Thursday, 31 March 2011

Andrew Stunell MP Praises 'Influential' Lib Dems in Reading

The Evening Post's Linda Fort interviewed Andrew Stunell MP when he visited Reading earlier this week - worth a watch:

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Council Agrees Plan to Transform Adult Social Care in Reading

Other Reading councillors may wish to comment on their blogs or elsewhere on the politics of yesterday's Council meeting.

However, from my point of view the most significant issue on the Council's agenda yesterday was in relation to Transforming Social Care - a programme I have led since May 2010 and written about here extensively.

The meeting where our proposed new policy was to be debated was the culmination of many weeks of deliberation and consultation, in which over one thousand individual responses were submitted by the public and over 27 consultation meetings held by Council officers.

This is the beginning rather than the end of a long process to make Reading's social care policies fairer and more sustainable.

I am pleased that this plan was agreed by Liberal Democrat and Conservative Councillors so we can move forward and ensure our services can meet the needs of the local population.

The response from Labour councillors was depressingly predictable as they attempted to use this sensitive issue to score political points ahead of the local elections rather than work with us to plan for the future.

Labour tabled a series of ill-conceived, ill-considered amendements which failed to help the Council meet its objectives in relation to adult social care and which were I'm pleased to say roundly rejected by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors.

Overall I found the lack of understanding of the subject matter demonstrated by so many opposition councillors in their contributions yesterday evening  deeply disappointing considering these plans have been known for some time and have gone through two scrutiny meetings, public consultation and more recently Cabinet.

Even if councillors couldn't be bothered to attend briefing meetings they would have found most if not all the answers to their questions in the detailed report to Council.

The debate inside the Council chamber at least is now over for the time being.

My priority from now on will be focussing on ensuring the implementation of these policies is carried out as  flexibly and sensitively as possible by the Council's Community Care team which I lead.

For the record, the speech I made last night to introduce the report to Council is attached below:

"This report concerns one of the most important steps we as a Council must take: to Transform our community care services in Reading.
  • To ensure our services protect the most vulnerable
  • To ensure our services are sustainable
  • To make best use of public money and local resources
  • And to ensure our services are fair as possible to all
I believe there is a consensus across this Council that moving in this direction is the right thing today.

Cllr Orton who has been a councillor for far longer than I have said at Cabinet agrees “on principle” with what we are proposing tonight.

And during the Budget meeting he said that our plans “would protect the vulnerable”.

The report contains carefully considered plans to move to a system of care focussed around the needs of individuals in our community where:

  • People who need social care in Reading receive it quickly and easily
  •  Elderly and vulnerable people are enabled to lead the most fulfilling lives they can
  • Carers who selflessly provide care get the support they need
  •  And those who can afford to pay for care make a fair contribution towards their care
In developing our plans we have consulted widely and listened carefully to what people have had to say.

We have undertaken a detailed Equality Impact Assessment to ensure our policies do not do harm to any individual or group.

We have listened to comments from service users and carers – over 1100 of them and changed our plans accordingly.

I have held individual meetings people with specific concerns including Freda Potten and Tina Barnes from the Friends of Albert Road Day Centre.


I understand that even if it is the right thing to do, change can be hard particularly for older people and carers.

So we are committed to being flexible and sensitive about the way we implement new policies.

Councillors should remember 40 % of people who receive care including day care will not charged under our plans – not even £5.90.

Our charges reflect well when compared to neighbouring authorities and the private sector.

4.1 in the report sets out the delegation agreed at Cabinet to the Director of Housing and Community to develop an implementation plan.

This is not a cliff edge and there is a safety net :

We will prioritise financial assessments for people already using Day Care services.

Residents who are assessed a no longer being eligible for care will be supported for up 6 months to find alternative support in the community.

This Council takes safeguarding seriously If residents needs increase or their condition deteriorates this will be picked up straight away.

For too long this Council when it was under Labour control operated policies completely oblivious to the financial realities.

This administration operates policies within the Councils’s means.

This year the Council has had to find £19 million pounds worth of savings.

Despite this I have balanced the Community Care Budget– for the first time in many years.

And working with Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues helped keep vital services such as libraries and leisure service open – where Labour councils have closed theres.

By changing our policies in the way described in the report:

  • This Council will save £600,000 over three years.
  • And avoid growth pressures which would have cost this Council £1.5million pounds.
This is not about cutting services to the vulnerable because the vulnerable will be protected.

This administration has increased support to the voluntary sector which supports thousands of needy residents in Reading to £1.7million.

We will still spend around £40 million pounds on social care this year.

£400k to provide more advice, breaks and support for carers.

And we will continue to fund Integrated immediate care services.

There is only one compassionate, sustainable and equitable option on the table this evening.

I urge members across this Council to support it."

Monday, 28 March 2011

Local Government Minister Backs Reading's Lib Dem Team

                                                                                     Today was not a typical Monday for me (usually I spend Mondays running around campaigning, doing casework and working on Council matters.
Today we were lucky enough to get a visit from Andrew Stunell MP - Lib Dem Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Communities and Local Government Department.

I have built up a good relationship with Andrew and his office through my involvement in the national empty homes campaign led by David Ireland at the Empty Homes Agency.

Andrew came to Reading see some of the great work Lib Dems on Reading Borough Council have been doing for the people of Reading - the word has clearly got out to Government!.

We have had a series of ministers visit us in Reading over the past few months - including Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Transport and Danny Alexander MP - Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Andrew is responsible for housing, regeneration and community cohesion among other things so there were plenty of things to interest him in Reading.

As a former councillor and someone who was present during the Coalition negotiations he is a fascinating person to talk to and learn from. First stop was Reading Station - site of £9.6 million investment by the Coalition Government which will do so much to stimulate growth and improve life for Reading's travelling public.

Then on to nearby Katesgrove where the Coalition administration of the Council recently granted £220,000 funding to the Afro Caribbean Community Group to reopen the iconic Central Club - something that Labour promised to do but failed to deliver.

Andrew is pictured here talking to Mark Bartley from ACCG and Margaret McNeill who lives nearby and is standing for Katesgrove in the forthcoming local elections. Andrew welcomed news that Reading Borough Council has increased financial support to the voluntary sector thanks to the innovative approach taken by the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition.

Then we went over to the Dee Park regeneration scheme in West Reading which recently benefited from £3.7 million pounds additional investment from the Coalition Government which will help develop 76 new affordable homes. Andrew had the chance to meet three local residents including a youngster who are working on the site and developing new skills.

After that it was a short hop to Tilehurst Triangle where Andrew met Cllr Peter Beard and Cllr Chris Harris members of the hard-working Tilehurst Lib Dem team who have not only kept libraries open but extended opening hours!

We talked to him about how we had frozen Council Tax for the first time in many years without cutting frontline services - as we had committed to doing in our local Coalition Agreement.

