Windlesham Parish Council and I call on them to be transparent with the taxpayers and tell us what they are doing with our money.

Windlesham Field of Remembrance: By the People, For the People


You Must Remember This

I’ve just got home from the AGM of the Windlesham Field of Remembrance. The Field is a remarkable feature of our village. It is owned by the people of the village and managed by a charitable trust on our behalf. It was originally purchased by village residents as a living memorial to local people who died in the war (WWI, I think). It is a large area of land comprising a cricket and football pitch, ponds, a children’s play area, many trees and a pavilion with a small car park.

People walk their dogs there and local sports and youth groups use the facilities. It is fantastic to have such a large area protected from development for people in the village to enjoy.

Remembrance of Things Past

In February 2012, I spoke at the SHBC Planning Committee in favour of a planning application to renew the dilapidated pavilion. The FoR management committee had applied for permission to demolish the existing pavilion and replace it with a well-designed new one which would be sustainable financially. In particular, I was keen to see one of the new rooms in the pavilion being made suitable for a GP to use on a part-time basis after the Windlesham branch surgery closed. The rooms would have access for the disabled and be fully compliant with all the rules and regulations governing premises that doctors can practise from.

My initial submission to the planning officer is here. The minutes of the Planning Committee are here. You can see plans of the existing pavilion and the proposed new one here

After I addressed the committee, the vote was unanimously in favour, I’m pleased to say. The difficult job of fundraising then commenced, which takes me on to this evening…

The Heart of the Village

The Field is run by volunteers and since last year there has been a high turnover of committee members. Raising £400,000 for the new pavilion is no small task. Please click here to see progress on their excellent new website. The new logo and motto, “The Heart of the Village”, show that this is a genuine community effort where many people do what they can and it all adds up to something really special.

At the AGM tonight, we heard the secretary’s, chairman’s and treasurer’s reports. Also the management committee was elected for the next year. The representatives of local clubs, societies and groups were:

Windlesham Cricket Club – Mr T Nott

Windlesham Football Club (Senior) – Mr T Willock

Windlesham Football Club (Junior) – vacancy

Royal British Legion – vacancy

Windlesham Parish Council – Mrs V White

Parochial Church Council – vacancy

Play Area Task Force – Mrs M Lewis

Dog Walkers – Mr P Harrington

Windle Valley Runners – Mrs J Hopkins

Windlesham Scouts Group – Mrs S Champion

Windlesham Guides Group – Mr T Buss

Windlesham Society – vacancy

Co-opted (Health and Safety) – Mrs P Lewis

3 public members were also elected: Steve Lewis, Suzanne Sharman, Helen Lloyd-Bisley

After the meeting, I chatted to some of the committee members and I feel optimistic that they will raise the funds and construction will begin of the brilliant new pavilion.

Ask Not What Your Village Can Do For You…

I’m really glad that Windlesham has so many community-spirited people looking after the Field on our behalf. They are requesting our help, however. If you live in Windlesham, would you like to help maintain and improve the Field of Remembrance? I would. Let’s all do a little bit to help out there in the next year, whether it’s spending an hour or two with one of the volunteer work parties or donating a few quid.

The Field is a unique asset to our village and the new pavilion will transform it. It’s not owned by the council, the government or a wealthy lord. It belongs to us. Let’s treasure it.

 

More of the Same From a Downgraded Chancellor


Chancellor Gideon “George” Osborne has just delivered his fourth budget to the House of Commons and induced deja vu in everyone watching.

Public Sector Pay Cap

Osborne extended the 1% pay rise cap for public sector workers so their incomes will not keep up with inflation. He threatened that pay progression will be halted too. He also accepted that inflation will be above the 2% target and allowed the Bank of England to fudge its task of reducing it.

Growth? What Growth?

Like in his previous budgets, Osborne reported that growth estimates for this and all future years will be much lower than expected. This is because his austerity plan is not working. Well, it’s not working for the 99%, the very wealthiest are doing better than ever, of course.

Tomorrow Never Comes

In 2010, Osborne promised that it would take 4 years to eliminate the deficit. Three years later and he now admits it will take another 4 years. The deficit actually rose over the last year. Osborne cut too far, too fast and cut off the recovery that was established under Labour. He did this for ideological reasons because he does not believe that the state should help the less fortunate in society. He believes in destroying the public sector, the NHS, schools, local authorities. His policies have reduced confidence and plunged many families into financial crisis.

Good News For Speculators

Osborne scrapped Stamp Duty on AIM listed shares. These are riskier investments than those on the main exchange. Removing Stamp Duty is a gift to wealthy investors and market speculators. There will be less incentive to hold onto these shares for the long term. With no transaction costs, gamblers will jump in and out of these shares and destabilise the small companies. And it reduces income to the Treasury, of course.

For people on incomes over £60,000 pa, the government will now help you speculate on property by subsidising your new mortgage. This will help pump up the house price bubble and ensure buying a house remains unaffordable for many ordinary people. It is a big mistake for the government to subsidise people’s mortgages, as the sub-prime crisis showed in 2008. Barratt shares have just risen by 9%.

Trickle-Down Economics

Osborne cut corporation tax from 21% to 20%, even though previous cuts have not encouraged more businesses to move here. He is relying on trickle-down economics where giving money to the wealthiest people leads to them buying goods and services which gives the rest of us jobs. Ronald Reagan tried this. It failed. The rich just kept the money.

In two weeks, people earning over £150,000 per year will get a 5% tax cut. At the same time, the poorest people in society will be hit by cuts to Council Tax Benefit and the Bedroom Tax.

