To receive any statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members, and Deputy Executive Members.
In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.23 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 20 minutes, and no Member shall speak for more than 5 minutes.
Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Leader of the Council:
Firstly, I just want to say that I fully support what Councillor Chris Smith said. It really has been a delight and a real privilege to see so many young people in the Chamber tonight. It is great to see Maisie and Lillie presenting their petition and having such courage to stand in front of all of us here tonight. By moving them forward in the agenda, I think that was absolutely the right decision and also moving the questions forward was again the right decision because we have to take consideration about when they want to go home. It is not about being selfish. It is actually about being considerate and hearing young peoples’ voices here and we all have a responsibility to do that. I hope in the future that we will have many, many more young people coming here and hopefully they will be our future politicians. It really has been delightful to have them here.
This will be the last meeting for a number of Members and I just wanted to start off by saying Councillor Bob Pitts, Councillor Alison Swaddle and Councillor Paul Swaddle will all be stepping down in these elections in May. Councillor Pitts from the wilds of Remenham, Ruscombe and Wargrave contributed to improving outcomes for children in care and represented the Borough at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and capped off his years on the Council by serving as Mayor. I know he had a great success in raising Mencap, his chosen charity. Councillor Alison Swaddle has been a real stalwart for her area and has always gone the extra mile for her residents on individual issues that have come into her inbox. She has been key in getting the plans for the rebuilding of Bulmershe Leisure Centre just right and has served all too briefly as the Deputy Executive Member for Children’s Services. Lastly, Councillor Paul Swaddle has been our resident expert on the Constitution and possibly only second to none to Andrew Moulton and Anne Hunter in his knowledge of procedure. Who else could be there to point out to Opposition Members that points of order are not an opportunity to make a long speech. Mr Mayor, I am of course aware that you too will be stepping down in May, but seeing as I am told that you are going to remain Mayor for the next meeting I am going to come back then and say something hopefully favourable and very brief then if I may be permitted.
Of course we are on the cusp of election season and next week purdah starts. This is where we get to go out and sell our versions of an alternative vision for this Borough and I have no doubt that as Leader of the Opposition he can speak himself for his Group, but now let me talk about what some the priorities are for the Conservative Council and how we will deliver for our Borough. It is simply not good enough to deny those who do not currently enjoy the dream of owning a property the right to call a house a home. At the same time we do not want to swamped by houses in the wrong places, that are simply unaffordable. We have and continue to put pressure on the Government to change planning rules around land banking and we have seen some positive signs for change from the Secretary of State. Our fight for a fairer system will continue. We are committed to providing public transport and roads to help residents make journeys that they need with the minimum of inconvenience. That is why we are investing £124million to develop major new roads in the Borough as well as investing in alternatives to car journeys. Our area is constantly shifting and changing and we need to adapt to meet the needs of our population as it evolves. We will deliver on regeneration which not only breathes new life into Wokingham town but will also bring in new money that will be invested into our vital services throughout the Borough.
As our Budget was passed last month showed we are investing in this Borough. We will sensibly manage this Council’s finances, driving efficiency and exploring every opportunity for innovation. Following on from our meeting with the Prime Minister and other local MPs last week, the Chief Executive, Councillor McGhee Sumner and I met with Rishi Sunak, the local government minister, to raise the issue of Council finance. Not only were our ideas positively received but the Minister has agreed to work with us on schemes to encourage innovation and recognise productivity that can be piloted in Wokingham Borough. We will be meeting him again in May. This is the real strength of this Conservative administration. A Conservative Council talks and a Conservative Government listens. We do not do the politics of protest and we do not believe in empty rhetoric and heartfelt sentiments without any substance to improve things for the benefit of local people. Our residents want to see action and our records show that we have delivered and continue to deliver for Wokingham Borough.
David Lee, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Strategic Highways and Planning:
I was going to tell you all about the good news about our housing numbers but I have already done that. What I would like to just say is that I was very disappointed this morning to listen to Radio Berkshire, and I would like to correct a totally misleading and I believe politically naive statement made by Councillor Clive Jones on Radio Berkshire and indeed in the Wokingham Paper. He was talking about this Council’s application to the Housing Infrastructure Fund for £300million to provide much needed and vital infrastructure for our Borough in respect of a possible development at Grazeley. Councillor Jones said, these are the exact words, ‘they, (that is your Council) will get £300million in infrastructure. There will be a £450million shortfall. It will land on the doorstep of council tax payers.’ He then went on to say ‘I am sure local people are going to be campaigning against this and myself as the Liberal Parliamentary candidate will be supporting them.’ Councillor Jones knows, or should know that the shortfall he refers to will be met by developers to provide the infrastructure that would be needed should Grazeley be selected as a development site, just as this authority has done on all our current development sites. This authority has forced reluctant developers to accept their responsibilities and provide the necessary infrastructure on their developments by ensuring they make the required contributions, which now equate to some £38-40,000 per unit. They were formerly £5,000 per unit. We got no infrastructure. Any developer on Grazeley will also contribute the infrastructure required. It is called Community Infrastructure Levy. Just to remind you of what has been achieved by forcing developers to accept this Conservative policy; 7 primary schools, 1 new secondary school, a new motorway M4 bridge, 2 railway bridges, numerous country parks, 6 new major roads, the first in 30 years, some 500 affordable houses. If Councillor Jones or any of his colleagues would like a workshop in CIL I will be delighted to arrange it. This is how you look after residents by providing the vital infrastructure and not by telling incorrect facts.
