27 Mar 2013

My motion: Maternity Pay and family cuts


Last night I presented my first motion to council, seconded by Cllr Kelly Edwards. The opposition were not happy about it but, when you look at the list of cuts they've imposed of mothers and families, you can hardly be surprised!  They tried to dismiss the very real concerns of families in Reading; the concerns of people I have spoken to who bring home very little after paying childcare, who cannot take a full years maternity leave because they can't afford to andthe families struggling on a day to day basis.

I have heard that people have been queuing out of the Welfare Rights office because so many people need help and support with the onslaught of cuts.  With food and energy bills rising, I wonder where the Government think people are going to get the extra money from to make up the shortfall!  But lets not forget that on Monday 1 April the Tory Lib Dem Government will be giving a tax break to millionaires.

Cllr Daisy Benson claimed that no-one had contacted her about these cuts.  That's not the experience Labour Cllrs have had but then again, she is part of the party making them!

When you look at what we were asking the council to do their oppositions seems even more mean.  In the end we passed the motion (amended to add paragraph 2 post Budget my Cllr Matt Rodda).  Reading Labour see ourselves as a Council in opposition to this Government and the only people standing up for families in Reading.


Mums not Millionaires!

Motion Maternity Pay and family cuts

That this council notes that:

From April this year Government will restrict Statutory Maternity Pay to a 1 per cent annual increase, which by 2015 will effectively be a £180 tax on working women, coming on top of a series of additional cuts being faced by new mums including

a) The end of the £190 health in pregnancy grant

b) The end of the £250 Child Trust Fund Voucher

c) Child benefit payments frozen for three years followed by a 1 percent increase for 2014 and 2015

d) Restriction of the Sure Start Maternity Grant

e) Removing the baby addition to the Child Tax Credit

f) Cuts to the subsidy for childcare through the working tax credit

and that low-paid mums will be losing a total of £1722 during pregnancy and the baby’s first year

2. Notes that of those families who will benefit from the Government’s new childcare vouchers in 2015, 80% are in the top 40% of the income distribution, and only 2% are in the bottom 40% of the income distribution, so the measure will have minimal effect on children in poverty, and that the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that there are 3.6 Million children living in poverty in the UK today, and that under current Government policies this will reach 3.9 Million by 2015 and 4.2 Million by 2020 (amendment)

3. That as well as these reductions in income, the Government proposes in the Children & Families Bill to remove the statutory duty on local authorities to ensure a sufficiency of childcare, and that any reduction in affordable childcare will mean that more women will find they can’t make work pay

Council therefore resolves to:

Mandate the Managing Director to write to the Secretary of State outlining these concerns and requesting suspension of the coming cuts pending a full equality audit

Request that the Lead Cllr for Children’s Service write to Readings two MPs urging them to oppose cuts which negatively impact women and families

Asks the Council Managing Director to ensure that all families using Sure Start Centres and other early years settings have information available to them about these benefit changes and about what benefits and services they can still access

18 Mar 2013

What will happen to the scrapped Medical Centre land?

We know the Medical Centre is not going ahead and Battle councillors have secured a consultation for the £1.5 million Section 106 money, but what's happening to the land left behind?

This land belongs to the soon to be defunct Primary Care Trust (PCT).  Leader of the Council Jo Lovelock has asked Alok Sharma MP to ensure the proceeds from the sale of this land are re-invested in the local community but we have yet to have a reply.

Will the money vanish into the Government coffers or will it be passed to the new Core Commissioning Groups (CCG's) to improve local health provision?

17 Mar 2013

It was a Super Saturday indeed!

Well, what a great day yesterday was.  I woke to the sound of driving rain and lashing wind and visions of soaking Reading Labour activists handing out soggy leaflets to the few bedraggled Battle residents who'd battled the weather to go the the library or the shops.  How wrong was I!

We has a great time yesterday morning.  The winds died down, the rain stopped and even the sun shone!  We spoke to loads of Battle residents and over 200 people signed our petitions against the Mummy Tax and Bedrooom Tax.  Thank goodness battle Library has a photocopier because we started running ou of petition sheets!

The turn out from campaigners was fab.  So many people out to help and a big thank you to them all!  We even picked up new supporters and members for both Battle and Norcot.

Victoria Groulef is proving to be a popular parliamentary candidate.  She got to speak to many residents yesterday who are clearly very unhappy with the Tory/LibDem government.

 The lovely day didn't end there.  The boys and I headed off into the back garden yesterday afternoon.  The post-winter tidy up has begun with earnest. While having  rummage we discovered some carrots leftover from last year.  The joy on the boys faces as they pulled up tiny wobbly carrot after tiny wobbly carrot was wonderful.  We are going to have a look through the seeds I bought in the sale last year and plan our veggie crops.


15 Mar 2013

The fight against the attack on families begins in #rdg!

This weekend Reading Labour launch their campaign against the cuts raining down on families in Reading.

This afternoon  Sharon Hodges MP, invited by Victoria Groulef our parliamentary candidate in Reading West, will be visiting Gloucester Road Playgroup to discuss the proposed changes to childcare.  She will also be launching our 'Mums not Millionaires' campaign.

The Government are proposing the increase the number of children each childcare professional can look after.  The childcare sector are opposed to changes to the adult to child ratios.  The Pre-School Learning Alliance have serious concerns that these changes will effect child safety and support (see here). 

Tomorrow (Saturday 16 Feb) we will also be campaigning against the 'Mummy Tax' and 'Bedroom Tax' in my ward, Battle.

The Tory/Lib Dem Government are restricting Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) from April this year.  It will be increased by just 1% a year which, with the cost of living increasing by 3.3% (RPI see here), is effectively a year on year cut. I have had two children and know how difficult it is to live on SMP as it usually does not cover your pre-maternity income.  It will be even harder when SMP does not keep up with the real costs of living.  This is another cut falling on women and families.

