Today is the day when squabbles in the chamber of the Council are put to one side and politicians of all parties come together to pay respects to those who fought for their country in the two World Wars and conflicts since.
Conservative and Labour Councillors came together today with Reading’s two Conservative MPs, representatives of the three Services, veterans and cadets to lay wreaths on the Cenotaph. Afterwards Servicemen and women, veterans and cadets, marched past the Mayor and Commanding Officer of the 7th Rifles.
Reading’s Civic remembrance service is held in Brock Barracks off the Oxford Road. This is a good location in some respects but it is one which is tucked away from many people in the Borough. I have argued for some years that it should be moved to somewhere in the town centre to raise its profile and attract more people. There are a couple of locations including the Forbury Gardens and St Mary’s Butts in front of the Minster church. I was pleased today to have some discussion about the possibility of moving the Civic remembrance service next year to one of the town centre locations.
It is important that ceremonies like Remembrance Services engage not only the militarily-connected community but also the younger generation.
The site, which is known as “Peppard Voice” can be found at www.peppardvoice.com. It brings together information about upcoming community events, local campaigns, sports and leisure activities, and local businesses. It has been developed by a team of local people working with Conservative ward Councillors Richard Willis and Jane Stanford-Beale.
Cllr Richard Willis said, “There are many local groups and societies doing fantastic work in Peppard ward but until now there has been no single website which tries to bring all that information together. There is undoubtedly still a lot more links and dates to add to the site but it will be updated as we become aware of more information.”
Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale said, “I hope that this site will become the first place for people to visit when they want to check what is happening in Peppard ward. I encourage local groups and businesses based in Caversham Park, Micklands and Emmer Green to contact us if they want their details added.”
Tonight at the Reading Borough Council Planning Committee meeting the decision was made to go ahead with the new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames. The bridge is something which I am proud to have been instrumental in delivering. Back in 2010/11 when the Conservative-led coalition ran the Council we put together a bid to the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund to design a new bridge. The Labour administration continued where we left off with a second larger bid which won the money to build it. It is worth stating at this point that not a penny of Reading Council Tax revenue will be used to build the bridge.
The intention was always to deliver a high quality design which provided an attractive and safer route across the Thames. The chosen local is to the east of Fry’s Island and the west of Reading bridge. The design has gone through several iterations, ending up with a suspension bridge with a single support pole location to the north of the river in Christchurch Meadows. The route links two existing cycle paths and the long term plan is that the bridge will continue through the current Southern Electric site and link directly into the new Northern Concourse of Reading Station but for now the bridge has to take a right-angle turn to the left on the southern bank to feed onto the existing towpath cycle route. People will then pass through Norman Place, across the new crossing and into the Station, or turn onto Vastern Road.
I have received a lot of representations about the plans, and have met with many different people and groups who have a wide variety of views on the proposed design and location. The main concerns were about the proposed shared use surface and whether it is wide enough to cope with the likely usage of both pedestrians and cyclists. There were also concerns about the flow data used by the designers to come up with the plans.
For a long time I have advocated segregated cycle paths where possible but in this case it was neither possible nor recommended by the Department for Transport guidance nor the cycling charity Sustrans. Taking into account that the bridge links two existing shared-use paths I accepted that this was the right thing in this case. The issues around capacity and width were made to me by a number of people (and Reading Cycle Campaign reps). I raised these with the Head of Transport who assured me that not only was the final design width in excess of the DfT recommended minimum but that it had sufficient capacity to cope with likely future growth. The flow data issue was partly tackled by conducting an additional survey which did show higher numbers than the original figures used but not sufficient to justify a redesign. All of these points were comprehensively addressed in the update report which was provided to committee members before the start of the meeting.
There were a good number of members of the public present at the meeting, some of whom seemed to be anti the whole concept of a bridge and others who wanted technical changes. The anti case was not helped by some who suggested that the bridge would destroy the existing children’s play area or even the whole of Christchurch Meadows! Committee members were also not impressed by repeated shouting from some members of the public in the rear of the chamber. Green Cllr Rob White had requested to speak but failed to show up at the meeting.
