Yesterday was a historic day in Reading. The Lib Dem and Conservative councillors who voted the budget through will be remembered. But not as heroes who saved the day, as villains preying on the weak and vulnerable.
New Labour raised the axe, with a continuation of Thatcher's policy agenda -- privatisation, deregulation of financial markets and repression of trade unions -- but last night it was the Tories and the Lib Dems who brought it down locally.
Labour's three amateur amendments all fell. As did mine to reverse the grant cut to Reading Council for Racial Equality -- thanks to Councillor Tickner for seconding it. Although, at least mine was complemented for being costed, which none of the Labour amendments were in any detail.
So the budget went through unamended containing £19 million of cuts. Thousands of people will lose care from the council. School meal prices are going up. Local pensioner bus fare concessions have been cut. The list goes on. Depressing.
300 council jobs will also go. The worst-case scenario is a £2 million redundancy payout, 300 people not paying tax and 300 people claiming benefits. Is this good? No. Will it stimulate the economy? No. Will it result in a fairer Reading? No. And this is just the beginning. We have at least three more years of this to come if the Lib Dems and Conservatives continue to be able to advance their agenda.
The meeting finished just before midnight, so I was glad that I had taken some lasagne that I cooked earlier in the week to eat in one of the breaks! Very few members of the public made it to the end.
So where next? Well better late than never the leader of the Lib Dems locally Councillor Bayes has joined with other Lib Dems in saying that the settlement from the government is unfair. Does Councillor Cumpsty, leader of the Conservatives, have the courage to start pushing back too?
But really neither the councillors nor the MPs are powerful. It is the people of Reading, the people who came to the demonstration last night against the cuts, and the people who stood in the public gallery and the foyer listening who have the power. I am sure those people will use their power at election time to show what they think of the Coalition locally, and I'm sure they will use their power more creatively in the interim.
I will continue to work with local people for a fairer deal for all of Reading.