Call for County Council to boost apprenticeships

On the back of a record number of apprenticeships across Gloucestershire, the County Council is being urged to go one step further.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) with successful Cirencester apprentice Jordan McKenna

Paul Hodgkinson (right) with successful Cirencester apprentice Jordan McKenna

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach) is recommending that the Council should create a cross-party task force, which would work with businesses in the county encouraging them to recruit more apprentices.

The council itself recruited 20 new apprentices, with plans for additional recruitment scheduled for later in the year.

At a full council meeting on Wednesday, 25 June, Cllr Hodgkinson will present a motion calling for a special Task Force to be set up to boost apprenticeship. He will reference recent figures which show that Gloucestershire has benefitted from 15,560 new apprenticeships since 2010.

Cllr Hodgkinson said: “The continued growth of the number of apprentices across Gloucestershire since the Lib Dems came into Government shows our commitment to building a stronger economy in a fairer society.

“In the Cotswolds area alone 1,860 new apprentices have been started. However, more can be done to make sure that this number continues to grow across the county.

“Apprenticeships can be a great alternative to university for people, equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to be able to get a foot in the door with a local employer.

“By bringing county councillors from all parties to talk with employers, apprentices and schools, we can make sure that those young people who want a way to gain a skill have as many opportunities to do so as possible.

“That’s why I am calling for a new task force to really promote apprenticeships across Gloucestershire.”

Royal Mail says no to war hero tribute

There’s disappointment in Bourton on the Water after Royal Mail bosses refused to commemorate a war hero.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with John Cork

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with John Cork

John Cork, chairman of Bourton Royal British Legion, wanted greater recognition for Major General Dudley Johnson, who was born in the village and was one of only three men in Gloucestershire to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Major Johnson served in World War One, which is being commemorated this year on its 100th anniversary.

Mr Cork thought painting the village post box in VC colours would have made a fitting tribute. He contacted Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Glos County Council, Bourton & Northleach) who wrote to the Royal Mail asking for their support.

Cllr Hodgkinson was disappointed at the response:

“The Royal Mail have said no to this wonderful idea. It saddens me that they can’t allow this simple thing to commemorate a war hero’s achievement. Bourton is an iconic Cotswolds village and many tourists would see this special post box and ask what the different colour meant. 

“They did it for Olympic gold medallists and so they should do the same for Victoria Cross holders in this centenary year.”  he added.

“In fact, this could happen right across the country to recognise the special contribution a group of people made in fighting for Britain.”

Cllr Hodgkinson said that he would be contacting the Ministry of Defence to push the idea forward:

“Someone has to see sense over this. A bit of flexibility from the Royal Mail would be the right thing to do.”

 

MP challenged to go full-time

The Conservative MP for the Cotswolds has faced a call to give up his earnings outside Parliament.

Paul Hodgkinson has committed to being a full-time MP

Paul Hodgkinson has committed to being a full-time MP

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate, has challenged Geoffrey Clifton-Brown to put an end to his substantial second income after it was revealed that the MP has earned an average of £860 per hour from his second job.

Following an article in the Wilts and Glos Standard, Cllr Hodgkinson throws down the gauntlet by committing to have no earnings outside Parliament if elected next year:

“I call on Mr Clifton-Brown to ask his agreement to something which seems to me fundamental.

Serving constituents full time is in my opinion a basic requirement of being an MP. The job of an MP pays four times the average full-time salary in the Cotswolds. It comes with additional allowances for certain aspects of the job, and expenses for travel and other costs. Most of an MP’s constituents would be extremely grateful to receive such benefits.

According to the Parliamentary register of the MP’s declared interests Mr Clifton-Brown has received a total of £125,000 from August 2011 until November 2013 from earnings outside Westminster. This was for a total of 80 days work, or 478 hours. This equates to an average rate of £5,000 per day or £860 per hour.

Cllr Hodgkinson commented:

” I have nothing against high earnings but if I am elected as MP in May 2015 I will be a full time MP. I will close down my business and will take no other income from work outside Parliament. I can’t see how I would have the time, but as a matter of principle I will be a full time MP concentrating only on that role and nothing else.

