Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Budget Debate Leaves Conservatives Red-Faced

Reading Borough Council passed the vote on the annual budget and Band D residents will see an average 2.2% rise in Council Tax this year (compare to other councils in Berkshire).

But the evening almost descended into chaos as the vote proceeded without Conservatives present. In the event the vote passed supported by 19 Labour councillors and opposed by the 8 LibDem Councillors.

The budget meeting went on for 6 hours as it was delayed by 5 successive amendments, each of which had to be debated in full.

Council Leader Cllr Jo Lovelock stated, "This budget achieves the right balance in uncertain times."

But the debate has spilled out onto the blogosphere as disagreements over the correct balance continue.

Cllr John Ennis was triumphant. He describes how the tactical manoeuver to call the vote whilst back-room discussions among opponents were ongoing saw Labour's proposals passed without amendment. He says tories attempted to 'hoodwink' the council by proposing a 0% rise involving no cuts to services without providing any details of how they would achieve this.

Conservative Cllr Richard Willis was bitter at the 'dirty tricks' played by the ruling party, but as LibDem leader Cllr Kirsten Bayes explained "The mayor was in the room and the meeting was quorate. You have to respect the democratic and legal procedures of the council."

As a council ruled with 'No Overall Control', Reading is in the slightly unusual position of having a Labour administration with a Conservative Mayor, and it was the veteran Cllr Fred Pugh who called the vote.

Cllr Willis goes to lengths to detail why his group were 'incensed' by Labour's conduct, which saw the vote 'bounced' in this way.

The Conservatives had circulated stories of a Lib-Lab pact beforehand and had their bluff called when the LibDems spoke against the proposed 2.2% rise and said they were willing to work together with the Tories to come up with solid solutions.

In an illuminating post Cllr Gareth Epps describes how LibDems had specific proposals which could have reached the £1.5m savings required to create a 0% rise, and states a deal could have been reached.

Conservatives were locked in discussions on their response to the LibDem offer of cooperation when the vote was called.

According to Cllr Ennis, the
"whole episode totally exposes the Tories as a sham. They can only gain support by trying to make the next election a referendum on our administration. They are bankrupt of ideas, offer no alternative or change and they are not fit to run Reading."
Cllr Willis struck back, saying Labour's tactics "smacks of the desperation with which they have continued to cling onto power in Reading" while arguing that the "Lib Dems also proved once again to be all over the place."

Meanwhile LibDems have seemingly refused to be bullied by the larger two parties.

Cllr Bayes said it was unfortunate that the outcome was reached in this way and expressed disappointment at the Conservative disorganisation and Labour's financial management, stating that she did "genuinely think the rise did not have to be as big this year," adding,
"I am glad we were able to stand up for our residents in what are very difficult times, and we will keep working to make the Council as efficient and effective as possible."
And Cllr Daisy Benson gives a detailed account of how the LibDems are being attacked for being prepared to listen without prejudice to alternative proposals from any source. She explains how she believes residents aren't interested in gestures, but in action.

Meanwhile Cllr Glenn Goodall posts an aggregated collection of his tweets from the floor of the chamber... it's live reporting and it really gives a sense of being there.

Oranjepan says:
setting a budget in election year inevitably mixes party politics with civic responsibility - so from the state of this debate it's clear this year's election will be highly contested.


Update: Cllr Emma Warman returns to the blogosphere for the first time since October to express her astonishment that the LibDems weren't prepared to support the Labour party as they had 12 months ago.

She notes with frustration that LibDem leader Cllr Bayes offered to help defeat the Labour proposals by imposing a series of conditions and concludes this shows their opposition to her party's ideologically-based agenda of cuts.

Cllr Warren Swaine replies swiftly. He seems to think it is impossible to reach an agreement when there is nothing to agree to.


More on Reading's Budget for 2010/11


  1. 'As a council ruled with 'No Overall Control', Reading is in the slightly unusual position of having a Labour administration with a Conservative Mayor'.

    Since I've been in Reading they have swapped the role from party to party,despite being in Lab control for years. Even LD get a turn. Its true Fred got in with LD and Cons action this time.

  2. Adrian,
    that's not an entirely fair comment and it's beside the point I made.

    It is true that the holder of the chair has circulated between the parties at occasional intervals, but that is as much to do with the seniority of the nominees under consideration and other factors.

    So do you think the Conservatives are justified in complaining that they were tricked, when it was one of their own who did it?

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