Liberal Democrat councillors are strongly opposing Tory recommendations to restrict the number of people who are eligible to receive free travel tokens from Wokingham Borough Council.
Councillor Phil Challis (councillor for Loddon ward) said, “Taking tokens away from the elderly ignores the needs of this potentially vulnerable group. There are many elderly people in the borough who live in areas where there is no bus service, so the alternative of a free bus pass is no use to them. The Tories have the wrong priorities: what happened to the Leader of the Council’s assertion that the needs of the most vulnerable people in the borough were his priority?”
Councillor Prue Bray (Leader of the Lib Dem councillor group and councillor for Winnersh ward) said, “The council committee’s investigation into concessionary travel was rushed through and was a sham. Rob Stanton (Tory Executive member at the time) even told the committee that leaving things as they are was not an option. It is quite clear that the Tories are intent on saving money and are not interested in investigating the whole issue of concessionary travel properly.”
The Liberal Democrat opinion expressed in a minority report to the Executive is that the Tories had not allowed enough time or provided enough information for proper consideration of the impact of taking free travel tokens away from people who currently get them.
Prue Bray went on to say, “The Tories either can’t listen or won’t listen and as usual it is left to the Lib Dems to speak up for the vulnerable groups in Wokingham. We urge the Executive to retain the free travel tokens for all over-60’s in the borough when they make their decision on Thursday 29th January.”
At last Tuesday’s Wokingham Borough Council meeting (13th January), the Leader of the Council, Tory Councillor David Lee, announced that Cllr Rob Stanton, currently Executive member for Corporate Services, is to replace Cllr Norman Jorgensen as Executive member for Children’s Services. This reshuffle comes in the wake of damning reports on Wokingham Borough Council’s Children’s Services by the Audit Commission and Ofsted.
Councillor Beth Rowland (Lib Dem Spokesperson for Children’s Services and councillor for South Lake ward) said, “Children’s Services is an enormous job, and huge demands will be made on Cllr Stanton. This reshuffle comes as two government reports assess the Council’s arrangements for safeguarding children as ‘inadequate’.
“Cllr Stanton will need lots of support to help him put things right, especially as he has no experience of education or services to vulnerable children and young people. His two predecessors (Norman Jorgensen and Frank Browne) have left Rob with some deep and intractable problems, and I wish him the very best as he takes on this difficult challenge.
“The Liberal Democrats will do everything they can to help and support him to get Children’s Services on the right track. We hope that, unlike his predecessors, he will actually pay attention to what we have to say.”
Following the shock discovery that Tory-controlled Wokingham Borough Council had bid for Government money to close Emmbrook School and build a new secondary school in Arborfield, Wokingham Liberal Democrat councillors urged the Tory administration at the Council to stop making decisions in secret.
Councillor Stephen Conway (Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem Councillor Group and councillor for Twyford ward) said, “The Liberal Democrats have called on the ruling Tories to engage the public in open debate and to consult in a meaningful way before making such decisions. Consultation does not mean making a decision and then asking people what they think of it, it means listening to what people want and what they have to say, and then taking it on board.
“The current Leader of the Council, Tory Councillor David Lee, announced in October ‘the start of a more open policy of working’, but we have not seen much evidence of change so far.
“At the Wokingham Borough Council meeting on Tuesday (13th January) the Liberal Democrats told the Council that there is a better way. The Council needs to bring in our residents at the earliest possible time, BEFORE decisions have been reached by the Executive, so that our residents can help shape the decisions. This is a far cry from simply allowing people to comment on the details of how decisions already made are to be implemented.
“At the moment, our residents feel powerless to influence what happens in their communities. To restore public confidence, the Council must bring them into the decision-making process so that their voices are heard. There is a wide gap between the Liberal Democrat understanding of proper consultation and the Conservative approach. It’s time to narrow the gap and end the secrecy.