Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Lib Dems: Proud of our Town

This evening my Lib Dem colleagues and I on Reading Borough Council spoke out against Labour's latest bid to get Reading city status.

I've attached the speech I gave below:

"When I first hard about Labour's latest bid to go for city status I wanted to find out what local people thought about this, so I asked them.

This is just a handful of the comments I received:

"i'm not sure that Reading become a city will make a lot of difference to its residents"
"What would it bring us except more pubs & clubs like the last attempts?"
"Reading is tiny, not really a city at all. What benefits would it bring?!"
"What is the benefit of city status? Other than presumably higher council tax!"

and my personal favourite:

"if I wished to live in a city I would have stayed in London."

A couple of people told me they supported the idea, but they were outnumbered by the deeply sceptical.

What's in it for us? They said.

What's wrong with being a town?

Is bigger, necessarily better?

These are the key questions people are asking.

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.

Can the Leader of the Council please explain to me and the people of Reading:

What problems or challenges do we currently face that would be solved by Reading becoming a city?

In this Borough the boundaries we share with our neighbours have always been a source of conflict.

What good will re-opening these old wounds do?

This bid says more about the Reading Labour Party than it does about the needs of the people we are meant to serve.

It is redolent of the era of John Howarth: endless vanity projects that Labour in Reading have tried and failed to foist on local people.

Without asking local people what they actually want.

Such as:

- The failed One Way IDR
- And recent abortive attempts to build a politicians palace in place of the old civic

Thanks to the mismanagement of the nation's finances Gordon Brown has left this town and its people saddled with a mountain of debt.

We are facing perhaps the tighest budget round in this Council's history.

We are asking officers to do more, with less.

I think local people would like the the officers of this Council to focus on tackling the real problems of thousands of people in Reading are facing today:

1. We have just come out of a period of some of the most severe weather this town has ever experienced.
2. There are currently just under 4,000 people out of work - the majoity of whom are aged between 20 and 24;
3. There are around 5,000 people currently trying to access social housing;
4. Thousands of children are growing up in real poverty under our very noses their lives blighted by poor housing and poor health;
5. And we need as a Council to care for a fast-growing ageing population - the demands of which are placing a huge strain on our finances.

I am happy to admit that for the Lib Dem Group these and many other important issues take priority over bidding for city status.

Because we put local people first.

Local businesses may have been judged by a London-based thinktank to have 'weathered' this recession

But this has not been without pain: job losses, businesses going under.

- Do Reading businesses genuinely have £60,000 lying around just to throw at another bid which is doomed to fail or where there is no guarantee of success?

- Surely that money could be better spent, or invested in things that would really benefit local people?"

The Tories on Reading Borough Council are backing Labour's bid.

Predictably, they are both accusing us of "doing the Town down".

They could not be more wrong.

As Lib Dems we are proud to stand up for what we believe in: proud to speak up for local people and proud to campaign for action on local issues.

Yes, we are fiercely localist: we listen to the local people that elected us and ask them what they think the priorities should be.

I feel strongly that at times like this when many people are in the town are struggling the Council must focus on it's core business: supporting local people.

And as we climb out of recession, we really cannot afford to waste Council time and resources on yet another Labour vanity project.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Lib Dem Empty Homes Campaign continues to open doors

Although I have my fair share of criticisms of Labour-run Reading Borough Council, every so often the Council gets it right.

Today is one of those days with news that the Council has clubbed together with local Reading-based charities the Reading Single Homeless Project and the Forgotten Gurkha (which is based in Eldon Square in my ward, Redlands) to try and turn empty housing into much-needed homes.

As Lib Dem housing spokesperson since 2006, I led the campaign to get RBC to bring in an empty homes strategy, and 2 years after it became Council policy the EHS continues to open doors for people who are desperately seeking housing.

My colleague Cllr Peter Beard, Lib Dem Councillor for Tilehurst actively campaigned to extend the rights of Gurkhas and their families when he was Mayor of Reading last year and is continuing to fight tirelessly alongside the Forgotton Gurkhas charity to help Gurkhas get better housing.