“If those extra days were spent in the constituency could they not have added something to society? Could they not have been used to Improve services locally? Or change something?

Councillor Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) makes it clear that nothing other than being a full time representative for the Cotswolds is acceptable:

“Will Mr Clifton-Brown commit today to taking no further earnings from outside Parliament? Will he follow my lead in agreeing to being a full time MP?”

Mr Clifton-Brown has been the MP for the Cotswolds since 1992 and featured prominently in the expenses scandal in 2009 when he ‘flipped’ his £3 million home in Daglingworth.

 

Parliamentary candidate in urgent talks with Police Commissioner over Water Park report

Councillor Paul Hodgkinson, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the Cotswolds, has arranged an urgent meeting with Gloucestershire Police Commissioner Martin Surl over criticism of the force in the Operation Juggler report.

Paul BBC bw

The two-year review by an outside team from The City of London Police into allegations of fraud and corruption in the Cotswold Water Park concludes: “It is clear that the initial complaint to Gloucestershire Police was not handled as well as it could have been.”

The report  goes on to detail how officers failed to take any formal witness statements when local resident Esmond Jenkins, now a Lib Dem councillor, first reported his suspicions about fraud at Cotswold Water Park Society in January 2010. It was not until a month later that the police launched a “covert” investigation into CWPS Chief Executive Dennis Grant and another employee who has since died.

Grant was eventually challenged by his assistant Tasha Flaherty who went on to discover a secret bank account in Banbury which he had used to launder £660,000 stolen from the Society. But, on 21 April 2010 her repeated attempts to report the crime were rebuffed by the police.

The COLP report states: “On 21st April 2010 CWPS managers made 4 attempts to report the matter to police. The first attempt was via telephone to Thames Valley Police at Banbury who directed them to report in person to Cirencester where the Station Officer refused to take the report due to insufficient evidence.

“The third attempt was again via telephone to the Gloucestershire Police switchboard which again directed them back to Cirencester where they returned to speak to the same Station Officer who again refused to take the report.”

Cllr Hodgkinson (Churn Valley), leader of the Lib Dem group on Cotswold District Council, said: “The full scale of the fiasco when Grant’s crimes were first reported have finally been laid bare in this report and it is deeply worrying.

“I will be seeing Martin Surl to discuss what can be done to reassure public minded citizens that they will be listened to when they take their suspicions to the police.

“Without the tenacity of Cllr Jenkins and Tasha Flaherty, who both did their own investigations after being turned away by the police, there is a strong probability that Grant would never have been brought to justice.”

The COLP report recommends that the force reviews guidance given to officers faced with complex frauds and other serious crimes and “update and educate their staff where necessary.”

Cllr Hodgkinson said: “I hope to discuss with the Police and Crime Commissioner the steps taken so far and what more can be done to restore public confidence, especially among communities in the Water Park where it has been seriously eroded in recent years.”

Lib Dems choose Cotswold Leader to be prospective MP

Cotswold Liberal Democrats have selected their high profile leader on Cotswold District Council as their new Parliamentary Candidate.

PPC group pic

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson’s selection comes just four months after he stunned the Conservatives by becoming the first Lib Dem to win the so-called ‘true blue’ seat of Bourton and Northleach in this May’s county council elections.

The 51-year-old, who has lived in the Cotswolds for 25 years, will be up against the Cotswolds’ Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown who has held the seat since 1992.

“I have made this beautiful area my home and set up my small business here,” he said. “Residents asked me to stand after seeing my record as a councillor and I will be the voice for the many who feel disconnected from decisions made in Cirencester and at Shire Hall in Gloucester. I want to give our area a real voice, actively speaking up for it rather than seeing some MPs motivated by their own pockets.”

Cllr Hodgkinson was first elected to Cotswold District Council for the Churn Valley in 2007 and has held the rural seat since then. He became leader of the council’s Lib Dems four years ago, going on to steer the opposition group to the party’s best results nationally in 2011 when they gained seven seats to take their total to 12.

