18 Mar 2024
Stephen Conway headshot

As the local election campaign gets underway, we are likely to read and hear more and more divisive rhetoric, designed to highlight differences between political parties. In the heat of an election campaign, that rhetoric may go too far and portray division where none in truth exists.

This week, I want to focus on what I believe is an area of council work on which there ought to be broad agreement – the need to align the borough council’s priorities more closely with the aspirations of the people it serves.

Since the new administration took over at Wokingham in May 2022, we have been seeking to change the way in which the borough council sets its strategy.

In the past, the practice was for the Council Plan – the document setting out the council’s broad strategic objectives – to be drafted by council officers with input from elected councillors. It was then put out to public consultation.

We have pursued a radical new approach, which brings the public in at the beginning rather than at the end of the process.

The aim has been to create a Community Vision, drawn up not by the council alone but by the council working in partnership with the community. The Community Vision will then set the broad strategic objectives for the council to pursue in a new Council Plan.

The process started with a plenary session attended by representatives from local voluntary and charitable organizations; business; town and parish councils; the police, fire service, and health providers; faith groups; educators, including the University of Reading; and the Youth Council.

We then had a series of dedicated workshops with different parts of the community and established a steering group, chaired by Nick Fellows, of Wokingham Volunteer Centre, which includes volunteers from the voluntary and charitable sector, business, health providers, the university, faith groups, and the Youth Council, together with council officers and a small number of elected councillors.

The next stage was an online questionnaire and public engagement sessions designed to canvass the views of the wider community. We were particularly keen to hear the voices that often get missed, especially those of young people.

I want to thank all those involved for their hard work and commitment over many months. The enthusiasm of the steering group members has been truly inspiring.

We now have a first draft of our jointly-authored Community Vision. The next step will be a full public consultation after the local elections, with eventual adoption of the Community Vision in the autumn by all the partners involved in its production.

The council will then draw up a new Council Plan, based on the priorities outlined in the Community Vision – the priorities set by the people of the borough.