Swindon Borough Council has provided public transport services in Swindon since 22 September 1904. Initially these were tramways, but starting from 1927 bus services were introduced, replacing the trams between 6 May and 11 July 1929. Legislation to deregulate bus services in 1986 brought significant changes, with Thamesdown Transport incorporated as a limited company at “arm’s length” from Swindon Borough Council — though at times that arm was rather short. But Swindon was unusual, in that its municipal bus operator remained in public ownership. That has ended in 2017. Thamesdown Transport has been sold to Go South Coast — part of the Go Ahead Group which also owns Salisbury Reds and Oxford Bus Company, and part owns the infamousGovia Thameslink Railway.
Profit and cash flow of Thamesdown Transport, 1994 to 2016, adjusted for inflation. Underlying figures exclude one-off payments for pension liabilities and depot sale and purchase.
Swindon council claims to have sold its bus company because the company is making unsustainable losses in “difficult trading conditions”. Thamesdown Transport has been unprofitable — losing almost £1.5M in the last five years — and has been propped up twice by the council in that period. In 2012 the council took on the company’s pension liabilities to the local council pension scheme, the bus company receiving £1.5M in return for paying an ongoing fee to the council. In 2014 the council bought and leased back the company’s Barnfield depot in 2014, injecting £2M into the company. But a review of the company’s published accounts suggests that it is cash flow rather than profitability that’s the problem. The sale and lease back of the Barnfield depot appears to have been in response to a lack of cash, rather than unprofitability, with the accounts showing the company had less than £10,000 in the bank at the end of March 2014. And expected results for this year — reportedly a loss £149,000 — show smaller losses than in some recent years.
Revenue for Thamesdown Transport, 1994 to 2016, adjusted for inflation.
So what brought Swindon’s municipal bus company down? An ongoing theme in the chairman’s report to the annual accounts is the cost of servicing liabilities to the Local Government Pension Scheme, and this has remained even after the re-arrangement of the liability in 2012. Another theme in recent years has been a downturn in bus travel to-and-from Swindon town centre — always the most profitable part of the company’s bus services. The annual reports do not give reasons, but the stalled regeneration of the town centre and congestion in central Swindon caused by major roadworks are both well known to local residents for many of whom the town centre is now only a destination of necessity rather than one of choice. Not surprisingly the chairman — in recent years always a councillor or ex-councillor from the controlling group on the council — makes no mention of the impact that a reduction in car parking charges by the council may have had. The bus fleet has aged too: in 1996 the company chairman reported that ⅓ would be less than three years old; by 2017 only 4 out of 88 serviceable buses were less than three years old. Recent annual reports comment on the increased costs of maintaining that ageing fleet. Competition from Stagecoach is rarely mentioned, but cannot have helped, as that company has consistently held its suburban return fares at a lower level than Thamesdown and has actively competed on routes to west and south Swindon. Another contributing factor may have been the loss of developer contributions to buses serving new housing developments — hit by the severe downturn in house building since the 2008 credit crunch.
Thamesdown Transport and its depot have reportedly been sold to Go South Coast for close to their book value — almost £7M for the company and £4M for the depot. What we don’t know is whether the deal also frees the company of its remaining pension liabilities to Swindon Borough council for the Local Government Pension Scheme, or whether that will now be picked up by Swindon tax payers.
New parishes are being imposed on West Swindon, and Central Swindon.
Swindon Borough Council has admitted, in response to a freedom of information request, that they’ve no evidence of public support for the creation of new parishes in Swindon — it’s just the councillors’ opinion.
At the November full council meeting, a member of the public pointed out to Ms Martin, the cabinet member for communities, that the overwhelming view in the written responses to the council’s community governance review was that those in unparished areas did not want them to be parished. In response to that Ms Martin said,
“Of those relatively few who replied and expressed a view you are right and the Council has acknowledged that. Indeed, that is why the Council held the engagement sessions and public meetings to understand why some people responded as they did, which is why the Council believes that most residents accept that the unparished areas should be parished if communities are to be empowered in relation to the provision of services and be able to be efficient and effective.”
The freedom of information request asked the Swindon Borough council to published the “data and analysis” that they have in support of this assertion. This was the council’s reply.
