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


Councillor Keith Baker, Leader of the Council:

In September I provided details of the Resident Engagement program where Officers and Executive Members would go “out on the road”.  These events covered five drop in sessions across the Borough and have now been completed.  Between 70 and 100 residents attended the various locations and the feedback at the event, and since, has been extremely positive.  In particular residents liked the way we set out the facts and figures and especially liked the initial presentation and the information boards.  The information boards have proved to be a great indicator of what we do and I have asked Officers to see if we can locate them in the foyer on a permanent basis.


Residents welcomed the opportunity to engage in discussions with both Officers and Executive Members. Including the more challenging options for change prompted debate and focused minds on the scale of the challenge. Savings we have already delivered were recognised by many as an achievement.  All the feedback and suggestions have been recorded and will be presented to Members in the future whilst we will also publish the findings on our website.


We will be repeating this process next year reflecting the learnings from this year including advertising them earlier and more often and finding some better locations.


Can I now move onto a couple of housekeeping matters. The post of Deputy Executive Member for Planning and Highways has become vacant.  Councillor Kaiser, the Executive Member, is reviewing the profile of this post so it will remain vacant for the immediate future.


There have also been some changes in the profiles of a couple of my Executive Members.  I have asked Councillor Jorgensen to take on the responsibility of oversight on the delivery of planned savings.  Now I must stress this does not replace the responsibilities of any individual Executive Member, especially the Executive Member for Finance, which is where the buck stops.


The other change is that Tenant Services, excluding the Housing Account, is moving from Councillor Kaiser, the Executive Member for Planning and Highways to the Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing, Julian.  Affordable housing will remain with Councillor Kaiser.

Finally, it has been brought to my attention, and this is important please, that some junior members of staff are reticent in bringing complaints about inappropriate behaviour.  This is especially so if the complaint is about someone in authority.  I would like to put on public record that it is vital that all such alleged transgressions are reported and investigated thoroughly.  There are two mechanisms available namely “whistle blowing” or through the “Code of Conduct”, both of which ensure anonymity.  Members of staff should be able to go about their day to day business without any threat of abuse.  As Leader I would like to say to any member of staff who find themselves in this position you have my full support in reporting it and I urge you to do just that.


Councillor Pauline Jorgensen, Executive Member for Residents’ Services

A quick update on Residents’ Services.  We continue to work on the customer services programme and website improvements.  This month we have introduced the next phase of the customer service portal which allows you to create an account and view personalised local Council information, together with the status of any faults or service requests you have raised.  This facility should reduce the number of calls to chase the status, get updates, and should allow Officers to actually concentrate on fixing the problems rather than giving people updates on the latest status. We aim to further improve it over the coming months to provide more information on issues and progress, like Service Level Agreement and how long you should expect things to be resolved.


We have introduced this new self-service feature in ‘quiet live’ without any publicity as we wanted to work to develop it further but, despite this, in two weeks more than 250 residents have found it and created an account, 174 requests have been logged and 154 of them resolved.  This has been done in a week, all by Waste Services so well done to Waste Services as well.  I think it is a really good innovation.  Please have a look at it, create yourself an account and it is a great way of logging calls so that they do not get lost, so please encourage everybody to use it.


We are also steadily increasing our presence on social media with almost 3,500 people following our Facebook posts (70% of them are women and 30% men) and 7,000 people follow us on Twitter:although interestingly the distribution is more male on Twitter for some reason.  This helps us get our message out to the widest audience; for example the announcement of the Marvellous Festival at Dinton Pastures reached 10,500 people.  It is a very wide distribution to the group that quite often are difficult for us to get to, and it is also free which is even better.


Our Trading Standards joint service have had recent success prosecuting two business for unfair trading practices and one for selling alcohol to children.  They are also exceeding their performance targets for timescales for their response to complaints and also their customer satisfaction target, which I think is great news.  They are also inspecting new food businesses, and all these things are very important in protecting local residents from rogue traders so I would like to thank them for all their hard work.


Councillor Julian McGhee-Sumner, Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing

I would like to share with Members four good news stories this evening;


Wokingham Borough is the first top tier authority to reduce its smoking prevalence rate to single figures.  Our rate - the lowest in England is now only 9.8%, which is well ahead of every other area in the country.


CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably and is a ground-breaking charity working with men to prevent suicide.  We are pleased that we are due to imminently launch a Calmzone Campaign with all the local authorities across the Thames Valley.  Straight talking resources on men's emotional health will be distributed to licensed premises and sports clubs in the weeks running up to Christmas.  The majority of suicides across Berkshire are men and suicide is the major killer for young men under the age of 40.


We are also supporting a national campaign to promote HIV Testing - including the provision of free self-sampling kits.  Long gone are the days when testing for HIV meant hours-worth of gentle counselling and poor prognosis.  HIV is now a treatable long-term condition but it is best to be diagnosed sooner rather than later and to gain the most from the treatments available; time is of the essence. The late HIV diagnosis rate in Wokingham Borough has thankfully fallen in the last few years. 


