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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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.

Securing investment in young people’s mental health support

At the County Council’s budget setting meeting in Shire Hall last week the Liberal Democrats successfully secured an investment of £25K for 2016/2017 into mental health support for children and young people. This follows the £450K investment the Liberal Democrats secured two years ago to improve young people’s mental health services.

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Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said:

“Children in Gloucestershire’s schools suffer significant levels of stress and mental illness, which has resulted in a worryingly high incidence of self-harm. There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%. Two years ago, we secured budget funding to launch a pioneering schools-based service to counter this by increasing pupil’s mental resilience.

“The subsequent reception from schools has been very positive and this year we’ve secured additional funding to extend the service, notably to children with special needs, for example Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder – this represents a major step forward in mental health.”

It is envisaged that the £25K will be used to develop a resource and training programme for professionals and schools to support these groups of young people who are susceptible to low levels of resilience.

 Mental health is one of the Lib Dems’ top priorities. There is now an increased awareness that mental illness devastates the lives of many young people. Figures reveal that 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is around three children in every class. These figures really highlight the need to do more.

Broken Promise, Broken Roads

Today, Gloucestershire County Council’s Conservative bosses voted to slash money for road repairs.

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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.’