Monday, 23 May 2011

A sad day for Reading

Well, the worst kept secret in Reading politics is out.

The Greens have confirmed they will enable Labour to form a minority administration on Wednesday at the Council's AGM.

But whatever they say in press releases or blog entries about preserving their independence the die is cast.

From now on Greens will be responsible for every decision Labour makes, including every cut and every pet project because they put them there.

Despite an almost impossible budget settlement the Lib Dems fought hard last year to protect key services to the most vulnerable people in Reading.

For the first time ever, the adult social care service stayed within budget enabling the Council to increase funding to the voluntary sector, among other things.

Faced with these tough choices we didn't whinge to government but got on with the job in hand and showed real leadership.

However, this was always going to be a difficult message to get over on the doorstep and like many Lib Dem groups aross the country we suffered heavy losses at the recent elections.

But being in government isn't a popularity contest it's about doing the best you can within the budget you're given.

Over the coming months we will be working even harder at local level to listen and respond to local people's concerns building on our record of action in recent years.

We wil be taking the opportunity to articulate more clearly to residents what makes us different from the other parties in Reading.

I am personally looking forward to having more time to campaign outside the Council offices building on my record as one of the hardest working councillors in Reading.

Since taking over the Group Leadership of the Lib Dems on Reading Borough Council I have made it clear it is not 'business as usual' and that with no Party having enough seats to run the Council we would be willing to talk to all political parties to deliver our policy priorities and importantly, set a legal budget.

We met with the Greens and the Conservatives and set out a clear list of policy priorities based on our manifesto which started with protecting services to the most vulnerable people in Reading.

Leaving aside the Green's qualms about working with other parties and fears of being tagged as part of the 'Con Dem coalition' what is clear is that with Labour taking control of the Council these services have never been under more threat than they are today.

Look across the country and it is Labour-run councils which are making the biggest cuts to services and shedding the most jobs.

The evidence of the past year and longer has shown that the local Labour Party's only interest is power for its own sake and a record of spending money local taxpayer's haven't got.

While I respect the Green councillors as individuals  it looks as if like Labour they too have put their own short-term party interests ahead of the good of the town.

Hopefully they will learn from the error of their ways before Labour are allowed to do too much damage to services and the Council's reputation.

But forget the raw politics for second, the real losers here are not ourselves or the Conservatives, but the people of Reading.

As I pointed out Reading Labour's pre-election promises were nothing short of reckless and their record in local government locally absolutely dire.
To name a few.

The Lib Dems and Conservatives in Reading were faced with a tough challenge this year to deliver the Council's budget after facing unprecedented reductions in funding from government.

The choices we made were not ones we entered into lightly but ones that were needed to ensure the Council could continue to deliver key services.
  • We did so without closing a single library, leisure service or children's centre.
  • We froze Council Tax for the first time in Reading's history.
  • We won funding for Reading's first Council homes for over twenty years
  • We put political differences aside side and worked together for the good of the people of Reading.
  • We increased transparency around Council spending and increased support to community groups
This is not a record that Labour will be able to match, as their previous record shows.

As Labour politicians have already stated publicly it is clear they cannot and do not want to work with any political groups, not even bothering to speak to us as they pursued Route One back to power.

In opposition Labour councillors opposed every attempt we made to save money or raise revenue to fund services.

But this year to set the Council's budget they will have to find even bigger savings around £9 million (if they stick to our agreed budget or closer to £15 million if they scrap social care charges, green waste charges and the like.

I don't envy them.

But it's the elderly, the vulnerable and those who care for them I feel most sorry for.

We will continue to speak up for them and to campaign to protect vital services.

And we will be watching Labour like hawks to check they keep their pre-election promises to the people of Reading and see that public money is spent wisely.

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