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Queen’s Speech guarantees thousands of parents in Reading will get help with childcare costs

childrens centre photoA major tax-free childcare package will help 505 families in Reading, Liberal Democrat Cllr Meri O’Connell said today (Monday, June 9th).

Working families will get up to £2,000 to ease the cost of childcare as part of a scheme to be rolled out in Autumn 2015.

It means a family with two children under 12-years-old could benefit by up to £4,000 a year.

Meri said: “The announcement in the Queen’s Speech last week provides a huge boost to hardworking families in Reading.

“This is something Liberal Democrats have fought for and are now delivering in Government.”

“We are committed to building a stronger economy and a fairer society and this helps children get the best start in life.”

The Queen’s Speech outlines the legislative agenda for the Coalition Government over the next 12 months.

Meri added: “It was announced every infant will get a free school meal to help improve education attainment and child health.”

“It comes on top of 15 hours free weekly childcare we have already delivered for all three and four year olds and pupil premium to help our schools.”

“All these measures will help parents go to work and provide security for their families.”

Extra funding for free early years education

childrens centre photoThe Government has today announced additional funding to provide free early years education to two-year olds across England.

From today, 130,000 two-year olds from the poorest homes will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week with a nursery or childminder. That includes support for 448 2-year olds in Reading.

The Government is investing more than £500 million into childcare this year and £100 million through local authorities to create new places to ensure those children eligible right now can benefit from these places.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“From today, if you’re a parent on a low income with a two year old in the family your child will qualify for 15 hours a week of free early years’ education.

“These funded places are focused on helping the families that need them most.”

Next year the Government will be investing £760m to help an additional 130,000 two-year-olds in families on less than £16,190 a year who receive working tax credits. This will reach 352 extra 2-year olds in Reading.

Commenting Cllr Meri O’Connell (Lib Dem Education Spokesperson) said:

“This is a welcome announcement for hard-pressed families in Reading”

“This extra support for low income families in our town is a real Liberal Democrat achievement.”

“Early education helps promote a child’s physical, emotional and social development.”

Arthur Clark Care Home to close despite cross party opposition

At last night’s first ever meeting of the Adult Social Care, Children’s Services and Education Committee, the Labour led group ignored all opposition and pushed through with their plans to close the Arthur Clark Care Home and Albert Road Day Centre.

It was an emotional meeting, with the gallery full of Reading residents keen to see the care home and day centre stay open. It was humbling to see this varied group of people putting across their hopes and fears so passionately and clearly to the committee.

The Lib Dem Group opposed the closure of both facilities. We felt more consideration needed to be given to the suggestions made by the residents, their families and the local community north of the river. The ‘Save Our Home’ group had also raised key questions that we did not feel that the council papers answered. We wanted the Labour group to give the committee time to look at for the creative solutions the group had come up with and for the questions they had raised to be answered in full.

Although it will be of little comfort to the families affected by last night’s decision, the Labour group at least took notice of the Lib Dem view that, if they went ahead with the closures, they were in danger of being accused of short term profiteering (as any Reading person knows how much land in Caversham Heights is worth to developers). I said in the full Council meeting that they needed to promise publically to keep the land for elderly care provision north of the river. They have now committed themselves to building ‘Extra Care Housing and community based services’ on that site. A small concession, but perhaps the best we could have hoped for.

I spoke with one gentleman afterwards, he told me that he was not surprised with the outcome. He said that the residents and their families had always believed that the consultation process was a sham and that the decision had been made a long time before the meeting.

As a firm believer in the democratic process, I wanted to tell him he was wrong, but unfortunately, in Reading, Labour hold the casting vote on everything and so, despite all the other political parties being united in opposition to this proposal, the Labour group were, as always, able to get what they wanted.

Labour have made much of their ‘Let’s Talk’ consultation programme in Reading, perhaps they should stop talking and start listening to residents instead.

Councillor Meri O’Connell, Reading Lib Dem Lead Councillor for Adult and Children’s social care and Education.

Arthur Clarke Home and Albert Road Day Centre

The issue of the Arthur Clarke Home and the Albert Road Day Centre became something of a political football at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

On the one side was the Labour Administration proposing their plan to save money by closing this facility and then making a large amount of money by selling off a prime piece of Caversham real estate. On the other side were the residents who had clearly organised themselves, asked lots of questions and presented a 3,600 signature petition. The Lib Dems and the other opposition parties supported the residents demands to keep the home and day care centre open. Lead Councillor Eden could only say that there would be a full discussion and final decision at a committee meeting on Monday and rejected any attempt to make a decision there and then in council. She kept repeating the line that £1.4m was required immediately to repair the roof and update the interior and keep the home open. She made a big play on the need to provide en-suite bathrooms for every patient but failed to answer why in that case were current residents being offered places in other homes which had no such facilities. And it turns out that many of the repairs are not desperately urgent either. In short Labour’s arguments for having to close the home were seen to be lacking much substance.

