20 years of defending the safety critical role of the guard

February 25, 2017

The current struggle in defence of the safety critical role of the guard is not a new one. The threat to eradicate this role began in 1997. Although the media has presented the issue as one of who will open the train doors, it is about who controls the train. In the event of a crash, a dead or seriously injured driver cannot take charge. The classic case of the crucial role of the guard was the Ladbroke Grove crash where the drivers of two trains which collided were killed together with 29 others. Writing in support of the RMT in its current dispute a survivor of the 1999 crash wrote:

“Dear Sirs,

As the anniversary of the Paddington train crash passed yesterday – I wanted to write and offer my voice in support of your dispute with Southern.
As a survivor of the crash in which 31 died and countless others were burnt and injured, I am only too aware of the role of the guard/conductor.
Colin, our guard helped many people and in my eyes was a hero, directing many survivors to safety. What did the drivers do you may ask?
Sadly, they were both immediately killed which for me underlines the deep importance of guards in the event of a serious incident.
We must not forget either that the incident was caused by lazy management and lack of communication.
I wish you well in your endeavours
Helen Mitchell” Read the rest of this entry »

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A ‘low wage, low welfare’ town

February 6, 2017

It’s all very well David Renard clutching the Cities Report for a photo opportunity, but if you want to make an objective assessment of the state of the town you have to look at all of it, rather than picking out a few tables which can be used to show the brilliance of our municipal leadership and the ‘success’ of the town. He seems to have missed the fact that Swindon was designated by the report as a ‘low wage, low benefit’ location. What does high productivity and low wages tell us? That levels of exploitation are high. Isn’t high productivity supposed to give us high wages?

The last year for which figures are available from the HMRC for personal earnings is 2013-14. However, it gives you an indication of the earnings structure of the population. The average earnings from employment was £26,900. However, the median showed that half of employees earned less than £20,800. Half of those in self-employment earned less than £11,500. Half of those with a pension had an income of less than £12,200. This gives an indication of the levels of inequality in the town.

The Cities Report also put Swindon in the top ten for increasing house prices which are outstripping earnings. Check the government figures for the ratio between house prices and earnings and you find that prices for the lower quartile (cheapest) properties were 6.66 times the lower quartile earnings. This was the figure for 2015 and we know that house prices have continued to rise since then. No wonder that we have a town in which we have seen the emergence of phenomenon such as ‘beds in sheds’ and people living in garages.

Let’s have a rounded picture of the town and not propaganda which is directed at the self-aggrandisement of the anti-democratic clique which runs the town. The picture painted by the occupants of the Euclid Street bunker clashes with the real life experience of much of the population.

Martin Wicks

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser


Statistics of the health crisis

January 15, 2017

The word crisis is often over-used, but the NHS is facing a genuine crisis in which its component parts are struggling with the amount of work they face and the financial and human resources which they have at their disposal. A House of Commons Briefing Paper, NHS Indicators: England January 2017, shows the scale of the crisis engulfing the NHS.

  1. Amalgamating health and social care services has long been spoken of as an objective, in the light of the so-called ‘bed-blocking’ phenomenon; largely elderly people deemed fit enough to leave hospital but who cannot be accommodated with support in their home or a care-home. Yet this objective is impossible in a situation where both the NHS and care services are under-funded. The connection and feedback with the social care crisis is reflected in the 26% increase in delayed transfers of patients from hospitals from November 2015 to November 2016. Delay because of the inability to provide care at home or in a nursing home increased by 47%. In the twelve months to November 2016 there were 2.12 million ‘delayed days’ when patients who should have been released were still in a hospital bed. This was 22% higher than in the 12 months to November 2015. Over this period, delays where the NHS was at least partially responsible rose by 15%, and those where social care organisations were at least partially responsible rose by 35%. In October 2016 there was a daily average of 3,692 delays attributable to the NHS, 2,249 to social care, and 515 to both.

