Special meeting to be held over “shocking” Ofsted report

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS have secured an extraordinary meeting of the County Council after a damning Ofsted report was published rating the county’s children’s services as ‘inadequate’.  

The forty-one page report conducted between 27 February and 23 March 2017 found “serious and widespread failures for children in need of help and protection” and “serious concerns about the integrity of the current senior leadership team”.

The overall conclusion by Ofsted that Children’s services in Gloucestershire are ‘inadequate’  came from examining the following areas:

·         Children who need help and protection – Inadequate

·         Children looked after and achieving permanence – Requires improvement

·         Adoption performance – Good

·         Experiences and progress of care leavers – Requires improvement

·         Leadership, management and governance – Inadequate.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) says the report is shocking and a massive blow to those who are responsible for the protection of children:

“This is an utterly damning report on the state of local children’s services in Gloucestershire. It is a story of failure.

“Ofsted has graded two out of five areas as ‘inadequate’ and another two areas as ‘requires improvement’. It is alarming that the report states that “senior leaders have not sufficiently prioritised or improved the quality of social work practice since services for children in need of help and protection were judged inadequate in 2011, and the quality of services to children and families has now deteriorated significantly”.

“The report goes on to say that “management oversight is inadequate…”, that there are “significant weaknesses in social work practice” and that “children in need and child protection plans are not sufficiently clear or robust.”

“We have seen several ‘inadequate’ inspection reports across the country where there have been calls for resignations and requests made to establish independent peer review boards.

“Here, we know that heads are already rolling as a result of this report with the sudden resignation of one and the quick retirement of another senior officer within the department. It is not surprising as this is a truly awful and deeply concerning report. The Council’s leadership now need to consider their own positions.

“Approximately 124,799 children and young people under the age of 18 years live in Gloucestershire. At 28th February 2017, 7,319 children had been identified as needing specialist children’s services, and 604 children are being looked after by this local authority, these children deserve better.

“The Council’s leaders need to explain how this has happened under their watch.”

Residents come out in force to talk about crime in Bourton

 

Over the last 6 months Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has been approached by a lot of residents about the problem of anti-social behaviour in Bourton on the Water.

These issues range from a group of children and young adults threatening other people, swearing, drinking and taking drugs as well as littering around the village.

As a result of this he first invited the Police & Crime Commissioner Martin Surl to come to Bourton in February to hear for himself the challenges the village faces. Surl heard from residents first hand and recognised the need to take action to sort this out. Now, we’ve had a follow up to this meeting in May.

Paul chaired the recent meeting at the Community Centre and 70 residents turned out to voice their continued worries over crime. In particular, the police were told that more had to be done to show that anti social behaviour is unacceptable and can’t be tolerated. There were heartfelt examples from people whose lives are being negatively impacted.

The police inspector for the area, Karen Ellis, has committed to working with local people to get to grips with the situation. Key members of the community will be working with the police in the next few months to help bring the issues under control. Individuals who have been causing problems are being identified and further action will be taken. But the police do need people to come forward with specific examples otherwise they can’t act. The number to ring is 101.

CCTV in the village could be one way of collecting evidence and the Parish Council explained that it was expensive but that they were still considering this – an option here is to look for grants to pay for this.

On a plus point, the Parish Council and others have successfully launched a new youth club. Numbers have been increasing and Around 30 young people came along to the first sessions and this is a really positive way of heading off any future issues with anti-social behaviour.

There were also commitments by the police to keep monitoring and sorting out littering, drug use and vandalism at specific locations.

On a different note, the issue of speeding traffic came up despite the cut to a 20mph limit recently. The Community Speedwatch team have been active after re-forming and will continue to do what they can to alert drivers including activity in different parts of the village. Better signage will also be introduced by Highways.

Finally, good news that an ATM will be installed at the existing Co-op store from 9 June following the ram raid on Lloyds Bank in April. The bravery of Tony Hughes who single handedly stopped the cash being stolen was acknowledged at the meeting with the biggest round of applause of the night.

