Agenda item

Statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members, and Deputy Executive Members

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



Keith Baker, Leader of the Council

I want to report good progress on the 21st Century Council restructuring which is on schedule and on budget. I am proud to be the leader of this Council during these exciting times. Continuity of leadership is essential for the duration of this project and I fully intend, subject to this Council’s approval, to provide that continuity.


Tonight I want to give everyone a preview of some changes I will be making to the Executive at the Annual Full Council in May. When I was elected as leader some three years ago I embarked on a regular review of Executive roles looking at whether they were relevant or needed reshaping or even removed. The consequence is that over the last three years I have refined the Executive and other paid roles which has made a saving of 14% or £24,250.


As we move forward to the completion of the 21st Century Council this review has become even more relevant so that the administration can “do their bit” alongside the restructuring. All the current Executive portfolios are large with the exception of one, Resident Services. The intention is to reallocate all the components of the Resident Services portfolio across other Executive portfolios. For example, Personnel will come to me as Leader to mirror the fact that Andy Couldrick is effectively the Officer lead on that. Procurement will go to the Executive Member for Finance and so on. More details will be provided at the Annual Full Council.


This allows me to remove this Executive role which will provide additional savings of £12,000. This will increase the total savings to £35,000 or 21%. I am currently discussing with Cllr Pauline Jorgensen options for the future. Please rest assured that my Executive will not be losing her exceptional talents.


Now can I turn to the multiple Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) issue. Can I remind Council that when I spoke in the Independent Remuneration Panel debate last year I clearly stated that I wanted to move to a position where no Councillor received more than one Special Responsibility Allowance or SRA. At the time only 4 Councillors received more than one SRA. At the Annual Full Council when the appointments are voted on I can guarantee that not a single Conservative appointment approved will receive more than a single SRA.


Julian McGhee-Sumner, Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing

Members will recall that we very reluctantly agreed to issue a Judicial Review (JR), along with our colleagues in West Berkshire, against the Department of Health (DoH) for the failure to provide additional funding for additional responsibilities we had to take on for our residents. Although we had a good response from the DoH initially and subsequently withdrew the JR so that further consideration could be given to our arguments little has progressed since.


WBC along with West Berkshire have agreed with the DoH to keep a watching brief on the impact of the criteria changes. The bottom line is, of course affected by many more variables than the number of packages and their complexity.


We have negotiated with the DoH that we can present data analysis throughout the year and we intend to capture quarterly data following the end of year position and seek to negotiate further with the DoH in the Autumn. I will of course keep Members updated as this is something that may come up in the Autumn Statement.


Angus Ross, Executive Member for Environment

There has been much Member and Resident speculation, most recently in the local newspaper’s letter column, of whether there was a done deal about the future frequency of Household Waste collections when we tender for a new contract from 2019.  Whilst the details of the intended contract have not yet been agreed, I can announce tonight that the household collection arrangements post 2019 will remain weekly.


Whilst many Councils have extended the collection to fortnightly or even longer, we realised a great number of our residents wish to keep this weekly collection.  In fact, when asked in our professionally procured Market Research exercise at the start of the year on what was important to residents and specifically re “Maintaining the current service in its current form (i.e. weekly”) – and these were the exact words of the question; 92% said it was important.  Less than half would be happy with fortnightly collections even if food waste was collected separately and weekly.  Over half said that they would not mind paying more Council Tax, saying they need a weekly collection.


We have not yet decided on the many other aspects of the collection arrangements and I plan to announce these very soon.  Meanwhile both this Council and through Re3, our joint waste disposal arrangement with Bracknell Forest and Reading, we are actively moving forward on finding new products to recycle and new initiatives on communication with residents, all aimed at increasing our recycling rate towards the 50% target set nationally for 2020.


I will move on to tell you of the uplifting experience I had a couple of weeks ago when around 100 disabled members of our community, including students from Addington School spent much of the day at Loddon Valley Leisure Centre on a Disability Sports Taster Day. Volunteers from 10 sports provided the experience and our Sports and Leisure Team organised the day superbly.  All are to be thanked and congratulated, not least the 100 who clearly enjoyed the experience, as I did as well!


Mark Ashwell, Executive Member for Planning and Regeneration 

Planning:  I can report the superb news that we have determined an average of 90% of all planning applications in time. This is against the national average of 68%, which is testament to the hard work and diligence of our Planning Department. The bad news is that appeals are at an all-time high, which is a massive drain on our Council’s resources. The good news is we successfully defended 70% of all of our appeals. I’d like to thank my Deputy, Councillor Bowring, for his hard work with our local plan update.


Regeneration:  This is full steam ahead in Wokingham Town and at Carnival Pool we are nearing the completion of what has been our best kept secret – a state of the art, 500 space multi-storey car park.  This will open mid-May and enable the commencement of the re-generation of Elms Field and the Paddocks car park.  Peach Place regeneration is also well under way, with the one-lane closure at Peach Street actually not working out too badly – 10 weeks to go.