From RBC's press release:
"Property owners struggling to let their empty homes are being asked to work with local charities and Reading Borough Council to meet demand for housing.

As part of Reading's Empty Homes Strategy, the Council puts owners of empty homes in touch with people and agencies wishing to buy, lease or rent these properties.

Reading Single Homeless Project and The Forgotten British Gurkha are two organisations that have asked Reading Borough Council to help find much needed homes to buy or rent for their clients. "

The Council's Learning Disability team is also looking for homes to rent for its clients.

Do you own an empty property in Reading or know someone who does? Officers have said ideally, the properties should be family sized so that two or more people can live together and share the facilities.

Key contacts are as follows:

  • To let your home to people with a learning disability via the Council, call Bryony Hall on 01189 390361.
  • The Deposit Guarantee Scheme team is available on 0118 939 0233.
  • The Reading Single Homeless Project contact is Ian Caren on (0118) 950 7656 or info@rshp.co.uk
  • Paul Keddie is the contact at The Forgotten British Gurkha on (0845) 003 9958 or enquiries@theforgottenbritishgurkha.co.uk
  • For details on empty homes in Reading, go to www.reading.gov.uk/housing/emptyhomes/ or call the empty homes officer on (0118) 9373091.

Labour's plans to help young people are a drop in the ocean

Well, lo and behold after Nick Clegg outlined ambitious plans to help young people badly hit by the recession Labour ministers have been shamed into coming up with more cash to tackle youth unemployment.

But the proposals set out by Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper today constitute a drop in the ocean - and will go nowhere near helping all young people affected.

And they won't help all young people right now. And they are unlikely to reach many young people in West Reading who are out of work.
  • Labour ministers promise that their package will help 470,000 unemployed young people 'over the next 15 months'
  • But as I pointed out yesterday the government's own figures published last week revealed that there are currently approaching 1 million youngsters out of work
  • Dig deeper into the details of Labour's plan and only 100,000 youngsters would be set to benefit immediately
  • Labour's Future Jobs Fund will only create a possible 16,000 apprenticeship places (UK wide)
  • But the Future Jobs Fund is no panacea. As I revealed on my Redlands blog last July the number of jobs this was set create across the South East region last year was predicted to be less than 5,000!

Yvette Cooper said today that each young person would be given their own named Jobcentre Plus personal adviser. I'm sure this will have young people jumping for joy. This won't provide young people with hope it's designed to get them more used to the idea of being long-term unemployed. Is this the message we should be sending young people?

As Ms Cooper acknowledges in her own press release thousands of young people have been unemployed for 6 months or longer - school leavers and graduates.

Why did Labour leave young people to languish on benefits for all this time before announcing today's long-overdue 'Guarantee'?

Contrast these plans with the proposals that Nick Clegg outlined last week which include:

Investing £900 million pounds which would:

  • Go towards supporting ALL young people into training or paid work just 90 days or 3 months after they have been looking for work
  • Guarantee the creation of thousands of extra higher education and training course places
  • Fund a commitment to pay young people on an internship or training course £55 per week

It's clear for all to see: the Lib Dem proposals will help more young people into work, skills and training more quickly.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Campaigning for a better response to local crime concerns

I met the government's "crime czar" Louise Casey earlier this week through my work as a Member of the LGA Safer Communities Board. This is a national committee of councillors who lead on crime and community safety issues in their area.

I was elected by other Lib Dem councillors on to this body on the back of the reputation I have built up in Reading campaigning for a better Police and Council response to crime issues.This has been one of my major campaign issues since I was elected in 2006 - driven mainly by what local residents have told me and their frustration with the system.

I have won many community safety improvements to make life better for residents in my ward, Redlands over the years. You can find out more about my local crime campaigns over the past four years over on my ward Blog.

