Saturday, 25 June 2011

Backing carers - Reading's hidden heroes

Today an elderly constituent  I've known for many years and who I have assisted with various local issues came to visit me at our ward surgery.

We talked about the issue she had come to raise (relating to planning) and after a few minutes it transpired that she had recently become a full-time carer to her husband.

I had no idea about this and as I asked her about what support she was getting at home.

 It soon became clear that not only was she not getting any support but that she didn't realise that she was entitled to any.

I asked her when the last time was she had a day off.

She told me she couldn't remember.

When I probed a bit further she said she had been forced to rearrange the house so they could both sleep downstairs as due to disability her husband couldn't get up the stairs anymore.

They have a bath but a shower would be more convenient.
Her neighbour was able to help her with a few things including getting the shopping.

I immediately made a note of her needs and said I would ask the Council's social services team to contact her to see what support she could be given.

It struck me that had I not digged deeper I might never have found out that my constituent was a carer.

It is not something that people will always bring up in conversation in the street or on the doorstep.

That is why I make a point of saying to people that I am here to help them whenever I am out and about in the ward.

But it is not possible for me as a councillor to speak to every single resident.

This is a major challenge for the Council: how to respond to the needs of a resident who is not 'in the system' who they are not aware of.

It got me thinking about the numbers of residents who carer for family, friends and neighbours in Reading, soldiering on in often difficult circumstances and what we can do to support them better.

Talking to my constituent it became obvious that it had not occured to her to ask me or the Council for help.

This was partly because she didn't think she needed it (she felt as a wife of 30 years plus it was just something she had to do) and partly because she didn't know help was available.

This is evidence of the work that still needs to be done to publicise support for carers and to do more to encourage carers to come forward.

When I was Lead Member for Social Care I placed support for carers at the heart of our approach.

Our agenda was not simply about supporting carers in their role but helping them live their own lives.

What did this mean in practice?

Answer -  supporting people to get breaks by giving them access to funded respite care and a personal budget to spend on things that help them live their lives.

I have met carers who have benefited from this approach - many of whom carried on in silence for years because they didn't know support was out there for them.

This made me feel even more strongly that we must not overlook people who care for others in their own homes.

And with an ageing population the number of people who do this is set to increase.
I have personal experience of family members who have been carers and their selflessness has made a big impact on me.
In March I wrote on my blog:
"As an administration we are committed to placing support for carers at the heart of all our policies and at the top of our local agenda for transforming community care."
I said this because despite the fact Labour councillors regularly congratulate themselves on their social care record the reality is (backed up by the Council's own research) was that Council policies failed to meet the needs of carers.

When I led this portfolio I increased support for carers while other councils were cutting it.

Cutting support for carers was not something me or other members of the Lib Dem - Conservative Coalition Administration were prepared to do.

Whilst councils rightly focus on people who receive formal social care they must not ignore those people who currently fall outside the system.

A survey of 900 carers by the Council in 2010 (when it was controlled by Labour) identified the following key areas for action:
  • Supporting carers to get breaks
  • Promoting the take-up of Direct Payments from the Carers
  • Offering back up support for carers in an emergency
  • Helping new and existing carers access information and guidance on support and services.
Work I kicked off this year to respond to identified needs of local carers includes:

  • Continuing the Carers Steering Group to ensure local agencies continue to collaborate for the benefit of carers
  • Making a positive contribution by ensuring carers are including in service development
  • Improved quality of life through raising awareness of services available and to engage with other providers to negotiate better access to services for carers
  • Encouraging take up from underrepresented groups, RBC has funded an additional BME carer support group to complement existing ones offered by PRT
  • Working with JobCentre Plus to make sure employers in Reading are aware of flexible working rights for carers
  • Community development work alongside the Thriving Neighbourhoods Programme to ensure carers are identified
  • A series of events in 2011 to link in with national events and promote carer rights, support available to them and how to access this.
At national level, Lib Dem Minister Paul Burstow has led this agenda helping to put Lib Dem values and policies around supporting carers into action.

