Letters round-up: Unitary debate, tribute to teacher, travel info centre, why Vale shouldn’t go tax free, velodrome plan, UTC value, Good Samaritans, Europe referendum and kids not walking to school

Thanks to Mick Tilbury for this picture of a sparrow hawk capturing a starling outside his Kingsash Road in Fairford Leys
Thanks to Mick Tilbury for this picture of a sparrow hawk capturing a starling outside his Kingsash Road in Fairford Leys

Plenty of views in this week’s Herald letter’s page, including a letter co-signed by several business leaders calling for Bucks to go unitary.

Unitary

The business case

Back in 2014 headlines suggested that by reducing the number of councils in the county from five to one or two unitary authorities Buckinghamshire residents could save somewhere between £5million and £25million per annum for front-line services.

Buckinghamshire Business First crowdfunded a strategic assessment of the pros and cons of establishing an alternative structure for local government in Buckinghamshire.

It took just two months to raise the estimated £25,000 needed from the public for the report.

Business leaders in Buckinghamshire recognise the critical importance of civic leadership in this constitutional debate.

This is not about knocking hard-working councillors or staff in current local authorities; it’s about undertaking a sensible independent review of a system which has remained unchanged for the past 40-plus years.

During the same period we have seen the arrival of cell phones, DNA testing and the internet, not to mention a global financial crisis, passing Hong Kong over to the Chinese, and years of austerity. No change is not an option.

This county deserves all the good government we can afford.

The current system is too costly, too slow and too bureaucratic and makes Bucks less competitive than other places.

The clock is ticking, local authority reserves are running dry in the face of unprecedented funding challenges, and an urgent review of local government structures is required.

How about a binding independent commission, perhaps chaired by a local MP, to decide on an appropriate and rapid process for taking this long-term strategic decision which is now long overdue?

Any process should not inflate the influence of interested parties.

We look forward to an invitation to join the debate. After all, we did start it.

Alex Pratt OBE JP, BBF Chairman; Philippa Batting, Managing Director, Buckinghamshire Business First; Klaus Allion, Managing Director, ANT Telecommunications Ltd; Michael Garvey, Managing Director, Chandler Garvey; Paul Gartside, Head of Engineering, DLP & Mail R&D, Intel Security Group; Guy Lachlan, Managing Director, Jones and Cocks Ltd; Eman Martin-Vignerte, Director Political Affairs and Gov’t Relationship, Robert Bosch; Martin Reed, CEO and Chairman, Thomas International; Adam Stronach, Director, Harwood Hutton Ltd.

Unitary

Speak to eachother

The Bucks Herald campaign has prompted many previously reluctant councillors to nail their colours to the unitary mast.

Good news, but only if they put preserving and enhancing council services ahead of protecting their own jobs and empires.

The county council want a unitary council based on its structure.

Conversely AVDC sees its model as a basis for a northern Bucks unitary, while I am sure Wycombe have similar ambitions for the south of the county.

At least the need for change is now accepted, but I fear that in truth many politicians are angling at self-preservation and in the process are seriously hampering progress.

We are in danger of entering a period of divisive and unproductive inter-council war that will end in disastrous failure, as did the last unitary bid in 2007.

The idea implied by AVDC that some Buckinghamshire councils can unitise while others remain unchanged is unworkable.

The government will not allow that scenario.

A whole-county solution will be needed, albeit resulting in one or multiple new single-tier authorities.

Real progress can only be made if the five Bucks council leaders are willing to speak to each other, put aside their political ambitions and plan the best solution for our voters and businesses.

Councillors at district and county level must be willing to relinquish their council seats and stand for re-election in the new structure.

I fear the self-preservation culture and the acrimonious relations between Bucks councils will delay sensible discussion.

It may be that John Bercow is right and that an independent commission will be the only way to make real progress.

Peter Cooper

Independent AVDC 
councillor, Wingrave Ward

Tribute

A shining light

It is with great sadness, I have read , in the Bucks Herald, that Ralph Mayo has passed away.

In 1957 at 11 years old I was sent to the newly opened Quarrendon School, and Mr Mayo was my first form teacher at secondary school, and thankfully my PE teacher.