I think it's fair to say Louise Casey is not particularly popular with a lot of people for her outspoken remarks about ASBOs and such like.

Although I don't necessarily agree with all Louise's views about how crime and anti-social behaviour should be tackled, the work she has done as part of her Crime and Communities Review has been very worthwhile at gaining a better understanding of how people feel about crime problems. And when I met her I found her plain-speaking a refreshing change from a lot of the officer-speak I am confronted as a local councillor.

Chatting to Louise on Thursday it was obvious that she has actually gone out and spoken to people and communities affected by crime on the ground - she has not formed her opinions by only talking to civil servants and MPs in Westminster.

Louise's approach to the problem of crime is largely based on the simple evidence that 80% of crime in Britain goes unreported. She has tried to get to the bottom of why this is. She is convinced - and the evidence she commissioned from MORI supports this - that people don't report crime because they have no confidence anything will be done about it. Her findings are backed up by what we have found talking to people on the doorstep here in Reading.

Official surveys and independent assessments published last year demonstrated that public confidence in Reading in relation to crime is very low compared to other areas and the Labour-run administration has been heavily-criticised by the Home Office for failing to sort this out.

Louise is currently doing her best to persuade government, the Police, and councils to do much better at listening to local people when it comes to crime - for which all power to her elbow as far as I'm concerned!

When she conducted her Review for government Louise said her team of researchers found it very difficult to find out from many council switchboards exactly how anti-social behaviour should be reported. I spend my life giving people phone numbers for the Police and Council because lots of people don't know how to report issues.

In Reading there are two telephone numbers: one to report asb to the Police, one to report it to the Council. This is crazy and hardly makes it easy for people to know who is responsible and who to call for help*

At the start of last year I took a group of residents to visit the Thames Valley Police call centre in Kidlington - they were frustrated with the lack of response to crime reports and I thought it was right that they should have their say.

When the Home Affairs Select Committee visited Reading in 2008 I raised the issue of crime reporting problems directly with MPs and senior Police officers. I have raised the issue of public confidence nationally too, speaking out on the issue at Lib Dem Conference in 2008:

Louise Casey's basic message to government and councils on the back of her Review is simple: the message the public want to hear is "we're taking action on the issues that matter to you".
Ironically, this is the basic message of many of our local Focus leaflets in Reading! Councils like Labour-run Reading have a long way to go. Research Louise Casey conducted as part of her review included shocking stats like: 6 in 10 people do not know how to report graffiti.
The research she has carried out with officials at the Home Office backs up what my Lib Dem colleagues and I have been saying in Reading for years: people are not reporting crime because they do not have confidence that the authorities will take action.

I discussed Neighbourhood Policing in Reading with Louise and the fact that many residents weren't aware of its existence because the Police had no budget to communicate with residents. From her reaction I could tell she wasn't very impressed!

I also explained that residents regularly tell me that they get fed up going to Neighbourhood Action Group meetings with information about anti-social behaviour in their area and they get criticised by the Police for giving them the wrong kind of community intelligence- not exactly encouraging!

The Lib Dems in Reading sucessfully campaigned to get Reading Borough Council to work with the Police to improve basic communication and help build up public confidence.

Louise talked a bit about the Policing Pledge which was launched by former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith last year. This sets out what people can expect from their local Police force. Research conducted by the Home Office found that many people don't know what they can expect -which really isn't very good!

My feeling is there is a very low recognition of this pledge in our area: a quick straw poll I conducted on Twitter of people following the #rdg hashtag revealed that most people have never heard of it. It's Lib Dem policy to invest in more Police on the beat (we'd find the money by scrapping Labour's costly ID cards scheme)

Do you live in West Reading What is your experience of Policing like? Have you ever reported anti-social behaviour to Reading Borough Council? How was it handled? I'd love to hear from you.

* Phone numbers if you want to report anti-social behaviour 0845 8 505 505 (Police) and 0845 605 2222 (Reading Borough Council).

Young people in West Reading - let down by Labour

The latest official unemployment statistics were published earlier this week.

