To receive notification from the Leader of his Deputy and the remainder of the Members appointed to the Executive; the scope of their respective portfolios; the terms of delegation to them; and Officers if applicable. (To be tabled)
The Leader of Council/Executive Members will be allowed to speak for up to 10 minutes in total. The Leader of the Opposition will be allowed to speak for up to 5 minutes.
Keith Baker, Leader of the Council made the following statement:
Before I talk about my Executive for the coming year I would like to make a few comments on recent Elections. It was a difficult set of circumstances that surrounded these Elections making it one of the most difficult campaigns for many years. The Opposition put in a huge amount of effort in the election period but despite that we were still the most successful party on the Council. As you look around the Chamber you will see missing faces. Our longest serving councillor Bob Wyatt hung up his political shoes after an amazing lengthy period of service and I wish him well in his retirement but I know that he will be keeping a watchful eye over all of us to make sure we do things properly. Mike Gore also retired and I am sure you will all join me in wishing him all the best as he deals with health issues. On the Liberal Democrat benches, the interesting character of Tom McCann who could always be relied on to make noises on the back bench is no longer with us. Nicky Jerrome is also another councillor who is no longer here. We all felt a huge degree of admiration when she spoke in this Chamber about the mental health issues she had unfortunately had and which unfortunately caused her to step down. Whilst we are on opposite sides politically I have the utmost respect for her and what she did. My final comment on missing councillors is reserved for a good friend, Guy Grandison. Guy was a young councillor who made a great contribution during the time he was on the Council. New and younger Members are the future of this Council and all parties need to get younger people involved. I know Guy will not fade away and he will be back at the earliest opportunity. All of these missing councillors have been replaced by new councillors with a variety of backgrounds. Can I take this opportunity as Leader to welcome them all tonight and to encourage all of you to take an active part in the running of the Council.
Last year I spent some time talking about the regeneration of Wokingham Town Centre. I suggested that the Opposition should be more constructive in their stance against the regeneration. This was based on the election results then. The elections this year have shown that absolutely nothing has changed. With little else of substance to say they fought this year’s campaign on a continuation of their outright total hostility. To be fair to them they did produce an alternative plan, something they never do within the annual budget. The plan totals 350 words including captions and features such schemes as moving a grocery store to an industrial estate and making it online only. More worryingly it would do away with much needed new housing in Wokingham and sadly gives the impression to residents that the Leader of the Opposition who spoke so eloquently to this Council about the need for affordable housing, is determined to rob hard working people of new homes because of this obsession with a completely unworkable so called alternative plan for Wokingham.
Now let me turn to my Executive as I have made many changes to both the structure and personnel. First of all the biggest change is to split highways and planning. At the same time I have put the town centre regeneration role into the new planning portfolio. My view is that now the planning approvals have been obtained I could no longer justify a separate Executive role for this. I am extremely pleased to announce that Councillor Ashwell, the former deputy, has agreed to take on that role. This provides the continuity needed to drive the regeneration implementation forward. He will be ably assisted by Councillor Bowring who is a long standing member of the Planning Committee and brings massive knowledge to this partnership. He will be specifically looking after the creation of the new Local Plan. Councillor Mirfin, who has done an amazing job in steering all the planning applications through the hostile waters, is stepping down from the Executive and moving to a chairing role on one of the scrutiny committees. Highways will now be under the responsibility of Councillor Richards, who is no stranger to this area having been a deputy here. He will be joined by Councillor Sleight, who will continue to carry out the excellent job on railway and air transport matters, but now formalised as a deputy. Councillor Kaiser, who formerly carried out this combined role, has decided to leave the Executive and I would like to thank him here for all his efforts over the recent years. His contribution will continue in the role of Vice Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee. I have long felt that Affordable Housing was in the wrong portfolio and I have taken the opportunity to move this to the Health and Wellbeing portfolio under Councillor McGhee-Sumner. That means that everything to do with this area is now back together under a single post. He will be joined as deputy by Councillor Auty who has extensive experience in this area and is a Non Executive Director of our housing company, WHL. He will be specifically looking after the Affordable Housing part of the portfolio. These are the key changes to my Executive, with one more to complete the new structure. The Voluntary Sector has now moved to be within my portfolio. This sector is a vital participant in assisting this Council going forward. We will inevitably be looking to them to get more involved across all service areas. By putting it into the Leader’s portfolio it gives it that high profile, which is required.
