The new leader of Wokingham Borough Council said he’s in for a “challenging” year as he took up his post on May 18.

Meanwhile, the opposition Conservative leader took aim at the council over bin collections, potholes and housing developments.

It came after local elections earlier this month, where the Liberal Democrats became the largest party on the council for the first time in decades.

After being elected leader, Liberal Democrat Stephen Conway said inflation rates, and “totally inadequate” government funding would be challenging for the council. He added that his priorities would be “financial stability.”

The council would target money at securing school places, supporting local businesses and addressing climate change, he said.

He appealed for cooperation across the parties represented in the council, and for “constructive opposition” from the Conservatives.

In a message seemingly aimed at the Conservatives, he said: “There will, of course, be areas of disagreement. But let’s not manufacture contention where none exists. Let’s work together whenever possible.”

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Conservative leader Pauline Jorgensen said she “looked forward” to working with other parties. But she went on to accuse the Liberal Democrats and Labour of trying to block councillors’ questions from being heard, and of not listening to residents, as the Wokingham Borough Partnership last year.

And she accused them of putting up parking charges, not spending enough on fixing potholes, ending weekly bin collections, and failing to control new housing developments.

She said: “The record of the Liberal Democrats and their Labour coalition partners is residents pay more but get less. Council Tax is up. Fees are up. Parking charges are set to double.

“In exchange, bins will be collected less, fewer potholes will be fixed, no action on the solar farm. And our residents have been let down with no progress on achieving sustainable housing numbers.”

Bracknell News: Conservative leader Pauline Jorgensen speaks at the full council meeting on 18 May 2023 (Credit: Wokingham Borough Council)Conservative leader Pauline Jorgensen speaks at the full council meeting on 18 May 2023 (Credit: Wokingham Borough Council)

Although Lib Dems will lead the council, they don’t have a majority. They will have to rely on the support of the five Labour councillors to get votes through. But the formal agreement between the Lib Dems, Labour and independents that put them in charge last year has ended.

The council meeting also elected a new mayor and deputy mayor. The new mayor is Liberal Democrat councillor Beth Rowland. She said outgoing mayor Caroline Smith had been “a great example to us all of how to behave as mayor and I hope to be as good as she is.”

READ MORE: Wokingham Council leader stands down to run for MP (but Conservative rival hits back)

The new deputy mayor, Lib Dem councillor Adrian Mather, also thanked councillors for voting him in. He said: “When people vote for you, you think, ‘wow, they actually think I can do something. They think I can take some responsibility.’”

He added: “The more you understand the situation as a serving role, the more you get into it.”