It is good to see the number of people out of work has fallen by approximately 7,000 - however the number of people currently out of the work is still far too high - at over 2.4 million.

This is Gordon Brown's real legacy.

The number of young people not in education, employment, skills or training (NEETs) has also fallen - this is a real credit to all the people and organisations in Reading who are working to support young people in the area.

But I am still concerned about young people who despite all the strategies and initiatives adopted by Reading Borough Council and Connexions Berkshire continue to struggling.

One young person struggling alone in Reading is one too many, in my view. We cannot afford both as a society and as an economy to overlook any young person.

Young people like Nathan - a young man from Dee Park estate who has been trying to find employment in Reading for months and who was interviewed by BBC South on Friday.

I was asked what the Lib Dems would do - you can see the piece here:

I'm delighted local and national media are finally picking up on this issue and joining the campaign for action.

Unemployment peaked in Reading last October and seeing the impact for myself on people living in my ward spurred me on to campaign on this issue.

I visited Reading Job Centre Plus in October and spoke to staff. At that time 1,000 people were coming through the doors every day and they were looking at ways of expanding to cope with demand.

Before Labour Ministers start slapping themselves on the back I think it's important to point out some pretty bleak facts that these figures conceal:

  • There are currently over 8 million people currently classed by government as 'economically inactive'
  • The employment rate is at its lowest rate since 1996-7 (the number of vacancies has fallen)
  • There are currently an estimated 927,000 16-24 year olds out of work in the UK (down fro 943,000)

So what's the picture like here in Reading? (figures quoted available on the NOMIS website)

  • There are currently just under 4,000 people claiming Job Seekers Allowance
  • 40% of people currently claiming JSA live in West Reading: in Whitley (395), Battle (360), Norcot (350) and Minster (320)
  • The majority of JSA claimants in Reading are in the 20-24 age group (690 people)
  • There are currently 330 young people aged between 17-19 out of work and claiming benefit -

Yet more evidence, as I wrote earlier this week, that despite rising wealth and standards of living in some parts of town, Reading continues to be a very divided place economically.

It's a place where many people have not benefitted from years of a Labour government or a Labour Council.

And to an extent our assumptions are based on the official statistics. But we know that there are more examples of 'hidden jobless'.

This interesting article which appeared in the The Independent earlier this week has more about the rise in 'hidden jobless' including the big rise in the number of people being forced into part-time work due to a shortage of full-time roles.

This recession is having a disproportionate impact on young people and in particular young black people. Research carried out by the Institute of Public Policy Research and published in The Guardian this week revealed that 1 in 2 black youngsters (48%) aged between 16-24 are currently out of work.

This is a shocking statistic and a damning indictment of 13 years of a Labour government. Labour ministers like Harriet Harman and David Lammy claim that equality matters to the Labour Party but young black kids growing up under a Labour government have not found themselves better off or with an equal chance of success in British society today.

Nick Clegg has described the plight of young black people struggling in the recession as 'completey unacceptable' an this week he pledged that a Lib Dem government would work to dramatcally increase opportunity for young people of all races currently out of work.

You can find out more about Nick's plans to help young people in my post earlier this week.

I am committed to providing a strong voice for people all colours, races and faiths who have been let down by Labour in this recession.

If you have been badly affected, or you know someone who has I would love to hear from you.

Please get in touch.

Supporting residents and traders in Tilehurst

At the start of the week my Lib Dem colleagues Cllr Ricky Duveen, Cllr Peter Beard and Cllr Chris Harris scored a win for the residents and traders of Tilehurst. They suceeded in getting Labour-run Reading Borough Council to drop plans to charge residents to park in Dunstall Close and Recreation Road car parks.
These plans were flawed and ill-thought out - Ricky gives the background to the plan over on his blog. Lib Dem councillors rightly protested to the Council over the lack of public consultation with residents or councillors.

