I recently visited the centre and spoke to the Barclays staff member present. I renewed the case for Wokingham based arrangements for banking services in person. I was told few people are visiting the Bradbury facility, which is mainly designed to offer help for those who have had problems accessing services on line. Barclays does not offer paying in or cash withdrawal services at the Centre.
I was disappointed today that Wokingham Borough Council cancelled their meeting with me scheduled for this afternoon. Today was the first date they could give me over a seven week period when I had considerable flexibility over dates and times, and it has been reserved in my diary all that time. I am available to meet with them when I do not have to be in Parliament. Parliament was in recess throughout August and is in recess again today. I represent them to government over a range of matters from planning to budgets and find it easier to do so when I know their case. I can also meet with them on line from Parliament for anything urgent when Parliament is meeting.
I reproduce below a letter from the Minister about compensation for those caught up in the Horizon software problems. I have been pressing for a long time for proper compensation.
Post Office Horizon Compensation
I know that colleagues will welcome an update on compensation for postmasters who were
wrongfully convicted on the basis of Horizon evidence and have seen or will see their
Members across the House are well aware of the longstanding Horizon IT system issues.
Starting in the late 1990s, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software,
but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branch accounts. The Post Office demanded
postmasters cover the shortfalls, and in many cases wrongfully prosecuted them between
1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft. We now know that Horizon data was
unreliable. Government has provided funding to Post Office to make upfront interim
payments of £163,000 to eligible postmasters who have their convictions overturned as
well as funding for full and final settlements.
The Government and the Post Office have been clear that we want to see the victims receive
swift and fair compensation. I have been monitoring the delivery of compensation to those
with overturned convictions, where £21 million has been paid to date. While good progress
has been made in upfront interim payments and non-pecuniary (personal) damages,
progress on pecuniary (financial) damages has been slower. I announced in the House
yesterday that the Government has decided that postmasters who have their convictions on
the basis of Horizon evidence overturned should have the opportunity upfront to accept an
offer of £600,000 in full and final settlement of their claim. To be clear, this upfront offer is
available to those postmasters whose convictions were overturned as they were reliant on
Horizon evidence at the time. This payment will be made net of any sums already received,
such as interim payments and partial settlements, to settle the claim fully. Any postmaster
who had their conviction overturned as it was reliant on Horizon evidence and has already
reached a settlement with the Post Office for less than £600,000 will be paid the difference.
Post Office is contacting the legal representatives of eligible postmasters to inform them of
this offer. I appreciate some details will need to be worked through, such as how long the
upfront offer remains open for. I am committed to consulting the Horizon Advisory Board
on this matter to make sure we get this right but did not want to delay informing
postmasters that there will be an optional quick and straightforward route to settlement.
Those postmasters who have been wrongfully convicted have suffered severe impact on
their lives, as well as significant financial losses. It is right that Government recognises
that postmasters have suffered gravely in relation to the Horizon scandal, and for too long
and should be able to settle their claim swiftly, if they wish. Any postmaster who does not
want to accept this offer can of course continue with the existing process. It will therefore
be completely optional to accept the offer of £600,000 and Government will continue to
fund the legal costs of these postmasters to ensure they receive independent advice
ahead of making a decision. But we hope that the change that I announced yesterday will
provide more reassurance and quicker compensation to those postmasters who would
prefer this option.
Some postmasters may not wish to accept this offer upfront, in which case it remains open
to that individual to settle their claim via individual assessment with the Post Office.
Government and Post Office are committed to handling these claims as quickly as possible.
Post Office has been engaging with legal representatives on the principles and process for
assessing pecuniary claims to move to a remediation model of claim assessment involving
an independent assessor. This approach will bring greater transparency to the existing
process and aims to support swifter formulation and settlement of claims.
We know that there were hundreds of postmasters convicted during the period Horizon
was in use. Post Office has contacted over 600 postmasters to help them to appeal their
conviction and this work was later taken over by the Criminal Cases Review Commission
as an independent party. However, only 86 convictions have been overturned to date, we
recognise there are a number of postmasters who have not yet sought to appeal their
conviction. It is for the Courts to decide whether a conviction is unsafe but we encourage
all postmasters who think their conviction may be unsafe to come forward and start the
process. We hope that being transparent about the level of compensation available via a
straightforward route will make the appeal worthwhile.