At the last Planning Committee meeting I stated that (like Cllr Page) I would withdraw from any vote on the matter as I had already publically stated my strong support for the bridge. I therefore listened to the applicant’s presentation, the opponents’ presentation, and the transport officer’s report before I followed Cllr Page’s comments with my own and then withdrew from the meeting. I understand that following my departure, Green Cllr Melanie Eastwood, who had seemed to be a confrontational mood, began repeatedly interrupting other committee members before shouting that the meeting was a sham and announcing her resignation from the committee. Since she has rarely ever turned up to the committee in the past I don’t think we will notice her absence in the future!
The Council has been operating under very tight criteria to deliver the bridge by March 2015 when the money has to be spent in order to comply with the DfT terms under which the money was awarded. Unfortunately some of the antis give the impression that they would rather have no bridge if they cannot have exactly what they want. Inevitably there is some compromise between the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and other users but this will be a fantastic new addition to Reading’s transport infrastructure, providing a safe new way to cross the river avoiding the existing choke points of Reading and Caversham Bridges. It is an additional route and not a replacement for either of the two existing bridges. It is also a significant investment by central government in making Reading a more attractive and sustainable place to live.
I look forward to using the bridge in the summer of 2015.
Over the last 24 hours a process of reshuffling the middle ranks of the Government benches has been underway. The only Cabinet level change was the departure of Lib Dem Michael Moore as Scotland Secretary and his replacement by Alastair Carmichael. The rest of the changes involved mainly Parliamentary Under Secretaries (PUS) and Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS). David Cameron used this reshuffle to develop more of the 2005 and 2010 intakes with more women and ethnic minority Conservative MPs receiving new posts. There is considerable talent on the back-benches and with such a big intake in 2010 there are many ambitious MPs who fancy their chances as a Minister. The 2005 intake was much smaller but many have been frustrated that colleagues from 2010 have in some cases overtaken them.
Both Reading MPs have been rewarded with posts since the 2010 General Election. Reading West MP Alok Sharma was made a Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party and Reading East MP Rob Wilson (pictured) became a PPS to Jeremy Hunt when he was Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport and followed him to Health when he was reshuffled. PPSs are the most junior rung on the Government ladder but they are an essential step for most MPs for further promotion. Being PPS to a Cabinet Minister is a coveted role and the more senior the Cabinet member the more coveted the post. PPSs are the Parliamentary eyes and ears of the Minister they support and inevitably have ready access to the Minister and the Department. They are usually handpicked by the Minister with the appointment being cleared through No 10 and the Whips Office.
The news that Rob Wilson has moved from PPS to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to be PPS of the Chancellor George Osborne is great news both for Rob and Reading. I have heard it rumoured that Rob turned down another job offer of a senior post in the Whips Office to take the role in the Treasury. To be offered one Government post is a great boost but to be offered two and be able to choose is a serious compliment.
Rob said “I have had three great years at DCMS and then Health with Jeremy for which I thank him. We’ve certainly weathered a few storms together and it was a real pleasure to work for him. I am looking forward to this new challenge, working closely with the Chancellor right at the heart of government.”
Throughout the summer and into the autumn Reading East Conservatives have been out door-knocking every week in the Reading Borough and Woodley/Earley wards. I get used to people venting their frustrations with the ruling Labour administration and about their transport policies in particular. This morning we were in the solid Labour Abbey ward which is currently represented on the Council by Cllrs Mohammed Ayub, Bet Tickner, and Transport Lead Tony Page. We finished in Addison Road and turned into Cardiff Road which backs onto the railway line. Local residents have been suffering with noise from the First Great Western trains running their engines loudly at night as they wait to enter the newly built depot.
This is an issue which Reading East MP Rob Wilson has taken up with the train operating company and also Network Rail which has built the new depot. Rob obtained agreement to improved sound-proofing and asked FGW to instruct their drivers not to stop with engines running behind Cardiff Road. The reaction we got on the doors this morning indicates that Rob’s work is very much appreciated in contrast with the lack of action from the Labour ward Councillors.
This was most graphically illustrated by a brilliant home made poster we encountered in Cardiff Road (shown left). Labour likes to think that Abbey ward is safe for them but clearly some residents are reconsidering their votes next May!
