Wokingham Liberal Democrats talk a good talk, but their actions don’t match what they are saying. Residents just want them to get the basics right.
Last month the Leader of Wokingham Borough Council wrote, “Now, we are trying something very different; a radical alternative … asking community groups for their views on what the borough should look like…”
For an administration that repeatedly ignores and undermines the voice of residents by disregarding petitions and the results of consultations, and shuts down debate, this certainly sounds like a radical change.
However, this month residents were denied a say when the Council announced via Twitter that it would scrap some public bins and reduce collections of others. They also announced that they were cutting back on street cleaning, grass cutting, weed spraying, and sweeping areas around bottle banks.
The Liberal Democrats say they have no choice but to make stringent cuts, yet they have boasted of coming in under budget last year with, “a small amount left over” and their government funding has increased.
This policy on reducing street cleaning and cutting public litter bins is an obvious false economy. It will cost significantly more to clear up the resulting mess and inevitable vermin in the long run. Smells and overflowing rubbish will clearly reduce the enjoyment of open spaces, walkways and parks, for visitors, families and all residents especially at the start of the Summer holidays.
There are particular dangers, especially for children, from ticks in long grass and discarded dog excrement which can have serious health implications.
Residents may well begin to wonder what the Liberal Democrats are doing with the increase in Council tax, doubling of car parking charges, and other increased fees and charges. What is it precisely that residents are getting in return for paying more during a cost-of-living crisis?
Let’s not forget that this is an administration driven by appearance over substance.
When a Local Government review team visited the Borough one of the just five questions the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Clive Jones, asked about how the Council could do better was, “How do we get our residents and communities to recognise the things we've achieved?” Some people might respond; try achieving something first.
This concentration on appearance might get them favourable headlines and fluffy social media posts but what do residents get?
Since they took office, the Liberal Democrats have offered nothing but a drip, drip of disappointments.
They promised to prevent unwanted development by securing a meeting with the Housing Minister to reduce Wokingham’s housing numbers. No meeting has taken place and instead dither and delay have led to developers having the upper hand. With no progress on a new Local Plan and no five-year land supply the Council has been left unable to fend off unwanted planning applications.
They’ve doubled car parking charges, cut weekly household bin collections, and scrapped free caddy liners in their first year.
Does this sound like an administration delivering resident’s priorities? Does it sound like the competence that was promised at the last election?
Or does it sound like Wokingham Borough’s Liberal Democrat Leadership needs to deliver the basics that residents rightly expect before it launches “radical alternatives”. Instead of sound bites residents want to see results.