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Reading’s Labour council program for the coming year

Last year Reading’s Labour councillors form a minority administration and this year, after we won 10 seats (gaining a net of 4) we have formed a majority.  I believe the voters in Reading trusted us to stick to our pledge to be open and transparent about our plans, which as well as dealing with the tough times that we are in are ambitious about what we can achieve.  It’s a large number of actions, the reason being that we have already laid out the broad brush of our approach so this is some specifics.  I will be posting more over the coming months particularly about the detail behind the housing and neighbourhoods portfolio.

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The Labour Administration’s programme for 2012/13
In bringing forward the Labour Administration’s plans for the coming year, we are restating our belief in the value of public services to local people, communities and businesses.
During the last year Labour was in minority control of the Council, following the year of a Conservative-led Coalition, and we had to find a way to reverse some of the decisions which had been so unpopular with local residents. It was not possible to undo everything as the scale of cuts in funding from the Coalition Government had been so great, and further reductions were coming, but where there had been a strong message from residents we found a way to listen to them.
We also had to deal with yet another disproportionate cut in Government Grant for Reading, which meant finding £12.5million of savings, while at the same time putting additional resources of £3.4million into Children’s Services and Adult Social Care to ensure that the most vulnerable were protected. Overall Reading has lost £73 per head of population compared with Wokingham’s loss of just £16 per head.
We launched the start of a new way of engaging with the public on what matters most to them, holding the “Let’s Talk” initiative on both residents’ priorities and the National Health Service, which we will build on this year to ensure residents are more involved in how services are developed.
The Coalition Government is saying there will be further reductions in grant for local government and are, at the same time, imposing further bureaucracy on Councils. The implications for the changes to Housing Benefit and Council Tax will not only impact on vulnerable people but will increase the administrative costs for local councils.
There is also much uncertainty over the way in which Business rates will be distributed to Councils.
The Coalition Government will not be announcing the settlement for Local Government until at least the end of November, which adds to the complexity of planning for next year’s budget and beyond.
The budget planning will therefore need to assume further overall reductions in spending, but we will continue to focus both on support for those who most need it and on the services local people are telling us are most important to them. We will be open with people about the difficulties facing us, while seeking to mitigate the worst effects.
It is our communities that make Reading special. Good local government is about helping people to unlock their potential and giving everyone a fair chance. The money we spend is invested on behalf of the local community and we will seek to involve local residents, in a range of different ways, in planning services.
The new legislation we will be forced to administer will affect the most vulnerable people in our community. Many in genuine need will be seriously affected by housing, health and welfare legislation. We will continue to work with a range of partners to push the government to change course and stop harming those in need. We will also do what we can to give people support and advice in these difficult times.
This report sets out the Labour Council’s priorities for the coming municipal year:
Corporate Issues:
We will:
·        Enhance the vision for Reading which takes account of the needs and aspirations of all residents.
·        Plan for the lowest possible level of Council Tax in 2013/14 that is consistent with maintaining essential services and exercising financial prudence and value for money, in the context of a challenging and uncertain financial settlement from the Government.
·        Work to overcome inequalities and continue to promote community cohesion in partnership with others.
·        Demonstrate community leadership in partnership with the Statutory, Voluntary, Community and Business sectors, to stand up for Reading and work together to protect Reading’s residents on issues such as housing, policing and the NHS.
·        Take the lead in partnership with business and community representatives in the economic development of Reading, to maximise the opportunities for inward investment and jobs for local people.
·        Work in partnership with the Statutory, Voluntary, Community and Business sectors to support those most affected by the economic situation and most likely to be in poverty.
·        Lead on the further physical regeneration of Reading, including projects such as development of the area near the current civic offices, now that the decision has been made regarding the relocation.
·        Build on the “Let’s Talk” initiative to develop a culture of “Working Better With You” across all directorates.
·        Review the democratic organisation of the Council to make it easier for residents and others to have their voices heard.
