Agenda item

Statement from Council Owned Companies

To receive any statements from Directors of Council Owned Companies.


In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.24 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 10 minutes, and no Director, except with the consent of Council, shall speak for more than 3 minutes.


Alistair Auty, Non-Executive Director of Wokingham Housing Ltd.


From a WHL perspective, in the last financial year we delivered one quarter of all the affordable homes completed in the Borough, which was 123. This contribution is testament to the hard working team across all of our housing companies, led by Bill Flood. While I am sure that all would agree that this delivery of affordable homes is most welcome, the challenge is to deliver more year in year out.


Developing on Council owned land remains our priority, though I would like to see this move at a greater pace. The regeneration of the Gorse Ride estate will provide an additional number of homes in addition to the existing ones there and they will be of a higher standard. So it is an exciting project that we are pleased to be an integral part of.


Finally, as part of our evolution, we are evaluating non-Wokingham Borough Council owned land opportunities so we can continue to deliver more high quality affordable housing that our Borough residents both need and deserve.


Anthony Pollock, Non-Executive Director of Optalis Holdings Ltd.


In connection with Optalis, I have some headlines. Customer satisfaction is at 87% which is ahead of the strategic objective of 80%. The company has been awarded Disability Confident Employer status by the Department of Work and Pensions. On the quality front, every inspection we have had in the last six months has been “Good”, where they were previously “Requires Improvement”, which is a 100% success rate.


Financially, we are performing ahead of budget, year to date, and we have won a new contract at Reading College delivering supported employment services. In the previous contract we had there, I think that we are one of the few operators of this service to the learning disability community to achieve almost 100% success in getting service users into employment. That is really important for them and really important for us.


On the people front, staff turnover is below the national average, absenteeism and vacancies are below the national average, so, all in all, I believe that Optalis is delivering for us, Wokingham Borough and its residents, so I commend it to you.


Gary Cowan, Chairman of Loddon Homes Ltd.


Loddon Homes’ first shared ownership homes at Elizabeth Road (two units) and Barrett Crescent (two units) are very close to being sold and we expect sales income to be £115k more than estimated which is welcome additional income to the company. Loddon Homes continues to focus on ensuring that WBC Housing Services fill all of the vacancies quickly but there remain some vacancies at Fosters due to the need to identify residents who have both a care need and a housing need. At Loddon Homes’ September Board Meeting this issue and loss of income were discussed. Consequently the Board has asked the Borough Council to formally relax the criteria for hosing applicants.


Thanks to the many years of cajoling, from David Chopping, to set up housing companies to deliver much needed housing to our residents we have had several years of hard work culminating in our registration as a “For Profit” Registered Housing Provider. This achievement was the very first for a Council and is a truly amazing success story. My thanks must go to the professional staff along with Councillors Alistair Auty and David Chopping for their superb efforts in getting us where we are today. From small beginnings we have moved up a gear and are now on the cusp of a most exciting period in our evolution. That is to deliver to our residents much more affordable housing.


The Prime Minister’s recent announcement of £2bn to housing companies and Councils will help to kick start Loddon Homes to bigger and better things. Sadly, I will not be leading the charge as I have offered my resignation as Chairman to the Loddon Homes Board. My reason is very simple. To continue I needed the assurance and comfort of the standard contract which other Non Executive Directors have, plus the support of this administration. Sadly, for reasons that only the Conservative administration can answer, they saw fit not to renew my normal contract but have put me on a month-to-month contract with no discussion or debate. It seems to have nothing to do with competence or ability to do one’s job, so I will leave it to others to guess the reason why. The lack of continuity created by the constraint it has placed on my independence as Chairman of Loddon Homes is insidious and has seriously hampered my ability to freely and independently function in the best interests of the company, the Council and, most importantly, the residents. Such arrangements for me when there are other Non Executive Directors on longer contracts was not lost on me. It is with a heavy heart that I take this decision and, unlike others, I will honour my contract by giving 28 days’ notice in writing at the next Loddon Homes Board Meeting, thereby allowing continuity until my replacement is finalised.


My thanks to all who have had faith in me, especially all our residents who I will continue to serve to the best of my ability. They deserve the best. Sadly, I do not believe that they are getting it from this Conservative administration.


Stuart Munro, Chairman of WBC (Holdings) Ltd.


I would like to say thank you to Gary and I am sorry that you have got a bit confused. We have been looking at the strategy for our companies, I am talking as the Chairman of the Holding Company that represents the Council. We are looking at the strategy and how we can improve on what we’ve got. Just because your contract came to an end after two years it does not mean that anyone is picking on you. Just to get the record straight and to thank you for your contribution.


I would also say that when it comes to bringing forward some new sites for these housing companies to work on, I am pleased to state that, later this month, the Executive will be looking at the Wellington Road/Station Road site which is just down the road from here and also the Woodley Age Concern site. So we are starting to look at some of the Council owned companies that we have available.


Finally, I would like to say that, year to date, the income has reached over £1.5m reflecting a real growth coming from these companies and also the income from July was a third of £1m, so we are doing some of the right things. I am happy to take these other pieces that we have been discussing offline.