On Monday 6 November, Wokingham Conservatives held a Business Forum in the town centre to hear from businesses on the challenges they have been facing this year and what should be done to improve the town centre. It was attended by 20 businesses from a broad range of sectors of the day and night economy. We discussed maintenance of the town, crime and parking amongst other issues.
We Conservatives are supportive of our local businesses and want to provide an environment that allows businesses to thrive in our town centres. They are an essential pillar of the community that provides jobs, services and entertainment for residents. Nobody benefits from having boarded up shops; owners lose their business, residents lose a service and the Council loses revenue.
Last year, Conservatives presented a petition signed by 4,200 residents to Wokingham Borough Council that called for the Liberal Democrat/Labour Coalition’s doubling of car parking charges scrapped. Prior to the doubling of parking charges and the expansion of chargeable periods to include evenings and Sundays, businesses explained that they felt this would negatively impact their profitability. Despite these calls for a rethink of the plans the Liberal Democrats ploughed ahead.
At the Businesses Forum we heard how businesses felt that they were not being listened to by the Liberal Democrat administration at Wokingham Borough Council and were disappointed that there has been an outright refusal to see the negative impacts of the car parking costs. One Business owner explained how they are down 30% down on revenue compared to last year, they have data compared to sister shops in neighbouring towns that have not seen the same – this means it must be an issue in Wokingham rather than the wider economic problems.
At a recent meeting of Wokingham Borough Council’s Executive, the Lib Dem member in charge of finance said the car parking charges had “no direct impact on local businesses” – this is contrary to what we heard on Monday night.
The Lib Dem Councillor went on to say “I am afraid that for some it is too easy to blame Wokingham Borough Council if they have a problem”. The Lib Dems have shown that do not have the best interests of Wokingham’s businesses in mind.
The Liberal Democrats have announced that they will soon publish car parking figures which will show if car park use is down. The number of chargeable hours has increased by 87% meaning if total usage has not increased by the same or more then it is likely shoppers have been put off by the Lib Dem’s policy. This, however, does not change the fact businesses have experience a decline under the Lib Dem administration.
Wokingham’s businesses should know that Conservatives are listening, we want to create an environment that supports their desire to have a successful business that provides support, services and enjoyment to residents.
We will continue to lobby the Liberal Democrat administration to end their attack on businesses.
The Conservative manifesto for the May 2024 local election will be pro-business and will incorporate changes that business are calling for in order to thrive in our town centres and bring back shoppers.