“The Council held a number of engagement sessions and public meetings. Verbatim notes were not taken as to what each person said but the sense of each meeting and engagement session was fed into the Community Governance Review process…. [T]he Council has not made any detailed record of the engagement sessions such as you appear to have asked for. The Cabinet Member attended the majority of engagement activities and on that basis heard in person the views of residents attending.”
We are, apparently, asked to believe that no substantive records were kept of these meetings by council officers, and that the decision to impose new parishes on the inhabitants of central and west Swindon is entirely the result of one politician’s view of the meetings, a view that contradicts press reports of those meetings.
Perhaps Ms Martin should consider asking the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to change the statutory guidance for community governance from saying “The views of local communities and inhabitants are of central importance” to “The only views that matter are those of ruling-party politicians and local communities and inhabitants can be ignored”.
the report on the Community Governance Review presented at the Swindon Borough Council Cabinet meeting of 17 August 2016 as Appendix 1 to item 37 of the minutes of that meeting (hereinafter ‘The Cabinet Report of August 2016’).
Although only the proposed South Swindon parish and its boundaries are discussed, many of the points made are applicable to other of the proposed new parishes and their boundaries.
Do you agree with the boundaries proposed in the consultation map? No. If South Swindon is to be parished, Old Town, Lawn and Okus should not be part of a parish containing the new developments of Wichelstowe, Marlborough Park and Badbury Park.
Please provide further detail about your opinion/position As noted in the Council’s own documents on the review, Section 93 subsection 4 of The Act requires that in conducting this Community Governance Review, Swindon Borough Council must ensure governance in the area under review is
reflective of the identities and interests of the community in that area and
effective and convenient
Paragraph 33 of The Boundary Commission Guidance indicates how the first of these points should be satisfied. It states
“When undertaking the review they must have regard to the need to secure that community governance reflects the identities and interests of the community in the area under review, and the need to secure that community governance in that area is effective and convenient.”
Paragraphs 50 and 80 add to this by stating
Paragraph 50 “Parish councils continue to have two main roles: community representation and local administration. For both purposes it is desirable that a parish should reflect a distinctive and recognisable community of place, with its own sense of identity. The views of local communities and inhabitants are of central importance.” Paragraph 80 “The general rule should be that the parish is based on an area which reflects community identity and interest and which is of a size which is viable as an administrative unit of local government. This is generally because of the representative nature of parish councils and the need for them to reflect closely the identity of their communities.”
The proposed South Swindon parish does not conform with this guidance. Whilst separation of this area from Wroughton is ‘reflective of the identities and interests of the community in that area’ and is consistent with Paragraph 58 of The Boundary Commission Guidance, joining the new developments of Wichelstowe, Marlborough Park and Badbury Park with the more established communities of Old Town, Okus, and Lawn is not.Whilst there is a Wichelstowe sense of community and apparently a Badbury Park sense of community, and may well be an Old Town sense of community, there is not a sense of community binding together all the areas within the proposed South Swindon parish, other than a an overall sense of community to the town of Swindon.
The Cabinet Report of August 2016 states in paragraph 3.27 in relation to the proposed South Swindon parish:
“The residents of the new homes at East Wichel have strong community identity links with other parts of the main urban area rather than with the largely rural Wroughton parish to the south.”
Whilst it may be the case that many in East Wichel have ‘strong community identity links with other parts of the main urban area’, it is not true to say that those links are with the immediately adjacent areas of Old Town and Okus, and no credible evidence of such links is provided. Although the same paragraph of the document states
“There was also a submission to the 2011 LGCBE requesting the creation of a Wichelstowe and Okus ward, which is evidence of a shared identity there.”
However, in 2011 less than half of the houses in East Wichel had been built, and a single submission to the boundary commission cannot be deemed to be representative of the community, particularly as it is not identified as being a submission from the community. Having reviewed the documents submitted to that boundary review it appears the suggestion was one from a political party (namely the Labour Party’s proposal to stage 1 of the review) in 2010, and not from the communities in Okus or East Wichel. It is thus not credible to use this as evidence of being “reflective of the identities and interests of the community in that area”.