Whilst it is not normal to speak of any appointments outside of the Executive, there have been some changes which warrant an exception. Councillor Weeks, who has been the stalwart of the Planning Committee, has agreed to step aside to allow his Vice Chair Councillor Holton, to take on this role. Councillor Weeks will be stepping into the role of Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, where I know his skills of dissecting huge items of paperwork will be extremely helpful. I would like to thank both Councillor Holton and Councillor Norman Jorgensen, who are both stepping away from scrutiny, for all their efforts over the years. Like Simon, they have been running a variety of the scrutiny committees for a very, very long time and the time was right to hand over the baton to other councillors.
Finally, a word about the way forward. None of us can deny that we face difficult times ahead but this Conservative Group has a positive plan to take the Council in to the next decade and beyond; one that will see services that meet residents’ needs without robbing every penny from their pockets. Two years ago I had the privilege of being elected Leader. We started on a journey then. Let’s all of us, Members on all sides, go together to complete that journey to build a flagship authority that we and our residents can be proud of.
Prue Bray, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group made the following statement:
Thank you Mr Mayor. I would like to start by congratulating both you as the new Mayor and the new Deputy Mayor. I would also like to welcome back all those councillors who held their seats this time, but in particular obviously Lindsay Ferris and Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey, the Liberal Democrats. Also, welcome to all new councillors of all parties and I hope they will enjoy their time, but obviously particularly Clive. It was interesting as he used to sit at the front and ask questions and this time it was Guy in that role, so we look forward to that. I would also like to pay tribute to the councillors who either lost their seats or stood down this time and in particular I think Council will not feel the same without Tom McCann’s frequent interjections. To move on from that, if the Conservative leadership on this Council think that having a large majority means residents support whatever the Conservatives choose to do, they should think again. The Liberal Democrats got well over a quarter of the vote across the Borough. We won Twyford, Winnersh and Hawkedon at a gallop. We had a huge leap forward in our vote share in Evendons and came within a whisker of gaining Emmbrook. At some point, perhaps when the bulldozers go into the Rose Street car park on to Elms Field, you will finally realise that your plans for Wokingham Town Centre do not have public backing. We will continue to campaign for alternative proposals which are considerably longer than 350 words and on regeneration which fits Wokingham as a market town. We will continue to work on the other issues that we know residents think are important. We have five priorities. We fought the Election on them and those are the priorities that will guide us this year. Using money wisely; listening to residents; looking after the vulnerable; protecting green spaces; and standing up for residents wherever they live. In light of what I am going to say next I would ask you to bear those priorities in mind.
We are all used to spin, after all why would someone not present the facts in a way they feel best suits their case? But there is a step between spin and distortion and a further step from distortion to misinformation and from there it is only a tiny hop to out and out lies. The tactics used by the Conservatives in Emmbrook both in the local elections and in the Town Council by-election in February, in our view, crossed the line from the acceptable to the unacceptable and I know there are Conservatives, some in this Chamber, who share that view. Politics and politicians have sunk very low in the public’s opinion and this kind of behaviour just reinforces that view. The public then disengage. In the long run democracy is damaged and politics matters. Every decision made in this Council effects someone’s life. All politicians need to do better. It is my belief that most Conservative councillors and our new Labour colleague would agree with the Liberal Democrats that we are all elected to serve residents and I think it is perfectly possible to disagree but to work together for the good of those residents, and perfectly possible to look for political advantage but still keep a moral compass. However, earlier this evening a question was raised about the moral compass of the Leader of the Council. The Leader’s response to Keith Malvern’s supplementary was to say that he did not comment on leaked documents. I do not think that he is going to get away with that response for long. In my view the only way that the email he sent on 10 February, can be interpreted, is that he wanted to spend Council money so as to give Conservative candidates an advantage in the elections. Whether any such spending took place is neither here nor there. That email sends a clear message. The Leader of the Council thinks that the interests of the Conservative party come above the needs of residents. Given that he also signed what we consider a very disingenuous and misleading letter, which was sent out as part of the Conservative campaign in Emmbrook, we believe Keith Baker’s conduct has fallen below the level that should be expected of a councillor, let alone the Leader of the Council. Seven days notice is required to call a vote of no confidence in the Leader so we cannot do it tonight. However, I can tell you that we have made a formal complaint to the Standards Committee, which I have given to Andrew Moulton earlier this evening. We think Keith Baker should stand aside. This Council should have a Leader who puts the needs of the residents of the Borough first, not the interests of his own political party.