I know Paul quite well and I know he is personally very committed to increasing support for carers which goes to the core of Lib Dem values around valuing the individual and reciprocity.
The Coalition Government’s Agreement sets out that the Government will look to provide increased support to carers particularly through:
  • Extending the roll-out of personal budgets to give people and their carers more control and purchasing power;
  • Using Direct Payments to carers and better community based provision to improve access to respite care;
  • Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, consulting with business on how best to do so; and
  • Establishing a commission for long-term care which will consider how to ensure responsible and sustainable funding for long-term care.
In 2010 the Council estimated that there are around 11,000 carers in Reading

My guess is the actual number is even higher.

I am pleased I was able to identify a carer in my ward today and hope I will be able to play my part in helping her to have a better quality of life.

I will be challenging the Labour administration to continue to the work I led which placed carers at the heart of social care policies as I feel strongly we owe it to residents who care for others to do the best by them.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Local Stroke Services - Chair of Berkshire West PCT Responds

Today I have received a response from Penny Henrion, the Chair of Berkshire West PCT, five months after my original letter raising concerns about local Stroke Services in Reading which had been heavily criticised by the independent Care Quality Commission.

In it she claims that her office never received it which is possible so I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt although I have a copy of the letter that was sent out by Cllr services at the Council.

Penny Henrion writes:
"The CQC report was published in January 2011 and was based on data relating to April 2009-March 2010. It therefore accurately reflects the situation during that period. However, ealy in 2010 the PCT itself undertook an analysis of local stroke services which identified the gaps in the service and led us to initiate several work streams to deal with these gaps in provision.'
The she goes on to point out 3 key projects that started by the PCT in 2010 to address deficiencies with the service:-
  • Stroke Patient Information Project - completed in March 2011 and delivered through consultation with stroke survivors and their carers, a comprehensive range of accessible information about stroke and the services and the resources available to improve quality of life.
  • The PCT has produced a simple guide for stroke survivors and their families, which is also available on the PCT's new website:
  • South Central Cardiovascular Network Stroke Project - this project due to complete in March 2012 is aimed at enhancing patient and public involvement in shaping all aspects of stroke care.
  • The Network which the PCT is part of, is aiming to establish at least one patient/carer user group for each Acute Hospital Trust in the region to create a forum for patients and carers to influence the provision of stroke services in their area.
  • Stroke Reviews: work is underway to identify the appropriate local service model for the provision of reviews for stroke survivors in the community.
Ms Henrion finishes the letter by stating her commitment to 'continued joint working to improve health and welbeing in Berkshire West' and offering a meeting.

This is very welcome.

I am really pleased to that the PCT are taking a series of steps to improve services for local residents who are victims of Stroke.

However, I make no apology for raising concerns both in January and again this month.

I believe it is vital that unelected PCTs are held to account for the health services they provide.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Wake up call on housing and mental health

Shelter have published worrying statistics on the link between housing and mental health.

  • The YouGov survey found 18 million people (38 per cent) in Britain believe housing costs cause stress and depression in their family.

  • This is a rise of seven million people (15 per cent) since 2009. 

  • Shelter commissioned YouGov to investigate how the risk of repossession and rent rises are affecting people.

  • The survey also found that:

  • More than 13 million people (28 per cent) said they keep up with their rent or mortgage without any difficulty, a drop from 19 million people (41 per cent) in 2009.

  • 12 million people (26 per cent) have reduced the amount they spend on food to help pay their housing costs.

  • These stats are terrible but they do not surprise me, in fact they  back up 100 % what I am finding in my mailbag and on the doorstep.

    Lack of access to cheap housing is a major cause of stress to local families.
    I have tabled a question to the next Council meeting asking the Lead Member for Housing, Rachel Eden what she is going to do to increase the supply of affordable housing in Reading.
    With around 8,000 people waiting for access to housing on the Council's housing register the Council must do everything it can to increase housing supply.

    As I blogged earlier in the week, Ed Miliband has no policies to take this.

    This is not a new problem - for 13 years Labour failed to tackle it.

    The Coalition has set ambitious targets to increase the supply of new homes - we will be campaigning to ensure they deliver on this.

    Wednesday, 15 June 2011

    A Green Deal for Reading: but will Labour flunk it?

    Andrew Stunell MP, Lib Dem Minister for Local Government who visited Reading a couple of month ago was right to highlight the fact that 40% of carbon emissions each year are generated by existing buildings.

