As Labour launch their local election campaign it has been catastrophically overshadowed by the news that yet another former Labour MP is to join his former colleagues in prison. Today former Labour MP for Livingston Jim Devine has been sentenced to 16 months imprisonment for swindling his Parliamentary expenses.
Appearing at the Old Bailey, Devine was sentenced for swindling more than £8,000 from the public purse. The Judge Mr Justice Saunders stated that “Mr Devine set about defrauding the public purse in a calculated and deliberate way”. Devine who was once leader of the Scottish Labour Party was also found to have been “lying in significant parts of the evidence he gave” to the court.
Jim Devine will now join his former Labour colleagues Eric Illsley 12 months) and David Chaytor (18 months) behind bars.
Former Conservative Peer Lord Taylor of Warwick is still awaiting sentencing.
There is a new ComRes poll published in tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Labour lead over the Conservatives reversing last months trend and showing an increase to 6%:
Conservative 35% (down 2%)
Labour 41% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 13% (up 2%)
ComRes interviewed 1,000 GB adults online on 25-27 March 2011
Today in New South Wales, Australia, a state-wide General Election has been taking place. After 16 years of Labor administration the Liberal/National coalition had high hopes of taking control of the state. That aim was boosted by the fact that last year Julia Gillard clung onto power at a national level with the support of 3 independent MPs. Since then she has proven to be an inept Prime Minister and has sunk to record lows in the polls.
One of the principal contributing factors to Labor’s unpopularity is Gillard’s introduction of a new Carbon Tax. This was after she expressly promised not to introduce such a tax during the General Election. David Cameron take note!
In the 93 seat state Parliament the Lib/Nat Coalition is likely to hold 68 seats (ABC projection) with Labor being reduced to a rump of just 22. The Independents have also been hit hard, as they were in seats which are represented at national level by the Indepedent MPs who are propping up Gillard.
Australia uses the Alternative Vote system which is being proposed for the UK in the 5th May referendum but voting is compulsory. In Australia the Liberals and National Party operate in permanent alliance, pretty much as a single party. This election result is further evidence that elections under AV usually do produce clear results and can be counted quickly!
There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian showing the Conservatives taking a 1% lead over Labour:
Conservative 37% (up 2%)
Labour 36% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 16% (down 2%)
Conservatives will be delighted to have taken the lead (albeit a small one) with one of the most credible pollsters. ICM has an excellent reputation and sits alongside YouGov as one of the two “Gold standard” pollsters based on their longer term record.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,014 adults aged 18 and above by telephone on 23-24 March 2011.
There is a new YouGov poll published in today’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives being cut to just 4%:
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 20 March.
This is the first post-Budget poll and Labour should be concerned at their seeming inability to open up a decent lead over the Conservatives. It seems that the public are unconvinced by Ed Miliband and his senior team, and their lack of any positive alternative to government policies. The Conservatives were certainly braced to be substantially behind Labour by now and it is encouraging to note that the public seem to be accepting the argument that government action to tackle the deficit was necessary.
I have received some interesting intelligence on the Reading Labour party which I will post shortly when I have confirmed it with other sources.
Readers will be aware that I broke the story that under Labour the local Council Tax payer had been ‘secretly’ funding three full time Trades Union posts for many years to the tune of £1.4m. When this was revealed it caused outrage across the town and I still have local people contacting me to express their surprise and outrage that Council Tax should have been used to fund the same Trades Unions which then fund the local and national Labour party.
The Conservative / Lib Dem Coalition Council has decided to stop this use of public money and it has undoubtedly become an issue in the approaching local elections. You would have thought that Labour would have wished to let the matter die down, since it is clearly one which will not be winning them any new votes. However, the instinct in the local Labour Party to try to smear and undermine their opponents rather than defend their position politically, is clearly undimmed. Rather than argue the case for funding full-time Trade Union officials from the public purse the Labour Leader decided to try to smear me as “far right” and refer my blog article to the Council’s Standards Panel, which can rule on breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct.
