Venue: Virtual Meeting. View directions
Contact: Callum Wernham Democratic & Electoral Services Specialist
To receive any apologies for absence.
An apology for absence was submitted from Oliver Whittle.
Declaration of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest.
A declaration of interest was submitted from Paul Fishwick. Paul stated that he had a prejudicial interest in agenda item 18, on the grounds that he was a Director of a business within the Borough and had received a business grant as part of the business relief response relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. Paul stated that he would leave the meeting for the duration of this item, and take no part in the discussion or vote for this item.
A declaration of interest was submitted from Adbul Loyes. Abdul stated that he had a personal interest in agenda item 17, on the grounds that he was a member of the BME forum. Abdul stated that he would keep an open mind regarding this item, and was open provide an insight into the working of the forum for the benefit of the Committee.
Public Question Time
To answer any public questions related to items on this agenda.
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 work of this committee.
Subject to meeting certain timescales, questions can relate to general issues concerned with the work of the Committee or an item which is 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
There were no public questions.
Member Question Time
To answer any member questions related to items on this agenda.
There were no Member questions.
To receive an update from the Wokingham BME forum
The Committee received and received a report, set out in agenda pages 9 to 18 and supplementary pages 3 to 6, which gave an update on the work carried out by the BME forum.
Mark Redfearn, Keeley Clements, Parry Batth (Vice Chairman of the BME forum), and Ramnik Saund (Chair of the BME forum) attended the meeting to answer Member queries.
The report set out the work and achievements of the forum since its inception including celebrating black history month, promoting health and wellbeing within the BME community, liaison with the Local Police Area Commander to answer questions and queries from the BME community on an annual basis, and monitoring of performance of BME pupils within Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) schools.
The direction of the forum was driven by the forum Members, and the forum acted as a critical friend to the Council. The forum met 4 times annually, and celebrated all BME cultures within the Borough. The forum provided WBC with an insight into the diversity of its residents within the Borough, including a number of smaller communities throughout the Borough. There was a danger of grouping a variety of individual groups together, and the forum aimed to promote how each individual community could contribute to the wider Borough community and celebrate the individual aspects of each specific community. The Council’s new Arts & Culture strategy worked to enable both WBC and the BME forum to celebrate black history month in a greater capacity than before.
During the ensuing discussion Members raised the following points and queries:
· The forum had been ‘hiding’ it’s really good work that had been carried out throughout the years, through no fault of its own. Over the years the winter edition of the Borough News had not featured an article on black history month, with only three covers out of thirty featuring a person within the wider BME community. What would be done in future to further promote the good work of the BME forum, including a feature on black history month within the Borough News, and having more representative features on the front covers of the Borough News. Response given – The forum had a desire to raise its profile, and hoped to work more closely with WBC’s Communication, Engagement, and Marketing (CEM) team in the future. The forum wanted a healthy representation of Members, and hoped that increased engagement with WBC could inspire further people to join the forum and contribute. The Leader of WBC and WBC’s Chief Executive Officer had attended the most recent BME forum meeting, which was an unprecedented step and gave hope of a closer working relationship between the forum and the Council, thereby raising the forum’s profile. It was proposed that an article be included within every Borough News edition, promoting a different culture or community within the Borough, in addition to an annual feature on black history month.
· Could the forum make use of WBC libraries to further publicise art and black history month? Response given – ... view the full minutes text for item 17.
To consider WBC’s initial and ongoing business, economic and operational housing response to the Covid-19 pandemic
The Committee received and reviewed a report, set out in agenda pages 9 to 18, which gave an update on the Council’s Business, Economic, and Operational Housing Response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nigel Bailey attended the meeting to answer any Member queries.
The report outlined that Wokingham Borough Council’s business and economic (WBC’s) response had so far been very reactive, as when advice from the Government had been released suitable responses needed to be quickly and effectively implemented. WBC was part of the Berkshire recovery group, who were developing a strategic recovery plan across the Berkshire area. This would allow for a more pro-active approach to be carried out across the Berkshire area. WBC had engaged in a range of dialogue streams with its partners, which would be maintained and expanded going forwards. In addition, a business taskforce had been set up to work alongside businesses within the Borough.
Regarding operational housing, the report outlined that 13 additional properties had been taken over during the pandemic, and a number of hotels had been used as emergency accommodation. 28 rough sleepers, or those at risk of becoming rough sleepers, had been housed within 48 hours of WBC becoming aware of their situation. 4 individuals had lost contact with WBC, but there was no indication of harm and it was assumed that these individuals had moved on from the Borough. 2 rough sleepers had not taken up WBC’s offer of accommodation and WBC officers were in contact with these individuals to try and meet their needs and maintain a dialogue. The ‘Housing first’ strategy was starting imminently, which would help with WBC’s long term policy on addressing rough sleeping within the Borough.
During the ensuing discussion Members raised the following points and queries:
· What work was being done to financially support the three Town Council’s within the Wokingham Borough? Response given – The officer in attendance had not been involved in this aspect of the pandemic response, and would ask that the relevant officers look into this issue. The wider action plan would incorporate the effects felt by Town and Parish Councils, and this would be shared with Members.
· What response had been received thus far to the ‘Business Health Check’ offer? Response given – 159 responses had been received, to which 80 had received a direct follow up from WBC officers. The low response rate could be due to a number of reasons, including a fatigue of survey completion considering how many surveys were in circulation for businesses to complete. WBC had seen a similar response rate to neighbouring authorities, and the main group of businesses responding were within the retail and hospitality sector.
· Why was Wokingham predicted to have a higher unemployment rate than other neighbouring authorities? Response given – It was predicted that there would be higher levels of unemployment across the Berkshire area due to several major business redundancy programmes. WBC was working alongside the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to ascertain why unemployment was predicted to be higher ... view the full minutes text for item 18.
To consider the items of work to be discussed at the upcoming two Committee meetings, and to confirm a date for the proposed Extraordinary September meeting
The Committee reviewed the draft programme for their net to meetings, set out in agenda pages 19 to 20.
The Committee were updated that the following meetings would be required to focus on the Medium Term Financial Plan for 2021-24:
*Private Committee Member briefing on 12 Oct 2020 to focus discussions and develop preliminary KLOE
**Report of the CoSC to budget Council on 18 Feb 2021
The Committee were advised that an item related to the implementation regarding virtual meetings was on the agenda for 2 September. It was agreed that the discussion was not to drift into specific constitutional points, but to instead focus on the technology behind they meetings, and consider which meeting might be suitable to be hybridised in the future. It was suggested that the Chairman of the Constitution Review Working Group be invited to the meeting.
The Committee were advised that a Member briefing had been scheduled for 20 August 2020 regarding the Council’s Community response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The briefing would allow Members to develop initial key lines of enquiry. A full public item relating to this and other aspects of the Covid-19 response was scheduled for 22 September.
It was suggested that the item on the community response to the pandemic look at all areas in the Borough and not just focus on a centric viewpoint, for example liaising with areas such as Woodley, Hurst, Whitegates, and Earley amongst others.
1) The timetable of meetings to assess the 20201-24 MTFP be agreed;
2) The item related to virtual meetings be scheduled for 2 September, and not focus on specific constitutional issues. The Chairman of the Constitutional Review Working Group also be invited to this meeting;
3) A Member briefing be held on 20 August 2020 to develop some initial Key Lines of Enquiry regarding Wokingham’s community response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ahead of a public item on this and other areas of the pandemic response on 22 September;
4) The item on the community response to the pandemic look at all areas in the Borough, and not just focus on a centric viewpoint, for example liaising with areas such as Woodley, Hurst, Whitegates, and Earley amongst others.