Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Budget to protect the vulnerable

Yesterday evening Reading's Liberal Democrat and Conservative Groups agreed a budget to protect the most vulnerable in our town and deliver a Council Tax freeze - the first in many years.
I was particularly pleased my detailed plans to protect vulnerable adults won support from members across the Council including from Cllr Mike Orton, former Labour Council Leader and my predecessor as Lead Member for Community Care.
Labour's opposition group voted against and failed to come up with an alternative budget despite 23 years previous experience of running the Council.

In doing so Labour councillors voted decisively:
As Cllr David Stevens, Lead Member for Finance, confirmed that the Coalition Administration of Reading Borough Council had managed the Council's finances in such a way that we had come in under budget. When the Coalition was first formed Labour councillors claimed we would not be able to manage the budget.
In 2009/10 Labour overspent to the tune of £1 million pounds on adult social care.
Cllr Stevens pointed out Labour's spending plans would result in a 30% rise in Council Tax in Reading. However, as the Coalition Government has said it would cap councils that failed to freeze Council Tax Reading Borough Council would be penalised i.e. lose grant if it attempted to increase Council Tax to this level.
In total Labour tabled amendments that would deliver only £500k savings when the savings the Council needed to find was approaching £19 million pounds - totaly inadequate and showing once again they are not up to the task of running the Council and managing the public finances.
During the debate Labour  councillors tabled amendments opposing increases in fees and charges. This is not surprising given they opposed innovative ideas to recover the Council's costs at the last Cabinet meeting.
This follows the past 9 months were Labour councillors have opposed every cut the Coalition Administration has proposed.  Once agains Labour failed to demonstrate even a shred of economic competence.
During the course of my remarks I quoted Peter Watts, former General Secretary of the Labour Party who recently commented:-
"We lost the general election because we were seen as being arrogant and out of touch. We lost because we were seen as being economically illiterate and having massively overspent. And we lost because we were seen as being in favour of top down big government.
If we are to win the next election, we clearly need to detoxify our own brand. However, it is not clear that we have as yet fully appreciated just how toxic and unpopular we had become. The recent travails of the government, our riding high in the polls and by-election wins have masked this...
Far from detoxifying, we currently risk retoxifying. Ed Balls has done a great job of challenging the government over the pace of deficit reduction. But we are still opposing every cut, every library closure, every reduction in police numbers and every job loss. It might make us feel better and win some short term popularity. But it isn’t an answer to the charge that we had become economically illiterate and had allowed massive overspending.
Attacks on the big society are fun and are incredibly easy at the moment. But does it help to explain that we fully understand the danger of being perceived as a party of “big government”? And we are still out of touch and arrogant, still seeming to think that we are the party of all that is good in the world and everyone else is either flawed or worse. We need to wake up to the fact that right now that is not how we are perceived by much of the public."
I think this description sums up the approach of Reading Labour Party very well. I believe that if they regained control of the Council, Labour councillors would push the Council to the point of bankruptcy - threatening the very services, jobs, and vulnerable people they claim they exist to protect.

In conclusion this evening proved that the Coalition Administration can deliver a balanced budget, can deliver a Council Tax freeze and can deliver a budget which prioritises protection to the vulnerable.

In contrast Labour councillors proved once again they are not a credible alternative administration and they remain unfit to run the Council in Reading.

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