By Cllr Keith Baker, Leader of Wokingham Borough Council
It is no secret that Wokingham Borough Council has to save almost £19million by March 2020.
In a recent Peer Review we were commended for being ‘ambitious and high achieving’ in many areas. One such ambitious initiative is our far reaching 21st Century Council programme which will make a significant contribution to our sound three-year savings plan to address the deficit. We’ll become a leaner, more efficient council costing significantly less to run.
This is a brave journey for us, but we are building from strong foundations. We will radically change the way we work; we will improve our services and reduce our costs. But be assured, residents and customers will be at the heart of everything we do
Changing our approach and doing things differently is not an easy task. The changes will mean that you should see availability and access to our services improve through digital channels; as well as swifter resolution of issues and queries. And, I have every faith that we can make the changes needed to ensure we are fit for purpose in the new world.
Despite the budget deficit, we’re investing in our IT, which in the longer term will make us more efficient and ultimately save us money in the longer term. Customers will have more choice how in how they wish to interact with us
By improving and integrating our technology better, customers and residents will be able to get what they need, find the information they want, make bookings, payments and complete more transactions remotely and online. And they will be able to do all this, at a time that is convenient to them, 24/7.
For those less confident with technology, other channels will continue to be available such as by telephone or by visiting our offices. However we will encourage those that can, to self-serve.
Our approach will be different. No longer will we have traditional council departments. Instead we will have customer-focussed teams some of which will be based in our communities closer to our residents. They will work even closer with the Police, NHS, town and parish councils and the voluntary and community sector.
They will be equipped to address a wider range of issues, relating to people and communities to environmental issues in a more connected and efficient way. We’re looking to improve and deal with your enquiries sooner or at first point when contacting us.
The 21ts Century Council Business Case which the executive agreed on September 29, focuses on the shape, structure and size of the organisation and how it would operate. But this is just one of 12 strands that would make savings. A further £9.7million would be met through various initiatives closer integration between health and social care; continuing to ensure best value for money from the council’s largest contracts; looking for further opportunities to share services with other councils and to raise and generate income such as through the council’s own companies and Wokingham town centre regeneration.
To learn about our difficult financial position and the budget challenges please join us at one of the budget engagement sessions taking place this month. We’ll be in Woodley, Twyford, Finchampstead, Lower Earley and Wokingham – all the details are on our website: http://news.wokingham.gov.uk. This is your chance to share with us your views on the principles and priorities that will guide how we spend your money to fund your services. It will also be an important forum to discuss the 21st Century Council Century Council programme.
So our journey has begun. We know it’s going to be challenging but we’re determined to make it a success and improve our services further on our limited funds.