New figures show pothole failure

A new set of figures released by Gloucestershire County Council shows targets for pothole repairs being missed again. PaulPothole

In spite of a recent report highlighting successes that include the repair of 49,195 potholes, the Liberal Democrats have said the latest public figures show “something very different” in that still there is failure to achieve set performance targets.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach), last year called for the county’s highways contract with Amey to be closely monitored and for financial penalties to be imposed if performance targets were not consistently achieved in 2015/2016.

Speaking about the latest key performance indicators for roads at a recent full council meeting, Cllr. Hodgkinson said:

“The indicators publicly reveal that there are areas within highways where targets have simply not been met, and in other areas they have fallen alarmingly short. For example, the target to repair road defects within 3 months is 95%, yet the performance is just 68%. It seems that due to resources being put to repair the biggest potholes, this actual outcome is woefully poor. You only have to look at the smaller roads in particular to see that there is a failure to get this right.

“We’re told that additional resources have been secured to resolve this backlog, and we hope to see it reduce over the coming months, but we’ll be watching closely. Residents want roads they can drive on without having to avoid dangerous potholes.

“The indicators also reveal that repairs to roads required within 28 days are below target. This really has to get better.

“It’s about time that the Cabinet Member for Highways and Flood stopped pretending that everything in the garden is rosy with the roads contractor Amey when clearly these indicators show it’s not.

“The highways performance indicators also show that in terms of county councillor and parish council satisfaction, this is also slipping.

“With the review of the highway contract fast approaching Amey need to step up to the mark and really show improvements in their performance.”

To Coxit or not to Coxit, that is the question

Something strange happened on 25 February. That was the day when I heard that the Leader of Cotswold District Council (CDC) announced to the world that he had an idea. The problem is that the idea is mad.

Welcome to Glos

I’m talking about ‘Coxit’ – the proposal that the Cotswolds exits Gloucestershire County Council. The suggestion is that it is subsumed into Oxfordshire with a new ‘unitary’ council being created. This council would be called ‘West Oxfordshire (Cotswold)’ – nice to see that we are an afterthought in brackets – and would mean the break up of Gloucestershire local government as we know it. Why? Because this new council would replace the County Council in the Cotswolds with a single council. Hence the term ‘Coxit’ which one witty journalist has dubbed it.

Now, I’m all for making savings and keeping things simpler. I’m often asked what the different councils do and it’s confusing for a lot of people. In fact, I’m also up for exploring unitary councils and whether they could work within our county.

The problem is that this daft proposal – which even the CDC Leader’s own colleagues on the County Council knew nothing about – flies in the face of county and regional boundaries. It’s an idea which has been cooked up behind closed doors with no discussion with anyone. It defies logic.

These proposals would undermine the delivery of important public services currently delivered by Gloucestershire County Council. What’s also disturbing is that other public services such as the NHS, the Police, the Fire Service and the Local Enterprise Partnership have boundaries which mirror the county council.

These organisations have already voiced their serious concerns over the splitting up of our county’s services due to the issue of any new Cotswold authority not only crossing different counties but different regions too.

It’s all very odd – the Conservative manifesto for the local CDC elections last May didn’t mention any of this, so there’s no mandate to put this on the table. People I’ve spoken to out and about in the area are bemused by it. Why haven’t we had a say in this, they cry! Well they do have a point don’t they?

So, I’m with them – I believe that the removal of the Cotswold District from the Gloucestershire administrative area would harm the economy of the county.

Gloucestershire is a unique area of England with a cohesive set of communities interlinked with a common set of interests. To break up this county would damage the public services that support us all.

Here’s what I say to CDC – please do not waste any more time and taxpayers money on expensive consultants looking into something which no one has asked for, voted for or been consulted on.

Getting on with delivering good services should be all we’re about in local government. Listen to the people.

Securing investment in young people’s mental health support

At the County Council’s budget setting meeting in Shire Hall last week the Liberal Democrats successfully secured an investment of £25K for 2016/2017 into mental health support for children and young people. This follows the £450K investment the Liberal Democrats secured two years ago to improve young people’s mental health services.

mentalhealth

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said:

“Children in Gloucestershire’s schools suffer significant levels of stress and mental illness, which has resulted in a worryingly high incidence of self-harm. There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%. Two years ago, we secured budget funding to launch a pioneering schools-based service to counter this by increasing pupil’s mental resilience.

“The subsequent reception from schools has been very positive and this year we’ve secured additional funding to extend the service, notably to children with special needs, for example Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder – this represents a major step forward in mental health.”