Downgraded Chancellor

Osborne’s austerity has been self-defeating. Britain has lost its AAA rating which David Cameron said was the mark of trust, until he lost it.

The Chancellor’s fourth budget was like his previous ones: regressive and doomed to fail.

Lightwater to Welcome Dance School Back Home


VICTORY!

Last Wednesday evening the Planning Applications Committee of Surrey Heath Borough Council finally approved the planning application by Terri Jayne School of Dance to change the use of the old Lightwater police station building into a dance studio.

The old Lightwater police station will become the new Terri Jayne School of Dance

The old Lightwater police station will become the new Terri Jayne School of Dance

It was a tremendous victory, not just for Terri Bowen who owns and runs the school, but for all of her dance students, former students, their parents and the whole community.

I wrote about the application here and it was the most shared post on Facebook I have ever written, by a long way. It has been viewed around a thousand times.

The dance school is much loved by so many people. I didn’t realise quite how popular Miss Terri is with families in this area, so I wasn’t expecting speaking in favour of the application to be such an emotional roller-coaster.

I was really pleased to be able to address the Committee and I did my best to persuade them to approve the application. My speech to the Planning Committee is here. Only two public speakers are allowed for and against each application. I have done this before, several times, but it was still daunting. Each speaker is only allowed three minutes and councillors can ask them questions afterwards. I think Terri and I both made excellent use of our three minutes and answered the questions well to sway the majority of the Committee to voting in favour. They voted 11-2 in favour with one abstention.

After the meeting there was an outpouring of relief and celebration. I felt the satisfaction of a job well done for the whole community. Terri and her family now have the hard work of converting the building and relocating dance classes but the stress of the planning process is over.

I was standing as a candidate in the Chobham Parish Council by-election the following day and had to get up early to spend the whole day there then attend the count which started at 10pm. This is my excuse for looking frazzled in the election photographs. Apologies to everyone who has complained about them.

Post Match Analysis

Now that a few days have passed since the euphoria of the Planning Committee, I have a few sober reflections on what happened and what lessons can be drawn.

The Planning Committee has 16 members who are all Surrey Heath borough councillors. Some other councillors are nominated as substitutes to cover for absent councillors. The numbers from each political party are in proportion to each party’s strength on the full council. SHBC has 40 councillors: 35 Conservative, 2 Labour, 2 Independent and 1 Lib Dem. This means that the 16 Planning Committee members are 14 Conservative and 2 Opposition (usually 1 Labour and 1 Independent). The members are chosen by the leaders of the Conservative and Opposition Groups.

Only 14 councillors were there on Wednesday to decide on this application. Two Conservative councillors didn’t turn up and another Conservative councillor, who was supposed to be a substitute, was late so couldn’t vote.

St Michaels Councillors Play Truant

One of the AWOL councillors was Cllr Bob Paton who represents St Michaels ward in Camberley. He had his own planning application later on the agenda for some work on his mansion in Chobham. The substitute who had something better to do for the first half-an-hour of the meeting was Cllr Colin Dougan, who also is supposed to represent St Michaels. It is surprising that both councillors for a marginal ward are neglecting their duties like this.

Lion’s Den

Many of the regular public speakers at the Committee are, like me, experienced community activists. Some are professional planning agents or big business owners. Others are ordinary members of the public like Terri Bowen and, in fact, the objectors who opposed us. It is daunting to address such an intimidating room, which was very full on Wednesday, so I have respect for everyone who does it, even if they are opposing my position. I believe that the members of the Committee should recognise how stressful it is for ordinary people. I would like to see them being less argumentative and confrontational to people who have not spoken at planning meetings much before.

Gandhum Style

On Wednesday, Cllr Surinder Gandhum asked Terri questions after her speech. He did this not to clarify what she had said, or to raise planning issues, but only to have an argument about parking spaces at a former location of the dance school. It was irrelevant, argumentative and bullying.

Unfortunately, I have been in Cllr Gandhum’s sights myself: last October I had to report him to the police for phoning me at home one evening, swearing violently at me and saying, “I have a gun.” I know of others who have received malicious communications from this Lightwater Tory councillor too.

I believe that the chairman should have intervened and stopped Gandhum from attempting to intimidate Terri. However, the current chairman, Cllr Hawkins, generally carries out the job very well and gives everyone a fair hearing. Also, Terri has twenty years’ experience of teaching classes of young girls how to dance and was probably the strongest personality in the room, so she dealt with Gandhum’s rudeness brilliantly and may even have won the vote on that performance.

Cllr Gandhum went on to abstain in the vote on the application, which reinforces my belief that he doesn’t really understand many of the planning applications which come before the Committee. He accused me of being untruthful about this application when I spoke in favour of it at Windlesham Parish Council. He was utterly wrong then, as the documents presented to the Planning Committee showed on Wednesday. He often has personal financial interests in planning applications in Lightwater too.

I will be writing to the leader of the Conservative Group on Surrey Heath Borough Council to ask her to remove Cllr Gandhum from the Planning Committee when it is next reconstituted in the next few months. His temperament is appalling, he is incapable of understanding key details about applications and he has too many personal financial interests in property in Lightwater. His removal from the Committee would be a fitting post script to the story of the Lightwater dance school planning application.

Have Your Say – Shape Your Community

Surinder’s unpleasant contribution aside, it was a fair hearing and I was privileged to be part of it. I would like to encourage more residents to get involved in commenting on planning and licensing applications, so if you need help or advice to object to or support an application, please get in touch.

“Any problem in the world can be solved by dancing.” – James Brown

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