Council Meeting – 29 June
Tuesday last week was a landmark evening in many ways. The main one was that it was the first Council meeting with Labour not forming the administration in a VERY long time. We were all wondering how Labour would behave in the new regime and somewhat nervous about being the ones in the hot seats.
The Council meeting began with a series of questions from members of the public, mainly about the situation at All Saints Primary School and their campaign for expansion and academy status. These were fielded by Cllr Mark Ralph, Lead for Education and Children’s Services. The second section was questions from Councillors and I had two to answer; one from Cllr Glenn Goodall on resurfacing of Erleigh Road followed by one from Cllr Gareth Epps about speeding up consideration of applications for residents’ parking zones. Questions and answers can be found here.
The first main item for debate was the Coalition Agreement between Conservatives and Lib Dems to form a new administration around an agreed set of principles. I thought this would be relatively non-contentious, with Labour just making a number of attacks and then moving on. Instead Labour moved a series of amendments seeking agreement from the coalition to a number of uncosted and indefinite spending commitments. We were able to keep pointing out that any cuts imposed on us by central Government were as a result of Labour’s mismanagement of the economy and the massive deficit that they left at the Treasury.
As Labour’s tactics were clearly politically motivated and just an attempt to score points and obtain ammunition to scare vulnerable residents, the coalition used a provision in the Council Constitution to move a motion that the matter be put to the vote. In each case this was only done after some debate on Labour’s point but it did shorten the debate a little. In the end all of Labour’s amendments were lost and after about an hour and forty minutes the main item was passed by a united coalition vote against the combined votes of Labour and the one Green Councillor. What was noticeable was that Cllr Rob White as the sole Green representative appeared to have taken the Labour Whip in almost every vote. On the few occasions he didn’t vote with Labour he abstained.
The second major item was the adoption of a Tree Strategy with the aim of increasing the tree canopy by 10% over the next 20 years. There are many areas of Reading with poor tree coverage and these will be prioritised for new planting. This was my first report as Lead for Transport and Strategic Planning and I was pleased that it passed with unanimous support. Surprisingly our Green colleague had nothing to say on something which I had expected he might have welcomed.
We then discussed the Regulation of Sexual Entertainment Venues, which also passed with all-party support.
The next few items also passed pretty rapidly. The End of Year Financial Accounts, a Call for Action and Petitions Scheme, New Governance Arrangements, and the appointment of Judge Zoe Smith as Honorary Recorder.
The final part of the meeting was the debates on the motions moved by Councillors. The first was moved by new Councillor Rachel Eden on the matter of the Royal Mail decision to phase out most bicycle deliveries and replace them with vans and trollies. All parties joined with Cllr Eden to regret the move and call for the Chief Executive of the Council to write to Royal Mail to pass on the Council’s views.
However, most of Labour’s ire was reserved for the last motion and final item of the night. It was a debate around the All Saints School desire to purchase August House and a request to delay any sale of the property to allow the school to raise the necessary funds. In response Cllr Ralph noted that this solution was far from ideal and was not even backed by the Church of England which sponsors the school.
Overall it was a competent first performance for the new coalition administration with even some usually quiet backbenchers contributing to the debates. Labour were surprisingly muted and my sources tell me that after the Council meeting some have expressed surprise that the two coalition parties were so strongly united. Perhaps the message is beginning to filter through to Labour that the local coalition is as strong as that at Westminster and we are united in our determination to clear up Labour’s mess and improve the services delivered to our residents.
The full agenda with all attachments relating to the Council meeting can be found here.