Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Record of Action on Housing and a Promise of More

with Andrew Stunell MP, Cllr Kirsten Bayes
and Katesgrove Lib Dem Candidate Margaret McNeill
Outside a former empty home on Christchurch Road in Reading

Over the past four years I have led the campaign in Reading to reduce the number of privately-owned homes that are empty for 6 months on more.

It is one of the local issues I feel very passionate about.

As Lead Member for Housing I am acutely aware that in Reading we face a big shortage of affordable housing with thousands of people stuck for months and in many cases years to get access to a home.

This is a direct result of the failure of the previous Labour and Conservative governments to do enough to increase the supply of Council housing and other types of housing.

Tackling empty homes is another way to increase the supply of housing and when the Council was controlled by Labour the Council did too little in this area.

In my capacity as councillor responsible for housing in Reading I work hard day in day out to try and increase the number of affordable homes available for residents who need them.

This involves actively lobbying government to make the case for more funding to allow us to build homes and working with officers to identify opportunities to increase the supply of housing locally.

Over the past 11 months I have worked with officers and MPs in Reading to deliver:
In my role as Lead Member for Housing I  have worked hard to stand up for the rights of local Council tenants and people living in private rented housing:
Empty homes in Reading - latest figures

I asked officers for the latest figures on empty homes in Reading and they make interesting reading.

Latest figures show that there are currently 527 empty homes in Reading.

This is down from 555 in 2010.

12 empty homes were brought back into use in 2010/11.

Currently the top 5 wards for empty homes in Reading are Battle (93); Tilehurst  (69) Abbey (56); Katesgrove (37); Park (35);

The highest numbers of empty homes can be found in wards with high levels of privately rented accomodation.

I take a keen interest in work officers are doing to tackle empty homes, joining officers out and about in Reading in February for the second time to better understand the work they do.

Labour's terrible record on empty homes

In 2008 the then Labour-controlled Council in Reading launched a new strategy to tackle the problem of empty privately-owned homes, following a campaign I led.

former empty home Alexandra House on London Road

I have David Ireland, Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency to thank for first provoking my interest and prompting to me to launch a local campaign all those years ago.

In 2007,  again when the Council was under Labour-control there were 924 empty private homes.

No empty properties were brought back into use that year (source: Empty Homes agency), which prompted me to campaign for a new approach.

When I was chair of the Housing Scrutiny Panel in Reading between 2008 and 2010 I brought in quarterly reports to help councillors measure progress and to increase public confidence that work was being done.

And there is no doubt the work done by officers with landlords to tackle empty homes  has helped provide new homes for families right across this Borough as the Evening Post reported last year.

Campaigning to raise the profile of empty homes
during the 2010 General Election in Reading West

On assuming the chair last year the Labour Chair of the Scrutiny Panel responsible for housing, Cllr Mike Orton, dropped the reports from scrutiny agendas - what a backward step!

A quick scan of Reading Labour Party's Manifesto it is clear that empty homes work would not be a priority for them as it is not even mentioned.

This will not go down well with some former Labour councillors - notably former Battle councillor Tony Jones who said in 2009:
"The scandal of empty homes while so many people need decent accommodation is a big problem in Battle ward – and is on the increase.

“Battle has also suffered from a greater number of squatted properties than any other part of town.

“But I have been impressed by the efforts made by Lib Dem councillor Daisy Benson to get the council to renew their Empty Homes Strategy after so many years, and the professional approach being adopted by the council’s empty homes officer Nick Pritchard-Gordon.”
Sadly due to financial pressures many councils have been forced to cut back on this important work.

However, thanks to Lib Dem influence on the Council despite a tough budget settlement empty homes work will continue this year. 
In addition I have also been in discussions with government advisers at national level who are keen to do more on empty homes as stated in the Coalition Agreement.

So the message is simple: if you want this and other important work on housing to continue - vote Liberal Democrat on 5 May.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Lib Dems Working For Change: Kirsten Bayes' 'First Person' article

Cllr Chris Harris, Me, Cllr Peter Beard, Andrew Stunell MP, Cllr Kirsten Bayes and Cllr Rebecca Rye outside the Civic Offices in Reading
The Evening Post today published this excellent article by my ward colleague Kirsten Bayes.

Kirsten is Deputy Leader of Reading Borough Council and Leader of the Lib Dem Group.

She is up for re-election in Redlands on 5 May. Read my post in support of her campaign here.

The Lib Dem local election manifesto in Reading can be viewed here.

The Guardian in Reading for the AV Campaign

Last week John Harris from The Guardian newspaper was in Reading making a film about the local campaign for the AV Referendum on 5 May.

This short film features my friend Georgina Hughes, Lib Dem candidate for Abbey ward in Reading at the upcoming local elections who has also been a leading light in the Reading Yes 2 AV campaign.

Go Georgina!

Action Not Words Needed to Cut Energy Bills and Fuel Poverty

I read with interest in the Evening Post that the Green Party in Reading are planning to campaign on fuel poverty at the elections this year.

I am grateful to them for helping to highlight this important issue and delighted that Green Party activists are backing the work we in the Coalition Administration of Reading Borough Council and Coalition Government are doing on this issue where Labour failed.

Tackling fuel poverty and climate change is a huge, vitally important agenda that all political parties in Reading need to get behind.

But as politicians and community leaders we work hard at this agenda all year round, not just at election time.

Last November, Chris Huhne MP, Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change launched the Green Deal which will create 100,000 new jobs for people working to insulate 3.5 million homes across the country.

However, it is important to get the issue of fuel poverty in perspective.

9 % of families in Reading currently live in fuel poverty compared to the national average which is around 14%.

We need to target resources at people who are hardest hit and help others to improve energy efficency of their homes.

The recently reopened Warm Front scheme will help us do this.

Many of people living in fuel poverty in Reading live in poor quality housing in the private rented sector.

I have led the campaign at local level to improve standards in this area - the home of 25 % of Reading residents.

Labour overlooked private rented housing when they were in government and in control of the Council.

Locally, the Lib Dems have led the green agenda in Reading.

We have successfully campaigned to extend the range of materials that can be recycled at the kerbside and we have pledged in our manifesto to continue to do so.

Under Liberal Democrat control, Reading Borough Council is pioneering new low carbon heating.

Since we took control of the Council in 2010, we have held regular meetings with officers in both the housing and sustainability teams to discuss ways in which fuel poverty in all types of housing can be tackled.

These cross-Council discussions have been the first of their kind and never happened under Labour.

As part of the Council's Decent Homes Programme we are taking steps to increase insulation across Council-owned properties.

We are also investigating bringing in new feed-in tariffs and new more sustainable forms of energy to heat Council homes.

The Council also works closely with landlords in the private sector to promote insulation and energy savings schemes.

