Max Wilkinson, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Cheltenham, has called on local Conservative MP and justice minister Alex Chalk to “pledge to defend the rule of law against any attempts by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings to undermine it."
It follows the Conservative Government’s announcement of an Independent Review of Administrative Law, with the aim of restricting the ability of individuals to seek judicial review of government actions.
This could prevent people challenging the Government in the courts, as they did when the Ministry of Defence sent soldiers into combat in Iraq without the proper equipment; when excessive Home Office fees denied children their rights as citizens; and when patients died from substandard care at Stafford Hospital.
Cllr Rowena Hay, Cheltenham Borough Council cabinet member for finance and Liberal Democrat councillor for Oakley ward, discusses the financial state of Cheltenham Borough Council, and how we'll work hard to keep services running in the face of government cuts and the Coronavirus in our latest update on life in our local council.
Most people like playing or watching sport of one sort or another. Usually there are a huge number to choose from with something for virtually everybody. Then suddenly a few weeks ago there seemed to be no sport happening anywhere around the world and many people were missing it. Now so many sports have been getting under way again that it has been difficult to keep up.
It’s easy to take Cheltenham’s parks and gardens for granted, but the last few months have shown again just how valuable they are.
If you carry on doing things like you’ve always done them and expect a different outcome, then you’re fooling yourself.
Many more shops have now reopened and it is good to see that the High Street is gradually coming back to life.
The Liberal Democrat Group on Cheltenham Borough Council have voted to suspend the group membership of Dennis Parsons, effective immediately.
During a debate on racial bias in an online Cheltenham Borough Council meeting on the 15th of June, Lib Dem councillor for Pittville - Dennis Parsons, repeatedly used a racist word when recalling an anecdote from his childhood.
The use of that word and related statements were completely unacceptable, and I immediately received a number of complaints from fellow Lib Dem councillors. I spoke to Dennis on Monday evening and discussed the incident in detail. Dennis has subsequently issued an apology.
While I accept that Dennis did not set out to cause offence, that in itself is not enough to excuse the use of such language, and as Liberal Democrats we expect our members and councillors to behave with the utmost sensitivity to racial and cultural issues.
When institutional and unconscious bias is a daily reality for the black community, along with the appalling incidents of overt racism and violence that continue to blight society on both sides of the Atlantic, we all have a duty to choose our words with care and sensitivity at all
Senior figures within the local Party have requested that Dennis consider his position and resign. He has not chosen to follow that path, and as a result complaints procedures have been initiated locally within the Cheltenham Liberal Democrat party and council group, and in parallel, a separate complaint has also been lodged with the national party HQ.
I will be working closely with relevant bodies to ensure that these complaints are dealt with fairly and as a matter of urgency.
Chair, Cheltenham Liberal Democrats
The death of George Floyd happened thousands of miles away in Minneapolis but has had a big impact here in and in many places round the world.
The Liberal Democrats have announced that local councillors Peter Jeffries and Suzanne Williams have been added to the Liberal Democrat Community Champions Hall of Fame for their work to help some of the most vulnerable in Cheltenham during the coronavirus crisis
We have just made a big decision. Cheltenham Liberal Democrats were eligible for a grant as part of the Conservative government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
In response to the news that Dominic Cummings, advisor to the Prime Minister, took a series of journeys from London to the North of England while ill during the Coronavirus lockdown concerns have been raised by many in Cheltenham that he may have defied the Government guidance that keeps us all safe - damaging public trust in the scheme. As Conservative MPs responded to the news, Max Wilkinson, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Cheltenham and Oakley Ward borough councillor, reached out to our local Conservative MP Alex Chalk for a response. We will share it when it comes in.
Max's letter, in full, is reproduced below:
I hope this email finds you well and that your family is doing OK during the lockdown.
It’s a few days since the news broke about Dominic Cummings and his trip to Durham, while he was suffering suspected Coronavirus.
Many opinions about this have been expressed and I cannot add much to what has already been said.
While some have said they are sympathetic, many more have expressed anger at what appears to be actions that risk the national effort against Coronavirus, without believable mitigating factors. I tend to take a generous view of the actions of those under stress and pressure. We all know that things can sometimes go awry – we are all human. Furthermore, many people may have moved around under lockdown with good reason, whether that may be a relationship breakdown, moving house or the need to get to a safe place. Nobody would seek to deny those people their rights to do those things, in line with the rules. However, it seems that Dominic Cummings made at least one unnecessary trip, despite his position as a senior advisor to the Prime Minister. People rightly expect that those in government who set the rules should also follow those rules.
I would be interested to know whether you support the actions of Dominic Cummings and whether you feel it is appropriate for him to remain in his role as advisor to the Prime Minister. In line with the views of many local people, I’m not interested in an apology from Mr Cummings, nor am I interested in further explanations of his actions.
His lack of apology and his explanations are all on the record for people to judge. I’m interested in whether you support the principle that those who set the rules, including Mr Cummings, should follow them. Do you support his continuing employment by the government of our country?
Many Conservative MPs have said they think Mr Cummings should resign and one Minister has already resigned in protest.
As well as being a member of the government, you are our local MP. Cheltenham people deserve to know what you think.
We await your response.
Cllr Max Wilkinson
Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Cheltenham
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is kindness. One of the real positives among all the bad news has been that there have been so many acts of individual kindness and so many people trying to help. Can we capture that and keep it going for the future? I very much hope so.