The same paragraph also states
“The West and Middle Wichel areas, once developed, will also have community, housing tenure and transport links that will make them more similar to the contiguous urban core to which they are attached.”
There is no evidence for this. Whilst Wichelstowe is likely to have similar community to the other newly developed areas in the proposed South Swindon parish, such as Badbury Park, it is far from clear why the mainly high density housing in Old Town and Okus would be expected to have similar ‘community, housing tenure’ to the lower density areas now being developed closer to the M4.
Section 94 of The Act permits parish councils for parishes with more than 150 local government electors and requires them for parishes with 1,000 or more electors. Paragraph 80 of The Boundary Commission Guidance also gives specific guidance on parish size, in relation to community governance being effective and convenient.
“The general rule should be that the parish is based on an area which reflects community identity and interest and which is of a size which is viable as an administrative unit of local government…. It is desirable that any recommendations should be for parishes or groups of parishes with a population of a sufficient size to adequately represent their communities and to justify the establishment of a parish council in each. Nevertheless as previously noted, it is recognised that there are enormous variations in the size of parishes, although most parishes are below 12,000 in population.”
Paragraph 81 of The Boundary Commission Guidance indicates that a parish representing a single estate or development is acceptable:
“A parish council should be in a position to provide some basic services and many larger parishes will be able to offer much more to their local communities. However, it would not be practical or desirable to set a rigid limit for the size of a parish whether it is in a rural or urban area, although higher population figures are generally more likely to occur in urban areas. Equally, a parish could be based on a small but discrete housing estate rather than on the town within which the estate lies.”
Paragraph 82 of The Boundary Commission Guidance indicates when larger parishes may be acceptable:
“There may be cases where larger parishes would best suit the needs of the area. These might include places where the division of a cohesive area, such as a Charter Trustee town (see paragraphs 133 to 134), would not reflect the sense of community that needs to lie behind all parishes; or places where there were no recognisable smaller communities.”
None of the criteria in Paragraph 82 of The Boundary Commission Guidance apply to the communities within the proposed South Swindon parish, yet Paragraph 3.29 of The Cabinet Report of August 2016 dismisses a proposal for a smaller parish:
“The residents of the new development at Badbury Park have expressed a desire to set up their own parish; however, as this area is still under construction, it is deemed too small at this time to provide convenient and effective local governance.”
This appears to be inconsistent with The Boundary Commission Guidance deeming that there may be significant variation in parish size and it still be consistent with effective and convenient governance.
Paragraph 83 of The Boundary Commission Guidance give specific details on the boundaries between parishes
“As far as boundaries between parishes are concerned, these should reflect the “no-man’s land” between communities represented by areas of low population or barriers such as rivers, roads or railways. They need to be, and be likely to remain, easily identifiable.”
The boundary for the proposed South Swindon parish through Old Town, whilst it follows the line of roads, clearly does not ‘reflect the “no-man’s land” between communities represented by areas of low population’, as there is no reason to believe that residents or businesses on the opposite sides of Bath Road, Albert Street and Church Road would regard themselves as being in different communities. The boundary between the canal at Rushey Platt and the Great Western mainline also seems arbitrary. Whilst it is in what, at the moment, a no-man’s land, it is in part following a minor stream and in some parts aligned to nothing whatsoever. It thus does not meet The Boundary Commission Guidance “to be, and be likely to remain, easily identifiable.”
It is not apparent how, in a way that is consistent with The Boundary Commission Guidance, Old Town can be separated for parishing purposes from Swindon New Town. A boundary that would be in ‘the “no-man’s land” between communities’ and would “be, and be likely to remain, easily identifiable.” would be one along the course of the former railway line from Rushey Platt to Old Town, from the point where it crosses the Great Western mainline, to the boundary of housing on Wyvern Close, running to the south of Fitzroy Road, Ambrose Road and Linley Close, Tismeads Crescent and Riverdale Close, then to the north of Nationwide and Intel offices offices, then north of the Marlborough Park development but behind the housing on Marlborough Road, to rejoin the Council’s proposed boundary at the Coate Water roundabout. Placing the boundary in this way would also limit the disruption to the longer established parts of south Swindon when, as noted in Paragraphs 3.56 and 3.57 of the The Cabinet Report of August 2016,
“Members are aware of the expected housing completions in Badbury Park as well as the expected new homes that are to be built in West and Middle Wichel…. Therefore, Cabinet is asked to note that a further Community Governance Review may become necessary in the next few years, depending on the rate at which these new communities become established.”