All these measures will go towards reducing fuel bills and saving precious energy.

But there is more to do which is why following pressure from the Lib Dems the Council has set up a new housing and sustainability officer group to ensure that there is a green thread running through all housing policies.

Last October the Council agreed the following motion, put forward by the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Groups which gave a very clear signal to residents about our commitment to the environment.

(It replaced a rather feeble motion tabled by a Labour councillor.)

It is just as relevant now as it is then.

"This Council welcomes:

The Coalition Government’s commitment to making renewable energy sources account for over 33GW of new energy production.

The Coalition Government’s removal of the bar that prevented local authorities selling back to the grid the energy they have generated.

This Council notes:
  •  The Council’s commitment to promote green jobs and sustainability across the Council and Borough and to promote the climate change agenda as a high priority.
  • That the number of households in fuel poverty in England rose from 1.2m in 2003 to a projected 4.0m in 2010
  • That Reading schools already have two schools with solar PV, one with solar hot water, two with air source heat pumps, two with ground source heat pumps and one with a wind turbine.
This Council resolves:
  • To provide local leadership on the climate change agenda by:
  • Maximising, wherever possible, the use of renewable energy schemes to generate income across all existing and future council properties and operations.
  • Considering all options across the Council’s housing stock to both generate and conserve energy to reduce fuel poverty.
  • Taking the lead in encouraging local businesses and commercial buildings to embrace renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes.
  • Promoting and assisting local residents, schools and organisations to take advantage of the opportunities available to them to benefit from renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes."
The Coalition Government has set itself the target of being the "greenest government ever".

When it comes to the environment we need to be as ambitious here in Reading.

Lib Dems will continue to work hard to tackle these issues inside and outside the Council and f the Green Party are serious about turning their fine words into action on fuel poverty they need to work with us on this agenda.

Labour's Social Care Plans Could Cost Residents Dear

Reading Labour state in their local election manifesto that they would reverse our plans to introduce charges for people who could afford to pay for day care services.

They also say they would suspend our reforms and launch a full review of the service.

These pre-election pledges are both costly and risky.

I have already demolished Labour's arguments against day care charges (which compare very favourably to those charged by neighbouring councils and the private sector) but I thought it was worth explaining what Labour's ill-thought out plans actually mean to the Council's budget, local services and taxpayers in Reading.

In March the Council agreed plans I had been developing with officers over a period of months to transform community care so that was fair to all and sustainable in the long term.

They are designed to ensure that vulnerable people who need services get them at a time when the number of people needing social care is increasing due to an ageing population.

This decision has wider ramifcations which are now being felt across the Council.

Our reforms to adult social care mean that taxpayers will avoid £3.8 million pounds worth of cost pressures linked to social care over the next three years.

  • Enabling the Council to increase funding to the voluntary sector - one of the few councils to do this
  • Enabling the Council increase support available to unpaid carers.
  • Helping the Council to keep vital services like libraries and leisure services open.
  • Helping to reduce the finanical burden on Council Taxpayers.

If after the election Labour failed to implement these plans immediately the cost to taxpayers would be £100,000 per month.

So we return to the question which services would Labour cut to pay for their pre-election promises?

To which Labour's manifesto fails to provide any answers.

Before the Council agreed our plans to transform community care services in March a full public consultation and equality impact assessment was carried out.
  • Over 20 individual consultation meetings were held.
  • Over 1,000 public comments were submitted.
And Labour's former Lead Member for Community Care Cllr Mike Orton commented that our plans would indeed protect the most vulnerable.

With just days to go before the local elections Labour now say they would rip up the consultation findings, the policies agreed in Council, and  at the Budget set in February in favour of a new review of the service.

This would cause huge disruption and concern to many vulnerable people and their carers who receive services from the Council just months after they were first consulted.

And why? Just so Labour could score a few political points.

Adult social care is too important to become a political football.

I have put the work in build a system that works for the future.

Labour councillors routinely ducked the tough choices but we haven't.

As I said in March:
'There is only one compassionate, sustainable and equitable option on the table this evening.

I urge members across this Council to support it"

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

AV: Fair, Simple and Common Sense

How to Cast Your Postal Vote in Reading

Are you confused about voting by post at the forthcoming local elections and AV referendum on 5 May?

The nice people at Reading Borough Council have produced this handy guide to help.
As an enthusiastic user and supporter of social media to engage people in local politics I am delighted to see the Council using video to help more people to exercise their right to vote in these important elections.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Campaigning with Reading's Growing Lib Dem Team

Paul Burstow MP with our local election candidates in Forbury Gardens

Over the last few weeks I've been out campaigning hard for the local elections in Reading on May 5 with our fantastic team of candidates.

Knocking on doors seven days a week can be tiring on top of a day job and my Council duties but I've had so much fun this year.

This is thanks in part to the lovely sunny weather but mostly thanks to the brilliant group of people who have been joining me on the doorstep week in week out.

There is a lot more to being a candidate than meets the eye and I have huge respect for people who are willing to stick their neck out and stand for election, and become a councillor.

Campaigning with Margaret McNeill in Katesgrove

We are fielding our strongest ever team of local election candidates this election.

The people standing for the Lib Dems in Reading are all community campaigners who care about their areas and want to change things for the better. 

All of them are totally committed to helping residents in their wards and protecting vital services across the town.

I am delighted we have so many women standing for us this year.

It's also great to have so many people from different backgrounds who bring new insights and skills to our campaigns.
Campaigning in Whitley with Jamie Wake

We have a number of candidates who are standing for election for  the first time.

Some have joined the Party only recently - including in some cases since the coalition was formed.

The Reading Lib Dem team is growing and it is really exciting to see new members blossoming into activists and campaigners.

Lib Dem members do lots of work for the Party locally including delivering leaflets and generally helping out and are a great support to our team of councillors.

In talking about our newer candidates I am not overlooking our councillors Kirsten Bayes and Chris Harris who are standing for re-election in Redlands and Tilehurst respectively.

Kirsten and Chris are both very committed and dedicated people who are fully signed up to working hard for residents for another 4 years in their wards.

We are very lucky to have them.
Campaigning in Redlands with Kirsten Bayes

Standing for election is a nerve-wracking thing to do - I should know!

So I wish all our candidates the best of luck on 5 May (polling day).

A number of our candidates are on Twitter:

Dr Jenny Woods - Caversham @drjennywoods
John Oakley - Battle @john4battle
Georgina Hughes - Abbey @liberalgeorge
Kirsten Bayes - Redlands  @kirstenbayes
Dave Warren - Southcote @dave4southcote
Jamie Wake - Whitley @jamiewake

For a full list of Lib Dem candidates standing in the local elections in Reading on 5 May visit our local Party's website.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Empty Promises: Manifesto Shows Reading Labour Have Nothing to Offer Residents

Back in March I posed the question on my blog: which services would Reading Labour cut to balance the Council's books? This has since proved to be one of the most popular posts ever on my blog.