I am delighted therefore that when the all-party sub-committee of the Standards Panel looked at Labour’s complaint that I had breached the Code of Conduct, they found that my blog article “had not breached the Code of Conduct” and that “no action be taken” on Labour’s “allegation”. However, they expressed the view that my description of the funding of the three posts as having been kept “secret” was “misleading and inaccurate because the facilities agreement was not a ‘secret'”. The problem with the Standards process at this stage is that the person being accused has no right of attending to argue their case or debate the view of the sub-committee. That only comes if the matter is referred to the full Panel by the sub-committee. I was therefore unable to argue the point that an agreement which was signed in 1998 under Labour’s rule; not raised in any committee or panel that anyone has been able to find, since then; which is not available on the Council Website; and which pre-dates all but two Conservative or Lib Dem Councillors, could reasonably be described as “secret”.
I have rarely used the Standards process because it is largely ineffective under current legislation and only serves to take up an awful lot of Officer time. However, I did find the Labour Leader’s letter published on Cllr Ennis’s blogsite about Trade Union funding offensive when she described me as holding a “far right perspective”. I therefore asked the Standards committee to rule on whether this constituted a breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct by both Councillors. In an almost identically worded ruling as the one about me, the sub-committee ruled that it did not but they chided the Labour Leader for her use of “emotive” language and requested that she and Cllr Ennis remove the accusation from his blogsite.
It is typical of Labour that rather than defend their own stance or attack an opposition policy position they prefer to attack or smear an individual. We have seen it time after time in Reading and sometimes nationally.
It has been interesting to see other authorities tackling the issue of full-time Union officials being funded from Council Tax and the Government has now urged local authorities to find savings in this area before they look to close libraries, public toilets and leisure facilities. It is noteworthy that some Labour controlled Councils have chosen to cut local community groups and facilities while continuing to fund full-time posts for their Trade Union buddies.
On 5th May Reading’s voters can chose between Conservative and Lib Dem candidates who believe that the Trades Unions should fund their own officials and that frontline services should be protected, or they can vote for Labour candidates who would prioritise spending Council Tax income on full-time Trades Union posts while closing libraries, voluntary groups and leisure facilities.
Today Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne unveiled his first “normal” Budget. His first budget was the “emergency” Budget last June which had to address the immediate consequences of the economic mess left by the outgoing Labour government. This time he had the opportunity to spend more time addressing the immediate concerns of the nation and make any necessary tweaks to the course he set last June.
The Budget today was trailed in the press pretty accurately but Osborne saved a surprise for the end. The usual inflation increase in fuel duty has been postponed; the inherited plan for a 1p above inflation fuel duty “escalator” has been scrapped until 2015; and to add a further relief for motorists the rate of fuel duty was actually CUT by an extra 1p per litre from 6pm tonight. This was received with cheers from the Coalition benches and shock from many on the Labour side who realised that the price of petrol will now be 3p per litre less than it would have been under Labour’s plans, even including the VAT increase. These measures will be funded by additional tax on the oil companies which are making record profits as a result of the oil price rise. This is good politics and very good news for hard pressed motorists.
Income Tax payers will be happy at a further increase in the basic personal tax allowance by £630 from April 2012 to a new level of just over £8,000. Osborne also proposed the possibility of merging Income Tax and National Insurance. This makes great sense but would have to be handled sensitively in order to avoid some unintended consequences. Any measure to simplify tax and make the system more comprehensible should be welcomed.
To boost business Corporation Tax is to be cut by 2% next month rather than the planned 1% cut. There will be a further 1% cut in each of the next three years. The tax code will be simplified and small business will be exempted from many regulations. There will also be 21 new enterprise zones in England which will benefit from tax breaks. 40,000 new apprenticeships will be created and 100,000 new work experience places.
Short term growth forecasts were downgraded and medium term forecasts were increased. I have never put much store by growth forecasts, they are invariably wrong! Gordon Brown made this into an art form by constantly over-estimating in order to make his books balance. At least now we have the independent Office of Budget Responsibility to add some credibility to Osborne’s numbers.
Alcohol and tobacco duty is to rise by 2% ahead of inflation and a review of the duty regime has been promised.
All in all it is a sensible budget containing many measures to help business to stimulate economic growth and the creation of jobs. With the appalling legacy left by Labour Osborne always had a difficult job but he has made an excellent start and credible commentators are praising his deficit reduction plan. Inflation remains a concern but I will happily predict that economic growth this year and next will come in above current estimates with the consequent boost to the fiscal position and size of Labour’s deficit and debt burden.
