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Council’s Budget Meeting Ends in Disarray as Labour & Conservatives Squabble over Brownie Points

Reading Borough Council’s Budget meeting this evening ended in disarray after Labour refused to negotiate a budget and the Tories refused to propose anything at all.

The Labour group suffered the ignominy of having its budget voted down by the Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups. The Conservatives then failed to table any amendment at all and then petulantly voted against every proposal put forward.

The Liberal Democrat group proposed an amendment which was fully costed and discussed with officers. The Lib Dem amendment proposed positive ideas as well as a reduced Council Tax increase and restoration of the cut in Council balances. Having vehemently objected to it as “grossly irresponsible”, Labour then bizarrely sought to discuss it as the basis of a potential compromise solution, but failed to put together a coherent or costed text. The Council meeting stood adjourned for around an hour. Councillors will now reconvene this (Wednesday) evening at 6.30pm.

Commenting, Cllr Gareth Epps, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said:-

“This evening saw disgraceful behaviour from the Labour Group which threatens to bring the Council into disrepute.

The meeting itself may come to be known as the ‘Battle of Tony Page’s Ego‘ after the failed Labour Parliamentary candidate hurled abuse at the Liberal Democrat plans which he then sought to negotiate around – before changing his mind.

Labour Councillors showed no signs of understanding they no longer have a majority on the Council. Their idea of negotiation involved no compromise but demands that Liberal Democrats cave in. Their actions tonight have dealt a huge blow to their authority and credibility in Reading.

The 18 Conservative Councillors failed even to table an amendment. They should realise that as Councillors they have a responsibility to set a budget and cannot indulge in gesture politics.

The Liberal Democrats are the only Councillors who have behaved openly and with integrity. We have tabled our amendment and sought to use it or any other ideas as the basis for negotiations. It is up to Labour and/or the Conservatives to table a proposal in writing. We shall examine any such proposal seriously.”

Lib Dems call for action to help at risk tenants

Cllr Daisy Benson, Lib Dem Housing spokesperson on Reading Borough Council, has written to senior officers of the Council to highlight the plight of tenants in the many private rented properties in the town facing eviction due to landlords failing to keep up with payments on buy-to let mortgages.

Cllr Daisy Benson said:

“According to a nationwide survey of landlords by housing charity, Shelter, 22 per cent of respondents, around 160,000 households – admit to struggling or falling behind with their monthly mortgage payments.

Five per cent, around 37,000, expect to be repossessed in the next six months.

This issue could become a major problem in Reading, given the fact that 20% of households currently live in rented accomodation and the large number of buy-to-let landlords in the town.

I am very concerned about the impact that this crisis this could have on people renting locally and I have written to the Chief Executive of the Council to ask what the Council can do to support tenants who may be at serious risk from eviction through no fault of their own.”

Cllr Gareth Epps PPC for Reading East added:

“The Lib Dems have long campaigned to raise the profile of Reading’s large private rented housing sector and the people in it.

As a a result of our campaign Labour politicians have realised much more needs to be done in this area. This is long overdue.

However, like many other towns Reading has experienced a massive increase in the number of landlords taking out sub-prime mortgages and subsequently getting into diffculty.”

What is needed now is national action by the Labour Government to stop tenants being evicted, as well as local support for tenants by Reading Borough Council and other agencies.”

Editor’s Notes

Background can be found on the LibDem Redlands website

LIB DEMS Slam Appointment of “Political Undead” to Economic Board

Reading Liberal Democrats have revealed that the post of Vice-Chair of the new Berkshire Economic Strategy Board (BESB), which has been awarded to failed Labour ex-leader of Reading Council David Sutton, attracts a salary – and they have slammed the appointment of the ‘political undead’ to this post.

Reading Liberal Democrats have revealed that the post of Vice-Chair of the new Berkshire Economic Strategy Board (BESB), which has been awarded to failed Labour ex-leader of Reading Council David Sutton, attracts a salary – and they have slammed the appointment of the “political undead” to this post.

The Board has been jointly set up by Berkshire councils who made the appointment; however, no report has been made in public by Reading Borough Council (a financial contributor to the venture) until the report being considered by Monday’s Cabinet.

Cllr Gareth Epps, Leader of Reading Borough Council’s Liberal Democrat Group, said:-

“It is wrong for a body of this level of importance to make an appointment that seems to be a resurrection of the political undead.

While nobody can deny anyone the right to earn a living, the economic development of Berkshire is important. This Board will have to be transparent and accountable. The appointment of a failed politician whose time as a Council leader was notable for secrecy is hardly a good start.”

Martin Salter’s plan to step down an admission of defeat

Reacting to news that Martin Salter is standing down at the next election, Reading West Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman, Patrick Murray, commented:

“This is an admission of defeat by Reading Labour. Martin has been a central figure on the scene in Reading politics for 25 years. His decision shows that Labour do not believe they can win in Reading West. If local people across Reading do not want a Tory MP then there is only one choice- the Liberal Democrats.”

Patrick continued: “Martin has worked hard over the years and we wish him the best for his future. But local people must not be left in the lurch for the next 18 months. Reading West deserves a full-time MP. We’re ready for an election.”

Cllr Gareth Epps, leader of the Liberal Democrat group commented “Martin Salter’s influence within Reading Civic Centre has certainly been considerable – and remained so long after he stepped down as a councillor.

The timing of his announcement signals even more clearly that things are changing in Reading. An era of overwhelming Labour control has come to an end. Martin was Labour’s best chance of holding the Reading West constituency. This sends a clear message to Reading voters that if you don’t want the Conservatives, vote Liberal Democrat.

Martin’s work for many people had become overshadowed by internal fighting within Reading Labour Party in recent years. In part this reflects the more tolerant views of Reading’s diverse communities, which the Labour Government rejected all too often. The fight to see who succeeds Martin Salter will not be pretty.

Whatever people’s view of Martin, everyone will agree that Reading politics are going to be very different. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what he does next.”

LIB DEM Pressure for Labour to Come Clean on Expenses

Liberal Democrat leader on Reading Borough Council, Cllr Gareth Epps, has slammed the Labour administration after forcing the Council leader to reveal that no records were kept of how much is spent on Council travel expenses by plane or taxi.

Cllr Epps tabled the question after seeking the information as part of preparations for what is recognised as a difficult budget situation, following the ‘irresponsible’ 2008 Labour/Conservative budget. All of Reading’s political groups have had to address a substantial budget deficit. Having been told that the information could not reasonably provided, Cllr Epps has tabled a further question to ask whether the Labour leader thinks financial controls are tight enough in Reading.

Commenting, Cllr Epps said:-

“It’s staggering that Labour cannot or will not provide figures on travel expenses in areas where robust controls are needed. In a Budget process where Council staff are understandably nervous, the arrogance and complacency of Labour council leaders beggars belief.

“I think councillors have a right to know how much is being spent on air and taxi travel. Nobody could possibly disagree that budgets need proper scrutiny when money is tight – except, it would appear, Labour in Reading.”

Editor’s Notes: The full text of the Q & A session follows -

On Travel Expenses Cllr Epps asked –

Will the Leader list the budget figures for the current and previous financial year for travel expenses by a) air, b) taxi, c) other non-car transport, and will she explain why it appears to be so difficult to bring such figures forward?

REPLY by Councillor Lovelock (Leader of the Council):

Travel expenses for 2007/8 totalled £166,000 and expenditure for the current year to date is £147,000. Expenses for travel by air, taxi etc. are not separately coded and hence it is not possible to provide this detailed information without significant manual effort and therefore staff time.

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