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Labour support for Liberal Democrat housing campaigns welcomed: “better late than never”

Responding to the news that Reading’s Labour politicians have lobbied Housing Minister Margaret Beckett for Government help to bring empty homes in Reading back into use, and to stop the disgraceful practice of council tenants’ rent being clawed back to the Treasury – two Liberal Democrat-led policies in Reading – the Liberal Democrats have welcomed Labour’s change of tack.

Lib Dem Housing Spokesperson Cllr Daisy Benson – who has led the empty homes campaign in Reading – said:

“It’s great news that, only TWO YEARS after the Lib Dems first raised the need for Labour-run Reading Borough Council to bring the many empty homes in the town back into use Labour politicians in Reading have finally got the message.

“Despite Labour agreeing to our call for an Empty Homes strategy, we are still waiting for the first empty property to be brought back into use through the Council. With the recession starting to bite, the need for the Council to work to make long-term empty homes available for families made homeless is now very urgent.”

Parliamentary Campaigner for Reading East, Cllr Gareth Epps added:

“We welcome any support for the Lib Dem campaign to scrap the scandal of the so-called “tenant tax” which sees part of council tenants’ rent clawed back into the Treasury’s coffers every year. Now more than ever the wealth of hard pressed residents in Reading must be safeguarded by the Labour Council.

“What is bizarre is that – only days ago – the Labour Leader of the Council refused to back the cross-party campaign run by councils aimed at stopping Labour’s tenant tax.”

Editor’ Notes:

The Government’s negative subsidy or “tenant tax” means that £4.5 million of Reading council rents – one pound in every five – is being taken by the Government into Treasury coffers. The amount taken has rocketed in the last three years.

Car club plan to be welcomed

Liberal Democrats have welcomed proposals from Reading Borough Council to convert the Council’s car pool into a Car Club.

The detailed proposals are to be considered on Wednesday 10th December at the Council’s Personnel Committee. This comes after the plan was revealed at last week’s Corporate, Community and External Affairs (CCEA) Scrutiny Meeting.

Gareth Epps, the leader of the Liberal Democrats on the Council said, “This will greatly boost car club provision in Reading and save the Council large amounts of money. We first proposed this to the Council in January and told them about the scheme operating in Bristol; car clubs were an important part of our manifesto for the May elections.”

“Car clubs benefit when their vehicles are used during the day. The proposal by the Council helps overcome this problem. It’s just the kind of initiative we want to see in Reading, given the traffic and parking problems in the town.”

Editor’s Note: Car clubs provide vehicles which are bookable by the hour by club members. They use the internet and advanced key fobs to manage access to the vehicles, and are often given special parking spaces in towns where the schemes operate.

Queen’s Speech Will Not Help Families in Reading

The Government’s plans for new laws will do little to help hard-pressed families in Reading, claims a leading local Liberal Democrat.

The plans were outlined in the Queen’s Speech but disappointed Liberal Democrats say that the Government’s announcements will do very little to help people in Reading cope with the recession.

“The measures given in the Queen’s Speech are not enough to help people with the real problems we are now facing,” said Patrick Murray, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Reading West.

“We need legislation to change the way energy tariffs work to make sure people get the cheapest prices for their essential fuel and power and changes to taxes to put money back in people’s pockets,” added Cllr Gareth Epps, Lib Dem Spokesperson for Reading East.

“With the massive discounts on offer in the shops at the moment, the short term trimming of VAT will make little difference and what we need is income tax cuts targeted at low earners and paid for through closing loopholes. Residents of Reading who are worried by the economic situation will find little comfort in this programme.

We need action to force the banks to lend money on fair terms to small businesses and families – and make it quite clear that if the banks cannot be made to act, the government will lend directly itself.

The Government wasted the opportunity to help people in last week’s Pre-Budget Report and now with the Queen’s Speech they are wasting it again.”