Then we took Andrew over to visit the former Avenue School site on Basingstoke Road in Katesgrove to see the first new development of extra-care Council Homes in Reading for 20 years brought about as a result of a successful campaign by myself and local MP Rob Wilson - something he was very pleased to see.

Then we took Andrew to Addington Road in Redlands to talk to students about the new Landlord Accreditation Scheme which we have recently implemented to help improve the standard of student and private rented housing in Reading - replacing Labour's failed scheme.
We spoke about the need to tackle problems in neighbourhood with high numbers of rented homes without dividing communities - something that locally Labour do not seem to get.
Like me Andrew is passionate about improving housing and increasing the supply of housing so I took the opportunity to talk shop with him!

Finally we took him to Christchurch Road to talk about our successful empty homes strategy which is bringing long disused properties back into use - an issue very close to my heart. I am delighted that the administration have found resources to keep doing this vital work going despite huge pressures on our budget as a result of Labour's mismanagement of the public finances.

I spoke to Andrew about the New Homes Bonus which will incentivise councils to build more homes and bring empty homes back into use among other things.

I explained to him that in Reading we had ruled out introducing fixed-term tenancies in Reading for  Council tenants and he confirmed that this would be down to the discretion of locally elected councils. Andrew characterised the previous Labour way of ruling local government as being all about compelling councils to do things - he is a confirmed localist which is a refreshing change for a minister based in Whitehall!

Kirsten and Andrew spoke in depth about extending apprenticeships even further in Reading and localising business rates - something we are very keen to see happen so local people and businesses see the benefit of the endeavours.

All in all it was a really positive day and a chance to showcase the work we the Lib Dems on Reading Borough Council have been doing to improve the lives of local communities we represent.

And the sun shone!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Which Services Would Reading Labour Cut?

I read online this week that Labour councillors in Reading are opposed to the Coalition Council's plans to charge residents for Green Waste Collections.

This service isn't free to deliver. So how would they pay for it?

They say they care about local services but how would they fund them?

Over the past year Labour councillors in Reading have opposed every single saving we have identified and every charge we have sought to introduce which when taken together help protect services to the most vulnerable.

In their mindless opposition to everything Labour councillors have not differentiated between bulky waste charges and day centre charges: they are opposed to them all.

When pressed as to what they would do to fund services the Labour Group Leader stated that "we wouldn't start from here".

So no alternative Budget was tabled.

This near silence has left me in no doubt at all that were they running the Council now Labour would be cutting more jobs and axing more services than the Coalition Administration has.

So the question then becomes not if but what would Labour cut and which services would they axe.

Libraries? Leisure Centres? Sure Start Centres?

Labour councillors are always quick to point the finger at us but more reticient about offering solutions..

Under the Liberal Democrat - Conservative control of Reading Borough Council none of these services in Reading will close, and in the case of libraries the reality is quite the reverse with opening hours being extended across the town.

So in Reading politics the real political gap that is opening up is one of credibility.

As former Labour minister Hazel Blears commented earlier this week: it's time Labour got real and told the public what they would cut.

We know that former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling's plans planned in massive cuts in  public spending:
"Darling’s three-year cash freeze, to begin in 2011, will mean big cuts in real spending for government departments. Compared with this year’s expected £387 billion total for spending by departments, the equivalent by 2013-4 will be £351 billion"
And outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne helpfully confirmed his Party's financial legacy when on leaving office he announced "there is no money left".

So how would Reading Labour councillors have dealt with this?

Locally It has been widely known in that in setting this year's budget the Council needed to find in the region of £19 million pounds worth of savings in one year as a result of reductions in government grant.

Finding these savings was far from easy but Lib Dem and Conservative Councillors did what had to be done to balance the budget in order to fund services that local residents hold dear including libraries, leisure services, children's services and care for the elderly.

As part of this process in January this year the Council’s Cabinet considered a report setting out saving targets and income proposals to help set the budget for the financial year 2011/12.

One of the proposals agreed by Cabinet was to introduce charges for the collection of green waste.

Labour councillors opposed the plans in their entirety failing to put forward any alternative.

And it gets worse.

Once again by burying they heads in the sand and favouring the "doing nothing" Labour councillors are once again defending unfairness.

Under Labour's Green Waste collection service Council Tax payers living in properties without gardens, for example flats, or those who are unable to take advantage of the green waste collection service have been subsidising those who could.

Not very fair, is it?

At a time when the Council must prioritise spending charging people who use green waste collections rather than cutting essential services would seem to me to be a fairer way of approaching savings.

Many Local Authorities currently impose a charge for the collection of green waste and many more will be in the future.

So the question is - if Labour are opposed to raising revenue through fees and charges what services would they cut to balance the Council's budget?

You don't need to look very far to see what Labour-run councils have done when faced with budget pressures.

In Manchester Labour closed five libraries, cut bin collections and closed leisure centres.

Down the road in Sheffield (run by the Lib Dems) councillors had to make identical savings (more than 8 % of their total budget) but there they kep every swimming pool, library and Sure Start Centre open.

In Camden Labour closed two SureStart Centre and cut library services.

Across England not one Sure Start Centre has closed where Lib Dems control councils.

So what would Reading Labour do?

Their previous record in local government is a useful guide:

When they ran the Council Labour habitually increased Council Tax.

In 2000/01 – the Band D council tax in Reading was £848. By 2010 it had risen to £1,500.

This is a 77% increase – meanwhile over the same period inflation increased by 26%.

Over a 10 year period, when Labour ran the Council in Reading Council Tax rose at three times the rate of inflation.

We have calculated that by opposing all our savings proposals, if Labour were in control they would increase next year’s Council Tax by 30%.

With elections coming up it's about time local Labour councillors came clean with Reading residents about how they would pay for services: Council Tax hike or slash and burn?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Lib Dems Help Reading Residents Recycle More

Locally the Lib Dems have long led the campaign to increase the range of materials that can be recycled by residents. The environment is something we care strongly about hence we currently hold the Environment and Sustainability Portfolio on the Coalition Cabinet.

In the Coalition Agreement we signed with the Conservatives last May we agreed to review recycling with a view to increasing recycling and reducing waste being sent to landfill.

The latest positive step in our campaign was taken today with news of the introduction of Reading's first battery collection service.

From the Council's website:
"Residents will soon be able to leave their used household batteries out with their recycling bin and have them collected by the Council, as part of a new doorstep service set to be launched next month
At the moment anyone wanting to recycle spent household batteries needs to take them to special drop-off points located in places like local libraries, the Civic Centre, the Household Waste Recycling Centre at Smallmead, or shops which have collection containers in store.
A new doorstep collection service for old household batteries will roll out across the borough during April.
All residents will need to do is leave any spent batteries they may have in a sealed clear sandwich/freezer bag on top of their red recycling bin. Bin crews will collect them and take them away for recycling.

