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Viewpoint: Council overspending and the Queen Street right-turn

Featuring discussion on the £4m Royal Borough overspend, the controversial right-turn ban in Queen Street and Brexit.

Staff reporter

Staff reporter

Viewpoint:  Council overspending and the Queen Street right-turn

Re-arranging deckchairs won’t clear £4m debt

The darkest of dark clouds hangs over the town hall.

A forecast current year budget shortfall that has ballooned from £451,000 after three months to £4,179,000 after just four; debt rising to £189,362,000 by July 2020 and a Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report that condemns weak or non-existent financial controls; which means even those figures might be badly understated.

Add into the mix the sudden and still unexplained resignation of the former leader of the council and the smell of rot and decay becomes increasingly strong.

The new council leader, Cllr Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) has a titanic challenge ahead of him. How will he respond?

The early signs are not good.

He has re-appointed Councillor Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill) to the now all-important finance lead!

Cllr Hilton has been in post since May, a period during which the annual deficit has increased by at least ten-fold.

The rest of the Cabinet looks remarkably as it did before.

Cllr Johnson appears to have given no thought to looking across the aisle at the financial expertise and experience on the opposition benches.

No thought of putting the needs of the borough ahead of repaying the political IOUs he has, no doubt, had to hand out to get the job in the first place.

And worse than all of that, no thought to the implications of the CIPFA report; which makes it clear that members, and they could only have been Conservative members, have exploited lax controls to fund projects that would otherwise never have been approved.

Our deficit and debt situation cannot be improved by merely re-arranging the Conservative deckchairs.

We may have a new Captain, but the Northamptonly course is ominously unchanged.

The watch officers are largely the same as those who got us to where we are now. 

And below decks the compliant backbench Tory boiler room is dutifully shovelling coal as fast as it can.

Full steam ahead!  Iceberg!?  What iceberg!?

Cllr SIMON WERNER

Lib Dem councillor for Pinkneys Green


Only thing ‘skewed’ in consultation is RBWM

I was one of 437 residents who took the time to respond to the RBWM online consultation over the Queen Street right-turn ban.

I am horrified to learn that all 437 responses were treated as biased, and largely ignored because the online sample was said to be ‘…skewed towards those that drive cars and would be most impacted’. Can it really be that the more concerned and affected you are the less relevant are your comments?

The hired company called M.E.L Research said that RBWM’s official online ‘self-completion’ poll was ‘skewed’.

So they effectively threw all 437 responses in the bin, and only included their own face-to-face ‘street’ interviews in the statistical ‘executive summary’ of their report! Summaries are, of course, the most read and influential part of any report. 

How bad is this? Well, residents were asked if the changes would ‘reduce pedestrian safety’.

Buried in the appendices, a total of 74 per cent of online respondents said that the junction will become more unsafe.

However, that figure was not reported or incorporated into the prominent executive summary. Instead MEL Research said the figure, based only on their interviews, was a far less worrying 34 per cent.

They did the same for each answer – downgrading our concerns.

They even made errors with their own preferred ‘street survey’ answers, claiming upfront that more than half of people would be ‘encouraged to cycle’, when the true figure reported later in the report was actually less than half.  

There is only one thing ‘skewed’ here – and I am confident it’s not the residents!

I would encourage any of the 437 online respondents, if you share my concerns, to join me in writing to foi@rbwm.gov.uk and ask why your data was harvested, but not included, in the overall statistics of the executive summary.

You may wish to make the point that this is ‘unfair’ if you had no reason to believe that answering the question that you were a ‘driver’ would render your opinions ‘skewed’ and statistically obsolete.

ANDREW HILL

Rutland Gate

Maidenhead


No right turn process is a total shambles

I started this letter ‘I am not sure of the benefits of closing the right turn into Grenfell Place in view of the added traffic to Stafferton Way roundabout....’ and suddenly it is ‘fait accompli’!

The so called ‘consultation’ by the council was flawed and it was difficult to see actually what improvements to the junction/access/station forecourt would be made from the plan on the council’s website, as the wording became blurred when the map was enlarged.

What is very clear however is that the whole proposal is a complete shambles.

The signage is incorrect and misleading. Lanes are shown as closed when they are not and closed without signage.

Even police cars were coming along Braywick Road and having to go over to the inside lane this week just before the traffic lights. Even when there are no lanes closed the delays on the lights mean that traffic cannot exit Shoppenhangers and Grenfell Roads because of congestion.

