Tue, 31 Jul 2018
WEST Berkshire Council’s ruling Conservative group has been accused of breaking its promise to residents.
The accusation came from Lib Dem opposition leader Lee Dillon, after it emerged that the local authority is missing more than a third of its own targets.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the Conservatives unveiled “their most ambitious manifesto yet”, aiming to have 1,000 affordable homes built by 2020 and to be in the top 10 per cent in the country for GSCE achievement.
However, the most recent figures, which cover October to December last year, show that educational attainment, affordable housing and some key infrastructure goals are off-target.
Scored through a traffic-light system, 62.5 per cent of the council’s targets are green – or being hit – while 37.5 per cent are in the red.
Speaking at an overview and scrutiny management commission meeting on July 10, Mr Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North), said that when the council’s performance was challenged “we often get back that ‘they are ambitious targets’”.
He said: “When you are setting public targets you are saying to the public ‘this is what we will achieve for you’.
“Whether they are ambitious or not, these are public promises you are making to residents.
“Missing a third of these, even if you have some improvements from last year, you have not hit the target you set yourselves.”
While the number of affordable homes built last year (171) is the highest completed in the last five years, there are more than 700 with planning permission but are yet to be built by developers.
The council added that while progress has been made to improve educational attainment, other areas in the country have also made progress, meaning “West Berkshire’s results remain in the top or second quartile nationally”.
It admitted that educational attainment for disadvantaged pupils “remained a challenge”, with the council still in the bottom quartile nationally.
The average attainment score at GCSE level is in the top 50 per cent, behind the council’s top 25 per cent target.
Committee chairwoman Emma Webster (Con, Birch Copse) said: “We are told that we can’t compare last year’s GCSE results with the year before, but should an area like West Berkshire be satisfied with just above the national score?
“When you look at certain jobs that require certain grades at GCSE and there are a number of pupils not achieving that, how are we working to resolve that?”
Responding to Mr Dillon’s points, the council’s performance, research and consultation manager Catalin Bogos said: “Quite a lot of our targets have been set as realistic targets, especially ones in education.
“On the one hand, we aim to achieve that realistic position, thinking about the improvements and actions we will put in place and be in the top 25 per cent nationally, what is happening in reality is...”
“Everyone is getting better than us,” Mr Dillon interjected.
Councillor for corporate services Rick Jones (Con, Purley-on-Thames) said: “The number of targets being apparently missed, we will look at that.
“It is inevitable that some of these will be a stretch too far because we want that service to improve.
“As long as they improve, we are going in the right direction.”
Council chief executive Nick Carter explained that some targets were out of the council’s control, such as the Superfast Berkshire broadband project, which he said had gone into the red.
He said: “Some of it is what you choose corporately to put your basket around.
“You could put them internally in areas you have more control over.”
He added: “We have struggled with education indicators from the start.”