 Back then I wrote:
"Over the past year Labour councillors in Reading have opposed every single saving we have identified and every charge we have sought to introduce which when taken together help protect services to the most vulnerable.

In their mindless opposition to everything Labour councillors have not differentiated between bulky waste charges and day centre charges: they are opposed to them all.

When pressed as to what they would do to fund services the Labour Group Leader stated that "we wouldn't start from here".

So no alternative Budget was tabled.

This near silence has left me in no doubt at all that were they running the Council now Labour would be cutting more jobs and axing more services than the Coalition Administration has.

So the question then becomes not if but what would Labour cut and which services would they axe.

Libraries? Leisure Centres? Sure Start Centres?

Labour councillors are always quick to point the finger at us but more reticent about offering solutions."

Fast forward to 22 April and less than two weeks before residents go to the polls Reading Labour Party finally got round to publishing their manifesto.

Well, I've read it and I still cannot find any details of what services Labour would cut or indeed how they would find the £19 million pounds savings the Council has to make from it's budget over the coming year.

I don't need to rehearse the arguments that have already been made. Lib Dems and Conservatives put together a budget to protect the vulnerable where Labour could not.

We are not complacent about the work we still need to do to make Reading a better place for residents - publishing our 'Six to Fix'  local Lib Dem manifesto earlier this week which builds on the work we have done this year and sets out our plan of action for the future.

As outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne MP said when he handed over the keys to the Treasury to the incoming Coalition Government:
"There's no money left."
So we have to do things differently.

Ministers who have visited Reading have had nothing but praise for the work the Lib Dems are doing working with the Conservatives to protect and improve services for residents.

Let's have a look at some of Labour's election pledges in more detail.

1. Labour will stand up for stand up for a cleaner Reading by making clean streets a priority.
  • This is a completely uncosted commitment - Labour failed to put forward ANY proposals to fund increased street-cleaning during the Budget process.
  • When the Council was run by Labour streets in many out of town areas were ignored as Council staff were forced to face national targets around street cleaning set in Whitehall.
  • Lib Dems successfully campaigned for extra cleaning in 12 local shopping areas across Reading.
  • When Labour controlled the Council dog-fouling, fly-tipping and littering went unpunished because Labour failed to use powers given to councils under the Clean Neighbourhoods Act passed by the Labour Government in 2005!
  • The Coalition Administration swiftly brought in these powers and set up a new Environmental Warden service to crack down on environmental crime and keep local streets clean.
2.  Labour will radically re-organise the Council and its services to deliver savings and protect people in need.
  • Apparently this will include plans to 'radically review senior management' - so presumably this will mean cutting more jobs, something Labour have always said they were against.
  • Given the £19 million pounds savings the Council will have to make this year regardless of who is running it I would have thought getting rid of the people who manage vital services to among other people vulnerable children and adults does not sound like a good idea.
  • Labour plan to 'restructure' the publicity function of the Council - this is already happening.
  • Lib Dems forced Labour when they were running the Council to scrap the Council's costly magazine.
  • Labour plan to 'overhaul electronic communication to make radical savings' - a review of IT services is already underway. What are Labour planning? Getting rid of the Council's website?
  • When Labour ran the Council the Council had no social media strategy - this is one of the first things we brought in as a new administration.
  • We are committed to exploring new ways to engage residents beyond Council meetings - and I have led this agenda in Reading.
  • Reading Labour Party ran the Council for 23 years and failed to make any inroads in cutting wasteful bureaucracy or delivering services differently.
  • I have seen no evidence that Labour Group Leader Cllr Lovelock and other senior councillors who once ran the Council would bring any new ideas to the table this time.
  • Since the Lib Dems and Conservatives took over the running of the Council last year we have brought about several important changes to the way the Council delivers services to save money.
  • We brought forward plans to share legal services with Wokingham Borough Council
  • We agreed plans to repair Wokingham BC's council houses which will bring in significant income to the Council helping tenants and taxpayers.
  • We scrapped unaffordable car allowances to Council staff and taxpayer funding of trade union officials which existed under Labour.
  • We also launched a new landlord accreditation scheme in partnership with the National Landlord Association to improve standards in private rented housing.
  • Labour councillors advocated a system which would have costs thousands and delivered little.
  • Under Labour many Council services overlapped - wasting taxpayers money.
  • Labour councillors opposed our review of the warden service which will result in a more cost-effective and joined up service.
3. Labour will use the Council's watchdog powers to stand up for the local NHS
  • Under Labour, the Council had not powers to scrutinise private sector providers of health services in Reading.
  • The Coalition Government's Health & Social Care Bill currently going through Parliament includes new powers for Council scrutiny committees to scrutinise all providers of NHS services - including private sector providers.
  • The shadow Health & Wellbeing Board we recently set up includes places for 3 councillors + 2 opposition councillors as observers so will have more democratic input than many other councils
4. Labour will stand up for those least able to care for themselves
  • Labour have pledged to 'reverse the daily charge of £43 for day centres' and 'Labour will suspend the cuts to community care and undertake a full review of the service to ensure no elderly person is left without support they need.
  • As I have said many times Labour's approach to adult social care is completely wrongheaded and will lead to services to the most vulnerable in Reading being seriously threatened in future.
  • A 3 month consultation about transforming community care services has already taken place, with over 1,000 submissions being received.
  • Labour's plans will be costly and disruptive coming so soon after the recent in depth review
  • Where is the money going to come from for this?
  • They will lead to the Council's budget being overspent by around £2 million pounds per year.
  • As Labour are not proposing to cut any service it is clear they intend to pay for this overspend by massively increasing Council Tax.
5. Labour will involve people more effectively to ensure that all voices are heard equally
  • This is possible one of the least credible pledges of the lot as Labour's record on public consultation is dire.
  • Labour's attempt to force through a new one-way IDR and introducing fortnightly bin collections are just two examples of their unwillingness to engage the public.
  • The coalition administration of the Council consulted the public before setting it's budget - something Labour never did when they ran the Council.
  • Labour plan to set up more Council forums but don't say how they would fund them.
  • We introduced a social media strategy to involve more residents in decision-making.
  • We are publishing all Council spending online to increase accountability and transparency - this never happened under Labour.
  • We have increased funding to the voluntary sector to build community capacity and to ensure all communities have a voice in Reading.
  • We have set up new funding streams to enable community groups fairer access to funding.
  • Our recent review of operations at the Civic Centre saved the taxpayer £60,000.
6. Labour will set up a New Local Partnership to stand up for Reading
  • Reading already has one Local Strategic Partnership and Reading CIC (economic development) so why are Labour politicians proposing another one?
  • Reading is one of the most successful economies in the UK - it doesn't need another unelected body to 'stand up' for its interests
  • There are no details in Labour's manifesto about how this new body would be funded - so that will be the taxpayer then.
  • The Labour government set up more unelected quangos at national and local level than anyone else.
  • We are committed to investing public money in public services and the voluntary sector - not more bureaucracy.
7. Labour will work with our partners to continue the regeneration of the town
  • Thanks to Labour's mismanagement of the public finances public money for regeneration and other capital projects has been scarce.
  • Despite this the Coalition Administration of the Council has been very successful in securing public and private investment in Reading.
  • We secured £9.7m additional investment from Government to deliver much-needed overhaul of Reading Station.
  • We are actively lobbying ministers to localise business rates as part of the Government's review of local government finance to enable more money raised in Reading to be spent in Reading.
  • Labour councillors opposed plans to invest £10 million pounds in investing Council homes and estates at Council this year as part of our campaign to maintain decent homes and neighbourhoods in Reading.
  • We are investing £400,000 this year in improving council estates across Reading which were allowed to get run down by Labour when they ran the Council.
  • Since the Coalition Administration has been running Reading Council we have won millions of pounds of external funding to build much needed new homes.
  • We are building the first new council homes in Reading for 20 years on the former Avenue School Site in Katesgrove.
  • When across the Country regeneration projects have stalled we won £.3.7 million pounds from Government to develop 76 new affordable homes in Dee Park in Reading.
  • We also successfully won cash to build new homes for disabled people in Southcote and are bringing forward plans to increase supported living accommodation for people with learning disabilities.
8. Labour would review the Green Bin Fiasco
  • There are no details in the manifesto as to what this 'review' would involve.
  • If Labour were to reverse this decision there would be cost to the taxpayer attached so which services would they cut to fund it?
  • 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 would be subsidising those who could.
  • As I blogged in February  throughout the year Labour have rejected every single idea we have considered to help fund vital services to Reading by increasing the Council's income.
9. Labour will maintain the Council’s commitment to paying a living wage.
  • We are fully committed to paying Council staff a living wage - always have been, always will be.
  • It was the Coalition Administration of Reading Council that brought in policies to ensure fair pay between male and staff Council staff.
  • Labour councillors new about unequal pay for at least three years and failed to act - so much for standing up for the workforce!
  • The Lib Dems and Conservatives have worked together to keep job losses to a minimum - unlike many Labour-run councils.
So that's Labour's pledges. What won't will you see mentioned in Labour's manifesto?
  1. Cuts to services - Labour will not say which services they will cut if they regained control of the Council in Reading. Yet look around the country and there is clear evidence in Manchester, Camden, Brent and Islington that when Labour are in charge they axe services and cut jobs.  No sure start centres or libraries are closing in councils run by the Lib Dems.
  2. Council Tax - no mention anywhere in Labour's manifesto. I wonder why.
  3. Child poverty - 1-5 children in Reading live in poverty and the number grew when Labour ran the Council. We want to reduce poverty and improve social mobility so we are investing in education for Reading's poorest children through the Pupil Premium and diverting council funding to community groups that are working with the Council to reduce poverty.
  4. Carers - for years the needs of carers in Reading got overlooked. Carers are local heroes and we are working with a range of organisations to deliver more support to carers.
  5. Empty homes - this has never been a priority for Labour. We are one of the few councils continue to invest in bringing much needed-empty homes back into use.
  6. Mental Health - 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from mental health problems at some point in their life. In Reading the Government is investing in 'Talking Therapies' so more people can get support and the Council is working closely with the voluntary sector to support residents.
  7. Pot holes - the Council under Coalition control is  investing more in improving local roads after years of underinvestment by the Labour.
  8. Sorry - no apologies from Labour for screwing up the economy and the Council's finances
  9. Trees - parts of Reading have very little tree cover and despite massive public spending during the last 13 years Labour made no effort to increase the number of trees in the borough. We will be planting new trees across Reading this year thanks to the smart budget agreed by Lib Dem and Conservative MPs this year
11 months in opposition and Labour still don't get it. They have not learned from their past mistakes or embraced new ways of doing things.

