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


John Halsall, Leader of the Council:

I was honoured to be elected Leader at the last Council meeting, since which time it has been a privilege to meet many of our officers.  We have a magnificent team led by an impressive team of Directors who do great things with the sole objective of serving our residents as best they might at optimal cost.  They are an ambitious team and have in the main a ‘can do’ attitude, willing to do new things and generate new thought processes.  Sometimes an idea which seems sound has unforeseen consequences and we need to change.  I believe in encouraging this positive attitude and experimenting with new ideas and technology full in the knowledge that not everything works, and maybe we have to backtrack.  The only way of avoiding this is to do nothing at all. 


We are, as you know, the lowest funded unitary.  All the money that we spend comes from our residents or our commercial activities.  Almost 80% of our available funds go to adults and children’s services to look after the vulnerable.  We cannot do everything that we want without a big increase in financial burden on our residents.  To avoid this we need to constantly define new ways of generating new income, something which my predecessor started, reducing costs and improving services through technology and better methods.  It is really disappointing therefore to have Members of the Opposition criticising our staff and what they do.  Worse still information is being given to the press that is incorrect, harmful to our staff and not checked with the Executive Member as to its veracity. 


Last summer, unprecedented demand, high staff turnover and leadership instability led to deterioration in the quality of services for children. It could have compromised the safety of some children and young people had it not been urgently addressed.  It was.  The new senior leadership team have taken steps to establish stability and improve services.  I am delighted that Ofsted have acknowledged that things are improving.  They made many positive observations about our work.  This is testament to the quality of our staff and the hard work and dedication they put in daily to improve the lives of children and young people in our Borough.  It has made me very proud to be the Leader of the Council watching this. 


There are two motions tonight which are significant to the Administration’s objectives; climate change and housing numbers.  We must do everything in our armoury to reduce the required housing numbers because that is what we believe most of the Borough wants us to do.  Even then we may fail in our endeavour.  The response to the consultation to date has been exceptional.  It is wrong to conflate the obligation to produce a Local Plan with any other services which we are obliged to deliver, including adults and children’s.  We must do all of them and still balance the budget.  That is what a sound Conservative administration does and has done for the last 20 years in the Borough.  Despite losing all our Government grant which was a large proportion of our income, there has been no services lost.  We still collect the rubbish every week, our roads are in better shape than our neighbours’, our libraries and leisure centres have constantly increased footfalls, our care homes are really excellent, our home care is really excellent and our schools are the envy of our neighbours.  The Borough is where people want to live.  This is due in the main to our Officers, who are second to none.  I hope all Councillors can join me in praising and supporting them. 


UllaKarin Clark, Executive Member for Children’s Services:

Following on from what Councillor Halsall said, this summer we were subject to an Ofsted inspection under the new ILACS framework.  The judgement was ‘Requires Improvement to be Good’ which we consider to be an accurate appraisal of the current position in Children’s Services.  An unprecedented escalation in demand, coupled with high staff turnover and leadership instability in the summer of 2018 led to a deterioration in the quality of services for children and could have compromised the safety of some children and young people had this not urgently been addressed.  However, this perilous situation was recognised and addressed by the new Senior Leadership Team who have taken steps to establish stability and to begin to improve services.  Because of the recent instability, at this point in time we would not have expected a ‘Good’ judgement and we recognise that services for children are still too variable, but we are pleased that Ofsted have acknowledged that things are improving under the new, stable Leadership Team, and that they made many positive observations about our work with children and young people.  This is testament to the quality of staff and the hard work and dedication that they put in daily to improve the lives of children and young people in Wokingham. 


I am very proud to be the Executive Member for Children’s Services which has a relentless focus on the safeguarding and achievement of all children.  We have a first class Children’s Leadership Team who know what needs to be done to improve services and is working tirelessly to ensure that services for all children and young people are good.  The five areas identified by Ofsted for improvement to be good are; stability of the workforce, specifically children with disabilities team and longer term teams; effectiveness of child in need and child protection plans; quality and effectiveness of the social work support that disabled children and their families receive; level of critical scrutiny and quality of supervision provided by frontline managers; oversight and impact of the Corporate Parenting Board.  None of this was a surprise to the Leadership team and work was already underway before the inspection to make these improvements. 


Additionally, there appears to be some confusion between the Joint Local Area SEND inspection in Wokingham in March 2019 and the ILACS inspection in June 2019.  The authority was subject to a Joint Local Area inspection of its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, which we call SEND services in March 2019.  I would ask interested parties and particularly the press to check with me as to the veracity of reports made to them, and I have made my phone number available. 