    The Government's Green Deal - a key plank of the Lib Dem General Election Manifesto of 2010 is the first major step towards tackling fuel poverty and cutting harmful carbon emissions in housing across all sectors by improving energy by any British government and no amount of carping by Labour politicians makes up for their abysmal lack of action in this area.

    I find it deeply depressing that, less than a month into her new job, that the new Labour Lead Member for Housing is already preparing excuses as to why things can't happen (to cover up her own inaction) rather than leading on this agenda.

    No scheme of this scale is likely to be 100% perfect but rather than whingeing it is up to councillors and councils to make the best of what is available and champion opportunities for local residents and businesses presented by the Green Deal , not sit back and wait for government handouts.

    When we ran the Council we led the agenda and didn't delegate thinking about solutions to Council officers.

    Visitors to the Council tell me that the new administration lacks ambition in this area. This is very bad news for residents.

    Those of us keen to do something about carbon emissions and housing waited 13 years for the last Labour government to make progress on this agenda and they comprehensively failed.

    Somehow I do not think this project would have survived Alistair Darling's planned cuts to public spending (£40bn) given we know that Ed Balls and others failed to commit to carbon reduction targets during the Coalition negotiations.

    Enough about politics - what is the Green Deal?
    • The Green Deal will become available in 2012 will help householders improve the energy efficiency of their homes at no upfront cost.
    • By allowing them to pay for green home improvements over time rather than upfront, through the savings in energy bills, it will remove one of the biggest barriers they currently face to retrofitting - being able to afford the initial investment.
    • Feed-in Tariffs are available to support homes in generating their own renewable electricity, and support for renewable heat will be available for homes.
    • Looking to the future, the Government's policy on Zero Carbon means that from 2016, new homes will need to be built to a zero carbon standard (and all non-domestic buildings from 2019).
    The Coalition administration of Reading Borough Council set out a ambitious vision on the green agenda including in relation to housing.

    From what I hear Labour's silo mentality has already kicked in with officers firmly back in the driving seat.

    We made it clear tackling climate change was everybody's business in the Council and we will continue to campaign for residents in Reading to realise the full benefits of all the Green Deal has to offer.

    Monday, 13 June 2011

    Post-Stroke NHS services in Berkshire West

    Back in January I called for action to be taken to improve local post-Stroke services for patients after the publication of a highly-critical report by the Care Quality Commission.

    In that report, Berkshire West PCT (which serves Reading) was rated 127 out of 151 PCTs in England. Services in neighbouring Berkshire East were found to be even worse.

    The report was circulated to members of the Council's Community Care, Housing & Health Panel but as far as I'm aware the then Labour Chair of the Committee, Cllr Mike Orton did not investigate the issue further.

    I wrote to the Chair of the PCT, Penny Henrion in my capacity as then Lead Member for Health expressing my concerns and asking her what steps were being taken to improve patient care in a number of key areas:
    • Providing a range of information for patients who have suffered a stroke (score – 1 out of a possible 5)
    • Involving stroke survivors and carers in planning and developing stroke services (score – 1 out of a possible 5)
    • Helping people to participate in community life (score 1 out of a possible 5)
    • Helping people to choose services they want (score 1 out of a possible 5)
    • Reviewing progress after people have left hospital (score 2).
    I waited for a response from Ms Henrion but am sorry to say I did not recieve one.

    So much for accountability in our local health services!

    I have emailed Ms Henrion again today asking for a response and an update on this important issue which impacts on thousands of Reading residents.

    Homes not headlines - in search of credible housing policies

    I read with interest today that Ed Miliband is set to talk about a radical new housing policy, in his 'fightback' speech today.

    On closer inspection it seems he is simply going to argue for tweaks to councils allocations policies in favour of more 'deserving' households in an attempt to redistribute homes more fairly:
    "One area where people’s sense of fairness is under threat is social housing,’ he will say. ‘In Manchester, as well as helping the most vulnerable families and disabled people with housing, they prioritise households who are giving something back to their communities – making a contribution – for example, people who work for or run local voluntary organisations. They also look to reward people who have been good tenants in the past and who have paid their rent on time and never been involved in any antisocial behaviour.’
    Whilst laudable his stance misses the point entirely.