It is envisaged that the £25K will be used to develop a resource and training programme for professionals and schools to support these groups of young people who are susceptible to low levels of resilience.

 Mental health is one of the Lib Dems’ top priorities. There is now an increased awareness that mental illness devastates the lives of many young people. Figures reveal that 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is around three children in every class. These figures really highlight the need to do more.

Broken Promise, Broken Roads

Today, Gloucestershire County Council’s Conservative bosses voted to slash money for road repairs.

PaulPothole2016

The Council’s Cabinet has put forward a budget which cuts money going to highways by over £2 million in the coming year.

Challenging the decision, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“In the last County Council elections in 2013 the Tories pledged to ‘invest more in our roads’. Sadly today they have broken that promise.

“We’re all painfully aware of how our roads are deteriorating at the end of a long, wet winter. Potholes are popping up all over the place.

“This is always the thing residents raise with me most. In fact, the Council’s own budget consultation shows that it’s one of the Top 5 things people want money spent on.

“Yet now we see a huge cut in the money going to fix our pavements and streets. It’s not rocket science to see that money could be found from other budgets to fix the potholes properly.

“I call now for an immediate U turn on this cut. Otherwise it is a case of ‘Broken promise, broken roads.’

 

Cotswold school helps community get physical

The Cotswold School, located in Bourton-on-the-Water, has unveiled new sports equipment which was part funded by Gloucestershire County Council’s ‘Active Together’ scheme.

Paul with staff and students from the school

‘Active Together’ is a grant scheme designed to increase sport and physical activity opportunities for people in the county. Each electoral division in the county has £40,000 available.

County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) provided the School with cash from his ‘Active Together’ funds towards their new gym. Money was also provided by the neighbouring county councillor.

Cotswold School, which was recently voted by the Times newspaper as the best comprehensive school in the country, made the application to the county council to further support its role as sports facility provider in the community.

The money helped to replace ageing gymnastics equipment, used by the school as well as local clubs, and to buy moveable dugouts for the school’s outdoor sports pitches. New sports equipment for the netball team, and an outdoor table tennis table were also included in the investment.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, said; “I’m delighted to be able to support the fantastic work that Cotswold School does in the local community.

“This additional funding will mean they can continue to provide high quality facilities for their pupils and local sports clubs, whilst promoting a healthy lifestyle in the county.”

Unanimous council call to improve ambulance response times 

Paul’s call for urgent improvements to ambulance response times was debated and supported unanimously at Gloucestershire County Council earlier this month.

ambulance rushing

The issue was first brought by Cllr Hodgkinson to the Council in May 2014 where unanimous cross-party support was given for a motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times in the Cotswolds, Stroud, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.

Eighteen months on and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is still failing to meet its 75% target in responding to the most urgent calls within 8 minutes.

Paul says more must be done: “We know that paramedics do a brilliant job and that the ambulance service has been trying to improve performance, but more action must be taken.

“The latest ambulance performance report published this autumn shows simply dreadful figures for our area. We cannot ignore the fact that the response times have in fact got worse.

“For example, in September of this year the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in only 38.46% of cases in the Cotswolds. Last September 2014, the same target was achieved in 53.3% of cases in our area. So the gap actually widened.

“Finally, the County Council’s Health and Care Committee have now also been given full council backing to explore the option of creating a county-wide ambulance service rather than a regional one. This is an interesting suggestion and one which really needs looking at.”

Call to end ambulance service crisis in Gloucestershire

A Liberal Democrat motion submitted to the county council next week will look once again at worrying ambulance response times across many parts of Gloucestershire.

PaulHospital

This follows the latest figures showing the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s (SWASFT) continuing failure to meet their 75% target in responding to the most urgent calls within 8 minutes.

The issue was first brought by Cllr Paul Hodgkinson at a council meeting in May 2014 where unanimous cross-party support was given for a motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times in the Cotswolds, Stroud, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.

In spite of the fact that the issue of ambulance performance is being monitored by the Council’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) improvements have yet to be made.

Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) who will for a second time be leading the debate said that:

“Our calls for improving ambulance response times made in the council chamber over eighteen months ago appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The latest ambulance performance report published last month show simply dreadful figures. I’m extremely concerned about the latest 8 minute response rates which show the target being missed spectacularly in areas like the Cotswolds – in fact the response times have actually got worse from the previous year. In September of this year the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in only 38.46% of cases in the Cotswolds and in the same month this year 47.83% of cases in Stroud. Last September, the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in 53.3% of cases in the Cotswolds and 69.2% in Stroud.

“I’ve said before and will say it again that overall we commend the work of the ambulance service and the many lives that are saved, but a crisis point has now been reached where what we are seeing is SWASFT’s failure to improve.

