There is a new ComRes poll reported tonight in the Independent tomorrow showing the Conservatives maintaining a massive 16% lead over Labour:
Conservative 44% (up 3%)
Labour 28% (up 3%)
Lib Dem 17% (down 5%)
Last month’s surge of 6% by the Lib Dems has been almost completely reversed. The Lib Dem blip has proved even shorter lived than Gordon Brown’s second bounce at the end of last year.
The third Council meeting in two weeks finally set a budget tonight. After two five hour meetings last week, tonight’s meeting lasted about 15 minutes as Labour and the Lib Dems cobbled together an agreement on a budget compromise that most Councillors felt could have been reached last week.
The Council Tax increase has been set at 3.99%, meaning that when Police and Fire precepts have been added, a Band D Council Tax payer will pay £1,467.43 in the next financial year. The difference from the original Labour proposal of a 4.24% increase, amounts to £3.07 or 6p per week. Only the Conservatives held out for a zero increase in Council Tax, with savings to be found from a cross-Council Performance Improvement Programme.
A number of the savings proposed in the Lab / Lib Dem pact, met with Conservative support, such as the freeze on Councillor’s allowances but they do not go nearly far enough. At a time when personal budgets are squeezed and people living from savings have seen their earnings from interest slashed, any Council Tax increase is unwelcome. The people I feel most sorry for are those on low and fixed incomes; particularly pensioners and those with young families.
The Lib Dems have propped up a failing Labour administration that is in its last days and at the same time delivered a 3.99% Council Tax increase that is massively higher than inflation, currently at just 0.1% and about to go lower. It is also well above the national average increase of 3%. Labour pushed this to the wire hoping that one of the other party leaders would cave and tonight Lib Dem leader Cllr Epps did just that.
On Wednesday night, when Labour offered the Lib Dems 3.99% Cllr Epps declined to take it. Like the Grand old Duke of York, having marched his Group to the top of the hill last week, tonight he marched them down the other side and voted with Labour for a 3.99% increase.
The feedback that I have received and which is clear in the Reading Evening Post’s poll, indicates that the people of Reading wanted Council Tax frozen this year. Only the Conservatives have offered that option. If the people of Reading want that next year they will know how to vote in the May 2010 elections. If they want to keep the current Labour administration they can vote either Labour or Lib Dem.
It will be interesting to see how Labour and the Lib Dems attempt to spin this new pact over the next year.
All is clearly not well in Worcester where Leader of the Opposition Cllr John Buckley is quitting the party over differences with local Labour MP Michael Foster. Cllr Buckley accuses Foster of being only interested in his own position and of running campaigns against the locally agreed Labour Council group position.
The relationship between an MP and his Cllr’s can sometimes be difficult as they often have different perspectives on issues but it is important to find ways to communicate and co-operate if clashes such as this are to be avoided.
This will not help Foster’s re-election chances.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw probably had it right when he said:
“If all economists were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion”
George Bernard Shaw