Thursday, 26 May 2011

Seeing the bigger picture

John Maynard Keynes famously said:
"When the facts change I change my mind."
This quote came to mind when I was thinking about Reading's City Status Bid which is being formally submitted to government tomorrow.

Reading is currently favourite to win city status in 2012 but faces tough competition from a number of other towns across the UK.

I highlighted the fact that Reading was hotly-tipped for even more success by Centre for Cities back in January.

I am not ashamed to say that last year when the bid was announced I was firmly opposed to the bid and spoke against it in Council.

My scepticism stemmed from the belief that I thought it would be a waste of taxpayers money and would not be the answer to any of the issues facing Reading.

Several things have changed since then which have made me reconsider:-

1. I have seen more details about the bidding process and I am satisfied that huge amounts of public money will not be spent on the bid.

2. The bid application has been developed with the involvement of a wide range of community and business leaders - not just politicians.

3. After a year in charge of the Council I have gained a better understanding of the issues facing the town and come to the view that attaining city status could bring positive benefits to our area.

4. The Coalition Government is committed to devolving more powers and responsibilities to local areas.

 Reading needs to take every chance to exercise more control over it's destiny - including over business rates raised in the town - something that the Lib Dems nationally are campaigning or.

Becoming a city could help Reading do this.

As I said back in 2010:
"This Council should be about serving the people: not serving ourselves.
Improving the lot of people who live in our town should be our top priority: not selling the town's soul to the highest bidder.
I still believe this to be the case and as a someone who has represented local people for five years I feel strongly that I am first and foremost a servant of the people not a bureaucracy.

This is not to say I think the pursuit of city status is the be-all and end-all.

Clearly it isn't.

City status is not a panacea.

But, taking these points on board opposing the bid for opposition's sake just looks churlish particularly for any political party that has lead Reading and wants to lead it in the future.

There is no doubt that Reading is a fantastic place to live and work but the main reason I am involved in politics locally is because I feel strongly that it can be even better: fairer, greener and more prosperous.

But we have to work together to make it happen.
So I am happy to back any scheme or initiative that takes u forward and helps us meet those key objectives.

As I said at the Council's AGM last night ,as Lib Dems we are acutely aware that Reading is a deeply divided town.

Health outcomes, life chances and life expectancy vary widely depending on where you live.

This is not right and we should all strive to change this.

As Nick Clegg has said: birth should not mean destiny.

I referred to this last night as 'tale of two cities' and I am proud that the Lib Dems over the years have consistently campaigned to close the gap while the other parties haven't.

In my opinion, we must use every tool, every opportunity open to us to build a more successful, healthy and happy community where everyone can share in the benefits of prosperity.

The city status bid has the support of all the main political groups on the Council in Reading apart from the Greens who I fear are too wedded to gesture politics to see the bigger picture i.e. beyond the confines of Park ward.

I notice that Reading West MP Alok Sharma has secured a Westminster Hall debate next month to promote the bid - good on him.

We can't change Reading's past but all politicians should get behind this opportunity to build a better future for our community.


Reading Council has produced this video to promote the bid:

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