Adult Social Care:
We will: 
·        Continue to protect and develop services for vulnerable people in need, as well as making sure good preventative services are available in Reading.  With restrictions to funding and growing demand for service, this will be done by developing, with partners and in consultation with service users, our on-going programme of service change and improvement.
·        Recognise and support the importance of carers in the community and for the people for whom they care
·        Work with local partners and voluntary organisations to identify and support elderly people who are housebound or suffering from social isolation.
·        Introduce a new pilot scheme to link Council carers with local GPs to identify and support over 75s who need more care and support at home.
·        Consult people who receive domiciliary care services directly or commissioned by the Council and then take action to improve the delivery of those services.
·        Continue to build Council links with charities and with voluntary and community organisations involved in supporting vulnerable adults.
·        Work through the new “Adult Safeguarding Panel” to develop strategies to protect vulnerable adults.
Culture and Sport:
We will:
·        Build on the interest in sport generated by the additional activities around the Olympic to further promote adult participation in sport and physical activities.
·        Support groups and clubs working with young people to foster their interest in and opportunities to take part in sporting activities.
·        Continue the programme of free swims during the school holidays.
·        Continue to promote the Your Reading Passport and Reward and Incentive scheme using market research to further promote and deliver value for money opportunities in sport and fitness activity.
·        Further develop our Libraries to offer the widest range of services to encourage access and the use of ever-changing technology.
·        Review the range and quality of Arts infrastructure and provision to reflect community views.
·        Further develop the Cultural Partnership and the Arts Forum to reach the widest possible range of community interests.
·        Build on the success of the Cultural Partnership in attracting additional external funding to supplement Council grants to support as many projects as possible.
·        Work with the Heritage Lottery fund through the Abbey Board to seek funding for the Abbey Ruins and Gateway.
·        Promote the use of all our Parks and Leisure Centres for public recreation, sports and community events.
Education and Children’s Services:
We will:
·        Build a new partnership with Reading schools, recognising the increasingly wide range of governance, in order to work together to further improve standards and share good practice.
·        Use that partnership to ensure that Council Services for schools are valued and respond to the needs of children, parents, staff and governors.
·        Work with local communities where schools are faced with the imposition of Academy status by the Secretary of State for Education to campaign for a solution which has community support, including the possibility of Cooperative Trust Schools rather than Academies run by private companies.
·        Develop plans, in consultation with schools and local residents, to ensure sufficient school places for all age groups, given the predicted rise in pupil numbers over the next few years.
·        Continue to campaign with local people for a rethink regarding the use of the Crescent Road site in East Reading which will meet the needs of all 11 to 18 year-olds.
·        Continue to ensure children’s safeguarding is the highest priority for continued investment, improvement and political scrutiny.
·        Work with families facing difficulties to ensure that services offered by Children’s Centres are effective and deliver outcomes which improve their lives, building on the recent Innovations project.
·        Review the response to the recent consultation on the youth services to ensure that universal and targeted youth work is protected in partnership with the voluntary sector.
·        Continue to focus on youth unemployment by building on the recent 95% increase in apprenticeships and further encourage partnership work to engage with NEET young people (Not in Education, Employment and Training) and ensure they have clear pathways into training and employment.
·        Continue to support New Directions which provides a wide range of learning and employment opportunities for adults in Reading, including the need to support those facing unemployment for the first time.
Environment and Climate Change:
We will:
·        Continue to invest in front line street care services but work smarter and more efficiently by harnessing new technology.
·         Introduce a six month pilot to trial the “Love Clean Streets App”, beginning in the summer, enabling swifter reporting of unsightly mess in our communities.
·        Roll out a pilot scheme to coordinate the work of the dog wardens across the highest problem areas in Reading, where council staff will work with the neighbourhood police team to remind dog owners of their responsibilities and take enforcement action where necessary.
·        Review the grass cutting regime. Following the Coalition Council’s decision to reduce the number of cuts per year, it has become clear that residents are increasingly dissatisfied with the appearance of grassed areas and we will review this to find ways to improve the service, particularly during the spring and early summer.
