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!

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