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.

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