    Miliband's pronouncement is the latest in a long line of ill-thought out housing policy announcements which fail to address the key issue facing UK housing policy: that of lack of supply.

    Recent examples of this approach which appears to be motivated by a desire to grab the headlines rather solve housing problems:
    • The last (Labour) government changed the rules to enable councils to develop their own allocations policies.
    • The current government via the Localism Bill is bringing in new powers to enable Councils to vary the length of tenure from fixed term to lifetime.
    • Last week Tory ministers floated the idea of evicting Council tenants earning over £100,000.
    At most these changes will make a few thousand more homes available to people but the downside is they could also potentially displace needy people.

    Not only that, talking in the newspapers about who should get access to social housing contributes to a myth that people living in social housing now shouldn't be there.

    This breeds mistrust and resentment between individuals and communities.

    In short, it's not helpful and it does not solve the problem of housing.

    I am no expert but I can tell you that five years as a local councillor has taught me not that the wrong people are getting social housing, but there simply is not enough of it to go round.

    This is not a moral issue about deserving versus undeserving.

    Surely the real issue is one of affordability - people who can afford to own their homes are the exception not the rule in many communities.

    The number of first time buyers has fallen and buying a home is out of reach for many young people.

    In Reading, families can wait for many years to access social housing that meets there needs.

    The wait for family-sized housing - 3-4 bed homes is by far the longest.

    There is barely a week that goes when a family doesn't contact me in distress stuck on the Council's housing waiting list desperate to move into larger or more suitable accomodation.

    What hope for them?

    When I was Lead Member for Housing I was proud to deliver the first new Council homes in Reading for twenty years.

    But I realised this was just the start and will only go one small step towards meeting demand for housing.

    At the next Council meeting I will be challenging the new Labour Lead Councillor to do more.

    There are various ways you can do this and they don't all involve building new homes.

    Tackling the problem of empty homes is one, underoccupancy another.

    Labour's record on increasing housing supply is not good:
    •  Labour sold off almost as many houses as they built (over half a million homes sold). 
    • Labour's total net increase in social housing stock was less than 20,000
    • Between 1997-2010 waiting lists for social housing rose by 800,000
    But that was then, this is now, and with less public money around it is going to be much harder for Councils, housing associations and developers to build new homes.

    The Coalition Government has set itself a tough target:
    'to increase social housing supply by more each year than Labour achieved in thirteen years added together (Andrew Stunell MP).
    I really hope the government meets or ideally exceeds this target. What is clear, however, is that simply tweaking the way councils allocate homes will not be enough.


    Officers have confirmed there are currently just under 8,000 people registered with the Council for social housing in Reading alone.

    Friday, 10 June 2011

    Campaign Success

    The campaign I led to get Labour-run Reading Borough Council to reinstate end of term waste collections in the University area has been successful.

    The Council has confirmed today that extra collections will be taking place to ensure residents do not have to put up with rubbish for weeks on end after students go home for the summer.

    Labour tried to blame the cut on us, but it is they who control the Council and the services it provides to residents.

    You can read more about our campaign and the background to this issue over on our ward blog.

    Thursday, 9 June 2011

    Decisions, decisions

    Less than a fortnight in charge of Reading Borough Council and floundering Labour councillors are already desperately trying to pass the buck.

    This week they are blaming opposition councillors for cuts to bin collections.

    Former Deputy Leader of Reading Borough Council, Cllr Kirsten Bayes (who incidentally knows a thing or two about taking decisions and running the Council) puts them straight.

    Meanwhile Labour are now 'reassessing' their flawed decision to go ahead with cuts to frontline services.

    Tuesday, 7 June 2011

    Reading leads the way on apprenticeships - but are Labour up to the job?

    Fantastic news announced earlier this week by Reading Borough Council that the percentage rise in the number of 16 to 18 year olds recruited in Reading over the last six months is the highest in south-east England.

    The official press release continues:
    "In the period July 2010 to January 2011 – the most up to date figures available – a total of 310 16 to 18 year olds began an apprenticeship in Reading . This is up from 155 for the same period in 2009/10.
    The impressive figures equate to a 100% rise in apprenticeships starts, almost twice as much as Brighton and Hove on 52 % who lie second in the south-east 'league table' of improvements.

