FROM THE LEADER: Inclusivity is in our DNA

30 Nov 2022

Senior council officers have been pursuing this agenda for some time, but now, with a new administration leading the council, corporate and political objectives coincide.

The Liberal Democrats believe in the value of working with others – inclusivity is in our DNA.

What underpins this commitment to partnership, from both officers and councillors, is the realisation that we can achieve more for the borough and its residents when we work together with our external partners than we can when we work on our own.

The new approach to partnerships makes great sense as the funding landscape for local government becomes more and more challenging.

Wokingham receives one of the lowest levels of central government support of all local authorities in England. The council has to move away from a simple provider model and move towards a hybrid model, where it continues to provide services but also acts as an enabler and facilitator of action undertaken by others.

What has given this move extra urgency is the cost-of-living crisis. Even in a wealthy area such as ours, inflation and mortgage rate rises are tipping some of our residents into real hardship. Many others are worried about making ends meet.

The council lacks the resources to tackle the problem on its own (central government has not helped in the way that it did at the height of the pandemic). But we can make our limited resources go farther by working with others.

The council is part of the Hardship Alliance, working with local voluntary and charitable bodies to build up a pot of money that can be used to help those in difficulties this winter and beyond.

But it’s not just about assembling money.

The council and the wider Hardship Alliance have been working to coordinate support to ensure that no one who needs help is left out. The council has also been discussing with town and parish councils and with local businesses how they can play a part, particularly in promoting volunteering and in publicising what help is available.

One piece of work that the borough council has begun with town and parish councils is assembling a more comprehensive database of local clubs, societies and activities available in the different communities within the borough.

We are all very much aware that some residents, fearful of incurring unnecessary expenditure, may be tempted to stay at home over much of the winter.

The experience of the covid lockdowns should warn us of the dangers to mental and physical health of prolonged removal from social contact.

If we can inform our residents of what they can do over the winter at low or no cost, we hope that they will avoid the pitfalls of self-imposed isolation.

There is much good work going on, then, on the partnership front. But we have only just begun. Effective partnership working is not easy to pull off; it requires commitment and a willingness, on the part of both council officers and councillors, to embrace cultural change.

The old ways have to change; a new and more inclusive approach is needed.

We will do all we can to make partnership work.

Its great strength, as I’ve said already, is that it enables our community to benefit. We can achieve much more by working with others than we can achieve on our own.

Cllr Clive Jones