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 4.2.23 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


May I start Mr Mayor by congratulating you on the launch of your Mayor’s Awards this evening and, in particular, the first two recipients. Very worthy indeed. I would also like to thank the petitioners this evening. They really are far reaching issues that they have brought to us this evening and, perhaps, they need taking up with central Government too.


Before I go into the main topic of my speech tonight, I have great pleasure in announcing that I have appointed Pauline Jorgensen as my Deputy Leader of the Council. Councillor Jorgensen has a wealth of experience as an Executive Member and as one of the Directors of the Holding Company too. I am pleased to have her sitting by my side, and I am quite certain that she will keep me on the straight and narrow! Pauline has great experience at the Council but, also, outside in IT, HR and change management in a huge company which some of you may know. I shouldn’t really be advertising, but it’s BA.


It would be very remiss not to mention Josie Wragg this evening. It is Josie’s last full Council meeting here. Josie is not going far, as we have heard, Slough, so I’m sure that we will be crossing paths in other meetings. I just wanted to say a huge thank you for everything you have done in your time here. You have been a truly dedicated Officer and you will be sorely missed. Huge good luck to you. I hope that you enjoy your new role. You really deserve it. Chief Executive is a just reward for all the hard work you have put in here. So congratulations.


At the last Council meeting, I spoke about our work on producing a new Council Plan. Over the course of this month, we have held engagement sessions with the public, seeking their views on our vision and priorities. So far, we’ve held three separate sessions at Dinton Pastures, Woodley and Twyford. Tomorrow, we will be out in Wokingham, and on Saturday we will be in Lower Earley. Details of the consultation are available on our website. I would urge Members to take flyers and copies of the Council Plan engagement document and speak to residents on the doorstep. I would like to say a big thank you to our Officers who have given up so much of their time going out to these pop-up days. They have given up much of their time at weekends to talk to residents and I would encourage anyone who has the time, especially on Saturday, to join the Officers.


There has been a lot of speculation in the press in recent weeks about my future as the Leader of this Council. So I thought that it would be a good time to stand here and talk about the decisions, what it is like being a leader, how difficult it is sometimes and to see what it’s like to be on the side of what is right and fair even when those who are bereft of courage will buckle at the first sign of difficulty. Presiding in judgement over those who choose to stand up and be counted, when you stick your neck out sometimes requires some bravery, and it has been quite difficult over the past few weeks. We would not deserve to be leaders if I, or my Executive, or my Conservative Group were too afraid to do the right things, even when they are unpopular things to do.


Under my leadership, we have had the courage to challenge the Government over the unsustainable housing numbers and we continue to do this. We have faced down Whitehall over negative Revenue Support Grant, the penalty our residents are facing for voting for sound financial management. We have kept up the pressure on the Secretary of State, Ministers and the Prime Minister over funding for children and adult social care too. We have chosen to invest the largest sum of money ever into our communities over the next three years. We have pressed on with reshaping the Council into an organisation fit for a digital age. We set up an investment strategy too so people in Wokingham Borough should never have to face the savage cuts thrust on people such as those on the residents of Reading. We have fought to keep the fundamentals that truly matter to people, making the sometimes hard decisions on some of the other things we’ve gotten used to that other Councils aren’t doing. And in our Council Plan, we’ve embarked on the most ambitious programme to redefine the relationship between citizen and local government, giving a voice to communities in a way that has never been done before.


We need to take our residents on a journey to being part of one community. Along the way, we must get on with the job of building a sustainable Council with services for a changing population, and entering into a new spirit of being enterprising and entrepreneurial. The path may be strewn with obstacles and the destination may not always be clearly in sight. Whether it’s the town centre regeneration or our work to get in place a plan for sustainable housing for the future - sometimes amongst the pain it can be hard to see the fruits of what we are striving for. We may not always get everything right along the way. And we must seek to shake off the naysayers with a poverty of ambition as well as the fake prophets, the siren voices who push us towards a new Eden, straight over the edge into a pit.


We must never be too timid to think big. If we do not dare to be bold, we need never fear failure – nor ever know the triumph of success. I believe that we have a vision worth fighting for, and while I am Leader of this Council, I will continue to do battle every single day to deliver it for the most important people of all, the residents of Wokingham Borough.


Philip Mirfin, Executive Member for Regeneration


It’s an incredibly exciting time to be standing here talking to you as the Executive Member for Regeneration.


Our vision for Wokingham town centre as a vibrant market town that stands out from our larger neighbours is very much coming to the forefront as works begin to reveal themselves across the town. The new Market Place is now complete and residents can start to get a real feel for what we are trying to create and why regeneration is so important for Wokingham. With a far improved layout, lots of room for entertainment and plentiful seating to simply relax and enjoy the town centre, this new space is really coming into its own now. As could be seen last Saturday, it has become a place that is the perfect venue for events and bigger and better markets.


