Choices for the future
In recent months, because of the Council cuts, our area has lost many important community facilities. Some people still ask me whether, actually, there was no way round this devastation. My challenge here is that there are choices our Council and our MP could have made to reduce these cuts and which they can and should be making to make life better for everyone in our area.
We all sympathised with the problem of short-notice reduction in government support but why, after 9 years in power, have the Conservative team and our MP not set up additional income streams to protect our public services?
The late-in-the-day, forced U-turns with respect to library closures and closure of the public toilets on Newbury Wharf give a clear impression that our elected representatives do not understand the needs of the electorate and, given one challenge came from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport at Westminster, I worry that they don’t actually know what they are doing.
The conservative councillors running West Berks seem continually to be responding to events rather than developing a sensible, businesslike strategy to improve life in Newbury and West Berkshire.
There is another way.
There is no rule which prevents a council raising income through investment:
- Cambridge: Cambridge Council owns farms which generate £4.1 million in rent each year and more than £51 million has been raised through the sale of surplus property since 1993.
- Eastleigh: Eastleigh Council is part owner of the Ageas Bowl Cricket ground, Hotel and Spa, a profitable enterprise, which supports their schools, libraries and community centres.
- North Yorkshire: In 2007 North Yorkshire County Council set up NYNet, a public sector controlled limited company that delivers broadband services to outlying villages. This enterprise is reported to have already generated sufficient profit to subsidise two district nurses and a village library; last June NYCC actually increased funding for their at-risk libraries by £175,000.
- Swindon: Closer to home, Swindon Borough Council is investing £3,000,000 in a partnership between the Council and community to fund a 4.8MW ground-mounted solar farm to serve the area.
- Portsmouth: Portsmouth City Council has a clear property investment strategy and invests in the local community by letting large buildings to the HMRC and other commercial operators. They also own a Waitrose Store in Somerset and a warehouse in Gloucester.
Meanwhile, here in West Berkshire, our Council sells off publicly owned property for short-term gain. It is currently in the process of handing the Market Street development over to private owners, retaining no interest in any future rents from the huge development being planned. They have also in recent months allowed Hitachi, Amec and Bayer, one of Newbury’s largest employers, to slip through their fingers to Reading, taking all their business rates with them.
Regressive and unambitious
Compared to other Councils around the UK, West Berkshire are regressive and unambitious. Our MP does nothing to encourage them to aim higher. We deserve better. We need more ambition from our elected representatives. We need a change in Newbury and West Berkshire.