Saturday, 25 February 2012

Reading RESCUE 2012

Newtown GLOBE and Kennet and Brunel Residents' Association, with anyone else interested in helping, will be doing a litter pick and some willow maintenance at Kennet Mouth – where the River Thames joins the River Kennet – from 10 AM on Sunday, March 11. This is part of Reading RESCUE (Rivers and Environmental Spaces Cleanup Event).

We will provide some tools and equipment but if you have your own gloves, loppers etc please bring them along.

Let me know if you plan to come so I have some idea of numbers.

You can find a full list of RESCUE events across reading here.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

"Conservative budget" voted through

At full Council earlier in the week Labour's budget was voted through with support from the Lib Dems and Conservatives. We had been critical of this budget because we thought it left Reading residents worse off especially the most vulnerable.

Our specific concerns centred around some of the Conservative cuts from last year that we wanted to see reversed such as changes to eligibility criteria (adult social care) and cuts to bus fare concessions for the elderly. We also felt that some cuts this year such as to the transport budget for children with special educational needs went too far.

As we expected our amendment for a small council tax increase to safeguard services and put us in a better financial position this year and next was defeated.

It was interesting to note that pretty much every Conservative who spoke said something along the lines of "I am supporting this budget because it is a Conservative budget and it maintains our policies from last year".

I am now braced for the next salvo of Labour leaflets which will undoubtedly and ironically attack us for trying to protect public services and the people that use them.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Reading's budget and jobs

Much has been reported about Labour's proposed budget in Reading. One of our concerns around the budget was what it was going to do to jobs. The figure that has been reported is that there will be approximately 30 redundancies which in the whole scheme of things, and in relation to the size of the cuts, doesn't sound too bad. However, a little probing revealed the following to be the situation.

"The full time equivalent (fte) reductions across the Council are as follows:

29.98 fte reduction through the Voluntary Release Scheme
36.9 fte reduction through deletion of vacant posts or ‘natural wastage’
28.49 fte employees at risk of redundancy (as discussed, these individuals may well be redeployed to other posts in the Council before any redundancy notice is issued)"

So the actual figure for jobs and posts going or gone is closer to 100 (95.37 fte).

If you believe the Labour Party rhetoric this will have no impact on frontline services. Unfortunately for them their own staff consultation acknowledges that where they have cut back office staff this will put more work on to frontline staff reducing time with service users.

Labour locally are doing the bidding of the Tory-led government. No Council can escape this, but we think that through a small increase in council tax the damage can be limited, and the vulnerable protected.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Greens say "set a budget for the vulnerable, jobs and the economy"

Once again Reading Borough Council is preparing its annual budget and this year it has a stark choice, point out Reading Greens. It can either increase council tax by a small amount to cope with the cuts in funding (1), or it can take a token one-off bribe from the Tory government for freezing council tax.

Whilst the second option looks superficially attractive, it would not only leave the Council worse off this year by nearly £0.7m, but it would make a much bigger hole of nearly £5m in next year’s Council finances (2).

At the same time, central government is slashing its funding to the council year on year, already forcing major cuts in services and jobs (3). Accepting the one-off bribe would only make things worse.

In response, Reading Greens are proposing an average increase on council tax of 87p per week (4) to protect vulnerable children and adults and to safeguard vital services. At 3.5%, this increase would be a lot less than current inflation. They propose one more small increase in 2013/14.

Green councillor Rob White said: "we need a fair budget for tough times. The Council is facing unprecedented cuts to its funding and is proposing to reduce services or cut staff in areas such as special needs transport, learning disability support and respite care.

"The budget cuts will reduce the Council's capacity and flexibility to deliver public services and cuts to the back office will put more pressure on frontline staff reducing the time spent with service users.

"We think that this is unfair, unacceptable and as we said in our manifesto last year we think public services are important and we will defend them. For 87p per week – not per head, but per household - it is possible to limit this damage in the coming budget and to avoid finding ourselves in a massive hole next year.

"It is clear that council tax is an imperfect system, but it is one of the few options councils have to raise income. Council tax is fairer than some other options because the poorest don't pay anything and the people with the largest homes pay most. We understand these are difficult economic times and so we feel that an increase in council tax has to be modest and below inflation. This applies not just this year, but next year too, whereas a freeze this year would need a massive hike next year to make up lost income.

"Through a combination of reducing costs, and increasing some charges and council tax, we think it is possible to protect the most vulnerable from the savage central government cuts. This will also allow us to defend jobs and support the local economy. 27 councils around the country, including 11 which are Conservative controlled, as well as the Greens in Brighton (6 & 7) are also raising council tax instead of taking the one-off freeze money. We want Reading councillors to consider this option."