Don't give them the chance to mess things up in Reading again: vote Lib Dem in 5 May!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Campaigning to Cut Crime on Northumberland Avenue

Get Reading has reported on the ongoing problems faced by residents living on Northumberland Avenue, and my campaign to get action taken to make the neighbourhood safer and more pleasant for people who live there.Northumberland Avenue is a residential street divided between several wards, including my own so I feel responsible for looking out for people who live and visit the area. I attended a public meeting at the South Reading Youth & Community Centre on Northumberland Avenue a few weeks ago where serious concerns were expressed by local residents - in particular about alcohol-related disorder.
Following the meeting I have been actively pursuing several of the issues local people raised as I was not satisfied with the Police response. I visited Northumberland Avenue last weekend to meet a resident affected and witnessed street-drinking and rowdy behaviour taking place in the middle of day. This is completely unacceptable in a residential area with homes, schools, shops and community centres nearby. Parents have also contacted me concerned that the problems will deter children and families from visiting Sure Start Whitley which is also based in the area.
I will be meeting soon with senior Police and Council officers to see what can be done to reduce anti-social behaviour in the area.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reading Labour's Spending of Taxpayer's Money Back in the Spotlight

The Taxpayers Alliance recently published two recent reports highlighting controversial spending of taxpayers money by local authorities and public bodies across the UK - including by Labour when they ran the Council in Reading (up until last May).

I don't tend to follow the TPA that closely but these two recent reports caught my eye.

The first is in relation to car allowances for staff which were recently reduced by the Coalition administration to 25 pence per mile, saving the taxpayer £95,000 and helping the Council to safeguard vital services to residents.

The Reading Evening Post revealed in 2009 how the Council when it was controlled by Labour paid some staff £2.10 per mile.

You can view the Taxpayer's Alliance's national report into how council car allowances compare here.

The second was a research paper the Taxpayers Alliance recently published into taxpayer funding of trades unions - an issue which hit the headlines in Reading a couple of months back.

Reading Labour - Out of Touch on Adult Social Care

Earlier this week, a neighbour pulled out of her red recycling bin a Labour leaflet which has a go at the Coalition Administration for introducing new charges for day care in Reading.

This was not an easy decision but like most things it was one we had to take after Labour failed to manage the budget responsibly when they ran the Council.

Following a detailed public consultation we agreed to phase in the introduction of charges to enable people affected time to adapt to the change.

The approach I led constitutes responsible policy-making - in contrast to blatant electioneering, on Labour's part.

