I HOPE all Chronicle readers have enjoyed their Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year celebrations.

It is a wonderful thing to spend time with family and friends at this time of year, but it is always worth thinking about any elderly or vulnerable neighbours who may not be so lucky and are spending the time alone.

A quick visit to check if they are okay or if they need anything - or even just a cup of tea and a chat - can make all the difference.

Last month I wrote about how councils of every political persuasion would be paying close attention to this year’s Local Government Finance Settlement. There was some welcome news for Reading for a change, in that the Berkshire wide bid to take part in a business rates retention pilot for next year was agreed by Government.

Looking further forward, councils have been told they will be able to retain 75 per cent of business rates by 2020-21. We will be studying the detail when it comes.

There also appears to be more flexibility to local authorities in setting council tax levels. Sustained reductions in grant and delays in reforms on local government finance however, mean local councils continue to face very difficult budget decisions in the face of the huge underfunding of both adults and children’s social care, which has been ignored for too long by this Government.

All Councils will be facing difficult choices as we finalise budgets for 2018/19. It seems the government is forcing local councils to use local taxes to fund vital services rather than providing adequate funding for social care itself.

Despite this, 2017 has seen the Council continue to find new and innovative ways of delivering for the residents of Reading.

Affordable housing remains a huge problem. I am proud that in 2017 we have started work on 57 new Council homes in Conwy Close, with more desperately needed council housing planned for the future. Work is also progressing on new temporary homes at Lowfield Road, helping to reduce the number of families having to live in B&B accommodation.

Homes for Reading - the Council’s new socially responsible housing company – has its first tenant. The plan is to offer properties at sub-market rents, cross-subsidised by those let at market rents.

Alongside the Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership, the Council is delivering new sustainable transport infrastructure for Reading in the form of new bus and cycle routes.

We are working with Network Rail to open up the bottleneck at Cow Lane and by the summer there will be two way traffic and double decker buses passing under the bridge for the first time ever. So I hope drivers will be patient as the final stage progresses – the end result will have been worth it.

A successful Council bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund has seen work begin earlier this year on a major project to preserve and open by Reading Abbey to the public. In June, Reading Abbey will be revealed to residents of Reading, and visitors to our town for many years to come. Despite the challenges, there remains much to look forward to. I wish all Chronicle readers a happy and healthy 2018.