07:00PM, Friday 08 January 2021
Transformative power of Waterways project
RBWM is currently consulting on a draft 2021/22 budget and medium to long term financial plan.
Concern understandably focuses on the tough choices for the services budget, with some controversial cuts proposed.
Maidenhead Waterways (MW) is however disappointed to see no specific budget proposed to maintain the newly restored waterway – leaving it to volunteers to keep the water flowing and the channels clear of litter and weeds.
That is not a sustainable long term solution.
Unless addressed the waterway risks slipping back into the dereliction from which it has only just been rescued.
MW’s bigger concern lies in the draft capital plans where – unlike the overspending services area – capital investment continues to underspend due to slippage.
The long term forecasts in the cabinet paper show a capital programme to 2035/36 totalling £294million, yet have no provision to complete any of York Stream’s ‘loose ends’, let alone starting the second half of the waterway (Moor Cut).
The council leader publicly announced at the weir launch his determination to complete the approved waterway plans, once the funding situation allows, yet the draft 15 year capital and funding forecasts do not reflect this.
The award-winning waterways project is arguably the most transformational part of the 2011 Area Action Plan delivered to date, removing a long standing eyesore and stimulating major waterside developments.
It is hugely popular as a new public amenity that (post pandemic) all can enjoy and is already abundant with wildlife.
The waterway corridor remains the only ‘Green and Blue’ link between public open spaces to the north and south of an ever more built up town centre.
If readers agree that continuing the waterway plans – as the town grows, outwards and especially upwards – should be a priority, please urge your ward councillors and the leadership to reflect this in the final budgets and long term funding plans.
Chairman, Maidenhead Waterways
Happy new era of rubbish service
Happy New Year – a time when we try to kick a few bad habits.
All too often though, we find that old habits die hard.
I don’t know if RBWM’s waste (of time) contractor, Serco, made a New Year’s resolution to be less terrible, but the only kicking in evidence this festive period has been the physical one that its staff have dished out to our bins.
Having ripped the lids clean off two communal wheelie bins in December, they returned on New Year’s Day to split one of the small recycling boxes almost in half, before leaving a third wheelie bin crushed almost as badly as the spirits of a shopper who has had the misfortune to visit Maidenhead town centre.
In fairness to Serco, it has now thoroughly outperformed its predecessor on at least one KPI, ‘number of bins destroyed’ (Veolia having scored zero in our road in for the entire duration of its contract).
Maybe Serco even considers itself to be doing a great job, due to having a different understanding of its contractual obligation to provide RBWM with a ‘rubbish service’.
Multiple attempts to order replacements for our two decapitated bins have produced emails explaining how disappointed the Conservatives are with the performance of a contract they themselves negotiated (if only there had been some way to check Serco’s record beforehand), a visit from a man to inspect the damage (nice work if you can get it), but as yet, no replacement bins.
Perhaps the latest money saving initiative is that broken bins now only get replaced in wards that elected at least one Conservative councillor. That’ll teach us.
Speaking of Conservatives, ahead of several previous local elections, their candidates always made two headline pledges.
First, they would manage the finances responsibly.
Second, they would protect the weekly bin collection.
I don’t recall whether those candidates included anyone named ‘Pinocchio’, but if so, he won't be turning into a real boy any time soon.
The 2015-2019 administration mismanaged the finances to the extent that it almost bankrupted the council. The inevitable result: council tax up, services cut.
In trying to repair the damage, the main achievement of the current administration (containing many of the same councillors) seems to have been to replace an adequate weekly bin collection with an inadequate fortnightly-if-you’re-lucky one.
We now pay more to have our bins emptied less often, by people who don’t seem to have a clue what they are doing (unless it involves smashing something to pieces).
Would a different/independent administration have done a better job?
Quite possibly – it would have been hard to do much worse.
Will we be voting for more of the same next time round regardless?
Tolerating serial failure as long as the candidates wear our favourite colour rosette is, after all, one bad habit we just can't seem to kick.
Now is the time to reboot the council
We start this new year with a consultation running on council revenue budgets.
We should welcome this innovation.
Never have the residents of RBWM been asked for their opinion about what we should be spending money on.
But the reason for this new era is that we must save around £8m from our revenue budgets in the next financial year and then we will need to save the same amount again over the following few years.
But to be frank there is little left to cut after this and many years of ‘transformation’ and the chance of quick returns on fire sales of land and buildings is diminished in the current climate, options are running out.
We have benefited from historically low council tax increases over the years while the cost of everything went up, hoping to cover this shortfall with the returns from development investments and outsourcing.
But these planned returns aren’t coming in as fast as we now need and there little else to squeeze value out of.
As a council that gains most of its revenue from council tax, we all now know that this needs to rise to maintain services at anything near to acceptable levels.