Any other comments relating to the Community Governance Review Section 93 subsection 5 of The Act states:
In deciding what recommendations to make, the principal council must take into account any other arrangements (apart from those relating to parishes and their institutions)—
that have already been made, or
that could be made,
for the purposes of community representation or community engagement in respect of the area under review.
Paragraph 136 of The Boundary Commission Guidance expands on that, stating:
In deciding what recommendations to make, the principal council must take into account any other arrangements (apart from those relating to parishes and their institutions)—
that have already been made, or
that could be made,
for the purposes of community representation or community engagement in respect of the area under review.
The Council does not seem to have considered amending its use of its existing Locality teams and of existing community associations as part of this Community Governance Review. Papers to the Swindon Borough Council Cabinet meeting of 16 June 2016 on “Future Direction – Transfer of Services to Parish Councils” note that
“The Cabinet could continue with the existing service delivery model”
but do not discuss options for amending the current model. I also note that the focus in the papers to Cabinet in this respect is on service delivery, not community governance. It therefore seems that the requirements of Section 93 subsection 5 of The Act have not been fulfilled and that the recommendations of Paragraph 136 of The Boundary Commission Guidance have not been followed.
Paragraph 59 of The Boundary Commission Guidance states
“Parishes should reflect distinctive and recognisable communities of interest, with their own sense of identity. Like neighbourhoods, the feeling of local community and the wishes of local inhabitants are the primary considerations.”
The overwhelming view of inhabitants in the the areas that are currently unparished, as expressed in responses to the earlier stages of this Community Governance Review, is that they are opposed to their areas being parished. It thus appears that in continuing to propose the parishing of areas that are not currently parished, Swindon Borough Council is failing to regard “the wishes of local inhabitants” as “the primary considerations”, in contravention of The Boundary Commission Guidance.
It’s astonishing that instead of being wooed by romantic ideals expressed with passion… the debate over the future of the country is being conducted in a style worthy of a clearance sale at a furniture showroom…. Costs and benefits matter, money is a handy measuring rod, and spillovers deserve special attention… but that does not mean the way to make good policy is to stick a price tag on everything.
That wasn’t about the current referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in or leave the European Union: it was about the Scottish independence referendum. That referendum was vitriolic, with both sides deriding the other’s economic forecast. The EU referendum campaign has been far worse.
Both Remain and Leave campaigns have sprayed dubious economic statistics at the electorate. The Remain campaign claimed that to leave the EU is a leap into the unknown, then bandied around incredibly precise — and increasing large — figures about the alleged cost of that departure. The Leave campaign emblazoned their campaign bus with an exaggerated figure for the UK’s contribution to the EU, and repeated it ad nauseam, despite the figure being widely derided by non-partisan authorities. Both sides have proudly proclaimed their grubby big lies as ‘fact’ and hurled hateful abuse at each other like a once loving couple in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.
Yet what that economics journalist said of the Scottish referendum is true of the EU referendum too: there’s more to this than economics, not least because no one can predict what the economic future will bring much beyond the immediate future. And the choice to separate, whether it be Scotland from the rest of the UK, or the UK from the EU, is a choice that will last much longer than a few economic cycles.
So where are the ‘ideals expressed with passion’? Absent. With both campaigns quite bitterly divided, expression of ideals has either been contradictory or muted.
The Remain campaign, officially united under the umbrella of ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’, has been unofficially — but very publicly — divided. The prime minister and his supporters have been peddling a message the best thing for the UK is to remain in Europe and reform it — totally ignoring that this referendum was meant to be after meaningful reforms had been won. Mr Corbyn and many unions, on the other hand, appear to see the EU as a means of reining in future Conservative governments; as a protector and provider of socialist dreams they’ve not yet convinced sufficient of the British electorate to get elected.
