Agenda item

Statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members and Deputy Executive Members

To receive any statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members and Deputy Executive Members.


In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.24 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 20 minutes, and no Member shall speak for more than 5 minutes


Keith Baker, Leader of the Council

First I would like to offer my congratulations to Councillor Prue Bray, Leader of the Opposition, for being selected as the Parliamentary Candidate for Rochester and Strood for the Liberal Democrat Party.  As Leader of the Opposition she has a vital role to play in this Council in questioning the actions of the administration.  We are often reminded of this fact by Prue during debates here in this Chamber, many times. I actually have every faith in Councillor Bray being able to fight a vigorous campaign in her new home whilst continuing to be an effective Leader of the Opposition.  I am sure she will be comforted in knowing that we will not be following in the footsteps of her colleague Clive Jones, the Parliamentary candidate for Wokingham, in putting out press releases saying she is not capable of doing both roles.


My second point is a more serious point.  As we are all aware, the issue of child sexual exploitation has been exposed in nearby Oxfordshire.  When this happened it triggered all Councillors to pose the simple question, could it happen here?  After all we are all corporate parents so we all have a responsibility.  Following both main political parties raising their concerns to me, the Director of Children’s Services recommended commissioning a review focusing on how well WBC are responding to the emerging concerns about children’s sexual exploitation, and prevention etc.  This will extract learning from Rotherham and Oxfordshire as well as other cases. As Leader of the Council I am totally in agreement with this approach.  This was communicated to the Opposition on 9 March and included a request for a nomination from them for a Councillor to work with the Lead Member in defining the terms of reference.  Now children’s sexual exploitation or CSE is such a serious issue that it has absolutely no place in party politics.  So I was surprised that after this communication, which agreed to the Opposition’s request, there was a flurry of activity by them over the following days; a website article, personal calls to the press and now we see a question to the Executive meeting on 26 March, all repeating this same request for this review.  All this many days after they had the answer.  Now I know that Councillor Bray will say that this is all legitimate because it provided transparency but transparency should not be selective.  Despite knowing the answer several days before their public activities, not once, not once did they mention it had been agreed and that they were going to be involved in setting the terms of reference.  I firmly believe the reasons simply did not stack up. 


Philip Mirfin, Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities

The last month has been an incredibly important month to town centre regeneration.  We successfully secured planning consent for the new shops and the public square at Peach Place and have been talking to our residents about our other proposals for Wokingham town centre, with positive results.  We have just finished consulting on our proposals for the new Carnival Leisure Hub where we will be extending the existing sports centre with new indoor halls, a new bowling alley and a multi-storey car park.  We are currently consulting on our proposals for Elms Field where we remain committed to giving residents a greater variety of shops in the town, leisure facilities such as a new boutique cinema and a substantial new town park.  Talking to our residents remains at the heart of what we do and we will be continuing to work with them as we move forward.  With opportunities to discuss, detailed design elements such as the approach to shop fronts, signage and landscaping as well as the design of the town park and play area.  Our joint work with the Town Council on the refurbishment of the town market square is coming on at a pace and announcements of these proposals are expected within the next few weeks.


Now moving onto communities.  Community Development and Tennant Services continue to develop their partnership work by delivering communities Summer Fun Days.  Dates are currently being finalised across the five areas.  The Berkshire Young and Centre Forward event is taking place on Saturday 11 April at the Rainbow Centre.  The main aim of the event is to engage with local young people, providing a range of age appropriate activities.  It will also provide an opportunity to consult with young people, in order to find out their needs and wishes.  At Shinfield an Easter holiday trip to Paradise Wildlife Park is taking place on 16 April.  This is facilitated by the Community Development Service supported by cross service working with Tenants, Public Health and Children’s Services.  70 parents, carers and children are already signed to attend.  The Community House Garden Project supported by Brunel University is set to commence in late spring and this project will provide a garden to be used as the community development work. At Norreys tag rugby has started with 10 young participants already signed up for the second session.  Lifelong Learning will also provide cooking with11 learners and the popular Make and Take, arts and crafts sessions are now scheduled during the Easter holidays.  Gorse Ride are offering the Sandmartins Golf Extreme Project providing local youngsters with the opportunity to access golf facilities.  This is now confirmed and scheduled for the end of April, May and June.  Their forum there meets again in March and is discussing waste and recycling.  In Woodley the partnership with Emmanuel Church is developing activities for young children and includes 5-a-side football at Goals.  An inter-generational event at Alexandra Place in partnership with Southlake Primary Schools junior wardens is also happening on 24 March, this to include fun and physical games, something for all.  Now Madam Mayor, I would like to pass to my deputy Mark Ashwell to cover other elements.


