Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Labour's Office of Budget Irresponsibility.

Last night's cabinet featured a savaged by a dead sheep attack on me from the former lead Councillor for the Environment, Paul Gittings. He might have had a point if he hadn't left me with a complete shambles to sort out.

Because of the way the council works, changes to fees and charges had to come before last night's Cabinet otherwise they couldn't be implemented on January 1st when VAT increases. I was actually asked to move the increases forward by businesses who use council services who didn't want to put up their fees once for the VAT increase and then have to do it all again for the Council's annual inflation increase.

Rather predictably, this led to a case of faux horreur from Paul Gittings who had left me with the local equivalent of the "I've spent it all" note from Liam Byrne. As we saw with Labour's burying away unbudgeted their donation to the Reading Taxi Association of £20,000 for their taxi marshals, Labour hid a myriad of completely unfunded subsidies and concessions that had no budget line item and untangling Labour's robbing Peter to pay Paul method of budgeting is essential if we are to rescue the Council's finances.

Going through the basket case that Cllr. Gitting's left me with inevitably meant that individual items taken in isolation from the full budget package that will be announced in February doesn't tell the whole story.

For example, a Lib Dem budget concession from two years ago, which I had to remind Cllr. Gittings that his group fought tooth and nail against, was for free bulky waste collections for those who couldn't afford it. Grudgingly they agreed to it to get their budget through, but do you know how much he budgeted to pay for it? Bugger all! Once again it came out of Labour's magic pixie pot of cash and one of the reasons why their budgets always overran and your council tax constantly went up. When I allocate concessions it will be budgeted and financed, not by sticking my fingers in my ears singing la-la-la hoping know one will ask awkward questions.

The more I dig through the way Labour ran this town the more bankrupt they are exposed as being. They wouldn't understand fiscal responsibility if it sat up and bit them on the bum and Cllr. Gittings has proved himself not fit enough to run a whelk stall let alone a service with a £13.6m budget.

I can guarantee you one thing - Labour will not set an alternative budget this year. They can't. They have objected to every one of our attempts to save money and restore accountability to the council tax payer... apart that is from the closure of the civic offices at weekends, which rather tellingly Jo Lovelock told us she agreed with because the unions had asked her to do it.

No, their real problem is that if Labour attempt to set a budget it would expose the black hole at the very heart of their financal planning. Their strategy for the next election is to promise a helper monkey for every household and hope that no-one asks them where the money is coming from.

One thing is certain. The days of Labour handing out pensioners' council tax without accountability are over and not before time. Reading simply cannot afford a Labour council any more and nor can the residents.

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