Opinion: Lib Dems deliver fairness in Reading

Lib Dems deliver a budget to protect the most vulnerable in Reading (whilst keeping local libraries open and freezing Council Tax)

A lot has been written about decisions taken by local councils in recent weeks.

Here in Reading I am proud to say that the Liberal Democrats have played a key role in delivering a budget that seeks to be fair to all and to protect the most vulnerable in our community.

This has not been easy.

Although often characterised by the Centre for Cities as an economic powerhouse, the shocking truth is that after decades of Labour rule in Reading inequality has increased with the number of children living in poverty rose to around one in five, and the number of families stuck on the Council’s housing waiting list has rocketed.

Like many other councils we have had to close a massive gap between the money we have coming in, and the money we are paying out. This came to nearly £19 million in total – 15% of the Council’s total budget.

This has forced us to look hard over many months at our expenditure as an authority in what has probably been the most rigorous budget-making process the Council has ever seen.

We consulted the public for the first time as part of our deliberations and the resounding message we got back from residents was that the Council must prioritise services to vulnerable adults and children.

We have been uncharted territory both as a Council and as a political group.

None of us in the Lib Dem Group in Reading least of all me went into politics to inflict damage on local public services or harm the life chances of individuals – quite the opposite.

I don’t think any of us ever thought we would one day be working closely with Conservatives either or that working with them would deliver such positive outcomes for local residents.

But Labour nationally and locally left us no alternative, no spare cash, and no solutions to the severe problems we inherited from them.

At local level this has meant we are left with some £200m of unsupported debt, while still needing to find the capital to fund desperately needed school places and affordable house.

I’m pleased to say that in our area, as in Westminster, the two political groups running the council have energetically embraced new politics, putting aside narrow political interest to work together for the benefit of local people.

Our approach has been one of partnership, and speaking to residents on the doorstep many of them have found this a refreshing change.

Those that have made a noise locally against this have tended to be well-known Labour activists.

Our top priority has been to protect the vulnerable by getting the most out of all available resources.

Long before it became national Government policy we agreed to freeze Council Tax but we have managed to do this without sacrificing frontline services and whilst keeping job cuts to a minimum.

Some examples:-

  • Reducing the costs of running our Civic Centre has enabled us to keep libraries open and invest £50,000 in planting new trees across the town.
  • Scrapping full time Union officials which cost local Council Tax payers £100k per year has enabled us to support community grants to a wide range of small organisations
  • A comparatively small investment in partnership working has supported the creation of some 500 apprenticeships in our town over the last year, with another 70 companies signed up already in 2011
  • Taking difficult decisions on adult social care has enabled us to increase support to carers and invest in preventative services such as reablement to help older people stay independent for longer.
  • In the coming year we will continue to invest in run-down estate areas and tackling empty homes – neither of which the Council is required to do and both of which are long-held Lib Dem policy priorities.

    And as my colleague Cllr Gareth Epps recently observed on Liberal Democrat Voice the Council’s continued financial support for the voluntary sector in difficult times has received national recognition.

    Looking around the country at some of the disastrous decisions taken by many Labour and Conservative- controlled councils, they contrast sharply with what we are doing here in Reading.

    Locally Labour councillors voted against all these proposals yesterday managing only to identify £500k worth of potential savings when nearly £19 million were needed.

    And during the past nine months Labour councillors have opposed every reduction and every proposed fee increase which would help protect frontline services to people who need them most.

    I am proud to be part of the Lib Dem team that helped deliver a fair budget in Reading, where Labour comprehensively failed.

    Councillor Daisy Benson was PPC in Reading West in 2010, is currently Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Reading Borough Council and Lead Member for Housing, Health and Community Care.

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    6 Comments

    • “I’m pleased to say that in our area, as in Westminster, the two political groups running the council have energetically embraced new politics, putting aside narrow political interest to work together for the benefit of local people.”

      Is this the same Westminster City Council that is proposing to make Byelaws which, if implemented, will prevent rough sleeping and the distribution of free refreshment in a designated area.

      The solution to homelessness is to make it illegal, fascinating really just move the problem to someone else, nice new politics…
      Big society in action?

    • Dave Warren 2nd Mar '11 - 4:02pm

      As a long time resident of Reading my view is that the new
      administration has been a breath of fresh air.

      The Lib Dem group has ‘punched well above its weight’ in
      the coalition to the extent that at timesyou might think that
      we have control on our own.

      Daisy and her colleagues in the Lib Dem group have built
      on their excellent of recent years. Listening to people and
      pursuing practical policies for the community has been
      the result.

      Well done.

    • No Jim, this is the same Westminster where parliament sits and there is a Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

      Westminster City Council is Tory through-and-through and our campaigners there have previously gone one record condemning WCC’s anti-homeless attitude.

    • Simon McGrath 2nd Mar '11 - 10:29pm

      Great article. One important step is to stop the finding of full time union posts – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support unions, but this is not what taxpayers should be paying for. We can be sure that labour Councils won’t have been doing this – not with the unions funding 90% of labour’s income.

    • @Simon McGrath

      Keep it up Simon, you’ve nearly crossed that line and earned that blue rosette.

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