Mark Ashwell, Deputy Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities

As Deputy Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities it is my pleasure to give a brief highlight of my two standalone responsibilities; asset management and the voluntary and community sector.


In asset management we have embarked on an asset review programme.  This effectively is a massive audit of £714 million worth of assets Borough wide.  This has enabled a very positive engagement with our towns and parishes.  I mean it has not been without its challenges but our mission is to engender the collaboration of local government and community for the benefit of all.  I can report that this assets review programme is nicely underway in Woodley, very nearly complete there in fact, Earley just begun and Twyford to follow and a programme to include all of our towns and parishes.  The aim is to produce proactive recommendations for all of our Borough assets.  We have also experienced a really positive by-product of regular interaction with our Environment and Children’s Services colleagues where a lot of our assets are actually managed.  We are picking up service issues much earlier, enabling the planning of work on their behalf and the delivery of properly considered solutions.


Onto the voluntary and community sector.  This has been a very welcome new responsibility to our portfolio and as such we are looking to create better and stronger links between the voluntary and community sector and the asset management element of our portfolio.  We have instigated a review of the social return on investment gained from organisations we give grants to.  This should make sure our money hits the right spots.  This in turn will help with our mission to match the Borough’s assets to the community we all serve.  We are making progress in our ambition to have a very different type of conversation with the voluntary and community sector.  Our aim is that we want the voluntary and community sector to become active partners in both the design and the delivery of services and support of our Wokingham communities.  An example of this in January and February is we ran three Co-Production Network events bringing together the voluntary and community sector with residents and service users.  Each session had a single theme focusing in turn on mental health, autism and then families.  These three sessions have identified positive actions that will be taken forward to the Health and Wellbeing Board via our Place and Community Partnership.  So Madam Mayor, across these two disciplines we are truly achieving in our mission to enable via collaboration. 


Charlotte Haitham Taylor, DeputyExecutive Member for Children’s Services

Firstly I would also like to add my personal congratulations to Councillor Bray on her recent selection as a Parliamentary candidate.


On 2 March two Young Commissioners started on our new apprenticeship programme, improving opportunities for young people and showing that the Borough Council is a leader for other organisations and companies.  Our Young Commissioners will be the champion of young people and add real value in testing the effectiveness of our services from a young people’s point of view.  Yesterday Joel and Hope came to the Wokingham Safeguarding Board and presented one of their first projects.  This was the Board’s annual safeguarding report but written for children and young people, demonstrating that papers can be produced in digestible formats.  Their report was just five pages long, from the original report which was 33.  I think we can learn a great deal from them. 


The Local Safeguarding Board, under the leadership of the new Chair has enacted new challenge sessions in regard to the Board’s priority areas of work, with all agencies accounting for the effectiveness of their work.  The first session held this month focused on Early Help and received accounts as to the effectiveness of services from Thames Valley Police, Children’s Social Care and the Healthcare Trust.  In line with the Safeguarding Board’s programme of work the Board received a report on the effectiveness and impact of the Multi-Agency Reducing Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy, which seeks to train the workforce, identify young people at risk and protect them from harm.  The report was presented by Thames Valley Police and Children’s Social Care leaders.  One of the activities achieved is the training of 39 staff who will then themselves train others across the children’s network.  The training was delivered by the University of Kent.  The Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy Group have commissioned a programme of awareness raising which has included visiting a large number of primary schools; speaking to 4,270 pupils about exploitation.  They have also made 71 visits to secondary schools speaking to 5,915 students.  There is evidence of impact in terms of effective identification of young people who are at risk and effective Police and Social Care joint work to address risk.


Lastly, I wanted to end on a lighter note.  Bridges, our short care breaks service in the Borough for children and young people with disabilities between the ages of 8 and 18 was subject to an unannounced inspection at Christmas time.  Unannounced inspections always come at a really good time.  It was judged to be outstanding.  Inspectors said that the service is not only outstanding overall but the same also applies to the quality of care given to the children and young people on respite visits, safeguarding standards, leadership management of the scheme and general outcomes for youngsters involved.


John Kaiser, Executive Member for Planning and Highways

I have two items I would like to talk about.  One is the Social Housing Decency Programme.  As you know about 2 years ago we bought all our council houses that we thought we owned back from the Government for about £90million.  We have now completed 820 new bathrooms and kitchens so far this year and we are 191 over target.  It is estimated that we will complete another 100 in this financial year, which will mean we will meet the full target for the Government grant.  The important thing, the cost of improving the quality of our housing stock, that we own, this year alone will be £3.3million, with a Government grant covering 90% of that.  WBC contribution only being 10%; yet another example of the Council ensuring excellent value for money, improving our housing stock, meaning quality housing for residents and do you know what, next year we are going to do even more. 


