19 Nov 2023
Stephen Conway

The theme of partnership has featured regularly in my reports to you on Wokingham Borough Council.  We are trying to extend, improve, and in some caes repair relations with external partners, because we believe that much can be gained by working together to tackle the challenges our area faces.

Let me give you three examples of success in developing partnership working.

The first relates to the Tenant and Landlord Improvement Panel (TLIP).  This body, which includes tenant volunteers, council officers, and elected councillors of all parties, meets monthly to consider policy and performance in the delivery and management of the council's own residential rental properties.  Chaired by Steve Bowers, a tenant volunteer, TLIP gives residents living in council property the opportunity to have a meaningful say in the way the housing service operates.  TLIP has been going for many years, and is a good example of an established partnership that brings great value to the council, helping it to improve the housing service in ways that benefit our tentants but also save money.  Last week, the work of TLIP received well-deserved recognition at the national Affordable Housing Awards in Manchester, where TLIP won the top slot in the category of 'excellence in community-led decision making'. 

My second example is of a partnership that had not been realising its true potential, but is now beginning to blossom.  The leaders of the six Berkshire unitary councils - Wokingham, Reading, Bracknell, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough, and West Berkshire - have met regularly since the abolition of the county council to consider strategic matters that cross local authority boundaries.  It's fair to say, however, that until recently progress had been limited, mainly because of reluctance on the part of some of the leaders to put aside party differences.  I'm glad to say that since May, with changes in political control in most of the Berkshire unitaries, the appetite to work collaboratively has greatly increased, and considerable progress has been made.  We are establishing a Berkshire Prosperity Board to enable us to bid more successfully for infrastructure funding from central government, with six areas of collaborative working, each led by leaders and chief executives from one council, supported at the operational level by senior officers from another council. 

The final example is the strategic partnership we have agreed with the University of Reading.  It’s long been my ambition to secure for the council the advantages of having a world-class university in the borough. Over the last few months we have been able to engage very fruitfully with the university on ways in which we can work together on areas of common interest. We recently had the first meeting of a newly-formed Strategic Partnership Board, comprising the vice-chancellor and his head of community engagement on the university side and the chief executive and me representing the council. We heard reports of work underway in four separate areas – the climate emergency, arts and culture, economic development, and participatory research. Each of these workstreams is led by a senior academic and a senior council officer. We stand to gain much from tapping into the expertise available at the university, but the university can be a winner, too, as being able to demonstrate that its research is having an impact on public policy will help it to acquire grants to fund further research projects. 

I firmly believe that effective partnership working is the way forward for the council.  With chronic underfunding in all public services, we cannot continue to operate as we have done in the past. We have to adapt to a new world, in which the council, in order to meet the needs of the community it's there to serve, works alongside others.  By pooling knowledge, experience, data, and resources, we can achieve more together than we can on our own. 

 Stephen Conawy - Leader Wokingham Borough Council