Peppard ward’s Conservative Councillors and Reading East MP Rob Wilson have spent considerable time over the last few years in contact with local shop keepers, managers of national chain shops, and writing to the managing agents, of the Budgens Precinct car park in Emmer Green. Last year the then owners set out plans to resurface the car park and cited a letter from Cllr Richard Willis in their planning application for repairs to the surface in front of the shops.
In July this year Mr Karim Rashid (the owner of Budgens shop in the precinct) bought the freehold of the car park land and has appointed new managing agents. He proposes to comprehensively resurface the car park and improve the drainage before the winter sets in. However, this is subject to agreement of all the existing shop-keepers to pay their share of the costs. Mr Rashid has offered terms which would spread the burden for the shop-keepers, thus making it more affordable than the previous proposals which were never implemented.
Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale recently invited senior managers from a number of the national chains at Budgens precinct to walk the site with her. They were shocked at the state of the car park and have pledged to support attempts to bring it up to an acceptable standard. Cllr Stanford-Beale, said, “This is good news and will be very much welcomed by local people who use the shops. Despite periodic patching the car park has usually been riddled with pot-holes and dangerous for its many users. I met with some of the managers of the national chain shops and am pleased that they have pledged to support proposals to resurface the car park. Now we have to ensure that the plans are affordable for and supported by the smaller businesses.”
Cllr Richard Willis, who has campaigned for several years to get the car park repaired, said, “Having written to the previous managing agents several times and got no response the change of ownership is a very positive development. At last we have a proposal which is designed to be affordable and able to be delivered in the near future. It is important that the car park is repaired so that local people do not abandon these local shops for facilities elsewhere.”
Reading East MP Rob Wilson said, “I know how much time Conservative Councillors have spent on this issue over the last few years and am pleased that at last there is a real prospect of a proper resurfacing of the car park. Many of my constituents have contacted me about this and I will be seeking a meeting with Mr Rashid in the near future to discuss his plans and offer any assistance I can.”
Conservatives turned out in force for last night’s first ever meeting of the Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, and Education Committee in support of campaigners who packed the public gallery. As well as Cllrs Isobel Ballsdon (Mapledurham), Sandra Vickers (Tilehurst) and James Anderson (Kentwood) who sit on the committee, Cllrs Tim Harris (Church), Jeanette Skeats (Thames), David Stevens (Thames), Ed Hopper (Thames) and Richard Willis (Peppard) sat in the public gallery behind them with Reading East MP Rob Wilson. Cllr Hopper and Rob Wilson addressed the meeting as members of the public after passionate speeches from campaigner Colin Trinder and Rev Marion Pyke.
It was notable that neither Cllr Richard Davies (Caversham-Labour), or Labour’s Reading East Parliamentary Candidate spoke or even bothered to attend the meeting.
After over an hour and a half of questions, speeches and debate Labour’s Lead Councillor circulated a pre-prepared amended motion which made it clear that the decision to close both the Arthur Clark home and Albert Road Day Centre had already effectively been taken. Cllr Ballsdon picked this up and pointed out that since the motion had been printed prior to the meeting the whole debate had been a waste of time as the Labour Group had already decided to close the two facilities.
Cllr Sandra Vickers spoke about how her own mother had visited Arthur Clark and told how she loved the home and the quality of care provided. Cllr James Anderson urged the Labour administration to consider this a matter for their hearts rather than their heads.
However, at the end of the debate, the Labour Councillors on the Committee voted for the motion to close Arthur Clark Home and Albert Road Day Centre. All other Councillors (apart from the Chairman who abstained) voted against the closure motion.
Cllr Ed Hopper said, “I am hugely disappointed by the decision to close the Arthur Clark Care Home which has been taken by Reading Borough Council’s Labour Administration tonight.
Over 3,600 people plus every Conservative Councillor, our MP Rob Wilson and all other opposition Councillors have all expressed their adamant opposition to this closure.
The consultation which RBC has undertaken is not worthy of the name, having ignored genuine opportunities to work with local residents and businesses to seek ways to keep this valuable Home open.”
