Agenda item

Election of the Leader of the Council

Following the current Leader of the Council’s decision to step down from the role, and in accordance with the governance arrangements which were adopted by Council at its meeting on 18 November 2010, the Mayor will call for nominations for the Office of Leader of the Council for a four year term (or until the Leader’s Term of Office as a Councillor expires).


The Mayor will then ask the Council to vote on the nomination(s).


The Leader of Council will notify Council of the name of his/her Deputy and the remainder of the Members appointed to the Executive, outlining the scope of their respective portfolios, the terms of delegation to them and Officers if applicable (To be tabled).


The Leader of Council/Executive Members will be allowed to speak for up to 10 minutes in total.  The Leader of the Opposition will be allowed to speak for up to 5 minutes.


Following the previous Leader of the Council’s decision to step down from the role and, in accordance with the governance arrangements which were adopted by the Council at its meeting on 18 November 2010, the Council elected a new Leader. The new Leader would serve for four years (or until his/her term of office as a Councillor expired).


It was proposed by Alistair Auty and seconded by John Halsall that Julian McGhee-Sumner be elected as Leader of the Council.


On being put to the vote it was:


RESOLVED that Julian McGhee-Sumner be elected as Leader of the Council.


Councillor McGhee-Sumner addressed the Council as follows:


“Every Councillor in this chamber tonight sits here with one common objective, to represent our residents. It is on this fundamental principle that I wish to address the Council this evening.


Over the past few weeks I have spoken to a number of our residents from across the Borough and a common message has emerged. They like a lot of what we do – building more affordable homes, building new schools, looking after our vulnerable residents. However, they have highlighted how we communicate and manage priorities, like cutting the grass, filling in potholes and collecting the rubbish, as less than adequate. It is clear that mistakes have been made, for which I apologise, and I therefore wish to outline for you this evening the changes I will be making to address these issues.


Shortly, each Executive Member will be set five key targets that impact on our residents in order to improve upon the services we offer. Each Executive Member will be aligned to a Director, so it will be abundantly clear to all our residents who is responsible for which area of Council policy.


Effective communication will be a core requirement for each Executive Member. With responsibility comes accountability and I want us to be a Council which listens to our residents, which tries to find solutions to problems and which residents can have trust in. All too often, we forget why we are here and that must change.


For some time now, residents have raised concerns about Executive Members receiving additional payments for the work they undertake in addition to their Executive roles. I have, therefore, decided to change that and, from the start of the New Year, no Executive Member will be able to claim any allowance in excess of the £10k set for each Executive role. Some will remain on the Fire Authority or a Housing Company, but will not claim the additional allowance regardless of the work undertaken. This is a big step change, but one readily accepted by those Executive Members impacted. I would like to thank them for their commitment to public service.


Another big area the Council is judged on is housing. At the present time we have various areas in the Council that deal with housing. We have Tenants Services, Wokingham Housing Ltd. and the development of Gorse Ride to name but three. But no single Director is tasked with bringing all these together in order to deliver our ambitions. We will, therefore, be recruiting a new Assistant Director in early 2019 to fulfil this role. I sincerely hope that this person can be found internally but, should that not be the case, we will look externally. Once this person is in place I will appoint a new Executive Member tasked with delivering on this agenda.


As we head into 2019 we still continue to face significant financial pressures and, although we have just received confirmation of our Government settlement, which is looking favourable, as always the devil is in the detail. However, what I can say is that we have won the argument against negative RSG which is encouraging and we will be able to report a clearer picture in the coming days.


As you are aware, we have been without an Executive Member for Finance for some time. I have asked Anthony Pollock to take on this role again. Councillor Pollock has spent many years carrying out this role under numerous Leaders and his knowledge in this area is second to none. With the financial uncertainty faced by all Councils, Councillor Pollock is ideally positioned to handle this situation. At the same time, I welcome Charles Margetts back as Councillor Pollock’s Deputy and to his former responsibility for the 21st Century Council programme.


