Christine Borgars – Obituary

Christine Borgars – Obituary

There are few people who have better carried the ethos of public service through their lives than the late Christine Borgars who has died today, 12 August, aged 75.

Christine was Councillor for Reading Borough Council’s Park Ward from 1994 to 2006, for the last five years of which we served the ward together. There was no more diligent a local councillor than Christine. During my time as Lead Councillor for Transport, Christine Chaired the Traffic Management Committee and proved both entirely reliable and totally loyal. Christine cared deeply about good local government and doing the job properly.

Christine made a contribution to Reading, but what said more about her was her voluntary work after she stood down from the Council. Week in, week out Christine gave her time to the community and for charitable causes. She was still doing so when she was very ill indeed. This included, in particular, work with young people at Reading’s Pakistan Community Centre, where she ran computer classes week in, week out, assisted as Secretary of the organisation and provided invaluable advice. Invaluable because Christine would tell people what they needed to hear, not necessarily what they wanted to hear - that’s what a good friend does.

But first and foremost, Christine Borgars was an essential part of Reading Labour’s political and electoral organisation for nearly a quarter of a century. Always in the background, Christine made a great contribution to the election of three Labour MPs and to the unmatched electoral success Labour enjoyed locally. She processed and organised the data that helped Labour get its message to the voters and made a significant contribution to Labour’s use of technology well beyond Reading - one of the unsung heroes on which public life depends.

Christine made her career and much of her political and community contribution from technology. She was a ‘computer nerd’ long before it was fashionable. Christine was a trade unionist and a socialist who did more than talk the talk - she lived the life - putting the welfare of others before her own. She was selfless, tireless, loyal to a fault, harmlessly eccentric and didn’t seem to need sleep. Reading Labour came to love her dearly. She has left us far too soon. She will be much missed. 

R.I.P. Christine.

Posted by John Howarth
My Local Brexit – Cllr Lisa Mitchell

My Local Brexit – Cllr Lisa Mitchell

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

In May Lisa Mitchell gained Portswood Ward in Southampton Test for Labour, she is pictured above, second to the right of John, during the campaign.

Lisa writes:

I am very lucky to represent a diverse and vibrant ward in Southampton where a lot of my residents are going to be affected by Brexit. Many of them either work or study at Southampton University which is a big employer both in Portswood and the city in general. 

Leaving the EU is going to have a huge impact on research funding which will no doubt affect jobs. Student numbers from the EU could also fall as there are no guarantees that fee structures for these students will stay the same as they are now.  

For those of my constituents who come from EU countries they are now living with increasing uncertainty about their rights to live and work in a post Brexit U.K. 

My ward also has a great high street full of pubs, restaurants, cafes and small independent shops such as the October Books which is a Portswood institution. I worry that Portswood High Street may not fare very well if prices start to rise and people’s wages are squeezed in the event of a hard Brexit." 

Cllr Lisa Mitchell
Portswood Ward, Southampton City Council

Posted by John Howarth
My Local Brexit – Cllr Mike Rowley

My Local Brexit – Cllr Mike Rowley

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

Mike Rowley (pictured above – third from the right – green t-shirt – at the launch of Labour’s local manifesto) is Labour’s Portfolio Holder for Housing on Oxford City Council has been an enthusiastic campaigner for Labour candidates around the Thames Valley. He represents Sandhills and North-East Headington

Mike writes:

Brexit is a particular concern for Oxford as our City has one of the largest European communities in Britain (more than one in eight of our citizens).  EU nationals work in our car industry, our innovative high-tech sector, our Universities, and above all our NHS hospitals which are centres of excellence for the whole South of England.

Across Britain, one in nine NHS employees is an EU national; in Oxford that figure is two out of nine.  Our NHS hospitals, already struggling to attract vital staff because of the high cost of living here, face potential disaster if those workers are not allowed to stay one and all.

As a Council, the biggest impact so far – and one that will only increase given the uncertainty of the Government’s chaotic negotiations – is a chronic shortage of trained construction workers.  This is a national problem which has hit Oxford particulrly badly.  The Government’s much-vaunted house-building plans simply cannot be achieved in time for the people who desperatel;y need affordable homes without EU nationals.

In the longer term, we need a rational and balanced policy to ensure that Britain trains enough skilled workers to meet its needs – with a living wage for young workers, proper bursaries for student nurses, affordable housing for everyone including people who move for work, and many other measures joined into a well-thought-out plan for the future of our society and economy.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen nothing from this Government that would lead me to believe they’re capable of anything like that.  Instead, they present themselves more and more as a collection of brainless egos swirling down a hole of their own making, when any other Government would be going all-out to get us the best deal for our future relationship with the EU.