What followed, thanks to Mr Mayo, was a very demanding secondary education, in which he became my inspiration and support.

His dedication to me and many others continued into higher education and my first teaching post.

In modern day parlance
he would be described as 
a “mentor”, but to me and countless other people, he was, and always will be a shining light.

I will never forget him, and all he has achieved.

Bob Mason

Founder member Aylesbury Gymnastic Club

Thanks

Came to mum’s aid

My mother had a nasty fall in Aylesbury on March 30 outside One Four Six coffee shop (Hale Leys).

Thankfully she did not sustain serious injury but was badly bruised and very shaken.

She was helped by several very kind people who went above and beyond, for which I am most grateful.

To the man who picked her up and came to find me, thank you, and to the family who stayed with her until I arrived, thank you.

Also to the staff in One Four Six who were also very kind.

I did not pay for my mother’s coffee but will do so the next time I am in town.

Gina Bruce

Address supplied

Training

Value of Bucks UTC

We in Buckinghamshire are very fortunate to live in a county that consistently outperforms its peers purely on academic performance, yet our strength and capacity on the skills agenda is often overlooked.

For example, a conscious decision was made by Buckinghamshire County Council to expand the skills agenda with the introduction of specialist courses in construction and IT, in the form of the Bucks University Technical College (UTC) in 2013: an excellent new setting that I had the opportunity to visit recently, centrally located in Aylesbury, to equip young people with the education and high-calibre practical skills needed in the future.

Having worked in the real estate sector for the past 10 years I can testify to the value and long-term opportunities that settings like this bring to skills.

Surveys have indicated huge shortages of skills of about 20 per cent in the construction sector – the highest in 18 years – and Britain’s technology sector is set to grow by about four times faster than GDP, which is why I’m delighted the UTC has pioneered these specialist courses.

National statistics show that the UK construction industry contributes about £100 billion in economic output making up 6.5 per cent of the total, and about two million jobs or 6.2 per cent of the UK total are in the construction industry.

Construction is not just about bricklaying – there are over 150 different occupations in the industry such as property development, management, quantity surveying, interior design and legal.

On the IT side, it is estimated that by 2017, the UK will need 750,000 digitally skilled people.

The forecast for the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley area is for about 2,000 new jobs in this industry.

Many of these will be for people under age 30, in roles such as web development, app development, software development, coding and IT support functions where there is a real shortage of young talent.

The UTC works in partnership with a range of employers in Buckinghamshire – major local companies such as Taylor Wimpey, Cisco, Esri UK and Intel, alongside other providers like the VCS and ‘People Animators’, who support the students with activities to ensure they are ready for the world of work – for example, in presentation and communications skills.

With the current rate of growth of housebuilding in Buckinghamshire the 10th highest among 27 county councils and ninth highest in the 39 LEPS, and further growth forecast in Buckinghamshire, these skills will become even more valuable.

Supporting much-needed jobs in Buckinghamshire where unemployment rates are already the third lowest among 27 county councils means that future careers in construction and IT should definitely be explored.

Zahir Mohammed

Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Buckinghamshire County Council

Suggestion

Travel info centre

Mr du Boulay (letters, March 30) refers to me as Major Tom, the commander of David Bowie’s space ship, an honour indeed, but not one which enables me to help him in regard to the forlorn travel information centre which was closed when I called there yesterday.

No mention of opening hours, merely a county council logo; no notice as to whether it had closed permanently.

A 20-minute call to BCC’s customer service department only told me that they didnt know of its existence.

Directions to a website containing travel information, displayed in the window, would help enormously.

That is the route that we at Aylesbury Vale District Council have taken in respect of our former visitor information centre at Kings Head Passage.

Billy Stanier

Cabinet Member for Environment and Waste, Aylesbury Vale District Council

Velodrome

Does the size fit?

I note that a sports village could be built in Aylesbury but the prospect of a 500-metre velodrome makes me wonder who dreamt this one up, as this type of track disappeared from cycle racing more than 20 years ago.

Modern tracks are 250 metres in circumference and this is what should be built and the football field moved.

Plus why not install a road cycling circuit of about two kilometres in length with different circuits inside it.

This could be used by the general public, children and of course cycle racing if a club could be found to promote them.