Challenge to Council to Fight Reading’s £4.5M Tenant Tax

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Gareth Epps took the unusual step last night of asking questions direct to Council Leader Cllr Jo Lovelock at the Council’s Cabinet meeting on the 1st December, in order to get Reading Borough Council to join dozens of other councils fighting Gordon Brown’s £4.5m negative subsidy – the “tenant tax” which takes an average of £600 a year from Reading council tenants.

Liberal Democrats believe the tax is revenge by the Labour Government on tenants who have voted to keep council housing public, despite obstacles put in the way of councils keeping control of their housing stock – a position which commands widespread support in Reading.

Responding on behalf of the Labour administration, Cllr Lovelock refused to back the campaigns, claiming that none of them backed a viable alternative to the negative subsidy system. Instead she said Labour wished to wait until after the outcome of a Government review of the housing subsidy process.

Cllr Gareth Epps said:-

“Labour’s answer simply isn’t good enough for Reading’s council tenants. It is, frankly, appalling that Reading’s Labour Council bosses are happy to stand by and see one pound in every five of council tenants’ rents stolen by the Treasury. Tenants should expect to see their rents go towards housing repairs locally. In a credit crunch, it is unacceptable that some of the poorest families in Reading are having money grabbed by the Labour Government in this way.”

Reading’s Taxpayers in for a Shock as Council Budget Settlement Laughably Short of Inflation


Reading’s Council Tax payers could be in for a double whammy of big Council Tax rises and cuts in public services, as a perfect storm in the Council’s budget sets with a settlement from central Government that falls risibly short of meeting inflation, despite the Credit Crunch cutting a vast hole in Reading Council’s coffers. That is the scenario set by Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Gareth Epps.

The increase of only 1.75%, confirmed by central Government on 26 November, has been known of for some time, but the Labour Government has ignored the pleas of councils to cover funds lost due to the credit crunch. As the Lib Dems point out it adds to the black hole in Reading Council’s budget caused by the irresponsible 2008-09 Labour-Conservative budget, which kept Council Tax low in an election year but at a cost the Liberal Democrats now estimate at £2 million this year. With Council income short by over £10 million in other areas, and spending pressures elsewhere rising in areas such as social care, the Liberal Democrats slammed the old parties for the mess they have created.

Commenting to party members, Cllr Gareth Epps said:-

“The budget was irresponsible in February; it looks downright outrageous now. Labour’s one-off tax bribe, backed eagerly by the Tories and paid for by running down the Council reserves to levels even its own financial officers stated were unsustainable beyond the short-term, will contribute £2 million towards the black hole that now has to be filled.

Add to that a financial settlement they knew of then, which falls risibly short of meeting inflation on even the most basic of needs. Now, in the face of some Council income having dried up and a desperate review of capital projects, the Lab/Con ploy has failed. It was a tax con which will cost some people their jobs, cost everyone in higher Council Tax rises and could yet cost vulnerable people the services on which they rely.

Liberal Democrats will in the first place seek to avoid cuts to frontline public services. This is going to be a very difficult Budget. Reading people are fully entitled to know why.”

Salter’s defence of Green arrest crosses the line

Reading West Lib Dems Parliamentary Spokesman, Patrick Murray, has criticised Martin Salter after his appearance on Newsnight defending the arrest of Damian Green.

“It is inconceivable that anyone can justify the actions of the Police in arresting a member of the Shadow Cabinet for holding ministers to account.

We can see the ugly underbelly of this increasing authoritarian Government, elected with only a quarter of the adult population’s support.

Salter has enthusiastically supported 42 days detention without trial which is an affront to the founding principles of the British state.

He has enthusiastically supported the expensive, intrusive and ineffective ID card scheme which will do nothing to stop terrorism as the Madrid bombings showed.

Now he is acting as the cheerleader for the arrest of political opponants.

His defence of, and enthusiasm for, an increasingly authoritarian government would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.”