Councillor Mike Rowley
Barton, Sandhills and North-East Headington – Oxford City Council

Posted by John Howarth
My Local Brexit – Cllr Lee Cowen

My Local Brexit – Cllr Lee Cowen

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

Lee Cowen won Mash Barn Ward in Adur District for Labour in a by-election last October and successfully defended the seat in May (Lee is pictured above campaigning with John in April) . Adur includes Shoreham, Southwick and Lancing on the Sussex coast west of Brighton and Hove. Lee works in the computer/online games industry. The creative industries have been a great manufacturing success for the UK in highly competitive digital markets. 

Lee writes:

Valued at a record £5.11bn after 12.4% growth in 2017, the UK games and interactive entertainment market is the fifth largest in the world, with of 32.4m Britons enjoying games, played on mobiles, online, consoles and PCs. Supported by Government policies, UK games publishers and developers like Creative Assembly are responsible for £2bn of exports annually.

Brexit will present a challenge to the growth of the UK economy, including the games and interactive entertainment industry.

With the industry being a highly global (and mobile) market, maintaining access to a diverse pool of specialised talent will be crucial to sustaining the UK’s high performance. Companies rely on non-UK EU nationals to fill key creative and technical posts. 

According to Creative Assembly: 

“As a global and diverse industry, games businesses and developers need a range of nationalities and viewpoints to encourage innovation and create products that are globally marketable and world-class. 

“Since the referendum, we have received a number of communications from EEA nationals who have changed their minds about working in the UK due to concerns about long term job security. Also, many of our EU staff have expressed concern for their job security and future careers. We want to be able to provide jobs to employees that deliver a good quality of life, a foundation to build a family and allow them to make meaningful cultural and creative contributions through their work, no matter their country of origin. 

“The talent that this has attracted has given us 34 different nationalities and 19% of our workforce is made up of EEA nationals who are in specialized skill areas such as Engine Optimization, Artificial Intelligence Programming and Design, Graphics Programming, Technical Art, Game Monetization and Live Operation to name but a few.”

Cllr Lee Cowen
Adur District Council

Posted by John Howarth
My Local Brexit – Cllr Peter Lamb

My Local Brexit – Cllr Peter Lamb

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

Peter Lamb (above) is the Leader of Crawley Borough Council, having successfully defended Labour’s slim majority on the Council in May. Peter has been selected as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Crawley at the next General Election.

Peter writes:

Last Summer, the Centre for Cities released a report analysing trade flow and trade barriers data to determine the impact of Brexit on cities, declaring that Crawley will be the 'city' least affected by Brexit. Why then, as leader of the local council, does Brexit fill me with dread? One word: Gatwick.

Gatwick Airport is the single biggest source of employment between London and Brighton, and it's hosted within Crawley's boundaries. Not only do aviation-related industries make up a large part of our economy, but the presence of a leading airport is a major attraction for the many international businesses which have located themselves here. If Brexit negatively impacts aviation, the economic consequences for Crawley will be huge, and unfortunately that's one of many areas for which the report's methodology fails to account.

So, what's the problem? Well, to fly planes outside our national airspace we need agreements with other countries, not only the desired destination but every country along the flight path. Currently the UK is part of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) and we fly to other destinations through deals negotiated by the EU. It's possible to be part of the ECAA and not the EU, but you have to commit to various things including freedom of movement, which really isn't an option under current political circumstances. Alternatively, the UK could negotiate its own deals with each of the countries we currently fly to and through. Yet, that's a huge number of countries, much of the experience of negotiating multilateral agreements at the Foreign Office has atrophied over our years of EU membership and aviation would have to compete for what experience there is with every other area of policy for attention.

For two years since the Referendum I have been asking what the Government's strategy is to enable us to keep flying post-Brexit and for two years there has been silence. Exit Day is only 9 months away, every day which passes the likelihood of grounded aeroplanes keeps getting bigger.

Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Posted by John Howarth
Safer Tourism – by the pool this summer

Safer Tourism – by the pool this summer

Many of us, myself included, are off on our holidays over the next few weeks*. My kids are grown up now but many of you will be going off with your children in tow. Before you go it’s worth checking out the Safer Tourism Foundation’s website. 

The Safer Tourism Foundation was established in 2016 by Sharon Wood, the mother of two children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2006. They are dedicated to preventing accidents, injury and illnesses for Brits travelling abroad. 

