Venue: Council Chamber - Civic Offices, Shute End, Wokingham RG40 1BN. View directions
Contact: Callum Wernham Democratic & Electoral Services Specialist
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were submitted from Sam Akhtar and Phil Cunnington.
Norman Jorgensen attended the meeting as a substitute.
To confirm the Minutes of the meeting held on 21 June 2021 and the Minutes of the extraordinary meeting held on 21 July 2021
The Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 21 June, and the Minutes of the extraordinary meeting of the Committee held on 21 July 2021 were confirmed as a correct record, subject to the following minor amendments and comments, and signed by the Chairman.
21 June 2021:
The actions relating to the Community Safety Partnership item be chased, and subsequently circulated to the Committee.
An answer related to how Wokingham Borough Council protects itself from cyber ware and ransom attacks be provided to Committee Members.
21 July 2021:
Minute item 21, agenda page 17:
“WBC had appreciated the partnership working over the years,
however it was
Minute Item 21, agenda page 18:
“The Interim Director (Place & growth) stated that there
Correction to mark Councillor Alison Swaddle as present at the meeting.
Declaration of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest.
A personal declaration of interest was submitted from Councillor Alison Swaddle in relation to agenda item 28, on the grounds that she was a paid election agent for the recent local elections.
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 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
In accordance with the agreed procedure the Chairman invited members of the public to submit questions to the appropriate Members.
Keith Malvern asked the Chairman of the Community and Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee the following question:
It has been interesting to read the document on library enhancement and relocations as it states clearly the libraries added value.
The recent consultation about Wokingham Library (ended 29th August) states that "the new library will have everything that the current library in Denmark Street has" but doesn't specifically mention how those libraries added things will be delivered. As an example how to counteract social isolation and poor mental health by coffee mornings etc, without a cafe and comfortable seating.
Recognising that the new library is due to open next August will this list of library added value be looked at to see how they can be provided?
The relocation of Wokingham Library, as with the relocation of Twyford Library and the new micro library within the new Shinfield Community Centre, have the central objective of improving services for our residents. These improvements are both within the core statutory elements of the library service, and the additional value provided through the wide range of events and activities provided by the library service.
The relocation of Wokingham library does not restrict or diminish the ability of the library service to provide added value to our residents. The new library has more usable space that is also more flexible and adaptable so that it can respond more easily to the changing demands of a modern library service. This is the central reason behind the recent engagement survey for Wokingham Library so that residents and local community groups have a direct opportunity to communicate their ambitions for using the library.
In response to the specific question about a café, the new Carnival Hub includes space for a café for all visitors to use that is larger than the one currently available within Wokingham Library.
I do find it a bit disappointing because clearly the detail of the new library has not really been defined in any clarity. And clearly, what one would want to feel comfortable about is that everything that the existing library does is going to continue to be. I hear mention of efficiency, and we have this list on your agenda and more things as well, that is page 55 and 56. What I would want is to be confident, and I am not, that these things are actually going to be provided in the way that they currently are provided. I agree that yes there might be a café, but is it going to be a café that will suit casual visitors to satisfy the point that I raised I raised earlier on, let alone all of the other things. I do think that it needs to be looked at again.
I think that what you are referring to, and the detail of the offer of the existing offer, is actually what we are going to be talking about later tonight. We are looking at what will happen in the future with our library service, because a library and the library service ... view the full minutes text for item 26.1
Member Question Time
To answer any member questions.
There were no Member questions.
To consider an update on the Local Elections
The Committee considered a report, set out in agenda pages 23 to 30, which gave an update on the running of local elections within the Borough.
The report outlined the delivery of the combined elections held in May 2021 within the context of a complex backdrop of significant public health restrictions which presented complex new challenges for all those involved in the electoral process. The report outlined a number of actions derived from the analysis of learning from the running of the May 2021 elections. These actions included the undertaking of an interim polling places review of selected polling places to be reported to Council in January 2022, and planning to hold the verification and count for the May 2022 elections during the daytime on Friday 6th May 2022.