The thing is that we can’t just add to council tax to meet this new harsher world as it is capped at 2 per cent max (Adult social care precept is at 3 per cent but can only be used for that).
The cap is set by the Government.
The Conservative administration have stated that they know we need to raise council tax above this cap and are actively lobbying Government to remove or adjust the cap.
However, there is another way to increase council tax above this cap and that is by asking you, the residents, to vote in a referendum.
A binary choice – to raise over the cap or not to.
I put this to the full council on October 14 but so far it hasn’t been taken up as an option.
Due to the timelines to hold a referendum being long this it would affect the 22/23 budget and not this year but would give a clear mandate to either cut services to keep tax low or to increase it to maintain services.
There isn’t much left of the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledges now so a re-boot makes sense.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the medium term financial plans are set at raising council tax by 2 per cent, the maximum allowed, year on year anyway but with this we still need more cuts.
I am sure that most councillors, regardless of political allegiances, would get behind whatever the residents decide and given that the alternative is more cuts in services with capped rises anyway, I believe residents will appreciate being treated as intelligent people and given a choice.
Regardless of the outcome I would respect your voice. We will shortly be launching a petition to request a referendum. We hope you can support this petition and have your voice heard.
Cllr NEIL KNOWLES
OWRA, Old Windsor
Climate strategy and our future together
In December, we witnessed unanimous decisions by cabinet to adopt the Environment & Climate Strategy 2020-2025; endorse the Single Use Plastic Strategy; and formally approve for referendum the Windsor Neighbourhood Plan whose community-supported vision places significant emphasis on open space and green infrastructure.
Alongside other key existing and emerging ones, these documents clearly confirm a recognition that our natural environment is the fundamental context within which all other priorities necessarily sit and operate.
Two RBWM consultations taking place early in the new year – on the Draft Budget 2021/22 and the proposals supported by £335k of additional Government Active Travel Scheme funding – will have potentially crucial bearing on the achievement of the council’s climate, environment, health, social and economic aspirations.
Public responses and fair, insightful interpretation of them will be critical to the borough’s complexly balanced decision-making at the heart of these and all relevant issues.
Thanks to the crucial work and key contributions of numerous individuals and organisations including officers, lead members and others across the borough and beyond, RBWM’s vital thinking embodied in the Environment and Climate Strategy has at last been established.
The council should now be given our encouragement to consistently apply this constructive ‘wayfinding’ framework – for in no small measure, the quality of our collective future will depend on it.
A different way for our businesses and shops
I read with interest the news article entitled ‘A massive blow for businesses’ which reported on the challenges faced by local businesses when Berkshire entered Tier 4.
It’s natural to be disheartened and frustrated by the constant chopping and changing of tiers and lockdowns and the benefits of that approach are not always clear, but I think that the flip side will be that the economic recovery will largely be digitally based and that businesses who can pivot or adapt to provide new or next – best alternatives via the web will have shown resilience and initiative that a year ago, we would not have thought possible.
Despite the severe tests caused by the pandemic, retail is not dead, but the opportunity is for local independent businesses to become woven into the local community, being seen as the default regional ‘hub’ for people looking to venture out when the current restrictions are relaxed.
The prospects of greater engagement, creating the ‘secret sauce’ drawing in local consumers is where future strategic planning needs to be focused.
We’re pleased to have just moved into smart town centre offices in Forlease Road and look forward to being part of, supporting and working with the local business community as we all emerge from the year of the Black Swan.
Wishing a happy New Year to all.
Quantuma Advisory Limited
Forlease Road, Maidenhead
A mysterious death and remarkable life
We British love anniversaries and Tuesday, January 5 was the 80th anniversary of the mysterious death of Britain's Queen of the Air Amy Johnson.
After all her record-breaking flights to Australia, South Africa, Japan and the USA Amy became an international celebrity, with the catchphrase ‘Believe nothing to be impossible’.
Once World War II began this inspirational figure joined Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1940 to ferry warplanes around Britain, but met her untimely end on 5 January 1941. For unexplained reasons, she parachuted from the Oxford aircraft she was ferrying but landed in the freezing waters of the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay in Kent, where a wreath was be cast into the sea in her memory on Tuesday.
Unfortunately the Amy Johnson 80th Anniversary lecture planned for Wednesday, January 6 has been postponed due to illness.
A new date will be announced as soon as possible.
Maidenhead Heritage Centre
Outside the box and inside the boundary
How inspiring to see so many of my neighbours celebrating Christmas Day with glasses of fizz, white and red wine on the drives and front gardens of their properties, properly social distancing and keeping to the rules but finding ways to celebrate what will be the most unusual Christmas of all time after the first one.
Well done all of you and thank you!
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