12:00PM, Friday 26 November 2021
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Taking charge over the state of cemeteries
The upkeep of our cemeteries this year has been a disgrace.
In April I publicly advised our councillors to look at this issue.
They finally got round to doing so last week by inviting their contractor to tell us what went wrong this year – they need not have bothered!
Our councillors raised the need for feedback loops and their own private reporting system but let the council’s senior management and the contractor off the hook.
It was clear to me that some of our councillors simply did not know what this contractor did while others failed to notice that the director responsible did not respond to a single point raised during their meeting!
If we are to see improvements at our cemeteries some simple, but urgent changes are required.
A cabinet member should be named as having responsibility for cemeteries, RBWM should introduce a service charter that governs their work at our cemeteries and it should be very easy for the public to report issues directly to the council.
Not rocket science, but some simple changes that could make a difference to the upkeep of our cemeteries.
As one resident said to me ‘councillors have not dropped the ball on the state of our cemeteries – they never picked it up in the first place!
Let’s hope that things are better next year, but on last week’s performance residents should not raise their expectations just yet!
Noise back in town – Heathrow and health
Just past midnight last Sunday morning a Heathrow flight took off over Datchet, Windsor, Slough and Burnham.
Previously, Datchet had been as quiet as 33 decibels.
The overflight took the noise level to 66 decibels.
We all sleep with steady low background noise – but change in noise level is what wakes people up.
Why do Heathrow do this?
Sleep disruption is a well known health issue.
But Heathrow chose to permit this flight rather than respect the sleep of the many thousands (tens of thousands?) of local residents.
The night flights review for Heathrow is in progress.
How about banning all take-offs during the night?
No take-offs between 22:00 and 06:00
How about Heathrow allow us the medically recommended eight hours of sleep at night?
Life is very different up close to the border
When I was about 12 years old in the 1980s I was at RAF Valley in Wales.
My father was a pilot in the RAF, flying the Hawk jet trainer.
To me, the smell of jet fuel is the most exciting smell in the world.
It smells of aeroplanes, wide open spaces, rippling grass, power, speed and thundering noise.
At Valley my mother and sister once hid under the kitchen table because a squadron of Harrier jump jets flew low and slow over the house in the fog looking for the runway.
Behind it all was the noble aim of keeping the country safe.
I remember asking my father about the possibility of being captured and tortured.
“I hope I never get tortured”, he said. “It’s quite easy to get someone into a state where they want to die.”
There was a problem: the danger of the IRA.
RAF Valley is next to the Holyhead ferry to Dublin.
RAF personnel were not allowed off the base in uniform, because they were a target.
Today, I find myself amazed to be listening to Sinn Fein politicians and agreeing with what they say.
I met Chris Hazzard MP at the Irish Border Communities’ protest in London.
Since 1155 the British have been involved on the island of Ireland.
Between 1600 and 1650 English and Scottish people were moved to the north of the island – and the City of London was made to pay for it.
Cromwell’s soldiers; civil war in the 1920s; the Troubles... the border area is nothing like the difference between Devon and Dorset.
British army security checkpoints were still there until 2007.
My aim is not to score points off Dr Cooper. I wish Dr Cooper were more aware of the realities of the border area.
I wish he were more aware of the essential decency of the peace effort of the European Union.
I hope he has noticed the Border Communities’ protest in support of the open border last Saturday, November 20.
I imagine Dr Cooper writes from a comfortable room in Maidenhead.
May I invite him to visit Phoenix Manor road near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.
There, on the other side of the A46, is the border.
The R920 road runs for 300 metres in the Republic of Ireland, before crossing the river Erne, over the bridge, into the small town of Belleek, famous for its fine porcelain, in Northern Ireland.
That is just one example of what the border is like.
According to the Irish Borderlands project, by Queen Mary University of London, being from the border area is an identity in itself.
Member, European Movement UK
‘Oven ready’ to burn down the union
D.R. Cooper, now delving into Google, might take the opportunity to check the status of Northern Ireland (and Scotland) both of which are described as countries.
The difficulty this brings is that these countries are part of a United Kingdom (also a country).
Boris Johnson’s ‘oven ready’ EU deal happily risked that unity in order to appear to ‘get Brexit done’.
Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have slowly growing movements which will, eventually, lead to independence and Irish unification respectively.
Boris’ Brexit bodge will simply speed up the process, both countries having favoured Remain in 2016, and the growing younger and better educated demographic favouring a union with Europe over dominance by an English parliament where first past the post elections render democracy questionable.
Were this Prime Minister anything other than a mendacious populist clown appeasing the right wing rump which now runs the Conservative party, he might have cared about the Kingdom.
The fact is that he doesn’t and never did.
Earlier start to council budget consultation
On Thursday (November 25) the cabinet of the Royal Borough will be considering a draft of the third budget of this current electoral cycle.
However, unlike in previous years this isn’t a budget designed to stabilise the council’s financial position.
The hard work in relation to that has been done in 2020 and 2021 with the council now firmly back on the right financial track.
Instead, this third budget seeks to build upon that work and secure the council’s financial position, as well as continue to address the issues required for longer-term financial sustainability, supported by in-year robust financial management against those budgets.
This year we are proposing an investment budget designed to align council spending with the priorities in our emerging Corporate Plan.
In essence, a strategic approach to budget setting over the medium term from both a financial and policy perspective, balancing our income and expenditure to deliver on those new plan objectives.
A clear sign of that investment is the additional £5.3m that will be spent on our key priorities next year, including an increase in spending in adults and children’s services to meet the expected increase in demand, tackling climate change, plus increasing housing and employment opportunity.
There will also be additional resources to help with supporting our vulnerable residents when dealing with housing and homelessness, a strong commitment to sustainable transport, and continuing our zero tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour such as fly-tipping and littering.
This investment will also be matched by further efficiency savings, more effective working, and continuing to explore all options for future revenue growth and greater commercial opportunities, as well as reducing growth costs where we can.
However, this does mean that we are also having to propose a below inflation increase in council tax of 2 per cent, plus a 1 per cent increase for adult social care.
We fully appreciate that it is never easy to ask hardworking taxpayers for more and we have only done so after fully considering all other options.
However, even despite this rise we will still have the lowest council tax in the county, by hundreds of pounds, and one of the lowest levels in England, yet still being one of the most efficient councils.
On the capital investment side our programme for next financial year is over £56million which includes ongoing projects and £14million for new schemes.
This also includes the use of S106 and CIL funding and will go towards affordable housing provision, new car parking in Maidenhead, and working to reduce the risk and impact of flooding from the River Thames.
Crucially, unlike last year, we are proposing our draft budget a month earlier to allow the maximum amount of time for residents, businesses, and interested parties to make representations as part of the consultation period, as well as to give as much certainly as we can to valued partners.
The consultation will run from December until the end of January, with consideration given to all feedback, and viable alternatives, to ensure that we deliver a legally compliant balanced budget next year.
Cllr ANDREW JOHNSON
Leader of the Royal Borough