Cllr Tim Harris said, “Once again the Labour Group has ignored the wishes of the thousands of local people who signed the petition and those who took time out to attend a second Council meeting to discuss the proposed closure. We asked the Labour administration to consider all options including discussions with possible private care providers but they chose to ignore this and the pleas from the public gallery.”
Cllr Isobel Ballsdon said, “Labour is quite prepared to spend around £60m on providing new Civic Offices but they refuse to find less than £1m to undertake the maintenance backlog which has been identified at Arthur Clark home. Tonight’s meeting was a waste of time as Labour had already made their decision before the meeting even started. The consultation was a sham, just as the promised consultation on using the site for ‘extra-care’ housing for the elderly will probably prove to be.”
Speaking after the meeting Conservative Councillors and Rob Wilson MP pledged to help the residents in any way possible to keep up the fight for the future of Arthur Clark home and Albert Road Day Centre.
Conservatives at the Reading Borough Council meeting stood alongside local residents to call for the Labour administration to scrap plans to close the Arthur Clark care home in Albert Road, Caversham. Residents protested outside the Council chamber before the meeting and packed the meeting to present a petition and ask questions of the Labour Lead Councillor.
Due to the large number of signatures on the petition a debate was generated at the start of the Council meeting. The Labour administration moved a weasel worded motion referring the concerns of the petitioners to the Council’s new Adult Social Care, Childrens’ Services and Education Committee which meets on Monday 1st July.
Thames Ward Councillors Ed Hopper and David Stevens then moved and seconded an amendment which called on the administration to “cease all attempts to close Arthur Clark care home”. This was supported by all Councillors except for the Labour administration. Even the single Caversham Labour Councillor and Labour’s Reading East Parliamentary candidate voted against the amendment!
After lengthy debate, Labour voted down the Conservative amendment and used their majority to push through their motion.
Cllr Ed Hopper said, “I wanted to give the Council as a whole an opportunity to say that the Arthur Clark home should remain open rather than see the decision pushed off to a committee of which only a few Councillors are members. I was pleased that so many Councillors supported my amendment but disappointed that Labour used their majority to override the views of others Councillors and the large number of residents in the gallery”.
Cllr David Stevens said, “This is the first time ever that the public has presented a petition with enough signatures to trigger a debate. I am amazed therefore that the Labour Group was not willing to listen to the strength of feeling locally and invest in this care home rather than just close it down. We will keep up the fight to ensure that the views of local people are heard and heeded.”
At the end of the evening after the presentation of the petition, exhaustive debate, and numerous questions Cllr Ralph (Independent) moved a motion which many had expected him to withdraw. It was rather after the fact, as the Labour administration had made their position clear in the earlier debate, but in the spirit of cooperation Conservative Councillors had decided to support Cllr Ralph’s motion and voted against Labour’s inevitable amendment. In the most bizarre moment of the night Cllr Ralph then voted in favour of Labour’s amendment and against his own motion!
Conservative Group Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “It was a long and heated debate but what matters in this is the effect closure would have on the many elderly residents and the removal of a facility which should be retained to serve future generations north of the Thames. Conservative Councillors will be using every available opportunity to urge the Labour administration to think again and fight for a future for this much loved home.”
Sign the petition to save Arthur Clark here.
Quite a few people in my ward have been asking about bus services and the changes which will come once the new northern inter-change to Reading Station opens. I have therefore organised a public meeting tomorrow (19 June) at the Milestone Centre, Northbrook Road, Caversham at 6.45pm, when the CEO of Reading Buses, James Freeman will explain the proposed changes. Once he has spoken he has kindly agreed to take questions from the floor.
I have also arranged for a senior Council Transport Officer to attend to speak on the planned new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames. This bridge was something which I proposed when I was Lead Councillor and we began the work to include it in a bid to central Government for the funding. The bid was successful and will now be built in the next year or so.
All Peppard ward residents are welcome to attend the meeting but if they cannot I am happy to arrange for a summary of the briefing to be emailed to them following the meeting.