Now, I would like to report on the Northern House School.  In short there is no further movement regarding the School since we first received notification from the Trust of their intention to withdraw from the running of the School.  We are awaiting a decision from the Regional Schools Commissioner as to who they have appointed as a replacement.  In the meantime we are continuing to place children at the School and we are supporting those young people and their families during a period of uncertainty.  We are intending to place another 6 children there in September.  This School will play an important role in providing future SEND placements for Wokingham but it will be necessary to renegotiate arrangements both on cost and formal provision with a new provider Trust and it is unlikely that this will happen quickly. 


We spoke earlier about the recruitment of SEN staff and I would like to tell you that an additional £250,000 have been made available to improve staffing levels, and it will be used to appoint additional SEN case managers.  We have now filled our vacancies with the exception of two posts; the Team Manager and the SEN Case Manager.  We still have some interim staff but it is the intention of our new Director, Carol Cammiss, to ensure that they are replaced with permanent staff over the coming months.  We can already now see that additional resources are now beginning to positively impact on workloads and engagement with families.


Finally, Foundry School, work is ongoing to develop the school site.  The local school, Keep Hatch, along with Ashridge Nursery, have met with senior officers to explore how the site can be best developed.  There are issues that need to be resolved around the vehicle entrances, but overall there is support for the moves.  We are going to move our staff from both the social care and the education and it is intended that we are going to submit a planning application for Foundry in August.


Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Executive Member for Regeneration

I wanted to start tonight by mentioning and thanking Councillor David Lee who was the previous Leader, a couple of Leaders ago.  He was the original person who had the vision for the town centre and the drive to start the regeneration of this town.  There were of course many naysayers, not just 10 or 12 years ago, but even some still today, but I am really pleased that we did not listen and we did not let the town die and shrivel.  We have been rewarded by a town now that is pushing forward and bringing new investment, new leisure facilities and indeed new, fresh footfall. 


Yesterday, crowds of hugely excited children, the next generation to enjoy this town, and their parents gathered at the gates of the new play park of Elms Field for the formal launch.  They were the very first to enjoy it and try out all of the fabulous new, inclusive and accessible play equipment.  The launch was a massive success, and if you were not there then just look at the photographs because they tell the stories in themselves.  If you have not already been down to the park, please go and take a look.  The play area has been specially designed using sustainably sourced wood, which looks fantastic, in and around the established trees, and the new elms, English oaks, birches and maples, which have been added in and around the park.  Tonight I also wanted to thank the team of Officers and the builders who have managed to deliver this part of the scheme on time for all of us to enjoy over the summer holidays.  People were already sitting out on the new grass, on rugs in the stunning new park and with areas also left to wildflower meadows lots of new wildlife will also be available to find a sustainable home here and hopefully we can also support Britain’s shrinking bee population too.  The park has also been fitted out with bins for recycling so there is absolutely no excuse to leave your litter and you can also recycle it whilst you are there on site.  The park will also become the beating heart of the town with integrated electric and water and is now truly fit for outdoor events for the 21st century throughout the year, so everyone can come from right across the Borough to enjoy it. 


Yesterday was another milestone in Wokingham’s regeneration, but it does not stop here.  Buildings are going up around the park very quickly.  Aldi is already open, the hotel is near completion and we are in varying stages of discussion with over 10 different realtors who see Wokingham as a great place to come and to trade, but the regeneration should not stop at Wokingham, as I intimated earlier, and this is perhaps best demonstrated in our investment in other parts of the Borough.  The Bulmershe leisure centre is progressing at pace, and I am sure you will hear more about that, and also we are looking further north in the Borough, heading to Twyford.  I am excited that the Executive will be asked to kick off the new library project there next week.  This demonstrates that everywhere in the Borough is being looked at and considered, and that the Conservatives have a long term view regarding investment in our residents and their future, to ensure that this Borough continues to thrive.