The initiative will make it easier for residents to recycle household batteries, which supports Reading Borough Council's overall aim of reducing items that go to landfill."
This is a small but nonetheless important step on the way towards reducing harmful carbon emissions in Reading. When they ran the Council Labour councillors signed the Council up to a restrictive waste PFI contract which has made it very difficult to change recycling arrangements and increase the range of materials residents can recycle. We are not fazed by this and are fully committed to exploring all options to increase household recycling and help residents reduce waste.

Government Invests More Cash to Help Fix Reading Roads

Back in February I blogged the welcome news that Reading Borough Council was set to benefit from £400,000 additional funding from the Coalition Government to mend potholes. Today as part of the Budget settlement the Department of Transport announced that the amount of funding going to councils to repair roads was being doubled from £100 million to £200 million pounds. This cash injection comes as a response to the severe weather experienced across England in recent months which caused massive damage to the road network.
In Reading the Council will be receiving an additional £295,344 specifically to help the Council fix potholes and road damage . The investment means the Council will not have to increase Council Tax or reduce spend elsewhere to fund these much needed road repairs. This is good news.
As part of this additional funding, the Department of Transport is requiring local highway authorities to publish a brief note on their website by 30 September 2011 so local communities can see how this extra funding has been spent. It is good to see the Government continuing to invest in vital local infrastructure which will benefit all road users.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Council Delivers New Affordable Homes for Disabled People in Reading

More positive housing news today when it was confirmed that the Homes and Communities Agency would contribute £120,000 towards the construction of new affordable homes for disabled people in Reading.
Reading Borough Council will be putting in £150,000 towards the development of three new purpose built bungalows on a disused former mobile home site in Hastings Close, Southcote by Ability Housing.
Labour comprehensively failed o deliver the affordable housing that is needed in Reading and locally I have led the campaign to increase the supply of housing. Bungalows suitable for people with physical disabilities are in short supply in our area so this news is really welcome. These new homes will give more people with physical disabilities the opportunity to live independently in a home of their own choosing. The bungalows, designed in accordance with the Wheelchair Housing Design Guide, will feature adjustable height kitchens and fully wheelchair accessible wet rooms with a bath or shower option. They will also include future provision for ceiling track hoists, covered wheelchair car parking spaces with transfer areas and assistive technologies to meet the individual needs of the tenants. With a one, two and three bed option, all available for affordable rent, these bungalows will be suitable for a range of tenants with physical disabilities.The homes will be available to applicants on the Council’s waiting list and will be allocated through the bidding system.
As I have said before, competition for funding for affordable housing is fierce with the squeeze on public finances so it is fantastic that the Government via the Homes and Communities Agency has once again decided to invest in Reading.
The Lib Dem - Conservative Coalition running the Council has an excellent record on delivering new affordable housing including the first ever new Council houses for twenty years on the former Avenue Site, and more recently securing funding for 76 new affordable homes in Dee Park.
As Lead Member for Housing I will continue to campaign to get more affordable homes built for the thousands of local people of all backgrounds and ages who so desperately need them.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Council Tax Frozen and Key Services Protected

Council Tax in Reading is not rising for the first time in many years as a result of the decisions taken by Liberal Democrat and Conservative Councillors. 
We have delivered on our pledge to the public which we agreed via our Coalition Agreement last May.
At a time when household budgets are under huge pressure this is one bill that will not be going up over the next year giving some respite to families and elderly people in particular.
And despite the need to find over £18 million pounds worth of savings from the Council's budget, unlike some other councils :
  • we have not closed any libraries or leisure services
  • we have protected care to vulnerable children and adults.
  • we have increased financial support to voluntary groups
  • we have increased the number of trees in the Borough
  • we have launched a new warden service to tackle environmental crime
  • We have increased support to carers
  • we are continuing to improve Council homes and estates
  • we are continuing to take action to reduce empty homes - a discretionary service
It is worth pointing out that the Labour opposition group on the Council opposed all the above measures and failed to put forward an alternative budget of their own.

A Labour administration would seriously threaten many key services we have sought to protect. Labour have shown time and time again they cannot balance the books and overspends in areas such as social care could break the Council's budget in future years.

Residents in Reading should consider these facts they come to vote in the local elections in May.

A couple of speeches from Lib Dem Spring Conference I liked

First, our fantastic new Party President, Tim Farron MP - who has long been a conference favourite. I voted for Tim to be our Party President because no-one in the party campaigns or does fighting talk better.

And secondly Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg MP. I have heard all Nick Clegg's conference speeches live and I think this was his strongest speech yet.

Coalition Council wins £3.7m to build more affordable homes in Dee Park

Great news today as it has been confirmed that Liberal Democrat-Conservative controlled Reading Borough Council is set to benefit from £3.7 million pounds to held build more affordable homes in Dee Park.

From the official Homes and Communities Agency press release:
"The funding from the Homes and Communities Agency will support the creation of 76 new affordable homes in later stages of the regeneration scheme, bolstering the £10.4 million the HCA put towards the project in March 2009.
The original investment supported the first phase of the regeneration, which includes 111 homes for homes for social rent, including 60 brand new extra care housing flats for the elderly. Work on the extra care housing facility is well underway and is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.Many of the homes for private sale are also in the process of being built.
Sections of road are being renewed improving access around the area, and residents will also benefit from new outdoor sports facilities at Ranikhet Primary School, which can be used by both the school and also the wider community."
This is great news for residents in Dee Park and Reading as a whole. Competition for public funding to build new affordable housing is intense so the fact that the Council has secured this funding shows the Coalition Government recognises what an important regeneration scheme Dee Park is not just to Reading but across the South East as a whole.

We have worked hard to make the case to the Homes and Communities Agency that this scheme is not just about investing in bricks and mortar - it will help deliver better life chances for all residents living in the area and help support economic growth in Reading. We also have won the argument that this scheme represents excellent value for money for taxpayers which is important in the new economic climate.

Every pound invested by Government will go to investing in the community not just now but in the future - improving housing for elderly people, as well as community facilities such as the local school.

Ministers have already pledged that they will build affordable homes during this Parliament than Labour (arguably not difficult given Labour's parlous record when it came to building enough affordable homes when they were in government).

I am especially proud to have overseen the construction of Reading's first new council homes in 20 years during my first year as Lead Member for Housing. With thousands of people in Reading on the Council's waiting list for affordable housing it is essential we build homes for people that desperately need them.

I am really grateful to everyone on the project team at Reading Borough Council and the Dee Park Partnership - a joint venture between Catylst Housing Group and Willmott Dixon Group for all their hard work on this project over many years and more recently in securing this funding.

I would also like to thank in particular local MP Alok Sharma who after I contacted him lobbied the HCA on the Council's behalf earlier this year. His support has been vital keeping this project moving forward.

When it comes to housing I will always put politics aside to work with all parties to ensure that we get the best possible outcomes for local residents. This issue is too important for party politics.