Tilehurst Village is a popular and thriving local shopping area - the Council should be doing everything it can to encourage local people to do their shopping there. Things are hard enough as it for shoppers and traders in this recession.
These proposls were part of Labour's plans for a 25% hike in car parking charges across the Borough.
I'm a supporter of the Federation of Small Business' 'Keep Trade Local Campaign. A key part of their 'Keep Trade Local Manifesto' is fairer parking charges in town centres and high streets to help support local traders.
I have been invited by the Thames Valley Federation for Small Businesses to take part in a hustings ahead of the General Election, which I'm looking forward to.
As a result of the action taken by local Lib Dem councillors in Tilehurst Labour councillors have been forced to go back to the drawing board to come up with more sensible proposals. These are likely to include free parking for the first hour and charging thereafter (to deter commuter parking).
I was out in Tilehurst yesterday with Pete Beard and Ricky Duveen. They told me about their battle to get the Council to improve the quality of Tilehurst car parks in recent years - including improving facilities for disabled drivers and getting car parks resurfaced.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Nick Clegg gets it on youth unemployment (and social media)

This is entirely my view and I couldn't hope to speak for others but I couldn't be happier with the way the national Lib Dem campaign is going at the minute and with the direction taken by Nick Clegg and his team over the past two weeks.

Since I was selected as a PPC for Reading West on 8 January Nick has outlined two key pledges firstly - action to reduce the number of empty homes, and secondly, today, plans to throw a much-needed life line to young people.

Anyone who knows me will know these are two of the issues that mean the most to me in my campaigning - probably in my top 5!

In parts of Reading - notably Whitley the number of youngsters who are not in work or education is a real cause for concern and Labour locally and nationally have run out of ideas of how to tackle this. If I was a family member affected by this I would be really angry.

Last October I forced local politicians to engage on this issue: I got Reading Borough Council to hold a special summit meeting on how we can better support local youngsters.

I wrote to RBC again this week calling for a follow up meeting to ensure that this issue does not slip off the agenda and I gave an interview to BBC South on the subject.

I wrote to Nick last summer calling for urgent action after seeing the figures on youth unemployment in Reading.

And because I felt so passionately about this issue last September I overcame my nerves and spoke at Lib Dem Federal Conference to ensure that the Lib Dems had a policy on this issue:

You can check out my speech here:

Nick will be launching the Lib Dem policy to help support young people badly affected by the recession at 4pm today.

He will be talking directly to young people using social media - what else?

Earlier today he said:
"Facebook, YouTube and Twitter play as an important role as TV or newspapers in young people's lives. Politicians can't ignore new or social media if they want to connect with the next generation of voters"

At last, a UK Party Leader who actually gets it!! I will continue blogging and tweeting even more fervently now (not that I needed any encouragement).

I have been using social media as part of my campaigning in Reading for the past couple of years. I am keen to get children and young people involved in a scrutiny review I am leading on children's health - we can't expect that they will want to come to council meetings (especially when very few adults do!)

On the subject of YouTube, check out this video that Nick and his team have produced:

Nick Clegg will be holding an online question time at 4.30pm today.

You can find full details of the event and how to submit a question here. You can submit a question via Twitter - @Nick_Clegg #asknick.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Reading - Tale of Two 'Cities'

You may have seen a report published today which was widely trailed in the national and local media over the past 24 hours (produced by the thinktank Centre for Cities) in which Reading was listed as somewhere with 'the right ingredients to succeed after the recession has passed'.

I was not in the least surprised to see Reading listed as one of '5 big hitters'.

This is not the first time this thinktank has singled out Reading for praise.

Reading has a dynamic local economy and a resilient workforce.

Reading has many of the ingredients needed to be very successful: it has a mobile and highly-skilled workforce, good transport links and excellent universities in easy reach.

It's not difficult to understand why many blue-chip companies have set up business here.

We should be proud of Reading's progress to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the UK.

However, what concerns me is the evidence I see all around me which shows that not everyone who lives in Reading is able to share in and benefit from this success.