Charles Margetts, Executive Member for Health, Wellbeing and Adult Services:

I have now been in post for 8 weeks and would like to update you and fellow Members on progress in Adult Social Care in Wokingham and also plans for the future.  This is an absolutely vital service which supports some of the most vulnerable people in the community and promotes the wellbeing and independence of many more.  The picture nationally is very difficult in this sector.  Since 2010 councils have had to bridge a £6billion funding shortfall to keep the system going.  Demand for care however endlessly increases.  Nationally in England there are 1.8million new requests for adult social care a year, the equivalent of 5,000 a day.  A recent ADAS report states that the average Adult Social Care department is predicting an overspend this year of nearly £900,000, and that 89% of Adult Social Care Directors have no confidence or only partial confidence that their budget will meet their statutory duties by the end of 2019/20.  This leads to unprecedented pressure on Adult Social Care staff who, to my mind, should be valued as NHS workers across the UK.


Turning to Wokingham I wanted to start with a couple more statistics.  Adult Social Care consumes around 40% of the Council’s annual budget.  The complexity of what we do here is extraordinary.  We support over 2,000 vulnerable adults, 27,000 care and support payments each year are made to do this.  All of this is achieved with around 140 full time posts.  To manage something of this complexity with such few people is a reflection on the hard work of our Officers, all of our staff basically from the new Director all the way down to the grass roots. 


I mentioned earlier the national situation with Adult Social Care finances.  In Wokingham, despite all the pressure, we are forecasting to keep to our current budget.  The climate going forwards is very challenging but the Department is focused on keeping expenditure under control and doing as much as possible with the taxpayer’s pound.  The officers have put in considerable effort into improving forecasting to enable us to pick up problems coming forwards and to be as efficient as possible.  We do many things well here within Adult Social Care in Wokingham. We have some of the shortest waiting times for social worker assessments in the country.  During 2018-19 84% of older people who received reablement were still living in their own homes 3 months later, another example of high performance which keeps pressure off the NHS.  98% of our residential homes, 92% of our nursing homes and 94% of domiciliary care providers are classed as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by the CQC.  Our Mental Health Team has recently received the prestigious accreditation from the Royal College of Psychiatry.  I want to pay tribute to Christine Dale and her two service managers and their team for this achievement.  Our Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding Team continue to perform very well.  However, the future is not easy.  The national picture predicts that by 2025 8% of all people over 65, will have dementia.  42% of the budget is currently spent on services for those with learning disabilities.  We are expecting a 10% increase by 2025.  The total number of people aged 18 to 64 with a mental health disorder living in the Borough will increase again greatly by 2025.  I think it really is high time that central Government got its act together and produced a national long term Social Care Plan for the whole country.


Our priorities for the next 12 months are:

·         an action plan to tackle social isolation across the Borough;

·         to improve the way we review care packages across the Borough;

·         to ensure residents get the correct quality of service and the taxpayers’ pound is spent on the services that need it;

·         to work our partners in the voluntary sector to ensure their efforts are focused alongside ours to deliver the complete package of services;

·         to work with our partners in health and to provide a plan to improve primary care in the Borough; and

·         to improve our financial forecasting to ensure that whilst the national picture is difficult, we make every effort to remain on budget; development and a review of help for young people with a learning disability focused on preparing them for adulthood; and

·         an early integrated transition across children’s and adults. 


So, plenty to do.


Parry Batth, Executive Member for Environment and Leisure:

I would like to focus on some of the items under my watch that will benefit the residents of Wokingham Borough.


Ageing Actively Wokingham, just to support Charles here, this is an initiative to reduce social isolation and loneliness through physical activity for older people living in the Borough.  To support these people the Sports and Leisure Team recruited 12 volunteers in the early part of 2019 and trained them to become Senior Peer Mentors with a view of supporting other, older residents in the Borough.  Keeping active will help improve mental and physical wellbeing and reduce loneliness and isolation.  Sessions are in place in Wokingham Borough Council’s sheltered schemes, the Borough’s country parks and the walking for health programme.


Second item, the Emmbrook 3G.  The Emmbrook 3G pitch will provide the School and the community of Wokingham with a wonderful football facility.  The work is due to start in July, construction taking place in 12-14 weeks.  The pitch will not only enhance the School’s PE provision but will also create facilities for the local community.  The pitch will be adaptable for 5, 7, 9 and 11 a side games.


Bulmershe leisure centre was briefly mentioned.  Construction of the new £14.5million leisure centre is going well.  The site will include a 6 lane 25m swimming pool, teaching pool with moveable floor so larger groups of ages and abilities can it, a larger gym plus a Live Well gym for people living with long term health conditions.  It will also benefit from a 4 court sports hall and additional studio and a café.


Waste and recycling collection.  The new food waste collection service is really going well.  A target of 1.46kg per week per household has been met and that is going really well.