    (To read on download a PDF here nhsindicatorsarticle )


Disenfranchising the electors of Eldene & Liden

January 6, 2017

Swindon Council is ruled by anti-democratic clique. They have imposed new parish councils on non-parished areas without any democratic mandate whatsoever and against considerable opposition. They have set a ridiculous deadline with the new parishes having to agree a precept by the end of January. The borough councillors in these areas were presented with a dilemma; to become shadow parish councillors and to set the first precept for parishes which they opposed setting up in the absence of a democratic mandate, or else the Tories would have imposed their placemen/women to set a precept. This is bad enough but in Nythe the situation is even worse, In the two areas with which it will be amalgamated, the electors of Eldene and Liden will even be denied the right to be represented by their elected Borough councillors as others will.

When the October 19th Cabinet passed a document relating to the changes, it said it would “Agree to the recommendations set out in Appendix 5”. This Appendix referred to “the new parish” which would comprise Nythe, plus Eldene and Liden. The “new parish” would be divided into two wards, with 7 parish councillors in Nythe, and 8 in Eldene and Liden. Read the rest of this entry »


Israel cannot be both a ‘Jewish state’ and a democratic one

January 6, 2017

So the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel. And their stated purpose is clear. They believe in one state: greater Israel. In fact, one prominent minister, who heads a pro-settler party, declared just after the U.S. election – and I quote – “the era of the two-state solution is over,” end quote. And many other coalition ministers publicly reject a Palestinian state. And they are increasingly getting their way, with plans for hundreds of new units in East Jerusalem recently announced and talk of a major new settlement building effort in the West Bank to follow.” John Kerry

The decision of the USA at the United Nations not to apply their veto on the resolution critical of Israeli settlements on the West Bank was denounced by the Israeli government as “a disgraceful anti-Israel manoeuvre”. The resolution called on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem”. According to the Israeli government it is the resolution rather than the continued expansion of settlements which is “an obstacle to peace”. The UN resolution it seems was a response to a Bill going though the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) which will retrospectively ‘legalise’ illegal building on Palestinian owned land. Areas where settlements were built by Israelis “in good faith…and were even encouraged or built in coordination with the state”, unaware that it is was privately owned land, apparently need to be “regulated”. The destruction of these settlements “is liable to seriously, unjustifiably harm those who have lived there for many years”. They stole somebody else’s land but heck, they didn’t realise it. It was just sitting there on the West Bank. How can you penalise them for this ‘mistake’? The harm to the owners, of course, does not merit a mention.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, and Education Minister in the Netanyahu government, had no doubt about the implication of the proposed regulation. He hailed it as the first step towards annexing West Bank land for Israel. (Read on below or download a PDF here jewishanddemocratic) Read the rest of this entry »


The Great Western Hospital and the “beds crisis”

December 23, 2016

You didn’t need a premonition in 1999 (“We warned this would happen says pensioner over beds crisis at GWH”, Swindon Advertiser) to know that the new hospital would be short of beds. Swindon TUC helped set up an NHS Defence Campaign which cut through the propaganda of the Trust management to show that the new hospital would only have 483 in-patient beds, as compared to 703 in the various hospitals at their disposal before GWH was built. (See an article I wrote in the Swindon Advertiser evening-advertiser-article )

The new hospital was opened in December 2002, and within one month it was in difficulties. The Advertiser on the 6th January 2003 declared “No room at the hospital”. The Trust wrote to GPs pleading with them not to admit emergency patients in the light of the “untenable” bed situation at the hospital. “Unfortunately every trolley, bed and bed space is in use currently. It is extremely difficult to find spaces to examine patients.” Read the rest of this entry »


Park Library kept open, but…

December 1, 2016

Park Library is to remain open and funded by Swindon Council. This is a success for our campaign which raised 1200 signatures calling on the council to amend their proposal to include Park in the core Library service. Better open than closed. Yet the council is only funding 15 staffed hours a week. This is clearly not enough. Parks & East Walcot Community Forum will therefore be seeking to persuade the new parish council, which is being imposed on us, to provide funding to extend the staffed hours. We will be writing to the councillors who will make up the shadow parish council in our area to ask them to provide funding so that there is a service available which more accurately reflects the needs of local people. We know this won’t be straight-forward. However, we are concerned about young people who currently use the library to do their homework after school hours, and the threat to other services currently provided in our library.

Parks & East Walcot Community Forum has proposed a meeting between councillors and community organisations to discuss the setting up of the new parish, what the precept will be, what services it might support. Local communities should be involved in discussion on these questions before a precept is set. We will raise the question of support for Park Library in those discussions. Read the rest of this entry »


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