    The sharp rise in 2010/11 mirrors improvements made in the previous year when Reading had the 5th highest rise in the South-East and is an indicator of the sustained efforts made in Reading to drive up the number of apprenticeships on offer across the town for youngsters leaving school or college.

    The number of apprenticeships recruited in Reading for all age groups – which include 16-18 year olds, 19 to 24 year olds and 25-plus – totals 686. This represents a 83% year on year increase and puts Reading second in the south east.
    The latest figures are a major boost for the effectiveness of partnership work between Reading Borough Council and a range of public and private sector organisations that have been working together over the past year to increase the number of apprenticeships available to Reading people...
    On February 10 this year Reading launched its 100 in 100 campaign, which aimed to recruit 100 apprentices within 100 days. The 100 in 100 campaign is a partnership initiative involving, the National Apprenticeship Service, Reading UK CIC, Reading Borough Council and nine Training Providers delivering apprenticeships within Reading .

    As of the end of May, 166 pledges had been made by employers to start apprenticeships. Of these 78 had actually started. "
    As I said at Cabinet yesterday, our positive legacy at local level speaks for itself.

    Improving life chances for all young people was a key priority for us - and in particular for my fantastic colleague Kirsten Bayes who cares passionately about this issue.

    These statistics show that while we were in office we massively increased and enhanced vocational opportunities for young people in Reading.

    We did this by being more proactive in relation to the involving the private sector and increased the number of apprenticeships available within the Council.

    At national level the Coalition Government is investing in thousands of new vocational training places.

    But we recognise that with a highly competitive jobs market there is always more we can do and should do to support young people.

    I sincerely hope the new administration builds on where we left off.

    However, given Labour councillors have only pledged to 'monitor progress' in relation to apprenticeships I am doubtful they posses either the imagination or the drive needed to take this important area forward.

    Monday, 6 June 2011

    Labour's Cuts: #1 - Frontline waste collections

    Well, I've long predicted that if they took control of the Council Reading Labour would cut frontline services.

    Because due to their inability to manage the budget they are not capable of doing anything else.

    The question then became not if they would cut services but what would get the chop first.

    As I pointed out yesterday with no public consultation whatsoever Labour councillors have scrapped end of term rubbish collections from student areas.

    Residents living around the University already suffer from parking problems and missed bin collections - now they will have to suffer from even worse, a massive build up of rubbish.

    Thanks to Reading's Labour councillors.

    The Labour councillor for Redlands reports:
    "We have discovered that the cuts in the Street Care teams and services means that they are advising us that they no longer have any spare capacity to undertake additional collections at the end of term in the student areas of Redlands."
    It's time she woke up and realised that Labour are running the Council and the buck stops with them.

    She is responsible for this cut and thanks to her residents will now get less services for their money.

    This was never one of our budget savings.

    Do you really think that given we represent two of the biggest student areas in Reading we would contemplate such a cut?

    We were planning increases to bin collections and recycling services.

    All budgeted for and costed.

    Labour are making these cuts because of short-sighted decisions such as the decision not to bring in green waste charges.

    Their failure to do their homework on this policy means that the Council has already lost £80,000 from lost income.

    How are Labour proposing to pay for services? Higher Council Tax? If they are expecting government there won't be any.

    This must be one of the 'alternative strategies for savings' Cllr Lovelock is talking about in her priorities for Cabinet 2011/12.
    And what were the Greens' role in this?

    They have allowed this to happen.

    So much for openness and transparency.

    Where were the details of this cut in their respective manifestos?

    It didn't take them long - just one week before Labour broke their promise to involving the public in every decision.

    From the Council that brought you the one-way IDR fiasco and the Shinfield Road debacle!

    Their promises are not worth the paper they are written on.

    Sign our petition against Labour's latest cut to frontline services here.

    Sunday, 5 June 2011

    Labour stall on changes to visitor permits

    The thorny issue of changes to the Residents Parking Scheme in Reading is on the Council's Traffic Management Advisory Panel agenda next week.

    And already it looks like Labour councillors are saying one thing and doing another.

    A local campaign was started by residents opposed to aspects of the revised Residents Parking scheme which would split permits into two half days rather than one full day.

