Agenda, decisions and draft minutes

Extraordinary, Executive - Wednesday, 15th December, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber - Civic Offices, Shute End, Wokingham RG40 1BN. View directions

Contact: Anne Hunter  Democratic and Electoral Services Lead Specialist

Media

Items
No. Item

75.

Apologies

To receive any apologies for absence

Minutes:

An apology for absence was submitted from Councillor Gregor Murray.

 

Councillors Pauline Jorgensen, John Kaiser, Stuart Munro and Wayne Smith did not attend the meeting in person but took part virtually.

 

Councillor Laura Blumenthal, Deputy Executive Member for Equalities, Poverty, the Arts and Climate Emergency, attended on behalf of Councillor Murray.  In accordance with legislation Councillor Blumenthal could speak on any item but was not allowed to vote.

 

76.

Declaration of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest received.

77.

Statement by the Leader of Council

To receive a statement from the Leader of Council.

Minutes:

The Leader of Council made the following statement:

 

Last month we were seeing Covid numbers going down very favourably and there were grounds for belief that the pandemic was being contained. This was true for Delta but sadly we have now seen the emergence of Omicron; which presupposes that we had ten variants in between which did not bear mentioning.

 

Currently, the rate of new Covid cases within the Borough remains high. The current rate is 610 per 100,000. This rate is slightly below the rates across the South-East; 649 per 100,000. Most cases continue to occur within our school age population and their parents as we reach the end of the school term this week.

 

The current rate reflects the cases across the week 1-6 December, and does not begin to reflect any potential impact of the new Omicron variant in Wokingham. UK Chief Medical Officers, earlier this week, increased the UK Covid Alert from Level 3 to Level 4 due to a rapid increase in cases of the Omicron variant.  There is much still to learn about the new variant but what is known is that it is extremely transmissible, cases are doubling every 2-3 days, which means that cases will rise exponentially across the coming weeks.

 

It is too early to draw firm conclusions about the severity of the disease that Omicron causes. However, even if it is a milder illness in an individual, the sheer volume of cases that are expected, coupled with a slight drop in vaccine effectiveness would lead to a substantial increase in hospitalisation. Hospitalisations are expected to rise in the UK over the next two weeks.

Data published last Friday suggests that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection is substantially reduced against Omicron where a person has had two doses, but that a third dose boosts protection back up to over 70%.  There is an urgent national Omicron appeal for the public to ‘Get Boosted Now’, we need to call upon all our residents to come forward for their booster; indeed, if they haven’t their first or second doses.  We are working tirelessly to support health partners on the delivery of the vaccination programme across the Borough, offering our local buildings and staff to facilitate vaccine delivery and advocating for our residents to maximise their opportunity to access their vaccine or booster.

 

Officers across the Council are working to maximise the effectiveness of the Government’s Plan B implemented over the past week. For residents this means wearing masks where it is appropriate for them to do so, working from home where possible and accessing their Covid passports where necessary.  We also continue to work tirelessly to ensure people are getting tested when it is right for them to do so (rapid lateral flow testing before socialising where someone has no symptoms, or regularly across seven days as a contact of a case; and PCR testing when someone has symptoms) and encouraging subsequent isolation when required.

 

The coming weeks will see many occasions and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 77.

78.

Public Question Time

To answer any public questions

 

A period of 30 minutes will be allowed for members of the public to ask questions submitted under notice.

 

The Council welcomes questions from members of the public about the items on the agenda only.

 

Subject to meeting certain timescales, questions can only relate to the items which are on the Agenda for this meeting.  For full details of the procedure for submitting questions please contact the Democratic Services Section on the numbers given below or go to www.wokingham.gov.uk/publicquestions

 

Minutes:

There were no public questions received.

79.

Member Question Time

To answer any Member questions

 

A period of 20 minutes will be allowed for Members to ask questions submitted under Notice relating to the items on the Agenda only.

 

Any questions not dealt with within the allotted time will be dealt with in a written reply

 

Minutes:

In accordance with the agreed procedure the Chairman invited Members to submit questions to the appropriate Members

79.1

Sarah Kerr asked the Executive Member for Neighbourhood and Communities the following question:

 

Question

How was a contract awarded for a domestic abuse refuge service to a provider that doesn't have any domestic abuse provision?

Minutes:

 

Question

How was a contract awarded for a domestic abuse refuge service to a provider that doesn't have any domestic abuse provision?

 

Answer

Following a robust tender process, the contract for Wokingham Domestic Abuse was awarded to Cranstoun and commenced on 1st July 2021.