Editor’s Notes:

Damian Green (an ex Reading School pupil) was arrested by the Metropolitan Police at his constituency home on 27 November 2008 for “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”, in relation to an investigation into unauthorised disclosure of confidential material from within the Home Office.

 

Tax cuts must be lasting – Patrick Murray

Liberal Democrats in Reading West have called for income tax cuts to help struggling families weather the recession.

Speaking to a meeting of members over the weekend, Patrick Murray (Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson) said that people in Reading West have endured a year of rocketting fuel, transport and food prices and many were still out of pocket following the government”s decision to double the starting rate of income tax.

“Today, 24th November, the Chancellor presents his Prebudget Report to Parliament,” said Patrick. “Liberal Democrats will be pressing for permanent tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes. We will be looking for radical changes in the tax system which lock in lower rates of income tax for good.”

“To make these tax cuts lasting, they have to be funded. That means shifting the tax burden onto pollution and ending the tax perks and loopholes enjoyed by the highest earners, as Vince Cable pointed out in his speech at Reading University last week.”

“We are worried that the Government will simply introduce temporary tax cuts, paid for by borrowing, which will disappear once we start to come out of recession.”

“Now is the time for a genuine and radical change to the tax system. Liberal Democrats will be pressing for that and, having spoken to many residents of Reading, I know it is what people here want.”

“We believe, however, that an area where borrowing should be allowed is investment in new buildings and facilities that are needed. I am very keen to see people’s homes properly insulated and more affordable homes built for people who need them.”

“As well as boosting jobs and the economy, it will help to save money in the future.”

Editor’s Notes:

To see the Pre-Budget Report click here.

Honour for long-serving Councillor

Bob Green, our long-serving Lib Dem Reading Borough Councillor is to be made a Freeman of the Borough at a special ceremony this week.

Bob Green served on the council for 13 years before standing down at this year’s local elections in May. He was leader of the Liberal Democrat group for seven years and Mayor in 2000-2001. He also served on Berkshire County Council for three years until it was abolished in 1998.

At a special council meeting on Thursday (13th) Council Leader Jo Lovelock will propose that Bob receives the Honour in recognition of his distinguished service for the Borough of Reading. The Leader of the Conservative group Andrew Cumpsty, will second the motion.

Reading Mayor Peter Beard will then present Bob with a scroll confirming his position as a Freeman. The honour entitles him to drive any sheep he owns through the streets of Reading!

Bob, a retired senior Civil Servant, will attend the ceremony with his wife Jill, daughter Laura and other family members.

Speaking at his home in Caversham Heights, he said: “I am flattered and delighted. I regard it as a great honour. I am particularly pleased because I regard Reading, as it is today, as a town worthy of pride and I am grateful to have been able to make some contribution to this.”

Bob was born in Kent and moved to Reading from London in 1971.

All members of the Greater Reading Liberal Democrats would like to thank Bob for all his hard work and dedication, not only to the party but to the people of Reading and to wish him a long and happy retirement.

The Gurkhas need your support

Joanna Lumley has some great news about the Gurkha Justice campaign.

Firstly, we now have over 120,000 online signatures with over 20,000 returned in the post. If you haven’t done so already, please spread the word to all your online contacts and ask them to sign up online too at Justice for Gurkhas

Also there have been some exciting steps forward in the House of Commons.

Earlier this week the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons considered the right of Gurkhas to settle in the UK. The committee considered evidence from a range of different people, including our lawyers, a submission from me, and representatives from a number of Gurkha organisations.

I’m so pleased to be able to tell you that they agreed with us entirely, and have sent a letter to the Home Secretary urging her to take “urgent action to redress the currently unfair situation by extending settlement rights in the UK to all Gurkhas”. You can read the full text of the letter here

This is a big step forward, with an influential cross-Party committee of MPs backing our cause. This is on top of the High Court’s ruling in late September that the Government’s action was “unlawful and unfair”.