Other cuts this Government have implemented include:
  • The end of the £190 Health in Pregnancy Grant
  • The end of the £250 Child Trust Fund Voucher
  • Child Benefit frozen for 3 years then increasing by 1% in 2014/2015 (another real terms cut)
  • Removing the baby addition to the Child Tax Credit
  • Cuts to the subsidy for childcare through the Working Tax Credit
The effects of the 'Bedroom Tax' are well documented.  Opposition councillors have accused us of scaremongering but the sad fact is, it's the 'Bedroom Tax' which is causing the fear.

People are actually scared for their futures, worrying about how they will find the money to cover this charge and whether they will be able to find alternative accommodation.  Let's not forget this nasty 'tax' may also force people from their homes, communities and away from their support networks.

This is all happening while millionaires are being given a tax cut!  I have nothing against millionaires, well done to you if you have that kind of income, but let's not hammer those least able to afford it while those that can get a break!

If you would like to join us or sign the petitions tommorrow, we will be outside Battle Library from 11.


13 Mar 2013

Battle 106 Consultation Launches 16 April - £1.5 Million For Battle Community

I am so pleased to be able to announce the timetable of the Battle 106 consultation.  Battle councillors have been working hard with Reading Borough Council for the past year paving the way for a meaningful consultation with residents about how this money should be spent.  Because of Labour Battle councillors Chris Maskell, Gul Khan and me the community will have a say in how £1.5 million is spent in the local area!

The money became available because the Primary Care Trust withdrew from the plans to build a medical centre on the former Battle Hospital site, now West Village.  You can read more about the history here:

February 2013 - Battle 106 - Sharma has missed the point entirely  
Jan 2013 - Medical Centre and 106 Funding Update
December 2011 - Battle medical centre victim of NHS cutbacks 

We have had several meetings over the last few weeks to design the consultation, agree the area being consulted and the questions being asked.  The consultation plan will go to Cabinet for approval on 18 March (see report here) and, if it's approved, will launch on 16 April.

Launch Event

Tuesday 16 April - Battle Library

11am to 1pm & 3pm to 8pm - to discuss options and a further opportunity to complete the questionnaire.


Residents within the consultation area will receive a paper questionnaire which will also be able to be completed online.  The results of the consultation will determine how the £1.5 million is spent locally.



Improving Local Facilities in the Oxford Road area of West Reading – Consultation 

Press Release 

11/03/2013 RESIDENTS in Battle and the neighbouring area are set to be given an opportunity to have their say on how £1.5 million could be used to improve local facilities.

The money is due to be paid to Reading Borough Council by developers David Wilson Homes as part of the 2006 planning permission to build 434 homes on the site of the former Battle Hospital.


Following consultation with the local community by local councillors in 2006, the proposals included a new health centre building for the Primary Care Trust (PCT) on land that the Trust owns. However, the PCT subsequently decided not to go forward with a new Health Centre in this location. This is due to a number of factors, including the provision of a drop-in surgery in the Broad Street Mall.


The 2006 planning agreement says that in the event of the Health Centre not being built, the developer, now David Wilson Homes, would pay the Council £1.5m as a ‘contribution towards community-related benefits’.


That money is now due to be paid to the local authority and Reading Borough Council is proposing to give residents in the area an opportunity to help inform the decision on how it can be spent to ensure it meets the needs of local people and the community.


Jo Lovelock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said: “It was a big disappointment when the Primary Care Trust decided not to go ahead with the Health Centre. The money must be used on community related benefits so we feel it is very important to talk to the local community about how they think that the money should be spent, especially as it is now seven years since the last consultation. I hope as many people as possible will take part so that the decision about the use of the money can be based on the current views of local residents.”


The 2012 Residents’ Survey and the 2011 'Let’s Talk' consultation show that local residents have identified education, green spaces, transport and health services as their main priorities for improvement. These are also in line with the priorities in the Council’s planning policy for infrastructure provision.


A report proposing the launch of the local consultation will now go before a meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Cabinet on March 18 for endorsement.


A questionnaire will then be distributed in the local area, asking people to identify their priorities for which local facilities need improving. Residents will be asked to take a few minutes to tell the Council their preferences and return the questionnaire to: Improving Local Facilities in Battle and the neighbouring area, Reading Borough Council, Civic Centre, Reading, RG1 7AE.


Alternatively, people will also be able to complete the short questionnaire online at http://www.reading.gov.uk/battlesurvey .


There will also be a drop-in event held at Battle Library (420 Oxford Road) on Tuesday April 16, from 11am to 1pm and from 3pm to 8pm, to discuss options and a further opportunity to complete the questionnaire.

5 Mar 2013

Let's Talk Education - Battle Event!

Since the shortage of primary school reception classes became apparent last year I have not stopped asking what is to be done about it and atending many meetings tasked with solving the problem. We are very short of suitable sites in Battle to expand or even build a school so choices are very limited. I believe it is vital that families can be confident their child will have a place in school.

At the full Council meeting last week I asked Cllr John Ennis, Lead Councillor for Education & Children's Services what was being done to provide these much needed places. Part of his response was the up-coming Let's Talk Education sessions. Potential expansion plans will be announced and discussed. Some will be accepted and some will be firmly rejected but, what must happen is children get a place in a school.

The event in Battle will be next Tuesday 12 March at 7.30 at the Emmanuel Methodist Church. I will see you there!

04/03/2013
Reading Borough Council Press Release

PARENTS and local residents are being invited to a series of Let’s Talk Education feedback events in March to hear more about how Reading Borough Council is proposing to meet the rising demand for school places across the town.