Some of us are used to Labour running Britain into economic difficulties and the Conservatives having to sort it out. This time it is good to have the Lib Dems on board through the hard times. Labour today had no answers, no plans of their own and no credibility. As we can see in Reading they have only negativity and scares.
Reading Conservatives today announced their candidates for the local elections to Reading Borough Council this May. The team includes candidates in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, as well as male and female candidates from Asian backgrounds and the Conservatives’ first black candidate, in the marginal Minster ward.
Abbey – Richard Nante – Richard is already very involved with his local community. He is a campaigner who has worked with the local police to highlight the concerns of Abbey ward residents and is working with the Neighbourhood Action Group to improve life for all locally. He shares the Chairmanship of East and South Reading Pub Watch Association. Well known locally as pub landlord at the Fisherman’s Cottage in the ward, Richard’s 27 years experience of bar management follows 12 years service in the Armed Forces.
Battle – Imran Ishtiaq – Imran (left) has been brought up and lived in Battle Ward much of his life, having attended local Primary School on Oxford Road and Secondary School in Tilehurst. He is 28 years of age, married with one son. He is currently a full time Hackney Carriage Driver as well as the Liaison Officer for Thames Valley Police which involves in assisting the general public addressing their concerns in regards to the Council and the Police. He is a member of the Reading Taxi Association as well as a number of other charitable organisations.
Caversham – Tom Stanway – Tom has been a Caversham ward Councillor since 2007. He has served as an active local Councillor being involved in the Lower Caversham Neighbourhood Action Group, regular attendee of Caversham Globe and worked with the local MP on many issues including trying to solve the problem of St Martin’s Precinct. Tom served as the Chair of Culture and Sport Scrutiny Committee for two years and for the last year has been the Lead Councillor for Culture and Sport. Tom has lived in Caversham since moving to Reading, and currently works for a Dutch Bank based at Thames Valley Park.
Church – Geoff Poland – Geoff is married with one son and runs an Independent Financial Planning business in central Reading which he established in 1990. Geoff has always taken an active interest in local business issues and was President of the Reading Chamber of Commerce for 8 years giving him a good understanding of the needs and difficulties facing local businesses. He is a founder member and past President of Reading Matins Rotary Club and currently serves on the Community Services team which has undertaken projects at the Battle and Royal Berkshire Hospitals and is currently assisting in the Whitley Wood Community Centre. He is also a Trustee and Treasurer of “British Community Trust – Peru” which is a project set up by a former Ambassador to the country to provide help and financial support to street children and financially disadvantaged children within that country.
Katesgrove – Leo Lester – Leo (30) has lived in Katesgrove ward since studying at Reading University. He now works for BG Group in Thames Valley Park. He is a school governor and helps out at an after school club. He spent a night sleeping rough to raise the issue of child homelessness in Reading. Leo is an active voice campaigning for local people. He has raised residents’ concerns in the Council Chamber, most recently calling for more to be done to stop bullying in schools. In 2010 he organised a petition demanding the Council explain the misuse of council taxpayers’ money.
Kentwood – James Anderson – Having grown up in Tilehurst and attended both Park Lane and Little Heath school in Reading James (25) now lives with his wife in Kentwood ward. James started his professional life working in various sales roles but has always been actively involved in local voluntary community work, helping young people from across Reading with Lighthouse Kidz Church and ‘The Gap’ community youth club. James has a passion for Social Action and voluntary community work and now works as the Social Action manager for a national organisation.
Minster – Alanzo Seville – Alanzo was born in Reading and has spent a large part of his life in and around the local area. For many years he has been actively involved within the local community; working with young people at play schemes during the school holidays, and more recently speaking up for the community at local forums. Alanzo works for a firm of financial advisors and is a director of a care support provider. His business interests include providing care for vulnerable people and financial services to those who otherwise would not be able to access these services. Alanzo is passionate about ensuring that people have control of their communities and believes in the Conservative principle that the views of local people should be the most important factor in any decisions being made by Reading Borough Council.
