Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A Bunch of Zeroes

Now that the budget has been set, the Tories can crawl out from their holes and finally post their well rehearsed Lib-Lab pact spiel. It was written weeks ago of course, they even let some of it slip last Wednesday and had to row back and apologise when they discovered that their pre-written lies about 'negotiations' were complete garbage.

The trouble for them is that any neutral observer of the process would have to conclude that there was anything other than a pact as Labour were dragged kicking and screaming to support the Lib Dem budget amendments.

It's a verifiable fact that since this council went to no overall control last May, the Conservatives have constantly voted with the Labour party and against the Lib Dems. They are the real party in bed with Labour.

Amongst others, they backed Labour and opposed our motion to reduce bulky waste charges for the poorest people (which we finally got through in this budget) and also supported Labour's move to prevent scrutiny of the council by limiting the number of call-ins. One of them even voted against his colleagues and with Labour to prevent a call-in of a cabinet decision. The Tories have consistently done Labour's dirty work since May. Pathetic really.

Now they have tried to reposition themselves as self-proclaimed saviours of Reading council tax payers. They are nothing of the sort and only a complete fool could fall for it.

Let's get this absolutely clear. Reading Conservatives did not propose a zero percent council tax rise. They proposed absolutely nothing and were more upset that they'd had to cancel holidays and tickets for events than they were in setting a legal council tax.

A near tearful Andrew Cumpsty wailed about how he had to break the terrible news to his partner that they would have to return to Reading a day early to take part in local democracy. Near brought a lump to my throat.

So what exactly was the Tory approach to setting a budget that they were getting all excited about? Simple, offer the moon on a stick and hope that there is one born every minute.

There is more to setting a budget than promising residents "as much gold as you can eat." Setting a budget is one of the last remaining powers that local councillors have. You could be forgiven for asking the Tories what they done since May to earn their councillor allowances if they can't even be arsed to work up an alternative budget. They've had 10 months to do it, but instead have opted to convince the townsfolk that they could run Reading by the magic of the Wookey Hole Witch.

It's true that Lib Dem, Tory and even Labour councils around the country have managed to set a zero rate, but let's get real here. The two unitary authorities that bear any sort of comparison with Reading are West Berkshire and Wokingham. Both Tory councils. Both are setting a well above zero increase. West Berkshire 3.9% and Wokingham 4.69% - a figure which makes Labour's paying for failure figure in Reading look positively glowing.

And the Tories completely ignore that this year's budget is a direct consequence of them agreeing to back last year's raid on the council's piggy bank to pay for Labour's pre-election bribe. The Tories are as much to blame for this year's increase as Labour are.

Without massive cuts the Tories know that a zero percent council tax in Reading is pie in the sky. They simply don't have the honesty or integrity to either tell us what they are planning to cut or admit that their sloganising is complete bunkum.

Labour might be disreputable, but the Tories are now discredited and shouldn't be trusted to run a whelk stall.

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