Katesgrove voters can choose between four candidates at the election on 5 May. The Whitley Pump invited all of them to a personal interview. Margaret McNeill is standing as the Liberal Democratic Party candidate.
What do you think is Reading’s greatest challenge?
Crossrail is going to have a huge effect on people wanting to live in Reading. I wonder whether young people will ever be able to afford a house here. Parking and traffic are already problems and I can’t see Crossrail helping.
The other challenge is education, and the government’s plans to force every school to become an academy, and taking it away from local accountability, is outrageous.
What are the main problems in Katesgrove and how would you tackle them?
The really high turnover of population in both the rented and also the private sector. I think its over 10% of the population moves every year. I welcome the multicultural aspects, but I believe that many of those people are quite isolated if they don’t speak English.
One of the challenges is to be a cohesive community where people can really relate to their neighbourhood and their community. There is also a huge student population as well and I think that can cause frictions of its own.
A community garden was promised down on Southampton Street because of the lack of green areas, I think Waterloo Meadows is probably the only place that we’ve got in Katesgrove. A community garden was promised to us, but has fizzled out completely.
To tackle the high turnover of population, I would really want to work with all the community groups that exist. I think we would find we have more similarities than we have differences. I believe the council could do a lot more to make sure services are signposted to people, especially women who maybe don’t speak the language.
The Lib Dems would continue to ask questions of council, and it’s time for another campaign. I would go to the council and say, “this is what everybody wants; you promised it; now deliver!”
What is your experience of working with the community?
The Liberal Democrats are about community and local empowerment, not doing everything for everyone but about helping everyone to do it for themselves and finding out what they want and not telling them what they want. As part of the Lib Dem campaign team I’ve been working for the whole of Reading. I stood in Katesgrove in 2011 when Matt Rodda won. I was then active in the Katesgrove Residents’ Association and ran one of their spring fairs.
At the moment I am chair of the Greater Reading Liberal Democrats.
What are your links to the area?
My grandmother was born in Amity Road in Newtown, and so was my mother. My sister has lived and worked in the area for many years and I have lived here for seven years.
How many hours a week do you think a councillor needs to spend on council affairs?
I would say from my past experience working as political assistant for Liberal Democrat councillors on Wokingham Council, between 10 and 15 hours a week. That is the absolute minimum to spend on council work. You are a representative of the people of Katesgrove and that takes a bit of time.
Are you prepared to publish your tax return?
Yes, of course I would, but it strikes me as really curious that politicians are being asked to show their tax returns when that only shows what has been taxed not the money that is offshore. Tax returns do not tell us what we need to know about tax avoidance.
What chance do you think you have of winning?
We were expecting the Lib Dem vote to be bad last year, but not that bad! We took a lot of flack for being in the coalition. One of the difficulties the Lib Dems had was to get over the message about what we were doing in government such as cutting income tax, providing free childcare, free school lunches, and increase state pensions.
Membership has increased since the last election, and in the Greater Reading Area is now almost 200. Seats regained in by-elections around the country have spurred thousands of Lib Dems to fight back.
Realistically here, I’ve got some more work to do before I can say that the Lib Dems have a chance of winning. Being down to two councillors in Tilehurst was devastating to us so it’s “where we work we win.” It means working all the year round, not just at election time. If you stand though, you have to work on the basis that you are going to win and be ready for it.
The Labour stranglehold on Reading is not healthy and is not really representative of how people think in Reading. Coalition is good in lots of ways; it’s just that in this country nobody can even imagine how it can possibly work.
What will you do if you don’t win?
If I don’t win “carry on campaigning,” keep on asking questions at council and work to get more Lib Dem councillors.