West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #71
Firstly, this week we welcome Nigel Lynn to West Berkshire Council. For those of you who have been following these weeknotes on a regular basis you will know Nick and Lynne first started them to keep residents informed about Covid 19 and its impact on our district. We then decided to continue to write to give you an insight of our work and our views here at the Council. We both agree that this is important part of our communication strategy and will be co-authoring them going forward.
It has been another busy fortnight here in West Berkshire with the district having been at the centre of a national news story and, as we have mentioned, a new Chief Executive starting with us.
It's very likely that you will have seen the reports in the media last weekend about inaccurate Covid test results which originated in a laboratory in Wolverhampton. We were first made aware of possible issues with test results from the Newbury Showground testing site a couple of weeks ago. Some residents had contacted us to express their concern and our Public Health Team had noticed an unusually high rate of negative results among the tests undertaken at the site. In light of this evidence and analysis, we quickly escalated our suspicions to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) for further investigation.
Some residents who had reported to us that there may be a problem had also spoken to the local media and we were asked to confirm earlier this month that inaccuracies had occurred. Ensuring that the public has full confidence in testing facilities and continues to use them is vital if we are to stop the spread of the virus across the district, so whilst we were able to confirm that we had received reports and were investigating, we could not confirm if there was an actual issue until we had all the evidence and the results of UKHSA's investigation that there had been inaccuracies. .
As soon as it was confirmed that some inaccuracies had occurred, we took the decision to inform the public immediately as we felt we needed to act quickly to protect our communities. We released a press statement in the evening on 14th October, and Lynne spent the following day undertaking multiple local and national media interviews to raise awareness of the issue while our Communications Team answered many other enquiries. We were the first local authority to do so but we felt that the most important thing we could do was to openly communicate with our residents, as we have done throughout the pandemic.
It was this very topic which was the subject of Nigel's first public meeting, which took place on his first day in role. Nigel joined us on Monday after 10 years as Chief Executive of Arun District Council in West Sussex and marked the occasion by attending his first Local Outbreak Engagement Board that evening, where we took questions about the local response to Covid.
The week that has followed has been equally busy as Nigel has gradually begun to get to know the Council, as well as the wider district. On Tuesday evening he met with our town and parish councils at our bi-annual District Parish Conference and discussed with them how we can best make sure local people engage with us and help us to plan our services to meet their needs. West Berkshire is well-known for having one of the highest number of parishes of any district, with more than 60 towns and villages. This has been invaluable to our response to Covid as local people have spontaneously come together to support each other through the pandemic. As always, the event was well-attended and our parish councillors spoke passionately on behalf of their respective areas.
We have also been focussing closely on the budget this week and Nigel has had the opportunity to meet with senior officers from all of our departments to learn about the challenges they will face and need to plan for in the coming year. Delivering good, value for money services for all of our residents is our key priority and constraints on local government finances mean we have to carefully consider where we invest residents' money.
It is also important to be transparent about the cost of running our services and ensure that our priorities reflect the needs of the people we serve. Our Budget Simulator, which we first used last year, helps us to do this as it challenges residents to balance our 2022/23 budget. It offers residents the chance to look at the impact of budgetary reductions or further investment in our services as well as to consider whether council tax should be increased. Once the challenge has closed we will look at where residents chose to spend their budget, and use this to help inform how we set budgets in the future.
If you would like to give it a try, go to our page here: https://westberks.budgetsimulator.com
In the coming months Nigel will be out and about getting to know our staff, residents, businesses and partners as he oversees the next stage of our recovery. We know that he will receive a warm welcome and that he will soon become part of our resilient and caring community here in West Berkshire.
We finish by wishing you and your families a happy, healthy half term and fortnight ahead.