Finally and most importantly I would like to thank all the residents who have worked with the Council for many years to get this project of the ground. Thanks to the awful mess Labour left the public finances in public funding for capital projects is in short supply and I am grateful residents for continuing to actively support the scheme alongside councillors and MPs.

But our campaign does not end here. We need to win the argument for sustained investment in Dee Park by Government and housing associations to ensure residents get the full benefit of the regeneration project and I will continue to champion the scheme at every level.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Local businesses invited to lend vulnerable residents a helping hand

Do you or anyone you know run a business or voluntary group in Reading which might be able to help elderly and vulnerable residents in Reading with practical tasks?

If so the Council's community care team would like to hear from you.

As I have said many times in Reading an increasing number of people need help around the home, due to illness, disability or old age so they can stay active and independent as long as possible.

This increase is putting a huge pressure on the Council's budget which is why Cabinet agreed earlier this week to move to a more sustainable system of social care which protects the vulnerable.
The Council can no longer afford to provide services in the same way and there is a need to expand the range of services available to residents in the community.

Aside from affordability, the Council is not always best placed in the community to provide services to residents.

We want to encourage a range of providers to develop services to help improve choice and value for money for residents.
With this in mind the Council's fantastic community care team has organised 'Helping Hand' – an event for local organisations to find out how they can develop their businesses to support vulnerable people in Reading with practical tasks and other jobs around the home such as shopping, laundry, gardening and cleaning.

People who need assistance are looking for trustworthy, friendly and reliable firms to help them live their lives more independently.

The event will give local organisations the opportunity to talk to the Council about the services they may be able to offer, and how to market these effectively to customers with care and support needs.

The Council would also like to hear from residents who are thinking of starting up a new business venture and will discuss with them how they can attract customers and ensure residents have a wide range of services to choose from. .

Helping Hand takes place on Thursday, April 7th, in the Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Reading, from 10am-1pm. The event is free, but places need to be booked by Friday, March 25th.

For more information or to book a place contact, or call 0118 937 2383.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Towards Sustainable Adult Community Care Services in Reading

I was pleased that yesterday evening the proposals I have been leading in recent months to put social care in Reading on a more sustainable footing were agreed by Cabinet and won support in principle from Labour councillors.

I have been working day and night to develop these proposals and taking these decisions is never easy. I believe they form part of a planned transition from an outdated, unsustainable way of doing things towards a better future for services to our most vulnerable residents.

I pointed out to Cllr Orton and other public detractors who have criticsed me as heartless and uncaring that I came into politics not for any love of public finances but because I care deeply about people.

I responded to two petitions at the meeting - one from the Green Party (which I previously published here) and one from Freda Potten. I went to meet Freda in the morning with officers and I have promised to keep talking to her to ensure that concerns she has around Albert Road Day Centre are addressed in the future.

I also responded to questions from Reading Mencap about how we will be supporting carers.

Below are snippets from the presentation I gave:

Coalition Priorities
  • Work to develop appropriate policies and high quality funded services to address the increasing service needs of the ageing population in Reading
  • Retain the current eligibility criteria for social care for the rest of the financial year
Key Questions

In developing community care policies in Reading I have continually challenged officers around the following questions:
  • Will this policy protect the most vulnerable in our community?
  • Will this policy be financially sustainable in the longer term?
  • Does this policy deliver value for money taxpayers?
I am satisfied that the direction of travel of our policies addresses these key questions.

One size does not and must not fit all
  • Transforming community care services is about building services that fit local people's needs
  • Subsidising services is both costly and unfair
  • We must extend the user of personal budgets to increase choice and control for carers and service users
  • We are maintaining and extending community and voluntary support
  • We are improving and extending support carers as well as service users
We have listened
  • We had a tremendous response to our community care consultation
  • I would like to thank each and every person who responded with their views
  • Feedback showed that services for vulnerable adults in Reading are highly valued
  • There is a good understanding amongst residents of a need to make changes to our policies to make them more sustainable
  • Specific problems were raised in relation to charges
  • Respondents identified that more help and support is needed for carers
  • The report and recommendation to Cabinet reflects this
Who will be affected by changes to community care policies?
  • Around 40% of service users will not have to pay anything under the new system (if they are assessed as being unable to afford to pay)
  • This will include a proportion of people who are currently paying for services
  • More than three quarters of people currently classed as with moderate care needs are likely to move into substantial or critical need after assessment so will continue to receive support
  • We estimate that less than one third of service users who are assessed as moderate will be signpost to other services in the community
How will the new system work?
  • We have produced a full equality impact aassessment of these proposals and I am satisfied that all potential risks can be mitigated
  • Individual assessments for care and finances will be carried out for everyone currently assessed as moderate
  • Everyone in the moderate band will receive access to ou free reablement service. 60 % of people who use this successful service have required no further services from the Council
  • Ther will be free signposting advice about voluntary and community sector activity they can access
  • All cases where a possible safeguarding issue are detected will be treated as critical
  • New charges for services will be phased in over a period of 6 months to help people adjust
A more sustainable service
  • More people with more complex needs are approaching the Council for help
  • Our plans save nearly £1.5 million pounds over 3 years
  • Lower demand means a more sustainable future
  • If we did not tackle growth pressures we would have to cut services elsewhere
  • This helps us to protect valued services provided by the Council
The Council's overall budget position
  • We need to make savings next year of over £18 million pounds
  • We have maintained our commitment to discretionary spend e.g. carers, libraries, parks and leisure services
  • We have increased our budget for voluntary and community groups
  • We are still spending over £40 million pounds next year on adult social care services
In responding to my presentation, rather than attacking my vision or the broad principles I set out Reading Labour councillors chose to criticis our implementation plan. This was not tabled as a detailed plan will be developed by officers in consultation with me as lead councillor. I am not a trained social worker so I will be taking professional advice from my officers about the safest way to implement these changes. It is obviously important that we get the implementation of these policies right and I will be keeping a close eye on things to ensure we do.

I stressed several times that we could not make definitive plans for services without knowing what the service needs of all our residents are. But we would continue to work to ensure that during the transition they and their carers get the support they need.

Given Labour ran the Council in Reading for 23 years I found it a bit strange that they did not attempt to defend the way they funded services in the past. In fact they didn't put forward any counter arguments at all.

This is sad as it highlights the fact that in the main their criticisms have been politically motivated rather than motivated by any real desire to improve services.

I pointed out that given that Labour failed to put forward any kind of credible alternative budget last month (and only identified £500k of savings in next years' Budget) the Council will only be discussing one set of proposals to transform social care in Reading when it comes to approve these plans at full Council on 29 March.

Cllr David Stevens asked me how our planned charges for services compared with neighbouring authorities and the private sector. I pointed out that in both Wokingham and West Berkshire charges were almost double and that in one private sector day service in Reading the day rate was £200 per day - so I am confident our charges of £43 are not excessive.

I am confident that the plan I put forward and that was agreed yesterday by Cabinet represents the safest, fairest and most sustainable future for adult care services in Reading. I am personally responsible for adult safeguarding so I will be working overtime to ensure that the transition is carried out as safely and humanely as possible.

Reading leads the way on tackling local health inequalities

On Saturday at Liberal Democrat Spring Conference I voted in support of an amendment put forward by Dr Evan Harris, Baroness Shirley Williams and other Liberal Democrats expressing concerns about the Health and Social Care Bill currently going through Parliament, championed by Andrew Lansley.The amendment was overwhelmingly carried by voting party members.

Before voting I reflected carefully on the issue. I voted the way I did  as I have some concerns about aspects in the Bill which open up the NHS to greater competition. However, I do support the proposals contained within Bill which aim to increase local accountability, clinical engagement, and the involvement of local authorities in improving public health. I voted for an amendment that aims to strengthen accountability mechanisms contained in the Bill which I think will be important. The devil is in the detail and I will be watching with interest to see what changes are made.

As I said yesterday, I am pleased that as a member of a democratic party I have the power to shape Party policy in this way and register my concerns with the Party leadership on this issue.

At Lib Dem Conference I attended a meeting with Lib Dem Minister Paul Burstow MP and other Lib Dem Councillors about the Government's health and social care reforms. Paul listened carefully to all the issues that were made and promised to investigate them further. I have taken part in several of these informal discussions in recent months and I welcome the opportunity to have an open dialogue with Lib Dem ministers in government.

This evening Reading Borough Council's Cabinet agreed plans for the creation of the first ever local Health and Wellbeing board. The Board will:
  • Play a leadership role in driving out health inequalities
  • Ensure the effective use of health and social care resources
  • Deliver a different 'offer' to the public that integrates health and social care for both adults
Reading Borough Council has been accepted as an "early implementer" by the Department of Health. This follows local GPs in our area who were recenly become pathfinders for GP Commissioning. 

We will be joining the first group of councils developing health and well-being boards in shadow form their area well over a year before they area formally set up.

Being involved from the start as plans develop at national level puts the Council in the driving seat to improve health services and health outcomes in our area rather than waiting for things to be done to us, and meaning we have the best possible chance to improve health outcomes for local residents.

For years the Council has lacked any real power to influence the decisions of health partners in our area. As I have commented many times health inequality in Reading is a major issue - with life expectancy and children's life chances varying widely between neighbourhoods.

Health inequality in Reading got worse under Labour - we must never forget that. So we must change the way we do things.

This is unacceptable so I welcome plans by the Coalition to democratise health and give locally-elected councils more say over health decisions.I also welcome plans for a dedicated public health budget calculated according to health need.

In Reading our health and wellbeing board will be lead by the Leader of the Council. The Lead Member for Health and the Leader Councillor for Education and Children's Services will also be members. On the officer side the Chief Executive will be joined on the board with senior officers from community care & housing, and education & children's service. To improve democratic oversight two shadow lead councillors can be appointed to the Board. The Board will also include a representative of the Local Healthwatch organisation, the director of public health for the Council, and a representative of each relevant GP commissioning consortium.

I have led a series of meetings over the past few months looking at how our HWB should be structured. The Health & Social Care Bill gave councils flexibility over how boards should be structured. I took the decision early on that we needed a board to cover Reading - not a wider area because I felt strongly that Reading has particular health issues and needs that need to be addressed by a board focussed on Reading.

I am glad the Coalition Government is giving us the freedom to decide what is right for our area. I will be working hard over the coming months to ensure that this new Board delivers better health services and health outcomes for residents in Reading.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Lib Dem Difference: Policy-making and internal party democracy

One of the things I love about being a Liberal Democrat is that Party Members agree and develop our policies by voting on them at our Conferences. This is not the case in either the Conservative or Labour party. And to the continual surprise of attending national media Lib Dem Conference is not a stage-managed rally, like Labour or Conservative Party conferences, it is a democrat policy-making forum.

The only difference about the Lib Dems now as Nick Clegg acknowledged is we have moved from policy-makers to law makers in government:
"The Coalition Government is shifting power from state to people: restoring civil liberties, protecting personal freedom and privacy, crushing the ID database, we’re ending the house arrest of Labour’s Control Orders, guaranteeing freedom of the press, undertaking the biggest devolution of financial power to Scotland since the formation of the United Kingdom, tearing up the Whitehall rules that dictate to Town Halls how to spend local people’s money, running a successful referendum to give more power to Wales, putting public health in the hands of local authorities, reforming party funding, giving voters the right to sack corrupt MPs, creating an elected House of Lords, finishing the job this party started a century ago.
We passed the policies, conference after conference
Now, finally, we’re passing the laws."

Today I voted in a favour of a motion that asserts our independence as a Party and sets out a way in which individual Party members can continue to exert real influence over the future direction of Party policy both in this Parliament and beyond.
As has been said, we did not win the last election so we should not be surprised that all our manifesto has not been implemented in full. As Party President Tim Farron pointed out during the debate, 64 % of our 2010 Manifesto made it into the Coalition Agreement. This is despite the fact that the number of Lib Dem MPs in Parliament is vastly outnumbered by Conservatives.
We need to ensure that in future years we continue to have a mechanism to develop meaningful policy and feed into the Government's policy programme. Our current policy-making processes were developed in opposition and they need to be strengthened now we are in government.
The direction of travel set out in this motion helps us do this but as Tim Farron said motions alone will not define us as a party. In the words of Chris Huhne MP we will be judged as a Party not on what we say but what we do in Government.

Conference notes:
1. The Liberal Democrats decision after the 2010 General Election to join a coalition government with the Conservative Party in order to take the action needed to deal with the severe financial and economic crisis.

2. The inclusion in the Coalition Agreement of many Liberal Democrat policies from the Liberal Democrat 2010 Election Manifesto and the subsequent success by Liberal Democrat Ministers in implementing these policies.

3. The continuing strong and effective leadership of the Party’s Leader and his team.

4. The importance of communicating to the public the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrats and our contribution to the programme of the coalition Government.

Conference asserts that:

A. The Liberal Democrats will fight the next General Election in Great Britain as an independent Party without any pacts or agreements with any other party and presenting our Manifesto as the clear and distinct basis for liberal government.

B. The Liberal Democrats will fight elections as an independent Party for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the European Parliament and local authorities throughout Great Britain.

C. The Liberal Democrats intend to enter the next General Election campaign with no preference for potential future coalition partners.

D. Following the next General Election, the Liberal Democrats will decide on their position in relation to government bearing in mind:
i) The will of the British people expressed at the ballot box.

ii) The Party’s Manifesto.

iii) The political position and capacity to govern of other parties.

iv) Where relevant circumstances apply] the ability to reach an agreed programme of acceptable policies to ensure a stable Coalition Government.