The other item I would just like to touch on is obviously something that touches us all which is the roads.  I mean the Council is set to continue investing with £95.8million in the Capital Programme this year to support its priorities including schools, roads, housing and despite financial pressure we can continue to focus on maintaining good quality services.  This includes in this Investment Plan for 2015-2020 five new roads; Arborfield relief road, North Wokingham distributor road, South Wokingham distributor road, Shinfield eastern relief road and coming along Winnersh relief road.  Wokingham Borough has among the highest ratio of car ownership in the country.  Would you believe it only 9% of our residents do not have a car in their family.  Not only that but the Borough is also one of the highest nationally for having more than one car.  Wokingham Borough’s road network has this unique problem in serving this high level of car ownership, which means it is trickier to maintain and upgrade without causing problems and congestion.  The A329 is a major route through the Borough and each day it sees 40,000 traffic movements both ways.  Winnersh Crossroads sees 24,000 traffic movements and Showcase Cinema, over 50,000.  Investment in the Borough’s highways and infrastructure and maintenance between 2015 and 2018 will, in addition to the major roads I have mentioned,  include a major programme to replace all the Borough’s worn out street lights; for you Tom.  Additional footbridges over the Waterloo railway line and £8million replacement for the railway bridge on the A321 Finchampstead Road in addition to the extension of Nine Mile Ride.  There will also be additions which will be upgrades of junctions and new junctions where they are required.  There is also planned investment in future and current cycle networks as part of the development of Greenways, a network of quiet community and leisure routes for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.  We will be investing heavily on measures to keep traffic moving, to negate as much as possible the effect of these works but they are needed.  Whether you are a road user, whether you are a cyclist or you drive or even ride a horse, we need these roads. 


Pauline Jorgensen, Executive Member for Resident Services

I will try and be brief.  I am pleased to confirm that we are progressing plans to improve Woodley Library to meet the increased demand generated by the housing development in the area.  These plans include improvements to the garden area so it can be used for activities and events, improvements to the entrance to create more space and the creation of a new meeting room at the rear of the library.  These plans are consistent with the Borough library offer and will be funded through developer contributions and rather bring a lie to the comment last time that nothing ever gets spent in Woodley. 


The drive for digital engagement as an option for our residents continues in Wokingham Borough.  The new waste section is now live on the website and has excellent feedback from users.  The new improved online process for garden waste renewals has proved very popular with 3,203 payments so far using the new online form, compared to 1,472 at our payment kiosks or by cheque.  We are now getting nine out of ten payments through electronic means and that means that residents can pay when it is convenient to them rather than when it is convenient to us.  The new website sections for Countryside, Parks and Transport are being developed and will go live in March with Planning to follow in April. 


Finally to mention something which does not get mentioned very often, the Joint Trading Standards Service which we run jointly with West Berkshire is a key service protecting our residents; although quite low profile.  It especially protects the vulnerable and elderly and has been very busy.  Cases are as wide ranging as illegal disposal of food products, animal welfare, endangering of sheep and various cases protecting the public from rouge traders and counterfeit products.  It is a very underpublicised service but it does a really good job and it is doing a great job for residents at the moment.


Angus Ross, Executive Member for Environment

I will cover the important bits, actually they are all important.  It has been a very active and productive year and I would just want to put on record my thanks to the Officers for their efforts on many initiatives that we have been working with.  Perhaps I could just start on a very current one, Bulmershe leisure centre, which was a joint investment of over £400,000 with our leisure provider One Life to: refurbish swimming changing rooms and reception redecorating; bringing upstairs into use shortly as our second ground breaking long term condition gym; with consultation rooms adjoining; and opening a brand new gym already with 450 members.  I want to thank all those involved including Woodley Town Council for helping the transfer arrangements and all those who attended the Open Evening last night when it was clear how well this Council and 1Life had worked together to transform this facility for the benefit of residents of Woodley and Whitegates.  We are continuing provision across our three pools for free swimming for our youth in holiday time to promote exercise and learning to swim.


We have worked hard post the floods last year to produce the local Flood Risk Management Strategy and identify how to reduce chances of flooding from the River Loddon on the A327; works will be incorporated with the start of the Shinfield East relief road. 


We signed up with the LGA’s Climate Local to promote better efficiency in using energy and we are working to improve our country parks and finding good ways to make them financially self-sufficient whilst providing even more opportunities for residents, helped by success at Dinton of the new children’s play area.  Those parts that are being reworked are due to reopen very soon.  Also the increased use of the Dinton Activity Centre and at California through reopening a very good café there.  I could speak much more but I suspect my two minutes are up.