The prospect of Reading being a ‘utopia’ was briefly pondered as politicians traded barbs with each other over the council’s budget.

Each year, local authorities must set a budget for spending plans, with Reading Borough Council recently setting its budget for 2024/25.

Jason Brock, the council leader, admitted the council hasn’t created a ‘utopia’, but the Labour administration has worked diligently,

Councillor Brock (Labour, Southcote) said: “This is a budget to keep the ship steady in turbulent times.

“Although I’m never known for my modesty, even I would be pushing it to claim that Labour has built a utopia here.

“Yet anyone can see that we do our best for our town, the town we all live in, and that we have delivered, and we will continue to deliver.”

It has been noted that the borough council has not filed a Section 114 notice, an effective declaration of bankruptcy, which was issued by nearby Slough Borough Council in 2021.

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Rob White, the leader of the opposition, expressed disappointment at a perceived lack of meaningful consultation on the 2024/25 budget.

Cllr White (Green, Park) said: “Labour’s long standing policy of consult and ignore has been whittled down under significant cutbacks to just ignore, which is a shame.”

Later in the meeting cllr Liz Terry (Labour, Church) the deputy leader, replied 661 responses, largest amount of responses in recent memory.

Cllr White admitted the national picture was bleak blaming “austerity, covid and Liz Truss.”

It is understood that the council received £36.2 million from central government.

Ultimately, he was sceptical that any change would come with a change of government.

Cllr White said: “Whether it’s blue or red in charge, the economic policies will be largely the same.

“This means that the funding for the council will be largely the same, which means the cuts will continue.”

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Meanwhile, cllr Raj Singh (Conservative, Kentwood) spoke against the budget, arguing the council needed to cut down on costs, particularly on children’s services.

The council’s children’s company Brighter Futures for Children’s (BFFC) requested £58.839 million, a £7.409 million increase compared to the 2023/24.

Cllr Singh cited figures that some childcare placements are costing between £250-750,000.

He said: “That’s simply unsustainable and inexcusable.

“At Reading council, We need to dig deeper into this issue, finding ways to reunite children with their families or family support networks rather than resorting to costly residential placements which cost an average £300,000 per annum per child.

“It’s time for innovative solutions that prioritise family networks and support systems.”

He also “strongly disagreed” with the administration raising council tax by 4.99 per cent -the maximum amount.

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Cllr Singh said: “Over the years, we’ve seen parking charges soar, fly-tipping increase and pollution levels rise—all while essential services suffer and resident concerns go unheard.”

The budget was approved in a vote with  44 councillors voting for it and all five Conservative councillors voting against it at a meeting on February 27.

Labour councillors were joined by the seven Greens, three Liberal Democrats and cllr Sarah Hacker (Independent, Battle).

Cllr Amjad Tarar (Labour, Battle) was absent, with 31 Labour councillors voting for the budget.