From the Council Leader - SOME POSITIVE NEWS

31 Jan 2024
Stephen Conway

Wokingham Borough Council, as many of you know, has been lobbying the government for a fairer funding formula, which recognizes the true costs of providing Adult and Children's Social Care.  These areas of council responsibility have been particularly subject to increased costs and increased demand in recent years, and inflation and a rise in the number of people needing care are putting enormous pressure on the council's budgets.


Residents of the borough clearly share our view that the council needs a fairer deal from government; over a thousand of you wrote to the secretary of state to point out how the current funding formula disadvantages Wokingham.


The local government minister wrote to me in December, acknowledging our arguments and those of the more than a thousand residents who wrote in support of our case.  The minister specifically referenced the number of letters that the secretary of state had received from Wokingham borough.


I have already, in an earlier column, thanked those residents who took the time and trouble to write.  Now I want to thank them again, as it looks as though their - and our - efforts are beginning to bear fruit.


Last week, we learned that the government is going to make additional payments to councils that face the challenge of meeting the rising costs of providing Adult and Children's Social Care.


We do not anticipate that we will receive significant additional support; certainly not enough to remove the need to make savings and generate income to meet inflation and growth pressures amounting to some £17.3 million across the council.  But it will help. 


I am sure that residents' support played a part in securing this step in the right direction.  I am very grateful for the backing of all those people of the borough who wrote to the government and to their MPs - it seems to have made a real difference.


I want also to take this opportunity to update you on another matter of interest to many people.  


Our town and village centres are undergoing change.  Shops across the country are feeling the pinch as more and more retail trade moves online.  Anchor stores are vacating the High Street.  Generally speaking, leisure and hospitality seem to be doing better than shops selling goods, because what leisure and hospitality provide cannot readily be secured online. But even leisure and hospitality have their challenges, with labour supply a common problem.  


The council is already offering support to the local economy in a variety of ways.  But since meeting Wokingham shopkeepers recently, I have concluded that there is more we should try to do.  


Given the council's financial challenges, we need to find low-cost initiatives that can make a difference.  To this end, I have asked David Cornish, my executive colleague responsible for business and economic development, to work in partnership with town and parish councils and local businesses to draw up a Town Centre Strategy, which seeks to diagnose the nature of the problems, pulls together what the council is already doing, and identifies what further steps the council could take.  I envisage this as a strategy that will cover all of our town and village centres, not just Wokingham town.  


We cannot change what is happening nationally to the High Street, but we can work together to decide how best we can address the challenges at a local level. 

Stephen Conway - Leader of WBC