Letters round-up: Hold referendum on 11-plus

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In this week’s letters page a Labour spokesman calls on Bucks to hold a referendum over the future of the county’s grammar schools.

11-plus

Hold referendum

I am saddened, but not surprised, to hear that Cllr Zahir Mohammed of BCC has opted to turn an important debate about the education of children across Bucks into an opportunity to make personal

attacks on those offering alternative views.

Following a number of recent reports which have starkly demonstrated the divisive and detrimental effects of the selective grammar school system in the county, there are now a growing number of calls for the introduction of a comprehensive system which offers excellent education to all.

This comes from a whole host of professionals, parents and activists.

The school that these people have been to themselves, or indeed where they choose to send their children, does nothing to detract from the very important central argument - that the broader selective education system in Bucks is doing more harm than good to children at a crucial stage in their educational development.

As an ‘education chief’ would it not be more fitting for him to comment on recent reports which have revealed declining pass rates for Bucks state school pupils, the large gap between the average pass rates of the poorer and wealthier areas of Bucks, the significantly lower pass rates for children on Free School Meals or the much higher pass rates for children at private schools?

As a senior decision and policy maker in Bucks County Council, can the public have a comment from him as to whether he honestly feels that a selective education system serves

the interests of the majority of children in Bucks?

Is he happy with a system which evidence suggests is seeking to reinforce existing privilege for the few?

If BCC is confident that Bucks parents prefer selection, they should carry out a referendum

among all Bucks parents to see if it is true.

Rachel Knight

Wycombe Labour’s spokesperson on education

Town

Don’t close centre

Aylesbury Vale District Council is proposing to close the Visitors Information Centre in the Kings Head.

This would be a very retrograde step.

The main reasons given are: the decrease in the footfall, the closure of the shops in the Kings Head courtyard, and the changing ways of people getting information.

The number of visitors to the Centre in the last 6 months has fallen to just over 5,500. This is still a substantial number of visitors who would be deprived of a personal service if the Centre closed.

If there is concern about the falling numbers, the first step should be to improve the publicity

If the existing location is considered to be not very visible or accessible , then a more prominent site should be considered

Many organisations are now persuading people to seek information on-line, but this should be seen as an alternative , not a replacement for personal service. Many people are not computer friendly, and not everyone walks around with the latest digital phone permanently in their hand

Information is now available in many other ways, but if this excuse for closure gains ground , the next casualty could be the County reference library.

The National Trust own the Kings Head site, and it could be an option for them to open up a combined office/shop, with the Visitor Information Centre.

The large front room in the Kings Head with the leaded window, has been empty for many years, and this would be an ideal location.

It is stated that the Centre is not meeting its core purpose of assisting visitors.

However, local residents may also wish to seek information, not just visitors.

When AVDC moved to their offices in Gatehouse Road, a promise was made to maintain a town centre presence. They have reneged on this promise.

A town centre office should be provided, and this could offer a wide range of information and help on all matters for residents and visitors.

With competition from retail parks, and on-line shopping. many town centres are in decline.

The Mary Portas report on the future of the High Street, stressed that in order to survive and thrive, it is important to provide a wide range of services to complement the retail outlets.

Ken Evans

Northumberland Avenue, Aylesbury

Council

Follow our lead

It was grim news to hear about the spending freeze at Bucks County Council, although it was not surprising as for many years Bucks has been vying with Oxfordshire as one of the lowest funded shire councils.

Successive Governments have believed that leafy Bucks does not have as much demand for front line services such as social services.

The problem is demand has actually increased and continues to increase, but the grant from Government has reduced massively.

None of this should be a surprise, because of the many years of over spending by the last Labour Government intent on never ending increases in public expenditure.

When the crash came and Government had to bail out the banks we were less able to absorb the impact and the necessary subsequent action to re-balance the books has been hard felt at Bucks County Council.

So what can County do that they have not done before, which could help their situation?

I would urge them to invest much more of their energies in innovation and a programme of Continuous Improvement and increasing their revenue, as their problems simply won’t go away.

