Monthly Archives: September 2013

Surrey’s Small Libraries Are Under Threat

I attended the Communities Select Committee of Surrey County Council today. The agenda included a progress report on their so-called Community Partnered Library policy whereby paid staff are replaced totally by volunteers. I filed the following written public question:

What is the percentage change in the public’s usage of libraries, ie number of books borrowed per month, which have become Community Partnered Libraries since they became CPLs? How does this change compare with the other libraries in the network which have not become CPLs?

Here is the answer I received. Public question – Mr Wilson

I was allowed to ask one supplementary question and this is what I asked:

Thank you for answering my question. I would like to ask a supplementary question. I note that after becoming Community Partnered Libraries, the six CPLs’ issuing of books has declined at twice the rate of other comparable libraries. Your answer says that “low and declining use” was the reason for choosing the first 10 CPLs. Is it actually the case that 5 of the 10 had rising  usage?

This included Bagshot, my local library, which seems to be the least advanced towards CPL status of the 10. Will the last be the first? Will Bagshot Library be the first to close? Your policy includes closing libraries where volunteers cannot be found. The Friends of Bagshot Library, a group of 40 to 50 volunteers, set up Bagshot Community Library Limited and were ready to take over the library. Item 9 Annex 1 on this meeting’s documents says that they have expressed concern about their capacity to undertake the task. What is the source of this statement? Isn’t it actually the case that they do have the capacity but are concerned about the draft contract and have been cut off by the lack of communication from this council and undermined by Windlesham Parish Council?

How many firm commitments have Windlesham Parish Council received from volunteers? Finally, how would the members of this committee feel if Bagshot Library closes due to your policy? Will you feel it like a bereavement as many local library users would? Would you resign if that were to happen? Or is that the objective of your policy?

Addressing (not answering!) my questions were council officers, Cllr Helyn Clack (the cabinet member responsible), Cllr Denise Saliagopoulos (chair of the committee and former cabinet member responsible until she was sacked after allegations of financial misconduct), and Cllr Mike Goodman (Con, Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham and chair of Windlesham Parish Council).

Firstly, they did not deny that some of the 10 hitlisted libraries were increasing usage when they were targeted for this treatment. Nobody would say that Bagshot Library will not close or even that if it did they would care. Cllr Goodman would not reveal how many volunteers they had found so far (I hear it’s fewer than 10) but he did say a poster had gone up. Don’t laugh, that’s quite an achievement for our parish council, it was probably the result of many long meetings and brain-storming sessions.

It is so sad that Bagshot Library is suffering because of political manoeuvring by Conservative Windlesham Parish Council. I asked that Bagshot be removed from the CPL programme and returned to the supported network of libraries. It is obviously not going to work as a CPL and this is the only way to save it.

Disturbingly, they could not rule out adding to the number of small libraries under threat by the CPL scheme, including Lightwater, Frimley Green and Ash. This policy could devastate library users across Surrey Heath and Surrey as a whole.

The committee meeting was several hours long with many other interesting points. Please view these clips for a taster:


NHS Group’s Public Meeting 24 Sept 2013

I spent this evening at the Public Stakeholder meeting of Surrey Heath Clinical Commissioning Group. This is the newly-formed group of doctors’ surgeries which now controls an annual budget of about £105m to provide much of the healthcare for 90,000 residents of Surrey Heath. The area they cover is not exactly the same as the borough nor the constituency of Surrey Heath. It includes Ash but doesn’t include Chobham and West End. Most of the annual budget (£60.2m) is spent on hospital care, all at Frimley Park Hospital, I think.

Here is the agenda of tonight's meeting.

Here is the agenda of tonight’s meeting.

I have been to a few meetings of the CCG before and there were about 30 members of the public there tonight. At my table there were patients’ representatives, a hospice representative, a SCC officer, a youth worker and the police commander of West Surrey. I’m not sure if there were any councillors there but I didn’t recognise any. Everyone was very engaged with health and/or social care services. 

We were all welcomed to the meeting by Sir Edward Crew, the Chairman of the CCG. Ted used to be Chief Constable of Surrey Police and his daughter is the current holder of that post.

Next followed presentations by Dr Andy Brooks (Chief Officer), Alison Huggett (Director of Quality & Nursing), Gareth Jones (Lay member of board) and Mel McKeown (Commissioning Support Unit).

