Call for action over shocking levels of deprivation

New figures show big differences across Gloucestershire when it comes to hardship and access to services. 

Rural Negative Word Cloud

At the latest County Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee, councillors were presented with alarming figures showing how the county fares compared to other parts of England. And it made for uncomfortable reading as council bosses prepare their budgets for next year.

The figures come from an ‘Index of Multiple Deprivation’ and show levels of ‘deprivation’ for each part of Gloucestershire.

Areas are ranked from least deprived to most deprived, based on different measures including income, employment, education skills and training, health deprivation and disability, crime and disorder and barriers to housing and services.

The picture shows Gloucester and the Forest of Dean as ranked higher for deprivation compared to Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, the Cotswolds and Stroud.

But parts of the county usually seen as wealthier also show surprising results says Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach):

“There are pockets of people in the Cotswolds who face barriers to housing and services. I wasn’t expecting to see rural areas feature so highly in the deprivation league table.

“The Cotswolds is often seen as a playground for the rich and famous, but behind this veneer there are shocking levels of isolation and below average wages. Places like Chedworth now have few buses, sky high house prices and bad mobile phone coverage. For the more vulnerable this is a real issue which is not often talked about.

“Gloucestershire is made up of six unique districts; I’m appalled by these new figures. The Conservatives who have run the Council for 11 years have a responsibility to step up to the plate, take real action to address this situation and make sure there’s a level playing field for accessing services in our county. I want to see them come up with a plan to tackle these inequalities.”

At next month’s Council meeting, Cllr Hodgkinson will be asking the Leader of the County Council how the administration plans to address these new figures.

Call for new Transport Secretary to confirm commitment to ‘Missing link’

Leader of the Liberal Democrat County Council Group, Paul Hodgkinson, has today sent an open letter to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP.

Cllrs Nigel Robbins and Paul Hodgkinson (right) are backing urgent action at the Air Balloon.

Cllrs Nigel Robbins and Paul Hodgkinson (right) are backing urgent action at the Air Balloon.

The letter requests the new Transport Secretary and the newly formed post-Referendum Government continue with the commitment shown by the previous Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP to fix the ‘Missing Link’ on the A417.

Cllr. Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach), who represents the area around the Air Balloon roundabout, said that:

“The ‘Missing Link’ has been a problem for Gloucestershire for more than 20 years. It is often very heavily congested seeing more than 34,000 vehicles a day and there are frequent tragic accidents with more than 340 casualties in the past 15 years.

“Local residents, campaigners and elected representatives have for decades been lobbying both local and national government to find a solution. It is well known for it being a significant bottleneck and has been found to have the worst average vehicle delay of all strategic routes in the South West.

The letter continued by saying that:

“Since the start of January 2014, I’ve been delighted to see support gathering pace for government to fund the £255 million A417 loop, which is undoubtedly the only viable option to fix the ‘Missing Link’.

“In April 2014, I was particularly pleased that support was given by the Highways Agency in recognising local concerns about the route following stakeholder events in the region and highlighting the issue in its route strategy.

In making reference to the support of the former Transport Secretary, Cllr. Hodgkinson also said:

“The former Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin MP visited the A417 ‘Missing Link’ two years ago on Wednesday 16th July 2014 and was extremely supportive of the scheme.

“Funding has been secured by Highways England (HE) for the next stage of the A417 ‘Missing Link’ scheme development, but there’s still along way to go. We would like you to be equally committed as your predecessor, if not more supportive and would very much like to see construction starting before Highways England’s issued timeline for the scheme development, which identifies that construction will not start until summer 2021.

“The Air Balloon roundabout, which is a key part of the missing link section, is forecasted to be running 30 per cent over capacity by 2026. Already the road is congested and dangerous and needless to say will be worse before the anticipated summer 2021 construction date.

Cllr. Hodgkinson in asking to reaffirm the new Transport Secretary’s funding commitment to the ‘Missing Link’ also offered an invitation to the Rt Hon Chris Grayling saying:

“I believe Highways England (HE) will be undertaking an engagement event in Autumn 2016 to explain what will happen next and we would be delighted if you could perhaps join us to show your support?

Traffic warden contract should be parked!

 

Liberal Democrats have criticised the decision to extend Gloucestershire County Council’s parking enforcement contract with APCOA.

Traffic wardens

The decision was taken last week by the County Council’s Conservative Cabinet. The contract to enforce on-street parking was due to end in 2018. Today’s decision means that APCOA will now be policing Gloucestershire’s streets for an extra two years until 2020.

Concerns have been raised about the lack of proper consultation undertaken prior to making the decision and the poor performance of APCOA in enforcing residents parking zones in many areas.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) commented: “It concerns me that the Conservative administration has not allowed the time to consult people properly about this. On an issue as important as parking extensive work needs to be undertaken to get the best deal for taxpayers.

“That is why we don’t want the current contract extended at this stage. It feels like this decision has been slipped in through the back door without effective scrutiny.