 

Domestic abuse is a priority area for the Borough and in recognition of this and increased demands on services in this area, Council funding for this contract has been significantly increased.

 

The provision of support for victims of domestic abuse is in place as required as part of the commissioned service.

 

Prior to launching the domestic abuse arm of the Cranstoun service Cranstoun committed 10 years to developing their current domestic abuse model. To do this cohesively they worked with Respect, Safelives, Domestic Violence Intervention Programme, Women’s Aid, to name a few all of whom are key stakeholders within domestic abuse.

 

Cranstoun offer a fully integrated domestic abuse service in Barking and Dagenham, the County of Sussex, and Sutton all of which are well established. They also deliver victim and survivor work in the following areas, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Birmingham, West Midlands, West Mercia Police Force and 11 Boroughs and Sussex County. They have also won a fully integrated domestic abuse service in South Yorkshire.

 

This is a considerable reach across the country and one which demonstrates their capability to deliver a comprehensive domestic abuse service to Wokingham residents.

 

Supplementary Question

You sort of really did not answer my question and I am not sure that they actually have refuge places. 

 

What I also wanted to know is that I understand that Cranstoun is supposed to be attending the Domestic Abuse Partnership Board meetings and the Executive meetings and it is my understanding that they have so far only attended one of these.  So how is Cranstoun actually being held accountable?

 

Supplementary Answer

If I can just come to your first point about having a refuge within the Borough.  What I can say is that no one will be left without support and a safe refuge in our Borough should they require it.  We do have facilities to be able to house people who are in need of that refuge.

 

Let me just say that since 21st July, when Cranstoun took over, we have had no demand for a refuge place but that is not to say that there would not be in the future. 

 

Also, I would like to say that when a company takes on a new contract you can hardly expect them to have a house in place ready to house people should they need one and we are actively looking for our own refuge rather than having to rely on outside bodies.  But to actually do this I think you have got to also remember that domestic abuse unfortunately is not only about women it is about men and children as well.  Therefore to find a suitable property to be able to house a mixed group is very difficult  ...  view the full minutes text for item 79.1

79.2

Gary Cowan asked the Leader of Council the following question:

Minutes:

 

Question

The Local Government Association Corporate Peer Challenge Update states that the CPC at Wokingham took place between 9th and 17th November during which the Peer Team met with over 100 people comprising approximately 200 hours.

 

How many members of the public, parish and town councils were met and how many were staff/Members in this 200 hours? 

 

Answer

During their visit the Peer Challenge Team held a wide range of meetings with residents, Members, staff, trade union representatives, partners, and town and parish councils.  It is important to emphasise that the Peer Challenge Team itself led this review, independently and objectively, choosing which individuals and groups it wished to speak with in order to gain a rounded perspective of the Council.

 

In their feedback meeting to us on 17th November, the Peer Challenge Team reported that they had met 100 people over approximately 200 hours of work.  The majority of the people the Team met were staff, as the Team asked to speak to a wide range from across the Council.  Of course, many of our staff are also residents of the Borough.

 

There were eight, approximately one hour, meetings with Member groups, including a specific meeting with your Group Leader, Councillor Frewin, who also attended the feedback session on the 17th.  Specific focus groups were also held with residents and town and parish clerks. 

 

Supplementary Question

The report states that “the peer challenge approach involves a team of experienced officers and members from other local authorities”, etc, etc and it did go on to add that “the approach is valuable in identifying and addressing issues and challenges”, which I would recognise to be a good idea.  “Local priorities and outcomes and how to make our overview and scrutiny function more meaningful and effective”. 

 

This still gets back to my original question which was that I actually asked for specific numbers of how many opposition Councillors, parish and town councils, were included, as I was really interested in the number?  Anyway, I welcome your answer

 

Supplementary Answer

I would just like to add that what I said before that the Peer Challenge Team made their own decisions on who they were going to meet.  We do not have the full report yet so we do not know who they specifically met, and we may not know after the report because that was at their own discretion.

80.

Domestic Abuse Strategy 2021 - 2024 pdf icon PDF 289 KB

Additional documents:

Decision:

That the Domestic Abuse Strategy 2021-2024 be approved so that it can be released for publication.

 

 

Minutes:

The Executive considered a report relating to a proposed Domestic Abuse Strategy covering the period 2021-2024.

 

During his introduction the Executive Member for Neighbourhood and Communities informed Members that the Strategy had been delayed in order that the relevant parts of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 could be included within the Strategy.    Councillor Soane thanked Karen Evans, the Domestic Abuse Co-Ordinator, for all her hard work in putting the Strategy together.