I am committed to keeping Colleagues updated on progress made in delivering Post Office
compensation. With regard to compensation for those with overturned convictions, £21
million has been paid to date. The Post Office has made offers to all 73 formerly convicted
postmasters who have submitted a claim for non-pecuniary damages, which are nonfinancial personal losses. Awards for non-pecuniary damages are guided by Lord Dyson’s
Early Neutral Evaluation. With regard to pecuniary damages, which are financial losses,
only 21 claims have been submitted to date and Post Office has made offers to 12 of
these, 5 of which have been accepted. To date, £79 million has been paid under the
Horizon Shortfall Scheme, with offers made to 99% of the original cohort of applicants.
Post Office has made offers to 58% of eligible late claims. Then, under the Group Litigation
Order Scheme, the Department has paid £22 million to date. The Department announced
interim payments in June last year and 99% of claimants have received the share of the
£19.5 million they are entitled to. The scheme opened for full applications in March this
year – to date, 32 claims have been submitted and first settlements have been reached. I
am pleased to inform you that my Department will be publishing data online regularly on
the progress of compensation delivery online.
I am committed to seeing these longstanding Horizon issues resolved, learning what went
wrong through the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, and ensuring something like this can
never happen again.
KEVIN HOLLINRAKE MP
Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Busines
I have received a letter from Helen Watson, Interim Director of Children’s Services at Wokingham Borough Council regarding extra Government funding for additional SEN school places in Wokingham.
I welcome the extra money the Government is providing to Wokingham to make additional provision for special educational needs. The Borough does need extra school places to meet demand and this expansion should take care of the requirements of families.
Dear Mr Redwood
Wokingham Borough Council was successful in securing funding from the Department for Education
(DfE) to build two new and much needed special schools in the borough. As you are aware, the
schools are proposed to be located at Rooks’ Nest Farm in Finchampstead and it is hoped will open
by September 2026.
The original plans for the schools called for each school to have 100 places, but after consideration
of a business case the DfE have agreed to both school’s capacity being increased to 120 places.
Obviously, this is fantastic news for the Borough and is worth around £5m to £8m additional capital
funding and the opportunity to support 40 more of our most vulnerable young people in their own
community. There were two key reasons for this request:
1. Demand for Special School Places
The original capacity of the two planned special schools was based on pre covid data but post
lockdown the demand for special school places in Wokingham continues to increase rapidly. In the
last five years, the number of children with Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) has
increased by 20% to 25%.
This is leading to several problems, including:
• Children with SEND are being placed in schools outside of the borough, which can be disruptive to
their education and social life.
• Children with SEND are being placed in mainstream schools, where they may not receive the
support, they need.
The benefits of increasing the size of the schools include:
• Improved educational outcomes for children with SEND.
• Reduced cost of transport for children with SEND.
• Reduced pressure on mainstream schools.
• Increased choice and flexibility for parents.
• Increased capacity to meet the growing demand for special school places.
• Reduced disruption to children’s education and social life.
• Increased access to specialist support for children with SEND.
• Reduced financial hardship for parents of children with SEND.
2. Improved operation and financial viability of the schools.
Working with our existing special schools and Trusts in the area, it is clear long term financially
viability of the school’s increases with size. The two key considerations being class sizes and the
proportions of fixed and variable costs to operate the schools.
In terms of class size for the cohorts we are looking to support, namely Severe Learning Difficulties
(SLD) and higher level Social Emotional Mental Health Needs (SEMH), classes of 8 or 9 represent
the sweet spot in balancing staffing resources with a manageable group, 120 places allow for this
across all age groups in both schools.
I’m sure you will agree this is fantastic news for the Borough.
Interim Director of Children’s Services
I have had a few emails from constituents repeating Lib Dem claims that Wokingham gets little or no government funding and is short of money to spend.