Last Wednesday two cars tried to turn right from Queen Street outside Sainsbury's into the oncoming traffic from Grenfell Place and only the intervention of Volker Highways personnel prevented an accident!

The works were supposed to take 20 weeks approximately and they are nowhere near complete, but a council with a shortfall of £4million obviously has trouble with numbers.

Often, there is no work taking place.

What a complete shambles this operation has turned out to be.

MERVYN BUSTON

East Road

Maidenhead


Town centre plan is welcome, but too late

I welcome and support the decision of the Royal Borough to commission a town centre plan. It is disappointing, but not surprising that this was not done four years ago.

All rather too late I fear.

However we shall see.

JON FOSTER

Fotherby Court

Maidenhead


War-like language over Brexit has to stop

The Prime Minister should drop his divisive and inflammatory talk of surrender, betrayal, dying in ditches and the rest of it.

There is nothing wrong in his opponents arguing for what they believe in; it is one of the core values of liberal democracies.

If the 2016 referendum result had been reversed, would Rees-Mogg, Gove, Redwood and Farage have stopped campaigning to leave? Of course not.

They would have been fully entitled to continue fighting for their cause.

War-like language used by anyone, not just politicians and the media, to demean and silence Brexit opponents risks undermining our democracy and has to stop.

RICHARD POAD

Cookham


UK has lost control,not ‘taken it back’

In his wide-ranging letter (Viewpoint, September 19), Max Lipman certainly knows how to convert a unionist leaning Scot into an SNP sympathiser in one brief paragraph!

He is probably right however that an independent Scotland would find itself somewhat poorer than today and that it would struggle to join the EU in short order but I fear that Brexit and the current state of Westminster politics will have persuaded a good many of my countrymen to give it a go anyway when they next get the opportunity.

He may also be right that the EU in its current form will eventually decline but there is little sign of it at present.

If anything, it is emerging stronger from the Brexit saga, politically at least, throughout which it has shown far greater unity, professional competence and statesmanship than the UK.

The bureaucracy no doubt has its excesses but is not ‘huge’ as bureaucracies go and is smaller than that of many individual cities such as London and Paris.

And the net contribution goes towards investment projects in less developed member countries, it is hoped to the eventual benefit of all; that’s the whole idea!

Surely the ‘only Germany has benefitted from the Euro’ story is old news?

Recent studies of investment levels, labour productivity and competitiveness in general, the ability to raise and service debt, and the fiscal discipline and inflation anchoring effects of a strong central bank start to suggest a different story.

The Euro may still have some fundamental issues and the UK was probably right to abstain but it has weathered the storms so far better than predicted, overall it has been well managed and most people across the Eurozone now appear to think it has been good for their countries, including France.

Of course one has to look beyond current personalities in judging longer term issues but I would suggest that the UK’s relationship with the US, however valuable, will never be anything other than subservient.

With Brexit, the UK has turned its back on an international relationship in which it had a respected and influential voice as an equal if not senior partner and has in practice lost a degree of control rather than ‘taken it back’.

JIM McLEAN

Hemsdale

Maidenhead


Border ‘molehill’ has become a ‘mountain’

Phil Jones urged me to read an article in the Financial Times of Monday, November 7, 2017, entitled ‘More delusions on the Irish border’ (Viewpoint, September 27).

But the author seems to have been under some delusions himself, in the light of a Sky News broadcast on the preceding Friday and a report which appeared on the Independent website on the Sunday.

In the Sky feature, entitled ‘Is the Norway-Sweden border a solution for Ireland?’, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar proclaimed ‘No hard border, no physical infrastructure on the border’.

While his Europe Minister Helen McEntee went further, entering the realms of absurdity by ruling out ‘anything that would imply a border on the island of Ireland’. Presumably including those roadside signs advising changes in the speed limit.  

Then on the Sunday the Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan issued a demand that to solve this largely invented problem the UK must remain in the EU Customs Union and Single Market:

“Mr Hogan, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, said Ireland would ‘play tough to the end’ over the border issue, and said it was a ‘very simple fact’ that ‘if the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU Customs Union, or better still the Single Market, there would be no border issue’.”

The strategy of the Irish government has been to take a molehill on the border and build it up into a mountain which seems insurmountable unless the UK remains forever under the EU’s economic thumb.

For reasons best known to herself our own Prime Minister Theresa May chose to go along with the demands of the Irish Prime Minister, and basically that is why nearly two years later we are stuck in a mess.

Dr D R COOPER

Belmont Park Avenue 

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