Reading Council needs new Leadership

Elections to Reading Borough Council take place on Thursday 2 May and will be quickly followed by election of the Leader, Deputy Leader and Lead Councillors by the Labour Group in the following week.

Momentum Reading, along with many other party activists, believes that our Labour Council needs new leadership.

Reading needs a  Labour Council leadership that will drive a positive vision for our town, based on our Party’s values of justice and equality, pursuing nationally agreed policies and in tune with the needs and wishes of our communities.

All members of Reading & District Labour Party living in RBC electoral wards will be able to vote for the members’ recommendation for Leader, Deputy Leader and other key positions at a special All Member Meeting on Thursday 9 May – please diary this date now!

Why we need change

Outsourcing – the current Council leadership is still pursuing further outsourcing of Reading Council services in Revenues and Benefits as well as Recreation & Leisure, despite being contrary to national Labour Party policy and the overwhelming vote of members last October opposing this retrograde step. Privatisation is a failed Tory ideology, we want to end outsourcing in Reading not see more work farmed out to Capita, which routinely botches its public service contracts from NHS cancer screening to Army Recruitment and its abuse of Asylum Seekers. Yet the current Labour leadership looks set on more outsourcing, with its worse services, lower pay and, ultimately higher costs.  Even the leader of Tory Kensington & Chelsea proposes to use its direct labour force to build their new council houses, because it’s 20% cheaper!

Failed Children’s Services – the current Leadership has overseen the shocking failure of RBC’s Children’s Services. Ofsted found RBC Children’s Services to be ‘Inadequate’, with Reading children left at acute risk. Government commissioners were sent in and the Council was forced to hand over running of the service to an external company. One of the most important functions of the Council is no longer under democratic control and is ‘accountable’ to distant civil servants, not the people of Reading. This is a disgrace; as local Labour Party members we should all be ashamed it has come to this.

‘MRT’ scheme shambles – the Mass Rapid Transport scheme (described as more like a bus-lane from a Park & Ride scheme in Thames Valley Park to the Town Centre with a cycle lane thrown in) would have trashed the Thames Riverside, done little or nothing to reduce congestion and be of no real benefit to local residents. Despite intense opposition, including from local Greens who may well now benefit electorally, the current leadership persisted until Wokingham Borough Council rejected the scheme for the second time! It comes to something when a Wokingham Tory councillor has to publicly stand up for the rights of less well-off NewTown residents in Labour Reading to keep access to their local riverside amenity.

Equal Pay; the decades-long fiasco – Labour believes in and fights for equality; that’s why a Labour Government introduced the original Equal Pay Act. But, as the enforcement of this law became more stringent and the Unions negotiated the Single Status Agreement in 1999, the leadership of the Council not only failed to plan for the (obvious) implications, but fought the Unions in the courts for years. RBC refused to acknowledge its obligations under the law but inevitably had to concede workers’ rights to back-pay, costing local Council Tax-payers £millions and losing the trust and goodwill of our Trades Union comrades.

Lack of Leisure strategy – the Leadership’s failure to develop a long-term vision and plan for leisure facilities for the people of the town has left us with two key swimming pools shut down (for good reasons) but with no replacements in sight for years to come. The ageing Arthur Hill pool closed in 2016 and after Central Pool closed two years later, regular swimmers and schoolchildren in East Reading were left with a trek across town all the way to Rivermead. Whilst well-off Reading residents can enjoy their exclusive swim and tapas at the privatised Thames Lido, ordinary Council Tax-payers are left with a gaping hole in the town’s leisure facilities. Swimming is a key life skill for children and an important opportunity for healthy exercise for all.

What do we need?

Reading’s Labour Council has had to deal with the impact of massive, vicious and discriminatory Tory austerity driven cuts to its spending budget. It has been under huge pressure and has clearly done its best to mitigate the impact of these. But these shortcomings are not about the cuts, more about governance, effective management and vision. If we carry on like this, then sooner or later the electorate will start wondering why they should elect a Labour Council at all. Even under the cosh of Tory austerity there are Labour councils developing innovative approaches, we need to do the same.

We need new Council Leadership with a Labour vision for Reading we can all be proud of NOW!

How can you make a difference?

Labour Councillors get the right to choose their Labour Group leadership, but ALL Labour members living in the Reading Borough Council area get the right to choose your recommended candidates. We wait to see who will come forward and how they can live up to the ideals for local Labour leadership we all deserve.

You will be able to vote for your leadership preferences at the All Member Meeting on Thursday 9 May; put the date in your diary and watch this space!