Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Blog v Newspapers Debate from a Newbie‏

There is an ongoing debate between the columnist/papers and bloggers on the benefits of blogging over newspaper columns (with regards to political blogging), Mark Reckons attended a debate on this very subject (detail here). As a newbie to blogging I find this intellectual debate somewhat self facing as the wider public properly doesn’t give a stuff.

I only recently discovered blogs when Mark Thompson editor of Mark Reckons joined our LibDem local party here in Bracknell. I now write for the Bracknell blog and I am very much learning how to do this as I go along. I recently realised that what you really need is contacts so you can break meaningful stories, which I am trying to build. It’s important to research your argument as you may find that you’re wrong and research brings meaning and enlightenment to your blog and makes your articles far more credible.

I have learnt a lot about writing which is very beneficial as im dyslectic (that word is just too hard). I have also learnt how important it is to know what you are writing/talking about. Researching for understanding, which has really helped me articulate myself better in general.

With regards to the debate there is a good argument on both side of the fence. Columnist are respected professionals who have a background in their subjects and the newspapers they work for have the power of investigative journalism and resource they can bring to bear on a story plus they get paid (although Boris thought that its chicken feed).

Bloggers vary much more from people in the know to people who are just very opinionated. Also some blogs are trying to offer a service and can be comment, news, a diary or a political mouth piece. Although blogs are generally politically aligned the bloggers do tend to refer to each other more than columnist do and do this across party lines. Bloggers are also happy to have a go at their own side. This must be a good thing.

What I like about blogs over columns is that you can comment on a story and the blogger will read and comment back. Comments can sometimes be as informative as the blog itself depending on the level of debate. It allows anyone to have a right to reply. This allows a conversation to develop which can develop the story further.

Blogs of course really come into there own when something is happening in the area of the blogger as was the case with Bracknell Blog when Andrew Mackay resigned or the excellent blogging by the Norfolk Blogger when the Norwich North by-election was in full swing. Blogs are just different I can’t see them taking over from newspapers or 24hour news but they can provide an insight into what is happening on the ground.

There should be room for both, the best blogs (those with good debate and enlightenment to the workings of politics in my view) there are bad blogs too but there readership will disappear. Columnists can blog too of course and their columns are often online and can be commented on. The problem for newspapers is that they need to find another way of making money, as money is required for some investigations as well as time.

I don't know what will actually happen in the future. I do want newspapers to survive with quality maintained but don't knock the blogs they are vibrant and interesting and here to stay. My suggestion to the columnists is if you can’t beat them then join them and blog too.

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Sunday, 26 July 2009

Those Self-Service Tills Reply

Below is the letter I received from Sainsbury’s in reply to my letter on their self service tills (which you can read here.))

Recently Sainsbury’s Bagshot Road does appear to have more staff on the tills and with competition just up the road from Aldi I expect Sainsbury’s will monitor their manned till levels, as will I.

The letter does include a comment that staff will not be reduced “I can Assure you that we don’t have any plans to reduce the number of colleagues in store”. I really hope this will remain the case but I am also very pleased that they replied to this point too.

I would like to point out that I did not receive any vouchers etc from Sainsbury's

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Friday, 24 July 2009

£45k Spend on Consultants on Great Holland's Shopping Centre in Bracknell

A firm of Manchester consultants who produced a facelift plan are expected to be shelved by the Bracknell Council. The council are still considering the proposals which will involve public consultation.

Cllr Anne Shillcock leader of Bracknell Forest Labour Group, who represents Great Holland's North, said in a quote to the Bracknell Standard: “I think it was a waste of money, and unlikely, given the difficulty of getting hold of any extra money, that there would be any redevelopment in the near future. and added "It was a pretty unwise decision.” , “It looked very pie in the sky and given the current economic situation, it did not look realistic. I’m ashamed to say they got the £45,000. It is an enormous amount of money if we get nothing out of it.”

Liberal Democrat PPC Ray Earwicker stated "Once again the Council seems determined to press ahead with its own agenda without carrying the residents with them. There is no doubt that the centre could be improved but without the approval of local residents it would be pointless. The Council is always pleading poverty and it will probably not be able to make any improvements anyway. Nevertheless it enables the Council to give the impression of doing something even if it does result in raised hopes and dashed expectations."