“I want to see the figures improving significantly. As well as calling for urgent improvements, I will also request that the Council’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee explores the creation of a county-wide ambulance service rather than a regional one.

“People living in rural areas have for far too long been living with a second rate service in terms of ambulance response times compared to those living in the urban areas of both Cheltenham and Gloucester.”

Cllr Joe Harris (LD, Cirencester Park) who will be supporting the motion also said that:

“I’ve seen first hand the excellent work that our paramedics do across the area in difficult circumstances. The continuing poor performance on response times is really concerning and highlights a bigger problem, it’s a problem that senior decision makers need to get a grip of.

“We continue to see targets being missed in the most life threatening cases and also on ‘green priority’ calls, an example of this could be the elderly lady who has fallen in the street and is having to wait hours for an ambulance in great pain. It isn’t good enough.

“In SWAST’s case bigger certainly hasn’t meant better and their performance in many parts of the County highlights this. I believe that a return to a County Ambulance service will mean better outcomes for Gloucestershire residents through local decision making and scrutiny. I hope the Council votes to take the first step in doing this next week.”

Task group set up to save lives on A429

At last week’s County Council Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee unanimous cross-party support was given to the setting up of a task group to investigate safety and congestion on the A429.

Paul A429

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the Water and Northleach) requested a ‘call for action’ back in the Summer and now the Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee will look at road safety issues along the A429.

Cllr. Hodgkinson said that “The Cotswolds continues to have the worst accident record in Gloucestershire, every life lost on our roads can be avoided and we should act to prevent further injury and loss of life on this stretch of road. I’m therefore delighted that the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee has today supported for my calls to set up a working group.

“Once formed, this group can work together to come up with recommendations that deal with safety and also to work out how to ease the increasing gridlock which Stow, Moreton and Bourton all face regularly.

“As I’ve said before this road wasn’t built for a massive increase in traffic – the whole thing needs looking at and hopefully through this task group solutions can be found.”

In the bag

From Monday 5 October plastic bags have to be paid for in larger shops throughout England.

PH plastic bags

From that day, England falls into line with Wales and Scotland in charging 5p a bag.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) welcomes the move:

“Wales has seen a 90% drop in plastic bag usage since the charge was introduced which is having a major positive impact on the environment – plastic bags can hang around for up to 100 years and are often seen drifting around streets and the countryside.

“The Lib Dems in the last Coalition Government introduced this green initiative.  People can stock up on bags now to make sure they don’t then have to pay from next week – reusing bags will be the way forward.

“But there is nowhere now to recycle plastic bags in the Cotswolds – there used to be facilities at Tescos and some other stores.

“Would CDC be able to provide recycling of plastic bags? That way we could have a ‘double whammy’ of much lower usage and the bags that do get used could also be recycled!”

Air Balloon solution stalling

Last year the Department of Transport approved funding to Highways England for fixing the A417 ‘Missing Link’, as part of a £15 billion countrywide road improvement scheme, but it has now been confirmed that a solution will not be delivered before 2021.

wgrp1530h13 air balloon[2]

Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bouton-On-the-Water and Northleach) raised the issue this week with a Senior County Council Officer and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in his capacity as Chairman of the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson said: “Many of us have spent years lobbying for a solution to the triple problems at the A417 – air pollution, gridlock and accidents. The outgoing Coalition Government committed to a sum of £250 million to be allocated to solving the Missing Link last December.

“Now, the new Government appears to be moving the goalposts. Not only do we now have no absolute commitment to spending money on a solution but the date for actual works is moving back beyond 2021.

A report from the LEP presented to the county’s council leaders this week stated that ‘..Highways England say any delivery of A417 solution is not in current funding programme to 2021’.

Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents part of the area covered by the A417 added: “Fixing the A417 does not feature on Highways England’s current funding programme up to 2021 and I’ve also seen no guarantees that it’ll feature on any programme after 2021 either.

“This isn’t on. We want a clear and definite commitment and total clarity about when works will start.”

Cllr Nigel Robbins (LD: Cirencester Beeches) who represents another part of the A417 said: “How many more fatalities are going to happen on this stretch of road before something is finally delivered? Fixing the A417 is vital in cutting accidents and reducing congestion and pollution levels.

“More than 6,600 people pledged their support in January 2014 when it seemed we had finally turned a corner in delivering a solution.

 “Residents of Gloucestershire deserve certainty and the timetable for delivering a solution to fixing the A417 missing link is slipping. I’m calling for more to be done to get it back on track.”

“We’ll continue to campaign to get the missing link fixed.”