Agenda item

Statement by the Leader


The budget meetings of the Council are where the administration sets out the future. However, we must acknowledge a year which has been extraordinary.


Deaths within the UK for those who have been diagnosed with Covid within 28 days have risen to close to 120,000; a huge rise since we last met.


Please join me in a moment’s silence for those who have died during this dreadful pandemic in Wokingham, the UK, and around the world, and those who have suffered not just the effect of the virus itself, but the problems which have accompanied it.


Our lives have changed, unrecognisably for some, and many lives have been so sadly lost. I can only reinforce my condolences for those that have suffered so much.


The weekly rate to 13th February is 76.6 today, which is well below the peak of 606 on the 4th January, but still compares very badly to the below five in August. Sadly, deaths and hospitalisations will continue high for some time but seem to have stopped rising.


Our GPs have been magnificent and have now vaccinated the over 70s (including me), residents in care homes for older adults and their carers, frontline health, social care workers and clinically vulnerable individuals. The next cohort is now being vaccinated. So light is genuinely at the end of the tunnel.


I would like a big thank again to all the carers, doctors, health staff, social care staff, health, police, fire, rescue, ambulance, teachers, school staff, charities, volunteers and our staff.  In short everybody who has stepped up to the plate and made it possible for life to continue during these appalling times.  It has never been more vital that we play our role.


Many of our critical proactive measures 'going over and above' would not have been possible if we did not have a stable and strong financial foundation on which to fund our numerous measures intended to assist our community.


Covid has had a profound impact on the Council's budgets. We had new responsibilities that needed funding, we lost vital income sources such as car parking and leisure, and we had to put on hold cost reduction programmes in order that our staff focus on the important job in hand, responding to the pandemic. Despite all of this we had the financial resources to go well above the bare minimum and provide so much more for our community, examples of which I have previously conveyed. It is this that illustrates the true strength of our financial management, as recognised by numerous external assessments, and not the misleading and irresponsible claims you hear. 


Our response in many ways has been astonishing. We have:


  • Utilised the Council’s existing emergency planning processes to enact a coordinated, managed, and timely response to the crisis;
  • Sought to protect residents in care homes by taking action locally;
  • Supported care homes by supplying PPP, critical advice, staff resources where needed;
  • Resisted national policy to discharge from hospital to care homes unless testing and controls were in place and I expected to find myself in the jug but I wasn’t;
  • Reduced homelessness to a single rough sleeper;
  • Introduced lateral flow testing, initiated to enable our residents to meet their loved ones in care homes which we had to abort during lockdown;
  • Set up a Community Hub with voluntary sector partners to protect and ensure the vulnerable could receive the support they needed;
  • Created the concept of the one-front door (in the CAB) to service all our residents, either by the Council or the voluntary sector
  • Provided extended care support for vulnerable children recognising that usual family support arrangement was not possible during lockdown;
  • Worked closely with GPs and the health sector to enable vaccinations to be rolled out as speedily as possible;
  • Maintained critical services for the most vulnerable residents, including children, young people and the wider community;
  • Maintained universal services such as waste, recycling, and highways;
  • Provided financial support to local businesses and the economy;
  • Redeployed staff to those services and activities of greatest need.   In the first lockdown we had 107 staff redeployed;
  • Maintained local democracy through “virtual” council meetings, accessible by the public;
  • Communicated regularly and clearly with residents, businesses, partners, elected Members and staff;
  • Considered the impacts on particular parts of the community e.g. ethnic minority groups, vulnerable residents and young people;
  • Identified opportunities to positively impact the Council’s Climate Emergency Plan;
  • Identified and monitored the financial impacts of Covid;
  • Used the risk-based approach to decision-making;
  • Planned ahead for the “Restart” and “Recovery” phases of the emergency. It has never been of such profound importance that local government plays its role for the local community;
  • Took every opportunity to advance the highways programme.


These are some of the essential measures employed during the pandemic; they have touched every resident and enterprise.


With a steady hand, we are navigating through the emergency to recovery, changing the way we work, supporting all our residents, and ensuring that services run as normally as possible.


This Council will not be found wanting to support residents be it child hunger, poverty, or homelessness. We recognise that many of our critical proactive measures 'going over and above' would not have been possible if we had not had a stable and strong financial foundation on which to fund our numerous measures.


The budget proposals before you tonight are therefore set in this context, one of continual uncertainty and challenge, but one that sets out our stall for a strong recovery.