Why do I say this, well because it has worked elsewhere both in the public and private sector.

I recently saw for myself a factory that had faced its own problems during the crash, it had to lay off staff but took the route of innovation and now is such an example and has so embraced continuous improvement within its culture that one of their factories in China had recently visited to find out how they have made their front line and back office processes so efficient.

But if it is thought that what a factory has done can’t be applied to a Council, well BCC need only look across the road to AVDC.

AVDC have fully embraced innovation and continuous improvement and have their own engine room to drive through this programme.

So whilst the budget is far smaller than County’s measures such as the amalgamation of all staff into one building at the Gateway Office and Conference centre have saved millions, and generates over £150K a year in income from the renting of office space and conference facilities.

And AVDC continues to innovate for example through its new website that has improved processes and got rid of the need to fill in and send off several forms. All of these are reasons why AVDC won the IEASY award as Council of the year. As a result the cuts that AVDC have faced, a £11M cut in its Government grant over 5 years has been absorbed without massive reductions required to front line services and almost as importantly with a balanced budget.

I did notice that in a remark during a meeting it was mentioned by a member of BCC that it was somehow considered unfair that AVDC got 80% of the New Home Bonus funding and this did not go instead to County.

This money is there to help councils deal with the consequences of growth it is not there to bail councils out of their financial difficulties, and as for the further claim that it is being used to buy treats this is simply wrong.

The project that was being talked about as a treat, Waterside North will help to bring five new restaurants such as Jamie’s 15 to the town, new flats and a new green open space in Aylesbury town centre.

Investing in the future of the towns economy and providing a town centre residents of Aylesbury Vale deserve is not spending money on treats but is exactly what Councils should be spending money on.

It will also as with all the other projects AVDC have invested in our town pay for itself, by providing ongoing income to the Council budget.

And why should AVDC and its residents not receive the majority of the New Homes Bonus, it is them that have seen the vast majority of growth in Buckinghamshire.

So the advice for Bucks County Council is that the magic money tree only exists in the mind of the new leader of the Labour party and cuts could continue and services could suffer, but you could find much needed relief if you seriously invest time and energy in embracing an innovation and continuous improvement programme of the type that has been so successful in both the private and public sector.

Cllr Mark Winn

Bedgrove district councillor

Orchestra

Magnificent music

May I use these pages to congratulate Aylesbury Symphony Orchestra for an absolutely splendid Brahms concert on Sunday November 15th?

The young soloists in Brahms’ Double Concerto in A Minor, Francesca Barritt and Morwenna Del Mar, were magnificent.

They are clearly used to playing together, which made for a very effective performance, and the warm tone of their violin and cello sounded superb in the excellent acoustic environment of St Mary’s Church.

What a privilege to hear such a high standard of playing, from the soloists and the orchestra.

After recently returning to this area after 50 years of working and living elsewhere in the UK, this, was my first time at an Aylesbury Symphony Orchestra concert.

The standard of amateur music-making (both orchestral and choral) in the Aylesbury-Tring-Berkhamsted area is impressive, with concerts on offer most weekends.

According to the programme, this orchestra was founded by Charles Pope soon after the Second World War. In the mid 1950s, as I recall, he was a teacher at Queens Park Boys’ Junior School, where one of his pupils was my brother.

His wife taught me, at Queens Park Primary School.

They seemed pretty old to us then, but they may not have been more than middle-aged.

The orchestra’s enduring vitality is a wonderful tribute to Charles Pope’s work in promoting amateur classical music in Aylesbury.

I look forward to attending more of the orchestra’s concerts.

Diana Woodward

Tring

Scheme

Disappointing news

How annoying and frustrating to hear that the East West Rail Link is to be postponed yet again.

Now we have to wait another 3-5 years before the line will finally open.

How disappointing for all anticipating passengers.

Many local and semi-double jobs in the next few years will now be put in jeopardy, not to mention the frustration of more cars and traffic on the roads, especially around Milton Keynes with no direct route.