In their leaflet, Labour provide readers with a guide to ‘what you could buy with £43 pounds'.

It neglects to mention that 40 % of people who receive care including day care will not  by charged under our plans – not even £5.90 they currently pay under Labour's social care policies.

This leaflet says a lot about Labour in Reading. It illustrates just how out of of touch they are when it comes to adult social care.

The fact that that Labour's menu of choices includes a meal for two at the L’Ortolan – an upmarket restaurant on the outskirts of Reading says rather more about Labour councillors' eating habits than it does about social care.

But this pathetic leaflet misses the point in two very important ways.

Firstly, it misses the point about how we are transforming and personalising social care services - something Labour failed to do when they were in charge.

Secondly, it fails to explain how Labour would fund social care when demand for services is rising.

Because if Labour didn't introduce charges for some services we can only assume they would cut services.

The Lib Dems in Reading are committed to giving all residents more choice, better services and protecting services to vulnerable people.

We view residents as individuals not passive recipients of services.

We care about meeting people's needs so they can reach their full potential - regardless of the challenges they face.

Residents are not forced to spend their personal budget or their own hard-earned cash on particular services or buy them from particular providers.

Residents are encouraged to purchase the services which give them best outcome for themselves or the people they care for.

Under our proposals, and the reforms being brought forward by the Coalition Government choice over things that really matter to people including social care lies not with civil servants or politicians but with residents themselves.

Unlike Labour, the Lib Dems locally and nationally are committed to giving local people more choice over services in future, not less.

Labour’s record and rhetoric on social care

For years when Labour were in charge in Reading the Council was run under the mantra ‘Council services are best'.

Sadly their aspiration did not result in excellent services or outcomes for residents or carers.

When I was Chair of community care Scrutiny in Reading for two years I challenged officers and councillors to provide better services following the publication of several highly critical external inspection reports by the Care Quality Commission.

It was very clear from these external inspections that for many years (when Labour were running the Council) adult social care services were lacking and did not match up to other councils.

And this - when public spending was at its height.

Adult social care services in Reading have now improved substantially thankfully.

At national level Labour ministers attempted to introduce more person-centred social care but Labour councillors in Reading resisted this as it posed a threat to their local model of 'Council knows best'.

They put politics before people.

Why? Because Labour in Reading are not interested in giving local people power and control over their lives.
Labour in Reading are just interested in power.

Hence their leaflet – another desperate attempt to win votes by attacking other parties and failing to put forward any details of how they would pay for their policies

And hence Labour's opposition to personalisation and offering residents real choice.

The most recent example of their flawed approach can be seen in relation to bin collections, when Labour councillors tried to stop the Council giving Reading residents more choice over refuse collections.

When Labour made major changes to waste collections they didn’t consult residents and the decision was made after the local elections, not before.

Why offer personalised services?

Personal budgets are about allowing people to buy services which best meet their or their families needs.

They are about allowing every individual to reach their full potential.

They are about residents getting maximum value from every pound they spend.

The Coalition Government has pledged to increase personal budgets to more people.

Because not everyone has the same needs. And the state does not always know best.

We need to trust residents to make the right decisions – with professional advice and support from social workers and trained staff.

The carer I met on Monday with Care Services Minister Paul Burstow MP explained how she had spent direct payments from the Council not on care but on a gardening because this gave her the peace of mind she was seeking.

Since her husband had suffered a stroke a few years ago gardening has become a real burden on her to the point that the couple were on the point of having to move.

Getting a gardener in has meant one less thing for her to worry about, on top of her caring role.

A few years ago buying this service would not be an option for her. She would not have had a choice.

When Labour ran the Council carers needs did not come first and carers did not get the breaks they needed.

The Lib Dems want to support carers better so we are actively investigating ways to help them increase their independence even further.

Why charge for social care?

The second reason Labour’s leaflet misses the point is that it fails to explain how they as a Party would finance social care in Reading.

The charge we have set for day care services reflects the costs they cost us as a Council to provide.

Social care services have never been free they have always been means tested.

Our day care charges compare to:

  • Around £80 pounds per day charged by Wokingham Borough Council.
  • Around £200 per day in the private sector.
Under Labour’s policies, Council Tax Payers heavily subsidised the actual cost of providing day care to people who had been assessed as being able to afford to make a contribution towards their care.

This resulted in the Council’s social care budget being overspent every single year.

Thanks to the financial mess Labour nationally have left us the Council is no longer in a position to operate on this kind of basis.

If we operated adult social are the way Labour did we would need to close other services such as libraries this year to balance the books.

But unlike many Labour councils – we haven’t closed a single library or Sure Start centre in Reading.

This is thanks to the prudent way in which we have managed the budget.

So we've learnt something from Labour's election leaflet: the Labour Party in Reading are campaigning against increasing choice and control for residents and against measures which help protect services to the vulnerable.

Bear this in mind when you come to cast your vote in Reading on 5 May.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Minister Paul Burstow MP Backs "Clear Plan of Action for the People of Reading"

Today it was a pleasure to welcome Paul Burstow MP - Care Services Minister to Reading. This is the second ministerial visit we have had in recent weeks in support of our local election campaign - following Andrew Stunell MP's visit a few weeks ago.

The Lib Dem team in Reading works hard all year round to improve the lives of local residents so it is nice to get support and recognition for what we do from senior figures within the Party and within Government.

I was particularly pleased Paul Burstow chose to visit us as social care is one of the issues closest to my heart. 

Like me Paul is passionate about this area of policy- in particular improving the lives of vulnerable people and championing the rights of carers - the unsung heroes in our community.Thanks to the hard work done by Paul Burstow and his team improving care and support for carers and vulnerable people is right at the heart of national government policy and The Coalition Agreement.

I have got to know Paul quite well as he holds regular conference calls with councillors so he can keep us up to speed with issues in Government and so more importantly we can feed key issues and concerns back to him.

I had been badgering Paul to come and visit us for a while. He has had a good excuse having been very busy leading the Coalition Government's health and social care agenda for the Lib Dems.

Paul Burstow came to Reading to help us launch our Local Election Manifesto: "Six to Fix".

This is focussed around 6 broad themes:
  1. Cut waste, protect services and keep taxes low.
  2. Protect services to the vulnerable.
  3. A cleaner and greener Reading.
  4. Cutting crime in Reading.
  5. Giving children and young people the best start in life.
  6. Better housing and decent neighbourhoods for all.
I sent Paul a copy of our manifesto before he arrived and he told me:
 'It looks like a solid record of delivery and clear plan of action for the people of Reading."
Paul was a councillor in Sutton for a number of years before he became an MP and has visited many councils up and down the country so I really respect his opinion.