Transport has long been one of the most contentious subjects in Reading. Some of the most pivotal political debates on the Council in the last ten years have been about transport issues. Who can forget the debate about Labour’s ill-conceived plans for the one-way IDR and their wasting of over £1m on the proposal?
Back in 2008 the Reading Conservative Group published our transport manifesto which included plans for a major cycle hire scheme, a review of traffic lighted junctions, a new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames, and a new relief road between Reading Station and the A3290 and Thames Valley Business Park. The first three were started when the Conservatives led the Council in 2010/11, and whilst Labour has halted the review of traffic lighted junctions, it has continued with the cycle hire scheme and the pedestrian/cycle bridge. The fourth scheme however has not really progressed since Labour resumed control, with a reduced scheme being considered for a public transport link between the Station and the A3290. While this will benefit the business in Thames Valley Park and the people who work there, it will do nothing to relieve the pressure on one of Reading’s most congested and polluted parts of town.
The Kings Road and Cemetery Junction is a congestion and pollution hot-spot. The queues of stationary traffic ensure that the air quality is poor and the delays for car users and businesses vehicles are costly and frustrating. Only bus users can usually speed past the queuing traffic up Kings Road until they reach Cemetery Junction itself. There is no opportunity to widen the road at Cemetery Junction without destroying many houses and shops and therefore an alternative solution is needed. Sadly there have also been many accidents on the Kings Road in recent years. What is needed is something which relieves the pressure on this over-used route.
The solution, as we set out in 2008, is a relief road linking the Station and A3290, with segregated cycle lanes running alongside. This new road would be open to all traffic and not just public transport and would not only improve things for people working in Thames Valley Park but would also provide a better route for those needing to get from Caversham and the town centre out of Reading to the east. Most importantly though, it would relieve pressure on the Kings Road and Cemetery Junction area. As well as the new road, a Park and Ride scheme would need to be provided for people coming into Reading off the A329(M)/A3290 and this is already planned in the more limited proposals which have been under discussion between Reading and Wokingham Councils.
To be effective in relieving congestion at Cemetery Junction the new road link would have to be open to private vehicles and would require a new bridge over the Kennet Mouth. This could be constructed in a way which protects the listed Horse Shoe Bridge and does not damage the ecosystem in the Kennet Mouth area. As a town like Reading develops it is important to provide the infrastructure that allows efficient movement between key locations. To invest almost £1bn in an upgraded Reading Station without linking it effectively to one of our largest business parks and the A329(M) would be perverse.
Reading is a thriving shopping and business hub but it also has a reputation for being a congestion hot spot with long delays and poor air quality at peak times. If Reading is to continue to grow and succeed it needs new and effective transport links. Our proposed new link road, segregated cycle lanes, and park and ride, would provide much needed capacity, reduce congestion and pollution at Cemetery Junction and directly link the Station with some of the biggest employers in the area.
In partnership with Wokingham Borough Council, this plan can be delivered.
Conservatives have welcomed the announcement that the bid for a new free school to serve the west of Caversham has been given the go ahead by the Department for Education. “The Heights Free School” will be a 2-form entry primary with 50 pupils per year group and will open in September 2014.
Cllr Isobel Ballsdon, Conservative Group Education spokesman, said, “This is fantastic news. At last families in Caversham Heights will have a realistic chance of getting a local primary school place. The part of Caversham Heights which I represent (Mapledurham Ward) always has parents who are disappointed, because they are unable to get their child into their designated local school. For many years parents have been forced into their cars to drive their children to schools on the other side of Caversham or even out of Reading Borough.”
“I’m particularly thrilled for the parents who have worked so hard on the bid to get to this point. Their dedication and commitment is inspirational and I look forward to helping them get the school up and running for next September.”
Cllr Tim Harris, Leader of the Conservative Group said, “This is fabulous news and I congratulate the parents involved who have been supported throughout by Cllr Isobel Ballsdon and Reading East MP Rob Wilson. They have embraced the opportunity provided by the Conservative-led Government’s reforms and galvanised local support for their Free School bid. They have achieved what the Labour Council over the last decade has failed to deliver: a new school for Caversham.”