The IFS has recently published a study of spending per head on five main service areas, including local government and schools. This combines government grants and local revenues.
The table beneath shows Wokingham in second place after West Berkshire amongst local areas:
Place Schools per head Local government per head total
West Berkshire £941 £881 £1822
Wokingham £892 £844 £1736
Bracknell £ 879 £783 £1662
Reading £831 £803 £1634
Hampshire £797 £796 £1593
Windsor and M £873 £682 £1555
These figures show that Wokingham is not treated badly or without money in the way the council has been saying. I have made the case for better funding for social services and schools in Wokingham and am pleased to see the government has increased the financial support it offers.
I and other Conservative MPs helped make the case for proper funding for social care and education which the government responded to this year. I see the Lib Dem Council wishes to claim an absence of government money to justify their cuts to important services so it is important to remind them of what happened in the 2023-4 local government settlement.
The government announced a 9.4% increase in core English Council spending power to a new high of £60 bn. Every Council was guaranteed at least a 3% increase . Wokingham had made clear to me in previous years that we received too little grant support for social care so I lobbied further for more increases. As a result Wokingham’s social care grant rose from £3.1 m last year to £ 5.38m this year, a rise of 73% . Councillors did not send me the supportive figures I needed to make the case but nonetheless other work paid off to achieve a good result.
The Council also receives this year a £1.1 m Funding Guarantee grant to give it extra spending power. It is receiving £334,658 from the government Discharge fund, additional money for social care for some leaving hospital.
Independent research shows that real spending per person by Councils which did decline from 2015 to 2019 has been rising this decade. Unitaries are now above the start level of this period in real spend per head.
Any need to cut services we want in Wokingham is down to wasteful and ill directed spending by the Lib Dem Council.Better budgeting would deliver a much better result for all of us, without the misleading generalisations about government money in support.
Wokingham schools continue to be financed by government grants.I have set out before the increases to our schools under the national funding formula, taking spending to new higher levels in 2023-4. Education is around half the Council total spend, government grant financed. The Lib Dem Councillors usually omit this large grant from their speeches on local finance.
I have received the letter below from Transport Focus regarding the extension of the deadline to register their comments about the proposed railway ticket office closures. The deadline is now 1 September and I would encourage those who share my concerns about these proposed closures to make their views known as directed in the letter. I have made representations against the closures as they will disadvantage those who are unable to use online ticket booking or who may have trouble with ticket machines. Passengers who may need physical assistance in accessing the train platforms will also be disadvantaged by these proposals.
The deadline for people to have their say about the rail companies’ proposals the future of railway ticket offices has been extended until 1 September. Information about how to send comments is here.
What is our role?
Transport Focus (and London TravelWatch in and around the London) have a formal role in scrutinising the proposals and any mitigation in detail. Under the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement, train companies are required to consult us and provide passengers with an opportunity to have their say. We therefore receive and review the comments we receive. So far our two organisations have received more than 350,000 responses.
How can we help your constituents?
You can encourage your constituents to send their comments to us (or London TravelWatch). They may want to share what the changes will mean for them such as how the changes might affect their ability to buy a ticket at the station.
What will we do with the proposals and comments received?
We and London TravelWatch will scrutinise train company proposals and any mitigations in detail before responding to train operators. We will be considering factors such as whether the station will continue to be staffed, accessibility, the alternative options for buying tickets and whether passengers will continue to be able to access station facilities like lifts, waiting rooms and toilets.
We can formally object to the proposals but only on specific grounds. Even if we object, the proposals can still go ahead. The train company can refer its proposal to the Secretary of State for a final decision. Here is the Department for Transport’s guidance setting out the approach the Secretary of State will take if this happens.
Our response to each train company’s proposal, an overview of the number of responses received and the main issues raised will be published on our website.
I have received a follow up to the exchanges I had with Barclays about closing its Wokingham branch. I am pleased to see there will be assistance available for local Barclays customers in the Bradbury Centre four days a week, close to where the old branch was. I reproduce the letter below from Barclays:
Following our correspondence regarding Wokingham branch closure, I’m writing to let you know further details regarding our Barclays Local face to face replace service for customers.