One of the ‘Strategic Areas of Change’ that the CCG are planning is a 20% reduction in spending on acute hospital care in the next three years. This is a very ambitious aim and will require substantial measures to prevent or divert hospital admissions and readmissions.

The CCG measures its performance using a ‘Balanced Score Card’ which rates them on different measures. One of the ‘indicators’ which is measured is the financial surplus that the CCG generates. They have a ‘Green’ for that, ie they are running a large surplus. I pointed out that patients will not be happy to hear this, they will want the CCG to spend their budget to give us the best possible healthcare.

The CCG is also rated according to how well their providers perform. This year there was a so-called ‘never event’ at Frimley Park Hospital, something that should never happen in a million years. A swab was left inside a patient after surgery. This is a dreadful mistake to happen and reduced the CCG’s rating under ‘Are local people getting good quality care?’.

There were some other notable statistics, like 13% of people in Surrey Heath are disabled and over 9% are unpaid carers.

We went on to discuss the best way to engage ‘hard to reach groups’ in our tables. Alison Huggett chaired the discussion at our table. The CCG already had identified certain groups including by geographical area. They asked us, the public, which other groups they should focus on. I pointed out that travellers are hard to reach groups and explained the nature of these groups in Surrey Heath. Travellers have significantly worse health outcomes than the settled population so I felt it was important for the CCG to prioritise their care even though they are a small proportion of our population. Other participants mentioned young people and drug users as other hard to reach groups which hadn’t already been mentioned. 

The next breakout session was on the Draft Commissioning Intentions. There were 20+ draft commissioning projects in 6 categories: Unplanned Care, Planned Care, Mental Health, Children & Families, Enabling Projects and Medicines Management. Then there were some sample patient outcomes which we were asked to prioritise.

My two favoured outcomes were equalising health inequalities and integrating health and social care. Surrey Heath generally has very good health, mostly because it is a wealthy area, but it is a source of shame that we have a few deprived areas which suffer very poor health. I’m in favour of Andy Burnham’s ‘Whole Person Care’ where physical, mental and social care, especially for the elderly, are integrated. I would like to see local council social care more involved. A £50 handrail, paid for from social care budget, could save someone from a fall and broken bones which would cost the NHS thousands of pounds, not to mention the pain and distress that could be prevented.

At the very end there were two public questions, including mine:

On 11 February 2013, a group of your patients representing the non-party political online campaigning community 38 Degrees presented a petition to Chief Officer Andy Brooks. We requested that the CCG consider some improvements to the constitution. These have been written to be legally water-tight by 38 Degrees’s lawyers and would help to build public trust by pledging to behave ethically and openly. Has the management board considered these improvements and what actions will they be taking now?38 Degrees

The answer was read out and I’m hoping to receive an email with the full answer soon. Basically, they will consider it in October. So just one more month to wait. After the meeting I spoke to Mel McKeown who works with other CCGs and she said that many other CCGs have adopted the 38 Degrees constitution amendments. I’m optimistic that they will decide to make the change that their patients want and include an ethical and social dimension to commissioning.

Overall, I enjoyed the event. I like to have my say about important issues and the NHS is the most important of all. I was listened to, so I can’t complain about that. My real interest is in commissioning decisions and much of that is outsourced to the Commissioning Support Unit or hasn’t come up yet. Commissioning is a complicated business and our CCG is one of the smallest in the country. By giving away the negotiating of contracts, I hope they haven’t given away the local power. Ted Crew ended the meeting by asking us to spread the word and get more members of the public to participate in these meetings. I’m happy to do this. The CCG is an important opportunity to have your say about the NHS. I’m so glad that Ed Miliband has confirmed that the Health and Social Care Act will be repealed in 2015 but equally I’m sure there will be a place for GP commissioning under the Labour government. Go along or fill in an online survey or phone them and tell them what you think.

Objection to latest housing plan at Chobham Common

Regular readers will already know about the plans to build 200 houses on the Green Belt ex-DERA site at Chobham Common. This endangers rare wildlife, destroys the beautiful Surrey countryside and would add to the chronic infrastructure problems here like the lack of access to GPs, shortage of school places and congested roads.

I have submitted objections on behalf of the Windlesham Society to both Runnymede Borough Council and Surrey Heath Borough Council. Here is an example: Objection to 2013 DERA application

You can read about the planning application here.