The Leave campaign, officially divided with Leave.EU/Grassroots Out not reconciled with the official Vote Leave campaign, hasn’t been so publicly divided, but nevertheless has two very different strands, some with a fortress Britain attitude, others a libertarian and free-trade approach. That the division hasn’t been so apparent is largely down to neither wing loudly proclaiming their vision, through lack of official backing for some, and from fear that the electorate wouldn’t like the free-for-all implications of their vision for others.
So, in the face of a spiteful, blinkered and vacuous campaign, what’s a voter to do? Fortunately some people have been hunting down some real facts about Britain and its place in Europe and the world. But if you’re looking for a vision for the sort of country you’d like to live in, you’re unlikely to find it amongst the politicians shouting abuse at each other.
As a believer in libertarian and co-operative approaches to life, komadori will be voting to leave the EU. But unlike most elections, that’s not a decision influenced by the political discourse that’s gone before.
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is consulting members on what the future for the campaign should be. These are komadori’s thoughts on the matter, which have been submitted to the consultation.
Kensington Olympia during the Great British Beer Festival
Real Ale should remain at the heart of what the campaign does but, as noted in ‘Shaping the future’, the distinction between good and bad ales is not as simple as it was in the 1970s. So whilst the campaign should retain its definition of Real Ale, and continue to champion Real Ale, it should also be supportive of other ales, ciders and perrys that are of high quality but do not meet the criteria for being Real Ale. (And some criteria for what is ‘high quality’ will need to be devised.)
CAMRA should be prepared to welcome the availability of good ale, cider and perry in social venues other than pubs. I noted the comment in ‘Shaping the future’ that “Coffee shop chains are beginning to diversify by selling alcohol, posing a further threat to the traditional pub.” I think CAMRA should welcome a diversification in the venues allowing people to enjoy good ale, cider an perry socially. With most pubs, even newly built ones, offering an environment of ersatz Victoriana, is it not time for the more modern establishments that offer real ale? It also offers a means by which people that have abstained from alcohol might discover the pleasures of good ale. I look forward to the first entry for a coffee shop in the ‘Good Beer Guide’.
The campaign should continue to support real cider and real perry, but I would not be against that support being in the form of helping an independent organisation take that campaign forward.
There’s no reason for the campaign to widen its aims to cover all alcohol drinkers: good quality wine is widely available without CAMRA’s support.
The food and beer at The Crossing public house in Burton upon Trent is very good. Both burger and chips appeared to have been cooked to order and the burger of their own making was very tasty. The bun was Chorley Wood process bread, but bread of any other sort in restaurants or pubs seems a rarity. The beer, Dark Drake by the Dancing Duck Brewery, was also very much to my liking.
But when the bar staff asked if I would like any sauces to go with the burger, any answer but ‘no’ seemed to be courting disaster. Where would any surplus sauce flow? The rim on a plate is not just a decorative item, it serves a purpose: of keeping any food or liquids thereupon in place. A flat plank of wood, however fashionable it may be in the eyes of the pub manager, is just not up to the task of keeping sauces near the food rather than in the lap of the customer.
Here is komadori’s prediction for the political campaigns ahead of the 2015 general election.
Those in the blue Tory nest will claim that everything the coalition government did well over the last five years has been down to them, in the face of obstruction by their LibDem coalition partners. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit quickly and to improve the economy, by cutting taxes to boost spending. They’ll claim to be the only party with plans to tackle immigration firmly but fairly. They’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose economic policies will protect the NHS.
Those in the red Labour nest will claim that what little the coalition government did well over the last five years were things they suggested first and would have done better if in power. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit fairly and to improve the economy, by raising taxes to boost spending. They’ll claim immigration is not an issue, but that they’re the only party with plans to tackle immigration firmly but fairly. They’d also like you to believe that they’re, naturally, the only party whose policies will protect the NHS.
Those in the yellow LibDem nest will claim that everything the coalition government did well over the last five years has been down to them, in the face of obstruction by their Tory coalition partners. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit quickly but fairly and to improve the economy, by changing taxes to boost spending. They’ll claim immigration is not an issue, and it would be nasty to campaign about it, except to say that they’re the only party with plans to tackle immigration fairly. Naturally, they’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose policies will protect the NHS.
