Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Lib Dems: Proud of our Town

This evening my Lib Dem colleagues and I on Reading Borough Council spoke out against Labour's latest bid to get Reading city status.

I've attached the speech I gave below:

"When I first hard about Labour's latest bid to go for city status I wanted to find out what local people thought about this, so I asked them.

This is just a handful of the comments I received:

"i'm not sure that Reading become a city will make a lot of difference to its residents"
"What would it bring us except more pubs & clubs like the last attempts?"
"Reading is tiny, not really a city at all. What benefits would it bring?!"
"What is the benefit of city status? Other than presumably higher council tax!"

and my personal favourite:

"if I wished to live in a city I would have stayed in London."

A couple of people told me they supported the idea, but they were outnumbered by the deeply sceptical.

What's in it for us? They said.

What's wrong with being a town?

Is bigger, necessarily better?

These are the key questions people are asking.

This Council should be about serving the people: not serving ourselves.

Improving the lot of people who live in our town should be our top priority: not selling the town's soul to the highest bidder.

Can the Leader of the Council please explain to me and the people of Reading:

What problems or challenges do we currently face that would be solved by Reading becoming a city?

In this Borough the boundaries we share with our neighbours have always been a source of conflict.

What good will re-opening these old wounds do?

This bid says more about the Reading Labour Party than it does about the needs of the people we are meant to serve.

It is redolent of the era of John Howarth: endless vanity projects that Labour in Reading have tried and failed to foist on local people.

Without asking local people what they actually want.

Such as:

- The failed One Way IDR
- And recent abortive attempts to build a politicians palace in place of the old civic

Thanks to the mismanagement of the nation's finances Gordon Brown has left this town and its people saddled with a mountain of debt.

We are facing perhaps the tighest budget round in this Council's history.

We are asking officers to do more, with less.

I think local people would like the the officers of this Council to focus on tackling the real problems of thousands of people in Reading are facing today:

1. We have just come out of a period of some of the most severe weather this town has ever experienced.
2. There are currently just under 4,000 people out of work - the majoity of whom are aged between 20 and 24;
3. There are around 5,000 people currently trying to access social housing;
4. Thousands of children are growing up in real poverty under our very noses their lives blighted by poor housing and poor health;
5. And we need as a Council to care for a fast-growing ageing population - the demands of which are placing a huge strain on our finances.

I am happy to admit that for the Lib Dem Group these and many other important issues take priority over bidding for city status.

Because we put local people first.

Local businesses may have been judged by a London-based thinktank to have 'weathered' this recession

But this has not been without pain: job losses, businesses going under.

- Do Reading businesses genuinely have £60,000 lying around just to throw at another bid which is doomed to fail or where there is no guarantee of success?

- Surely that money could be better spent, or invested in things that would really benefit local people?"

The Tories on Reading Borough Council are backing Labour's bid.

Predictably, they are both accusing us of "doing the Town down".

They could not be more wrong.

As Lib Dems we are proud to stand up for what we believe in: proud to speak up for local people and proud to campaign for action on local issues.

Yes, we are fiercely localist: we listen to the local people that elected us and ask them what they think the priorities should be.

I feel strongly that at times like this when many people are in the town are struggling the Council must focus on it's core business: supporting local people.

And as we climb out of recession, we really cannot afford to waste Council time and resources on yet another Labour vanity project.

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