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.”

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.

Campaign makes some noise with MPs

The campaign to cut noise from the A419/A417 has got new backing from the area’s two MPs.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with members of A419NAG

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with members of A419NAG

An action group, calling themselves A419NAG (Noise Action Group), has been lobbying on behalf of residents all along the infamous road for the last 3 years.

Last Friday, the group met with parish and town council chairs from up and down the A419, representatives from Highways England and the two MPs for the Cotswolds and North Wiltshire.

The meeting, held at Down Ampney Village Hall, heard about the campaign group’s ongoing battle to address the noise issue for thousands of residents in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (GCC, Bourton and Northleach) chairs the group and said that the aim of the meeting was to get a commitment from the MPs to help cut the excessive noise:

“Our own scientific readings show that noise levels have doubled since the road was built in 1997. Residents were promised a tarmac surface but long stretches were built in concrete. The traffic has steadily increased along with many more lorries. This pollution is more than an irritant – our own survey has proved that this excess noise is impacting on the health and well-being of communities next to the highway.”

At the meeting, attended by 30 people, the two MPs promised to raise the issue with the Environment Minister. Highways England confirmed that only one stretch of the road – next to Latton – has been earmarked for noise reduction measures.

The MPs will also ask the Government to speak direct to local residents when it carries out its next ‘noise mapping’ exercise in 2017. This exercise, to be carried out by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), will earmark roads across the country which have noise pollution issues.

Cllr Hodgkinson stated that the group’s message must lead to the concerns of people in the Cotswolds and Wiltshire being taken seriously at last:

“There’s a compelling message to tell – this road noise has increased so much that residents now want urgent action. We are looking to our representatives to press hard for our area and help us right this wrong.”

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.”

Unanimous council call to improve ambulance response times 

Paul’s call for urgent improvements to ambulance response times was debated and supported unanimously at Gloucestershire County Council earlier this month.

ambulance rushing

The issue was first brought by Cllr Hodgkinson to the Council in May 2014 where unanimous cross-party support was given for a motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times in the Cotswolds, Stroud, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.

Eighteen months on and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is still failing to meet its 75% target in responding to the most urgent calls within 8 minutes.

Paul says more must be done: “We know that paramedics do a brilliant job and that the ambulance service has been trying to improve performance, but more action must be taken.

“The latest ambulance performance report published this autumn shows simply dreadful figures for our area. We cannot ignore the fact that the response times have in fact got worse.

“For example, in September of this year the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in only 38.46% of cases in the Cotswolds. Last September 2014, the same target was achieved in 53.3% of cases in our area. So the gap actually widened.

“Finally, the County Council’s Health and Care Committee have now also been given full council backing to explore the option of creating a county-wide ambulance service rather than a regional one. This is an interesting suggestion and one which really needs looking at.”

Call to end ambulance service crisis in Gloucestershire

A Liberal Democrat motion submitted to the county council next week will look once again at worrying ambulance response times across many parts of Gloucestershire.

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This follows the latest figures showing the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s (SWASFT) continuing failure to meet their 75% target in responding to the most urgent calls within 8 minutes.

The issue was first brought by Cllr Paul Hodgkinson at a council meeting in May 2014 where unanimous cross-party support was given for a motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times in the Cotswolds, Stroud, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.

In spite of the fact that the issue of ambulance performance is being monitored by the Council’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) improvements have yet to be made.

Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) who will for a second time be leading the debate said that:

“Our calls for improving ambulance response times made in the council chamber over eighteen months ago appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The latest ambulance performance report published last month show simply dreadful figures. I’m extremely concerned about the latest 8 minute response rates which show the target being missed spectacularly in areas like the Cotswolds – in fact the response times have actually got worse from the previous year. In September of this year the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in only 38.46% of cases in the Cotswolds and in the same month this year 47.83% of cases in Stroud. Last September, the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in 53.3% of cases in the Cotswolds and 69.2% in Stroud.

“I’ve said before and will say it again that overall we commend the work of the ambulance service and the many lives that are saved, but a crisis point has now been reached where what we are seeing is SWASFT’s failure to improve.

“I want to see the figures improving significantly. As well as calling for urgent improvements, I will also request that the Council’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee explores the creation of a county-wide ambulance service rather than a regional one.

“People living in rural areas have for far too long been living with a second rate service in terms of ambulance response times compared to those living in the urban areas of both Cheltenham and Gloucester.”

Cllr Joe Harris (LD, Cirencester Park) who will be supporting the motion also said that:

“I’ve seen first hand the excellent work that our paramedics do across the area in difficult circumstances. The continuing poor performance on response times is really concerning and highlights a bigger problem, it’s a problem that senior decision makers need to get a grip of.

“We continue to see targets being missed in the most life threatening cases and also on ‘green priority’ calls, an example of this could be the elderly lady who has fallen in the street and is having to wait hours for an ambulance in great pain. It isn’t good enough.

“In SWAST’s case bigger certainly hasn’t meant better and their performance in many parts of the County highlights this. I believe that a return to a County Ambulance service will mean better outcomes for Gloucestershire residents through local decision making and scrutiny. I hope the Council votes to take the first step in doing this next week.”

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.

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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.”