This year’s campaign is focusing on unnecessary deaths and accidents in holiday swimming pools. There are 25 drownings in holiday pools each year, and there are also an additional 500 serious pool related incidents annually. 

To help to prevent accidents around the pool from happening, the Safer Tourism Foundation are encouraging us to RELAX. This acrostic is asking parents to first Recce the pool environment to identify any safety features. You must then keep your Eyes on your kids, to make sure they are safe. Then you must make sure you are with someone who knows Livesaving techniques, just in case of any incidences. If children need Armbands, they must be wearing them. Finally, the Safer Tourism Foundation are asking parents to eXplain to children how to use the pool properly.  

The STF teamed up with the Telegraph to make an animated video to illustrate the dangers of swimming pools. Watch it here. 

More broadly, the Safer Tourism Foundation also aims to reduce the general health and safety risks affecting people travelling abroad. 

They have tips for safe travel on all types of holidays, from adventure holidays, to city breaks, to even stag and hen parties.  They also have tips based on what type of traveller you are, including if you are travelling with children, or if you are travelling with a disability, health issue or mental health condition. 

Check them out here.

Stay safe, remember your suncream, and have a great time.

* The European Parliament has a four week summer recess and we have a short recess of about ten days at Christmas. Some of those times I am working in the region. MPs at Westminster have longer recesses though much of that time they work in the constituency. Not complaining at all - just explaining how it works. 

Posted by John Howarth
My Local Brexit – Cllr Laura Price

My Local Brexit – Cllr Laura Price

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

Laura Price  is an Oxfordshire County Councillor for Whitney South and Central Division. Labour has had some notable successes in David Cameron’s former seat in recent years. Laura is pictured above (holding the right of the banner) at the recent reception committee for the scary orange white supremacist creature at Blenheim Palace.

Laura writes:

On Monday morning Witney and West Oxfordshire woke to the news that MP Robert Courts had resigned from his role at the Foreign Office in order to back Boris and his vision for a hard Brexit.

Any political enjoyment of the chaos within the Conservative Party was fleeting when balanced against my deep concern at our representative in Parliament ignoring the fact that his constituency voted by a clear margin to Remain. Perceived future career prospects have clearly trumped a responsibility to protect residents from the damage that a Boris Brexit would bring. 

A network of rural villages and market towns, West Oxfordshire residents work in and rely on a diverse range of industries, from F1 to publishing, with most of the major players having the current benefits of EU membership woven into their success. We're also lucky to have a rich history of skilled engineering, with employers such as Siemens Magnet Technology providing hundreds of jobs locally, as part of a production pathway for MRI scanners which flows across European countries. 

For me however, one of the most significant threats is our ability to sustain the public sector. As an area of high employment, with an ageing population, recruitment is cited as being as big a challenge as funding in enabling our hospitals and care providers to meet ever increasing demand. Uncertainty over our relationship isn't only leading EU nurses, doctors and care workers to re-think their future here, but it is also jeopardising the ability of the NHS and the County Council to deliver a workable forward plan. 

Politicians like Courts might be comfortable with pretending that the response to the referendum result is as simple as repeating "the will of the people", but for our communities it will be the detail that matters - although today it sadly feels like the interests of his constituents couldn't be further from his mind.

Cllr Laura Price
Witney South and Central - Oxfordshire County Council

Posted by John Howarth
Biomedical Sciences Day 2018

Biomedical Sciences Day 2018

I thought it would be good to mark Biomedical Sciences Day 2018, as I know that Biomedical Sciences contributes a huge amount to our lives.

Biomedical Science investigates how cells, organs and systems work in the body, which then allows scientists to understand and treat human diseases. Most of the tests and treatments you now get via the NHS come from developments in Biomedical Science. These include the heel prick test routinely given to babies and tests for blood, genetics and immunology.

Like other areas of science I have been working to ensure that the possible impact of Brexit doesn’t damage the UK’s Biomedical Sciences community beyond repair. The hard Brexit argued for by the Daily Express and the likes of Farage would certainly do that.  

Research in this area, like many others, depends on cooperation and shared funding that have been working across borders for many years. EU funding and freedom of movement have supported the breakthrough developments. Indeed, a report out last year found that one in five European Research Council funded projects led to a scientific breakthrough, and 6 in 10 led to ‘major scientific breakthrough’. And while it is always the case that some scientific projects don’t work out as hoped, just 1% of EU funded projects made no ‘appreciable’ contribution at all.

Stepping back from participating in cutting-edge research and development would be a massive backwards step for the UK, and could easily lead to a brain-drain of our most talented scientists. 

