In 2011 Wokingham Borough Council created Optalis, a company that provides care and support services to older people and adults with a disability. Since then the Liberal Democratshave demanded transparency and openness for local taxpayers from the council owned companies. There has been some progress on improving openness but now the Conservativeshave taken a giant step backwards.
Cllr Prue Bray, leader of the Lib Dems said “As Optalis is funded by Wokingham’s taxpayers and is used by vulnerable people in our community, it is important that its activities are open to scrutiny. The Lib Dems have consistently shown that the governance, transparency and reporting by all the Wokingham Borough Council owned companies is simply not good enough. At least in the past as opposition councillors we have been able to have 6 monthly briefings from Optalis and anything we were told in confidence we always kept confidential. Now suddenly we have been told by Keith Baker, Leader of the Council, that he has decided these briefings will no longer take place, and that he will determine when they can start again.
It makes us wonder why. What is there to hide? According to Companies House the managing director left Optalis at roughly the same time Keith banned us from having briefings. Could the two things be connected, do you suppose?
It is not acceptable that the Leader of the Council can simply choose to block access to the council owned companies to suit his own agenda.
The Lib Dems have always been worried that the companies’ activities could be hidden from the taxpayer. Now it looks like our concerns were justified.”
Wokingham Borough’s Lib Dem councillors are extremely disappointed at the Conservative Council’s proposed strategyfor dealing with flooding.
Leader of the Lib Dems, Cllr Prue Bray (Winnersh ward) said “This Flood Strategy is not fit for purpose, it is full of holes and does not give any real indication of what the council intends to achieve, what the priorities are, or when they are to be expected to be done. Without specifics the measures are only aspirations, and tracking progress and performance will be impossible. We are concerned not just about flooding now but in the future, particularly if new homes are being built on or near the flood plain and the impact of this on existing properties. ”
Prue added “I am extremely concerned about the lack of resource available to deal with flooding in our Borough. In September I asked the Conservative responsible for this area what physical work is actually being done to preventflooding, I was told that staff shortages and the work on the routine day job has meant any other work will take longer to happen. This is just not good enough, the Conservatives need to get on top of flooding and put resources into tackling it.”
The Lib Dems have been pressing the Conservatives on flood prevention. Earlier this year at the March Council Meeting, Lib Dem Cllr Tom McCann (Loddon ward) said to the Conservatives “You have failed communities, and you have failed to implement any real flood prevention and mitigation measures. You have known about key at flood risk areas like the traffic lights at Showcase cinema and you still did nothing. I will accept that this year’s flooding was far worse than our normal amount of rain, but by not fixing the roof while the sun is shining you have failed us all.”
Local Lib Dems are disappointed that Conservative councillors at Wokingham Borough Council have trumpeted a survey of business owners that shows support for town centre regeneration, when the survey says nothing new.
Cllr Lindsay Ferris deputy leader of the Lib Dems said, “Well I hope the Conservatives did not waste taxpayer’s money to fund this survey, as it tells us nothing new. Since regeneration plans were first thought about, a majority of residents and businesses agree that regeneration is necessary. BUT what form will this Regeneration take? That is the key issue. At Lib Dem consultations and meetings with the public and businesses earlier this year on our Alternative Regeneration Proposals, this was what people were most concerned about and interested in.
Our alternatives have support and do NOT include building on green space at Elms Field. They do include supporting and developing the retail businesses in the town centre with new ideas such as a click and collect website and service for all the shops.
The Conservatives should not be wasting public money but should follow the Lib Dem example and come up with innovative and up to date plans for regeneration that are shared with residents and businesses so we get the best regeneration and not an out of date, costly and unpopular plan.”