Labour’s Cuts and Charges Agenda Takes Shape
I have written before about Reading Labour’s developing agenda of cuts and increases in charges. This was given further credence this week when I spotted that Labour were attempting to sneak through massive increases in some car parking charges in Reading. I and my Conservative colleagues joined to “call in” that decision for a debate at next Monday’s Cabinet meeting.
Now we have learned through the good offices of the local press that Labour plan to cut 165 Council jobs. I have long thought that there was scope for some sizeable efficiencies within the Council in order to keep Council Tax in check and I will be interested to see where Labour’s axe will fall. They have already announced that the customer-facing Cash Office in the Civic Offices will be closed. That would not have been the top of my list for the axe. I think there are many back-office functions that would have been a higher priority to cut.
The Labour Executive received a “windfall” this year of a VAT refund of around £3.6m and therefore despite some serious over-spends there is some flexibility in the budget. We have argued for a freeze in Council Tax and therefore if Labour are taking steps to make this more achievable I would welcome that. Some cuts now could enable a freeze to be sustained over future years, providing some relief for our hard-pressed residents. However, they need to be cuts that do not worsen the services to local people.
Conservatives will be watching the emerging budget situation very closely we and are prepared to work with the ruling but minority Labour Group if it delivers better services at lower cost. Other Councils can manage this and it is about time that Reading did the same.