If you object too, you can email

Surrey Heath Borough Council are being consulted about this application and they can be contacted here: Their reference number is 13/0618.


Windlesham Field of Remembrance Fireworks Display 8 Nov 2013

It was great to hear about the Windlesham Fireworks Display at the meeting of the trustees of the Field of Remembrance this evening. It will take place, for the first time, at the Field on 8 November 2013 in collaboration with the Windlesham Village School.

The preparations sound amazing. The Field will be an ideal setting for the bonfire and fireworks and can cope with large numbers of people. The firm contracted to set off the fireworks have won awards and they are the best in the business. We will be providing marshals and could use some more volunteers. So, if you live in or near Windlesham and fancy helping out in any way, click here to get in touch to volunteer.

The money raised will be split between the school and the Field of Remembrance’s new pavilion fund. The fund is about 60% of the way there now. The demolition of the existing old pavilion will take place next spring/summer. The recent Carry On Camping event raised lots of money and other donations have given the fund a real boost.

Along with other committee members I will be going door-to-door in Windlesham until 16 Sept collecting for the annual maintenance of the Field. We discussed quite a few maintenance issues tonight like trimming tree branches over Kennel Lane, collecting dog mess, pond dredging and keeping the excellent play area safe and clean. My 3 year-old nephew visited recently and tried out the play park. It met with his unequivocal approval.

The Field of Remembrance committee are a dedicated enthusiastic group who are united in being focused on keeping this unique facility in great shape for the people of Windlesham, who jointly own it. I am the newest member of the committee but I can already see the Field is in safe hands. If you can spare an hour or two please volunteer to help out. If you can spare a quid or two please donate it to the Field (which is a registered charity) either for maintenance or towards the brilliant new pavilion. Remember: it’s your Field.


Michael Gove, the Gagging Bill and me

Yesterday, 6 September 2013, I was assaulted. My attacker was Mr Alan Cleverly CBE, Michael Gove MP’s agent. The assault took place after I entered the reception of Mr Gove’s constituency office. Mr Gove claims to be an active MP and said on the radio recently, “My door is always open.” Luckily, I had a camcorder with me so I was able to record the assault. You can view it here:

So, why was I there? What was so important that I HAD to see my MP so urgently? Well, I have written about the Gagging Bill which is being rushed through Parliament before, but this video explains it very well. It includes left and right wing campaigners who will be banned by the Bill:

I have tried umpteen times to arrange a meeting with Michael Gove, who is, after all my MP, to talk about this Bill. Unfortunately, Lynton Crosby has ordered all senior Conservative MPs not to meet constituents about the Gagging Bill. So I was forced to attempt to see Gove without an appointment.

However, I did receive a letter from Gove today but I think it bears the hallmarks of the letter-writing service used by Tory MPs to provide templates to answer tricky questions posed by constituents. Even more unfortunately, it is completely wrong and misleading. Here are the two pages of the letter:

Gove gagging letter p1Gove gagging letter p2

Mr Gove has underlined “only” to emphasise that third parties would have to “campaign for the electoral success of a particular political party or candidate” to be affected. This is untrue. Clause 26(3) of the Bill introduces a new test for activity which is, “for the purpose of or in connection with” enhancing the standing of parties and/or candidates. “In connection with” has a much broader scope than the current rules. For Mr Gove to claim otherwise is worrying. Either he doesn’t know what’s in the Bill or he is deliberately attempting to mislead me.

Anyway, nearly everything else in his letter is incorrect, or irrelevant. By sending this to me, after I have patiently and politely (and repeatedly) asked to meet him he is clearly unwilling to take what I am saying seriously. He tries to fob me off with misleading propaganda, refuses to meet me and has his staff rough me up into the bargain.

The pugilistic Mr Cleverly promised me, and shook my hand to confirm it, that Mr Gove’s senior researcher would phone me yesterday to arrange an urgent meeting. He did this to persuade me to go away after I doorstepped him for two hours. She did not phone me. Instead I got this email (including my reply):


The Committee stage of the Bill is next Tuesday. Our democratic rights are about to be savaged as never before and we must act now, even if it means upsetting some local Surrey Heath Tory grandees. It is not just me saying this. The right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes said that this Bill makes the UK like Putin’s Russia. Here are some more video clips from yesterday and a small taste of the campaign to come:

Don't Gag Me (or assault me physically)

Don’t Gag Me (or assault me physically)

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