Pull your socks up, roads contractor told

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson received cross-party support yesterday for a call to monitor more closely Gloucestershire’s highways contract with Amey. He also received backing to continue imposing financial penalties if performance targets are not consistently achieved in the upcoming 2015/2016 financial year.

The long awaited debate coinciding with World Pothole Day regarding the condition of Gloucestershire roads was finally discussed with contributions made from elected members across all political parties.

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Shadow Cabinet Member for Highways and Flood, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-water and Northleach) who led the call said that:

“This debate has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased that elected representatives have finally had a chance to voice in public their concerns and frustrations regarding the county’s highways contract with Amey.

“The very fact that my request for closer monitoring of the contract and for financial penalties to be imposed if they don’t keep up with high performance has received such support from all sides of the chamber tells me that there are still many problems that need addressing.

“I’m particularly pleased that the Cabinet Member for Highways has finally taken off his ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ to see that something needs to be done. It is time that Amey pulled up their socks and get on with the job that Gloucestershire’s residents, businesses and visitors all deserve.

 

Bin the litter!

A call is being made to keep the Cotswolds cleaner.

Paul Hodgkinson collecting bag fulls of rubbish with local resident Christine Watson

Paul Hodgkinson collecting bag fulls of rubbish with local resident Christine Watson

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds) is calling for Cotswold District Council to be more proactive in clearing the area of unsightly rubbish.

At present, the Council picks up litter in some areas regularly but many rural roads face long waits between visits by waste collectors.

Cllr Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) believes the time is right for the Council to keep the Cotswolds cleaner:

“At this time of year the verges are clear of leaves and you can see the litter strewn everywhere. Fast food cartons, coffee cups and plastic bags make our unique area look like a tip. What message does this send out to visitors and residents who want to enjoy the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

“Because the Council’s litter collections are so infrequent people are taking the matter into their own hands and doing litter picks themselves. I’ve been out with local residents and we brought back bags laden down with wine and vodka bottles thrown out of car windows. It was pretty shocking to see what the verges are full of.

“I know many people take huge pride in the Cotswolds and want to see it kept clean and tidy. I’m saddened by the amount of litter along the verges of our country roads and lanes and it’s time to take some action.”

Now, Cllr Hodgkinson is proposing a motion to Cotswold District Council which calls for a more proactive approach to litter picking to be taken so that A and B roads in the Cotswolds receive more regular, programmed clear ups than is currently the case. The motion will be heard at the Council’s meeting on 24 February.

The call is being backed Cllr Joe Harris (Cirencester Park): “It’s not just the rural roads which are a problem. Crisp packets and sweet wrappers thrown down are also spoiling our towns. I organised two litter picks recently around Cirencester with students from the Royal Agricultural University who did their bit to make the area cleaner.

“It’s not asking for much to get the Council to act on this issue and I hope the Conservatives will see sense and join with us in literally clearing up the mess. “

All ears for better phone coverage

Mobile phone operators in the Cotswolds are being urged to provide a better service.

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Liberal Democrat Councillors were backed unanimously today in applying pressure to get a fairer deal when it comes to a decent phone signal.

Parliamentary Candidate, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley), who proposed a motion to the Council Meeting, said: “This is part of a campaign to address the large number of ‘not spots’ in the Cotswolds. So many villages have little or no mobile coverage – and even the towns have black holes too.”

He claimed the Cotswolds is one a small number of areas in England that have poor or non-existent mobile coverage, especially in rural parts of the district.

“If you live in an isolated village or travel on quiet roads you want some reassurance that you can contact someone easily. Better mobile coverage not only adds to personal security but also is an essential pre requisite for running a business from home. There are many small businesses based in our villages and they require easy communication,” he said.

Currently, the mobile phone service across the area varies depending on your phone operator. The Government has pledged extra cash to boost coverage across the country but Cllr Hodgkinson feels that so far this has had little impact on the Cotswolds:

“As I travel around the district there are only two areas I can get a 3G or 4G signal – around Tetbury and Cirencester. In lots of other places people would be happy with 1G let alone anything else!”

“It’s time we had a fair and decent service right across the area – after all we all pay for our phones so we expect to be able to use them.”

Cllr Juliet Layton (Water Park) seconded the motion and backs the call for a 21st century phone service:

“Without good and reliable coverage a mobile phone, however ‘smart’ it may be, is simply a weight in a pocket.

“Functional public phone boxes are in decline and rural areas with no mobile coverage are left vulnerable when emergency, business and social calls are impossible or cut off through weak signal.”

Now, the Council’s CEO has committed to write to mobile phone operators, OFCOM and BT calling for better coverage in the Cotswolds and a detailed plan of how it will be improved, with timescales.

 

Air Balloon – cash at last!

 

Today it’s been announced that £250 million funding has been given by the Coalition Government to solve the issues at the Air Balloon A417.

Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with local councillors Iain Dobie and Nigel Robbins.

Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with local councillors Iain Dobie and Nigel Robbins.