Finally, we have had more than 175 people referred by their GP or other healthcare workers for Exercise by Referral.  This is where structured physical activity, such as walking groups; dance classes; gym-based sessions or swimming are provided to people who have a range of medical conditions where outcomes will be significantly improved for the patient being more active.


Councillor John Kaiser, Executive Member for Planning and Highways

Wokingham Borough have embarked upon implementing Civil Parking Enforcement.  It gives powers to the local authority to enforce parking restrictions.  At the moment the restrictions are enforced by the police however this is a low priority and they apply little resource to it. This results in a large number of complaints and a great deal of inconvenience for residents due to illegal parking and abuse of parking restrictions and at times as many as 1 in 4 vehicles are parked illegally around our town centres.


At the last count, more than 93% of local authorities in the UK have undertaken CPE; that is only 23 out of 327 who have not.  There is an augment that the Police are being paid to undertake parking enforcement.  Therefore why should the Council do it?  Regrettably we are unable to compel the Police to do anything due to lack of resources and that means that WBC lives with parking enforcement limited to the minimal provision much to the dismay of residents whose lives are blighted on a daily basis by inconsiderate and illegal parking.


When the Council take on these powers they will have to be applied across the Borough.  However the Council will retain control of when, where and how it enforces.  This will allow it to respond to specific problem areas and work closely with towns and parishes to determine where enforcement is needed most.  Many communities will wish to tailor enforcement for their community; WBC will have a resource that could be supplemented by locally funded resources if they were required, as long as the local resource worked under the umbrella of WBC to avoid any inconsistency.


Councillor Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Executive Member for Children’s Services

Firstly I thought that I would mention that we had a visit from the National Audit Office last month.  They came in order to understand some of the issues facing our Early Years services and settings in the Borough and to use our feedback and evidence for a report that they will be publishing in February 2016.  The topics they were interested in were: how the providers in the Borough were using the Pupil Premium money; our role in monitoring quality and data with our providers; and what does our current delivery look like for Early Years.  Also how it is meeting the Government’s objectives, including how many 2 year olds are taking up their entitlement; and lastly what are the risks for Early Years for example financial capacity, such as rolling out the new 30 hours of free entitlement.


We were able to demonstrate some good examples of best practice, but also highlight the very real financial difficulties that our providers are facing due to not only having the lowest basic rate payment in the country but also having high running costs such as salaries, living costs and rental for buildings.  We were able to give the National Audit Office comparative data for other neighbouring authorities and this really highlighted the stark funding cost from authority to authority and shone a light on the areas of difficulty facing our services.


Sticking with education for a moment, I was also really pleased to attend the Borough’s Virtual School Conference last week.  It was an interesting conference with research information and new ways of working showcased. Schools are being supported to help our children in care and also adoptees and those in receipt of Free School Meals to enable them to achieve.  Our new Virtual School is starting to show how it can really impact the lives of our most vulnerable children and to support them through their education, access to extra-curricular activities and go on to further education and eventually work.


Less than two weeks ago many of us also came together to celebrate all of our children in care and care leavers achievements at their annual awards day.  Thank you to those who came.  I would like to personally thank our social workers, our foster carers, Officers, you know who you are, and Corporate Parents who came along as well, for their commitment and for being there to celebrate what our young people have been up to over the last 12 months and hear about the amazing things that our foster carers have also been doing to care for our most vulnerable children.


As Corporate Parents, I would like to share with you all some of the most amazing things that they have been doing in the last 12 months:  There were: Duke of Edinburgh’s awards; prizes for learning to swim; learning to crawl; song writing; having a first book published, which is amazing, 100% attendance at school, that was 2 years in a row so that is fantastic; great GCSE results; you name it, they were amazing awards.


I chatted to some of our new foster carers as well and it was truly inspiring.  They have been doing so much in just the last few months.  They have been taking on new family members, guiding foster children into new schools, and being there to support care leavers as well in becoming independent adults and gaining their first job or college places.  Their commitment to our children is remarkable and I spoke to one new carer and she is a teacher and has given up her job to take on this role and the dedication of this individual helping that particular child in getting it right for his future is absolutely stunning.


Lastly, I just wanted to mention that on Sunday 1st November I was delighted to be part of launching Home for Good in our Borough.  Home for Good is a national charity and their ethos is to raise awareness that there are children waiting to be adopted, and that there is a desperate need for more foster places.  They are now working in partnership with us and the faith community in our Borough to help us find 20 new foster placements.  The launch took place at the Kings Church in Wokingham.  There was a huge turnout and a wonderfully warm reception for us there and I hope you will all carry on and promote this work.


Councillor Anthony Pollock, Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance

I would first of all like to echo Keith’s comments on the public participatory budgeting process which I think was very successful and I think we will do it even better next year. 