There’ll be a follow up meeting with the police and Deputy PCC in October to make sure that we keep the momentum going on addressing these issues. Details of that meeting will be publicised nearer the time.

Call for Road Safety Champion

This week at Shire Hall a proposal had been made for the creation of a Road Safety Champion for Gloucestershire.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) with residents and councillors from along the A436

Latest figures reveal that the number of killed and seriously injured people in the county last year was 207. But, the County Council has set itself a ‘target’ of 141. The number of killed and seriously injured older people was 48. This was double the County Council’s own ‘target’. This comes on the back of equally disturbing figures over the last few years.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson questioned the current Cabinet Member responsible for road safety about what the Council was actually doing to reduce the number of accidents on our roads.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“Any road accident is certainly one too many and although I am pleased that over the last 10 years casualties on our county’s roads have reduced, the county council target has nevertheless been consistently missed in the last 3 years. Recently, rural roads such as the A429 Fosse Way have seen a major increase in deaths. Other roads in Gloucestershire including the A48 in the Forest of Dean have also seen regular road safety issues.

“I have therefore called for a Road Safety Champion who will work with the Council’s road safety team focusing specifically on this alarming trend and ultimately to save lives.

“This Champion would be a County Councillor who would really tackle this problem and provide a focal point for reducing accidents.

“We hope our request is reasonable and that whoever runs the administration after May’s elections will seriously consider the creation of this new role to promote road safety and make a decision on this as soon as possible.”

Take control back of our roads

Liberal Democrats have announced bold plans to bring the county’s roads and footways back under the control of the County Council.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) has pledged to look at how the county’s highway services can be taken back in-house rather than extend the existing contract with Amey.

Since April 2014, Amey has taken responsibility for managing and maintaining Gloucestershire’s highway network, which includes nearly 10,000km of roads, as well as providing winter maintenance services and delivering highway improvement schemes.

The contract, which runs for 5 years with possible extensions up to 11 years, is currently being reviewed by the county’s Highways Commissioning Team. Councillors are due to decide in the early summer whether to extend the contract for a further 3 years or to terminate it in 2018/19. Due to the length of time it takes to re-tender the highways contract the decision to extend  it needs to be taken between 18 and 24 months prior to the end of the 5 year period.

Amey’s performance over the years has been regularly criticised by both the Liberal Democrats and by parish councils and residents. Targets for filling potholes were repeatedly missed by the private contractor until recently.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson said:

“There is an unfounded acceptance that private companies such as Amey are cheaper and more efficient than the public sector. Many councils up and down the country are however taking public services back in-house. There are substantial cost savings being achieved as a result of ‘insourcing’ and those councils that have brought services back in-house are delivering higher quality services.

“In 2011, Cumbria, Ealing and Rotherham all brought their highways back in-house. Cumbria’s reason was simply to allow greater control and ability to deliver efficiency savings. Councils have fallen out of love with outsourcing vital services and fed up with private contractors failing to deliver. Amey is certainly no exception.

“Right from the beginning of the Amey contract, we saw many so called ‘teething troubles’, but problems escalated.

“The teething problems have become a nagging toothache requiring much needed treatment. We should not be railroaded into thinking that extending the contract with Amey or retendering and mobilising a new contract with another private contractor are our only options.

“I have serious misgivings in extending the contract with Amey and have therefore pledged to ask council officers to work on the option of bringing our highways back in-house if the Lib Dems form an administration at Shire Hall after the May local elections.

“Let’s take back control of our roads.”

Speed gates come to the Churn Valley

Road safety has been an ongoing concern for residents who live along the A435 in the Churn Valley.

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In particular the speed of traffic going through North Cerney. There have been regular speed checks by the police and community which show a small but persistent number of drivers exceeding the 40mph limit.

The centre of the village sees pedestrians including school children crossing the road to catch buses, a busy junction into the village and accessing the pub and primary school.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson discussed these issues with North Cerney Parish Council last year and – after meeting Highways on site – agreed to jointly fund a set of 4 gates at either end of the village. These gates are a feature of some other villages in the Cotswolds and the aim is to alert drivers to the fact they’re entering a village environment and a lower speed limit.

