Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Labour WILL seek to form a minority administration

I can confirm that the Labour group believes we have an electoral mandate to form a minority administration after winning 9 out of 15 seats and the largest vote share.  It's not the easy option but it is the right thing to do to stand up for Reading.
Labour has increased it's position as the largest party but we are still a seat away from being able to take control.  We are currently in discussions with the other groups, including as has been reported in the press with the Green party councillors.  Jo Lovelock and Tony Page have written a public letter to the Green councillors which both states our position and answers specific questions that they have raised.  The text is below (it's long!): 
Dear Rob and Melanie, 
Labour  Group Priorities for 2011/12. 
Thank you for meeting with Tony Page and myself last Thursday, 12th May.  You asked us what our view was about the political situation the council finds itself in and about our priorities for the coming year were we to form an administration. You also told us which issues are important to you.

With regard to the political situation in Reading we made it clear that as we had won 9 of the 15 seats and had increased our position as the largest Party we felt we have a mandate to seek to form an administration, albeit a minority one.  We also feel that the Conservative-led coalition has been rejected by Reading’s voters and they do not have a right  to continue in office.  Obviously you now have a choice of either supporting a minority Labour administration or propping up the Tory-led one and all that would imply for the people of Reading.
In terms of Labour’s priorities, we listed some last week and Labour’s full manifesto is available on Labour Party website (www.readinglabour.org.uk). To summarise the main commitments, they are as follows:
                
  • Radically re-organise the Council and its services to deliver savings and protect people in need. Labour will protect and improve services by giving local communities and service-users more influence over them. Instead of top-down control from the town hall, we will promote initiatives that hand more power to local people guided by the cooperative values of fairness, accountability and responsibility.

  • Stand up for those least able to care for themselves. Labour will work to re-invent the system of community care with the involvement of the retired, those approaching retirement and the families whose loved ones receive care. Labour will suspend the cuts to community care and undertake a full
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  • review of the service to ensure no elderly person is left without support they need.


  • Involve the public more effectively and ensure that all voices in Reading are heard equally, by building new structures for involving the public: properly representative service user panels, social networking groups, traditional survey methods and in some cases local referenda to make sure everyone’s voice counts equally in Reading.

  • Help local schools to do even better by working with local schools to raise standards, continuing to take action that makes it easier for schools to work together on an area-by-area basis, pool resources, get better value for money and produce better results, and take legal advice on how to challenge Wokingham Council’s intention to exclude Reading children from Maiden Erlegh School.


  • Use the Council’s watchdog powers to stand up for the NHS. We will use these powers to hold the NHS to account in the interests of patients and will involve the public in doing so. We will resist the breaking up and privatisation of our NHS services by the Conservative-led government and will use the influence of the Council to protect local, publicly provided and accountable health services.

  • Review the Green Bin fiasco introduced by the Conservative-led Council.


  • Stand up for a cleaner Reading by making clean streets the Council’s priority, dealing with graffiti and looking after our parks and public spaces.

  • Ensure that voluntary groups are recognised for the good work they are undertaking in the town, and that they are treated fairly and transparently when looking for funding from the Council. We will ensure they can plan effectively for the future.
    We also discussed the budget problems facing the Council, which will be compounded next year by the further cuts imposed by the Tory-led coalition government.  I have asked the Chief Executive for a full briefing on the scale of the budget gap predicted for next year, which we would be happy to share with you. However is certainly our intention to use any channels we can to lobby the Government at all levels to get a better deal for Reading’s residents and to involve residents in deciding priorities in the difficult financial situation we will inherit. 
    We discussed the position of the Mayor and made it clear that we had a Labour nomination. You are well aware of the political implications of that and how your actions during the year would be perceived, particularly at important meetings such as the budget meeting, if there were to be a Conservative Mayor. I know you are being told that the Mayor is somehow “non political”. I would point out that there is a difference between 
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    the ceremonial occasions and the chairing of a Council meeting, where all mayors vote with their own Political Group unless the majority party has such a large majority that it is unnecessary.  Whenever a Council is finely balanced the position of the mayor inevitably becomes highly political and we have had a contested vote on the position of Mayor in the past when Reading has been under No Overall Control. If you support a Conservative Mayor you will in effect be making it very difficult for us to be certain of implementing some of the policies we will bring forward, many of which you say you support.
    With all policies, as has been our best practice for many years, we would fully involve ward councillors in the decisions on these issues as they develop as well as ensuring full public consultation. However, we firmly believe there must be a transparent process with criteria in place, which decide which communities should benefit from Council schemes and to explain this clearly to the public.

    It seemed to us following our discussion that we do share many priorities and commitments. On the specific issues you raised at the meeting: 

    Green Bin Collection – as set out above we would take early action to review the decision and promote the original scheme more widely.  There would be an early report to cabinet on this. 

    RCRE – as set out above we have been appalled by the way in which the Tories and Libs have treated RCRE and other voluntary sector groups. Specifically, I wrote to the Chair of RCRE in April promising to call a halt to the grants process if we were in a position to do so and hold urgent talks about how to ensure that Reading’s strategic approach to community cohesion provides opportunities for RCRE to continue to have a role.  You may have received a call from officers regarding the grants process in recent days. I have asked, given the uncertainty over the control of the council, that the grants process be put on hold so that if there is a new administration we can have an urgent meeting to discuss the future of RCRE and those other organisations who have been denied an opportunity to bid for funds. Officers were intending to tell all group leaders that it is their intention to halt the process pending the AGM of the Council and so I would hope you have had a call to confirm that. 

