Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Policy Committee @ReadingLabour making big decisions for #rdg

The big media story at last night's Policy Committee was of course the approval of council House Building in Reading but there were also some very serious budget decisions taken. 
On the adult social care budget decisions in my opening comments I said:
The situation is verty serious and requires a strategic approach to adult social care.  We face continuing government cuts and a failure by them to tackle the long term issues, and put adult social care on a sustainable footing in this country.  At the same time there are well known demographic changes including the growth in population that Mr Wardle has just referred to.
The proposal is to put Adult SOcial Care on a 3 year place based on a vision of enabling people to be independent, valuing people rather than focusing on service packages, supporting people to access services in neighbourhoods as part of their community, ensuring services are person centred and helping people to thrive.
However this is serious and will be a challenge for officers and for us as councillors to deliver.  We shouldn't underestimate that.  We'll need to work in partnership with the NHS, care providers, voluntary sector and most importantly residents themselves to deliver it.
These proposals are fundamentally based on keeping people safe while at the same time supporting them in living fulfilling lives.
But they are substantial changes and we are making them within the very serious and tight constraints we face.  If we take these proposals I believe we are however making the best choices we can and preventing crisis decisions in the future.
I also spoke on the separate item on Adult Social care reminding people this wasn't just words - that Reading is one of only 5 local authorities in the country to have salvaged it's Better Care Fund bid after the government mangled it, that we are one of the first authorities to have signed the UNISON ethical care charter and we are building extra care housing.
Despite one of the local Conservative MPs going on local radio to say that we should have found all the savings through 'efficiencies' (what he thinks we've been doing for the last several years I don't know) the Conservatives and Libdems supported the proposals, with one of htem commenting that 'this is the best we can do' or words to that effect.  Only the green representative voted against and that was on the grounds that the Greens were 'opposed to austerity'.  He offered no alternative and no suggestion as to what would be done if we fail to set a legal budget - which is that central government would impose a budget on the council with no protection for local people.
On the housing issue Richard Davies and Liz Terry make particularly passionate speeches that laid out how and why investment in existing homes along with new council housing was so important.
I hadn't planned to speak on this but in response to the details of the debate I said something along the lines of:
The EFA can buy land, and other bids have gone through for free schools without identified sites.  If that wasn't the case I think some of us would take a different view about the site at Conway Close.  I also don't think we should ignore that this report includes proposals for substantial investment in existing properties - which is important because it's tenants rents that will fund this, and they deserve to benefit since they are funding it.
I think this isn't just about building homes it's about letting people build their futures. 
I've been hearing heart break in the voices of mums living in BnBs with their young kids and it breaks your own heart to see it and imagine what it must be like and it could be you with your children.  Toady I looked into the eyes of people who'd just moved into their beautiful new council flats in Cedar Court.  
The challenge for those who are thinking of opposing this report is how can you justify not taking action.  If you support council housing anywhere you have to support it somewhere.  I've looked the map of Reading, and I may not be an expert on this but more the to point experts have - and there is a shortage of sites.  If you support new homes - good quality new council homes that people in Reading deserve - anywhere we need to start and take action somewhere.  I think Conway Clsoe is that first somewhere.
I was pleased that the Liberal Democrat and the Green on the committee were able to support Labour's proposal but actually quite shocked that the Conservatives refused to. 

Edit 24/09/14 - 9pm: removal of typos