How much easier it would be to board the train from Aylesbury and some nearby area’s, not just to Milton Keynes but a rail link to the west via Oxford, also the rebuilding of the line to East Anglia via Bedford and later Cambridge.

Hoping this situation is resolved by the government stepping in or local councils.

What will bestow us in another 3-5 years?

Hopefully not a repetition of the above.

David F Mason

Wendover

AVDC

Dictorial manner

As one whose letter was published in BH on 4 November regarding legal advice which apparently cleared the way for AVDC to subvert the democratic wishes embodied in local Neighbourhood Plans, I read with incredulity Councillor Neil Blake’s attempt to dismiss my and other constituents’ concerns as grossly misleading.

His statement failed to convince me in that there was any justification for maintaining such secrecy over the legal advice obtained to assist the work of the AVDC Planning Officers.

We are all, I suggest, able to understand the need for confidentiality about details of the necessary full and frank briefing processes.

Nevertheless, in this case the legal principles involved can and should be enunciated in a simple and clear format and made available to us, the electorate, if only through our elected District Councillors. If those principles are hidden from public scrutiny, how do we know that the advice given by the planning officers is indeed based upon sound legal principles?

We need to protect our democracy by true transparency and not by a hectoring refusal to answer the questions posed.

Sadly, Councillor Blake has merely confirmed my view that in the matter of Neighbourhood Plans, AVDC is acting in a dictatorial manner that will brook no dissent.

Alan R Watkins

Townside, Haddenham

Rail

Just get on with it

We are now to believe that completing our part of the East West Rail Link, the section from Aylesbury to Milton Keynes, could take an astonishing 13 years, from the original go-ahead from the Government in 2011 to the now mooted completion date of 2024.

It is hard to know when the entire section from Oxford could be finished to Cambridge.

There is the obvious, everyday negative impact of these appalling delays, on the lives of commuters, students, and people travelling for family and leisure reasons, as well as the disbenefits to the environment by not taking traffic off the roads.

But there is even bigger casualty here.

If the whole Oxford to Cambridge rail project is to be put back it could seriously hinder the emergence of the so-called south-east England ‘Golden Triangle’, with its corners in London, Oxford and Cambridge, as a global centre of excellence in the field of life sciences. (Aylesbury Vale would, of course, be very well situated at the top of this triangle.)

This is what the outgoing chairman of the Wellcome Trust, Sir William Castell, told the Financial Times on October 2. Sir William said much of Wellcome’s spending on big projects has already gone to the ‘Golden Triangle’.

The sort of research and development work he is talking about includes precision medicine such as diagnosing the exact cause of ailments in individual patients, and then prescribing the best treatment, based on their genetic make-up and environmental circumstances — in contrast to the way the broad classes of disease are treated today.

He said Wellcome has collaborated with the government on several multi-billion pound capital projects in Oxford, Cambridge and London. (And locally, the potential benefits to the Vale are huge.

Imagine a cluster of high tech life sciences start up businesses, say, around the railway station at Winslow, which now may not be built until 2022.)

Sir William described rail and road links between Oxford and Cambridge as “appalling”. He told the interviewer: “The Golden Triangle still has one side missing… If I was able to make one infrastructure investment now, I would put a dual carriageway between the two cities.” (Currently 2 hrs 18 minutes by road, 2 hrs 37 mins by rail).

But we don’t even need that hugely costly road, when we have a railway already approved and ready to go.

So why can’t we just build it?

The government shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind Network Rail and its review of current rail projects which is the reason for the likely delay.

If George Osborne and David Cameron really want this they should bang heads, make sure the money is available and tell the contractors to get on with it.

Gareth Davies

Chairman, Buckingham 
Liberal Democrats

Money saving

Sell County Hall

Your article states the county council bosses have to save £10m with a picture of the council offices beside it.

Why don’t they sell that building which has been such an eyesore since it was built in the 1960s?

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Track

Vested interests

At long last, someone else who can see through the propaganda from those with a vested interest in East/West Rail.

The only thing that this reopening this line will bring to this area is a deluge of unwanted new housing and the problems that will arise because of it.

Marc Linton

East Claydon