As the government makes the first moves in relaxing the lockdown there will be many difficult decisions to be made. Everyone is trying to prevent a new surge in COVID-19 while allowing the economy to recover, but the messages in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are now all slightly different.
That reflects local decisions based on local circumstances and it may be that what happens in different parts of England could also vary as things progress.
This week in Cheltenham, we reopened the Household Recycling Centre at Swindon Road. It was initially closed along with the vast majority of HRC’s in the country as it was impossible to ensure appropriate distancing. Ubico, the council-owned company that collects our rubbish, put all their effort in to keeping the kerbside collection going. They have done a remarkable job in achieving that despite all the difficulties not least a big increase in rubbish collected with so many more people at home all day.
Over the last few weeks we have been working out how the HRC could reopen safely. It is something the government has been encouraging but made clear residents should only take waste to the HRC if it cannot be stored safely at home with no alternative ways to dispose of it.
Ubico have the right number of staff with the right equipment as well as applying restrictions to try and prevent too many people turning up at once. It was also done at the same time as the county council reopened their HRC’s at Hempsted and Wingmore. As with everything else, it also relies on the goodwill and common sense of people using the site. So far things are going well.
The HRC is a valued service but currently costs thousands a week extra to run safely. It is just a small part of what we as a council aim to do to help with the recovery process locally but that will depend on government honouring their promise of continuing support for local government or there will be more tough decisions on what we stop doing.
Coronavirus has changed our lives in so many ways, keeping us apart as we stay home to protect the NHS and those we love. But it has also brought us closer together, inspiring incredible volunteer projects across Cheltenham that have sprung up to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. One such project is the Springbank Community Food Bank.
The foodbank, now based at Springbank Community Resource Centre, was set up by local volunteers to meet the increased demand for support created by the Coronavirus crisis. Over the past six weeks, the newly established food bank has supported over 1000 requests for help, helping 1246 adults and 806 children through the delivery of food parcels.
Most of the parcels have been delivered in the West of Cheltenham, but volunteers have also responded to requests from all over town and further afield.
As well as volunteers, the Food Bank has also received support from several supermarkets, local businesses, charities and both Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Borough Councils.
Local Councillor Suzanne Williams, who has been helping to deliver parcels said: “People and families using this service are from the whole demographic range, young care leavers, older couples, average families, single parents, single adults, couples, large families and everyone in-between."
Lyam Galpin and Faith Rooke-Mathews have been coordinating the volunteers.
Lyam said “We have been continually amazed at the response we have had in our calls for help since we started back in March. We now have a great pool of volunteers who are packing and delivering food parcels, collecting donations, sorting donations and investigating ways of sustaining the project for as long as possible.
"The public have been incredibly generous with their donations of both food and money and for that, we are incredibly grateful – we really couldn't do this without your help.”
If you, or someone you know, need support from the Food Bank, you can contact the team on: 07545 324225 or email: email@example.com
If you would like to support the team, they are accepting donations via GoFundMe to help them buy the goods they need to keep delivering these vital food parcels. You can donate here: Donate to Springbank Community Food Bank
Margaret Thatcher famously once said ‘There’s no such thing as society.’ She was wrong.
Dealing with the immediate impact of COVID-19 continues but this needs funding by central government to avoid later cuts to local services just when they are needed most.
This week the Mayor of Cheltenham Councillor Roger Whyborn has launched the ‘Mayor’s Food Bank Fund’ which aims to raise funds for local food banks who are struggling to cope amidst a fall in donations and limited supplies.
Councillor Roger Whyborn said: ‘’As some residents’ financial situation has become extremely difficult we’ve seen demand at local food banks going up by more than three times during the Coronavirus lockdown.
‘’Many people have also found it difficult to donate to food banks in the Coronavirus crisis, sometimes because they cannot leave home themselves. So the Mayor’s food bank fund aims to raise vital funds to ensure these services can continue to help individuals and families across Cheltenham.’’
Councillor Peter Jeffries on behalf of Springbank community food bank said: ‘’Like other food related projects across our town, Springbank food bank are supporting those that need food right now. Volunteers sort through donations, packing and delivering hundreds of food parcels across the west of the town every week. However, we are donation dependent and this can sometimes be unpredictable, so if people can support the Mayor’s appeal these funds can be turned into much needed support across the town.’’
Anyone who wants to donate to this fund can do so in the following ways:
- Making an online donation to www.cheltenham.gov.uk/payments and choose ‘Mayor’s Food Bank Fund’. It is a great way to support people while staying safe.
- Buy Cheltenham Lottery tickets at www.cheltenhamlottery.co.uk and search for Foodbank or at 01242 396124. 50% of ticket sales go to The Mayor’s Food Bank Fund, and you could win up to £25,000.
- Send a cheque payable to Cheltenham Borough Council and send it to The Mayor’s Parlour, PO Box 12, Promenade, GL50 1PP. Please write ‘Mayor’s Food Bank Fund’ on the back and your address.
For more details on the Coronavirus health guidelines, and the support available from Cheltenham Borough Council, check out the latest resources on their website: https://www.cheltenham.gov.uk/coronavirus
"At the start of my Mayoral year I could not imagine I’d be writing this: I said in a speech half-way through the year that Cheltenham was in rude health materially; now we face a very unexpected challenge."