Save our Libraries. Save our Theatres.

“I call on the council to show some ambition, to take positive action and find a new way to
tackle these cuts.”

On Monday night, at a public meeting in Wash Common organised by the campaigning group West Berkshire SOS, Judith Bunting lambasted West Berkshire’s Conservative Council for the unimaginative way they are tackling the current funding crisis. The following statements summarise the thrust of her speech:

“Other Councils have anticipated cuts in government funding and taken positive steps to raise additional income which is protecting their libraries and public services.”

“The Conservatives on West Berkshire Council slashed children’s mental health services last year and now threaten our libraries and bus services. Funding for Mencap and other charities is being removed, the Corn Exchange and Watermill Theatres are losing their grant support, and this all comes on top of cuts to adult social care already underway.”

“What steps are the Conservative Council taking to halt the destruction of our community? What initiatives have they taken to raise more funding outside of parking charges and council tax? As far as I can see, absolutely none. Last May, councillors awarded themselves a 16.5% increase. Why don’t they start fixing the current problems by giving that money back to the people?”

“Councillor Crumly’s letter (NWN 18th Feburary) claimed that Councils have four options only to solve the current problems: to increase charges for services, to increase council tax, to cut internal costs, or to reduce local services. This is not only extremely short sighted but it is just not true. Authorities across the UK, from Swindon and Basingstoke, to Eastleigh, Portsmouth and North Yorkshire, are engaged in positive schemes to generate income which they are using to cushion the ‘George Osborne effect’.”

“Since 2013 Local Authorities have also had the power the power to keep up to half of any business rate growth in their area. West Berkshire Council’s response to this is to lose Bayer to Reading, lose Hitachi, lose Amec and force numerous local traders out of business.”

“West Berkshire has £4.9m kept as reserves, the District’s ‘rainy day fund’. Well. I have news for West Berkshire Council, it’s raining right now. I call on the Council to use these reserves now, begin the process to set up income generating schemes, and give time for communities to develop their own schemes which can plug the gaps in their short-term funding. We have a wonderful volunteer force in West Berkshire, but it is wrong for the Council to depend on volunteers to take all their responsibilities.”

“I call upon the council to show some ambition and take positive action to find a new way to tackle these cuts.”

Judith Bunting is the Parliamentary Spokesperson for Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats.

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