The gates have been jointly funded by Paul with the small pot of money he gets each year to fund highways projects, North Cerney Parish Council and Gloucestershire Highways.

The good news is that all 4 gates are now in place.

Further up the A435 heading to Cheltenham, two trial gates have been installed approaching the turning into Rendcomb. The aim of these is once again to slow traffic after numerous complaints about difficulties in exiting the junction there safely. These gates have also been jointly funded with Rendcomb Parish Council.

Council rakes in millions from parking

Nearly £10 million profit has been produced from council parking operations over the last five years in Gloucestershire.  

car-parking-fines

The figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats also show just under £2.5million was made both in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016.

Reference will be made to this huge sum of money by the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) in a question directed to parking bosses at next Wednesday’s County Council Cabinet Meeting.

In commenting, Cllr. Hodgkinson said:

“Next week, I’ll be challenging the Cabinet Member for parking to provide me with details of exactly what this surplus in parking has been spent on over the last few years.

“I’m aware that any profit generated must by law be spent on transport-related activities. It would however be good to see precisely those things that have been funded from money created from parking charges and penalty notices.

“Nearly £10 million is indisputably a huge amount of money. Gloucestershire was ranked 79 out of 353 councils in England with the largest parking surpluses. It could and should have been seen as making a very real difference in Gloucestershire, but I’m at a loss to see exactly what benefit this money has actually had. I’m dissatisfied and frustrated that the roads across the county are still dreadful. Where has this massive profit gone?

“The Conservatives have had 12 years in power on Gloucestershire County Council to get this right and they’ve simply failed to sort out the roads and pavements despite this windfall.

“I am saddened that we haven’t seen significant road improvements reflecting this significant sum of money generated from people who have paid for parking charges and penalty notices.

“Only a total change of approach will end the vicious cycle of potholed roads and ever increasing parking profits.”

Council pays out thousands of pounds for pothole damage

Nearly £18,000 of taxpayers’ money has been paid out to drivers for pothole damage in Gloucestershire.

PaulPothole2016

The figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to Gloucestershire County Council show that £17,774 has been paid in compensation to motorists for pothole-related damage over the last three years.

Now, the county’s Liberal Democrats have expressed bitter disappointment with the Conservative controlled Council for not properly investing in the area’s roads. 

Liberal Democrat Shadow for Highways, Cllr. Chris Coleman (St Mark’s and St Peter’s) said:

“A total of 1,713 unsurprisingly annoyed drivers made claims for compensation between November 2013 and November 2016. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone, whether they are motorists, councils or taxpayers.

“People already have to fork out so much to drive a car, the least they should expect is that their vehicle doesn’t get ruined by a bumpy road.

“Thousands of pounds are now being spent on pay-outs that could have been invested instead in fixing our roads.

“Roads should be fixed quickly so this compensation does not have to be paid out in the first place.

“It is about time the Conservatives sorted out our county roads for good.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) added:

“The volume of claims is large for A roads. I’m not at all surprised given the correspondence I get regularly from constituents who have damaged their cars driving through potholes.

“The spike in claims in Spring 2016 reflects the massive backlog in repairs which GCC’s roads contractor Amey was experiencing. It also came at the end of a very wet winter when so many potholes appeared.

“It highlights a failure by the Conservatives who have been responsible for roads in the county for the last 12 years. They need to invest more in road maintenance and improve the quality of repairs. It is the number one thing people raise with me and it has to improve.”

Nationally a total of £12 million has been paid out over the last four years on pothole compensation, with an average payment per person of £650.

Call for lower speed limit

Residents have called for greater road safety in the village of Perrotts Brook near Cirencester.

SR_8557_001     Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Cllr Nigel Robbins and Theo Hare,centre right, with copies of the petition to reduce the speed limit on Welsh Way at Perrott's Brook with some of the local residents

A petition of 70 names, gathered by local businessman Theo Hare, lobbies Gloucestershire Highways to cut the speed limit amidst concerns over the ways vehicles drive through the village.