 I talked to him about the work I have led to transform adult social care in Reading to make it fairer and more sustainable. We also talked at length about the work we have been doing in Reading to help improve the lives of carers.

Cllr Kirsten Bayes talked to Paul about the work she has led to balance the Council's budget whilst protecting vital services - no easy task.

After the manifesto launch in Forbury Gardens we took Paul to meet a couple who live in West Reading who have benefited from Direct Payments. She is a full-time carer to her husband who suffered from a Stroke a few years ago.

Direct Payments enable carers and the people they care for to choose what they spend their personal budget on. The Coalition Government is looking to extend this to a wider range of people in the future. 

I have got to know this lovely couple through my work as Lead Councillor for Community Care in Reading. I went to meet them a few of weeks ago to learn first hand about their experiences with self-directed support to help inform my decisions around social care in Reading.

I was very keen to see how they were doing and introduce them to Paul who I know cares deeply about these issues. 

Paul listened intently to what they had to say and talked about the Government's desire to promote choice and independence for people through the reforms he is leading on social care.

Speaking to the residents afterwards they said they enjoyed meeting Paul and really liked his informal style. He really knows his stuff so it was great to hear what he had to say.

I also picked up a few pointers from the visit about how we can make life easier for carers around planning respite care. I will be taking these issues up with Council officers to see what we can do to help carers.

Paul seemed very impressed by what he saw in Reading today and has promised to return to see the work we are doing again soon.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Reading Residents Welcome New Blooms

Long before I became Lead Councillor for Housing I have cared deeply about the need to help to create decent homes and neighbourhoods in Reading. This grew out of my experience as a ward councillor representing one of the most deprived estates in the Borough - Hexham Road.

Since 2006, both in opposition and more recently in administration I have actively campaigned to help create a better local built environment in Reading.

Recently residents from Caversham to Whitley have been in touch with me and colleagues at the Council  to welcome the new spring blooms planted by the Council's housing department on public land and funded by our unique Decent Neighbourhood Fund which are currently adding colour to many estate areas across Reading.

Locally I have led the campaign for estates to receive more attention from the Council after many areas were neglected for many years by Labour councillors.

The Decent Neighbourhoods Fund which I helped create is localism in action: local residents have the power to decided what improvements should be made in their neighbourhood and Housing officers are always keen to hear from residents with ideas.

For example, in Southcote older residents successfully won funding from the Council to create an outdoor gym in their neighbourhood.

So why plant flowers? Because plants and flowers make local areas more relaxing, pleasant places for people to live - no question about it.

These photos were sent to me by a resident in Whitley ward who commented:
"Perhaps some of these photos could be used in the Whitley Green Residents Association Newsletter or other Council publications to show that Whitley/Whitley Wood can look very pretty in Spring with the help of the Daffodils in bloom - - - - - - and they have all been left intact for everyone to admire and not vandalised !!"
Daffodils and other plants have been planted all over Reading over the past 18 months, on housing land, including: Elizabeth House, Gosbrook Rd, Wensley Rd, Coley; Whitley Green; Coronation Square, Southcote; Granville Road, Southcote, Swallowfield Drive, Whitley; Hexham Estate, Whitley.

A wildflower meadow is being established, also thanks to decent neighbourhoods, under an apple tree in Brunswick Street. Once completed, the area by the flats will feature a beautiful display of flowers.

Above is a picture of me with members of Emmer Green Residents Association in Peppard who have welcomed the new blooms planted by the Council.

Of the display one resident told the Council:
 "It looks beautiful. It is sheer pleasure to drive past and see the hundreds of daffodils and crocuses in bloom, and to know that now the fences have also been put up so people can't park there, the flowers will be there year after year. I want to thank you so much for lifting the spirits of people in Emmer Green." "
Over the next year the Council will invest a further £400,000 improving neighbourhoods and estates in Reading managed by Reading Borough Council even further. I think this is money well spent and the comments I have received from residents bears this out. Please get in touch if you live on an estate in Reading and have ideas as to how we can improve the look and feel of your neighbourhood.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New Funding Opportunities for Local Community Groups Agreed

Yesterday evening the Cabinet of the Liberal Democrat - Conservative Coalition of Reading Borough Council agreed new criteria and process for allocating £181k of new funding to voluntary and community groups in Reading £81k of the grant funding will be revenue and £100k capital funding.

This follows the decision on 17 January to agree the budget allocation for grants 2011/2012 and the setting of the overall budget of the Council on 22 February 2011 when the Coalition administration of the Council agreed to increase funding to the local voluntary sector - in marked contrast to other councils across the country.

This approach has won praise from the National Association of Voluntary and Community Associations and The Spectator magazine which recently described Reading as 'a model council'.

New revenue and capital funding streams have been created to distribute funding to community and voluntary sector groups in Reading which support the priorities of  the Council which include:
  • Better value for our residents
  • Fairness for all our residents
  • Pride in our town and ambition for its future
  • Innovation in all aspects of the Council to bring about positive change
I was involved in 2009 in a CCEA Scrutiny Panel Review of the way Grant Aid was allocated to voluntary organisations in Reading. This called for greater transparency and flexibility in the process. It also concluded that funding decisions should be more closely linked to the Council's overall priorities.

As I said at Cabinet last night, I am strongly in favour of this revised approach to grant funding decisions - after all, it is public money and we need to be able to justify every penny and pound that we spend locally.

This is important to increase public confidence in what the Council does both as a public body and as a local authority.

It is also importan to ensure the process for applying for grant funding is opened up to ensure it is as accessible as possible to all groups - not just a select few who understand how the process works or who perhaps benefited from funding in the past.

It has been necessary to improve Council processes in relation to grant funding: when Labour ran the Council there was a woeful lack of transparency and accountability in the way in which grants were allocated.

Under the new approach to funding, subject to Cabinet's decision there will be 4 grant rounds for groups to 'bid' for - in June, August, November and February for revenue grants: and 2 rounds in August and February for capital grants.

Following each round, in the interests of maximum transparency and accountability a Decision Book will be published providing details of proposed grant awards. Each application deadline and the budget balances will be clearly publicised through the Council's website and Borough Council's Funding Digest publication.

Grants will be non-recurring (i.e. for one year only) and in order to be granted applicants must provide evidence to the Council of majority benefit to residents of Reading Borough Council and value for money:
  • Small Community Grants - Budget £20,000
  • Large Community Grants - Budget £81,000
  • Capital Grants - Budget £100,000
The first category of grants is designed to support small projects including start up costs and events at neighbourhood level.

The second category of grants will be allocated to groups that demonstrate they are helping to address the Council's priorities of reducing child poverty, increasing community capacity and celebrity diversity.

