Tag Archives: Eric Pickles

Is This Really a Top Priority?

As a country we are currently facing billions of pounds worth of cuts, cuts in local services and funding, and as part of that thousands of redundancies for staff across the country including one hundred locally, and what does Eric Pickles (@ericpickles) choose to launch a crusade on? Not the damaging effects of widespread cuts to communities across the country, no, he launches a crusade over unnecessary roadsigns, railings and advertising hoardings.

Now admittedly there are quite a few examples, Flickr have a group with a few gems, indeed the BBC has today highlighted a few including one just down the road from us where Wokingham Borough Council Highways department have, rather than replace an out of date sign, just stuck a new, bigger sign in front of the old one. Messy, but I guess it saved a bob or two, and the council is of course under pressure due to the swinging cuts coming down from central government.

There are numerous, serious problems facing this country – should unnecessary road signs really be a top priority for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government?

Standing Up for England's Counties

There is a bit of a double act going on between Grant Shapps (@grantshapps) and Eric Pickles (@ericpickles) on Twitter at times with one promoting the other. One such bit of promotion came last week when Grant Shapps tweeted the following:

Eric Pickles standing up for England’s counties and 1,000 years of English history – http://bit.ly/aD1Z0Z

The link points to the Telegraph letters page of August 11th which part way down features this letter from Eric Pickles:

SIR – I share the public’s concern (Letters, August 9) at the recommendation of the Postcode Address File Advisory Board to delete counties from the Royal Mail’s address database by 2016. It speaks volumes that unelected officials regard our counties – and over 1,000 years of English history – as a “vanity attachment”.

But the new Government is taking steps to defend our counties. We have scrapped Labour’s gerrymandering which sought to break up the counties of Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk for electoral advantage and we are dismantling the tiers of regional assemblies and development agencies.

It is a response to the recent news that the Royal Mail will no longer include counties in official addresses – and as you can see Eric Pickles uses it as an opportunity to pledge to protect English counties.

I have to say I greeted that with a good deal of amusement, the reason being that I live in what was once the county of Berkshire one of the oldest in the country, which exists now purely as a ceremonial county, and it’s not been Labour gerrymandering for electoral advantage that has reduced the county to a mark on the map, it was the Tory Local Government Act 1972 that transferred a chunk of the county including the former county town of Abingdon to Oxfordshire in 1974, and then the previous Tory administration gerrymandering for electoral advantage that abolished the whole county in 1998John Gummer chose to ignore the recommendations of the commission leaving Berkshire with six unitary authorities.

So what is the effect? For us in our little village at a simple level it means significantly less representation. We have a single local councillor, who we can only vote for once every four years, for the other three years our opinion counts for absolutely nothing. Under the old two tier system we had representation at both local and county level, and many more opportunities to vote.

Looking wider, we now have six authorities fighting with each other. We saw it with the endless debates over housing allocation where Wokingham District fought and lost the battle with the other authorities – each authority purely focused on their own people. Even government documents such as this concede that the six small unitary authorities don’t work in the best interests of the people, check out this paragraph on page 5:

The unitary structure of local government across Berkshire makes it difficult for other stakeholders to engage on issues that cut across boundaries. This is further complicated by the range of political views and agendas within and across the local authorities, and by the fact that changes across other public sector bodies do not align with the Local Authorities or each other (e.g. Police, Primary Care Trusts and Learning and Skills Council)

The size of the authorities causes problems too, I remember a number of discussions with local teachers of the problems, for example the peculiarities caused by Wokingham outsourcing much of their education to next door Surrey, or the fact that school repair projects that were approved by Berkshire were dropped by Wokingham who had more limited funds. We still have the effects now more than a decade later with many students being educated in schools in adjacent authorities rather than their own, purely because villages in the west of Wokingham are closer to schools in West Berkshire, students in parts of Reading are closer to schools in Wokingham.

That also highlights a missed opportunity – Reading still doesn’t have one authority overseeing a strategy for the whole town. A large chunk towards the south east of Greater Reading is in Wokingham, indeed most of the University of Reading is in Wokingham. Over in the west another chunk of the town is looked after by West Berkshire. In both cases there is no clear divide between the areas, but the historic borders were retained.

So will the Tories stand up for England’s counties? I don’t know, but as a resident of the former county of Berkshire their past record doesn’t bode well for the future.

Glow Stick Christingle

Glow Stick Christingle

I posted a week ago that like Chelmsford Cathedral, we were trying out Glow Candles in our Christingles this year. We’ve just got back having sung in the choir at the second of the three Christingle Services today, and acted as stewards for the third, and all in all the new style Christingles seem to have gone down pretty well.

There certainly have been complaints, and indeed the Rector was fielding a number of grumbles of the sort being raised by MP Eric Pickles in the article in the Telegraph, with grumbles about health and safety gone too far, taking the magic out of the service, and so on, but universally the comments weren’t coming from the children or the parents. Certainly amongst the children of the choir who attended the 4pm service, in fact one of the choristers said she wasn’t interested in the orange or the sweets, but only wanted to take away the glow stick, and various of the other children were having a great time rushing around the lawn outside the parish centre in the dark with the glow sticks too. There were also a number of positive comments from parents, who in previous years have had worries with their younger children, and had a fairly stressful time through that part of the service keeping an eye on their offspring making sure they didn’t burn themselves. Indeed, one parent actually thanked us for taking the decision to change.

Holding Up the Christingles

Whilst the glow produced by the Glow Candles probably isn’t as bright as the candles would be, it certainly is enough to be effective, especially at the later services where it is dark outside, and was certainly enough for people to be able to read their service sheets by.

The change to Glow Candles was also used to make a theological point. Since once they are lit they stay alight as people left the Church, this was to symbolise everybody taking the light of Christ out into the world – something we couldn’t do with candles.

Telling the Christmas Story

Whilst by no means do I think this is the end of the discussion, it certainly seems to have been pretty successful in terms of the target audience. I’m sure when the time to organise our Christingles comes around again we’ll have people arguing for a return to candles. I took some snapshots of the 6pm service, which can be found here, which hopefully will give some idea of the differences with using the Glow Candles – it will also give some idea of the numbers of people we have to handle – upwards of 250 people at each of the three services, with even people sitting in the choir stalls behind the altar at the 6pm service.