In the end I gave a much edited version due to the large number of poorly thought out, ill-conceived and politically-motivated amendments to the Coalition's proposed Budget tabled by the Labour Group at full Council last night which meant that the meeting to agree next year's Budget did not finish until about 12am.
"The need to set a fair, balanced budget for this Council, has never been more urgent or more important:
- Over 900 members of the public have had their say via the Council’s first ever ‘Have Your Say’ consultation.
- Over 600 people have responded so far to our social care consultation.
Now it is time for Reading’s political parties to put their cards on their table.
Or rather put their money where their mouth is.
As the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne observed: “There is no money left”
And the Labour Party’s dire financial legacy he spoke of is now having a profound effect on us here in Reading.
None of us on this side, least of all me went into politics to inflict damage on local public services or harm the life chances of individuals – quite the opposite.
When the Coalition was formed we were united in agreement that that we must make the best of resources available to us to help protect the most vulnerable in our community and fund the services local people value.
We were under no illusion that the challenges we faced would be easy but we firmly believed there was a better way of doing things, focussed more on outcomes than inputs and longer term stability than quick fix.
The Liberal Democrat and Conservative Groups in Reading have embraced new politics -
Putting aside narrow political interest to work together for the good of the people of Reading.
In the course of preparing for this important debate I was struck recently by something Theodore Roosevelt said.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”
The do nothing option is not open to us.
In my area of housing and community care demand for affordable housing is rising and the number of older people and vulnerable people needing support grows year on year.
In health, after record investment by the last Government we find pockets of serious deprivation leading to health inequalities across the Borough that we must tackle.
There will always be budget pressures in Community Care and Housing regardless of the financial situation the Council is in.
However, the public finances are not a bottomless pit.
In 2009/10 when the Council was Labour controlled Adult Social care overspent its budget by £1million.
This is not something this Council can afford to do any longer.
How we respond to this financial challenge says a lot about us as an administration.
Let’s be clear this budget will protect the vulnerable.
- In this financial year (2010/11) the Council's Housing Community Care Directorate has managed growth pressures of around £2.3 million and is predicted to break even at year end.
- In 2011/12 this administration is proposing a budget for Adult Social Care Services of £43.27m
- To meet these growing social care needs the Council is proposing to increase funding in 2011/12 by £2.6m, with the majority of this funding supporting individuals with Learning Disabilities (£0.9m) and Older People (£0.84m).
- Adult Services are have a targeted expenditure savings and income generation programme that is supporting the Council to achieve the £18.8m savings target of £5.2m.
- These savings are mainly part of the transformation of Adult Services and are focused on areas of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the services
- On Housing, this administration has gone out and secured funding from government for much needed extra-care housing to provide homes for older people
- We will be investing £10 million pounds in improving Council properties and £400,000 in improving local estates
- Next month sees a report to Cabinet on generating income for the Council by providing a housing repairs service to Wokingham borough council – helping to make our own service to our tenants more sustainable
- On empty homes this Council is continuing to support efforts to bring long term empty homes back into use where other Council is cutting back
- On Community Care this Council is leading the way on reablement services and active ageing helping hundreds of residents regain their independence
In social care we are proposing to move to a system which makes public money go further,
As system where those who are assessed as needing support but who are unable to afford pay will continue to receive care free.
One of the ways we are able to fund social care services in the future is to reject policies which do not represent a good use of resources – take for example the Disabled Facilities Grant:
- We have rejected proposals to cut back on domestic violence support – there was an error in the papers
- We have rejected proposals to ration care to people that need it (demand management)
- We have rejected proposals to reduce much needed breaks to carers
when I took on this post we inherited a policy for allocating grants from Labour which was not sustainable in the long term – if we continued spending at such a rate there would be nothing left in the future.
We scrapped a failed landlord accreditation scheme brought in by Labour – it cost roughly £16k per annum and reached less than 3% of the private rented market
Aneurin Bevin said about the NHS:
“We shall never have all we need, expectations will always exceed capacity and the service will always be changed growing and improving.”
but it could just as easily have been written about social services.
A world of finite resource and growing demand is the world we live in today.
And it is time that all members of this Council faced up to this reality and adapted our policies to meet the challenges we face.
This budget protects the vulnerable.
This budget enables us to continue to improve the quality of services we provide to residents.
This budget ensures that highly valued services like libraries service can continue to be funded.
This budget should be supported by all councillors."