    We listened to the concerns that were raised by residents and had we still been running the Council we would have insisted that the number of permits was doubled to 40 at the earliest opportunity.

    We also had the agreement of the former lead councillor for transport, Cllr Richard Willis for this to happen.

    But if you read Section 7 of the official report by Council officers going to TMAP next Thursday it appears that the new Labour administration is unlikely to do this any time soon:
    "Officers have been asked to look into changing both the allocation of free visitors’ permits, with a view to increasing it to 40 half day permits, and a change in the hours the permits cover.
    However there are logistical and financial issues associated with making those changes and a full report on these, plus options for introducing these changes or alternatives, will be brought to the next meeting of this panel."
    The recommendation in the report is:
    'That officers review the times a permit covers and numbers of visitors permits provided as part of the revised residents parking scheme and bring a recommendation to the next meeting of the Panel with a view to changing those areas of the scheme.'
    The next meeting of the panel is not until September.

    It is clear that the Transport department will be resisting any changes to the policy, as in the section 'Financial Implications':
    ''The changes to the scheme being considered in section 7 would have a more significant impact on the costs of the residents parking scheme and are not being recommended at this time.'

    This conflicts with the pledge made by the Labour Leader of the Council, Cllr Jo Lovelock in her document 'Cabinet Priorities for 2011/12' which is due to be rubber-stamped by Labour councillors on Monday:
    'Residents’ parking permits and discretionary permits - we will bring a report to July Cabinet on the times and numbers of visitors’ permits and also to reverse the £300 charge for discretionary permits.'
    So which is right? And who is in charge of Labour's transport policy?

    Either way this does not bode well for local residents who will be forced to wait even longer for these much needed changes.

    We will be supporting residents and calling for changes to visitor permits to be brought in as soon as possible by the Council.

    Friday, 3 June 2011

    Sorry Labour, the buck stops with you

    The new Labour administration of the Council has finally got round to publishing their priorities for the coming year.

    Below is the somewhat rambling preamble drafted by the Leader of the Council, Cllr Jo Lovelock:
    "During the recent election campaign we were very clear to the public that the financial situation we find ourselves in will mean that we will have to make difficult choices.
    The Conservative-led coalition Government has not only imposed severe and front loaded cuts in local government grant, but has also introduce a new way of allocating grant which disadvantages urban councils like Reading with high levels of need."
    "Where we have committed to reviewing the service changes and charges introduced by the previous administration, we will find alternative strategies for savings in order to remain within the budget set for 2011/12.
    For this reason, we will need to ensure that the council is restructured in a way, which promotes innovation and even greater efficiency.We will need to work with the public and council staff to ensure we can deliver on the priorities which most matter in our local communities and which protect those most in need. As this is such a major piece of work we have also created a cabinet post to focus on service delivery and improvement, who will work with other lead councillors to ensure a common direction of travel."

    'Financial situation we find ourselves in'?! I think the previous Labour government bears rather a large responsibility for that, Cllr Lovelock.

    Don't forget, Labour chancellor Alastair Darling pledged to make £44bn worth of cuts to public spending.

    And finally, she admits Labour WILL have to make cuts to balance the budget.

    For 'alternative strategies for savings'... read cuts to services
    For 'restructuring the council'... read job cuts.

    Sadly no detail on who or what will get the chop.

    The budget agreed by Lib Dem and Conservatives in February protected the vulnerable.

    So come on Labour, it's time to come clean with the public - what are these alternative savings you plan to make?
    And what will you do to set the budget next year?

    Some facts.
    1. The Council's forecast budget for 2012/13 anticipates that savings of around £15 million will need to be found.
    2.  If all the savings the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition administration identified for 2011/12 are delivered according to plan then the full year impact of these savings into 2012/13 would generate savings of £5.5m which would mean the further savings to be found in 2012/13 of £14.2m would be reduced to £8.8m.
    The document goes on:
    "A vital role for all members of the Cabinet will be ensuring the public are fully involved in our decision making."
    From the Party which brought you the one-way IDR debacle, this rings rather hollow.

    If the public is going to be 'fully involved' don't you think it was time this administration told the public what it what services it plans to cut?

