Friday, 22 April 2011

Empty Promises: Manifesto Shows Reading Labour Have Nothing to Offer Residents

Back in March I posed the question on my blog: which services would Reading Labour cut to balance the Council's books? This has since proved to be one of the most popular posts ever on my blog.

 Back then I wrote:
"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 reticent about offering solutions."

Fast forward to 22 April and less than two weeks before residents go to the polls Reading Labour Party finally got round to publishing their manifesto.

Well, I've read it and I still cannot find any details of what services Labour would cut or indeed how they would find the £19 million pounds savings the Council has to make from it's budget over the coming year.

I don't need to rehearse the arguments that have already been made. Lib Dems and Conservatives put together a budget to protect the vulnerable where Labour could not.

We are not complacent about the work we still need to do to make Reading a better place for residents - publishing our 'Six to Fix'  local Lib Dem manifesto earlier this week which builds on the work we have done this year and sets out our plan of action for the future.

As outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne MP said when he handed over the keys to the Treasury to the incoming Coalition Government:
"There's no money left."
So we have to do things differently.

Ministers who have visited Reading have had nothing but praise for the work the Lib Dems are doing working with the Conservatives to protect and improve services for residents.

Let's have a look at some of Labour's election pledges in more detail.

1. Labour will stand up for stand up for a cleaner Reading by making clean streets a priority.
  • This is a completely uncosted commitment - Labour failed to put forward ANY proposals to fund increased street-cleaning during the Budget process.
  • When the Council was run by Labour streets in many out of town areas were ignored as Council staff were forced to face national targets around street cleaning set in Whitehall.
  • Lib Dems successfully campaigned for extra cleaning in 12 local shopping areas across Reading.
  • When Labour controlled the Council dog-fouling, fly-tipping and littering went unpunished because Labour failed to use powers given to councils under the Clean Neighbourhoods Act passed by the Labour Government in 2005!
  • The Coalition Administration swiftly brought in these powers and set up a new Environmental Warden service to crack down on environmental crime and keep local streets clean.
2.  Labour will radically re-organise the Council and its services to deliver savings and protect people in need.
  • Apparently this will include plans to 'radically review senior management' - so presumably this will mean cutting more jobs, something Labour have always said they were against.
  • Given the £19 million pounds savings the Council will have to make this year regardless of who is running it I would have thought getting rid of the people who manage vital services to among other people vulnerable children and adults does not sound like a good idea.
  • Labour plan to 'restructure' the publicity function of the Council - this is already happening.
  • Lib Dems forced Labour when they were running the Council to scrap the Council's costly magazine.
  • Labour plan to 'overhaul electronic communication to make radical savings' - a review of IT services is already underway. What are Labour planning? Getting rid of the Council's website?
  • When Labour ran the Council the Council had no social media strategy - this is one of the first things we brought in as a new administration.
  • We are committed to exploring new ways to engage residents beyond Council meetings - and I have led this agenda in Reading.
  • Reading Labour Party ran the Council for 23 years and failed to make any inroads in cutting wasteful bureaucracy or delivering services differently.
  • I have seen no evidence that Labour Group Leader Cllr Lovelock and other senior councillors who once ran the Council would bring any new ideas to the table this time.
  • Since the Lib Dems and Conservatives took over the running of the Council last year we have brought about several important changes to the way the Council delivers services to save money.
  • We brought forward plans to share legal services with Wokingham Borough Council
  • We agreed plans to repair Wokingham BC's council houses which will bring in significant income to the Council helping tenants and taxpayers.
  • We scrapped unaffordable car allowances to Council staff and taxpayer funding of trade union officials which existed under Labour.
  • We also launched a new landlord accreditation scheme in partnership with the National Landlord Association to improve standards in private rented housing.
  • Labour councillors advocated a system which would have costs thousands and delivered little.
  • Under Labour many Council services overlapped - wasting taxpayers money.
  • Labour councillors opposed our review of the warden service which will result in a more cost-effective and joined up service.
3. Labour will use the Council's watchdog powers to stand up for the local NHS
  • Under Labour, the Council had not powers to scrutinise private sector providers of health services in Reading.
  • The Coalition Government's Health & Social Care Bill currently going through Parliament includes new powers for Council scrutiny committees to scrutinise all providers of NHS services - including private sector providers.
  • The shadow Health & Wellbeing Board we recently set up includes places for 3 councillors + 2 opposition councillors as observers so will have more democratic input than many other councils
4. Labour will stand up for those least able to care for themselves
  • Labour have pledged to 'reverse the daily charge of £43 for day centres' and 'Labour will suspend the cuts to community care and undertake a full review of the service to ensure no elderly person is left without support they need.
  • As I have said many times Labour's approach to adult social care is completely wrongheaded and will lead to services to the most vulnerable in Reading being seriously threatened in future.
  • A 3 month consultation about transforming community care services has already taken place, with over 1,000 submissions being received.
  • Labour's plans will be costly and disruptive coming so soon after the recent in depth review
  • Where is the money going to come from for this?
  • They will lead to the Council's budget being overspent by around £2 million pounds per year.
  • As Labour are not proposing to cut any service it is clear they intend to pay for this overspend by massively increasing Council Tax.
5. Labour will involve people more effectively to ensure that all voices are heard equally