·        Find ways to increase the 56 bottle bank and recycling sites already in place across Reading where practical, responding to the needs of local people.
·        Tackle the problem of low recycling rates in flatted areas by running a pilot scheme to incentivise good practice and make it easier to do the right thing
·        Work with the Reading Climate Change Partnership and listen to feedback from residents to produce a new Climate Change Strategy in 2013 which will lay the foundations for a low carbon Reading and boost the green economy.
·        Work with the business community and other partners to capitalise on the opportunities for job creation in the new Green economy.
·        Increase the range and scope of renewable energy schemes – building on the successful introduction of solar panels earlier in 2012 – by bidding for funding available from the government and the European Union as we have done successfully in the past.
Neighbourhoods and Housing:
We will:
·        Continue to defend council housing and the rights of   council tenants against national government threats.
·         Increase and improve the involvement of tenants in the service.
·        Review the repairs service (DSO) to ensure we provide a service that is both high quality, value for money and meets tenants’ needs.
·        Invest in energy efficiency measures to further reduce fuel bills for tenants and Reading’s carbon footprint.
·        Promote the “downsizing” scheme to support those tenants who wish to move to a smaller property.
·        Involve tenants fully in decisions about the use of the “Decent Neighbourhoods” fund.
·        Work with all partners to deal with Anti-social behaviour, in all sectors.   
·        Continue to identify sites where we can either build, or work in               partnership with others to build, affordable housing.   
·        Campaign with partners to highlight the Coalition Government’s failure to heed warnings from, amongst others, the National Housing Federation, that house building has fallen to an all-time low since this Government came to power, and urge them to make funding available to both increase supply and provide employment.
·        Do all we can to mitigate the worst effects of the Government’s benefit changes on those most adversely affected..
·        Recognise that the Private rented sector will continue to be the only option for many people and further develop strategies to improve conditions.
·        Work with good Landlords to promote good practice
·        Phase in an Article 4 direction to require HMO conversions to have planning permission in parts of Reading where they are most prevalent.
·        Encourage all landlords to improve conditions, but prosecute rogue landlords who will not comply.
·        Consider use of further Licensing powers to explore further regulation on the private sector.
·        Find ways to expand the Council’s Rent Deposit Scheme.
·        Continue to work with the Police and local people through Neighbourhood Action Groups and Residents’ Associations to tackle Anti Social Behaviour.
·        Continue to fund capital projects to reduce crime.
·        Campaign to highlight to the new Police and Crime Commissioner the level of need in Reading.
·        Continue to campaign with partners for increased support for victims of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.
·        Work with tenants and residents and other partners to develop schemes such as Timebanking and other community projects which will further develop community spirit.
Health and Well-being:
We will:
·        Develop a Public Health strategy for Reading with a focus on health inequalities.
·        Be vigilant about the implementation of the new Health & Social Care Act and campaign where necessary to protect the NHS.
·        Use the Health and Well-being Board to ensure the new Health structures have transparency and public accountability.
·        Review existing contracts, such as Smoking Cessation, for effectiveness and value for money.
·        Ensure that measures to improve Children’s Health are central to planning future services.
·        Involve local people in the shaping of local services to build on the “Let’s Talk Health” initiative.
·        Ensure that Health targets are communicated clearly so that local people can be involved in monitoring their effectiveness.
·        Make the case for adequate funding for the new Public Heath Powers.
Regeneration, Planning and Transport:
We will:
·        Produce a new Reading Vision to guide the future growth and development of the town. This will be based on full public consultation, covering both the centre of the town and neighbourhoods across the Borough, and will involve all local communities. It will look at the type of town we want to live in – including the quality of the environment- and how people want to live.
·        Give priority to plans to regenerate the Civic Offices area, and also develop plans for Phase 2 of Chatham Place Kennet Island, Kenavon Drive, and the south side of Station Hill.
·        Look for further partnership opportunities for the regeneration of areas outside the town centre, which build on our previous track record at Dee Park and Kennet Island, now well under way.