A successful local businessman with a strong record of campaigning for local people, he has fought against high parking charges, led road safety campaigns and challenged unethical behaviour by public figures in the Cotswold Water Park fraud scandal.

The news was welcomed by Cirencester mayor Joe Harris who was mentored by Cllr Hodgkinson after he became the country’s youngest district councillor at the age of 19.

“The Cotswolds needs a change of representation at Westminster and Paul is the best man for the job,” said Cllr Harris. “Under his leadership we have been standing up for Cotswolds people on the big issues that matter  – tackling the cost of living in our area, working to sort out transport problems and protecting the unique character of the district. We need someone as our MP who can take the case to Parliament and get some action.”

Cllr Hodgkinson is planning to build on the dramatic swing to the Liberal Democrats across the Cotswolds which saw them gain three seats in May’s County Council elections.

“There is a demand for change and  growing disillusionment with the performance of the Tories locally, right through from district and county level to our MP’s track record in Parliament,” he said.

“It is shameful that our MP has done little to address the fact that the Cotswolds suffers from some of the highest rural house prices in the country coupled with low average wages.

“Those in power have concentrated on turning the area into a second home haven for privileged outsiders while ignoring the pressing needs of working local families. That is something I will be fighting to change.

“Our progress at district and county level has already shaken the Tories and we will be working hard to make the 2015 general election the next major upset.

“You can really feel the breath of fresh air that our new councillors have brought to local politics and it is gratifying that the voters have noticed. Mr Clifton-Brown has had 22 years to get things fixed in the constituency and has been a part-time MP. I will do everything I can to build a stronger economy and a fairer society in the Cotswolds and give this area the effective and energetic representation it so badly needs at Westminster.”

 

Dismay at A&E closure

A decision to close Cheltenham’s A&E unit to emergency cases overnight has led to dismay in the Cotswolds.

At a meeting held last week at the NHS Foundation Trust in Brockworth, the clinical commissioning group governing body voted to restrict the hospital’s A&E admissions between the hours of 8pm and 8am. From August, patients with a critical illness who need treatment from emergency medicine doctors will need to go to Gloucester Royal Hospital.

The proposals were consulted on between February and May this year. However, few people locally have been aware of this.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, CDC Lib Dem Leader spoke after the decision was made, “I’m dismayed by the decision. How many Cotswolds residents were aware of this proposal? I was only made aware recently and it will impact in a big way on the Cotswolds – particularly to the north, east and south east of Cheltenham. “

“The proposal may lead to higher mortality rates – a study undertaken previously stated that mortality rates rise by 1% for every extra 10kms travelled.”

“There may be increased waiting  times at Gloucester Hospital.”

“For a large chunk of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham hospital is the nearest and most direct place to go to for emergency treatment. This decision was made by unelected people in the face of opposition from the Cheltenham MP and thousands of residents.”

“24/7 A&E facilities are vital for the areas surrounding Cheltenham.”

 

 

Magician’s £19,000 money-back guarantee “must be enforced”

Cotswold District Council is under pressure to enforce a £19,000 money-back guarantee by motivational magician Shay McConnon following a surge in staff sickness rates.

magician (1)

The demand was made today by Liberal Democrat opposition leader, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, in reaction to new figures showing that, on average, officers are now taking more than nine days off annually because of sickness.

This has placed Tory-controlled CDC at number 142 in the league table of 201 shire councils nationally for staff absences.

In a written answer to a question from Cllr Hodgkinson, Council Leader, Lynden Stowe revealed that, since Mr McConnon’s “Even Better Place to Work” programme started in 2010, overall sickness rates have followed an upward trend, from 6.91 per full time employee then, to 8.46 in 2011-12 and 9.11 last year.

Short term sickness rates, now running at five days per employee compared with 5.8 in the previous year, show a slight decline but are still 20% above the council’s target figure of four days.

The council magician hit the national headlines two years ago when it emerged that the council had hired Mr McConnon, a member of the Magic Circle, who, according to his website “uses magic in his keynotes as visual metaphors.”