Norcot – Nazia Bashir – Nazia has lived in Reading most of her life, graduated with a LLB Law Degree & a Diploma in Law in Legal Practice. At present she is working for a local firm as well as being involved in voluntary work for the local community. Nazia, first got involved in politics whilst studying for her Law Degree at University, which has inspired and furthered her interest in this particular area to be able to represent and be the voice for her local residents and ward. Nazia, has been taking time to talk to local residents in the area, to find out whether they have any local concerns or issues that they would like her to address for them. She is a dedicated, committed and hard working individual, who will make a tremendous difference to her ward if elected and given the opportunity.
Park – Wazir Hussain – Wazir (left) is married with 3 children and he has lived and worked in Reading since 1984. His children all went to Katesgrove Primary School with his daughter going on to Maiden Erlegh School and his sons to Reading School. Wazir and his wife set up and grew a successful retail business in central Reading. As a result they know lots of people who were their customers and who regularly popped in for their local supplies. Wazir sold the business to concentrate on managing the properties bought in the town over the last 20 years. First elected onto Reading Borough Council in 2007, Wazir enjoys working hard for the whole of Park Ward’s community and is pleased that his linguistic abilities enable him to represent this multicultural area.
Peppard – Richard Willis – Richard (44) was first elected in Peppard ward in 2007, having previously represented neighbouring Thames Ward from 2001 to 2004. He lives in Caversham Park Village and is a governor of Emmer Green Primary School. He is also a Director of Readibus which provides transport for mobility impaired people. Richard currently works full time for the Royal Air Force as a community relations officer but started his working life as a teacher. Since May 2010 Richard has been the Lead Councillor for Strategic Planning and Transport.
Redlands – Ed Hopper – Ed (35) has lived in Reading since 1998, when he moved here for work. He lives with his wife and two daughters in East Reading where he enjoys an active community life. Ed works a few miles outside Reading so he knows the pressures of commuting by car on Reading’s roads. Ed’s eldest daughter attends school in the town and his younger daughter goes to a local nursery. Ed and his family are involved with their local church and he serves on the Parish Council for the joint parish of St. Luke’s with St. Bartholomew’s.
Southcote – Robert Vickers – Robert has been married for 38 years, to Sandra, who is standing in Tilehurst Ward. They have four children and three grandchildren and Robert has lived in Reading all his life. After leaving Wilson School, Robert started his working life as an apprentice jig and toolmaker. He has also worked at Dee Road Fire Station, been assistant manager at a rehabilitation centre (which provides work experience for handicapped people) before setting up his own building business which he ran for about 25 years, employing up to 15 people. Robert has lived in Southcote ward for nearly 16 years. Currently he works for a local housing association as a multi-skilled operative where he is also a GMB union shop steward. As part of his work Robert is used to standing up for and representing colleagues and coming up with sensible solutions.
Thames – Jeanette Skeats – Jeanette has lived in Caversham for 33 years with her husband and daughter. She has represented Thames Ward since she was first elected in 1996. During her time on the Council she has been a member of scrutiny panels and committees covering most areas of the Council. Jeanette is Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group and is the Council’s Lead Member for Communities, Voluntary Sector and Enterprise. She is also Chairman of Licensing and Reading in Bloom. Jeanette was the former Chairman of the Caversham Court Gazebo Trust and as such helped initiate a successful bid to the Lottery Heritage Fund. Jeanette served as Mayor of Reading in 2003 – 2004 and as first citizen she promoted and represented the town on many formal occasions working closely with the voluntary sector and local groups fundraising for various charities. Jeanette is a Patron for the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organisation.
Tilehurst – Sandra Vickers – Sandra has been married for 38 years, to Robert, who is standing in Southcote Ward. They have four children and three grandchildren and have lived in Reading all their lives. Sandra was educated at Battle School and then Alfred Sutton Girls School, where she took a secretarial course, and upon leaving went to work for a local building society, Reading Police Station, and finally a Dutch/American company. She then became a full time mother during which time she helped Robert run his own building business. When the children were little Sandra helped out at their schools doing fundraising, listening to the children read and cook, helping on outings and anything else where parents were needed. Her hobbies include motor-biking (although only on the back!), camping, wild life study, gardening and sewing, which has now culminated in Sandra running her own business hand making curtains and soft furnishings.