Conference endorses the five key goals of the Federal Executive’s Strategic Plan for the Party, specifically:
I. To build the Party’s appeal for the 2015 General Election, ensuring and communicating the effectiveness and distinct identity of the Party both as part of an effective government and as a strong and distinctive voice inside and outside the coalition.

II. To win elections in 2011 and beyond, including the referendum on the Alternative Vote, elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, local authorities and the European Parliament.

III. To reflect more effectively the diversity of the Party and the country in our elected representatives at every level.

IV. To build further and to maintain a cohesive Party, building capacity, membership and support and communicating effectively with all members and leaders.

V. To widen and build the Liberal Democrat movement, recognising the wider support in communities and interests for liberal ideas and principles.
To assist in the party projecting a distinct and effective identity, Conference:
1. Urges all Liberal Democrats, including parliamentarians and ministers, to demonstrate to the wider public the specific contribution that we have made to the programme of the Coalition Government by identifying:
a) Those policies which derive from the Liberal Democrat’s existing and emerging policy platform.

b) Those aspects of Government policy which Liberal Democrats have changed to be more consistent with our principles and beliefs

c) Those aspects of Government policy which originated from the Conservative party policy platform.
2. Calls for the programme of the Coalition Government in the second half of the Parliament to include Liberal Democrat priorities drawn from our manifesto and policies, and for such a programme to be agreed by the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee.
3. Calls for there to be appropriate consultation through the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee, when significant new Government policies are proposed, which are not included in the Coalition agreement and which conflict with Liberal Democrat policy or principles.
4. Calls on the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy Committee to:
a) Review, in consultation with the Parliamentary parties, the challenges of coalition which have an impact on the independence of the party, its policy position or its freedom of political movement.

b) Report back on whether the existing constitutional provisions and other arrangements are sufficiently democratic.

c) Propose recommendations, for any constitutional amendments or other protocols which may be needed, in time for debate in September 2011.

5. Calls for the development of a radical distinctive and progressive set of Liberal Democrat policies for the next election, and such policy, although informed by the programme and record of the coalition Government, should be derived totally independently of the views of our coalition partners.

6. Requests the relevant party Committees and departments to develop ways of working that enable us to campaign effectively on a national level against all our future opponents well before the next general election.

Conference re-asserts that the UK Liberal Democrats are based firmly in the historical and global traditions of the liberal and social democratic philosophy and beliefs and commits the Party to developing a promoting the clear narrative setting out what modern liberalism is and can do.

Applicability: Federal

Diversity debate at Lib Dem Conference

This weekend at Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Sheffield I spoke up in favour of increasing the diversity of Lib Dem MPs.
You can listen to the Podcast of the debate here (my intervention is about 42 minutes in)
I am deeply embarrassed by the fact there are no BME Lib Dem MPs and by the tiny number of Lib Dem  women MPs. Simply wishing and hoping things will get better has not worked so we must change the way we do things.
I contrasted my experience as a local councillor with my experience as a prospective parliamentary candidate at the last election. As a councillor I was lucky enough in 2008 to go on the Next Generation Programme for talented councillors run by the Leadership Centre for Local Government. When I joined the programme I was an opposition councillor with no experience of governing but keen to learn from others and ambitious for my Council Group and local Party . The programme enabled me to meet Lib Dem exec members and Council Leaders running Councils across England. These were people running cities and managing big budgets.
On the intensive course I was given media training, political skills training and perhaps most importantly training how to implement Lib Dem policy effectively.There is no way I could have got this experience without attending this course. The other side of the course was the chance it gave me to find mentors and meet for the first time other young councillors who were experiencing the same challenges as me. Given the space to grow everyone who attended the Next Generation Course I was on blossomed and many of them are now in leadership positions around the country.
The councillors I met on that course continue to support and encourage me today. I am very grateful to them and I would like to think that one day I will be able to support other young councillors in the same way.
Three years on I am a Cabinet member on Reading Borough Council responsible for a multi-million pound budget and taking decisions that effect thousands of residents. This did not happen by magic.I listened to the advice that I was given and had the confidence to push myself further.
And I am not the only one to have benefitted. My good friend and colleague Cllr Kirsten Bayes attended the same course the year after me and she is now Deputy Leader of the Council.
I, and all the other councillors who have attended the Next Generation Programme owe a debt of gratitude to Cllrs Erica and Richard Kemp, Bridget Harris and Joe Simpson who clearly saw something in us and who gave us the chance to realise my potential. More people need to be given these opportunities - at all levels of our Party.
Because investing in training and support works. I doubt I would have stood for Parliament had I not been on the course. Why? Because I lacked confidence and experience, not ability.
Contrast that with my experience as a young female candidate in a non-target seat where apart from adhoc pieces of training and advice picked up from friends, other candidates and at conferences there was no specific programme to help us win. Like hundreds of other first-time parliamentary candidates across the country.
It's not rocket science. If we want women and BME candidates to get elected as Lib Dem MPs they need to be given the support, training and tools they need to win elections. I am delighted that the Party hierachy has finally realised this and Lib Dem Members have a agreed the motion takes us forward. As a result a new Leadership Programme will be created to help get talented people from all backgrounds into Parliament. It won't fix everything, but it's a start.

Talking housing with Reading tenants and local MPs

On Friday morning I went to South Reading Community Centre on Northumberland Aveue in Whitley to discuss housing policy with tenants and our two local MPs, Alok Sharma and Rob Wilson. The meeting was organised by Reading Federation of Tenants and Residents Groups. I was really pleased to attend this meeting as I think it is important that Council tenants indeed all residents get the chance to quiz politicians about the reasons behind their policies and decisions all year round not just at election time. I am passionate about housing  so I do not need an excuse to talk about it! Although we do not agree on everything it was really good to see our two MPs engaging in this important debate.
However, with the passage of the Localism Bill in Parliament power to decide our local  housing policy in Reading does not sit in Westminster with MPs but locally with tenants and Councillors. I think this is a really positive development after housing policy was dictated for years by Whitehall under the previous Labour Government.
This localist approach puts the Council and more importantly Council tenants in a much stronger position to influence develop housing policy locally. For this reason we are developing tenant scrutiny so that tenants can challenge the Council more effectively.
Since the Coalition Government came into office last May I have tried to be as open as possible about my views on housing reforms and I've been no slouch when it comes to speaking up for and making changes to improve life for local tenants:-
During the meeting the most frequent issue raised by tenants present was about the introduction of fixed-term tenancies. I was happy to repeat what I have said to Government, in Council and in Get Reading that we have no plans to introduce fixed term tenancies for new Council tenants. Both Reading MPs confirmed in the strongest possible terms that the Government is not proposing to bring in new fixed term tenancies for existing Council tenants.
It was sad to hear that some tenants are still very worried about this issue and it is pretty obvious who is to blame for this. Labour nationally and locally have sought to spread confusion, misinformation about the government's housing policy which I think is disgraceful. Cllr Deborah Edwards, Labour housing spokesperson on Reading Borough Council attended the meeting and I was pleased that she did not seek to do this. That said, neither did she apologise for some of the comments that have been made by some of her Party colleagues, which is a pity as I do not think scaring tenants and vulnerable people constitutes good politics. Labour attack Coalition policies because they want to distract attention from their own dire record when it comes to building new council homes in particular
Other issues that were raised at the meeting including the need to build more Council and affordable housing, disabled facilities grants and providing appropriate housing for older people. I agreed that these are pressing issues and critical given we face an ageing population. We are making progress on all these areas on the Council, including with the construction of the first new Council-owned Council-managed extra care housing in Katesgrove in Reading.
Two representatives from local charity Berkshire Women's Aid attended the meeting and raised concerns about access to Council housing for vulnerable women. I will be investigating this issue to check we are doing everything we can to support these women. All in all a very worthwhile meeting.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cutting Labour waste and responding to residents on environmental crime

Last November I blogged about the review I led into the Council's community warden service which sought to deliver better value and better services to residents.