For as long as I have lived in Reading the nearby Woodley Town Council (in Wokingham Borough) has been under Lib Dem control. Indeed when I moved here in 1995 the Conservatives only had a single Councillor on the authority, in Loddon Airfield. At the last local elections in 2011 the Lib Dems held onto control with a slender majority of 13 seats to the Conservatives’ 12. Since then 1 Lib Dem and 1 Conservative have gone Independent leaving the Council as 12 Lib Dem, 11 Conservative, and 2 Independent. At tonight’s Annual Meeting of the Council the 2 Independents sided with the Conservatives to ensure a change of control for the first time since Woodley Town Council was formed.
Woodley TC is not like most Town Councils. It has power and a sizeable budget. The average precept on the Council Tax is around £115 and overall expenditure is just under £2m per annum. With 26,000 residents, the Council provides leisure facilities and deals with the lower level issues which are delegated by the Conservative controlled Wokingham Borough Council. The 25 Town Councillors are unpaid.
At the Annual Meeting Cllr Bill Soane was elected to be Mayor of Woodley for the next year. Bill is a fantastic guy, who has been deeply involved in Woodley for many years. He is a local businessman and a key organiser of the Woodley Carnival Committee, the biggest single event in the town. Cllr Keith Baker was elected to be Leader of the Council dynamic local politician who has worked his way up to his current position the hard way, helping local residents with their issues and campaigning for many local Conservatives across Woodley and Earley. Keith with be well placed to take up the reins from Cllr Kate Haines who has ably led the Conservative Group for the last several years. He will be the first Conservative leader of the Council in 39 years!
I wish Keith and his team well. I am sure that they will do a great job!
Today the news has been leaked by Reading’s ruling Labour group that their nominee for Mayor in the next Municipal year is to be Minster ward Councillor Marian Livingston (left). Marian was elected in May 2010 and is up for re-election in 2014 at the end of her Mayoral year. Minster ward has for some years been marginal between Labour and the Conservatives. Marian is a personable individual who is liked across the political divide. However, it is difficult to judge how she will conduct herself in office. As a former teacher I am sure that she will find Chairing the Council meetings brings back some memories!
Labour’s nominee for Deputy Mayor is Cllr Tony Jones (right) of Redlands ward. Tony was previously Mayor in 2001-02 when he represented Battle ward. Holding the post of Deputy Mayor in 2013/14 would normally mean that he would succeed as Mayor in the 2014/15 Municipal year. Jones is seen as something of a maverick in the Labour Group and is not afraid to speak out and annoy colleagues. He is fond of describing himself as a real “Socialist”, in contrast with some of his colleagues. I was told a few months ago that his nomination was likely as a way of neutering some of his more “political” maneouvres within the Labour Group. Tony was an effective Mayor last time around, which was my first year on Reading Borough Council, and I am sure he will ensure that the Mayoralty is high profile in his year. It will be interesting to see who is eventually put forward as his deputy!
Labour’s nominees will come to the Council’s annual meeting in May. As the Labour group has a majority on the Council, their nominees are now as good as elected!
Conservatives spoke up for the 1,264 families on Reading’s Housing waiting list suffering from overcrowding at last Tuesday’s Council meeting (which I was unable to attend due to a work trip overseas). The so-called “Bedroom Tax” is designed to ensure that the social housing stock is best used to relieve over-crowding and free up larger Council houses for families who desperately need the accommodation.
However, at Full Council Labour used their majority to vote through a motion to write to government asking for the under occupancy reform to be suspended because they said it isn’t fair on the 1,008 households in Reading’s social housing with a spare bedroom.
After the meeting Conservative Housing spokesman Cllr Isobel Ballsdon said “There are 9,636 families and individuals on Reading’s Housing waiting list, many having been on it for a number of years. The overwhelming majority of residents I’ve spoken to support making better use of the town’s limited supply of social housing to help tackle the backlog. Despite this Labour wants to stop the Government’s reform which will get more families into housing right for their needs.”
Cllr Ballsdon met with Mrs Chidsey who together with her husband decided to downsize last year from their 2 bed Council bungalow to a one bedroom maisonette. Mrs Chidsey said, “We didn’t need all that space. We moved so a disabled person with a carer or a family could benefit. Our utility bills are cheaper now and we are happy we made the right decision. Our daughter lives next door to a man who has a 3 bedroom council house all to himself. What a waste when there are families out there squashed into tiny flats or temporary housing.”
