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
The meeting tonight has been one of the busiest we have had for a very long time so I will be brief.
As you all know there has been a serious breach of the Constitution through the deliberate leaking of a confidential document by the Opposition. The two Liberal Democrat Councillors involved, including the Leader of the Opposition, do not dispute that it was they who passed the confidential documents to the press. That is well documented in social media. This is the subject of a Code of Conduct investigation on the two individuals.
I would like to say a few words about the principle around confidential documents.
The Constitution is clear in stating in 188.8.131.52 “Councillors must not disclose information which is confidential or where disclosure is prohibited by law, unless he or she has the consent of the person authorised to give it …”
This is very clear and concise with no room for misinterpretation. If a Councillor has in their possession a Council document which is clearly marked confidential then they must respect 184.108.40.206. How they receive it is immaterial. The confidential marking on Council documents is used sparingly. There are many reasons why this marking is placed on the document – it could be of a commercial nature where the breach could put the Council in a difficult negotiation position and cost the Council unnecessary costs. It could mean that the document contains information of a personal nature and would cause unnecessary embarrassment to them. These are just two examples and there are many more.
Passing on confidential documents to an outside body, especially the press, could seriously hinder the effective operation of this Council. It could close off some courses of action which could impact the future direction of the Council. It could cause serious financial damage to the Council. It is vital that rule 220.127.116.11 is taken seriously by all Councillors. No individual Councillor can decide that this rule does not apply to them. It applies to all of us. When you were elected you signed an agreement to obey the Constitution you simply cannot pick and choose which of those you will obey.
So, if you do receive a confidential document, from whatever source, known or otherwise, please remember your obligations within the Constitution and act accordingly.
During Councillor Baker’s statement, Councillors Bray and Ferris raised objections relating to the comments about an ongoing Code of Conduct investigation. Following advice from the Mayor, Councillor Baker retracted those parts of the statement which related to the ongoing investigation.
Councillor Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Executive Member for Children’s Services
Following on from Children’s Services success with our Innovation Bid last year we have again partnered up with Professor Eileen Munro and Dr Andrew Turnell to bid to the DfE to become a Learning Lab. The expression of interest has passed the DfE’s first phase and will now go through to the full investment board in the coming month. We expect to hear news if we have been successful in the New Year.
We continue to fully embed our new practice framework and the learning collaboration that we have had garnered from this partnership has been a valuable and key investment in our workforce.
A couple of weeks ago I and other Members went to the Annual Adult and Children’s Conference in Manchester. One of the high profile meetings I attended was to discuss the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Calais, Europe and refugee camps beyond. Whilst many will have seen many older boys featured in the media there is now a shift in profile of unaccompanied minors coming to the UK to vulnerable younger women, girls and much younger children. A very chilling message I took away from this conference was that children reaching the UK are often tied to a family debt (by virtue of how they arrived here) and are therefore at significant risk of exploitation by traffickers and gangs.
This week I attended our Children’s Safeguarding Board. I was particularly pleased to see, in these times of austerity, how committed our partners are to safeguarding children. The Board received the annual report from the Pan-Berkshire Child Death Overview Panel. There are key messages for groups of professionals and systems about how we can change behaviours to prevent the death of a child or young person. However, one very current message for all of us jumps out from this report – this is to stop using our mobile phone whilst driving. It is valuable to share this information and in my role see that it is important to champion our children’s rights too, and that includes the right for children to travel safely.
Councillor Angus Ross, Executive Member for Environment
On a local note, can I first congratulate Councillor Bill Soane and his colleagues for finding volunteers to plant at least 7,500 crocus bulbs across the Borough to add more colour to our existing wildflower areas. Well done. Also to congratulate a local company Two Hoots Cheese, making cheese in Barkham and best known as 'Barkham Blue', for winning a prestigious national award of Best Blue Cheese at the inaugural Great British Cheese Awards recently. Amazing what comes out of our countryside! It’s my favourite cheese!
Linking into a good diet, we want our residents to have the best possible access to exercise and we have developed a new high level Leisure Strategy which the Executive recently approved for consultation - this runs to 23rd December. I hope Members and the residents of the Borough will read this and make any comments to improve the basis of how we go forward looking at leisure, sport, and exercise as an integral part of our Health and Wellbeing agenda. We are holding five sessions across the Borough for residents to come and meet with Officers to discuss our proposals and strategy - details are on our website. I hope to have the final document for adoption very early in the New Year.
I am pleased to announce the completion, except for a few minor final details, of our new All Weather Pitch at Ryeish Green. This looks a great addition to our facilities and an integral part of the provision for sport within the South of M4 Strategic Development Location. In addition we have completed the drainage of the grass pitches behind, as they were out of action so much of the winter waterlogged in recent years.
I am also delighted to announce the opening of two more country parks, officially SANGs or Suitable Alternate Natural Greenspaces, that is areas for walking, exercising dogs, etc as an alternative to going to the areas of Heathland south of the Borough where additional access would further affect ground nesting birds in our heathland. This provision is a requirement for any houses built within 5 kms of any heathland - or 7kms for major developments. These new parks are at Toutley and Arborfield Green and provide large additional open spaces for the enjoyment of residents. This brings the total area to date, in addition to the normal open space requirements of development, to around 90 Hectares. Great for our residents.
Councillor Malcolm Richards, Executive Member for Highways and Transport
The Shinfield Eastern Relief Road (SERR) is due to be opened in early December (in fact on the 8th December, according to Hochtief Group). There are two or three jobs to be done first, over the next few weeks. These details have been announced and released to the press and public and then the highway will be fully opened. There is some additional off-highway work to finish minor tasks and these will be conducted over the subsequent weeks; but they should not affect the highway at all and they are expected be completed by late January 2017.
This project attracted a great deal of attention during its construction and I would like to briefly explain a few things to help clarify what the situation was. This major road (SERR) is not a Wokingham Borough Council project. It is a project of the University of Reading (UoR). They are the customer, and the development of the road was the responsibility of Hochtief (a major design and construction company). WBC was involved inasmuch as we are the local highways authority and we have to provide permits and licences for people to work on the actual highway. These permits are called Section 50 permits. They are not just pieces of paper, they contain a whole raft of rules and regulations to ensure that the development is done properly, safely and on time, and procedures are correctly documented and observed. There are defined procedures and plans and backup systems which all have to be correctly followed. There may be enforcement by the local authority (ie. us) if the rules are not followed. So, we were only the safety and quality monitoring component of the project, not the development and construction people.
At some of the middle stages of the project we became concerned that not all the procedures (including safety stages, site access rights and signage rules, etc) were being correctly followed, and that concerned us. So we notified the developer of these points and requested that they conform fully to them. Unfortunately that requested conformance didn’t happen properly or quickly enough, so to focus their attention on the problems, we withdrew the Section 50 permits to work on the highway. That seemed to work. So, as Hochtief adjusted their procedures we lifted some of the Section 50 permits, and then some more later on, until eventually they had all their Section 50 permits back and were working correctly. It also helped them to make better progress in recovering their earlier delays.
It is the responsibility of the developer/constructor to plan and do the work and to issue all press releases or updates – it is not the duty of WBC. However, we did issue some releases to advise the public of the reasons for the highway changes and the delays, etc. WBC should only, and did only, issue media releases if and when we felt it necessary to inform the public about the effect of our Section 50 permits – and we did that. Before those WBC explanations, the public thought that we were the developer and that we were responsible for all the delays. I hope that this explanation has now clarified the position.