I wonder if the people behind the project consulted British Cycling they would get financial support and a great deal of advice plus help from Sport England?

I wish that when I raced in the 1960s and 1970s we had the facilities available now.

I recommend people have a look at various sports centres around the UK and also the promoters should have a look as well.

Christopher Lowe

Address supplied

AVDC

Don’t go tax free

Aylesbury Vale’s plan to abolish council tax (Council: Vale could be tax free by 2023, April 6) is a terrible idea.

It will put the cost of council services on to those least able to pay.

Council tax, like income tax, is roughly related to how rich we are.

It is a fairer system than charging for individual services, some of which people must have.

It is also much more efficient – a single payment rather than lots of individual charges which cost money to process.

It embodies “we are all in this together”, as the Prime Minister has put it, the principle that we all contribute to the good functioning of the community.

Who would benefit from its abolition?

All the service companies – Capita, G4S and the others – who make profits from their contracts with local councils, profits which are just as much a tax on residents as council tax but go into private pockets.

It may “save” Band D payers £2.66 a week, but it will probably benefit Band H payers twice as much; how many AVDC councillors pay the higher bands?

£2.66 is less than the cost of a bus fare. How many services will people need to buy before any “savings” are wiped out?

What will we be charged for and how much will we have to pay? What will come next – charges for an ambulance or the police?

Where do my arguments come from?

Not from political parties, but from The Economist, a right-wing, free-market magazine but one which is concerned with efficiency and equity; it recently said in an editorial that charging individually for public services is objectionable on principle and in practice.

AVDC should think again.

Professor Sir Roderick Floud FBA

Flint Street, Haddenham

Europe

Need to remain in

I know, from talking to people in Buckinghamshire, that debate about the EU can easily disappoint those wanting balanced information and thoughtful arguments, so it makes sense for political parties and politicians to be clear about where they stand and why.

As a Green, I am wholeheartedly committed to Britain staying in Europe because I believe that neighbours working together are better able to maintain peace, ensure the wellbeing of citizens, and protect our environment.

But my vision of Europe is different: Greens MEPs fighting for reforms to give people more say in decision-making, limit the power of corporations, and improve transparency.

However, we recognise how far the EU has already come in this regard.

In 2009, the Lisbon Treaty increased the powers of the European Parliament, in relation to other EU institutions.

As a result, directly elected MEPs, like me, can now block unacceptable international agreements such as TTIP (the controversial EU-US trade deal that threatens democracy, public health and the environment) and refuse budgetary sign-off.

Previously secret meetings of the European Council are now webcast, and the European Commission recently agreed to publicly register meetings with lobbyists.

There is still further to go, but it would be wrong to think the EU cannot change or that we are powerless to make a difference.

My colleagues and I in the European Parliament prove – every day – that a better Europe is within our grasp and is something worth working for.

And we’re not alone. Greens are part of Another Europe is Possible – a fast-growing progressive campaign for an EU that puts social justice, workers’ rights and environmental protection first.

To achieve these goals, we need to vote to remain.

Keith Taylor

Green Party MEP for the South East

Poem

When kids walked

Do you remember when children walked to school?

They’d walk to school with a friend.

And if there was a shower,

A raincoat they would lend.

When children had legs,

Before MPVs,

They’d see flowers growing,

And feel a gentle breeze.

When children had legs,

You did not have to worry whether you would park.

And even in winter,

They’d be snug home before it got dark.

When children had legs,

They’d go to school with a mate.

Before we discovered stress,

Because we are always running late.

When children had legs,

Conkers could be the source of fun.

Now they are Health and Safety taboo,

Be careful daughter or son.

When children had legs.

They’d see cobwebs all a glistening.

Now they play games in backs of cars.

And are never ever listening.

When children had legs,

Before the word obese.

They’d play, skip, hop.

With energy that did not cease.

When children had legs,

For a rest after school they’d be glad.

Do you know what we saw today?

They’d excitedly tell Mum and Dad.

When children had legs.

They’d be kind and help each other.

Now it’s dive in the car.

We’re far too busy to bother.

When children had legs.

Each day was different somehow.

“Shut the door of the car dear”

“Got to get out of this tiny parking space right now”

Name and address 
supplied