Whitley – Michael Doyle – Michael (27) has lived in the Reading area since 2001, when he moved here for work. He lives in the Whitley area and has worked in the retail and construction sectors. He is a keen marathon runner who has raised money for numerous charities such as Down Syndrome Association, St John’s Hospice and Headway. He is currently studying to be a Physical Education teacher and is passionate about improving the physical fitness of young people.
Cllr Andrew Cumpsty, Leader of Reading Borough Council said: “I am delighted to be able to introduce a team of candidates which represents all ages and backgrounds. We have some very experienced sitting Councillors standing again but also some new candidates who bring a great range of talent and life experience. I believe that this is the best ever team of candidates we have stood in Reading.”
There is a new YouGov poll published in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives holding at 6%:
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 3 March.
All polls now show the same message with a small lead of 3 – 6% for Labour. Labour must be very disappointed to be failing to make more progress at a time when the Government has been taking necessary but unpopular decisions. Next week the Chancellor George Osborne has the opportunity to begin to sweeten, what until now has been, a bitter pill. If Sunday newspaper reports are to believed it will be a “Budget for Growth” and there will be some relief for the hard-pressed motorist.
This YouGov poll shows the Conservatives continuing to hold a substantial lead in the South of England (outside London) – Cons 48%, Labour 32%, LD 10%. This is very much what we are finding on the doorsteps with Conservative support solid and Labour support up in some areas and flakey in others.
The last 24 hours have been remarkable in international diplomacy. As the forces of “mad dog” Colonel Gaddafi advanced towards rebel held Benghazi, Britain and France (backed by Lebanon) moved a motion in the Security Council of the United Nations to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya. This is a proposal which has been backed by David Cameron for some weeks now in the face of considerable scepticism (by the fool Peter Hitchins) and outright opposition (from the likes of Labour’s Baroness Ashton). Cameron has sometimes sounded a lonely voice in recent weeks in support of a “no fly zone” but he has continued to press for what he knew to be right.
The decision of the Arab League (represented by Lebanon) to back a “no fly zone” was a significant fillip to Cameron’s argument and seems to have carried considerable weight with the USA and other UN member states. Last night the Security Council passed resolution 1973 which authorised the imposition of a “no-fly zone” to protect civilians but it also went further to reinforce the existing arms embargo and freeze assets of the Libyan regime. Of the five permanent (veto-holding) members of the Security Council, the UK, France and USA voted in favour and China and Russia abstained. Germany also abstained and was joined by Brazil and India. Lebanon, Bosnia, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria and South Africa voted in favour.
Cameron has undoubtedly shown some steel and gained significant credbility on the world stage by his actions. Even the Labour party have been praising his leadership on the issue. The significant loser in all this has been the reputation of the Obama led USA, which has prevaricated and dithered, even at times attacking Cameron for his suggestion of the “no fly zone”. Very late in the day the USA swung behind Britain and France’s resolution and now looks set to play a part in enforcing it. However, it is likely that the USA will play a small part, with Britain, France and the Arab League providing the bulk of the aircraft, with support frpm other European, NATO nations.
David Cameron has already indicated that the RAF is to play a major role with Tornados, Typhoons, refuelling and surveillance aircraft all involved. Planning for a possible “no fly zone” has been underway for some time and the RAF will be able to respond quickly. We have a significant air base in Cyprus, facilities in Malta, and possible use of Italian airfields.
While the Labour leadership has quickly rowed in behind the Prime Minister’s position, the usual eccentric voices of the left have begun to spring up in opposition to any military action. “The Stop the War” coalition and George Galloway are already opposing the “no fly zone”. However, the situation is markedly different from the Iraq war and Cameron has learned the lessons from Tony Blair by achieveing a UN Resolution in support.
The Gaddafi regime’s initial response is to publicly declare a ceasefire while at the same time reportedly continuing the ground offensive. If that ceasefire proves to be a reality then David Cameron will have achieved an extraordinary result and saved thousands of lives in Libya. If Gaddafi’s promises prove hollow then the international coalition will have to act to prevent a massacre of rebels and civilians in the east of Libya. Either way David Cameron has shown real leadership and comes out of this situation with his stature enhanced.
The prize has to be the eventua fall of Gaddafi from power and the continued ripple of democracy across the Arab world and wider Middle East.
Conservative 37% (up 4%)
Labour 41% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 10% (down 3%)
MORI are often more volatile than other polls but this is a sharp reversal of Labour’s previously commanding lead.
