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.

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.’

 

Call for Air Balloon solution to get some speed up

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has been pressing for a solution to the notorious A417 Air Balloon for the last few years. The traffic blackspot sits within his county council division.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson called for urgent action over the Air Balloon rounadabout

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has called for urgent action over the Air Balloon roundabout

Prior to the General Election, the outgoing Government confirmed that £250 million would be made available for a solution to the triple issues at the location – accidents, gridlock and pollution. At the time, there were suggestions that spades could even be in the ground by next year.

Recently, the mood music from the Government has changed and the local MP acknowledged in the press that the timings had slipped.

Highways England are managing the project. Now, Paul has spoken to their project manager about this to get a real timescale for the project:

“Residents regularly ask me what is happening and it has been very difficult to get decent information.

“Now, the Highways England project manager has told me:

‘In terms of the Major Project at this location, we are currently at the very early stages of this scheme and still identifying and defining options. It was announced in the Roads Investment Strategy as a scheme for delivery in the Roads Period 2 which runs from April 2020 to March 2025. As you likely know, there is a long options and development process to deliver schemes of this nature which will also require a Development Consent Order. As yet, we are still considering the options and timescales for this scheme but our application for DCO is unlikely to be any earlier than Spring 2019 and may not be until 2020.’

What this means is that Highways England will look at all the options for the solution at the Air Balloon, will consult with the public and councils and only after that will present their findings to the Transport Minister to seek approval for work to actually happen.

Paul says he finds this very worrying:

“This work to fix the problems won’t start until 2020 earliest and could be anytime up to 2025. I’m sure Cotswolds residents don’t want to sit in traffic for another 9 years, nor do residents there want to put up with the high levels of air pollution. The impact on the local and regional economy is big – so my message is let’s get on with this as quickly as possible and let’s get a firm commitment from the Government that they will push this up the agenda.”

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.”

Seven Springs to be first for ultrafast internet

Fed up with slow internet speeds and constant buffering?

Paul with pupils from Andoversford School at the the launch of the faster broadband project.

Paul with pupils from Andoversford School at the the launch of the faster broadband project.

Following on from the first rollout of faster broadband to some Cotswold towns and villages including Andoversford, the County Council has now announced a second phase.

Just over six and a half thousand properties in the rural Cotswolds will be hooked up to the faster service by autumn 2017. The new supplier, Gigaclear, has a record of connecting rural homes in other counties and have announced that the new roll has already started this autumn.

Places to benefit first include Seven Springs, Coberley and Colesbourne, followed later by Withington, Chedworth and Cold Aston.

The “Fastershire’ website shows all homes included in the new roll out – take a look to see if you’re included under ‘Phase Two’. If you’re not and think you should be please contact Fastershire directly or Councillor Paul Hodgkinson.

Paul has welcomed the news: “For those homes getting this good news it is very welcome – many of us are fed up with painfully slow connections and this can’t come a minute too soon. It’s great that our area will be the first in the Cotswolds to get the better service. This is now an essential service in the 21st century. I was in Greece recently where even in the remotest areas there was a 4G phone signal and fast broadband – if they can do it with severe financial problems so can we as the fourth biggest economy in the World!

“I will continue to fight for every house to get access to a better service.”

Paul added: “Now the battle to get a decent phone signal everywhere is about to get more intense. There are too many ‘not spots’ which need addressing.”

 

Council approves new ways to grow local apprenticeships

County Councillors have approved a report that proposes how best to promote and grow apprenticeships across Gloucestershire.

apprentices

At a full council meeting council members unanimously agreed recommendations put forward by the Cllr Pau Hodgkinson and the ‘ Apprenticeship task group’. The proposals include doing more to put apprenticeships at the forefront of people’s minds earlier in a young persons’ school career.

To help inform the report, the task group ran a number of focus groups with employers, schools, training providers and young people to discover the challenges facing apprenticeships. Employers across Gloucestershire were also surveyed about their experiences.

The group discovered three key issues facing apprenticeships in the county; the perception of apprenticeships among some teachers, schools, young people and parents does not match reality, young people need high quality career advice and support to develop the skills they need to start their careers in the workplace and employers need to be better informed, supported and encouraged to take on apprentices. The task group then looked into ways to tackle these issues.

The apprenticeship task group was set up following a motion to council in June 2014 led by Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) who has also chaired the cross-party initiative:

“When I proposed last year that we set up a task force to boost the number of apprenticeships locally I didn’t realise just how much we could achieve in a short time. Working cross-party we have seen that there’s a lot of work to be done to get the message out loud and clear that apprenticeships are a brilliant way to enter the world of work.

“Now, we have come up with a set of recommendations which will give employers, schools and young people much more information about how to become an apprentice. Many employers have issues in finding the right people for roles and so getting people equipped with the right skills through apprenticeships is one way to help address this.”

Using their knowledge of apprenticeships in the county the group has also been able to provide valuable advice to the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) on its commissioning of an apprenticeship hub.

Since 2010, 15560 apprenticeships have been created in the county.

Campaign video launched

A prospective MP has been first out of the traps in Gloucestershire to launch a 3 minute campaign video.

The video, filmed on the streets of Cirencester, Tetbury, Northleach, Bourton and other iconic villages, vox pops local residents.

In a series of personal endorsements people interviewed give their view of Mr Hodgkinson and his track record locally.

A district and county councillor for eight years, Paul says that campaigning via the internet and social media is the big story of the 2015 election:

“There’s still a place for leaflets and letters but so many people now get their news and information online. Making this video was just one way of reaching out to people so they can be fully informed when they go and vote.”

 

 

Air Balloon cash in Autumn Statement?

Momentum appears to be building behind a bid to solve the A417 ‘Missing Link’ near the Air Balloon roundabout.

wgrp1530h13 air balloon[2]

Rumours are circulating that the Coalition Government will announce funding for the scheme in the Autumn Statement due early next month.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out his spending plans on December 3 and a number of sources have confirmed they have been tipped off privately the money for the A417 Loop could be included.

There have been six fatalities on the road in the last year and Prospective MP Paul Hodgkinson is the county councillor for the notorious blackspot. He believes now is the time to take action:

“If this is true and the Chancellor is going to announce cash for this project it cannot come a moment too soon,” he said.

“I’ve campaigned hard for a solution to the problems of gridlock, pollution and accidents and many others have done too. Transport Minister Susan Kramer visited the area with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg back in May. They saw for themselves the issues there and took a clear message back to Government – we want something done!”

“I’ve been told by council officers and Highways Agency staff that the money could be announced soon – of course we don’t know for sure but I am my keeping fingers crossed.

Now, local peer Lord Paul Tyler, who lives near the A417, has tabled a question to transport bosses in Parliament. It calls for the Minister to take into account the recent accidents in the area and seeks to clarify the Government’s thinking over the timetable for a solution to the endless problems at the Air Balloon and A417 and to push for closure on this long running sore.

Cllr Hodgkinson added: “I’m really pleased this issue is now being heard in Parliament and I hope that this added pressure will finally get the Government backing we all want.”