I’ve been meeting with a range of businesses, research bodies and Universities looking at these issues and giving the uncompromising message to the Government that nobody voted in the referendum to give up on scientific breakthroughs and to go backwards on the developments we have been making in medicine and treatments. It is now widely accepted that Britain needs to participate in the EU’s science programmes and the work that has been done by British diplomats and MEPs has helped keep the door open but we still need a firm commitment from the UK Government before the Good Ship Research sails. 

The theme of this year’s Biomedical Science Day is “At the heart of healthcare”. I know the value of the great education, research and collaboration as well as the EU investment that has been at the heart of our healthcare for decades, let’s hope that the Prime Minister can see that too. 

You can read more about the impact of Brexit on higher education here – Link to report on HE.

Posted by John Howarth
World Youth Skills Day 2018

World Youth Skills Day 2018

John says: Today’s blog is by Izzy Hollingsworth, who recently completed a work experience placement with my UK Office. The team thank her for her efforts and this contribution.

Guest Blog by Izzy Hollingsworth

This Sunday marks World Youth Skills Day, #skillsforall celebrated each July 15th, which is one of the new United Nations International Days of observance and started in 2015.

First proposed by Sri Lanka, the day was created to highlight the need for youth skills development on a global level to fight youth unemployment and under-employment. Whilst the day was designed to raise awareness of the challenges young people face in the developing world which the UK and the EU will be supporting, countries in Europe are facing high levels of youth unemployment too. Greece and Spain have the highest levels, and the UK has a youth unemployment rate of 11.5% against an overall unemployment rate of 4.1%. 

Part of the reason for higher youth unemployment is that older workers are carrying on working for longer as the pensionable age rises, and the inevitable lack of experience that younger people have compared to those who have been of working age for longer.  The UK’s Tory programme of spending cuts has also seen funding to training and development programmes reduced.

One of the key benefits for young people in the EU is being able freely to move around to take advantage of those countries with the lowest unemployment rate such as Germany, Denmark and Holland.

Brexit will curtail those opportunities, as well as risk the economic growth of our country, which is vital for helping companies to invest and grow. When companies are investing and growing they tend to employ more young people and invert in the training they need.      

World Skills UK will be marking the day with events.

Hear John supporting EU funding to fight youth unemployment here.

Posted by John Howarth
England at World Cups – usually pretty average

England at World Cups – usually pretty average

So England aren’t rubbish after all and are going to win the World Cup.

There are some who started saying this as soon as they scraped past Tunisia and others who felt it was certain after they trashed Panama. Doubt crept in after the scratch team struggled against Belgium’s scratch team and grew when Columbia minus James Rodriguez failed to provide a walk-over but were banished after the penalty shoot-out. Having deservedly beaten a dated and ponderous Sweden (who had nonetheless somehow beat Italy and France along the way) the big prize is back on and even for a cynic like me, undeniably a possibility once in the last four.

In football, you can only beat the opposition that are in front of you. In may well be that England have had their share of luck with the draw and the order of group matches but how often have England supporters been able to decry their luck in tournaments? So let’s no begrudge them their breaks. They are, after all, still there when former winners Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Uruguay have caught their planes and Italy didn’t even make the departure lounge.

So for once England aren’t rubbish at the World Cup - because that’s become the notion that is peddled. In fact at the outset of the tournament it was being reported that England hadn’t won their opening game for ever so long and hadn’t won a knockout match for ages. So obviously they have been rubbish, haven’t they?

I was having a conversation in my office about all this. My young Derby supporting researcher put it nicely “the other big European countries win it - we don’t, we’ve not done anything in my lifetime”.

Because I like to challenge conventional wisdom, I thought I would at least try to look at England’s tournament performances objectively.

What should England expect in a World Cup?

Despite the ‘World’ bit, the tournament is, at the business end, a still contest between the football powers of Europe and South America. England is in Europe and is one of the ‘big’ European nations. Fair comparisons are with the other ‘big’ European nations: France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Those five big nations, plus the two big South American nations - Brazil and Argentina should usually expect to make up seven of the last eight places at a World Cup. In other words, a quarter final place is an acceptable tournament, to go one step beyond that is to do well.
We should measure expectations against this. The trouble is in England, expectations are measured against that first fully televised World Cup and a June afternoon at Wembley - even if it happened before you were born.
So I looked at the last 14 World Cups - that is since that tournament in 1966 when it really became ‘a thing’. It was also The first (including qualification) since modern professional football happened, with a decent interval since the abolition of the ‘maximum wage’. Arbitrary, yes, but I think fair enough.

