Staff at Wokingham Borough Council have been grilled by councillors over the  decision to leave the Public Protection Partnership.

The Public Protection Partnership has been a shared service between Wokingham Borough Council, Bracknell Forest Council, and West Berkshire Council.

It is responsible for noise complaints, bonfires, anti-social behaviour, food hygiene issues, pest control, pollution problems, and animal welfare concerns. It also works with police when crimes have been committed.

But in March, Wokingham Borough Council decided to leave the PPP in a vote, a decision which was opposed by Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors.

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The Conservative administration has cited the lack of weekend cover and the potential improvements that can be brought about by having a service located in the borough as the reason for the move.

At a meeting, councillors scrutinised the progress of the exit from the PPP, raising concerns over the timeline of the exit and over staff expertise.

The questions were posed to Steve Moore, director of place and growth at the council, and executive member for neighbourhoods and communities councillor Bill Soane (Conservative, Loddon).

Cllr Soane said that Wokingham borough will leave the PPP on March 31, 2022, and begin its service on April 1, 2022.

Cllr Paul Fishwick (Liberal Democrat, Winnersh) questioned whether that was enough time. He asked: “12 months is a very short timescale to set up a new service, bringing it back in house, what confidence do you have that it will be functional by April 1, 2022?”

Officer Moore replied: “We firmly believe and are very confident that by April 1 we will have a functioning service, within the local authority that is operating at least to the standards you see at the moment.

“I’m seeing this in two phases. I think we lift in, we launch a service, like any big operation like that, you have to have the opportunity to reflect and revise, and listen to staff, our ward councillors, and our communities, to make sure the second phase of the process, from April 2022 for 12 months, will be revising the model  based on local needs. There will certainly be a refinement of what we do, but to be honest that’s something we should be doing with all our services anyway, because needs are constantly changing.”

Backing officer Moore up, Cllr Soane added: “It’s not going to be a turn-off turn-on on the 31st and the 1st, I think there’s going to be a gradual transition into it prior to that which will make it run much smoother.”

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Cllr Shirley Boyt (Labour, Bulmershe & Whitegates) stating the fact that the PPP had no cover on weekends, asked: “I’m assuming the withdrawal from the PPP didn’t just hinge on improving response to anti-social behaviour. Are there any other key areas where you think real improvements can be made?”

Officer Moore replied that the council wants to focus on anti social behaviour (ASB), as it is a big issue effecting residents.

He said: “There has been a heavy focus on ASB, we’re focused on a more localised approach, sometimes services spread across areas don’t necessarily operate in the best way for the local need. ASB is one of the main factors.”

During the meeting, councillors were told that the council is in the process of arranging staffing for the new service. Interviews for the head of Wokingham Borough’s public protection service will begin in August, with the council hoping to hire someone in September.

Cllr Fishwick earlier questioned whether bringing public protection services under the council’s control would lead to a “less resilient” service due to the specialisation that officers needed to fulfill their roles.

The questioning took place at an extraordinary meeting of the council’s community and corporate overview and scrutiny committee yesterday (Wednesday, July 21).