 

Laura Blumenthal highlighted the awareness training that was being made available to Council staff and stated that she was impressed that every month a training session, often delivered by specialist charities and groups, was set up covering domestic violence against various groups including, older people, LGBT victims and men.  Councillor Blumenthal thanked Officers for establishing this learning culture about domestic violence and empowering front line staff to support domestic abuse victims.  In addition, trauma training would be offered to staff in the new year which would assist them in spotting the signs of victim behaviours in relation to domestic violence so that victims could be provided with the support they needed. 

 

Councillor Howe stated his surprise that 1 in 3 victims of domestic abuse were men.  He highlighted the figures in the Foreword of the Strategy which stated that in the year ending 31st March 2021 1,479 women and 568 men in the Wokingham area had reported domestic abuse incidents to the police.  Councillor Howe believed that the true number was actually 2,700 women and 1,500 men.  This showed that the number of male victims was increasing and queried if it was known why this was?  Councillor Soane responded that believed that the increase in the number of men coming forward to report domestic abuse may have always been the true figure but because the matter was now more openly discussed and the stigma of being a victim had gone away more men now felt able to report the fact that they had been victims of domestic abuse.

 

RESOLVED: That the Domestic Abuse Strategy 2021-2024 be approved so that it can be released for publication.

81.

Local Government Association Corporate Peer Challenge Update pdf icon PDF 302 KB

Decision:

That:

 

1)              the initial high level findings from the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge that took place in November 2021 be noted;

 

2)              a supplementary estimate of £150,000 to support the delivery of key actions arising from the review be agreed; and

 

3)              it be noted that the finalised LGA CPC report and associated action plan will be reported to the January 2022 meeting of the Executive.

 

Minutes:

The Executive considered a report relating to an update on the initial findings of the recent Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge.

 

The Leader of Council advised that the intention of bringing the report to the Executive at this stage was to appraise Members of the initial findings of the Peer Challenge, which had been a lot of work with the Team meeting over 100 people with 200 hours of discussion.  Headlines from the feedback session highlighted that the Council delivered valuable, well-performing services that produced good outcomes for its residents.   One of the issues highlighted by the Peer Challenge was the Council’s engagement with the public, both by digital and physical means.  The Council wished to work on this area at the earliest opportunity therefore a supplementary estimate of £150,000 was being requested.  Councillor Halsall stated that the LGA’s final report was due early in the new year.

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1)              the initial high level findings from the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge that took place in November 2021 be noted;

 

2)              a supplementary estimate of £150,000 to support the delivery of key actions arising from the review be agreed; and

 

3)              it be noted that the finalised LGA CPC report and associated action plan will be reported to the January 2022 meeting of the Executive.

 

82.

Crown House Lease pdf icon PDF 458 KB

Decision:

That:

 

1)              the acquisition of a 5-year lease of the Crown House building, Toutley Road, Wokingham, at a cost of £275,000 per annum for the use as long-term temporary accommodation, be approved; and

 

2)              It be noted that there is an option to renew the lease in WBC’s favour for a further 5 years, at the passing rent at the end of the initial term.

Minutes:

The Executive considered a report relating to a proposal to acquire a 5-year lease on the Crown House building situated on the Toutley Industrial Estate, Toutley Road, Wokingham.

 

The Executive Member for Finance and Resources went through the report and advised the meeting that during Covid the Council had seen a large increase in homelessness in the Borough.  This coupled with the Council’s commitment to remove all the rough sleepers from the streets and to allocate suitable accommodation had put considerable strain on the Council’s resources and assets. Councillor Kaiser reported that it was planned to meet this need by delivering over 20 units of modular temporary accommodation, similar to those planned in Reading, and this would allow short term housing until permanent homes could be found.  This was however not enough and therefore it was proposed to enter into a 5-year lease for 24 units at Crown House which would enable the Council to reduce expenditure by £163k per annum. which over the 5-year lease was a saving £815k. Currently the Council pays £436,800 per annum to use the same facilities and this would mean that the current nightly rate of £50 a night would be reduced to £32 a night, a 37% reduction.  This would also enable the Council to ensure that there would be sufficient provision for urgent use and thereby reduce the need for expensive hotels.  In addition this would also support the wider work to reduce the level of temporary accommodation.

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1)              the acquisition of a 5-year lease of the Crown House building, Toutley Road, Wokingham, at a cost of £275,000 per annum for the use as long-term temporary accommodation, be approved; and

 

2)              it be noted that there is an option to renew the lease in WBC’s favour for a further 5 years, at the passing rent at the end of the initial term.