From Tuesday 22nd August, I’m pleased to confirm that Barclays colleagues will be available at the Bradbury Centre, Rose Street, Wokingham on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 9.30am-12.30pm and 1pm-3.30pm, offering face to face financial support and education for customers, without the need for them to travel.
Customers visiting us at the Bradbury Centre are able to access a wide range of services including assistance with everyday finances and money management (such as helping customers opening accounts, updating customer details, or paying bills), free digital skills workshops and fraud and scams awareness events for the community. As the replace service is a cashless site, everyday banking transactions including cash deposits and withdrawals will need to be completed at a local Post Office.
Barclays is committed to deploying a range of more flexible ways that customers can physically interact with the bank. This now includes over 250 pop-up banking sites located in town and city centres, plus presence in spaces such as community centres, libraries, and business hubs where it offers drop in and pre-booked appointments, along with the support of our Barclays van.
Conservative Councillors write about the failure to provide the 6th form at Bohunt on time
Bohunt Sixth form expansion delayed again…
In March 2022 following a long public campaign by residents of Finchampstead Wokingham Borough Council reached a deal with the Bohunt Trust to expand the educational provision at Bohunt School. Two petitions were raised by local residents with well over 1400 signatures and the campaign was supported by local conservative cllrs as well as the local MP James Sunderland. This agreement was that WBC and Bohunt would fund the provision of a brand new 6th form facility, additional year 7 places and send provision. This new facility was scheduled to open in September 2023 giving much needed provision for an additional 200 – 300 pupils
In May 2022 following the local elections the Liberal Democrats took control of Wokingham Council. In public they were keen to reassure residents they still planned to proceed with expansion at Bohunt however the lack of any meaningful progress on the ground made it clear that all was not well. Costs had risen on the building programme and the crucial stumbling block was Wokingham Borough Council insisting on a new scope and refusing to part fund its share. 14 months after the Liberals took control of the council there is still no agreement on funding and without movement from Wokingham Borough Council no chance of this moving forwards
We have been advised that even if funding was agreed today there is little chance of a new building being ready by September 2024 due to logistical issues of construction and hiring the relevant staff. The council have now formally admitted the sixth form will not open ( as they promised at the may 2023 local elections ) in September 2023. It is now time for them to be honest and commit publicly to fund this expansion rather than the endless misleading statements about commitment with no funding
We are very dissapointed that WBC continues to fail to honour the promises it gave to the Finchampstead and Aborfield community in March 2022. It is wrong that children from across the south of the borough face long journeys out of borough at Farnborough or to the north of wokingham for 6th form provision because there is no facility nearby. It is wrong that WBC is building 2 new send schools on green fields at Rooks Nest when alternative provision could have been provided earlier and at less cost to the taxpayer at Bohunt. It is wrong that WBC is walking away from additional year 7 provision at Bohunt meaning children from Finchampstead face long journeys across wokingham every day because the capacity at bohunt is full. The catchment area at bohunt gets smaller year by year. Bohunt is a successful and well loved school. WBC should be supporting and developing successful schools in the borough. Children in the south of the borough are being treated like second class citizens and this is not acceptable. The south is forced to take all the housing but gets no infrastructure – this is wrong
We remain fully committed to seeing the 6th form, extra year 7 and send provision at Bohunt and will continue to campaign for this important facility to be provided
Cllr Charles Margetts, Cllr Rebecca Margetts, Cllr Peter Harper and George Evans former Conservative candidate for Barkham |)
The government has today published the figures for increased money for schools in 2024-5 by constituency under the National Funding Formula. The local Education Authority decides the final allocations by school.
Wokingham sees an increase of 7.2%, one of the larger increases, to a total of £107 m for its schools. Wokingham can afford more than the £4655 minimum for each primary pupil and £6050 for secondary pupils laid down by the government with money for 5% above these figures.
There will also be extra payments to cover additional costs of teachers pay awards on top of this grant.