A report has been drafted for the council to consider the future of the centre which will contain the views of residents and organisations who participated in the public consultation.

I would suggest that it maybe possible to for the Berkshire councils to form a partnership that provides the same services as the consultants. This could save on costs as consultants are being used for many planning issues. After all they have got together on waste and recycling.

We really need to see the consultants report to find out if it's was really worth having and if it is value for money. When these details are published we will have a link too them here.

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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Much improved Recycle Centre

I visited the improved Bracknell Longshot Lane recycle centre this week. I was quite impressed. There are now more bays, a well ordered drive through system and plenty of recycle waste options. I was able to recycle my water cartridge filters, shoes, Books, cloths and drink cartons.

The staff were also very helpful and the site was very clean. Longshot Lane is open to 8pm during the summer weeks so I was able to go later on a work day.

Bracknell Reading and Wokingham councils have formed an organisation called RE3 which is a partnership between Bracknell, Reading and Wokingham Borough Councils and the Waste Recycling Group (WRG). The idea behind this setup is to decrease waste and increase recycling and composting with the aim of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill.

I was very please to see the site working well and fully support efforts made to improve recycling in our borough.

The RE3 annual report can be viewed here
Reading List covered this story back in March
UPDATE: Reading List post about Longshot Lane and RE3

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Friday, 17 July 2009

Supermarket Waste and Packaging

There has recently been a few reports in the news on the ongoing supermarket packaging issue after the Local Government Association recently called on WRAP asking them to to publish, every three months, the amount of packaging each supermarket produces.

Supermarket waste and packaging adds to the costs of householders council tax bills as it adds to the waste in all our bins for landfill. This can be reduced by having more card and less plastic packaging or reduced packaging of both the hard plunnets and wrapping varieties (Currently within Bracknell most soft plastics can not be recycled through the bin collections).

Every year, the major stores provide details of waste to the government’s waste reduction body (WRAP) giving details of how much packaging they generate. However despite requests by the Local Government Association (LGA) for this information to be made public, both WRAP and most supermarkets do not.

Of the major supermarkets contacted by the LGA, only Waitrose, M&S and Morrisons provided details about how much packaging they produce. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Co-op all referred councils to WRAP who failed to disclose how much packaging each supermarket produces. Lidl gave no reply and Aldi were not included in the requests.

I was please to see that Bracknell very own Waitrose (HQ based in Bracknell and employing around 2,500 people) responded and are fully signed up to WRAP. Waitrose have been recycling there own waste for 20 years. It is of course a big shame that the Shop in Birth Hill was closed (Aldi opened at the same site on Thursday). Waitrose was located too far from a main road and past the Sainsbury's supermarket. I hope that a Waitrose store will one day return to Bracknell.

However the LGA did perform there own research here were Waitrose did not perform so well when it comes to the actual recyclable waste.

I hope the LGA get their request to have WRAP publish, every three months, so that the public can track the reductions in waste produced by supermarkets.

Links for the above

WRAP http://www.wrap.org.uk/

LGA Reprot on Packaging http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/aio/1616668

Supermarket Waste Report http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/supermarket-waste-hits-new-high-780513.html

Waitrose investing in Bracknell http://www.getbracknell.co.uk/jobs/news/s/2053970_waitrose_investing_millions_in_bracknell

Waitrose Packaging policy http://www.waitrose.com/food/foodissuesandpolicies/packaging.aspx

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Public excluded from the Bracknell Town Centre Regeneration Committee

I was going to attend the Bracknell Town Centre Regeneration Committee meeting held on Monday 13th July 09 as I am very interested in the progress of Regeneration in Bracknell.

But after looking on the council meetings web site I realised that the main part of business for this meeting was excluded (item 6) under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. I know that when commercial contracts are involved certain parties or contractual obligations have to be confidential but does all the important business need to be confidential.

I examined other meetings that evoked the Local Government Act 1972. for confidential matters. the public were only exculded for only for part of the these meetings as the meetings was split into a number of agenda items. I would imagine (I don't know as its confidential) that some of the agenda items could of been split out to allow some information disclose on the progress of the regeneration plans.

I also understand that council meetings are not well attended for the most part by the public but some disclosure or splitting of agenda items would be accessible on the Bracknell council website and would help to show how open the Bracknell Forest Council are.