Those in the mauve Kipper nest will claim that everything the coalition government did well over the last five years has been down to them, faced with the fear of electoral meltdown. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit and to improve the economy, by ending EU taxes and boosting spending. They’ll claim immigration is an issue, and that they’re the only party with plans to tackle immigration firmly. Of course, they’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose policies — once they’ve worked out what they are — will protect the NHS.
Those in the eponymous Green nest will claim that nothing the coalition government did over the last five years was done well, faced with the fear of global warming and meltdown. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to save the planet and improve the economy. They’ll claim immigration is not an issue, and it would be nasty to campaign about it, except to say that they’re the only party with plans for fair immigration. Of course, they’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose policies — by making life and the planet so much more healthy — will protect the NHS.
Those in the other smaller nests will claim that the coalition government has done nothing well over the last five years and their party’s one-track agenda would have solved all the problems before they even started. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party committed to cutting the deficit, improving the economy, tackling immigration, and protecting the NHS.
[This post is based on another from April 2007, just before the local elections of that year.]
Old Town was alive on Sunday afternoon with visitors wandering between the venues of the Sausage and Ale Trail in Swindon Old Town. The event, to raise funds for the Christmas lights in Old Town, was fortunate with warm sunny weather. With entertainment and market stalls in Wood Street, several pubs were offering sausages — usually served outside — to eat along with their beer. Several shops also had promotions for the day. The Hop Inn was perhaps the most fortunate. With the Arts Centre next door also being a licensed premise, it was able to sell sausages and beer from a counter facing the Arts Centre serving the small crowd watching the entertainment there. For other pubs, it was more discreet, in some cases so discreet that one wondered whether they were worried the event might disrupt their normal Sunday lunch trade.
So busy was the Hop Inn that it ran out of sausages and had to get an urgent re-supply. A crowd and queue soon formed once they had restocked.
As part of the planners’ aim for Wichelstowe to be a so called sustainable development, the original masterplan makes plenty of provision for cyclists. Not all of it is entirely practical though. I’m not the first to comment on the cycle route along Peglars Way and Foxham Way. Others passed this way a year ago and were not wholly impressed. A year later and they still weren’t happy.
Approaching along Foxham Way from Mill Lane, after negotiating a roundabout with raised cobbles, the cycle lane starts in the middle of the road. To use this cycle lane one has to ride down the central bus lane, marked red to the right of the short cycle lane, in order to hit the pads in the road that work the traffic lights, then do a sharp right turn to hit the cycle lane pads. It might be worthwhile if it were not that the cycle and bus lane ahead is rather short, crossing back over the road a couple of hundred yards further on. At that second junction there are again traffic lights, but with a very long gap between them turning red for motorists on Foxham Way and turning green for cyclists and buses heading for East Wichel Way. I’ve now seen several motorists stop for the red light then, noticing there is no bus waiting to cross, get impatient and drive on. For cyclists content to disregard road markings, ignoring the cycle lane, heading straight on along Foxham Way and then turning left (against the road markings) into East Wichel Way is far quicker, and probably no less safe.
After a week of technical messing about, komadori has moved his blog from Google’s Blogger to WordPress. A rather messy process, that lost all the comments along the way (though there were never many). I’d have been quite content to continue using Blogger — it was easy to use, gave good syndication tools, and did not take too much technical angst to customise a site’s appearance — if it were not for Google’s obsession with integrating everything with Google Plus. I know what my brand is and how I present that, and rather resent the likes of Google insisting ever more loudly that I change that to fit in with their views on online anonymity and identity.
If there’s something you think the people of Swindon should know about the development, regeneration, civic or political goings-on in the town, but don’t feel able to share openly, komadori would like to hear from you.
This submission refers repeatedly to: the “Local Government and Public Involvement and Health Act 2007” (hereinafter ‘The Act’); the Local Government Boundary Commission for England document “Guidance on community governance reviews” (ISBN: 978 1 4098 2421 3, hereinafter ‘The Boundary Commission Guidance’); the report on the Community Governance Review presented at the Swindon Borough Council Cabinet meeting of 17 August 2016 as… [ 2,067 more words ]