I am particularly pleased to see the Council supporting community efforts to reduce poverty - this is a critical issue for us in Reading and something that Labour did too little to address when they were in power.

As my colleague Cllr Kirsten Bayes said in the meeting, with 1 in 5 children in our area living in poverty we believe strongly that the Council must look at everything it does to try to reduce poverty. This is something that the Liberal Democrats are firmly committed to doing.

The third category is for capital grants to local groups that are responsible for not for profit buildings or wish to improve their local environment and quality of life. For example, funding could go to building alterations and extensions, building equipment, and local area enhancement of a capital nature.

When councils across England are cutting funding to the voluntary sector, it sends a very positive message that here in Reading the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition is looking at new ways to support the efforts of community groups and volunteers who work so hard to improve local neighbourhoods and the lives of local people.

I really hope that local groups come forward and take advantage of these new opportunities.

Cabinet Agrees To Increase Supported Living Accomodation in Reading

Yesterday evening at Cabinet we took an important step in agreeing to enable officers to identify more properties in Reading to be converted into supported living accomodation for people with learning difficulties.

Officers will now look into converting four existing properties into supported living accomodation.

We have an urgent need in Reading for more appropriate accomodation to enable the growing number of adults with learning difficulties in our community to live more independent lives.

As an administration we are strongly committed to increasing choice, control and independence for all residents to help everyone get the most out of life.

This decision is not only good news for residents with learning difficulties themselves, but Council Taxpayers too.  Supported living placements tend to be around 50% cheaper than residential placements so this move will help limited public funds go further, helping to reduce the need to increase Council Tax.

Win-Win For Residents As Reading Council Extends Repairs Service To Wokingham Council Homes

Reading Borough Council, currently led by a  Liberal Democrat -Conservative Coalition has entered into an innovative partnership arrangement with neighbouring Wokingham Borough Council to take over repairs and maintenance of Council housing in Wokingham..

RBC recently agreed to share legal services departments - saving residents in both areas money by improving effciency and use of resources.

This latest step builds on the work that the Council is already doing in relation on housing repairs.

Reading Council has its own in-house Housing Repairs service which is based in Darwin Close off Basingstoke Road.

I have been to meet staff in the service several times and the service they deliver is a credit to the Council and the town.

So how did this new arrangement come about? There are around 2,000 Council Homes in Wokingham which until recently were repaired by a private contractor.

Reading Council came to Wokingham Council's aid after Connaught, the private company providing repairs went into administration last September. Since then RBC has been repairing properties in Wokingham on a temporary basis for some weeks.

This builds on work the Council in Reading is already doing providing emergency cover to Catalyst Housing Group - a housing association which has a large number of properties in the Berkshire.
This new arrangement is good news not only for Council tenants living in Wokingham - who will benefit from a reliable repairs service which is based just down the road but it is also very good news for Reading residents - for the following reasons:-
  • This partnership will generate significant income for the Council in Reading over a three year period
  • This additional income will help make the Council's in-house repairs service more sustainable - safeguarding our excellent repairs service for tenants
  • This extra income will also help the Council in Reading to continue to provide vital services at a time when the Council is facing substantial reductions to its grant from government
  • This will also help safeguard and protect jobs in Reading's Council housing repairs service by providing additional work for a minimum of 3 years
  • Sharing local services will help the Council in Reading to increase buying power and efficiency thereby reducing costs to be borne by local Council Taxpayers
  • If successful, this partnership could be extended so that Reading Council offers repairs services to other local authorities or housing associations
Given the poor relations which are well known to have existed between Reading Labour Party and Conservative-controlled Wokingham Council for many years it is very hard to imagine this arrangement coming to fruition had Labour been running the Council here in Reading.

Labour councillors in Reading regularly put politics before local people when they ran the Council, failing to foster good relations with neighbouring councils which could have led to a better deal for residents.

As a result opportunities for local councils to work together were missed and residents in Reading and neighbouring areas have lost out.

I am delighted that I as an administration we have been able to bring this excellent initiative forward swiftly this year for the benefit of Council tenants and taxpayers in both Reading and Wokingham.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

New Landlord Accreditation Scheme Benefits Tenants, Landlords and Taxpayers

Last year under leadership of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition the Council signed up to a new landlord accreditation scheme (las) to help improve standards in the private rented sector.

We took the decision to join this scheme which is operated by the National Landlord Association following a review of the old scheme which was operated inhouse by the Council when it was under Labour control.

The review found that:
"'while LAS is a useful tool to stakeholders, the re-launch of Reading’s current LAS would not deliver outcomes in the most cost-effective way.'  
It continued:
'The (previous)scheme did not drive up house conditions significantly because landlords attracted to LAS are generally those with property in good order already.
The soft outcomes of running the scheme are outweighed by the fact that the scheme had contact with only 2.3% of Reading’s rental market despite vigorous promotion and a cost of circa £34k per annum."
So not only was Labour's scheme ineffective but it was a big waste of taxpayer's money too.

Labour councillors opposed the move, despite the fact that their landlord accreditation scheme had stopped running a few years back.

Despite this when it came to the Budget meeting a few weeks ago Labour councillors did not put forward any proposals to fund landlord accreditation so I can only assume they would not reinstate their old scheme or if they did they would have to fund it by cutting funding for some other service to pay for it.

The new scheme we launched involved the Council signing up to a national scheme operated by the National Landlord Association.

This has enabled us to operate a high-quality scheme at minimum cost to Council Tax Payers and freeing up officers to focus their energies on tackling the worst offenders in the sector.

Since the scheme was launched last year 25 landlords have gone through the accreditation process and become fully accredited. I hope this will help increase tenant confidence in the sector. I also  hope many more landlords go through the process and this helps to promote high standards in the sector.

More networking and training events for landlords in Reading are planned for April - find details here.

Why Social Mobility Matters in Reading

Even if you don't have time to read the whole document, the executive summary of the Coalition Government's Social Mobility Strategy makes salutary reading:
"There is a long way to go. The income and social class of parents continue to have a huge bearing on a child’s chances.
  • Only one in five young people from the poorest families achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with threequarters from the richest families.
  • 25% of children from poor backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment level at the end of primary school, compared to 3% from affluent backgrounds.
  • Almost one in five children receive free school meals, yet this group accounts for fewer than one in a hundred Oxbridge students.
  •  Only a quarter of boys from working-classbackgrounds get middle-class (professional or managerial) jobs.
  • Just one in nine of those with parents from low income backgrounds reach the top income quartile, whereas almost half of those with parents in the top income quartile stay there. 
  • Only 7% of the population attend independent schools, but the privately educated account for more than half of the top level of most professions, including 70% of high court judges, 54% of top journalists and 54% of chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies.
  • The influence of parental income on the income of children in Britain is among the strongest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Parental income has over one and a half times the impact on male incomes in Britain compared with Canada,Germany and Sweden.
This is Labour's real legacy to the young people of this country and it is a terrible one: not to have improved the life chances of many of the UK's poorest children.