Communities:  In my portfolio, this is all about standing shoulder to shoulder with our existing residents in the newly forming Strategic Development Locations, the SDLs.  We’ve worked very hard in making our regular forums engaging and worthwhile and in this respect, I cannot thank the Residents Associations and the Town and Parish Councils enough for their critical friendship.


Do you know, Mr Mayor, we’re truly getting there and by sticking together the pain will be worth the massive gain we will all experience.


Malcolm Richards, Executive Member for Highways and Transport

This month sees further progress on the development of the Carnival Pool car park at Wellington Road / Elms Field. The car park is expected to open for use in May 2017.


Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) is also progressing well and is due for formal submission to the Dept for Transport (DfT) by June, with an expected response soon after.  It is anticipated that CPE will commence across Wokingham Borough during the last quarter of 2017. An additional benefit of our CPE decision is the digitalisation of our mapping system, which will enable online access to our maps and all the CPE regulations applicable across the borough, not just within our offices but eventually for all our residents to see on their own computers and phones, without having to look at printed maps and text descriptions. 


Moving on to Highways, Members and residents will know of the substantial roadworkings occurring across the Borough at present, and for the foreseeable future.  Some of it is new roadbuilding, other works are road maintenance and repairs, some of it is the installation and upgrading of utility services (which are often within the highway itself) in order to cope with the growth of new housing and development. Yet another aspect is the utility companies having to do emergency repairs. In an emergency, we cannot expect anyone to delay fixing a gas or water leak or an electrical supply. All of this considerable work has a knock on effect on moving around the borough on our roads, and jams are sometimes inevitable. I don’t like traffic jams, I get stuck in them as well – but all of the work is required and cannot simply be put off until later.  We regularly review the way that the highways tasks are done and the related communications, and we will continue to make improvements in our practices and procedures.  In the meantime, we would like to ask you to be patient and to bear with us during this very busy time.


Councillor Alison Swaddle, Deputy Executive Member for Resident Services, on behalf of Councillor Pauline Jorgensen, Executive Member for Resident Services

Our changes to introduce self-service in our larger Libraries is underway, each Library takes about a week to refurbish and install the new technology. Lower Earley Library was first in line, followed by Woodley and finally Wokingham Library where the work is due to be completed in time for reopening on Wednesday of this week. In total the improvement works, including the self-service kiosks are costing £300K of developer's funding allocated to libraries, this innovation allows us to increase our cost efficiency and extend our library opening hours, including some more opening at weekends.


The first Joint Public Protection Partnership board has been held in Wokingham. This board will guide the development of an integrated and more cost effective service between neighbouring councils of Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead, Bracknell and  West Berkshire. The new service covers Environmental Health and Trading standards.


Procurement recently updated Scrutiny on the progress of the new Procurement Regulations. These are more transparent, streamlined, easy to follow for Officers undertaking procurement activity and incorporate updated public procurement legislation. This includes the introduction of a ‘light touch’ regime for social care service contracts, which were previously exempt, and increased support for small companies to take up public contract opportunities through greater advertising of opportunities and removal of pre-qualification steps. We have already seen savings in contract costs of approximately £400k per annum for tenders undertaken since these new regulations were adopted.


Finally although not strictly in my portfolio, I was delighted to add to my report on outside bodies by congratulating Berkshire Record Office for securing UK Archive Service accreditation.


Anthony Pollock, Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance

We have seen recent coverage of costs incurred through the use of interim and agency staff to cover key positions in the Council. I welcome the opportunity to address this issue.


Wokingham Borough Council has had, over many years, to respond to changes in Government funding while meeting growing demand for services, particularly in our Children’s and Adult Social Care services. We have adapted successfully, reducing costs and maintaining and even improving service delivery. Business process re-engineering, zero-based budgeting and Transformation were among the approaches adopted by this administration to bring down the costs of service delivery.


We are now in the middle of the 21st Century Council programme, where the Council is looking to change fundamentally how it delivers services to residents, and in the process to reduce the workforce by at least 10%, saving our residents £4m a year. It is imperative that we take steps to mitigate the risk, and costs, associated with redundancy. This Council has a strong track record of making change happen and avoiding high redundancy costs. One of the ways we do this is by holding posts vacant during change, by procuring temporary or interim staff to hold the reins in these areas. Once we know a post will remain in the structure following the 21 Century Council changes, we will then look to fill it at the right time on a permanent basis. We procure temporary staff at competitive rates. The story in the paper about the daily rate of £900 disguises the fact that we receive, through the contract framework, a refund on daily rates.


Some posts prove hard to fill. We have advertised twice for our Assistant Director for Education, and found no suitable candidate, and we have had abortive discussions with two of our neighbours about a shared service model. We are eager to share, when it make sense for us, more than most of our neighbours. So we will continue to act with prudence and with care, to ensure we continue to provide value for money for our residents.