Notes for the Editor

For more information please contact Rob White on 07985 923938 or 0118 9667183.

1. Last year in 2011/12 the Council had to cover a shortfall of £18 million. This year, 2012/13, Reading Borough Council will need to save in the region of £8.7 million due cuts from the Tory led government. In 2013/14 the Council will need to save an additional £6.9 million. This is from a total budget of around £118 million.

2. This is compared to freezing council tax this year – and accepting the one year only government money – and a freeze next year with no money.

The table below shows the impact of declining the council tax freeze money and increasing council tax by 3.5%


2012/13 £000

2013/14 £000

Accept freeze money



Decline freeze money and increase council tax by 3.5% in 2012/13



Increase council tax by 3.5% for 2013/14



Extra income of council tax increases compared to accepting the freeze money



Total income of combined council tax increases 2012/13 and 2013/14



3. This year 95 jobs and posts will be cut. Last year approximately 300 went.

4. This figure is for a band D property.

5. Directorate of Education and Children's Services staff consultation.

6. Last year the Local Government Chronicle reported that a fifth of councils they surveyed were considering rejecting the government money for freezing council tax, including authorities run by Conservative groups.

7. The 27 councils rejecting the council tax freeze money:

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Reading's budget savings proposals…

I have now finished my first attempt at wading through Labour's budget savings proposals. Pretty depressing! Fairness was my motivation for getting into party politics not competing as to who can make Tory cuts most sympathetically. Parties of all persuasions have complained about different aspects of government cuts going too far. It would be great to see a cross-party coalition of councils saying enough! But I won't hold my breath.

For the last few years the Council has been having to make cuts with last year's – following on from the Tory led government’s comprehensive spending review – being the biggest. This year the black hole that the Council has to fill is £8.7 million. The Labour group have said that they will be accepting the council tax freeze grant/bribe meaning that their budget revolves around cutting and increasing charges – efficiency, income generation and service change transformation.

Here are a few of my particular concerns so far:

– generally the Council will have less capacity and less flexibility
– schools are being asked to do a lot for themselves whereas in the past services have been provided centrally
– back office cuts will put more pressure on front office staff who will have less time to spend with service users
– changes to children's special needs transport mean that in the future people will find it harder to access this service
– what will changes to Learning Disability Supported Living and the Respite Care Service mean for the service users
– job losses
– an increase in the charge for a second parking permit from £60 to £75

There are undoubtedly opportunities to do things better, but I will leave it to Labour to sell the positives in their budget.

I have had briefings on some of these and we are continuing to look into things. Feel free to send me through your comments.

The budget savings proposals go to Cabinet on February 13 but aren't debated. They then go to full Council on February 21 where they are debated.

For anyone interested you can read the full budget here. The "interesting bit" starts on page 50 – in Acrobat – and is headed Appendix 2.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Interview with Jamie Whitham, Park Ward 2012 Green candidate

Q1. Tell me something about yourself outside of the Green Party?

I just got back from a sledging holiday in Austria where I went on the world's longest floodlit sledge run at 14 km!

Q2. How and why did you get involved with the Green Party?

I have always had a strong sense of justice/injustice. My mum tapped into this and roped me into helping with the Esso boycott – because they were actively working against efforts to tackle climate change – and the Jubilee debt campaign – calling for governments to cancel the debt of cash poor countries. Following on from these I was interested in trying to make more of a difference locally and so got involved with the Green Party.

Q3. What have you achieved so far as the Green Park Ward 2012 candidate?

In Newtown I have been working on parking problems and promoting the residents' parking consultation. I have also been working to tackle fly tipping, reporting it and I helped with a clear up.

In the Wokingham Road area I have been updating residents on the secondary school situation. I have also been helping progress the 20 mph scheme from Talfourd Avenue to Holmes Road inclusive.

The pinnacle of my work locally so far was getting a bike tire off a roof in Crescent Road, which a resident had reported as an eyesore ; )

Q4. What is your favourite type of biscuit?

My favourite is a Boaster but only if I am feeling rich enough to buy a pack. Otherwise I quite like Jaffa Cakes or a plain chocolate digestive. I have also been known to make the occasional biscuit and for a recent action session I made chocolate chip cookies, shortbread and macaroons.

If you have any questions or want to get involved with our campaign to elect Reading's third Green councillor in Park Ward and possibly get to sample one of my home-made biscuits at an action session please get in contact.

E-mail me at