“If the administration had taken the time to speak to local residents and councillors they would know for themselves that the contract should not be extended at this point.

“Residents’ concerns about parking are not being heard. Many people pay lots of money for permits every year, yet they hardly ever see traffic wardens in their street. I know of more than one example where cars have been parked for long periods without any permit.

“There needs to be a level playing field. In some streets there are high levels of activity from APCOA but in others they are rarely seen. Many residents play by the rules in purchasing a permit, they should expect to be able to park near their homes. They should also expect that others who don’t have permits are properly dealt with. “

Are you listening, O2?

A Cotswold village has today made a bank holiday protest after weeks of non existent phone coverage.

O2

Led by County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton & Northleach) residents and businesses today made their voices heard in Bourton on the Water.

With throngs of tourists looking on, Cllr Hodgkinson joined villagers in the iconic Cotswold location when they asked, ‘Are you listening, O2?’

Holding banners and phones a crowd of young and old – plus a worker and pony from the village’s equestrian centre – told the mobile company they were at their wits end.

For weeks, Bourton and nearby Cotswold villages have been seething at the lack of phone signal from phone operator O2. It comes on the back of intermittent coverage since the beginning of the year. Despite frequent complaints from residents nothing has changed.

Now, the local councillor and villagers have had enough.

Cllr Hodgkinson has raised the issue every day with O2 but is getting frustrated:

“The sun rises each morning and once again there’s no phone signal. So I message O2 daily asking for an update but they say the same thing – ‘we’ll get back to you when we have some news’. Well, this is totally unacceptable for all the customers paying for a service. It’s not only hitting residents but also the many local businesses who are now at the height of the tourist season.”

“Let’s not forget that O2 customers are paying the wages of O2 staff and helping them make a profit. We need action.”

Local mum Anouska Jones said she’d been with O2 ‘right from the start’ and always thought they were ‘fantastic’ until this year:

“It’s just got worse and worse. The past 3 weeks we’ve had no signal at all. I can’t keep in touch with my child’s school. I’ve been paying my bill for the last 15 years and it’s just an absolute nightmare.”

Poppy Fountain from Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre says it’s not only affecting businesses but for her is now an issue of safety:

“Our bosses at the Centre can’t get hold of us when we are out with ponies and horses and we can’t speak to them. If a horse’s shoe comes off the Centre would come out to sort the issue out, now they can’t.”

Broadcaster Sean Maffett has lived in Bourton for many years and is furious with the situation:

“O2 has utterly failed to provide anything resembling an acceptable service in this area for a considerable time. And it needs to do something about it – not in 48 hours or five days but NOW! It’s their responsibility to make sure the mast is working nearby.”

Cllr Hodgkinson has now written formally to the Ombudsman Services for Communications and says he’s expecting a quick resolution to the issue:

“There’s a compelling message from us all – we want urgent action. We are looking to O2 to get its act together and fast.”

End of ‘Coxit’ welcomed

Today it was announced that the so-called ‘COXIT’ has been abandoned due to a lack of public support and difficulties in merging two councils from different counties.

cotswold sign

Back in February the Leader of Cotswold District Council announced his intention to create a new ‘unitary’ council comprising the Cotswolds and West Oxfordshire. This would have meant the break up of Gloucestershire and the exit of the Cotswold district from Gloucestershire County Council’s area of responsibility.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Liberal Democrat County Council Group Leader Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said: “I’m very pleased that this mad idea for the Cotswolds to exit Gloucestershire County Council has been shelved. It had little support from residents and it has sadly wasted a lot of time and energy which should have been focused on delivering vital services.

“Now, it’s important for everyone in the county to work together to fix the things which people want – better quality roads, better ambulance response times and keeping the local economy moving.

“The Leader of CDC has compromised relationships with other councils and spent taxpayers money on consultants when no-one had voted for this idea and there was no mandate for it. His position is untenable and he should resign to make way for someone who can repair the damaged relations within Gloucestershire.”

Cllr. Iain Dobie (Lib Dem Deputy Leader) also said: “I welcome this return to common sense. As Chair of the Gloucestershire health scrutiny committee I had concerns that the break-up of Gloucestershire would have risked a poorer service to the Cotswolds from new health and social care providers. I trust that now we can get back to work on the best possible devolution deal for the whole of our county.”

Active Together comes to Northleach

A new fitness class has been launched in Northleach.

The new exercise class at the Westwood Centre in Northleach

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, County Councillor for Bourton and Northleach, provided cash for the ‘Fit for Life’ fitness class at the Westwood Centre through the Council’s Active Together fund to help set up the class in partnership with Northleach Town Council.

Cllr Hodgkinson said: “I have a pot of money as a county councillor called ‘Active Together’ – a £40,000 pot which I have spent on grants to organisations which promote activities leading to healthy lifestyles. So far, I’ve spent money on things like outdoor gym equipment in Chedworth, keeping the swimming pool open in Northleach and a ‘trim trail’ in Bourton.

