The headline items at the Reading Borough Council (RBC) meeting on 18 October were the motion of no confidence in councillor Jan Gavin brought by councillor Ricky Duveen and the debate on the closure of the Arthur Hill Memorial Baths.
The former item was moved forward in the agenda along with the children’s services learning and improvement plan and discussions of both took almost an hour. The budget savings proposal on the Arthur Hill Pool was not brought forward, and by the time it was heard, the meeting had been going on for almost 2 hours 20 minutes the anticipation of which no doubt exacerbated the exasperation of the public gallery.
Almost two hours in, and the meeting had reached agenda item 8, the dry but important matter of future government funding for the council, the finance sustainability plan submission to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The plan was required by the DCLG because RBC wanted to accept a four year funding settlement from 2016/17 to 2019/20. The funding settlement is made up of the revenue support grant (RSG) and the government’s estimate of the council’s share of business rates.
By 2019/20 the indicative RSG that Reading can expect to receive will be under £2 million, compared with just over £10 million in 2017/18. Further savings of over £18 million in total for the three financial years are forecast to be required and plans are currently being drawn up to achieve this.
The report submitted to council recommended acceptance of the funding settlement and the plan and was introduced by leader of the council, Jo Lovelock.
The Green Party did not support the motion, but all other parties did.
Councillor Page [02:10:00] attacked the Green Party position on budget setting.
If we run away from the responsibilities of setting a legal budget, and by the way our leader Mr Corbyn wrote to us last year making it quite clear that he expected every Labour Council to set a legal and balanced budget, he and John McDonnell and the whole PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) are as one in rejecting the sort of Toytown Trot approach that Councillor White and colleagues seem to favour. Because simply defying the government in refusing to set a balanced budget and saying we’re not going to have any of this will result in the government taking over the council, they have the powers legally to impose local gauleiters who will do the bidding of DCLG and central government and will remove any discretion that we might have around the setting of the budget. [… ] Let’s support this plan; it’s the only show in town.
Councillor Lovelock summed up:
We will keep lobbying and we will keep making the point via any means we’ve got that the government needs to start doing things differently. [… ] We’ve got to keep trying, we’ve got to keep standing up for Reading, and working with others to try and make the government understand. [… ]
She added that she hoped that there would soon be some clarity in the allocation of business rates to councils.
The motion was carried with three votes against.
The debate on budget savings by closing the Arthur Hill Memorial Baths could then begin.