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
- 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
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
Local Transport Plan:
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.