Andrew Moulton (Assistant Director – Governance) attended the meeting to answer Member questions.
During the ensuing discussions, Members raised the following points and queries:
· The Committee were unanimous in their thanks for the elections team and wider staff network for the successful running of the May 2021 elections under difficult conditions.
· Whilst being effective for the purposes of delivering a Covid-secure polling day, the reduction of polling places available to the residents of Norreys Ward to a single polling place would not be ideal going forwards. Was this planned to revert to multiple polling places for future elections? Officer response – This change was planned as a one-off change for those set of elections, and the change was planned to revert back to multiple polling places all being well.
· A number of Members commented that the daytime verification and count worked well, and they hoped that this could continue going forwards.
· How likely was it that for the elections due to be held in May 2022 that none of the polling places due to be used would be a school? Officer response – There were only four schools within the Borough which were used as polling stations, and a considerable amount of work had been done over previous years to reduce the Borough’s reliance on schools as polling places. The view was to speak with Ward Members and take a report to Council in early 2022. It had always been the intention to not disrupt the education of school children as a consequence of running elections wherever possible.
· Had marquees within the school grounds or playing fields been considered as an option instead of using the school building itself? Officer response – This had been an option considered for the May 2021 elections, however for a variety of reasons this did not work out on this occasion.
· It was commented that some school buildings were the most obvious public building within a Ward and therefore merited consideration for use as a polling place.
· There had been a large increase in the numbers of people choosing to vote by post for the elections held in May 2021, which was good to see. Some residents had become confused regarding the instructions ... view the full minutes text for item 28.
To consider an update on broadband provision within the Borough
The Committee considered a report, set out in agenda pages 31 to 44, which gave an update on broadband provision within the Borough.
The report outlined the current position with regard to the existing Superfast Berkshire Broadband project, which would give broadband coverage with speeds of over 24Mbps to 98.64% of households in the Borough. The report added that a strategy was in place to increase full-fibre coverage in Berkshire to 95% by the end of 2025 from the current baseline of 13.86%. Achievement of this target would require actions to try and ensure that both commercial and subsidised provision was expedited and that investment in Berkshire’s digital infrastructure did not lag behind other parts of the country.
Stuart Munro (Executive Member for Business and Economic Development), Grant Thornton (Category Manager Economic Prosperity & Place (Interim)), Rhian Hayes (Interim Assistant Director Housing and Place), and Lynne Wilson (Project and Program Manager for Digital Projects across Berkshire) attended the meeting to answer Member queries.
During the ensuing discussions, Members raised the following points and queries:
· How was Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) actively advertising the Gigabit voucher scheme to our rural communities and businesses? Officer response – Some residents and Town and Parish Councils had been directly written to in the past. There was a plan to promote the scheme more widely, and there was an aspiration to work with Connecting Communities Berkshire to see how they might outreach and promote this directly with the Borough’s more rural communities.
· Was there a plan to provide the Gorse Ride regeneration homes with ultrafast broadband provision, as one of the aspirations of the overall plan was to provide social housing with ultrafast broadband. Officer response – There was an ongoing conversation taking place with the Gorse Ride steering group and local residents, as this was seen as a great opportunity to provide top class broadband to a redeveloped estate. Conversations were ongoing with the appropriate contacts about making this a trial project.
· How much of the rollout may require public subsidy, how much might this cost, and what provisions were being made? Officer response – The primary source of finance was the Gigabit initiative from central Government. It was a Government objective, and it was down to the Government to issue the contracts which should deal with the vast majority of those people and businesses not connected commercially. Based on Government figures, 85% of properties are expected to have full fibre provision by 2025, with the further 15% to be looked at later. Berkshire’s objective is set slightly higher, at 95% coverage by 2025.
· Members requested that information be provided when available relating to the level of grants expected and how much of a potential funding gap might need to be filled relating to full fibre rollout.
