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.
Keith Baker, Leader of the Council:
I have two topics I wish to inform Council of. The first one is around budget setting for 2016/17. For some time we have been looking at ways to engage our residents and the difficult task of balancing the books. Every year we are forced to find significant savings whilst the demand on some services simply increase exponentially. At the same time the ability to mitigate some of this through Council Tax increases is also limited due to the Government imposed cap. Our neighbouring authorities all have some form of budget consultation vehicle; be it a web based questionnaire or maybe a citizen’s panel. However, all these approaches have limitations so we will be trying a different approach designed to remove some of these limitations. This approach will be based around face to face engagement with residents by holding a series of events and inviting the public to engage with us in thinking about how we set our budgets and how we spend money as a Council. We are looking to hold at least five events in local venues across the Borough. We will publicise these as early as we can. There may be additional events with specific audiences in mind; for example the seventeen parish councils. The basic programme will be to firstly introduce the process; talking about how we cut the cake; where the cake comes from; how the cake is shrinking; whether it has got salt or sugar in it. Number two would be group work on tables; what are the services that the Council provides that are of the greatest value and importance? How would you allocate reducing resources to the services the Council runs? Number three, the third feature, would be feedback, including setting out how we will use the information we have gathered. Information will be available to the groups and on display setting out the range of services the Council provides and some other information about activity, volume, costs etc. Officers will be in attendance to support the exercise, facilitate the group work and provide expert advice to the groups on services, the impact of cuts and similar things. We will capture the outputs, the questions we receive and suggestions about how we might do things differently or better. Our intention through the sessions will also be to find volunteers who might also want to be involved on a more regular basis and who can help us improve the exercise for future years.
The second big statement I would like to make is an update on the statement I made at the Executive meeting in March concerning how the Council is seeking to ensure that its responses to the threat of child sexual exploitation (CSE) are as robust as they need to be. I said then that an independent review of the leadership and governance the Council provides across Children’s Services, focused on CSE would take place. An independent person with considerable experience and knowledge in this field has been commissioned by me and her work has begun. She will be holding interviews with key Members and Officers this month. Her final report will be reported formally to the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny group and to the Executive, along with any actions that emerge from her recommendations to bring about further improvements.
Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Executive Member for Children’s Services:
I am delighted to inform you that the Regional Schools Commissioner has confirmed our recommendation of Bohunt Educational Trust as a provider of our new secondary school in the South and secondly the Floreat Education for the primary school at Montague Park. The field of shortlisted providers for both schools was strong and the decision by the Wokingham Borough Council panel was unanimous. From the initial six expressions of interest for our new secondary school in the South, five applications were received and four Trusts were interviewed. All four Trusts gave very strong presentations and interviews. However, Bohunt’s submission and vision was truly inspiring. Bohunt Educational Trust clearly understood the timetable of delivery for our new school and they demonstrated how they would hit the ground running, providing dedicated leadership from the outset and innovative and exciting approach to teaching and an understanding of the issues and views raised by our parents and community.
From the initial five expressions of interest for the primary school at Montage Park three applications were received and following shortlisting two Trusts were interviewed in April. In particular Floreat’s curriculum model was innovative and exciting. Not only did they provide a comprehensive description in their application but they were also able to support and defend their ideas during their assessment. The level of detail in their preparation and material was impressive. Other strong features included the willingness to share their curriculum model and teaching skills with other local schools; their investment in teacher training; the longer school day but also longer holidays but overall more taught time; traditional values and strong community engagement. Both providers have the resources and the ability to deliver both of these schools.
Still on the theme of our schools, just this week a draft Primary School Strategy was taken to the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. There will be a task and finish group looking at this in more detail before it goes to the Executive in a couple of months’ time. Briefly I wanted to reflect on the excellent work that is also going on locally and further afield, indeed as far away as Australia, to recruit experienced social workers. We have a less than 10% vacancy rate and I hope that all Members will join me in welcoming our new antipodean social workers in Wokingham Borough; once the Ashes are over of course.
Lastly, we have just held a very successful Youth Conference and I thought that it might be helpful to share with you some of our proposed partnership pledges. We would like to continue to focus on young people in need and ensure that they have support from all of the services they need, helping to promote their self-assurance and self-resilience. We want to encourage our Health partners to be more involved with the support of Children in Care and encourage support activities. We also want to support young people at risk of poor education and employment outcomes, to achieve through the Virtual School and lastly to work with schools on bullying and celebrate the next anti bullying week. Perhaps Members could think about how they could help to deliver these pledges and commit to hearing the young people’s voice.