Nick Clegg has long championed the need to do something about the fact that in parts of the UK the poorest children overtaken by richer ones in education by the age of 7 and I'm delighted he is using the platform of Government to try and bring about change.

This is as important at local level as it is nationally. Here in Reading where you are born and your background continues to exert a powerful influence on your ability to succeed.

This is wrong and I am committed to doing everything in my power to improve the life chances of everyone in our community - whatever their background. This is one of the issues that gets me out of bed in the morning and drives me to put the crazy hours I do into politics at local level.

I am driven in part because I realise how lucky I have been compared to others in my own life and I want to help others who haven't been so lucky.

I am state-school educated but I freely admit I have benefited from the sort of opportunities that many others have not such as work-experience and access to social networks of family and friends.

The Pupil Premium will  help us do that by investing in education of the poorest children in our community. Increasing apprenticeships in Reading also helps us do that as a Council.

At national level we will have for the first time up a joined-up cross-government approach that focusses resources on reducing child poverty - something Labour failed to do in 13 years.

Improving educational outcomes and social mobility is urgent in Reading where one in five children live in poverty.

In my role as Lead Member for Housing, Health and Community Care I take a keen interest in measures to tackle poverty and I was really pleased to see the role housing plays in the Government's new Child Poverty Strategy published today:
"Having a stable, good quality home to live in is a basic necessity. Children in bad housing conditions are more likely to have long-term ill health, slow physical growth and delayed cognitive development. A review by the British Medical Association highlighted the links between housing and a range of physical and mental health issues. Poor quality housing is associated with reduced mental well-being and housing conditions in childhood can have a long-term impact on health, even if conditions improve."
"The wider community in which a child grows up can also influence their future outcomes. The poorer the neighbourhood, the more likely it is to have high rates of crime, poor air quality, lack of green spaces and safe places for children to play.100 The report of the Government’s champion for active, safer communities, Baroness Newlove, demonstrates the contribution communities can make to keeping their neighbourhoods safe and how services can support communities to lead this work."
And I am proud that Nick Clegg is spearheading work across government to ensure that "birth is never destiny".  I would like to add my own aspiration: better to try and fail to build a more socially mobile society in Reading using the tools we have available than never to have tried at all.

Bin Collections in Reading: One Size Does Not Fit All

Next week at Cabinet we will be considering a report on plans to re-introduce weekly black bin collections in some narrow terraced streets in central Reading to help residents who have faced disruptions to their bin collection service to get a better service from their Council in the future.

This is something we pledged to do in our published local Coalition Agreement with the Conservatives.

The list of streets where additional collections are to be considered identified by officers working in Streetcare and to be discussed next week can be viewed here

As the press release issued by Reading Borough Council explains:
"The Council's Streetcare Team have identified a total of 47 streets – more than 1,800 properties – which could benefit from a weekly collection of their household waste.
Under the plans residents in these areas would put out their household rubbish in black sacks, rather than bins, and have them collected weekly, rather than fortnightly as is currently the case. Recycling collections would however remain fortnightly in these areas.
The streets were selected according to strict criteria, which are:
  • Where pavements are narrow – 1.2 metres or less – and where bins regularly block pedestrians, prams or wheelchair users passing safely, and where storage for black bins in front gardens is limited and binmen can't easily get to the bins;
  •  Where crews are experiencing operational difficulties in collecting bins because of parked cars blocking access to rubbish trucks, streets having limited storage space and other access problems.
If adopted at a Cabinet meeting on April 11, the next stage is for Reading Borough Council to consult with these residents to see if they are happy with the proposed changes and the switch to weekly collections."
That last bit is very important: the Council will consult with residents before making any changes.

This is precisely the opposite of the approach taken by Labour councillors when they implemented alternate weekly bin collections in Reading in October 2006.

I remember - I was there, having recently been elected on to the Council.  And I remember the chaos the introduction of alternate weekly collections caused for residents in the University area in my ward who didn't have space for two bins.

The problem was compounded when  rubbish built up at the end of University terms - something I successfully campaigned to sort out working with the University and Streetcare teams.

I made the point at that time that one size does not fit all in Reading when it came to bin collections and that still stands.

But deaf to any criticisms of their scheme Labour councillors attacked any opposition councillors who dared raise any objections to their scheme.

It's also worth noting that Labour introduced alternate weekly bin collections across Reading just weeks after the local elections - denying residents a chance to have their say on the plans via the ballot box.

And as the Cabinet minutes of the June 2006 meeting confirm Labour councillors did not consult residents before introducing the scheme:
"That the changes required to implement an alternate weekly collection of residual and recycling waste and the introduction of a green waste collection from 2 October 2006, as outlined in paragraph 5.1 of the report be approved;


That the Environment Scrutiny Panel be asked to monitor the scheme’s implementation and any specific problems that the changes to the collections may cause, and report back to Cabinet as appropriate."
Monitor the implementation of a scheme is rather different to asking residents if they want it or not, don't you think?

After the scheme was implemented without consultation I submitted email after email to the one off scrutiny review from residents disgusted with the way that Labour had blanket introduced the scheme and detailing problems it was causing local residents particularly in narrow streets.

Needless to say it took years for changes to be made to make Labour's flawed scheme work for residents in many parts of central Reading:-
  • One year after the scheme was introduced officers identified a number of problems with Labour's scheme in terraced areas and areas with high numbers of flats. Lines of red wheelie bins on London Road drew complaints from residents so as a result we successfully got the Council to swap unsighly bins for single bins on so-called "gateway" streets
  • Ward councillors in Redlands and Katesgrove reported large numbers of missed bin collections mainly in narrow terraced streets which occured after the scheme was introduced.
  • In 2008 the cross-cutting scrutiny review Cllr Ricky Duveen and I led into the tackling issues in the private rented sector identified the need to make improvements to waste collection in areas with high numbers of rented properties including flats and Houses of Multiple Occupation.
  • That same year, in response to our scrutiny review and one month before the local elections the Labour-run Council belatedly responded to problems by reintroducing weekly bin collection services in Oxford Road, London Road, Basingstoke Road and Southampton Street" to help address similar issues in these areas such as garden litter, bins on streets and overflowing bins."
Introducing weekly collections in priority areas is about ensuring all our residents receive a good waste collection service regardless of what type of property they live in.

We are absolutely clear that we will consult with and listen to what residents in affected areas tell us before taking a decision.

And we will continue to take no lessons whatsoever from Labour councillors when it comes to managing bin collections in the town. After all, their record on waste management is not a good one.