From the leader - PUTTING NEW IDEAS INTO ACTION

14 Mar 2024
Stephen Conway headshot

As councillors gear up for the local elections in a few weeks’ time, this seems a good moment to take stock and reflect on what has been achieved by your borough council since last May. Here are a few of the highlights.

We have produced with our partners and residents a first draft of the Community Vision, which will shape the council’s strategy for the years ahead. Created and led by the community rather than the council, the Vision is a radical new participatory way of setting the council’s priorities at a strategic level.

We have forged a new strategic partnership with the University of Reading, which will bring considerable benefits to the people and businesses of the borough, not least in helping us with our Climate Emergency Action Plan, our economic development strategy, and our employment, training and skills agenda.

We have led the way in the formation of the Berkshire Prosperity Board, which will enable us to bid for external funding for key infrastructure projects with greater chance of success and give us a stronger voice in national decision-making.

We have developed a much greater sense of corporate ownership of challenges – there is now much more joined-up thinking in pursuit of the council’s objectives. To help reduce the pressure on adult social care and housing budgets, for instance, we are converting some of our own offices into accommodation for care leavers and those in danger of becoming homeless.

We have broadened our range of external partnerships and made some of those that already existed stronger. In an era of limited budgets, it makes sense to pool expertise, knowledge, data and resources with others to help make the borough a better place to live and work.

We have pursued a policy of prevention, early intervention and investing now to save later. A good example is our purchase of a new care home, which increases provision in the borough and will help control future costs for the council. Another is our successful bid for funding to build two new Special Educational Needs schools in the south of the borough, which will help reduce the council’s home-to-school transport bill in years to come.

We are including bold new policies on environmental sustainability and energy conservation in our emerging local plan, which will also aim to designate many valued areas in our communities as protected Green Spaces and tracts of open countryside as areas of landscape value.

We have approved the planting of a Covid Memorial Wood in Barkham, which will help us meet our objective of increasing canopy cover and at the same time will provide a place of quiet contemplation for those who lost a loved one in the pandemic.

And we have succeeded, when many other similar projects have failed, in securing a contract with SSEN to connect our new Barkham Solar Farm to the grid in 2026 – an achievement that should silence the doubters and – more importantly – will help to decarbonize the grid and produce a healthy income that the council can use on services for our residents.