The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition which runs Reading Council has drawn up a Coalition Agreement, which was approved at the last Council meeting. It outlines the policy approach of the new administration – although is rather less detailed than its national equivalent.
It includes a reference to "addressing the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the town." For Conservatives defeating poverty should not be about the gap. If the poor are richer and the rich are richer too the gap might widen but it would still be a good thing. Conversely if the poor got a little poorer but the rich got a lot poorer, the gap would narrow: But would Reading Council then declare: "Mission accomplished"?
One beneficial way of narrowing the gap is lowering the Council Tax which is, of course, highly regressive. The poorest 20% of people paying three times as much, as a proportion of their income, as the richest 20%. "We will introduce a council tax freeze for 2011/12 to reduce the burden on residents," says the agreement.
Also welcome is a pledge to "promote greater transparency in local government in Reading, to improve community confidence in the council." Efforts will be made to promote apprenticeships, reduce the number of empty homes and show consideration for taxi drivers with the redevelopment of Reading Station. There will be a greater effort at "joint working" to reduce crime.
In the Communities section the document says:
We will maintain the total grant funding to voluntary, community and neighbourhood groups at current overall levels, whilst re-evaluating how the funding is meeting the council’s objectives and services.
we believe community cohesion is important and that there should be a Reading-wide approach to achieving this, rather than an agenda which focuses on any one community.
This strikes me as a significant point. That the Council will favour an integrationist approach – rather than Labour's approach of spraying money around racially separatist groups seeking to buy off special interests.
The document also says:
In recognition of the challenging economic situation faced by the council and residents, we agreed that all Special Responsibility Allowances paid to councillors will be cut by 10% with immediate