You will, no doubt, have read the communications sent out earlier this week announcing the appointment of a new CEO, Susan Parsonage, who will be joining us in mid-March 2019, or possibly a little earlier. This recruitment has taken time and the Personnel Board has been extremely demanding in their selection and interviewing of all six candidates. Although all the candidates brought different strengths, I am happy that we have selected a leader who is not only well regarded in local government but comes with a reputation as an inspirational leader who delivers against stringent objectives and does so in a manner that builds trust in her team and builds relationships with partners. I look forward to welcoming Susan to this authority next year.


With Councillor Pollock moving to Finance, I am extremely pleased to announce that Pauline Jorgensen will be moving to look after Highways and Transport and will continue in the role of Deputy Leader. Those who are active on social media know that Councillor Jorgensen is extremely active on highways matters and has built up an excellent reputation for sorting things out. When residents are asked about their priorities, highways is always in the top three. This area deserves a top class Executive Member and Councillor Jorgensen fulfils that. She will continue in the role of Deputy Leader and David Chopping will continue as her Deputy Executive Member.


Finally, the vacant position for Health and Wellbeing has been filled by Parry Batth, backed by his Deputy, UllaKarin Clark. The Executive Member for Environment will be John Halsall and his Deputy will be Graham Howe. Councillor Halsall has had much to say over recent years regarding grass cutting and has resolved to understand and prioritise this service for our residents. All the other Executive roles remain unchanged.”



Lindsay Ferris, Leader of the Opposition, addressed the Council as follows:


“At the last Council meeting I thanked Charlotte for her cooperation. At this meeting I would like to thank Richard Dolinski for his hard work in his former role as Executive Member for Adult Social Services. David Hare, from my team, has been working closely with Richard on a number of important issues. This is an area where we have shared concerns.


I do not know Julian very well, but I am encouraged that he has said that he would like to continue with regular meetings between the two leaders. I am also very pleased to hear “no negative RSG”. No “theft” as I call it. I am pleased to hear that.


Julian is the fourth Leader of the Council in a little over four years. This, to me, clearly shows that the ruling Conservative Group is badly divided, have lost their way and are just floundering about, hoping that someone will provide a way forward. It is rather like changing the Captain on the Titanic. The splits, lack of leadership and direction here simply mirrors what is going on with the Conservatives in Westminster.


The Council has all but stalled under the leadership of the Conservatives with the Local Plan delayed until 2022, borrowing out of control, escalating from £50m a few years ago to over £450m now and forecast to reach £600m by 2020. There are serious levels of overspend in Children’s Services and Adult Social Care. The number of interim and temporary staff has sky rocketed these past couple of years leading to a lack of leadership at the Council and to poor staff morale. Many of our best officers have left due to the uncertainty caused by the 21st Century Council project. A project that I feel has not been managed properly.


A recent Ofsted inspection considered Children’s Services not good enough and, what is more, deteriorating. Adult Social Services has a significant overspend to rectify, whilst the way the Council carries out consultations is an utter disgrace. The recent decision to close down the School Crossing Patrol service is a case in point. Over 97% of residents who responded wanted to keep the service, but the arrogant dismissive way in which these responses were ignored beggared belief.


This administration has treated residents across the Borough in an increasingly arrogant manner. Under the Conservatives the Council has left local businesses in the centre of Wokingham to fend for themselves whilst leaving the town centre like a bomb site for 17 months. The standard of business cases, when they are provided, are simply not good enough. How can we control costs if we cannot even do this properly? This is one of the many reasons why I recently wrote to the Secretary of State, raising our concerns about the financial stability of the Council, a lack of leadership and the poor way in which it was being run. We may not be Northamptonshire yet but we are heading in that direction.


We, in the Opposition, will be directly challenging the ruling Group over the coming months. Many in the Borough feel it is time for a change. It is our role to provide that change.