Now, County Councillors Paul Hodgkinson and Nigel Robbins have backed residents and will be presenting the petition to December’s Council meeting.

Cllr Hodgkinson says the current system of speed limits is bizarre: “You have a situation at the moment where drivers are legally limited to 50mph on the busy main road between Cheltenham and Cirencester but in the narrow lanes of the village they can drive faster!

“It’s no wonder that residents complain of near-misses and feel unsafe as they walk and cycle.

“What we need is for Highways to listen and do something about this strange anomaly. People’s safety has to take priority and it’s totally reasonable to ask drivers to slow down a bit as they go through the village.”

 

Fight to keep popular newsagent

Residents in Bourton on the Water have expressed anger at moves to oust the village’s remaining newsagent shop.

Newsagent protest

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is campaigning to save the ‘community hub’ in the iconic tourist centre, encouraging residents to file objections to an application by the shop’s landlord.

The Cotswold District Council planning website has received 100 responses from local people who oppose the proposed conversion of the store into a fast food take away.

Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents Bourton and Northleach on the County Council, said: “The thought of losing the one remaining newsagent is really bad news.

“I’m very angry about this as Bourton has expanded hugely in recent years with more houses being built at the moment.

“We have 4,000 people in the village and there’s just one newsagent left to serve the community.”

Cllr Hodgkinson doesn’t feel Bourton needs another food outlet as there are already 35 in the village.

He added that neighbours meet each other on their daily visits to the newsagents and also buy a range of other goods:

“It has become a social hub and one which people do use and value. Let’s hope common sense prevails and that the newsagent can stay.”

A protest outside the newsagents attracted 50 local people who watched as Cllr Paul Hodgkinson and other councillors handed a letter of objection to the landlord at his home in the centre of Bourton.

Council misses recycling targets for last 4 years

Latest figures show that Gloucestershire is binning more waste than ever but too much is going to landfill.

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Now, the Liberal Democrats are calling for the County Council to get its recycling shoes on and start hitting waste targets. At a recent Council meeting they called on Shire Hall bosses to find ways to boost the amount we all leave out on the kerbside which can be used again.

The latest figures show that county-wide recycling rates are averaging 48%. That’s 5% less than the target of 53% which the Council has set itself.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach), Leader of the county Lib Dems, led the debate and says that the Council’s administration needs to address the disappointing figures:

“When targets are set then every effort has to be made to meet them. This is serious stuff as we’re protecting our environment when we recycle more. The 53% target hasn’t been met for the last four years. The Council’s target is to recycle/compost at least 60% of its household waste by 2020 with an aspirational target of 70% by 2030. It clearly has a long way to go to achieve these goals.

“Sadly, across the county some of the recycling figures are low. In 2015/2016, Stroud was at the bottom with only 31% of their household waste being sent for recycling whilst Gloucester could only achieve a 37% rate. The Cotswolds was the only district that had met the 53% recycling target achieving a 58% rate last year, although even this has been falling from its peak.

“In the council chamber I called for a real uplift in recycling rates across the county. I agree with Gloucestershire’s ‘Waste Core Strategy’ in that we need to make sure that reusing and composting should be made as simple as possible and that people and businesses can easily recycle on the kerbside or at waste sites.

“There are some real differences across the county when it comes to dealing with trash. In some areas councils collect drink cartons whilst in others people have no choice but to send them to landfill. And what about metals and textiles? There’s so much scope here to help us all recycle more.

“In the meantime, I’ll be insisting that the Cabinet Member at Shire Hall responsible for waste commissions an urgent report to look at ways the county’s recycling rates can be improved and for this to be discussed by all councillors in December.

“Talking rubbish for some might not be very interesting, but how we dispose of it is an important issue, especially now that this Conservative administration has committed us to a massive incinerator at Javelin Park – we can’t let that be an excuse to fail to recycle.”