Notes from a new councillor: Why we need decent bus services

I attended my first Cabinet Meeting recently as Oxfordshire County Councillor. OCC is led by a coalition of Conservatives and Independents. The question I put was:

Many villages in Wheatley Division are suffering because of the cut in bus subsidies. Elderly and vulnerable people are isolated; younger people cannot get to college and apprenticeships; those who relied on buses for work are now using cars and increasing the traffic on our already congested roads. Does the member agree with me that saving up to £4 million pounds from cutting bus subsidy was a false economy, and will she work with me to find room in our forthcoming budget to reinstate bus subsidies?

Well the member did not agree with me, and proceeded to inform me about all the community transport initiatives underway throughout the county. I am already well versed in these grass-root efforts, having been along to a fair number of community transport meetings over the last two months.

My problem is that offering locals buses twice a week for shopping; or relying on volunteers to get people to hospital appointments; or telling village residents to cross a busy highway (A40) for the nearest bus; is not good enough.

Connecting Oxfordshire, Local Transport Plan 2015 – 2031 includes the vision behind providing local buses. Here are three of the key outcomes (p. 16):

1. To support the transition to a low-carbon future.

2. To support social inclusion and equality of opportunity.

3. To protect, and where possible enhance, Oxfordshire’s environment and improve quality of life.

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Reversing Brexit

Once out, the pin can’t be put back in. Or can it?

Yes it can, so long as the strike lever has not been released. And that is the position we are in with Brexit. In theory, article 50 can be revoked if we act fast, but the clock is ticking. And According to both Emmanuel Macron and Alastair Campbell, editor of the New European, we have little time left. At some point, the EU will go into full self-protective mode and focus on performing a clean amputation. In grenade terms, the strike lever will have been released and the explosion will be inevitable.

That is why we have to move swiftly. According to Campbell, the time window after our August holidays will be slim. “When the political season resumes, we had better have got our act together”, he writes, ”or else this thing is happening”.

There are formidable difficulties facing us. Though we see tantalising signs of a national change of heart, a lot of energy has built up behind the Brexit juggernaut which means that simply aborting it is well nigh impossible.

Disarming the grenade

Brexit has been aptly described as an act of national self-harm, and self harm has a considerable cathartic value. It is like a wave which rears up before crashing and dissipating its energy on the beach. Anyone who has ever been distressed enough to think of harming themself will tell you that it is not much use being told “forget it, and just carry on as normal”.

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The Press Pack: A round-up of Lib Dem media comments – 22 August 2017

Here’s a roundup of  media comments made by Lib Dem parliamentarians and spokespeople today.

GP numbers

Norman Lamb slammed the Government for failing to deliver more GPs:

The government’s promise to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020 lies in tatters, with fewer GPs now than when this pledge was first made.

“The pitiful increase we have seen in recent months is nowhere near enough to cope with rising patient demand.

“This failure to recruit enough doctors will inevitably have a damaging impact on the ability of patients to access the healthcare they need.

“We are already close to breaking point, with people in many parts of the country struggling to get appointments with their GP.

“More doctors are urgently needed to guarantee a fully-staffed NHS that provides everyone with the care they need.

Swinson criticises UK support for Trump Afghanistan move

The government didn’t really get round to condemning Donald Trump’s appalling remarks in the wake of Charlottesville, but they were quick off the mark to support him sending more troops to Afghanistan. Jo Swinson said:

For once, sense seems to have prevailed in the White House.

“But to succeed in Afghanistan will require winning the hearts and minds of its people and working closely with neighbouring countries.

“On that front, Donald Trump has already done untold damage through his proposed refugee ban, Islamophobic comments and cack-handed approach to foreign affairs.

“The government’s rapid statement of support for Trump today contrasts with its failure to swiftly condemn his divisive views and actions in the past.

“Simply pouring more troops into Afghanistan will not work without a broader strategy involving careful diplomacy and redoubled efforts to build a stable government.”

Even Brussels must be tired of this waffle

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Was Champion right to “resign” from front bench over Sun article?

Trigger warning for child abuse.

There are kind of rules – good rules that are there for good reasons – governing how we talk about racial issues, when we must. Properly contextualise. Look for similarities rather than differences. Don’t make or appear to make generalisations about groups of people.

When I was at school we had leaflets thrown over the school fence with the faces of white people who had been killed by black people. The object of the leaflet was to encourage racially motivated violence to “even up the score” using crimes that, if they happened at all, probably weren’t racially …

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Brexit: We can’t gamble with our futures

Week by week the countdown to March 2019 looms closer. The chances of stopping a disastrous hard Brexit are slim, but there is a small window of opportunity if we go about it in the right way.