This review began under Labour -  something local Labour councillors forget to mention when Yvette Cooper put her foot in it during her visit to Reading last week.

The review focussed on identifying ways of delivering a more cost-effective service which could respond effectively to residents concerns.

The review identified waste and duplication of resources under the previous scheme operated by Labour.The new warden service which we are launching is an excellent example of doing more with less.

Survey after survey the Council conducted of residents found that local people wanted to see action to tackle environmental crime. This came as no surprise to me or my Liberal Democrat colleagues - residents have been telling us this on the door step for years!

We campaigned in opposition for the Council to use its powers more effectively and to respond when residents reported issues.Dog fouling, fly tipping and graffiti were all real problems when Labour ran the Council and yet effective enforcement action was not taken. This was not as a result of a lack of powers or resources - far from it.

So much money was wasted and despite this the culprits got away with damaging the local environment.
  • Under Labour three different teams of Council staff from two Council departments carried out walkabouts in the same areas of Reading
  • In Labour's scheme all three roles involved estate inspections in the form of 'neighbourhood walkabouts' and regular liaison with the public through Safer Reading and Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG) meetings.
  • Cutting Labour's waste of resources will save £170,000 from Council budgets - reducing the need to put up Council Tax and delivering residents more for their money
In contrast the new improved scheme scheme we are launching includes:
  • Enforcement powers to enable RBC officers to issue fixed penalty notices for offenders
  • A team of 12 officers dedicated to working on the frontline line
  •  6 focussing on environmental enforcement
  • 4 officers working on crime prevention
  • 2 officers assisting residents with waste and recycling issues
A key feature of the scheme will be that 'no one walks past a problem'. This follows real problems in the past when Labour ran the Council - where issues reported by residents or councillors fell outside of the responsibility of housing or environment departments.

This meant that on many occasions effective action was not taken by the Council and problems at neighbourhood level persisted. The new scheme should mean that staff take greater ownership of issues and residents only have to report the issue once, not three times or two different Council departments.

I will be monitoring the new service closely and really hopes it delivers cleaner, safer streets for residents wherever they live in Reading.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Carbon Plan to cut emissions and energy bills

Today saw the publication by the Government of the Carbon Plan. This was a key plank of the Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2010 so it is fantastic to see it being delivered in Government by the Coalition.

"Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister backed cross-Government action plan on climate change has been launched today which sets strict actions and deadlines that Whitehall will have to meet to ensure that the Government lives up to its ‘Greenest Government’ ever aim.

The Carbon Plan:
Shows that the delivery of the Government’s low carbon agenda is the shared responsibility of the whole of Government with key actions for BIS, DfT and HMT.

Will help ensure that each Whitehall department deliver key climate actions for which they are responsible to a clear framework of deadlines. Progress against these deadlines will be published quarterly on the No.10 website.

In a foreword to the document, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change write:

"This Carbon Plan sets out a vision of a changed Britain, powered by cleaner energy used more efficiently in our homes and businesses, with more secure energy supplies and more stable energy prices, and benefiting from the jobs and growth that a low carbon economy will bring.

Becoming a low carbon economy will be one of the greatest changes our country has ever known. But it is a change for the better, for our economy, our society, and for the planet. This Carbon Plan shows how, together, we can make it happen."

The Plan announced today includes a target to deliver zero carbon new homes from 2016 and zero carbon new non domestic buildings from 2019 and a much more flexible approach to reducing emissions - across housing tenure and type:
"There will be no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our homes. For instance, while most homes in the UK rely on gas boilers for their heating and hot water, there are also around 4.8 million homes that are not connected to the gas grid and that use other options, such as heating oil or electric heaters.16 While a rural farmhouse may benefit from improved loft insulation and installation of a ground source heat pump, a modern tower block might be able to reduce its emissions more cost effectively by fitting cavity wall insulation throughout and being connected to a form of network heating for all the flats in the block, even where this still relies on (more efficient) fossil fuel supply. Or, better still, the tower block could be connected to a source of heat from a local power station or a large source of renewable heat such as a biomass boiler. The Government’s aim is to set the right legal and financial framework and provide the right information to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from"
A key component of the Plan will be the so-called 'Green Deal'. As part of this from 2012 the households will be encouraged to invest, at no upfront cost, in home energy efficiency improvements that are expected to pay for themselves through energy bill savings. In Reading we are working across the Council to cut carbon emissions and householders energy bills - to benefit residents in across Council and private housing. We are piloting work to make Council housing more energy efficient by increasing insulation of properties and exploring sustainable energy solutions. In the private rented sector the Council supports private householders looking to cut emissions through grants and loans.
The work being done by ministers at national level will help us make real progress on this agenda for the benefit of residents including many families living in fuel poverty, as well as helping to safeguard the future of our Planet.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Responding to local concerns on charging for care