Stuart Munro, Deputy Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance:
I am really delighted to give Council an update on some of the economic development we have been doing with Elevate Wokingham. The Elevate Berkshire team have successfully registered an expression of interest for European funding to support the continuation of the Elevate Wokingham Hub, which has been a success. The next stage will be to submit a full application. Elevate Wokingham has successfully won a small grant of £7,500 from the Skills Funding Agency. This will be to run a series of workshops for unemployed people to help them gain employment. This will also include CV writing, interview skills and building confidence. Elevate Wokingham is working with Children’s Services and HR to develop a council wide supported apprentice scheme. The scheme will encourage a greater number of apprenticeship opportunities for young people, including some of our most vulnerable residents. A successful Careers Information morning about how the Council works and a description of different job opportunities within the Council was held for Year 12 students. In addition, two Year 12 students from Emmbrook School completed a week of work experience placed within the Council in Finance and Democratic Services. I think you will also remember that Create and Elevate are on the cover of the summer Borough News too, so again a little thing helping a lot.
Work is now underway to deliver a very successful Careers Fayre, which this year will be managed by the Elevate team and held on Wednesday 7 October at Loddon Valley Leisure Centre. I would recommend that all Members attend if they can. Initial invitations have been sent out to interested businesses and organisations and this year we are providing businesses with sponsorship opportunities.
John Kaiser, Executive Member for Planning and Highways:
I will be asking the Executive to back plans to take charge of producing and promoting travel plans for the new residents in the Borough on the major developments, this month. Travel plans are produced for people moving into new homes in the Borough, in order to encourage them to walk, cycle, bus or train around the Borough to manage the increase in the congestion. Currently travel plans are the responsibility of developers building the homes but I will be bringing forward a set of proposals to the Executive for approval, that the Borough would undertake travel planning with the money secured from the developers for this purpose. This approach to travel plans will see developers pay the Council £450 per home to fund the project and that will help new residents get around the Borough and provide incentives for people to consider sustainable options for some of the journeys as improved information tailored for individual residents and other schemes will help promote sustainable travel. Cars are a vital part of modern life and as such our transport and highways planning must reflect that. Almost all of us drive cars and that is not going to change in the near future but if we could just cut a few car journeys, if we thought about alternatives a bit more, with increased park and ride facilities and upgraded cycleways. This will help inform people’s choice. Sustainable travel planning is about giving people information and choice to help them consider alternative ways of travelling. Congestion is a serious problem across the South East and the only long term solution is to manage the car. We are building new roads and improving junctions and that is important but it is only part of the solution.
If approved by the Executive, the Borough Council will use an agreed revenue stream of £5.6m from developers, specifically for the purpose of travel planning initiatives during the period of the Core Strategy to 2026. Travel plans produced by developers in the past have only been of limited value as they are short term, restricted to small areas and run by developers who do not necessarily have a strong commitment to their success. By taking the money and managing the plans ourselves we can plan long-term across the Borough so the initiatives we put in place will be joined up and complement each other. It is all about keeping the Borough moving.
Julian McGhee-Sumner, Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing:
I have three items that I would like to speak to Council about this evening. First of all, the Fosters site in Woodley. Work is ongoing to redevelop the old Fosters care home site to provide 36 extra care apartments for older people. The bespoke design has now been agreed to ensure a state of the art care facility that focuses on independence and wellbeing. There has been a minor setback. Unfortunately, only two construction firms have expressed an interest in tendering for the work, so to ensure value for money for the public purse we will be going back to the wider market through a wider procurement programme but this is likely to provide an extension of between one and three months. Construction should start this winter with the aim of completion in Spring 2017.
Step Up-Step Down facilities. In partnership with the Wokingham Clinical Commissioning Group, Optalis and Catalyst Homes, we have converted two apartments at Alexandra Grange in Woodley into re-ablement flats. These are short stay flats with 24 hour onsite care plus intensive rehabilitation. The scheme is part of our Better Care Fund pooled budget between the Council and the Wokingham Clinical Commissioning Group. The idea is to get those who have had hospital stays but are not yet able to manage at home out of hospital as soon as they are medically fit. They are then able to recover their independence and in most cases go back home with their own package of support. The flats can also be used to avoid hospital admission and that is what we are looking for from the first couple to try this service. A wife, a carer for her husband, unfortunately broke her wrist. Instead of being admitted overnight into hospital and the husband having to go into respite care, they are able to stay together and get the care they needed at Alexandra Place. There are plans to extend the scheme pending evaluation of this pilot phase but it has certainly got off to a good start.
Turning now to the Care Act. Members will be aware that the Government has announced the intention to defer the introduction of Phase 2 of the Care Act. Phase 2, which was due to take effect from April 2016 would have seen the introduction of the care cap; a maximum amount of £72,000 that anyone would have to pay for their care. Responding to a request from the Local Government Association to defer the care cap because of fears of the potential added burden that it would add to Councils, Alistair Burt the Care Minister replied to confirm that the timetable has been pushed back to 2020 but that there was still a strong commitment to ensure its introduction during this Parliament. Though there will be mixed feelings about the delay, given the rising adult social care costs, there is also a sense of relief for we have more time to prepare for this major reform into adult social care funding.