As Vince Cable and Nick Clegg emphasise, it all rests on building a coalition of moderates with the courage to break out of the extreme Brexit groupthink. This means that we need a Brexit position which is decisive, but also respects those who are resigned to the prospect of Brexit – for now – and reaches out. A clear majority of constituencies voted for Brexit, so for Parliament to block it, or at least soften it, we are going to need to bring people together.

That is why I’m very concerned by the motion being proposed for Autumn Conference, in which it is being suggested that we should play an all-or-nothing game of Russian roulette with people’s livelihoods. The motion suggests that we should retreat into stubborn rejection of the referendum, without securing a clear mandate against Brexit. The tide is slowly turning against a hard Brexit, but time is running out to stop it all together. That should still be our main aim, but it would be an act of gross neglect to take a gamble on suddenly halting Brexit in its tracks and lose.

That’s why we must consider very carefully how we would feel waking up in Hard Brexit Britain in 2019. With investment receding and jobs in freefall, our idealism and anti-Brexit fervour would be in vain. I know I would be thinking about what could have been. We could have had a soft Brexit. We could even have stopped it all. This could all have been less painful.

Even if you endorse this anti-Brexit gamble with our economy, you have to ask how best we can realistically build a coalition to stop Brexit. Surely the answer isn’t to retreat into introverted Europhilia, but to reach out to those sceptical about Brexit and make the case? If the tide of public opinion turns, this is how we stop Brexit – by giving the people the final say in a referendum. This is a realistic and democratic position which can appeal to ‘Releavers’ and soft Leavers alike once the dangers of Brexit become clearer.

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Notes from a new councillor: How to change things

I am frustrated about the bureaucracy I recently encountered as a County Councillor. Oxfordshire Mind, which provides many valuable mental health services throughout the county, has a new initiative to promote mental health awareness throughout Oxfordshire.

The question I submitted to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Public Health was:

Oxfordshire Mind is seeking £308K funding for Mental Health Awareness for children and young people. This investment in Public Health would potentially save the NHS and Social Care millions of pounds a year in Oxfordshire. Will the Cabinet Member meet with Mr Dan Knowles, CEO of Oxfordshire Mind, and me regarding funding this scheme of prevention, ensuring better mental health for young people in this county in years to come?

The written response was that the Cabinet Member cannot meet with us as that would be showing favouritism to one charity over another. She informed me there is bidding process to go through for funding.

Being a new County Councillor, I was unaware of this and so now I know better! But asking the question, and having it publicly documented, has already raised awareness. So it is not a wasted effort on my part.

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Is failure to use technology to enhance learning failing school pupils?

The format of education hasn’t really changed since Victorian times. Students are still packed into a classroom with a teacher who spends most of their time doing some variation of lecturing to the students, before they then apply whatever they’ve just heard to some real examples. This system treats everyone equally by treating pretty much everyone the same, using the same techniques and the same curriculum for everyone, regardless of their differences. Liberal Democrats tend to challenge traditional policies, and should challenge the current educational system too. We also tend to look solely to teachers for educational policy but it is also worth listening to the perspective of students.

Technology promised a revolution in classrooms, with very little change in the techniques in the publicly funded and conservative education sector. Technology has changed the way in which the teacher delivers the information to the class, allowing a little more interactivity but keeping the key parts of the teacher lecturing to the students on masse. Technology could, and should, be causing a more revolutionary change to education, like a number of charter schools are in the United States.

One charter school chain, called Summit Public Schools, has used technology to revolutionise their teaching. Students mainly learn from online courses and doing project work, supported by a teacher who moves from more authoritarian current role to a mentor, supporting students in their learning and explaining more difficult concepts. These schools save teachers a significant amount of time on marking, allowing teachers to support their students more and removing a significant source of stress. The school still requires students to cover a broad curriculum using a personal learning plan, though they are free to learn at their own pace and choose their topic at the time. 

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarThomas 23rd Aug - 12:44pm
    Matthew Huntbach - big loser, but would not become a party of 8% with 8 seats. At least the students were on our side at...
  • User AvatarGary Fuller 23rd Aug - 12:41pm
    Full disclosure. I haven't read the article in the Sun, and I've not studied the statistics on crime rates among different demographics in any detail,...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 23rd Aug - 12:29pm
    P.J. They have a way of finding money when it is politically prudent. Ask the DUP. Do you really think they are going to present...
  • User Avatarnvelope2003 23rd Aug - 12:27pm
    To get people to use buses you would need a very frequent service running from about 5.30 am to midnight which would require a very...
  • User AvatarThomas 23rd Aug - 12:15pm
    P.J - I want to increase all kinds of taxes that can be increased: income tax (by 1.5-3% on all income bands), corporate tax (to...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 23rd Aug - 12:06pm
    P.J. When It comes to finding money I would start by looking at capital Gains tax allowances (unjustifiable). Then lets have a look at the...