In June 2011, in response to an attack on CDC by journalist Andrew Gilligan in an article headed: “Local councils and taxpayers’ cash: now you see it, now you don’t”, Cllr Stowe wrote to the Daily Telegraph defending the expenditure.

His letter promised: “If the programme does not deliver the expected benefits (lower absence rates and higher staff performance and satisfaction levels), Mr MConnon has offered to waive the entire cost.”

Cllr Hodgkinson said: “The absence figures are deeply worrying and suggest that we still have a problem with staff morale.

“I accept that the administration has little control over long-term sickness but the statistics indicate that some of this is due to work-related stress which is exactly the sort of thing I would have expected this programme to tackle.

“Short term absences should be showing a substantial decline according to what we were promised but they are not.”

Cllr Hodgkinson said the Council had a duty to seek reimbursement of taxpayers’ cash.

“Cllr Stowe really has no choice over this,” he said. “He gave a firm undertaking, published in the Daily Telegraph, and the taxpayers of the Cotswolds now expect him to enforce the guarantee.

He added: “We have always said it was a folly to spend this money during a recession and the disappointing sickness rates confirm that belief.”

The decision to engage Mr McConnon was taken by the council’s Chief Executive using delegated powers which allowed him to spend up to £20,000 without reference to elected councillors.

The Chief Executive, whose services are shared with neighbouring West Oxfordshire District Council, also hired Mr McConnon there at a cost of £30,000.

The CDC contract only came to light after Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles instructed all councils to publish expenditure over £500. It was discovered by a member of the public searching through data on the council website.

 

Plans afoot for Fortey House

A building which has been empty for 5 years is set to be redeveloped.

Paul Hodgkinson (left) with Neil Fletcher outside Fortey House in Northleach.

Paul Hodgkinson (left) with Neil Fletcher outside Fortey House in Northleach.

Fortey House, Northleach, provided sheltered accommodation for local people but has been derelict with the large building lying unfilled.

Now, Bromford, who own the site, have announced plans to demolish the site and build 24 affordable homes. The homes – yet to be given planning permission – will comprise rented properties, part rent/part ownership and some to be sold at 80% of market value.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson heard the announcement at a meeting of Northleach Town Council last week, “We really need more affordable homes in the area and Fortey House has been a sad sight for ages. I’m pleased something is being done at last but does the building really need to be demolished?”

Bromford are holding an open day at the Cotswold Hall, Northleach, on 7 July. People are being urged to take a look and give feedback.

 

 

 

Bourton/Northleach falls to Lib Dems in dramatic election result

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) was elected to Gloucestershire County Council last night in a nail biting result.

Bourton's Victoria Hall polling station yesterday.

Bourton’s Victoria Hall polling station yesterday.

The newly created Bourton and Northleach division comprises areas which have been represented by Conservatives for as long as anyone can remember. Now, Paul has become the first Liberal Democrat to represent the area at county level.

The full result was:

Paul Hodgkinson (LD) 1275
David Thorpe (Con) 1216
Chris Cooke (Ukip) 591
Merilyn Hill (Lab) 170.

Majority 59.

After the result was announced at 3am this morning, Cllr Hodgkinson said, “I am ecstatic to be representing such a beautiful area. My priorities will be sorting out the dreadful state of the roads, making sure our green fields are protected from developers and promoting road safety around our villages.”

 

County Council election this Thursday May 2!

A councillor from the Cotswolds has made election history by producing a video for his campaign to be elected to Gloucestershire County Council.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley) is standing for the Northleach & Bourton area this Thursday May 2. The ward also includes the Chedworth, Withington, Andoversford, Shipton and Brockhampton areas.

The video – filmed in Bourton, Northleach and along the A436 – is a personal account of Paul’s record of action. He talks about the campaign to reduce speeds along the A435, A436 and through our villages as well as the problems of over development and the need to bring empty properties back into use.

Paul says, “No other council candidate in Gloucestershire has made a video of this kind. It’s a different way of getting a message across and it just brings to life the issues I’ve been campaigning on already and which I feel strongly about.”