Peach Place moves forwards in leaps and bounds with the scaffolding coming down to reveal the new units, the footpath in Peach Street being resurfaced, shop fronts going in and the first of our new tenants champing at the bit to get access ready to trade for Christmas. Over the next few weeks we will start to release the names of the new businesses coming to Wokingham and, from the comments we have received about the types of operators they would like to see in the town centre, I’m confident that local residents will be pleased with what they hear. We have always been clear that we want a strong local independent offer within Peach Place, along with some great quality national names and niche businesses and this is exactly what we have achieved.


Elms Field continues apace with the steelwork already taking shape for the new hotel, Aldi, cinema and other retail units. No one will deny that the face of the high street is changing, but Wokingham continues to remain strong and to buck the national trends, with businesses continuing to remain interested in units in the town. I, for one, am proud to belong to a Council who are investing in their community and for their community.


Richard Dolinski, Executive Member for Adult Social Care, Health and Wellbeing


I am privileged to be invited to attend Adult Social Care team meetings. At these team meetings I learn a lot more about the challenges and also the outcomes, the very positive outcomes of our work. On the challenges I want to say thank you to the Liberals who have come to join us on a cross party working group looking at some of those difficult challenges. So thank you for coming forwards.


On the outcomes, I want to give you just one outcome this evening. That is a resident, G.D., who is a 78 year old resident who lives with his wife. G.D. has a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease resulting in reduced mobility. He has become totally dependent on his wife’s support despite the physical strain it puts on her. On receiving a referral, it was critical for our Occupational Therapists to build a good rapport as quickly as possible to develop trust with G.D. and his wife. Throughout the course of seven home visits the O.T. team focussed on solutions. They taught Mrs G.D. to avoid using verbal queuing and instructing as people with Parkinson’s Disease struggle to multi-task, which increases freezing episodes. The O.T.s worked on developing confidence and used a strength based approach and modification of techniques which has resulted in G.D. regaining his confidence to walk again. Specialist equipment has been provided to help improve his mobility and his independence. In addition a carer’s budget was agreed for Mrs G.D. which now allows her to use a taxi a couple of times each month so she can go shopping without having to struggle. More importantly, it has given her some time to herself.


There is a lot more I could say about the extraordinary work delivered by our Officers in meeting the targets and also positive outcomes for some of our most vulnerable residents. However, I will leave the final words to Mrs G.D.: “Occupational Therapy has given me my husband back”.


Pauline Helliar-Symons, Executive Member for Children’s Services


Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to the staff who turned out for our activity event for children in care at the end of August. Some of them gave up their day off to come. It was a great day enjoyed by everybody. It took place at the Oakwood Activity and Climbing Centre in my ward.


Secondly, I would like to report that yet again our students have achieved excellent GCSE and A level results, in A levels exceeding the national average once again. All four of our children in care in Year 13 who applied to university have secured places, that is 30% of the Year 13 children in care cohort going to university. They will be studying Mathematics, English, Art and Education. I am very proud of them all. It is a huge success for them to gain these places.


There has been a big increase in workload for the department over the last year. In particular, there has been a 32% increase in children in care since the 2017 data and a significant increase during last October and November. There has also been a big increase in the number of referrals coming to our social services staff since last September with up to 900 per month needing investigation. The number of cases our social workers are dealing with has doubled in the past year.


There are a number of reasons for these increases such as:

·           an Act of Parliament in 2017 which made us responsible for children in care up to the age of 25, so there have been fewer children leaving care;

·           1,000 new houses in the Borough each year, with families of course;

·           double the number of unaccompanied asylum seekers; and

·           a greater awareness by partners, schools and police, for example, as we heard earlier, of what to look out for and report.


All of this, of course, is putting huge pressure on the Children’s Services budget. But we have seen many success stories. We have worked ever closer with the NHS and the police. Permanent exclusions from school have fallen and this includes a decrease in their use by special schools. Overall absence rates remain low, which has helped our exam results. There has been joint working between the local authority and senior school leaders on behaviour management strategies. Fewer looked after children are placed more than 20 miles from their homes. The Ministry of Justice has match funded us after the approval of our Youth Justice Plan which includes the use of restorative justice and making young people aware of the impact of their offending behaviour.


Bovis Homes has transferred the land for the new Matthewsgreen primary school which received planning permission last February. Wokingham Borough has sufficient entitlement for two, three and four year olds, including the extended free 30 hour entitlement. Childcare provision has 95% of providers judged as “Good” or “Outstanding” by Ofsted.


These statistics are higher than the national norm and are very good news indeed. Unsurprisingly, therefore, parental satisfaction is high and parents feel that they have access to appropriate, high quality, provision for their children.


At the next Council meeting in November there will be a re-signing of the Children in Care Pledge that we make as corporate parents with our children in care. This will be signed by the Mayor and by members of the Children in Care Council.


Finally, I would like to welcome our interim Director of Children’s Services, Jim Leivers, and thank him for the excellent work he has been doing to move on the work of our department, for the way he is involving Officers and giving them ownership of their work and, in particular, for the work he is doing in preparing us for a potentially imminent Ofsted inspection.