angus ross

Wokingham Borough Council and the Secret Consultation

I think this sums it up rather neatly.

Back in the local elections, three plus months ago (was it really only three months ago?) one of the chief criticisms I had of Wokingham Borough Council’s new waste collection scheme was that it was a profound change to the system, and it had been done completely without consultation.

Well, it seems that the council are somewhat belatedly running just such a consultation. Sort of.

A thirty-four question online survey inquiring as to residents thoughts, opinion, and experiences of the new waste collection scheme has appeared, introducing itself with the line:

…the Council would like to know your views about how the scheme is working and whether it is delivering on its intended improvements.

And about time two. Except…good luck finding said survey. I consider myself a reasonable competent researcher — it’s included in my job title, after all — and after a good hour with a search engine I was still drawing a blank. As far as I can tell, you cannot find the survey unless you already have the URL. Which is an interesting approach, don’t you think?

The funny thing is that the council website already has a section of its website dedicated to consultations. The list of open consultations isn’t exactly long, but I don’t see anything related to waste collection there.

So we have a waste consultation, but it’s unfindable. The only reason I even know about it is because a neighbour happened to receive the link in an email and forward it to a family member. Even the leader of the Lib Dem opposition didn’t seem to know anything about it.

As I see it, there are two possible explanations:

  • It’s not real. Which seems strange, since it looks like it’s hosted on the council website.
  • The council doesn’t really want people to find it, apart from people who they show the link to.

No prizes for guessing which I think the answer is.

So going forward, what to do. Well, firstly I suggest you all go to the survey, fill it out, and tell the council what you think of their waste scheme. I’ll even give you the link, free of charge:

Secondly, there’s an email address on the consultations section of the Wokingham website, for someone called a “Consultation Officer”. This sounds like someone who should know about any consultations being conducted, so I’m going to send them an email asking for clarification. I’ll let you all know what response I get.

And thirdly, I will be meeting with Cllr Angus Ross at the end of the month to discuss the new bins scheme. Amongst a few other things, you can be very much sure this will be mentioned.

Wokingham Borough Council’s Cabinet Reshuffle

Wokingham’s cabinet reshuffle has seen Cllr Angus Ross (right) take over responsibility for the controversial waste collection scheme from Cllr Gary Cowan (left).

With the “unfair” election behind him and, despite his belief that voters were mean to him, his overwhelming majority intact, Wokingham’s Tory council leader David Lee has reshuffled his top team. This is presumably a search for a little inspiration, following the last lot’s sparkling success in alienating vast chunks of the populace.

The most notable change is the jettisoning of two of the executives who were arguably the most damaged: Cllrs Gary Cowan and UllaKarin Clark.

Cllr Cowan’s performance regarding the new waste system was something of an unmitigated disaster. From day one the scheme was clearly flawed, and when those flaws became clear he alternated between joining his fellow cabinet members in the bunker, and giving disastrous interviews on BBC Radio Berkshire’s Andrew Peach show. I can’t decide which was my personal favourite moment: his 9m long bin bags, or his insistence that four different sizes of bags all across the borough were the result of a single defective batch.

This one isn’t a surprise for me. The scheme was unpopular and unsuccessful, and Gary was the council’s face of it. Losing two seats might not seem a huge setback, but it will have been a blow to David Lee’s ego. I expect Gary has taken the bulk of the blame, so his absence from the top table is no great surprise.

His replacement is Angus Ross, the former executive member for  planning (I think). I don’t honestly know much about Cllr Ross, he’s not been a particularly high profile member of the executive, so I’ll be interested to see how he performs now he’s been thrust into the spotlight.

The departure of Cllr Clark is, to me, equally unsurprising. Her brief of Internal Services included the library service, and with the announcement of who it’s being sold off to expected pretty imminently, it’s going to become a political hot potato (I say that because I’m going to make it a political hot potato).

I’m sure Cllr Clark is perfectly capable, but her defence of the library privatisation plan has been less than robust. She was the respondant to the petition against the plans, and her conduct was shambolic. She and her colleagues spent the debate chastising those who signed the petition, rather than taking the opportunity to explain, defend and persuade. And when the time came for voting on a motion, she was wholly unprepared and the executive had to write one there on the floor of the chamber.

But it’s the choice of her replacement which is the most interesting part: Hillside’s newly re-elected Cllr Pauline Jorgensen. This just might be the first piece of sound political manoeuvring I’ve seen on David Lee’s part, and an excellent choice. Cllr Jorgensen is sharp, keen and will make my job significantly harder. I know this because I’ve already had many debates and discussions with her on Twitter. I disagree with the vast majority of her policy positions, but I won’t deny that she’s very capable, and I hope she’ll raise the quality of debate in the chamber.

In other news, Cllr Keith Baker has added planning to his pre-existing highways brief, so please direct all planning permission complaints thither. Given that Cllr Baker is one of the highest profile executive members, readers might wonder at the consolidation of roles in his portfolio, but I would imagine David Lee decided that he needed someone who would be able to defend the building of 13,000 new homes by 2026.

Newcomer to the executive Cllr Alisatir Corrie takes on Matt Deegan’s brief for the regeneration, after Matt stood down in May, and Cllr Charlotte Haitham-Taylor has taken over on Children’s Services from Rob Stanton, who remains deputy leader. The cabinet in full is as follows:

Council Leader – Cllr David Lee (Norreys)

Deputy Leader – Cllr Rob Stanton (Finchampstead North)

Highways and Planning – Cllr Keith Baker (Coronation)

Finance – Cllr Anthony Pollock (Shinfield South)

Health and Wellbeing – Cllr Julian McGhee-Sumner (Wescott)

Internal Services – Cllr Pauline Jorgensen (Hillside)

Regeneration and Affordable Houses – Cllr Alistair Corrie (Evendons)

Evironment – Cllr Angus Ross (Wokingham Without)

Children’s Services – Cllr Charlotte Haitham-Taylor (Shinfield South)