Inequality - linked to both health and wealth is a major issue in Reading and where you are born in Reading still has a big impact on how well you are likely to do in life and how healthy you and your family are likely to be.

This situation is not unique to Reading - but it's important to stress that Reading is not immune to problems faced elsewhere linked to recession.

And the gap between those who are well-off and worst-off is getting wider - as the recent Comprehensive Area Assessment of Reading (published before Christmas) confirmed.

This isn't just about statistics.

This is about whole families and neighbourhoods being blighted by poverty -including poor housing and bad health - just metres away from other communities with access to good housing and good schools.

In a town which generates as much wealth and success as Reading this is not acceptable, in my view. This is a damning indictment of years of Labour rule in Reading.

A Labour-run Council and a Labour government has not resulted in a fairer Reading.

I have campaigned extensively in recent years to highlight the disparity that exists between different neighbourhoods in Reading - and to get the Labour-run Council to take long overdue action.

My campaigning has resulted in more support for deprived neighbourhoods in Reading through the Thriving Neighbourhoods scheme and the creation of a 'Decent Neighbourhoods Fund' - to improve the quality of life for residents living on estates in Reading.

I have championed the needs of young people - because I think they have been let down badly by the Labour government and the Labour administration of Reading Borough Council.

I have highlighted the fact that what Labour has done nationally has been too little too late.

In Reading, the number of youngsters between 16-19 who are currently without a job, skills or training (NEETs) is regularly higher than any other towns in our region.

It has been this way for years because of Labour's complacent attitude.

Labour politicians have failed to get the best out of our schools and teachers - leaving some children ill-equipped for the modern workforce.

Recently the figure has come down to around 6% but it had been stuck at around 8% for the past few years - higher than anywhere else in the South East.

The Council has been forced to chase government targets around reducing headline 'NEET' figures rather than doing what is needed locally to support local people.

But 16-19 year olds are not the only group facing difficulties.

Let's also not forget too those 20-somethings graduating from Reading University or other local universities and wanting to live and work in the Reading area.

Many of these youngsters live in my ward in Redlands.

They are graduating with the highest debts of any graduates ever - chasing a dwindling number of vacancies.

The last set of Job Seekers Allowance figures I saw for Reading showed that the majority of JSA claimants are aged between 20 and 24.

Last Summer I reported that the number of young people who were unemployed was set to reach one million - a figure not seen for decades.

The graduates I speak to feel badly let down by this Labour government and its promises of a pot of gold at the end of the educational rainbow.

We cannot risk the creation of another "lost generation" of young people.

Being out of work is not only bad for the pocket, bad for the economy - it's bad for the health and well-being of our young people.

I have actively campaigned for action both locally and nationally for action to help support our young people in Reading.

This is because I am not prepared to accept the status quo and neither should local people.

If people want things to change they need to vote for change. Not more of the same from Labour.

Nick Clegg outlined the Lib Dem plan for a 'life boat' for Britain's young people including plans for more paid internships, fully-funded adult apprenticeships and a '90 day promise' (whereby young people would be offered work, training education or an internship after 3 months out of work).

Nothing I've heard from the Tories nationally or locally suggest that they would do anything differently to help make Reading a fairer, more equal place.

Last October I raised concerns about the plight of young people and got the Labour-run Council in Reading to hold a special summit on how we might better support young people.

This event was a real eye-opener for me: the young people who attended told heart-breaking stories about months of hopeless job-hunting, forced to spend their time handing out CVs in the Town centre.

There is no reference to any of these problems in the Centre for Cities report published today.

We must not turn a blind eye to real poverty on our own doorstep.

Months into the recession the economic indicators may be getting better but talking to young people and their families I know many hundreds of young people still face incredibly tough times trying to get onto the first rung of the career ladder and out of poverty.

They are our future and our future prosperity as a community and an economy depends on their prosperity.