Are England poor starters?

No. A quick comparison of opening games over the past 14 tournaments based on three points for a win shows England’s record is far from bad.

England played in 11 of those tournaments and lost their opening game twice. England average 1.7 points from their first game. Better than France who have lost four of their opens from 10 and average 1.4 points and Spain who have six defeats from 12, only two wins and average a mere 0.8 points. Italy, win eight wins and one defeat from 13 openers average 2.3 points while Germany with ten wins and two defeats from 14 averaging 2.3 points. Some of this is self-fulfilling. Germany and Italy as multiple winners have benefitted from top seedings - but, even so, the conventional wisdom of England as poor starters doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny.

But England go out earlier don’t they?

Well, again, not so much. In England’s 11 tournaments only once have they flown home after the group stage - in Brazil 2014. Meanwhile both Italy and France have gone out four times at the first hurdle while Spain have failed to make the knockout on six occasions. Germany, of course, had never failed to get out of the group until the ‘cruse of the holders’ hit this time round.

So how do England compare?

The thing is England have been average at the World Cup since 1966 (this bit excludes the current beano). Score the stage which the teams achieved with 1 for the winner, 2 for runner up, 3 for the semis, 4 for the quarters and so on. Eleven tournaments in which England played produce an average of 4.1 - a quarter final place. The rest of the European big five: Spain 4.4, France 3.9, Italy 3.7 and Germany way out in front with 2.7.

I pointed this out to my Derby supporting staffer and his response said it all, “Yes, but wouldn’t you swap going out at the group stage for a couple of wins and a final or two?”.

Because that’s what football supporters want - the dream of the trophy, or at least of being there and there abouts.

England are even worse at the European Championships, aren’t they?

I had always thought so, but I thought I would check out my own prejudices on the same scoring system. Even allowing for the different way in which the ‘Nations’ Cup’, as we used to call it, was played. It is still reasonable to use the same means of scoring.

So having looked at the tournaments from 1968 to 2016 you end up with this: Germany lead with the exact same 2.7, followed by France 3.1, Italy 3.3, Spain 3.4 and England 4.0. But hang on a minute. In this case England’s expectations should reasonably be higher?

Shouldn’t they expect to be in the last four more often, given that it’s just Europe we’re talking about? The answer is an undeniable ‘yes’. However, it is reasonable to argue that the European Championships have been, historically, a tougher tournament than the World Cup. Until 1996 only eight teams made the finals, meaning that the group stages were seriously tough. Even when the World Cup was a 16 team tournament nine or ten European countries qualified. Soft games against the likes of Panama just didn’t happen in the nations cup and qualification was tougher than the World Cup (France failed to make the last eight on four occasions, Italy, Spain and England three times each and even Germany missed out once). Nonetheless, here it is objectively true that England have tended to underperform on the European stage.

So what does all this mean?

Absolutely nothing really. Maybe as well as a tendency to overstate failings the England supporter tends to over-expect from the team. There always seems to be a feeling that ‘we should do better’. But why?

England’s failure, if it is one, at World Cups past is to rise above the average and produce the ‘I was there’ moments for which football supporters yearn.

Here’s a final thought. This England team, a little like that team in 1966, may have benefitted from nobody expecting too much and may also have benefitted from the absence of divas, prodigy’s and a manager with a big reputation. Whatever they achieve from here on in, they deserve credit for exceeding expectations. Enjoy the rest of it.

For the nerds - how all this is worked out

From 1966 to 1978 16 teams qualified for the World Cup finals 9/10 UEFA nations qualified. That rose to 24 from 1982 to 1994 with 13/14 UEFA qualifies. Since 1998, 32 teams have qualified but UEFA qualification has remained at 13/14.

The European Nations’ Cup had a four team final stage and a two-leg last eight until 1980 when the eight team format was introduced. Only in 1996 with 16 teams did qualification for the Euro Finals become slightly easier than World Cup qualification. Euro 2016 hosted 24 teams making qualification considerably easier allowing teams like, er, Iceland to make to the finals for the first time.

The scoring averages are therefore based on: Winner - 1, Runner-up - 2, Semi Final exit - 3, Quarter Final - 4, Round of 16 - 5, Group stage 6. In 16 team tournaments the group stage scored 5.

The third/fourth place play offs are ignored - they are games in which people don’t want to play. I had contemplated giving an extra 0.5 for an exit on penalties - it is arbitrary, but those results are counted as draws in official football records. Arguably, the entertainment/excitement could be recognised, but in the end the differences would be marginal.

I’ll get my coat now.

Posted by John Howarth