“Now I’ve given a grant of £1,000 to this new exercise class in Northleach.”

The weekly hour-long class, given by a fitness teacher, is at 3pm every Tuesday  and is aimed at those who are less active and need help with balance to help with falls, for example, as well as people with medical conditions who need gentle exercise to build up strength and co-ordination.

The class can be taken either sitting or standing and costs £5 per session.

Following the launch, which included Cllr Hodgkinson joining 15 residents for various physical activities, he said: “They all felt they had been worked hard and they really enjoyed it. The class is clearly not just about raising fitness levels but can also be a good way of socialising too.”

Timetable bid for Air Balloon solution

We’re all painfully aware of the still-present gridlock and accidents at the Air Balloon A417 and many people were pleased when the last Government announced money for a solution at last.

wgrp1530h13 air balloon[2]

Now, 19 months after that announcement and nothing further has happened. So, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has been pressing for a definitive timetable for work to begin on the so called “Missing Link” project.

As a result of his questions, the Government and Highways England have said that construction work will begin at some point in the next roads funding period – that’s 2020-2026.

Cllr Hodgkinson believes the work should start sooner:

“This is all too far in the future but at least it appears to be in the schedule.

“However, we all need to have much more information on each stage of the project and how we will all be involved in it. I’ve asked for plans to be laid out so that frustrated commuters and residents have a timetable for when each stage will happen – consultations with us all, the announcement of the specific route to be followed, a construction start date and a final finish date.

“I’ve been promised this timetable soon and will of course share it as soon as I get it!”

 

 

Massive black hole in Tory pothole funding for Gloucestershire

The county’s Liberal Democrats have blasted local Conservatives for letting down Gloucestershire as figures unveiled in Parliament now show that cash to fix our roads has been slashed.

PaulPothole2016

Parliamentary analysis shows that in Gloucestershire pothole maintenance funding has been cut by £478,000.

This cut comes after the Chancellor promised an extra ‘Pothole Fund’ recently. Even with this cash, it doesn’t plug the gap and the county will lose out.

Nationally, the shortfall in cash is £25 million.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said: “In our area local people tell me day after day that we need to fix our roads. If the Conservatives won’t deliver it, we will.

“Fixing our roads and delivering for Gloucestershire is a key priority. But here we see that this money for fixing our highways has actually been cut by half a million pounds.

He added: “The Government have trumpeted the pothole funding but now our analysis shows a massive black hole.

“There were a lot of press releases on how wonderful this pothole fund was but in reality we now see that it delivers much, much less.

“We are facing ‘Pot Hole Gloucestershire’. Our drivers and cyclists deserve so much better.

“Millions of drivers pay tax through the nose for awful roads that are a danger to drivers and to those riding bikes.

“It is, frankly, a national and local embarrassment.”

Call for action over road casualties

 

The Liberal Democrats on Gloucestershire County Council have called for urgent action over the increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured on Gloucestershire’s roads.

NoCrashA436FrontOn

A report providing a strategic overview of the Council’s performance for Quarter 3 2015/16 submitted to the recent Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee revealed ‘Road Safety’ figures to be ‘performance worse than tolerance’.

Measured against a target level of 147 people, the actual number of killed and seriously injured people in Quarter 3 reached 192. This last quarter to the end of September saw the highest three month total since 2003. It was noted that car driver numbers were particularly high and investigations are currently taking place to see if there were specific reasons for this sudden increase.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water & Northleach), who recently called for safety and congestion issues on the A429 to be looked at by a special task group, said:

“Across Gloucestershire we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of killed and seriously injured people including children and older people on our roads. The figures indicate that 15 children were injured in quarter 3 2015 compared to 9 children in the same quarter period back in 2012. Just one injured child is one too many, but 15 in one quarter is concerning.

“The most recent quarter shows an increase in those over 70 years old who have been killed or seriously injured. I am keen for the study that is currently being undertaken looking at older road user casualties to be completed sooner in order to stop the number of those killed and seriously injured from escalating.

“It is particularly concerning that the road safety budget for 2016/17 has reduced by nearly £300K compared to 2015/16 at a time when the number of killed and seriously injured has increased.

“Behind every one statistic there is an individual who has been injured or worse killed and we must as a council do everything we can to prevent such road incidents from happening.”

“We all have a part to play in reducing the number of those killed or seriously injured on our county roads. I’d like the Cabinet Member for Fire, Planning and Infrastructure to push this further up the council agenda in order to see a decrease in the number of people who are injured on our roads every year.

“For three years running the Liberal Democrats have successfully secured Year 5 visits to SkillZone, which is a fantastic and fun way of getting important safety messages across to our children.

“I’d encourage all schools to take up the opportunity of bringing their Year 5 groups to such a place and thus helping to prevent the concerning casualty figures that we are currently seeing.”

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.”