A Conservative Council Tax Freeze is Delivered in Reading
It was a quite surreal situation in the Council tonight. We gathered for the annual setting of the Council Tax in the knowledge that the minority Labour administration was proposing to adopt Conservative policy, accept a consequent grant from the Conservative led government and freeze the Council Tax. This prompted the Green party to move a proposal to INCREASE Council Tax by 3.5% which if adopted would lead to the Council forfeiting a grant of £1.7m from the Government but avoiding the inconvenience of having to put the increase to a local referendum. The Green motion was rejected by all other Councillors.
We Conservatives moved an amendment to take £25,000 out of the increased Publicity and Mayoral budget and put it into the Voluntary Sector Grant budget, ring-fenced for services to older people. The Lib Dems refused to back this so we accepted a Labour proposal to refer the proposal to the Cabinet for consideration.
We supported the overall budget proposal as Labour had followed our example last year, when for the first time ever we froze Council Tax. Indeed colleagues happily branded the budget as essentially a Conservative budget. There are minor areas of disagreement but basically it is broadly what we would have continued to do. Labour’s task this year was much easier than ours last year. They had to find savings of around £12m (last year we had to find £19m), and of the £12m, £3.9m of savings stemmed from measures we took last year and which Labour has not reversed. Thus their real task was less than half of what faced us last year.
After the budget passed with the support of Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems (but not the Greens) we moved onto motions. I moved a motion congratulating Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee and instructing the Mayor to write to the Royal Household to pass on the loyal greetings of the Councillors and citizens of Reading. This sparked a bizarre speech from Cllr Ricky Duveen (Lib Dem) who declared himself a Republican and became the only Councillor to vote against the motion which was passed with the support of all the other Lib Dems, all Conservative and Labour Councillors, but with the Greens abstaining!
The other highlight of the evening was right at the beginning in public questions when the Labour candidate for Caversham ward asked the Lead Councillor for Strategic Planning and Transport a clearly scripted question about improved cycle parking at Reading Station and the proposal for a new cycle/foot bridge over the Thames. He clearly was noyt aware that these were both Conservative proposals which were taken forward during our year in control. We bid for the money for the new bridge in the small LSTF (Local Strategic Transport Fund) bid which was granted by the Conservative led Coalition government last summer. These are all facts which we will be reminding voters in Caversham ward in the run up to polling day!
It was rather surreal to be in opposition and yet see one of our major policies being delivered tonight. It is right to freeze Council Tax at a time when most people’s household budgets are under pressure and it was entertaining to see some Labour back-benchers squirm as they received Conservative support for the freeze. It was also odd to see the Greens proposing taxing local people a lot more but effectively handing more than half of it straight over to central government to be spent in other areas outside Reading. Stranger things have happened in Reading Borough Council but not many!