Last weekend Reading Borough Council's consultation on the future of adult social care came to an end.
We received over 1,000 responses from residents - I am delighted that we managed to get feedback from so many carers, service users and interested parties.As I have commented here before residents in Reading care deeply about social care. I am very grateful to everyone who took part as it helps me and my Cabinet colleagues make an informed decision on 14 March. I will be attending the scrutiny event on 10 March where issues identified in the consultation will be discussed in more detail.
As part of the consultation the Council consulted on it's fairer charging policy as there is a pressing need to make public funds go further if we are to be able to cope with the increasing demands of an ageing population.
The first thing to say is that social care has always been a a means-tested service. That said almost half of people who currently receive adult social care services will not be affected by the revised charging policy.
In Reading for many years when it was Labour controlled the Council has been subsidising people who can afford to pay.
While seemingly generous this short-sighted approach has put huge pressure on the Council's budget.
This year alone the Council has had to manage pressures of  £2 million pounds on the planned adult care budget as a result of increased numbers of people using our services.
In order to fix the budget and safeguard vulnerable people we proposed in the consultation to move to a system where charges better reflected the true cost of our services and that those who were assessed as being able to pay would pay for services.
Locally there has been coverage in the local media of fears that increased charges for daycare services could risk putting them potentially out of reach of some residents. These fears were also expressed during the consultation. I have listened carefully to these concerns and taken residents' fears on board whilst I have been working with officers to develop a new charging policy
I would like to pay tribute to local pensioner Freda Potten and Tina Barnes of the Friends of Albert Road Day Centre for the way in which they have brought these concerns to my attention and championed the needs of older people in Reading.
In response to the issues they and others have raised I am recommending that officers develop an implementation plan that helps identify residents receiving care who might be impacted by charging changes.
This is likely to take the form of a phased approach to increasing charges. As part of the introduction of the new policy all residents who currently receive care from the Council will receive a financial assessment. If this assessment picks up potentially difficulties officers of the Council will work with residents to help them pay for care.
It is worth pointing out that staying within budget on adult social care this year - something that never happened under the previous Labour administration of the Council means we have greater flexibility to support vulnerable people. If we had not tackled the overspend we would have no wriggle room at all.
These are not easy decisions to take but I have done my utmost to be as open as I can about the challenges we face as a Council and as a community. I have focussed on protecting the vulnerable as my top priority and doing my best to put the Council's budget on a more sustainable footing.
I will be blogging about other issues that have arisen in the consultation in the coming days.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Fresh Ideas? More like same Old Labour

Tomorrow Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is visiting Reading  in search of 'Fresh Ideas' to take back to the Labour Party.Ed Miliband is apparently on the hunt for 'Fresh Ideas' as he is currently staring at a blank sheet of paper. The website set up for this purpose has attracted less than 500 ideas so far.

News has reached me Ms Cooper will be visiting Coley Park in marginal Minster ward which Labour is fighting to hold at the local elections"where local neighbourhood wardens have just been cut and to discuss Thames Valley policing cuts".

This is total spin and  hypocrisy from Labour
As I blogged last November, the decision to review the Council's warden service was taken when Labour were in charge of the Council:
"Cabinet took the decision to redesign the service earlier this year following a review of neighbourhood services across housing and environment teams. At the time of taking the decision there was cross-party support for a more joined-up service which suggests current opposition to the changes by some Labour councillors is perhaps more redolent of political opportunism than anything else.
The decision to change the service was taken to deliver better value for money and better service for residents across the Borough - something we committed to doing in our local coaliton agreement with the Conservatives. And it is pretty clear from surveys carried out by the Council that services in some key areas need to improve in line with public expectation.

I understand the genuine concerns raised by residents, however, they should not see a deterioration in their neighbourhoods but hopefully an improvement through reduced anti-social behaviour and environmental problems. My colleagues and I will of course be monitoring the changes at local level to ensure this happens.

Last night, in presenting their petitions several residents raised the 'reassuring' presence of wardens on the estate. This is a testament to the hard work done by those individuals - and as a ward councillor I have seen this at close quarters in Hexham Road. We are grateful to the wardens, indeed to all Council staff who work hard to keep our estates and neighbourhoods safe.

However, it would be wrong to suggest that wardens alone are the only way in which community reassurance and support can be provided.
Since wardens were first introduced they have been joined and supported by a number of individuals from the Council, local Neighbourhood Police teams and the public carrying out walkabouts and other estate-based activities. So, estate inspections by Council officers and others at local level will continue, ensuring communities continue to be supported.

It's also worth pointing out that the changes followed a review of neighbourhood services that was initiated under the previous Labour administration. As with many policy areas across the Council's activities, Labour councillors have not indicated what they would have done in response to their own review. Nor, if they were to continue to provide these services how they would pay for it.

In addition to identifying duplication, the review found that there was a pressing need to focus resources more effectively on issues that are a priority to residents across the Borough: namely tackling anti-social behaviour and environmental issues."
The enhanced warden service is due to be relaunched soon and will have an increased focus on tackling antisocial behaviour and environmental crimes - in direct response to calls from residents for such a service.
The way in which local Labour councillors and now Shadow Cabinet members have manipulated community concern about anti-social behaviour in Coley for political gain is shameful. The purposes behind it are pretty obvious not to support local people but  to win votes at the local elections.
Remember only last week when given the chance local Labour councillor outlined no proposals at the Budget meeting to pay for wardens or anything else. So how would they pay for them?

Labour's record on tackling anti-social behaviour in Reading is not one to be proud of.  A year ago then Home Secretary visited marginal Reading West (see a pattern yet?) to talk about anti-social behaviour after local Labour councillors and MPs.

As I blogged at the time:
"I'm not sure how much Mr Johnson's visit will do for public confidence in the Labour Council or the Labour government, when it comes to anti-social behaviour, however, if that's what his visit was designed to do. The impression I get from talking to local residents right across Reading is that many people are fed up with the amount of anti-social behaviour they have to put up with in their area, and fed up with Labour's failure to tackle this problem effectively.

Local people want to see action to reduce anti-social behaviour, not words. All the evidence locally shows that local people think that tackling anti-social behaviour should be a high priority for the Council and the Police. The survey of South Reading residents carried out by Reading Borough Council last year found that residents ranked 'tackling anti-social behaviour' as the top local priority for action (after more Police and action on dog fouling).

An independent inspection of Reading Borough Council and its partners published last December highlighted the fact that fear of crime is higher than the national average. And as I reported on my ward blog last year, the continued failure of the Labour-run Council and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership to respond to community concerns relating to anti-social behaviour resulted in the Home Office announcing it would be sending an ASB Action Team to Reading - one of only 16 places singled out for extra help from government.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of many years of Labour rule in Reading."

One month later Reading had a visit from Gordon Brown who was launching Labour's 'Safe and Confident Neighbourhoods strategy - remember that?

As I blogged at the time:
"These visits don't change public perception of crime or public perception of the Labour government. This is because people in Reading are sick of spin from Labour politicians on crime and anti-social behaviour, and after years of rhetoric and countless pieces of ineffective criminal justice legislation they want to see is action and they want a better response when they report crime."

Labour may be looking for fresh ideas but they are lagging behind the Coalition Government which recently launched crime maps and a review of anti-social behaviour powers to give communities more say in the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour.

Had Alistair Darling still been Chancellor Labour's massive cuts to budgets would be about to bite which would no doubt have forced councils and Police forces to reduce spending.

Locally Labour have no ideas about how to tackle anti-social behaviour or fund services paid for by Council tax-payers.
Ms Cooper has akso been badly briefed by her local Labour colleagues when it comes to Police numbers.

Last month Sara Thornton of Thames Valley Police confirmed there would be no cuts to frontline Police teams in Reading.

If Ms Cooper is indeed searching for fresh ideas to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour she should talk to the new administration running Reading, rather than repeating falsehoods and spin from her colleagues in Reading Labour Party which does nothing whatsoever to help the local community.