Agenda item

Statement from Council Owned Companies

To receive any statements from Directors of Council Owned Companies.


In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.24 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 10 minutes, and no Director, except with the consent of Council, shall speak for more than 3 minutes.


Councillor Anthony Pollock, Non-Executive Director Optalis Limited

In my capacity as Chairman of Optalis there are a number of items that I would like to bring to your attention. 


Four Optalis members of staff have been shortlisted for national awards.  One of our social workers has been short listed for the Social Worker of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award for her career long contribution both to social work in the UK and to voluntary social work and charitable work in India with people with visual impairments.  Three other members of staff have been shortlisted for National Care Awards under different categories and these are: the Innovator Award; the Care Trainer Award; and the Ancillary Worker Award. The regional award ceremony will be held on 3rd December. I am very proud that we have been so successful in having four members of the Optalis staff nominated for these awards and it is a tribute to the leadership of this company that such achievements are being recognised.


We continue to develop our business by tendering for work outside Wokingham Borough and currently are speaking to neighbouring Unitary and County Councils.  I am pleased with the new business we have won this year and want to pay tribute to the staff since we are ahead of budget on the new business won.


I want to pay particular tribute to a new service which we call “Step Up Step Down.”  This service provides a half-way house between home and hospital.  This facility supports acute services such as the Royal Berkshire Hospital seeking to send home those who are not sick enough to remain in hospital but for whom there are needs for care packages to be arranged before the individuals can return home and for GPs who can use this facility to provide treatment or additional care in a non-hospital environment, which is more suitable to the needs of the individual.  This new service is a contribution to reducing what is commonly known as bed blocking and I am very pleased with the positive contribution that Optalis is making this new service.


Councillor Gary Cowan, Non-Executive Director Loddon Homes Limited

As Councillor David Chopping advised at the last Council meeting, the detailed application to register Loddon Homes Limited as a For-Profit Registered Provider, which in simple terms is a Housing Association, was submitted to the Homes and Communities Agency at the beginning of September.  This has been the subject of follow-up questions, some of which are quite complex, and will require careful consideration.  The main thrust of the questioning is, as expected, over the governance, independence and financial future of Loddon Homes, as funded through either commuted sums, or from Council funds channelled through Wokingham Housing Limited.  Our managing director Bill Flood was also invited to discuss the application at the Homes and Communities Agency, recently, and found the meeting very fruitful.


We have continued the separation of the two companies, with individual board meetings now started, rather than the joint boards we held before.  However, there will be joint management meetings to discuss matters of mutual interest, which will take place monthly.  The Board of Loddon Homes Limited is now complete, with the inclusion of Lionel Haynes, who has just retired as the financial director of a Housing Association.


We are trying to monitor this fast moving world, resulting from the “policy suggestions” forming part of the new Government’s Housing Bill, as it progresses through Parliament.  Our latest advice from our “man-in-the-know”, Dave Williams just after he left the latest ‘Chatham House rules’ HCA briefing is that the policy we are following of keeping our options open as we seek to register Loddon Homes Limited, is still the best way forward.


I will keep the Council informed as the application progresses.


Councillor David Chopping, Non-Executive Director of Wokingham Housing Limited

To reiterate the differences between the two Housing Companies.  WHL or Wokingham Housing Limited is the Council’s housing development company, Loddon Homes is the first of its subsidiaries, and will be the property management company specifically looking after the future affordable/social housing portfolio. 


For Council’s information we have decided to form a further subsidiary, probably to be known as Emmbrook Property Limited.  This is a financial management vehicle, and should allow savings on VAT.  The Directors will be the same as WHL, possibly including Gary if he is a good boy, but will not involve fees and charges apart from our own accountancy costs.


Phoenix, that is Eustace that was, the contractors are now on site.  An unexpected problem has arisen that will have an impact on the capital budget, in that the demolition of the old flats left an excess of debris.  This will not substantially delay the timescales of the build contract, but has added additional project costs that were not expected as further clearance is carried out prior to actual building works starting.  In real terms it is adding about four weeks net to the real start time.


Fosters is progressing, the specifications have been sent out to seven contractors so they can quote for the building works.  Tenders will be received in a few weeks and we will keep you informed.


On the half dozen smaller sites, where we are seeking to obtain planning approval, matters are progressing steadily and we hope to have all our potential current pipeline sites either with full planning permission or applications made, by Spring next year.  Our latest application on the Norton Road site was of course approved last week so thank you very much to the Planning Committee.


I did say at last Council that “our staffing is now complete”, well it is, but with a further change as Derek Thurgood nears the end of his fixed term contract, we have found a replacement, Holly Morris, so we move steadily towards full equal opportunity.


I did say also that the business plan was moving ahead and is now reaching the final draft stages, and has been submitted to Holdco.  We are considering a company-wide PRP arrangement, but that is long term.  We also started the branding exercise last Tuesday for logos and websites, to give all three companies more identifiable corporate identities, always an easy way to spend money, but we have identified exactly what we want to achieve, and we are working from a fixed budget.  That is basically where we are at the moment and hopefully another update at the next meeting.