·        Continue to listen to the views of local communities about the impact of planning applications on their lives, and seek to address their concerns as far as possible, notwithstanding the Government’s demand that the default answer to all proposed development is ‘yes’.
·        Pursue the bid for “Portas” funding to develop initiatives to support improvement to out of town shopping centres.
·        Give renewed commitment to working with adjoining authorities to promote park and ride sites and other transport initiatives that will reduce traffic, ease congestion, improve air quality and reduce noise. Any proposals will be subject to full public consultation.
·        Reiterate our commitment to the protection of Kennetmouth and King’s Meadow and therefore our opposition to any road scheme along the route of the previously rejected cross-town route.
·        Continue to protect Kennet Meadows from developers.
·        Implement the recent decision to allow senior citizens to travel free after 9am as soon as possible. Our longer-term aspiration is to return to allowing senior citizens free travel at all times, building on our restoration in 2011 of free travel at all times for those with a disability and their carers.
·        Build on last year’s improvements to the timings and numbers of visitors’ permits and the scrapping of the Tory/LibDem £300 charge for discretionary permits. This year we will also scrap the charge imposed on GP parking permits and introduce a new town-wide ‘Doctor on Call’ permit to assist GPs in visiting patients.
·        Take full account of the response to the current consultation on a possible Residents’ Parking scheme in the University and Hospital area.
·         Review the operation of existing Residents’ Parking schemes and, following consultations with local residents, introduce further changes intended to provide extra parking spaces for local residents where this can be done without compromising road safety.
·        Introduce a new Residents’ Parking Scheme in Newtown later in 2012, following recent consultation.
·        Work on schemes to deal with damage to grass verges, only after consultation with local residents. We will not just impose fines as proposed by the coalition administration.
·        Promote the extension of 20mph zones in suitable residential areas of Reading, subject to full public consultation and support from local residents and emergency services when funding allows.
·        Review the Local Transport Plan: within the current LTP schemes we intend to bring forward a revised list of area priorities, which would be progressed in consultation with ward councillors and local residents.
·        Retain ownership of Reading Buses to ensure the delivery of a comprehensive and sensitive network of local bus services, and work with the company and other operators to improve the reliability of services on key radial routes.
·        Explore opportunities for formal passenger involvement with Reading Transport and representation on the Bus Company.
·        Look for opportunities to stand up for rail passengers in all issues concerning rail services to and from Reading.
·        Build on our work with local cycling groups to implement schemes that will make cycling safer and more attractive in Reading, including new bike hire initiatives, making full use of any funding from developers and government sources.
·        Promote the development of quality pedestrian routes, particularly in the town centre
·        Continue to work with our local communities, businesses, and adjoining authorities to promote a range of walking, cycling and public transport alternatives that will help reduce traffic congestion and noise, whilst improving road safety and air quality in Reading.
·        Seek Sponsorship for enhancements to the appearance of roundabouts and other important sites in order to maintain and improve floral displays.
Public Involvement and Service Improvement:
We will:
·        Build on the “Let’s Talk” initiative to develop a culture across the Council which ensures that local residents are regarded as genuine partners in planning local services.
·        Promote “Working Better with You” as our approach to all interaction with the public and those we work in partnership with.
·        Use a variety of methods to achieve this, such as new technology, face to face meetings and forums, social media and surveys.
·        Ensure that where services need to change we will involve not only residents and users, but also staff “on the ground” to generate ideas and comment on proposals.
·        Learn from other areas to develop good practice and new ways of delivering services.
·        Make sure that changes are well managed so that the public and staff know what is happening and people do not “fall through the net” during the process.
·        Continue fund the voluntary sector in Reading at current levels.
·        Review the balance between grant applications and commissioning contracts, ensuring that the process is transparent.
·        Restore the opportunities for groups to appeal against unsuccessful bids.
·        Ensure that the Reading Compact is visible and accountable to the wider voluntary sector.

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