Liberal Democrats on Wokingham Borough Council have expressed their shock and disappointment after finding that the Conservatives have spent £90,000 producing a Vision for the Council that is very similar to the one they had before. And the Lib Dems don’t think the changes that have been made are for the better.
The Lib Dems agree that there should be a Vision to show where the council is going but say the Vision presented at the meeting falls short of what is required.
Commenting on the Vision, Cllr Prue Bray (Leader of the Lib Dem Group) said “What was “Our Vision” has turned into a shorter strapline. Unfortunately the bit the Conservatives have cut is the bit that said they wanted residents to feel valued. Other things that have been downgraded are: the voluntary sector, partnership working, civic pride, work / life balance and opportunities for all. The emphasis now is all on business growth.”
Cllr Dee Tomlin (Twyford) said “We think the Council’s Vision should be based on protecting vulnerable people, offering value for money, being open, being fair, and working with – and providing leadership to – the community. Everything else should follow from those principles.
Cllr Dee Tomlin added “If the Conservatives paid the consultant £90,000 to write the Vision, as I read in the Wokingham Times, then I am afraid the bit about “value for money” has already fallen by the wayside.”
At last night’s budget Council Meeting Liberal Democrats again raised problems surrounding the new waste collection scheme being brought in by the Conservatives in April.
Lib Dem Cllr Sue Smith says “The council is planning to charge residents wishing to take part in the green waste scheme £60 a year for a wheelie bin and £1 for a paper sack. From figures in the budget papers the Lib Dems have uncovered the fact that the wheelie bins are only costing the council £25 and the paper sacks, only 15p each. How can the council justify the difference in what they are charging to residents?”
Sue added “The Lib Dems have always said the cost of joining the green waste scheme was too high. Other councils do it for much less. And not to have any concessions for those on low incomes is appalling, given those margins.”
And this is not the only problem with the new waste scheme. The Liberal Democrats are very concerned about whether it is strictly legal to force residents to get their plastic sacks from the council. Cllr Smith said “Last April the government sent a letter to councils telling them that they could not force people to buy plastic sacks from a single supplier. But that’s exactly what the Conservatives are planning to do. For us, there are big question marks over whether the Council is allowed to restrict people to their “official” sacks, especially as extra ones will cost £4 for 10, way above what normal black bin bags cost.”
The Lib Dems say that questions also remain on how the recycling incentive scheme will work, and how it will actually incentivise residents to recycle more. Councillor Smith says “Contrary to what Wokingham’s Conservative councillors claimed at the budget meeting, Wokingham has below average recycling rates. We need to do something to boost them but the details explaining how the scheme will actually achieve this are still shrouded in mystery.”
With just six weeks to go until the new scheme starts these questions need to be answered and time is running out.
Speaking in response to the council press release Councillor Prue Bray said “The council press release blames those campaigning against the council’s plans for libraries for spreading misconceptions and scaremongering. That is an insult to the thousands of people unhappy with the idea of handing over the running of the library service to a private company.
If there have been any misconceptions on the part of the public I would lay the blame squarely with the council who have throughout conducted an entirely secretive process. The Conservatives can’t blame EU rules for imposing secrecy on them – because those rules only applied after they made the decision to outsource the service.
Given the council’s complaint about misconception it is rather ironic the press release itself is grossly misleading. It refers to a ‘cross-party working group’ having worked at and supported the prioritisation of the criteria for the library contract specification. For some months there has been a secret Conservative-only working group looking at libraries. The only cross-party element is one workshop held on 1st February 2012 right at the end of the process. And I do not think it is accurate to say it supported the prioritisation of criteria for the library contract. Anyone reading the press release would think that the Lib Dems have been involved all the way along and supported what was being put in the contract. Neither of those things is true.
Given the importance of this issue to the community as a whole, the council should be listening to people and be open about what is going on. Instead they have put out a press release which has shown they are unable to do either.”