I will of course write to the council asking if any of these confidential agenda items could have some form of disclosure.

If you are interested in examining any council meet details they can be found at


with a calendar of meetings at


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Those Self-service tills

It’s a real pet hate of mine but these Self-service tills have gone too far. I had a very bad shopping experience at Sainsbury’s Bagshot Road Bracknell. It took me so long to do my shopping that I almost left it there (I know my brother did recently).

Anyway the English way of informing a company of your displeasure is to write them a letter, which I sent to the Bracknell Store and Holborn, see below.

Dear Customer Services Manager;

I would like to complain about the growing use of self-service tills especially when the tills are designed to cater for a weeks family shopping (Till with a conveyer belt).

I shopped at your Bracknell, Bagshot road store on Saturday 20th June in the evening. This store has recently had many till spaces converted to self-service. During this visit I had some problems with the self-service till;

Cash is not always accepted in them (the customer in front of me could not use their money in the till and had to wait for at least 8 minutes for some assistance with feeding the money into the till.

The till did not accept a few of my items and I required help twice with these.

There appeared to be only two conveyer belt tills that were staffed and they were too busy. This is why I opted for the self-service till, however I feel like I was forced to use the self-service till due to the lack of checkout staff.

The till kept on asking me to not take items off the conveyor belt and even asked for me to put the items back on the belt.

Luckily I had some one to give me a hand but if I had done my shopping on my own then I would of had to pack afterwards rather then when the checkout staff handed me the items.

I also have had a number of other concerns with these self-services tills;

How would I use these tills if I were disabled?

Do your stores now require less staff?

I feel as if the personal touch of the staff has been lost with all this self-service as I also chat to the checkout staff.

Not everyone can use a machine or at least others may find it very hard to use. I know my Grandmother for one would find the new tills very hard to use or understand especially when they give instructions

I do understand the convenience of the one-basket tills if I am only buying a few items but I found this experience so frustrating that I have now changed the supermarket I shop at and will not visit this store again.

In the past Sainsbury’s have come up with some innovative ideas like the self-scan hand held devices that are convenient. But I do feel as if your customers are now being forced to go self-service at a loss of personal customer service for which I had held your store in high regard.

I would like to add that I am very happy with the quality, stock levels and price of the food provided by the Bagshot Road Store it is purely the self-service tills that have caused my unhappiness.

I am a tech savvy person and have no problems operating complicated technical systems and computers. I actually suspect that the self-service tills do not save time but only save on staffing costs.

Please do not send me any vouchers in reply to this letter. What I would like is for there to always be adequate staff and less self-service tills and an explanation as to what is being done to improve the situation at Bracknell Bagshot Road so that I can visit this store again in the future.

Many Thanks

A Previously Customer

I realise that Sainsbury’s are not the only company doing this but this is the store that I had my bad experience at. I would also say that I can operate a machine fine in most cases but it’s not just about me what about other shoppers, this is not so easy for all of us. I am of course ok with some self-service tills but I hate being forced to do something when I suspect a cost saving is really dressed but as a convenience.

Update – visited the store today (8th July 09 8.15pm) turns out there are only 4 staff on although the store was not busy however the staffed tills were busy

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Will the Governments change in housing policy affect Bracknell?

I heard an interview with Bracknells councils very own council leader Paul Bettison on Radio 5 live on this very subject. During the interview he made a very good point that 50% of the rents from social housing are paid back to the government. (This figure is actually 35% [turns out his figure is around 50% see comments]).

This is one reason why not for profit housing associations are set up as this money can be kept by the association for improvements etc.

I do not know how the government plans to allocates these homes but I would like to see some of this funding allocated to Bracknell.

Perhaps if Bracknell and other councils were allowed to keep 90% of the rents then the local councils would have found it easier to manage their social housing stock, this may of allowed Bracknell to Build some more much needed social housing.

I live in hope.

I believe the best way forward is proposed by the people at really understand all the issues and that is the local government association;

They are calling for;

  1. Councils to have the financial independence to invest in their housing stock and stimulate the local economy;
  2. Historic ‘notional debt’ – which councils are currently spending £1.3 billion a year servicing – to be cancelled;
  3. Councils to have the same freedom as other social housing providers to borrow money to invest in new homes; and
  4. The government to stop setting tenants’ rent and allow them to reflect local circumstances.

    Your find these details here