There was not even any attempt to say what they might do with any capital receipts from selling off the site when questioned by Cllr Meri O’Connell, no suggestion of providing a new home.

My own feeling is that there is such a wave of support for these well-regarded facilities that Labour will back down on Monday and agree to keep them open. Failure to do so could cost them electorally in Caversham and they know it.

Cllr Ricky Duveen, LibDem Group Leader, Reading Borough Council

Reading LibDems table amendment on maternity pay & family cuts

At last night’s Reading Borough Council full meeting, Reading Liberal Democrats Councillors tabled an amendment on a Labour motion on maternity pay and family cuts. Raised by Leader of the LibDems on Reading Borough Council, Cllr Daisy Benson, it was backed by the Conservative and Independent Councillors.

Speaking on the amendment, Cllr Benson said: “This motion is a cynical move by Labour in Reading. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have not said they would reverse any of these cuts.’

‘Time and again Labour are very clear about which cuts they are against but have no ideas about what they would do if they were in government.’

‘Is it any wonder very few people are willing to trust Labour near the economy again.

‘In contrast, Liberal Democrats working in Coalition have taken a range steps to help families on low and middle incomes in Reading despite massive pressure on the public finances – including increasing spending on Reading’s poorest children to help improve their life chances, cutting income tax bills and making childcare more affordable.”

Notes to Editors:

Original amendment document by Cllr Daisy Benson

Reading Lib Dems call on PCT to give more support to local Carers

Below is published in full an e-mail from Daisy Benson, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, to Penny Henrion, Chair of Berkshire West PCT.

Dear Penny,

I was disappointed to read that Berkshire West PCT was placed 93rd out of 105 local authorities for spending on carers services by the recent Princess Trust for Carers Report.

The fact that the Trust had earmarked only 0.018% of its £658m budget for carers I find pretty shocking – given the increase in spending by this Government on carers.

I really welcome the extra spending that has been announced – an extra £150,000 to help carers as reported in this week’s Reading Chronicle.

However, given Reading Borough Council estimates we have between eleven and sixteen thousand carers in Reading – an significant increase on previous years I am concerned that this spending is still not at the level it is needed – given the demand that we know exists in our community.

I would like to know how this money will be spent and how much of it will be spent on services in Reading.

Reading Borough Council and partners have done significant work in recent years on a Carers Strategy. This has been tailored to deliver on the priorities identified by local carers – the top one being getting access to breaks.

Last year when I was Lead Member for Adult Social care I approved an extra £50,000 from the Council’s budget to expand the Carers Opportunities Fund which was set up to give carers access to breaks and other additional support of their choosing and as far as I know my successor Cllr Orton has done the same this year.

I would be most grateful if you could outline for me how you plan to support carers in the future and how you will be working to ensure that the £400 million pounds that has been committed is spent on what it was intended – breaks for carers.

Best wishes

Daisy

Cllr Daisy Benson
Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Reading Borough Council
Liberal Democrat Councillor, Redlands ward

Lib Dems call on Labour to back reform of social care funding

Cllr Daisy Benson, Group Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Reading Borough Council and former Lead Member for Social Care is urging Labour Lead Councillor for Social Care Cllr Mike Orton to add his name to calls for reform to social care funding ahead of the publication of an independent review on July 4.

Andrew Dilnot, Independent Chair of the Commission on funding of care and support  is due to publish his recommendations to the Coalition Government on reforming social care funding next week and the Local Government Association which represents councils is campaigning for action.

Cllr Benson has written to Cllr Orton and urging him to add his name to a declaration put forward by the Local Government Association.

Cllr Daisy Benson said:

“The current system of funding social care is broken and I am aware it causes many older people and families in Reading huge anxiety.”

“Social care funding arrangements including the level at which people contribute to their care are set by Government not  local councils.”

“With a growing aging population there is an urgent need to reform social care funding to ensure it is fairer and more sustainable.”

“There is a danger that this issue could be kicked into the long grass and I think that would be a huge missed opportunity to make the current system better for everyone.”

“It is essential that all politicians from all political parties put politics aside and work together at national level to sort out social care funding to ensure everyone regardless of income can be happy, health and secure in old age.”

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