In a raft of funding for major road projects across the UK, money has been allocated to develop a solution to the notorious traffic blackspot which has seen six people lose their lives in the last year.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, who represents the Air Balloon area on the County and District Council, says it is great news after the years of waiting:

“After so much campaigning, so many accidents and the blight of pollution, today’s announcement is music to my ears and to the many people who’ve been wanting this. All the hard work has paid off. 

“I put motions to both the County Council and District Council calling for action from Government and both of these were unanimously approved – these strong messages clearly helped influence ministers to act at last.

“Now it’s important to make sure that this area’s problems get fixed as quickly as possible and that this is combined with measures to reduce noise from the road for communities along the dual carriageway to the north and south of Cirencester.”

 

Schools serve up a success at lunchtime

Schools in the Cotswolds have been praised for dishing up a new initiative to the area’s infants.

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Since September all 5-7 year olds have been eligible for a free meal at lunchtime for the first time.

Now, as part of National School Meals Week, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds) has thanked schools in the area for making the scheme a success:

“As the second half of the autumn term kicks off, it’s clear that primary schools up and down the Cotswolds have worked hard to make this work.

“All the evidence shows that a hot, healthy meal at lunch time greatly improves the health, behaviour and results of schoolchildren, providing them with their best start in life, enabling every child to fulfil their potential. “I was impressed by the quality of the lunch when I visited Bourton primary school recently – a roast dinner and fruit was the best lunch I’d had in ages!”

Jenny Forde is a governor at North Cerney School and says that she’s been impressed with how smoothly and competently the schools have responded: “It’s great it is to see so many families taking up the free school meal and lovely to see the children all sitting down to eat the same meal much like a family.”

Laura Watts is on the governing team at Sherborne School: “I’m really impressed with how coolly and calmly the local head teachers have gone about providing hot school meals to the very youngest pupils. Ask busy people to get stuff done and they do it, with very little fuss.”

Cllr Hodgkinson, who is also County Councillor for Bourton and Northleach, served up lunches at North Cerney School this week: “The quality of the food was fantastic and I’m glad to have done my bit for School Meals Week and to thank everyone in the school for getting this initiative off the ground.”

Call for boost to recycling in the Cotswolds

Cotswold District Council is being urged to up its game on recycling.

Paul with councillors and campaigners outside Council offices

Paul with councillors and campaigners outside Council offices

Liberal Democrat Councillors are applying pressure to the administration at CDC to fall in line with many other councils across the country by introducing doorstep collections of Tetrapaks.

Parliamentary Candidate, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley), who proposed a motion to the Council Meeting on 23 September, said: “This is part of our campaign to convince the Council that people want this service and it is the best possible outcome for the environment.”

He claimed CDC is one a falling number of councils in England that fails to recycle juice and drink cartons on the doorstep. Neighbouring councils who have such a service include nearby Tewkesbury and West Oxfordshire. At present, many cartons end up in landfill.

“When we campaigned successfully for plastics recycling it was a big step forward. Now, we want to help empty people’s black bins even more by helping them get rid of cartons in a greener way,” he said.

“Unfortunately, people can’t recycle Tetrapaks on the kerbside and the number of banks for disposing of them has fallen. Added to that is the fact that many think they can throw these cartons into the blue cardboard bags. In fact, if people do this, they contaminate all the cardboard and none of it can be used for recycling.”

“I asked the question on Facebook whether people wanted to recycle cartons and the resounding answer was yes! I hope the Council will now listen to them and get recycling rates back up again.”

 

Council makes £10 million profit from parking charges

The campaign against Cotswold District Council’s high parking charges gained fresh impetus this week from new figures showing that the Council has made millions from motorists in the last few years.

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In answer to a question to Cabinet Member Barry Gibbs about parking income and expenditure, shocked opposition councillors heard that the authority had made a profit of almost £10 million from charges since 2006.

The total income from the district’s car parks came to £14,634,000 in the period 2006-2013 whilst parking costs came to £5,245,000.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrat Group (Churn Valley) said he was staggered by the new figures:

“These numbers are eye watering and people will be rightly angry that they are being hit hard hit by these charges whilst the Council’s administration refuses to cut them substantially.”

He warned that, if the charges continued, the impact on the economy of local market towns would be dire:

“Council parking charges can either encourage or choke off economic development,” he said. “If councils want people to visit their towns and villages, stay a while to shop and perhaps eat at local restaurants, then they should cut charges.

“If they want their towns to compete with out-of-town shopping locations which have ample free parking, then they should provide the ability for people to park cheaply in town centres for short business and shopping visits.”

“I want places like Cirencester, Stow and Tetbury to maintain their role as centres for the surrounding rural areas, from which travel by car is the only convenient means of transport. That means the Council should recognise this and stop milking the motorist.”

Previously, petitions against the charges – presented to CDC in 2011 – have topped 2,000 signatures.

Cllr Joe Harris (Cirencester Park), who challenged the Council’s Conservative administration to stop using parking charges as a cash cow, accused them of riding roughshod over local opinion:

“People have told us on the street that increased parking charges have influenced where they shop, with some people deserting the towns in favour of places with cheaper or free parking.