As all of you will be aware, next week the Chancellor George Osborne will be announcing his public spending review and this will no doubt have an impact on proposed spending in Local Government.  We have already taken into account expected reductions in Central Government grant over the life of this parliament in our budget planning but with the set back to his tax credit changes and possible extra spending required in health and defence we may see additional cuts to local authority budgets.  However being the lowest funded unitary authority in the country we have the advantage that they can only take away what little we have once and we are getting close to the point where there will be no more revenue support grant to take away.  Following the local government settlement I expect that we will be receiving the information in connection with our 2016/2017 settlement, which I would expect to receive somewhere between mid-December and early January, depending on how difficult it is or how difficult the Chancellor has made it for the relevant Government department to calculate it.  The more money he has taken away from everyone that they did not expect obviously the later the settlement will be announced.


A number of you will be aware that George Osborne made some announcements about business rates.  Now that might surprise some of you who will know that a couple of years ago business rates were localised and he seems to be reannouncing it.  However, we are not quite sure what the new regime is going to be, the devil is always in the detail but I think looking at the last localism scheme, the key piece was that there was to be no winners and losers and therefore with tariffs and levies the relevant amounts were equalised across councils so that everyone actually remains the same.  I would expect that probably the same thing is going to happen again so please do not get your hopes up that we are going to suddenly have a large dollop of extra money to spend.


Councillor Philip Mirfin, Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities,

First of all an update on Regeneration.  The planning application documents are now being finalised for the Elms Field proposals and following extensive consultation with residents, stakeholders and Members the plan is to submit these by the end of November.  Ahead of the submission we will be previewing the application details with various stakeholder groups.  Once the application has been registered it will be available to view and local people will be able to see just how we have changed the proposals in response to local comments such as the desire to retain more of the open space, the existing mature trees, as well as the inclusion of the new three screen boutique cinema.  As with our earlier regeneration planning applications we have requested that the Local Planning Authority extend the consultation period to give residents longer to respond with their comments, and in addition to being able to view the full set of application documents here at Shute End and on the Council’s website, residents will also be able to see the key documents at Wokingham Library and at Wokingham Town Hall.  The joint Town and Borough Council workshop held at the Wokingham Town Hall on Monday this week was very well attended by residents groups, along with Borough and Town Members, all who had been asked to join in the design discussions on the Market Place and the new square to be built in Peach Place.  The outcomes for these will be published in due course, but a wide consensus emerged.


Moving on to the community roundup.  Shinfield: October saw the re-launch of the public IT access to two desk-top computers at the Community Flat there.  In addition to helping those people who are already using facilities print CVs, we are also linking with Housing and Benefits to ensure access for residents using systems such as Job Match and Universal Credit.


In Norreys, the Community Development Worker vacancy has now been filled.  The new Community Development Officer has been appointed to the Norreys area and started in fact last Monday.  Prior to the appointment, the wider team offered their support to core activities, alongside community volunteers and other local partners.


At Rainbow Park, the facelift for the Community Centre has gone forward: The grills have been removed from the windows and we hope the building now looks more inviting and will encourage new community members to come and see what is happening.  We are also working on a number of PR avenues to develop a more positive perception of the area, including the Parish magazines and Borough News.


At Gorse Ride, the Community Development Worker has been experimenting with the opening hours of the Community House to enable people who work to access the facility and our worker on Wednesday evenings.  Membership of the Women’s Group is growing there and this group continue to develop ideas and organise activities to benefit the wider community, including plans for a children’s Christmas party.


In Woodley, our Community Development Worker is working with existing volunteers to find a way of reinvigorating the South East Woodley Community Association and attracting new members.


Councillor Mark Ashwell, Deputy Executive Member for Regeneration and Communities

My part of the portfolio is two-fold: Voluntary and Community and also Corporate Assets.  Whilst they might seem miles apart they overlap in all sorts of ways.


Voluntary and Community: I have spent my time reviewing the impact of our funding and I have established our investments are making the most impact for our residents.  Of course you then just cannot help getting involved and I have joined in things like interview training at The Crescent Centre Lower Earley, what a wonderful place that is, and Wokingham Mencap’s ‘Walking in their Shoes’ with Bev from Winnersh who is carer for her daughter Bonnie.


Thank you Mr Mayor for your recent Reception for the Voluntary Sector; the 40 or so organisations who attended were chuffed to be recognised and spend some quality time with each other.  Thank you for that.


Corporate Assets: I remind Council that we are now nearly half way through our asset review of our £650 million pounds worth of Borough Assets.  This with a view of identifying assets to potentially transfer to our community.  With this in mind we are also working up a model that we can use to transfer those assets to our Towns, Parishes and Community organisations.  This is to help facilitate the localism to which we all strive.  I chair the Assets Review Programme Board which is now meeting once a month to consider prospects as they surface.  Please be assured that Ward Members will be fully consulted and be instrumental to every opportunity in their own Ward.  So Mr Mayor Voluntary, Community and Corporate Assets are collaborating to make Wokingham Borough an even better place to live and do business.