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Council's four-year strategy branded "ambitionless"

Furious debate prompts "deadbeat" opposition comment

Dan Cooper

Dan Cooper


01635 886632

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THERE were angry scenes as West Berkshire Council’s vision for the future was branded as a “waste of paper” during a heated debate last week.

The strategy, which runs from 2019 to 2023, explains what the local authority aims to prioritise and improve over the four-year period.

It also sets out how it proposes to achieve these improvements.

The strategy is made up of six key priorities.

They are to support businesses to start, develop and thrive, support everyone to reach their full potential, and ensure vulnerable children and adults achieve better outcomes.

Other priorities are to maintain a green district, ensure sustainable services through innovation and partnerships and to develop local infrastructure, including housing.​

However, the strategy was branded as “weak”, “ambitiousless” and “a waste of paper” by the Lib Dem opposition.​

Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham west) accused the council of ignoring residents by failing to take into account the views of the 156 people who responded to the public consultation about the strategy.

Mr Brooks said: “No targets, no big ​ambitions, platitudes.

“Help people to help themselves and others, what does that actually mean? Anybody could have written that.​

“For goodness sake take a look back at this and say what are you going to do for people over the next four years?

“You consulted and frankly took no notice​ of 156 people who responded, very similar to most of your consultations.

“How do you actually expect to consult with people, how are you going to hear them speak?”

He finished by saying: “Frankly, you could have done so much better.”

Fellow Lib Dem Owen Jeffrey (Thatcham Central) added: “What a weak, what an ambitiousless document you produced here.​

“The Conservatives are mightily relieved to still be in charge of this council.​

“But why, why are you here?

“What do you actually want to do?

“What purpose do you actually have?​

He finished by saying: “This council strategy should not be adopted tonight.

“It should be thrown out tonight and we should sit down together to produce a meaningful strategy that is actually going to do something for this council and West Berkshire.”

Lib Dem Tony Vickers (Wash Common) branded it a waste of paper and added: “It’s meaningless, it could be about anywhere in the country.​”

​Steve Masters (Green, Speen) said: “This document was an opportunity to actually stand out from the bland vanilla of ​your previous austerity-led council of the last four years

“You had an opportunity to strike out and make West Berkshire a visionary​ in terms of its social and environmental policies.

“I would say if you have the heart and strength and courage to act for your constituents ​and West Berkshire as a whole, you will at the very least abstain from voting on this or if you are totally committed that you will vote against it.”

Conservative Rick Jones (Purley and Tilehurst) said: “I think the members opposite are confusing a strategy with a plan.​

“A strategy is there to give us direction, a plan says exactly what we are going to do.”

His colleague Hilary Cole (Cold Ash and Chieveley) said: “I wish I could say I was surprised by the typical, negative nit-picking approach we have heard from the enlarged opposition.

“I think as my colleagues have already alluded to that everybody has failed to grasp the fact that this is a high level document.” ​

She added: “One-hundred-and-fifty-six people responded to the consultation, one per cent of our population, which quite frankly is not good.​”

Attacking her opposition, she said: “Quite frankly I think it is extremely negative opposition, which doesn’t bode well for the next four years.

“How can we co-operate with such a deadbeat lot? I do not know.”

Leader of the Lib Dem opposition Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East) replied: “That was a personal slur and councillor Cole should withdraw it.”

Mrs Cole did subsequently withdraw her comments.​

Newly-elected council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) added: “I am really saddened by what I’ve just seen over the last 10 to 15 minutes because I came here in the spirit of co-operation hoping we would all work together in the best interests of the residents of West Berkshire.​

“It really, really disappoints me that on our first meeting this is what we’re faced with.​

“This isn’t good enough for the residents of West Berkshire.”

She concluded by saying: “I feel this document encompasses where we are and is a sound platform for us to take off on our vision to 2036 and therefore I recommend this strategy as it stands. I recommend we adopt it and I recommend we do so this evening.”

All the Conservatives voted for the strategy, while the Lib Dems and Greens voted against.​

The strategy was ultimately passed by 21 votes to 15.​

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