At the recent meeting of the Wokingham Borough Council Cllr John Kaiser Executive member for finance and housing ( and Member for Barkham) had good news to share and reassurance that the borough's finances are exceedingly well managed to ensure we can provide the services our residents need.
“I am very happy and proud to say we have worked to minimise the impact of Covid on the residents of the borough.
Historically, our housing waiting was low, with the number of people with real need being matched by the number of affordable homes which have built over the last few years. But during Covid, this has seen a worrying increase in demand for homes people can afford – unfortunately due to the high cost of housing and rents in the borough. What used to be affordable are getting out of reach from people on lower and medium wages. This means the only solution is to deliver more social housing, and this is an area the council will continue to strive to deliver more homes to meet this need using the resources available to the council’s housing revenue account (HRA). What has further complicated the delivery of social homes is the rise in labour and material costs, so making the delivery of social housing only possible on council owned land, which includes regeneration of brownfield sites or assets in the council’s control. Good quality homes that residents can afford give more to residents than somewhere to live. It creates an environment to bring up and educate children and brings stability to their lives and helps to avoid domestic violence and poverty.
I also wanted to talk about the impact that Covid has had over the last 24 months. Although it is difficult to ascertain the long-term problems it may leave us, and we are beginning to see some of the problems arising, but rest assured: we are dealing with the short-term issues as they a arise so hopefully we should help residents avoid any long-term impacts. I will continue to work with officers and members from all political parties and staff of the council to eradicate true poverty and protect the services in the borough and look to help improve lifestyles for the most vulnerable. This includes other areas such as expanding council tax discounts where possible.
We have no rough sleepers on our streets by choice, and of the 40 we have helped during the Covid Pandemic we have only 11 who are in temporary accommodation. I am told we are currently being used as a model for other councils, and it should be beholden on all of us to ensure that this continues. The policy of this administration is not just to ensure people have somewhere to live but that somewhere should reflect the fact that people are living in one of the best places to live in the UK and allow people to enjoy the benefits of living in Wokingham to the full. As an indication of that commitment the percentage of our social housing stock that meet the Decent Homes Standard is 100%.
Poverty and inequality have no place in our Borough, and we will do all that’s possible, eradicating it wherever it is found. Facts and figures are banded about showing how well councils cope with housing issues but even one person homeless is one person to many – and as I say if you are homeless you are 100% homeless. Never more that now with the massive increase in energy prices, Gas, electricity and fuel, with inflation running at over 5%, it means more and more people will be feeling the cold chill of poverty.
What does nothing to help people is the politicising of poverty and the despair it brings to those unfortunate enough to fall on hard times. It does nothing to solve the problem, and yes unfortunately there will always somebody who needs help. It should be our objective to recognise that need and ensure we all have a mission which is to work towards eradicating that need, especially in these complex and difficult times. We owe it to the residents of the borough to ensure everybody has somewhere safe and warm to live and it will continue to be my overriding objective and that the council strive to achieve this objective and I would suggest you all join me in supporting this goal.
Now more than ever, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing an unprecedented downturn in incomes, increases in rent and utilities bills with inflation running as I say at over 5%, Wokingham Borough Council must continually review the support offered to families in crisis. This involves keeping under review the effectiveness of Wokingham’s Local Welfare Provision Scheme, and ensure ongoing consultation with residents and the voluntary sector to ascertain how those who need crisis assistance can be fully supported.
We will ensure residents in need of support can easily access the scheme and any possible barriers to access is removed.
Making sure effective signposting of all the councils support scheme. It is important frontline staff are fully aware of the cross-council support schemes and grants are available and can advise residents on how to apply.
Ensure assistance is provided as quickly as possible after a successful application. It also goes without saying the schemes and grants are continuing to be administered in a way that residents’ dignity is respected throughout the process as there will be those to whom his will be a new experience and have never reached out for help in the past.
With limited resources and greater demand on services its important every penny of residents’ money we spend has the maximum impact in helping residents and providing services especially during this post Covid recover phase