With this in mind I wrote to RBC's Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council, Cllr Jo Lovelock today asking them if a follow-up meeting could be held focussing specifically on supporting young people through the recession.

We need to be absolutely sure that the Council, Connexions and local businesses are working together as effectively as they can to ensure no young person is left behind.

We also need to demonstrate to young people that we are 100% behind them.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Nick Clegg unveils bold plans to tackle empty homes

Great news today: Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Sarah Teather have set out radical new plans to reduce the number of empty homes in the UK.

Nick has set out plans which will help bring thousands of empty homes back into use (providing more homes for people that need them).

These plans will also help create around 65,000 new jobs.

What a great idea!

David Ireland, Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, the charity which is leading the national campaign for action on this issue responded to the news as follows:

"This bold policy would transform the scale of England’s empty homes crisis, enabling a very significant proportion to become affordable homes for people.” He added, “This sends out a challenge to the government and other opposition parties to say how they would help create more homes from England’s empty property.”

This is an issue really close to my heart.

People who know me will know that I have been campaigning on this issue since 2006 in Reading.

I led a successful campaign to get Labour-run Reading Borough Council to take action to bring homes back into use.

As a result of our campaign the Council now has an empty homes strategy and RBC issued a press release today which revealed that homes in Whitley, Norcot and Caversham have all been renovated and sold to become family homes as a result.

There is a long way to go in Reading but the Lib Dem plans set out today would help reduce the number of empty homes much more quickly.

You can visit my Redlands blog for more details on our local empty homes campaign.

Some facts:

There are around 500 long term empty homes in Reading and an estimated 5,000 people waiting for affordable housing to rent.

This is a scandal. And the number has increased this year due to the impact of the recession.

Families in Reading are having to wait on average 20 months for family-sized social housing to become available.

As a result, thousands of families and children in Reading are currently living in badly overcrowded conditions.

I am campaigning to get help for these families and to get the Council to build more family-sized social homes.

Nick Clegg's plan would make more of these types of houses available for families to rent in Reading and it would help reduce the pressure to develop sensitive sites for new housing - a big issue for many people living in West Berkshire.

Labour's policies for tackling empty homes have not worked and the recession has made matters worse here in Reading.

Parts of West Reading empty homes are a real problem: notably Battle where there is a particularly problem of empty flats above empty shops.

I know from my campaigning in Redlands how an empty house can also blight an area - as in the case of 35 Christchurch Road - a source of frustration to residents for miles around.

Often the reason people leaves their homes empty is because is it cheaper for them to do so. Under the proposals outlined by Nick Clegg today, people who own these homes will get a grant or a cheap loan to renovate them so they can be used: grants if the home is for social housing, loans for private use.

I am delighted Nick Clegg has put action to tackle empty homes at the heart of the Lib Dem manifesto for the upcoming elections and I look forward to seeing how it goes down on the doorstep.

Check out this video for more info:

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Getting started

Hello, welcome to my new online campaign diary.

I was selected to be the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Reading West last Friday and it feels like I haven't really stopped since.

Although I already have a blog which I write with my lovely ward colleagues Cllr Glenn Goodall and Cllr Kirsten Bayes, I wanted to have a space where I could post updates from the campaign trail as we get closer to the General Election.

I also wanted to give people living in West Reading and West Berkshire a way of finding out more about our local and national Lib Dem campaigns, and what I stand for.

I'm not promising I will always have time to post updates - but I'll try and post them when I can
in between campaigning, working and grabbing time to relax with friends and family.

A bit about me: I've lived in Reading since 2003 but I was born and raised in North London (and as a result I support Arsenal!)

I studied English Literature and Politics at the University of Edinburgh and like many people I came to Reading originally for work.

I love living in Reading (although I don't love commuting to work in London). When I'm not campaigning I love going to the cinema although I don't go as often as I would like. The last film I saw was Nowhere Boy (about John Lennon) although the last film I loved was the excellent Avatar in 3D.

I got elected as a councillor on Reading Borough Council in 2006 and I've spent most of my time since then campaigning and getting things done for local people.

