To consider a presentation and receive feedback from Councillor Pollock on the recent public Budget consultation meetings and to consider the outcomes from the process.
The Committee received a presentation on the recent public Budget Engagement exercise. Councillor Anthony Pollock, Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance and Graham Ebers, Director of Corporate Services, attended the meeting to answer Member questions.
The presentation stated that the Budget Engagement exercise had included five public sessions, attendance at community events and the Wokingham Careers Fair, a presentation to the Borough Parish Liaison Forum and an online survey. The numbers of residents attending the sessions were relatively low in terms of the Borough’s overall population. However, it was a significant improvement on the attendance for the 2015 sessions which was a positive development.
The emerging findings from the public engagement exercise included the following:
· Protecting vulnerable adults and investment in prevention services – strong support with comments showing an awareness of the linkages between the two priorities;
· Waste and recycling – feedback suggested a willingness to consider changes to the current service delivery model;
· Libraries, Keeping the Borough Clean and Tidy, Sport, Leisure and Countryside – generally received less support than other priorities which could indicate a willingness to see reduced spending or new service delivery models;
· Increasing Charges to Protect Services – received enough support to indicate that higher fees and charges may be supported if they were linked to protecting services.
Members raised the following issues and questions:
· Had the feedback from the 2015 and 2016 exercises led to any changes in Council service priorities? It was confirmed that the 2016 feedback was more substantial, but as the exercise had only recently completed, it had not yet impacted on the 2017/18 Budget discussions.
· The number of residents involved in the various elements of the process, 538, was welcomed as a positive development. It was felt that this number would improve again next year as the process was refined and improved.
· Members suggested that preparation for the 2017 engagement exercise should start earlier in terms of booking the best venues and preparing early publicity material.
· Members advised caution in relation to the feedback on keeping the Borough clean and tidy. It was considered that the Borough was currently a clean and tidy place. However, Members felt that, if standards were allowed to fall, residents would notice quickly. The recent issues around the new grass cutting contract were cited as evidence.
· It was suggested that the outcomes from the public engagement exercise should be reported in the Wokingham Borough News together with publicity for next year’s events.
· Members felt that social media could be used more effectively to signpost the events and online activities. This would also help the Council to engage with younger people across the Borough.
· Members suggested that the Council engage with local secondary schools at the start of next year’s autumn term. Schools may be interested in engaging with the process which would help to broaden the range of views received.
1) Anthony Pollock and Graham Ebers be thanked for attending the meeting;
2) That Member comments and suggestions be fed into the development of the Budget engagement exercise for 2017.