It has been interesting to watch Labour in opposition, both locally and nationally. After 13 years in power they are struggling to come to terms with the fact that the public turfed them out of office. There seems to be an inate belief that people should like them because they see themselves as the party of truth, compassion and fairness. There is no comprehension that many members of the public feel betrayed by Labour, lied to by Blair and let down by Brown. Locally their campaign is entirely negative and too many of their candidates are deficit deniers who do not comprehend the mess that Labour left behind them. Nationally Ed Miliband has yet to make much of an impression but there is a persistent feeling that Labour has a unhealthy relationship with the Trades Unions and that the younger Miliband is not the right man to lead Labour, let alone the nation.
Labour has an assumption that all Conservatives are greedy, selfish and wealthy. Their attitude towards the Lib Dems is one of confused contempt. Labour saw the Lib Dems as natural allies and cannot yet come to terms that the Lib Dems found a lot of common cause with the modern Conservatives on the more liberal wing of the party and with David Cameron especially.
The problem facing Labour is that until they come to terms with how they are seen they will not win again. This was the lesson that we Conservatives had to learn after 1997. It took a long time and several leaders before the public was prepared to trust us again. I think Labour will face a similar political exile. There is a widespread feeling that whilst there definitely was a world banking crisis, the main reason for Britain’s economic woes was the uncontrolled spending undertaken during Gordon Brown’s time at the Treasury. People have not forgotten the Iraq war or the dodgy dossier, the Mandelson resignations, the boom and bust, the devastation of our pension funds, or the failure to tackle poverty.
I used to have some respect for Labour. I saw them as wrong on many issues but sincere and well meaning. Many of their elected representatives were from the old Christian Socialist tradition, principled and determined to address issues holding people back. There are sadly few of them left now. Frank Field MP springs to mind as one outstanding example. However, under Tony Blair Labour appeared to sell its soul. The party adopted the politics of convenience rather than principle. It smeared its opponents personally while cosying up to “celebrities” and the nouveau riche. Who will forget the people smeared as racist or bigoted? The elderly ladies Rose Addis and Gillian Duffy found out what senior Labour people thought of them.
Labour in Reading are not much different. On at least two occasions during recent local elections senior local Labour members have sought to smear Conservative candidates. In both cases they were minority ethnic candidates who Labour clearly felt should owe their loyalty to the Labour party. The other stock tactic is to smear people personally as racist or far right. The assumption is that all Conservatives must be racist or far right unless proven otherwise. It is a mindset that cannot comprehend how a successful Asian businessman could be a Conservative, or a single mum, or someone who is gay or lesbian. All of these people are assumed to be Labour client groups and to be otherwise is a betrayal in their eyes. The Conservative Group on Reading Borough Council is undoubtedly the most diverse and broad-based political group on the Council. That is one of our strengths.
We work so well with the local Lib Dems because both sides entered into the coalition with a positive attitude towards eachother, despite past differences. We have found that we like and respect eachother and share more common ground than either side probably expected. When we do have differences we discuss them and come to an agreed position. We then unite and defend eachother from Labour’s inevitable attacks. It is grown up politics and despite the difficult situation we face, we are implementing much of our respective manifestos and the Coalition Agreement.
On 5th May the people of Reading will pass their judgement on the ruling Conservative / Lib Dem coalition and the opposition Labour Party. From the messages I am receiving, the majority of people realise that we are making a difference in Reading, getting things back on track and prepared to listen to what people want. This is a stark contrast with the previous Labour administration. Until Labour wake up, realise that things have changed, learn a little humility and apologise, they will languish in the powerlessness of opposition.
William Hague summarised Labour’s record in Government very effectively at the 2009 Conservative Party Conference:
UPDATE: This is a very good and insightful article on Labour’s predicament.
Many of us have waited for a long time to take control of Reading Borough Council from Labour and begin to make the changes that so many people have been calling for. It has not been an easy first 10 months so it is very encouraging to receive praise from outside organisations. Various national bodies have praised the Conservative-led Council but it was very gratifying to be sent the link to a Spectator article by David Blackburn decribing Reading under its new management as “a model Council”.