    We all know Labour will try and blame the previous administion and the 'Conservative-led government' for any cuts they make.

    Sorry Labour, you wanted to run the Council at all costs and the buck stops with you for whatever decisions or cuts you make in office.

    Thursday, 2 June 2011

    If in doubt, launch a review

    '"To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern"
    So said former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson MP.

    I'm no fan of his, but I like the quote and I think it describes particularly well the behaviour of Reading's new or new-old Labour administration.

    Politics is about choices.

    What you choose to do and not do.

    What services you choose to fund and not fund.

    So what will Labour spend public money or rather, what services will they cut?

    After they have already promised to freeze Council Tax and with a need to make many millions of pounds worth of savings next year, something's got to give.

    It may not be rocket science to say this it but leadership is about exactly that - leading.

    Not waiting for others to tell you what you should be doing.

    Taking decisions, not just talking about them.

    And occasionally, sticking your neck out.

    I had plenty of experience doing this as lead member for social care.

    And let me tell you it's not easy and you don't always make yourself popular.

    But leading isn't about being popular - it's supposed to be about doing the right thing.

    As lead councillor the clue is in the title - you're job is to 'lead' - to take decisions and stand by them.

    Sometimes I wonder what planet some Labour councillors have been living on for the past 12 months.

    They are about to get a taste of decision-making in tough times financially, and fun it ain't.

    However Labour councillors spent their year in the political wilderness I do hope they have found time to get a briefing on the budget and the financial outlook for the Council now - for the sake of residents.

    I'm not sure they have, as one week the actions taken by the new administration of the Council (if action is the right word) are characterised by vacillation and weakness.

    Is the new administration setting a radical new policy direction?


    Labour are 'reviewing' one of our policies.

    And according to Labour's manifesto we should expect more where they came from -  with reviews of Social Care and senior management promised.

    The latest review will focus on our decision to introduce a charge for the collection of green waste.

    A popular move, yes.

    A sensible or credible move? no

    Scrapping the charge for green waste collections would blow a hole in the Council's  budget, threatening the viability of Council services thousands of people depend on.

    It was part of a total budget package Lib Dems worked hard to deliver that would see:
    • Services to the most vulnerable - protected
    • No libraries close - in fact opening hours were extended
    • No Childrens Centres close
    • No leisure facilities cut
    So if Labour scrap the charge, wow would Labour make up the budget shortfall?

    No-one knows, least of all it would seem, them.

    Launching the review, Labour Lead Member for the Environment, Cllr Gittings said:
    "We gave an undertaking to review this decision and that process is now under way. I will be working closely with council officers to consider the options and bring forward a clear recommendation on the way ahead.

    "It goes without saying that any decision we make will need to take account of the tight financial situation which we currently face, but we are determined to identify the best possible deal for our residents in the circumstances."
    Notice the wording of the announcement: 'review' rather than 'reverse' suggesting that Labour councillors probably have no intention of scrapping the charges altogether.

    Notice the acknowledgement of the 'tight financial situation'.
    Where were Labour when we were looking at ways to protect key services?

    I don't remember them coming up with any bright ideas.
    Answer: busy sticking their fingers in their ears and putting two fingers up to the Council's formal budget process.

    Anyway, I fully expect Labour will just tweak the original proposal, because in reality there have no wriggle room financially.

    And that's politics and it's now Labour's problem, along with their friends the Greens.

    So the question is - who cares?

    Well, we do as actually what they are doing is incredibly short-sighted and potentially very damaging to Council services.

    By reviewing the original decision Labour are throwing the budget into chaos leaving Council staff (already planning next year's budget) to worry and ask the question: where will the additional revenue come from?

    To be clear, the green waste charge was not something we Lib Dem councillors took any pleasure in introducing but given the hard choices we faced - between cutting services and increasing the Council's income to ensure key services such as libraries stayed open.

    With invoices just about to be sent out, Labour councillors are pulling the plug on over £300,000 worth of potential income to the Council which would have been spent on services.

    Let's not forget, 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 subsidised those who could.

    Are Labour councillors advocating a return to such an unfair system?

    Who knows.
    "To govern is always to choose among disadvantages"
    So said, Charles de Gaulle.

    One week in office and Labour are already showing they are not up to the job.