But just unbelievably, the Government has still not changed the law, and has still not yet agreed to offer a fair deal for Gurkhas.

In this week in particular, when we have seen the tragic death of a Gurkha serving in the British Army in Afghanistan, and four soldiers from the Royal Gurkha Rifles awarded the Military Cross, we need to redouble our efforts to make the Government see sense.

Please do whatever you can to ask as many people as you can to sign the petition at www.gurkhajustice.org.uk – I want to take a simply huge petition to Downing Street on the 20th November.

And I’d like you to join me in Parliament Square, Westminster, at 11am on Thursday 20th November, before we hand in the petition. I want to stand together with you and our Gurkha heroes and show just how strong the support for the Gurkhas cause is. Will you join me? I hope to see you there.

Finally, especially for those who can join me on the 20th of November, you can buy Gurkha Justice t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags and more from our online shop with Spreadshirt at this website. Wear yours with pride – I certainly do – and for the next few days only (until this Sunday), Spreadshirt are offering free postage on all items to show their support for the campaign. Simply use the coupon code GURKHAFREE when ordering, and the postage for your items should be free.

With warmest good wishes,

Joanna
Sign the petition here

Editor’s Notes:
On Sunday, millions of us across the Country honoured those who have fought and died for us on Remembrance Sunday.

One hundred thousand Gurkhas fought in the First World War. They served in the battlefields of France in the Loos, Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle and Ypres; in Mesopotamia, Persia, Suez Canal and Palestine against Turkish advance, Gallipoli and Salonika. One detachment served with Lawrence of Arabia. 250,000 Nepalese Gurkhas served in the Second World War. Gurkhas have also been present and fighting for this country in every action since the second world war.

It’s time to repay our debt of honour to them. So hurry up and sign the petition here

Labour Government Proposes to Remove Tenant’s Rights

The Labour Government’s proposal to remove the right of tenants to live in their homes indefinitely and put rents up if they don’t take on a mortgage has been attacked by local Liberal Democrats.

Patrick Murray, Reading West Lib Dems Parliamentary spokesman, stated that:

“There is no greater indication of the moral vacuum and sheer hypcorisy at the heart of the Labour Government than this ridiculously unfair policy. For almost a decade they have forced councils to sell off their housing, whilst refusing to allow them to build more. They have presided over the lowest rate of building affordable housing since the second world war. There is no question as to who is to blame for the extra 1 million people on housing waiting lists in the last decade. The Labour Government has simply not built enough affordable housing. To attack Council tenants in this way is completely unfair- ministers should be ashamed of their failure and take responsibility for it.”

“At the same time they refused to recognise the dangers of the unsustainable housing bubble that forced so many to seek help from the state and has now collapsed bringing ruin to many people, forcing even more to turn to affordable housing. To tell people that if they have a council house they may lose it in a few years, whilst people are losing their homes to repossessions is unbeleivably callous.”

“If they really want to encourage people out of council housing then they should replace the Thatcher Government’s right-to-buy with a right to invest and build more shared ownership, not threaten to put rents up when people are struggling to meet the bills.”

Editor’s Notes:

Patrick Murray was Executive member for Housing on Oxford City Council 2006-8

The Government’s proposals are documented in this Times article

Upcoming Events

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Events on September 15, 2014
  • Exec Committee meeting
    Starts: 7:30 pm
    Ends: September 15, 2014 - 9:30 pm
    Location: Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC), London Street, Reading, United Kingdom
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Events on September 24, 2014
  • Fresher's Fayre
    Starts: 11:00 am
    Ends: September 24, 2014 - 5:00 pm
    Location: Reading University Students Union RUSU Reading, RG6 6AZ
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Events on September 28, 2014
  • Liberal Drinks
    Starts: 7:30 pm
    Ends: September 28, 2014 - 10:30 pm
    Location: The Inn On The Park, The Pavillon, Woodford Park, Haddon Drive, Woodley, Reading, United Kingdom
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