Keith Baker, Executive Member for Highway’s and Transport:
I am very pleased that we did move the questions forward to allow the youngsters to leave early because I would not have wanted them to see the constant bickering and accusations that we get from the Opposition, calling us cowards. That is absolutely the wrong sort of behaviour for those youngsters to see from our councillors. Prue, I will be giving you new information, not repeated as you accused me of.
First of all, in a few days’ time the successful Woodley trial where 10p was added to the 1 hour charge in the Council car parks will be implemented in all the remaining Council run car parks. To counter this extra cost to our residents, the £1 charge for evenings and weekends has been suspended for the length of the trial. This trial will last for 12 months and at the end of that period, the impact on the volume of tickets, the income and the accumulated length of stay will be reviewed. Based on that review the appropriate response will be taken, which could be anything in between making the change permanent to reverting the charges back to what they are today and anything in between. At the same time the ‘free after 3’ offer will be dropped.
I would just like to add a little bit more about the residents parking scheme review. The consultation document, I’ve already mentioned that we will have potential options for the new scheme that will have in it, benefits and disadvantages of that particular option. For example a lot people talk about a visitors permit. That obviously has the benefit of allowing visitors to visit a resident but the key disadvantage is it is yet more cars competing for a finite number of parking bays. The outcome of that consultation will be used to inform the new scheme which will be targeted for the July Executive.
Today I received notification of 4 potential new controlled pedestrian crossings in the Matthewsgreen part of Wokingham. The locations have gone out to consultation to a large number of stakeholders including all the local councillors. Can I urge those local councillors to make comments as this is your chance to influence where they can be installed. I do not want to stand here and hear some of those Councillors saying we did not know about this, we were not consulted, yet again the Conservatives are not engaging with us.
Following a series of comments about the traffic in Wiltshire Road, a temporary Traffic Regulation Order has been issued lasting 6 months to provide additional no waiting stretches of road around the Wiltshire Drive area. Again, local councillors have been notified of this action and I hope to actually talk about more temporary Traffic Regulation Orders to address some of the key issues that we have got around parking and anti social parking. It is a good way to trial it and it does not have to go through the sorts of hoops that the permanent TROs do.
Simon Weeks, Executive Member for Planning and Enforcement:
I really wanted to echo what my colleague David Lee was just talking about, that is the fact that so many of the houses that have been delivered in the last few years and are going to be delivered in the coming decade through our Strategic Development Locations which as we know are actually being delivered with a really rich infrastructure, which is funded by the developers. It is probably for that reason that as a Council Wokingham has been shortlisted for the UK Housing Awards in the Strategic Housing Delivery category. Last Friday I accompanied senior officers to London where we pitched a case to the panel of judges and answered their very significant number of detailed questions and I will update you when we have the results which are going to be on 2nd May which appears to be the day before another significant event.
The other point I just wanted to mention was that I will bring details to a future meeting, but I have just had a review of the annual new homes survey that is conducted by the Council. Members will be aware that this has now been conducted for 6 years and it is a survey which goes to all the new residents in the new properties that are built and asks for their views on the properties, all aspects of that, in order that we can try and see that we are building the right type of properties for the right people. I am very pleased to announce that the latest results for this year show a further improvement in the people who are satisfied or very satisfied with their new homes, getting very close to 90% now with one or two specific sites achieving 100% satisfaction levels. It is very interesting to note that those sites that have a poorer result are sites that were granted on appeal. These are sites which we did not consider to be up to the mark and guess what, the residents are echoing those views. I am also particularly pleased to announce that as part of that new homes survey we of course included all the residents of the new affordable homes which were are building and others are building on our behalf in ever increasing numbers. The actual results on the affordable homes are actually higher than the market homes so that is quite an exceptional result.