Cllr Ballsdon continued, “At the Council meeting I proposed some exceptional cases which officers should prioritise for using the town’s share of the £155 million Government pot for Discretionary Housing Payments. These are households needing a spare bedroom because of medical or disability needs, residents registered to foster but temporarily without a foster child; residents with a grown up child living with them who is away on active duty with the Armed Forces. Labour ignored our reasoned argument and our proposal to work cross-party for the good of residents. It was very disappointing.”
Cllr Tim Harris, Conservative Group Leader said, “Labour’s motion did nothing to help a single household on the Housing waiting list. Instead all they are doing is scaring vulnerable residents. It is totally unacceptable behaviour; especially given they don’t know all the facts nor have any idea how to deal with the problem of people in over-crowded housing. It shows them caring more about political point scoring than the needs of residents.”
I made my views clear on the matter in 2010 here.
For the second time in recent years, Mr Wilson has stepped in to stop funding to the centre being either withdrawn or reduced. This funding arrives in the nick of time as the centre was due to run out of resources by the end of March this year. Alana House in South Street, central Reading provides support to some 300 women from across Reading and West Berkshire who are at risk of offending. With a small team of five staff and volunteers, the centre works with a number of local agencies such as the NHS and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to provide a one-stop-shop of help and support.
This good news follows on from a politically motivated attack on Mr Wilson from the newly selected Reading East Labour candidate, who made a fool of himself by failing to check his facts or even visit the centre in the ward he was elected to represent.
The confirmation of further funding to keep the centre running until March 2014, came shortly before the visit of Helen Grant MP, Minister for Victims and the Courts at The Ministry of Justice, to Alana House. On 7th February Mrs Grant went to see for herself the vital work that Alana House does for women who are experiencing problems or whose life circumstances and behaviour have been shown to them at risk of offending. The centre has been successfully helping women since it opened in 2009 and provides the courts with an alternative to custodial sentences in order to help vulnerable women tackle their problems.
Helen Grant’s visit followed intense behind the scenes and public lobbying by the Reading East MP, including raising the matter on the floor of the House on 18 December 2012. The funding that Rob has helped secure means that Alana House can continue to go on to help many more women in the future and continue the good work that it does in Reading.
Rob said: “This is good news, I have fought extremely hard to continue funding for Alana House and today we achieved a great result for the centre and for the women who turn to them in their time of need. I am extremely grateful to the minister for listening and for coming to see the service on the ground for herself. Nobody can doubt my commitment to Alana House having saved its funding under two consecutive Governments. But it’s time for someone to give it some honest advice and some tough love and I suppose that, as a friend, it falls to me. I’m not sure it will get straight advice anywhere else.”
“It is now important that Alana House uses the time and space that this funding has given them to increase its own funding streams. It cannot go on having a hand to mouth existence and running the risk of almost closing as it has again. With the best will in the world public money is very tight and public money is unlikely to continue to cover the bulk of its costs. Now the issue for Alana House is to get out there and work with potential donors to give it a financially secure future. I am happy to assist. I know that many associated with Alana House are very disappointed by the negative and unhelpful attitude that the local Labour Party has taken. At a time when it could have worked with us to secure the funding, it simply carped and seemed to want me to fail. That is very sad to see in a political Party.”
Jan Fishwick, Chief Executive of PACT, the organisation that runs Alana House, said: “We are delighted to announce that Alana House services have received full funding for 2013/14 courtesy of Thames Valley Probation and J P Getty charitable trust. We are very grateful to all involved in achieving this outcome and we will continue to work hard to ensure we can continue to support the 300 vulnerable women that rely on this service for many more years. We are pleased that Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, raised awareness of the need to continue funding Alana House services in Parliament, and arranged for Helen Grant the Minister for Justice to visit Alana House last week in order to see first-hand the holistic approach we take in order to address a wide variety of complex issues in order to help transform the lives of hundreds of local women.”