FIRST PUBLISHED BY: THE ORACLE
GREEN PARTY LEADER ROB WHITE ASTONISHED FELLOW COUNCILLORS ON MONDAY BY CALLING ON THEM TO PUT UP COUNCIL TAX.
The minority Labour administration is proposing a zero Council Tax increase, but needs the support of one of the other parties for it to be passed. Cllr White cast aside the tradition which puts off debate on the budget to the full council meeting – this year on Tuesday, February 21.
Leader of the council Jo Lovelock was reluctant to call on him to speak at the cabinet meeting, citing “tradition” and the need to avoid debating the budget twice. Promising he would only take a minute, Cllr White pressed on, saying these were “extraordinary times”. He described the £3.4 million grant from Government to pay for the Council Tax freeze as a “bribe”.
He proposed a 3.5 per cent increase in Council Tax, which would cost each household 87p a week. After the meeting Cllr White acknowledged his proposal might not be much of a vote winner “but it is the right thing to do”. He explained his thinking, quoting from a consultation document produced by the council’s education and children’s services department:
“We need a fair budget for tough times".
The council is facing unprecedented cuts to its funding and is proposing to reduce services and cut staff in areas such as special needs transport, learning disability support and respite care. “In the staff consultation, learning difficulties managers said that ‘the service level cannot be maintained’.
“In school improvement, responses included that cuts would ‘push work from the administration staff to others’, overloading them. “In safeguarding, officers said ‘there is no longer capacity to provide effective maternity and sickness cover’ and most worryingly of all is that the good work completed since the service was deemed inadequate in 2008 ‘will be lost’.
“We think that this is unfair, unacceptable and as we said in our manifesto last year, we think public services are important and we will defend them. “For 87p per week – not per head, but per household – it is possible to limit this damage in the coming budget and to avoid finding ourselves in a massive hole next year.”
He continued: “We understand these are difficult economic times and so we feel that an increase in Council Tax has to be modest and below inflation. “This applies not just this year, but next year too, whereas a freeze this year would need a massive hike next year to make up lost income.
“This will also allow us to defend jobs and support the local economy. “Twenty-seven councils around the country, including 11 which are Conservative controlled, as well as the Greens in Brighton, are also raising Council Tax instead of taking the one-off freeze money. “We want Reading councillors to consider this option.” The budget contains cuts and increased fees totalling £12.6 million and the loss of around 30 posts.
If the Greens do not support the Labour administration, the ruling group will have to look to either the Liberal Democrats or the Tories for support. Cllr Lovelock said yesterday she had so far arranged meetings with Cllrs White and Daisy Benson, the leader of the Lib Dems, to discuss the budget before next week’s meeting.