    Community Care – As above our manifesto on eligibility criteria says that, "Labour will suspend the cuts to community care and undertake a full review of the service to ensure no elderly person is left without support they need." Also, I believe that you are aware of the legal requirement to go out to consultation again and then go to full Council for a policy change if the Council wants to go back to the position before the Coalition changed the policy.  Therefore, if we form an administration we will bring a report to the June Cabinet, which sets up a new support/preventative scheme and outlines a new policy way forward.

    A package of services will be agreed for all people currently on Greater Moderate and no-one will have their service changed until all have been assessed and an alternative policy/package agreed. A full report on this will go 
                                                 

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to Cabinet in July.  In outline on this, a package of measures to support people currently on greater moderate will be agreed, as will support for new people coming into the system. We can talk further in more detail on this if you wish; the alternative is to let the Coalition continue with their cuts.
                                                 

Bus Pass Concessions – As you will recall from our election literature, this is a priority for a Labour administration. Labour is committed to reinstating the bus pass concessions for people with disabilities and their carers/escorts, so that they can travel before 9.30a.m.  If finances permit we would like to reinstate it for all senior citizens too, but the cost may be prohibitive in the near future. 

Local Transport Plan:


Ø      Kennetmouth – Labour’s long-standing commitment to the protection of Kennetmouth remains absolute, and was reiterated in a major policy resolution we put through Council in June 2008. Any developments in East Reading are subject to that imperative.

Ø      Third Thames Bridge – Labour has opposed the building of a Third Thames Crossing as a motorway link between the M40 and the A329. However, we believe that a third bridge, properly managed, controlled and integrated with the movements on Caversham and Reading Bridges could deliver major traffic reductions and significant environmental improvements on key radial routes such as the London and Wokingham Roads. A project of this significance would require a full environmental assessment including assessing the impact on the Thames and the Kennet.  Should there ever be any funding to take the proposal forward, which seems very unlikely in the foreseeable future, we would be asking for a full assessment of the impact on the environment, both in terms of advantages of reducing through traffic and any detriment to the area near the bridge. Of course the siting of any bridge would be within Wokingham and Oxforshire’s council areas, which underlines the need to work closely with both those Local Authorities as any final decision on this would rest with them if the current Local authority boundaries remain the same. We do not expect there to be any further work on this in the near future, but were that to change we would certainly want to ensure there would be full environmental studies and public engagement before reaching any decisions.


Ø      Cross Town Route – Labour was instrumental in defeating the original Berkshire County Council plans and we remain totally opposed to any car-based highway scheme that would threaten the environment of
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 Kennetmouth, the listed horseshoe bridge and King’s Meadow. We are        willing to consider, subject to full local public consultation, a light rail or   guided bus link to Reading Station from the existing parking areas of                                            
Thames Valley Park provided that could be implemented without adverse impact on Kennetmouth. Again we do not expect funding to be available for this in the foreseeable future, but were that to change we would want a full environmental assessment as well as public consultation.
                                          

Using funding from a Renewable Energy Feed for Greener Warmer Safer -  As you know the central government funding for this has ended. If this scheme is to continue we will need to find a creative way to fund it. We will explore with officers the possibility of using a tariff to fund the Greener Warmer Safer scheme.  As Newtown had already been identified for the scheme I cannot see a reason why this would change, however, a process based on the principles of fairness and transparency must be established when we are able to take this forward.

Food Waste Recycling – we are committed to the principle of this, but when we have investigated its introduction in the past, including through Environment Scrutiny, it has proved to be highly expensive. In the current financial climate, although we will look again at the costs, we may not to be able to implement such a scheme until it becomes financially viable.

Maiden Erlegh School – the Labour Party has made a manifesto commitment to seek counsel’s opinion regarding a legal challenge to Wokingham Council.
It would be our intention to instruct officers to get that advice as quickly as
possible and take a report to cabinet as soon as possible.


Newtown Residents’ Parking – In the recent elections, Labour campaigned for a full consultation on a Resident’s Parking scheme for eastern Newtown and it would be our intention to deliver on that pledge and give priority to consultation with residents based on an early report to Traffic Management Advisory Panel (TMAP), which would clearly set out all the pros and cons of any scheme.

20mph zones – It is our intention to promote the extension of 20mph zones in suitable residential areas of Reading, including Park Ward, subject to full public consultation, support from local residents and emergency services and adequate funding. We would seek advice on whether this could best be progressed on a town-wide basis or on an area basis. We would again envisage an initial report to TMAP.

Cemetery Junction Area Study - within the current LTP schemes we intend to review priorities including item 26, which relates to Cemetery Junction and the A4 Study. We intend to bring forward a revised list to the Cabinet or a Council meeting.  As has been the case in previous studies, this could include looking at the de-cluttering of areas like the Wokingham Road shops.
                                                 
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Managing the East Reading Cemetery – you asked if the gate at the eastern end of the cemetery could be opened, at least during daylight hours, to allow residents the option of walking through the cemetery as an alternative to using pavements by the busy main roads.
We are suggesting that we might broaden that to look at a cemetery management plan, which could include opening the gate, but would also ensure that the preservation of wildlife and the overall management of the area could
be improved. Obviously the wishes of relatives of people buried in the cemetery would need to be taken into account and we would also need to consult the police, with their use of the Arch and from a safety perspective.

I believe I have covered all the issues you raised last week and would be happy to clarify any points before you meet with your colleagues again. I have marked this letter as a draft in case there is a need for further written clarification, which would be helpful before your meeting.  Tony Page and I will be happy to discuss our proposals in more detail when we meet at 5.00 on Tuesday 17th May.  I have booked Committee room 5 again for our meeting.