This is based on us being one of the few to increase funding to the voluntary sector, extend library opening hours and ensure better value for money. Whilst acknowledging that there is always more to be done the following quote is an excellent endorsement:
“Privately, some Tories are heralding Reading as a model council. Certainly, it’s commitment to transparency, efficiency and protecting services is commendable (and highly unusual for local government). But there is some way to go to enact that these initiatives; and, there is still yet more to trim.”
Reading residents will feel the benefit of the Council’s decision to freeze council tax charges when bills begin landing on their doormats this week. More than 66,000 properties across the town will receive their Council Tax bills from tomorrow onwards. Unlike in previous years, however, they will not have to find any extra money to pay them.
Despite the challenging economic climate, Reading Borough Council has been able to hold charges at 2010/11 levels, whilst continuing to deliver high-quality services and value for money.
The Council Tax freeze for 2011/12 has been made possible after around £19 million of savings were identified by Reading Borough Council in next year’s budget. These include efficiency measures of £7.3m. The process of identifying further efficiency savings will continue over coming years.
Council Tax levels for 2011/12 – which include precepts from Thames Valley Police and the Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service – are as follows:
BAND A: £999.18
BAND B: £1,165.70
BAND C: £1,332.24
BAND D: £1,498.76
BAND E: £1,831.82
BAND F: £2,164.88
BAND G: £2,497.94
BAND H: £2,997.52
More than 40% of properties in Reading fall in Band C, which means more than 2 in five households will have a Council Tax bill based on a charge of £1,332.24 for 2011/12. Households who receive Council Tax benefit and/or a single person discount will pay less than the basic charge per band shown above.
Reading Borough Council Leader Andrew Cumpsty said: ‘For the first time in the Council’s history, we are freezing Council Tax. This means that bills for residents will not rise in the year ahead, helping people right across Reading in managing their household budgets. Times are tough financially, and this first ever freeze delivered by this administration will mean our residents have more of their own money. This is an action by a Council which understands that in tough times, everyone, including the Council, needs to tighten it’s own belt and live within its means.’
Kirsten Bayes, Deputy Leader at Reading Borough Council added: “We understand the financial difficulties our residents face, and are doing our very best to preserve services while keeping costs down. This Council Tax freeze takes away a source of worry in household budgets in cash-strapped times.”
As always, Reading residents who have not already done so are being urged to set up a direct debit to pay their Council Tax bill for 2011/12. This process of payment saves the Council and the council tax payer money by cutting down on significant administration costs. For example it costs around 20 pence per year to pay your Council Tax by direct debit, as opposed to around £20 for all other payment methods, including cash and cheques.
More details about how to set up a Direct Debit to pay your Council Tax bill can be found at http://www.reading.gov.uk/adviceandbenefits/counciltax/payyourbill or residents can telephone 0118 9373727 to request a DD form.
For 2009/10, 97% of Council tax bills were paid and a similar level of payment is expected for 2010/11. Reading Borough Council would like to thank all residents who paid on time.
The Council would urge anyone who has difficulty paying their Council Tax to contact the Council as quickly as possible so suitable arrangements can be made. Residents who refuse to pay and do not contact the Council Tax team need to know the Council will vigourously pursue non-payment of council tax through the courts.
This year the Council has already taken 7,125 people to court for non payment. Where people are taken to court they will have to pay additional costs of up to £90 over and above their Council Tax bill. Where people still refuse to pay, the Council has a variety of other ways of seeking to recover the Council Tax, including seeking bankruptcy or committal to prison. Reading Borough Council has already taken two dozen people to court for committal proceedings which have resulted in payment orders and suspended sentences to date.
Today I was invited to do the newspaper review on the local community radio station Reading4U. I must admit to not having heard of the station before now. However, it is a great outfit broadcasting on the Internet 24 hours a day, with a mix of local news, music and community groups input.
Today the programme ran from 12 midday to 2pm with Zofia Zkrakowski and we were discussing stories in the national papers as well the Reading Post and Chronicle. Naturally we spent some time on the unfolding tragedy in Japan and the Gaddafi fightback in Libya but we also discussed my bicycle hire scheme which I am taking to the Cabinet tomorrow night, park and ride around Reading and the recent Council budget.
Now that I know the station exists I will try to listen in from time to time and I encourage you to do the same.