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.
Anthony Pollock, Non-Executive Director, Optalis:
Optalis continues to prosper. We celebrated our 5th birthday on 6th June and I am looking forward shortly to signing our next five year contract with Wokingham Borough Council. I would particularly like to pay tribute to our current Managing Director, Mette le Jacobsen, who has been with the company since it started, first as Operations Director and, in the last year, as managing Director.
As an accountant, I prefer numbers and am a little suspicious of the feely stuff around the public sector and business. But I have been really impressed with the way that Mette has picked up the company’s Vision Statement and turned it into reality for the staff. We have recently appointed Andrew Crammond as our new Director of Quality and Delivery, which is Operations to the layman, and Alan Rawlings as Finance Director, which is self-explanatory. I am very pleased with these appointments and am confident that they will contribute significantly to the development of the business in the future.
We recently set up a Star Awards system whereby staff can nominate other members of staff for an award and we recently held an awards event at Easthampstead Park. Simon Weeks stood in for me and presented the awards. It was a very successful day and the staff really appreciated it.
Gary Cowan, Non-Executive Director, Loddon Homes:
I am very pleased to confirm that the submission made to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) for Loddon Homes Ltd (LHL) to become the first Council owned for profit registered housing provider has proved successful. This is a notable achievement and full credit has to go to the Board of Wokingham Housing Ltd (WHL) for having the initiative to start this process and maintain the tenacity to proceed despite the changing market conditions.
The submission transferred to the Board of Loddon Homes as that company structure was put in place and the new Board, which I chair, has seen the complicated application through to completion. Congratulations to the staff of LHL and WHL and thanks to our consultant, Dave Williams, our specialist solicitors and all those unsung helpers amongst the staff of Wokingham Borough Council who assisted in developing a series of interlocking and complicated internal procedures to meet the stringent demands of the HCA.
It is worth reiterating the length of time this has taken to achieve, nearly 18 months in total, encompassing a change in the application criteria, reorganisation in Whitehall and, finally, the new Housing Act. The extent of the achievement cannot be underestimated. Even though uncertainties continue as we await the Housing and Planning Act outcome, the Loddon Board is focussing on developing good governance and policies and working closely with WHL on development sites that will sit within Loddon Homes.
Finally, a copy of the certificate has been forwarded to Democratic Services which, I hope, can be included in the next set of minutes.
David Chopping, Non-Executive Director, Wokingham Housing Ltd:
To bring everyone up to date on the progress of WHL, we are the development arm of the Housing companies as opposed to the holding and management company, Loddon Homes Ltd.
Phoenix Avenue continues to progress. Whilst we were disappointed to be advised that the programme is technically three to four weeks behind schedule, it should be explained that this is due to a change in an important structural component, the sort of thing that can happen with the type of contract that we have set. However, this should save time later in the construction period. They are using new span floor beams, terribly exciting to those of us who understand these things. They are larger lumps of concrete as opposed to lots of smaller lumps. Any time loss will be caught up by the end of September which means that there should be no delay in delivery of the first phase of the development, due in March 2017. We have asked for a chart to verify everything, but I understand that they have caught up half a week already and we have to go along with what they are saying.
Fosters Extra Care Scheme is progressing well, with on-site activity being very obvious to local residents and passing traffic. The claim for 50% of the HCA grant, £1.49m, has been paid to the Council. This is to support the initial start on site costs. The grant received is currently in the Council’s bank account, but now that Loddon Homes has been accredited as a “for profit” provider with the HCA, it is intended to transfer the grant and relevant grant conditions to Loddon Homes, providing that everyone says yes and somebody writes a cheque. The work to do this is currently ongoing.
Signage to promote WHL and the Council’s work in providing homes for local people has been fixed to both the Phoenix Avenue and Fosters site hoardings and is utilising the branding produced for WHL earlier in the year. This is providing the Council and WHL with a good local presence and promoting what the Council is now achieving with its housing companies. Those who regularly inspect our websites will have the opportunity to see the time lapse photography as and when it is up and running. The system is up and running but we are waiting until there is something more exciting to show you, a video which will take you through the actual construction.
Previously, we have reported the frustrations of the right Council approvals not necessarily being in place to progress the letting of contracts on our small sites in Barratt, Anson and Grovelands. However, despite the holdup, the issue has proved very useful in focussing minds on clarifying the processes to ensure that there is a smooth process to follow from site identification to letting a contract, combined with clarity around the WBC commissioning process and lines of responsibility for approvals. WHL is now confident that our current pipelines will be able to progress without similar issues occurring. We expect that the contract for Anson Walk and Grovelands will be let in the next few weeks and that, thereafter, you will see a steady flow of small sites being approved and contracts let during the autumn and New Year to deliver a steady supply of additional affordable homes for borough residents.