In Government there is a tradition that outgoing ministers leave a letter for their successors. Light hearted, hopefully kindly meant, they are the sharing of thoughts between people who share the bond of knowing what it is like to carry a big job in public service.
We don't have that tradition in Reading's government: maybe we should start it. If we did, I might write something like this.
Congratulations on becoming, once again, Deputy Leader of the Council. Well done, and welcome to your new office. Enjoy the panoramic views of, well welcome to your new office. Enjoy the panoramic views of, well, the back of the Police Station.
Sorry the heating is still broken, it might get ugly this winter. I do have a heater I would have left you - I don't need it, as my home is toasty warm - but for reasons outlined at the end of this letter, I am taking it with me.
OK, some things to mention. Sorry they are about money but hey, best you get used to that, starting right now. Things have changed a little since you last did the job.
1. Debt and liabilities
Sorry to say the debt you left behind when you left office last year - some £200m at the last count - is still on the Council's books. We had a run at it, but it's bad and the trend is not looking good. I was talking to some of the folks in one of the Council's secondary schools last month and they need a new building, and I mean right now. That's another £10m right there. You'll need a whole bunch of primary school classrooms that should have been there two or three years ago - add a few more million. Housing estates in need of major redevelopment, a new swimming pool, and as for the roads...well, you get the picture. Actually the museum could use a few of those now I think of it.
There was also that stuff about equal pay issues for staff, you know, the thing that blew up half a dozen years ago? What was the slogan? "A fair days work for a fair day's pay"? Good idea that. Somebody should create organisations that campaign for that, really. Could be a thing. Anyway, the good news is that we fixed it as soon as we came into office - bad news is that the back pay claims are a three million pound liability I would say (and so would your Director of Resources). And it is likely to be a gift that keeps on giving.
And probably no capital directive will be forthcoming, which means it will be a revenue item, coming straight out of front line spending sometime soon. On which subject...
2. Revenue and income
The Council is going to spend about the same this coming year as it did last year. To do this we had to find some £20m of savings/income in one year due to, as some wag put it, "the disastrous state of the public finances as a result of catastrophic Labour mismanagement". One might say. We spoke to the Government about it, but they told us that your guys had given all the available cash to the bankers. Something about £400m a day on debt, and a roof not being repaired when the sun was shining? Must have been some roof.
Still, over the year, they found a bit of cash - half a billion or more - for the new station and rail works, tens of millions more for Dee Park, and a few more millions to pay for some new Council houses for folks with care needs.
You're going to have to find savings, and additional funds of the same order, and will need to start work on it today. It will be what you do all year, early morning to late at night.
The Conservatives and ourselves did it without closing a Surestart Centre, or a library, or a day-care centre. Let's hope you can do the same.
But hey, if you do bust your budget and go to Government for some more cash, I am sure they will be only too willing to help you out. I am sure they won't mention public money being spent on consultancy or full-time Union officials or taxi marshals or on politically-compromised charities, not at all. It'll be fine.
Given all those cuts you listed in your leaflets that you were so angry about, no doubt you will find the money to instantly reverse them too, to the cheers of the assembled populace who elected you thinking that you would. Which brings us to...
3. Slush funds and stuff
Bad news on the slush funds and stuff - sorry, budget line item accruals and reserve allocations - I think we found them all, took the savings and used them to stop all the cuts in front line services we could. Yes, checking the spreadsheets, we did, pretty much. Clever chap that David Stevens, I have always said so, and our Lead Councillors? Sharp as tacks. No more tens of thousands going onto the reserves to be reversed for a pre-election gimmick, no more "project seed funding" with no project plan or person attached to them, (nice one that), no more taking things like replacing a boiler and making it a capital item, against which one could borrow.
There's going to be no more secret Santa: if you spend the money in one place, you will have to take it from another and the people you take it from will notice. And may want to make a noise.
Which leads us nicely into...
4. The Campaign
Thanks for all the leaflets during the election, which made for enjoyable reading. Everyone loves the little glossy calendar thing by the way: I've been telling my nieces not to draw horns on the picture of your new councillor's head, but what are you going to do?
As you will see now you have the papers, most of what your guys said was either exaggerated or fictional. "You can't trust Labour" as I always say. Well done for fooling some of the people some of the time.
But the whispering campaign against our LGBT candidates? That was just horrible, nobody does stuff like that any more.
So, sticks and stones and all that, but I'm afraid I am keeping my heater. Enjoy your time in office.
All the best,
|where's Melanie? where are the Post's news values?|