Pauline Jorgensen, Executive Member for Resident Services:
The drive for digital engagement as an option for our residents continues in Wokingham Borough. Further improvements have been made to the website with new sections for Planning and Building Control, Careers, Parks and Countryside. Website feedback from our customers is 90% positive and they report it to be easy to navigate, clear and simple and new website sections have been added to support Waste Services requests including missed bin collections and garden waste cancellations. These currently link up to our suppliers, avoiding retyping of information and they will eventually be implemented as part of the new customer portal when it is implemented in September, allowing information to flow straight from the residents to the suppliers without touching the sides.
The new planning system went live on 22 June for new applications. This will be incorporated into the customer portal again into September, allowing residents to view building control applications and report planning breaches online and much improving the search and usability, and hopefully the reliability as well. The integration with Mapping will save approximately £23,000 per annum. A new housing system was implemented this July. This system is again fully integrated with our financial systems and in operation will save around about £40,000 a year. All of this money will help our hard pressed taxpayers to ensure that they do not get charged more.
We have held a very successful Customer Engagement Stall in Wokingham Library and in the town centre on 20 June. People were really pleased to speak to the Council face to face and 44 queries were raised and have been followed through by the Customer Services Team. We also asked people about their expectations of Council services. 95% of customers expect a good service from Wokingham and so they should and 72% reported that their experience either met or exceeded their expectations. With Housing, Registrars and Cleaner and Greener picked out for particular plaudits. There are also lots of suggestions for improvements which we will be working through. As a result of the success of this event we plan to hold events in other communities. We have a stall planned for the Earley Green Fayre and also one planned in Woodley and I would be interested in anybody else who has a good location for a stall as well.
We have made good progress with Shared Audit with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead winning new revenue, generating investigations work from both Oxfordshire County Council and Buckinghamshire County Council. Finally the Electoral Registration canvass started earlier this month.
Mark Ashwell, Deputy Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities:
As Deputy Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities I thought I would quickly take you through an example of our regeneration work and an example of our communities work. Regeneration. It is my absolute pleasure to report that last evening we gained planning consent for the Carnival Pool site redevelopment in Wokingham town centre. This is a result of 7 years of substantial community consultation and workshops dating all the way back to 2008. Regeneration is core to our Council’s vision and we all agree that Wokingham town centre needs regenerating to thrive. We will now see the development of a new 529 space multi-storey car park and ground floor bowling alley on the Carnival Pool site in Wokingham town centre. This will provide access to really good quality parking for the Wokingham automobile. This parking will be easily accessible and provide a convenient route in and out of our town, accessing its services all year round. In 2013 we secured funding, subject to this planning permission for our proposed car park. This was from the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership as part of the Growth Deals Initiative and this will now allow us to bring the car park construction forward to make sure car parking is available to support our town while we work on other phases of our town centre regeneration. The principle of redeveloping the rest of the site has also been approved and we expect now to come forward with plans to include a larger gym, improved changing facilities, studio spaces and a unique multi-function sports hall and cultural centre. We will be able to offer current and future residents the facilities they want and need in our principal town. It is about sports, it is about leisure and it is about recreation. This seal of approval gives us the mandate to get on with the job of regenerating our wonderful Wokingham town and beyond.
Communities. In my capacity as Voluntary and Community Sector Champion for our Council, I have embarked on a whistlestop tour of our community’s unsung heroes. I am visiting and understanding the unbelievable value these organisations contribute to our Wokingham Borough community, including the Wokingham and Woodley Citizens Advice Bureau, Wokingham and Bracknell Involved, Wokingham Volunteer Centre, Wokingham Borough Sports Council, the Community Council of Berkshire Rural Communities, the Community Foundation, the Cultural Partnership, the Earley Crescent Community Association, the Winnersh Rainbow Park Community Centre and the Earley Help Shop. Did you know that Earley Town Council collects £60,000 worth of Council Tax in blue and brown bag payments on our behalf? These organisations and many, many more Borough wide volunteer run charities such as Building for the Future Disabled Children’s charity in Emmbrook and provide us with resource which is invaluable. With this in mind we are investigating ways we can collaborate to get the most out of our joint Wokingham Borough finance and resources. So please Mr Mayor, watch this space.
Angus Ross, Executive Member for the Environment:
Two things. First, I just wanted to thank those Members, cross party, who are working on the working groups that were set up for flooding, for sports hubs and for country parks. We will keep Council updated on work progressing as we develop both practice, policy and what we might be doing in the exciting areas there.
The other thing is, as we all remember, last Spring the grass grew but looking at positive things it gave us the opportunity for a very open consultation across the Borough which caused us to review the grass cutting schedule across the Borough and to work out priorities that were really set by the responses to that consultation. We are successfully doing this and the added bonus is the biodiversity that we are building in. As some people have seen in trial areas, we are leaving large areas for people to walk, but allowing the grass to grow and also trying to get some wild flowers, and whereas I know in some areas wild flowers are not doing well this year, we seem to be hitting the button in other areas. I think it is a very exciting thing. By far the highest proportion of comments that we have received back have been positive but we will never please all the people all the time but it has also helped to inform the specification for the new contract which will be starting next Spring.