· Recent full fibre rollout in the Winnersh area had seen an 18 month delay between laying the infrastructure and users being able to take-up the service. What would change in the future to prevent delays in take-up in ... view the full minutes text for item 29.
To consider an update regarding the Library Service within the Borough
The Committee considered a report, set out in agenda pages 45 to 62, which gave an update on the Library Service within the Borough.
The report outlined a number of topics including the statutory requirements for library provision, an overview of the nine libraries which Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) operated across the Borough, and library enhancements and library relocations.
Bill Soane (Executive Member for Neighbourhood and Communities) and Mark Redfearn (Head of Localities Service) attended the meeting to answer Member queries.
During the ensuing discussions, Members raised the following points and queries:
· It was agreed that the slides relating to the new library offer be circulated to the Committee.
· Would the Executive Member be happy to set up a cross party working group to look at the future library offer, including making use of Members on the Arts and Culture working group? Executive Member response – This was a good idea which would be looked into to see if it could be accommodated. An update would be provided to Members regarding this.
· Were there any plans to have additional opening hours on Sundays, and could any future consultation take place during school term time? Officer response – When the library offer was consulted on five years ago the main goal was to be as inclusive as possible, and the more input from library users including students the better. Officers were always looking at when library users most wanted the service to be open, which had included less evening offerings and additional Saturday offerings. It would cost an additional approximate £35k per year to facilitate Sunday openings.
· Was the micro library in Shinfield of sufficient functionality for the population that it served? Officer response – This was part of the amenities within the wider SDL, with space for approximately 1500 books, a self-serving kiosk and intelligent shelving. The Parish Council were involved in coming up with ideas as to how best use the space for sessions, such as story time sessions.
· How well used were the smaller libraries in the Borough? Officer response – Figures relating to usage statistics for the smaller libraries could be circulated to the Committee. The Earley library was less well used than Woodley or Wokingham, but still better used than others.
· Did people tend to congregate in the larger facilities, or were they dispersed amongst the smaller facilities as well? Officer response – The smaller libraries remain well used whilst the larger sites of Woodley, Wokingham and to a lesser extend Lower Earley attracted a significant number of users. The libraries themselves were spaces within communities which were used as community hubs for activities and groups. It was important to have provision outside of the main hubs of Wokingham, Woodley and Earley.
· It was really important to incorporate the Arts Strategy into our library provision. What was planned in this regard? Officer response – Officers wanted libraries to be gateways to other things including culture and learning opportunities. Artwork from local artists was often displayed, ... view the full minutes text for item 30.
To consider the provisional list of items scheduled for upcoming meetings of the Committee
The Committee considered their work programme, set out in agenda pages 63 to 68.
The Committee were advised that an extraordinary meeting had been scheduled for 3 November 2021 in order to accommodate a thorough overview of the draft 2022-2025 Medium Term Financial Plan.
During the ensuing discussion, Members raised the following points:
· Relating to the item regarding overgrown pavements, Members wished to ensure that there was a follow-up process to pavements which had been attended to but required further works on a continual basis. In addition, Members wanted assurances that the public could report issues properly, and that footways were being cleared from the verge up to the boundary edge. Members added that they would like to know how pavements were categorised for clearance, to ensure a proactive strategy was in place. Members also wished to know whether highways inspectors were picking these issues up, and how footways were dealt with in autumn and winter when there was significant leaf fall.
· It was recommended that an additional update relating to the Council’s exit from the Public Protection Partnership be scheduled for the Committee’s January meeting;
· An update be sought regarding provision of a refuge for domestic abuse victims, with a briefing note to be circulated to Members.
1) Callum Wernham be thanked for attending the meeting;
2) The extraordinary meeting scheduled for 3 November 2021 be agreed;
3) The point relating to the item regarding overgrown pavements be noted and passed on to officers;
4) An additional update relating to the Council’s exit from the Public Protection Partnership be scheduled for the Committee’s January 2022 meeting;
5) An update be sought regarding provision of a refuge for domestic abuse victims, with a briefing note to be circulated to Members.