  • This is possible one of the least credible pledges of the lot as Labour's record on public consultation is dire.
  • Labour's attempt to force through a new one-way IDR and introducing fortnightly bin collections are just two examples of their unwillingness to engage the public.
  • The coalition administration of the Council consulted the public before setting it's budget - something Labour never did when they ran the Council.
  • Labour plan to set up more Council forums but don't say how they would fund them.
  • We introduced a social media strategy to involve more residents in decision-making.
  • We are publishing all Council spending online to increase accountability and transparency - this never happened under Labour.
  • We have increased funding to the voluntary sector to build community capacity and to ensure all communities have a voice in Reading.
  • We have set up new funding streams to enable community groups fairer access to funding.
  • Our recent review of operations at the Civic Centre saved the taxpayer £60,000.
6. Labour will set up a New Local Partnership to stand up for Reading
  • Reading already has one Local Strategic Partnership and Reading CIC (economic development) so why are Labour politicians proposing another one?
  • Reading is one of the most successful economies in the UK - it doesn't need another unelected body to 'stand up' for its interests
  • There are no details in Labour's manifesto about how this new body would be funded - so that will be the taxpayer then.
  • The Labour government set up more unelected quangos at national and local level than anyone else.
  • We are committed to investing public money in public services and the voluntary sector - not more bureaucracy.
7. Labour will work with our partners to continue the regeneration of the town
  • Thanks to Labour's mismanagement of the public finances public money for regeneration and other capital projects has been scarce.
  • Despite this the Coalition Administration of the Council has been very successful in securing public and private investment in Reading.
  • We secured £9.7m additional investment from Government to deliver much-needed overhaul of Reading Station.
  • We are actively lobbying ministers to localise business rates as part of the Government's review of local government finance to enable more money raised in Reading to be spent in Reading.
  • Labour councillors opposed plans to invest £10 million pounds in investing Council homes and estates at Council this year as part of our campaign to maintain decent homes and neighbourhoods in Reading.
  • We are investing £400,000 this year in improving council estates across Reading which were allowed to get run down by Labour when they ran the Council.
  • Since the Coalition Administration has been running Reading Council we have won millions of pounds of external funding to build much needed new homes.
  • We are building the first new council homes in Reading for 20 years on the former Avenue School Site in Katesgrove.
  • When across the Country regeneration projects have stalled we won £.3.7 million pounds from Government to develop 76 new affordable homes in Dee Park in Reading.
  • We also successfully won cash to build new homes for disabled people in Southcote and are bringing forward plans to increase supported living accommodation for people with learning disabilities.
8. Labour would review the Green Bin Fiasco
  • There are no details in the manifesto as to what this 'review' would involve.
  • If Labour were to reverse this decision there would be cost to the taxpayer attached so which services would they cut to fund it?
  • 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 would be subsidising those who could.
  • As I blogged in February  throughout the year Labour have rejected every single idea we have considered to help fund vital services to Reading by increasing the Council's income.
9. Labour will maintain the Council’s commitment to paying a living wage.
  • We are fully committed to paying Council staff a living wage - always have been, always will be.
  • It was the Coalition Administration of Reading Council that brought in policies to ensure fair pay between male and staff Council staff.
  • Labour councillors new about unequal pay for at least three years and failed to act - so much for standing up for the workforce!
  • The Lib Dems and Conservatives have worked together to keep job losses to a minimum - unlike many Labour-run councils.
So that's Labour's pledges. What won't will you see mentioned in Labour's manifesto?
  1. Cuts to services - Labour will not say which services they will cut if they regained control of the Council in Reading. Yet look around the country and there is clear evidence in Manchester, Camden, Brent and Islington that when Labour are in charge they axe services and cut jobs.  No sure start centres or libraries are closing in councils run by the Lib Dems.
  2. Council Tax - no mention anywhere in Labour's manifesto. I wonder why.
  3. Child poverty - 1-5 children in Reading live in poverty and the number grew when Labour ran the Council. We want to reduce poverty and improve social mobility so we are investing in education for Reading's poorest children through the Pupil Premium and diverting council funding to community groups that are working with the Council to reduce poverty.
  4. Carers - for years the needs of carers in Reading got overlooked. Carers are local heroes and we are working with a range of organisations to deliver more support to carers.
  5. Empty homes - this has never been a priority for Labour. We are one of the few councils continue to invest in bringing much needed-empty homes back into use.
  6. Mental Health - 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from mental health problems at some point in their life. In Reading the Government is investing in 'Talking Therapies' so more people can get support and the Council is working closely with the voluntary sector to support residents.
  7. Pot holes - the Council under Coalition control is  investing more in improving local roads after years of underinvestment by the Labour.
  8. Sorry - no apologies from Labour for screwing up the economy and the Council's finances
  9. Trees - parts of Reading have very little tree cover and despite massive public spending during the last 13 years Labour made no effort to increase the number of trees in the borough. We will be planting new trees across Reading this year thanks to the smart budget agreed by Lib Dem and Conservative MPs this year
11 months in opposition and Labour still don't get it. They have not learned from their past mistakes or embraced new ways of doing things.

Don't give them the chance to mess things up in Reading again: vote Lib Dem in 5 May!

1 comment:

  1. Great read! I belong to a landlord association so this information really drove home for me. Thanks for keeping us informed. Keep up the great work.