Friday, 24 July 2015

Reading Council: Budget Consultation

A THREE month public consultation exercise on a major package of saving, efficiency and income proposals opens today (Friday July 24).

Reading Borough Council estimates it needs to save a further £39 million between now and 2019. That is because since 2013/14 the Government has cut Reading’s grant funding by 40%. The cuts to funding are taking place at a time when demand for local Council services in Reading is increasing.

The Council has already made savings of nearly £57 million since 2011. At a meeting of Policy Committee on Monday this week (July 20), the Council agreed a further £7.24 million worth of savings for public consultation.
Residents, local organisations and businesses can get more detail on the individual budget proposals and have their say at

Hard copies of the proposals will also be available in Council buildings. The consultation runs until 5pm on Friday October 16. Outcomes of the consultation will then be reported back to the relevant Council Committee for consideration through the Autumn and Winter.

The proposed £7.24 million saving, efficiency and income package (July 2015) forms part of an on-going public consultation exercise, as Reading Borough Council works to address the £39 million budget gap. Even if all of the proposed savings were agreed following consultation, it would still leave the Council having to find £31.76 million by 2019.

Jo Lovelock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said:

“Since 2011 this Council has made major savings whilst avoiding impacting on front-line services as much as possible, but the scale of the Government cuts we are now facing is unprecedented for Reading. By 2019 Reading Borough Council will have taken an estimated £100 million out of its budget. You cannot do that without impacting on people and organisations in the town.

“Over the next three years this Council needs to build a series of budgets against the backdrop of continuing Government cuts, and at a time of increasing demand for Council services. The £7.24 million package of savings agreed at Policy Committee earlier this week form the first phase of those proposals.

“We have published and are consulting on these proposals at an early stage so that the people they affect - whether local residents, voluntary groups or organisations – have the opportunity to comment and have their say.”

Reading Borough Council has made savings of nearly £57 million since 2011. In that time the Council workforce has been cut by more than 600 posts. Savings have also been achieved by finding more efficient ways of working, including making better use of technology. The process of identifying further efficiencies will now continue over the next three years.

The Council is considering a number of options to fill the estimated budget gap. Some of the savings will be delivered by changing the way the Council deliver services, and where they are delivered from. In some cases that will mean making better use of Council buildings and increasing income.

People can have their say on the July 2015 budget proposals at where they will find the individual proposals.

Hard copies of the proposals will be made available to view at Council buildings, including libraries, leisure centres and at the Civic Offices. 

For those without access to computers, people can write in with their feedback to Budget Consultation, Reading Borough Council, Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading RG1 2LU

The individual budget proposal (or proposals) being commented on should be clearly identified. Alternatively, people can email in with their views to, again clearly identifying the relevant budget proposal/s they are commenting on.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Editor, You're A Total Disgrace

Below is a letter published by the Reading Chronicle on 16 July 2015 from my colleague Councillor Tony Page.

Dear Editor, 
I am writing to register a formal complaint about the disgraceful failure of your paper to carry any response from myself or the Borough Council to the singularly biased package of cycling reports in the Chronicle of July 2. 
I understand this was your personal decision to exclude RBC comments. I therefore will afford you the courtesy of offering me a full reply, apology and redress. 
By way of background, I was contacted by Georgina Campbell on the late afternoon of June 30 and spoke on the phone with her for over 20 minutes with her questions focusing primarily on town centre cycling provision. 
At no stage before or during the interview did she mention that you were planning a big feature on ‘Pedal Power’ and at no stage did she say that Mr Wilson MP and others, including the Greens, had attacked the Council on a number of points. 
Deliberately withholding the context in which questions are being asked is unacceptable practice, but one that is common under your stewardship. 
At the end of our conversation Georgina then volunteered the comment that “the Council’s doing more for cycling than I realised”. (Perhaps the good and positive record I had described didn’t chime with your preconceptions, prejudices and general anti-Council agenda?) 
I then discovered, during last Thursday, that you had a “deal” with the Green Party around “exclusivity” of photos and reporting. This was described by Cllr White whilst telling photographer Lynda Bowyer in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t take photos — even though they were all gathered on the public highway and the Greens had been tweeting on social media for hours about the event. 
As the Council is highway and transport authority (and was explicitly and implicitly being criticised in each of four articles across three pages) it must therefore have been your decision to deliberately exclude any of my comments on behalf of the Council. 
Furthermore if you really had wanted a specific response to any of the criticisms there was plenty of time to have rung me on Wednesday morning. This wasn’t a small report tucked away inside, but three full pages of reporting none of which contained any Council response. 
This was premeditated, unprofessional and sloppy journalism the like of which I have never encountered in Reading in all my many decades of dealing with local editors. 
Let me register another very recent example of poor and indeed downright deceitful and shoddy journalism on your watch. In the Chronicle of June 4 I was flabbergasted at the sheer audacity of your reporting about the decision of Network Rail to withdraw the planning application for a replacement footbridge at Reading West station. 
Your reporter, Chris Anderson, was only made aware of the this application when I spoke at the Oxford Road NAG meeting on the evening of May 19, at which he was in attendance. I briefed the audience on our concerns and indicated that strong representations had already been made about the failure to include a passenger lift in the replacement bridge. 
Until that evening neither Chris Anderson nor the Reading Chronicle were even aware of the planning application, and I would have expected the minimal courtesy of some acknowledgement in your initial report of May 28. I had also indicated at the NAG that I would be meeting with Network Rail on May 29, which duly took place. 
At that meeting, Network Rail advised of their decision to withdraw the application which I obviously welcomed following the lengthy email exchanges that had been taking place over a number of weeks. These exchanges also involved very senior Network Rail executives whom I did not mention by name at the meeting. 
The decision to withdraw the application was then made public via a Reading Borough Council press release on June 1 with the agreement of NWR. I think some grudging recognition of my/our role would have been appropriate. 
It’s stretching credulity for the Chronicle to believe that one late front page played any part in Network Rail’s decision! 
Along with the vast majority of Reading they don’t even read the Chronicle.
Lastly, on the subject of training for Planning Committee members, if you are going to make pathetically childish comments in your editorials along the lines of describing me as “that master of poo-pooing” at least do me the courtesy of getting your facts right about the issue of training. 
This has always been offered to all councillors across all committees, not only at the beginning of the municipal year but also with more specialist courses offered throughout the year by the Local Government Association, LGIU, TCPA, and other professional organisations. 
But don’t let the facts stand in the way of your ‘editorials’ any more than looking for balance in your features or accuracy in wider reporting. 
The above examples, from only a few recent weeks, show how much of a disgrace you are to the editorial chair of what was once a good local paper. 
I look forward to receiving a full apology.
Cllr Tony Page 
Deputy Leader, Reading Borough Council, 
Lead member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport