The big decision makers at Wokingham Borough Council delved into the council’s financial position, complained about delays to a new school for autistic children, and more in a recent meeting.

Wokingham Borough Council’s executive committee met on Thursday, October 28.

In his introductory speech, Councillor John Halsall (Conservative, Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe) said “our thoughts are with the families” of two MPs who lost their lives this month.

Sir David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, died after being fatally stabbed on Friday, October 15, and James Brokenshire Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who died on Thursday, October 7, following a battle with cancer.

READ MORE: Bracknell MP 'devastated' by news of fellow politician Sir David Amess' death

Cllr Halsall added: “Our hearts also go out to our friend and colleague Cllr Gary Cowan in his sorrow at the sad loss of Katie his closest friend, wife and long time supporter of local democracy.”

A key theme of the meeting was the council’s financial reports, which were introduced by Cllr John Kaiser (Conservative, Barkham), executive member for finance and housing.

It emerged the council spent £3.7 million (£3,703,000) on the financial impact of Covid-19.

Much of that -£3.48 million (£3,487,000)- was covered by the Government Covid Grant Funding (£3,187,000) and other extra funding given to deal with pandemic (£300,000).

However, the council still ended up spending £216,000 of its own money spent on recovering from the economic impact of Covid-19  in quarter two of the 2021/22 financial year.

Bracknell News: A chart showing the council's 'end of September position' for the 2021/22 financial year. Credit: Wokingham Borough CouncilA chart showing the council's 'end of September position' for the 2021/22 financial year. Credit: Wokingham Borough Council

A report on the council’s financial position for quarter two of 2021/22  did show an overspend on its approved budget.

The approved budget was £147,809,000 but the council has actually forecast that it spent £148,230,000, resulting in a forecast £421,000 overspend.

Although the council is not in financial special measures, the executive committee still expressed concerns about mounting costs due to the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic and increases in gas and electricity prices.

Cllr Halsall said: “I’m regularly in touch with our four MPs, and I say four MPs because on certain issues Matt Rodda (Labour, Reading East) is a star.

“I’ve reverted them to the precariousness of our financial situation. Not because we’re in a bad place, we’re in a good place, but because the Health and Social Care bill will hit us more than it hits everyone else.

“As we have a high level development, we’re particularly dependent on new homes bonus, the dedicated school grant, the high needs block is under attack because the Department for Education looks like they are going to fail to provide Oak Tree on time.

“We have all these external pressures which are large, and we can only sort them out with big contact with our MPs.”

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Cllr Halsall’s comments come following the news that the opening of the new Oak Tree School in Winnersh for children with autistic spectrum disorders has been delayed by at least one year.

Matt Rodda MP and Theresa May Conservative MP for Maidenhead, have said that the delay will cost Wokingham and Reading Borough Councils millions while the special needs pupils are educated in other settings.

In brighter news, council housing tenants were thanked for paying on time.

Cllr Kaiser said:  “Our residents have paid 99.9% of our social housing rents. The reason for that is not because we throw them out, we are not able to.

“We negotiate, we help. Wherever we find someone who can’t pay all their rent, we work with Citizens Advice and benefits, and try and get them into a place where they can. There’s no point in having a debt with someone who can’t pay it, it just wrecks people’s lives.”

During the meeting, the executive:

  • Approved a report on the council’s financial position for quarter two of the 2021/22 financial year
  • Accept a report on the council’s capital expenditure for quarter two of 2021/22
  • Agreed to publish the council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP)
  • Agreed to begin a ‘community deliberative process’ on the council’s response to the climate emergency, which will begin in November, and be availabe for residents to access in the New Year.

The executive committee is made up entirely of Conservatives.