Julian McGhee-Sumner, Executive Member for Finance, 21st Century Council, Internal Services and Human Resources:
I wanted to update Members on the 21st Century Council and the programme outcomes that we set. The first one was improving outcomes for our residents. We promised to focus on the customer experience and where possible deal with any customer requests at the first point of contact, thus saving the need for the customer to have to repeat the information back to us. The good news is that we now deal with over 90% of these enquiries either at the first point of contact or where it is something more complicated at WBC then they do not need to repeat the information a second time. The second point is ‘the right people, processes and systems’. We have restructured our management team. We have removed any waste and duplication which allows us to focus on getting the right people into the right contact posts, ensuring that we have the right tools to deliver their role and their systems, and be relevant for the 21st century. I am happy to report that these changes are progressing well. The changes that we have made not only allow our officers to respond faster but also allows the customer to report issues to us in a more convenient way, such as electronically at a time convenient to them, which also allows them to track the issues and see how the matter is progressing. The third point is ‘make the Council more efficient.’ We continue to invest in new technology which allows our officers to be more efficient and spend their time where they are most needed. This ensures that the customer gets the response they need and remains fully appraised at every step of the way. Phase 1 has already delivered and Phase 2 will be delivered in two tranches and will continue until September 2018. Changes within People’s Services has meant that further work needs to be done to ensure that the teams are fully equipped to deliver the services that our residents expect and these will be delivered towards the end of the year. Number four ‘continue to meet our statutory requirements.’ We are committed to delivering better customer services which will be easier and quicker to transact services with the Council, whilst allowing us to better target our resources needed by our customers and residents. We recognise that our residents value the service that they receive from the Council and whilst we remain the lowest funded authority, David said I had to get that in, we are committed to serving our residents and their families. These changes will make Wokingham Borough Council one of the most efficient councils in the country.
Mark Ashwell, Executive Member for Children’s Services:
I would like to preview the two reports that I am taking to the Executive next Thursday. These are some of the two most worthwhile and proactive initiatives that I have been involved with since becoming a councillor nearly 4 years ago. I am now able to present to the Executive for its approval, a policy that will give council tax exemption to our very own recruited foster carers. Those recruited by us, for us. It delivers a positive public message that foster carers are massively valued and that our Council is supporting local residents and meeting local needs. This is also an amazing investment to save as a newly recruited in house foster carer saves us an incredible £450 per week per child. That is £235,000 per annum as opposed to using independent fostering agencies.
I am also presenting a policy that will give council tax exemption to Wokingham Borough care leavers. We are all corporate parents to youngsters in our care and when they reach the age of 18 they are then our care leavers. This cohort has an over representation of being in custody, being in homelessness, in poor mental health and a tendency for substance abuse. This is a fantastic way of helping them take the edge off of this transition and ease them into adult life. I am asking for approval up to the age of 21 years. This, while I go away with the help of my fabulous critical friends and colleagues in Children’s Overview and Scrutiny, to work up a sliding extension from 21 to 25 years with a discretion for full exemption if necessary, and this is to encourage the responsible transition into adulthood that we are all seeking as corporate parents one and all.
I have two other policies that I would like to very briefly highlight please. That is the Primary School Places Strategy and this is to look at the need for primary school places against short, medium and long term planning horizons. I will set up an informal cross party project group to consider the short term, being Woodley right now, and the medium term being our Strategic Development Locations. Woodley has seen an increase in demand and has an active housing market and the next wave of potential primary schools in our SDLs is upon us. These schools could open as early as 2020. The project groups would consist of interested Members, i.e. Woodley, and key stakeholders e.g. schools, Parish and Town Councils, and I am looking to take this to Executive later this year. Lastly, our Secondary Schools Places Strategy, Councillor Pittock. In recognition of the pressure of the tension that is potentially being created in secondary schools around the Borough with the success of Bohunt School, this will follow the lead of the more pressing Primary School Strategy, but it will involve a similar informal cross party project group consisting of interested Members and stakeholders. This, Your Worship, I am also looking to take to Executive this year so as you hear we are enjoying being incredibly busy in Children’s Services.
Richard Dolinski, Executive Member for Adults Services:
As many of you know Wokingham Adult Social Care services and the Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust integrated their front door services in June 2016, and since this time professionals and Wokingham residents have benefited from much more of an efficient and effective system. Callers are able to make enquiries for health and social care services to a single number and have access to a range of professional advice, information and support. This includes nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers. I am pleased to report that the service continues to show an extremely high level of customer service and customer satisfaction levels, and with an increasing success in first time fix for adult social care contacts. I think this is really exciting. As we move forwards towards an Integrated Care System across the NHS, our model is being seen as an example of best practice.
Finally, on social housing. Only this week we produced an updated version of the Council Tenancy Agreement for our tenants. We have consulted our tenants and have taken into account changes to legislation and have incorporated best practice. This best practice is going to deliver a better service for our residents.
Just quickly, I just want to say a big thank you to the officers in Adult Services and Health. They have been fantastic in supporting me as a new Lead Member, so thank you to them.