“We demand an end to these excessive profits from car parking in the Cotswolds.”

Council backs call for 999 service to be improved

A call was unanimously backed today for the 999 service in the Cotswolds to be improved.

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Latest figures for ambulance response times in the Cotswolds show targets being missed by very wide margins once again.

Data presented to Gloucestershire’s latest Health Scrutiny committee shows that ambulances have missed targets for responding to patients in every category.

For life threatening calls, the national target is for 75% of patients to be responded to within specified times. In the Cotswolds that figure for 2013 is as low as 46%. Nearby towns like Cheltenham have higher response times in every category assessed.

Today, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Paul Hodgkinson called on Cotswold District Council to press the ambulance service to hit its targets. He told the Council Meeting  that the Cotswolds has been losing out to other parts of the West:

“I view with alarm the failure by the ambulance service to miss its response time targets in the Cotswolds by large margins. I am calling for the Council to urge the service to hit its targets, thereby giving Cotswolds residents the service they deserve.

“The latest figures for ambulance response times are very worrying. They show yet again that the Cotswolds has the worst ambulance response times in the entire Western region. Every performance target for our area has been missed and often massively. No other district has a worse record in the last year.

“Residents have contacted me about their personal experiences. A gentleman from Siddington told me that his wife waited in freezing temperatures for one and a half hours before being taken to hospital after collapsing on the street. Although this example may be extreme it is still not right and the service has to be relied upon by us all.”

Now Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents the Churn Valley on the District Council, has already written to Great Western Ambulance Service, asking how the service will be improved for residents.

“People in the Cotswolds need to be reassured that everything is being done to hit these targets and that we don’t get a poorer service compared to bigger towns and cities. By making a united stand, Cotswold councillors can send a very clear message that we deserve better.”

The motion, backed by all councillors at the meeting, means that the Council’s Chief Executive will write to the ambulance service listing the councillors’ concerns.

 

‘Bin the school waste charges’ campaign kicks off

A campaign kicked off this week to throw Cotswolds primary schools a cash lifeline.

Paul Hodgkinson with Jenny Forde.

Paul Hodgkinson with Jenny Forde.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds) is calling for primary schools to be included in Cotswold District Council’s waste collection service.

At present, all primary schools are classed as ‘businesses’ and have to pay for their waste to be collected by private contractors.

Cllr Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) believes the time is right for the Council to be flexible:

“I have previously asked the Leader of the Council to be bold and generous on this issue but it fell on deaf ears. His administration currently doesn’t collect waste from primary schools in the district. However, small rural schools like Chedworth, Southrop and North Cerney pay as much as £1,000 each year for this – when their budgets are very stretched.

“At the moment a school like Temple Guiting has to pay for a private waste lorry to come into the village especially to pick up one or two bins of rubbish. That doesn’t make any sense from a green or cash perspective.

“Given that CDC’s domestic waste lorries literally drive past the schools every time they collect rubbish from residents and could easily pick up their bins, I feel the Council should throw a lifeline to our small schools by including them in waste collections. This would save schools much needed cash.”

Now, Cllr Hodgkinson has joined forces with North Cerney Primary School Governor Jenny Forde by writing to all 44 Cotswolds primary schools asking them to back the campaign. Ms Forde, who lives in Bagendon, feels that schools work hard to make small budgets go a long way:

“Every single penny makes a difference to our children’s education. I think it would stick in most people’s throats if they knew they were paying twice for waste collection – through their council tax and through public money that goes towards our state schools.

“This solution seems like common sense to help our schools out so they can put taxpayer’s money to better use to educating our children.”

Once they have heard from all primary schools in the area, Cllr Hodgkinson will present the responses to a Cotswold District Council meeting with Ms Forde.

Cash helps village halls

Three Cotswolds groups have been given County Council cash to kick-start community improvements by sprucing up their buildings.

Paul Hodgkinson with members of the Victoria Hall committee, Bourton

Paul Hodgkinson (front left) with members of the Victoria Hall committee, Bourton

The council set aside £600,000 in its Community Building Improvement Grants scheme to help organisations develop their properties and equipment and so provide better services to support the local community.

Known as ComBI Grants, the money has been given to village halls and buildings in Bourton, Withington and North Cerney.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said: “These grants recognise all the vital work that the Cotswolds’ community groups are doing locally.

“This initiative supports three buildings in the Cotswolds which are a focal point – the iconic Victoria Rooms in Bourton, the village hall in Withington and the Memorial Hall in North Cerney.

“I’m so pleased that these excellent buildings have got extra cash to help them thrive.”

Earmarked for everything from new flooring to heating systems, the grants were awarded to capital projects that enable community groups to generate additional income or reduce their costs – and make it possible to do more to develop active communities.

Each organisation had to show it was not for private profit, it wanted to use the money for a new project and not a retrospective one, and it had a clear timeline for the improvements.