I speak on housing issues on behalf of the Lib Dems on Reading Borough Council and I also Chair a scrutiny panel which covers housing, health and community care. Details of my campaigning in these areas over on my ward blog.

I care passionately about better housing for all and have spent the last few years campaigning for cleaner, greener, safer - and healthier neighbourhoods here in Reading.

These are bread and butter issues that are all about helping to improve the quality of life of ordinary people.

I feel honoured to be chosen as the Lib Dem candidate and I pledge to throw my energy into campaigning for a better quality of life for everyone living in Reading West.

With the retirement of Martin Salter - a popular, hard-working local MP a vacancy has arisen for a new local champion - someone to who is unfraid to speak out for local people and get things done.

I would like to thank everyone who has been in touch to wish me luck and to offer their support.

There will be plenty to do between now and the elections.

Would you like to get involved in the campaign to elect a new local champion for Reading West?

Whatever your skill or interest we'd love to hear from you. Please visit our campaign website and leave us your details.

The friendly team behind the Lib Dem campaign in West Reading is made up of local people of all ages.

It doesn't matter if you haven't been involved in a politics before - now is a great time to get involved with so many issues that need action, and very important elections only months away in Reading.

Back to this week and I've been very busy since I was selected.

The recent freezing weather has made a lot of people's lives very difficult in Reading - particularly the elderly and those on low incomes - and I have been doing my bit to support them and keep them informed.

Yesterday I succeeded in getting the Council to extend a public consultation about introducing unfair service charges for Council tenants. These charges won't now be introduced now until April.

So far this week I've been interviewed by the Reading Chronicle, Get Reading and the Newbury Weekly News about my selection.

There was a nice article and editorial in the hard copy edition Get Reading today (which made up for the unflattering picture of me they printed on the website earlier in the week!)

Oh well, you have to get used to that kind of thing in local politics - especially in Reading.

I have been regularly tweeting about my activities both as a councillor and Reading West PPC since I was selected on Friday. You can follow me here.

Twitter divides opinion but I love it and would encourage everyone to try it before they dismiss it.

Last week TV presenter Anne Diamond interviewed me on her BBC Radio Berkshire lunchtime show about the way I use social media tools to engage. You can listen to our chat here.

I also heard today that I've been shortlisted for a national award for my online campaigning.

I was delighted to see our Party Leader announce he will be taking part in an online public question time on Twitter on 20 January where he will be asking young people what issues they face. I have actively supported the Youth Cabinet and championed issues affecting children and young people in Reading.

On Monday evening I was interviewed by Phil Kennedy on BBC Radio Berkshire about my selection and Nick Clegg's speech this week on fairness.

I was delighted to hear Nick pledging to put fairness at the heart of our manifesto.

As I said in my hustings speech, fairness is very important to me and the sense of injustice about the state of things on my own doorstep was what first attracted me to the Party.

I was also pleased to hear Nick say it was time politicians started treating voters like grown-ups and not pledging to do things they cannot deliver. Gordon Brown and the Labour Party have left the public finances in a total mess and to quote Nick again "the politics of plenty are over".

Nick has spelled out his four steps for a fairer Britain in this short video:

I got a call from BBC South yesterday keen to interview me to do a piece about the problems many young people in Reading are facing during this recession.

The high number of 16-19 year olds who are not in education, employment in training in Reading is an issue I have been actively campaigning to highlight over the past year.

A few months ago I got the Council to hold a special summit to find out what more could be done to help and support young people.

I also campaigned to ensure Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems developed policies action to tackle youth unemployment. I spoke out at the last Lib Dem Conference in support this issue.

You can watch my speech here:

I am very excited about the local Lib Dem campaign for a fairer Reading and I can't wait to get out and about meeting more local people.

I am keen to find out what issues local people in West Reading and West Berkshire are concerned about.

Please get in touch - I'd love to hear from you. Email me at daisy@daisybenson.com