Thursday, 19 November 2015

Electric vehicle charging points for Palmer Park...

Palmer Park benchAt a recent council meeting Jamie asked for an update on the electric vehicle charging points promised for Palmer Park. With Reading's pollution problems infrastructure to support electric vehicles would really help. Unfortunately the money was lost when the partner pulled out. The council has put another bid in, but only for the town centre.

Full question and answer below:



Councillor Whitham to ask the Chair:

Electric Vehicle Charging Points

Some time ago, the Council announced electric vehicle charging points would be installed at various sites across Reading including one in Palmer Park. Please could I have an update on this ?

REPLY by Councillor Page:

I thank Cllr Whitham for his question.

Proposals to install electric vehicle charging points at Palmer Park, Rivermead Leisure Complex and Green Park were developed in response to a grant funding opportunity from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

The grant funding provided by central Government included a requirement for 25% match funding to enable delivery of the chargepoints, which had been secured by the Council from a supplier of the chargepoints through a competitive procurement process.

Unfortunately the contractor appointed to deliver the chargepoints subsequently withdrew their offer at the last minute, thereby meaning we were unable to meet the timescales for the OLEV funding.

As a result we are looking to secure alternative funding to deliver electric vehicle chargepoints in Reading. To this end, we have recently submitted a bid to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for the provision of four chargepoints in the basement car park of the Civic Offices and we will continue to seek further funding as opportunities arise.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Latest on refugee crisis and Reading welcoming refugees

Rob White refugees welcome smilingAnother question was asked recently at a council committee on the refugee crisis and what the council is doing. A meeting has now happened with the Home Office but the council hasn't released any more information yet. I am trying to get a briefing on this.

Refugee Crisis

Could the leader update us all on meetings with civil servants on the details of government support for local authorities who will be asked to help with the refugee crisis?

REPLY by Leader of the Council:

Council officers met with officials from the Home Office on 16th October to understand more about the scheme.

The existing refugee dispersal scheme will continue, but Local Authorities are also being asked to provide support for those coming directly from the camps.

The Home Office has been meeting with individual Local Authorities in each sub-region, which in Reading’s case is the Thames Valley, which comprises Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. As the Home office has yet to meet with many of the Local Authorities in the Thames Valley area we have been asked not to talk about numbers of refugees until they have a complete picture.

The Government has confirmed that with the expanded programme, additional funding beyond the first 12 months will be provided. The Home Office officials were not able to give specific details at this stage but the Home Office has said that it will inform local authorities as soon as possible.

As I have previously stated Reading Borough Council is of course willing to help and I will update Councillors as soon as there is greater clarity from the Home Office.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Have you watched a web cast of a Council meeting? Viewing figures below

Small Civic CentreYou can now watch council meetings live over the Internet or look back at old council meetings via the web cast website here (great if you are struggling to get to sleep):!/overview

I think the web casting of meetings has definitely made some councillors less rude (although there is still some way to go), and it makes the meetings more open to scrutiny and more democratic.

Have you watched a web cast yet? What do you think?

Viewing figures here:



Views (number of times the webcast was watched for at least 1 minute)

Live views

7 July



(not live)

20 July

Policy Committee


(not live)

8 October

Policy Committee



14 October

Planning Committee



20 October




2 November

Policy Committee



5 November

ACE Committee



Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Council spending on consultants and temporary staff is increasing

Small Civic CentreUnfortunately Council spending on agency staff and consultants is creeping up at a time when the council is trying to reduce this spending.

Following recent budget monitoring reports, and the council taking a very long time to update me on spending on temporary staff I asked about this at the recent Policy Committee. Unfortunately spending has gone up. Crudely adjusting the figures to make comparison easier spending on agency staff and consultants for the last six months was £6.4 million whereas for six months last year it was £5.9 million so it has gone up by £.5 million at a time when the council is trying to reduce this figure.

With care to elderly and vulnerable residents being cut, the voluntary sector set to lose half its council funding and building such as libraries and South Street facing closure this isn’t good news.

The council needs to be attracting more permanent staff to bring costs down, by being a good place to work and offering better pay and conditions in some areas.

Full question and answer below:


Councillor White to ask the Leader of the Council:

Council Spend on Temporary Staff

In a recent budget monitoring report, overspending on agency and interim staff was identified in the area of Children, Education and Early Help Services.

The risk of overspending has also been identified in recent budget monitoring reports in connection with “high use of agency staffing & consultants” and “high use of agency staffing & consultants due to management turnover and staff recruitment & retention issues in social work”.

I have been awaiting a briefing on this general issue for many months but haven’t heard anything back.

Please can I get some reassurance that spending on agency staff, interim staff, consultants and contractors is not getting out of control?

Please can the council provide me with some figures for how much money the council has spent on each of the above categories of temporary staff so far this year and last year for comparison?

Please can I be informed how much the highest-paid contractor or consultant, who has worked for the council in the last 12 months, is paid per day?

REPLY by Councillor Lovelock (Leader of the Council):

The Council makes use of interim and agency staff for a variety of reasons, predominantly:

· To cover for short term absences

· To provide staffing in critical services where the Council has been unable to recruit sufficient directly employed staff

· To manage short and medium term peaks in workload


· To recruit staff with specific skills that are required for a limited period only

The Council also engages contractors and consultants for a similarly wide range of purposes including specialist technical advice and for short term and one-off projects were the skills and expertise are either rarely required or are not required in volumes that would justify employing staff on an ongoing basis. Consultants are also used extensively in the delivery of large capital programmes such as the Local Strategic Transport Fund or the Schools Expansion Programme.

Programmes of these types require a wide range of professional disciplines and specific expertise which varies depending on the precise nature of the schemes being implemented. A small unitary authority like Reading would not be able to sustain in-house expertise in all of these areas. The volume of this work varies significantly from years to year and the engagement of consultants is a cost effective way of ensuring that the appropriate skills are available when needed.

There is considerable overlap between the categories of staff mentioned and the information that is held is broken down into either Agency Staff or Consultants. Interim staff and contractors are not categorised separately as they appear in both categories, depending on the nature of their contract of engagement.

The spend recorded in the Council’s financial system is shown in the table below:




2015/6 (to October)

Agency Staff






The Council has seen an increase over the past year in the use of Agency and Consultancy staff, particularly to provide cover for some vacant higher cost senior management posts.

As has already been published in the Council’s Accounts the highest paid temporary post was that of the interim Director of Children’s and Early Help Services from January 2015.

The Council has a specialist team that focusses on the contract management of the Agency staff and independent consultants and contractors and has recently agreed new approval procedures to govern the decision to appoint, and the negotiation of contracts for these higher cost roles to ensure these costs are minimised and robust contractual arrangements are in place. The specialist team are also working to address the most difficult to fill categories of staff, such as Children’s Social Workers, to reduce the reliance on temporary staff. By its nature, the amount of temporary work required will fluctuate. The total spend and amount of temporary staff is closely monitored and, where necessary, action taken to reduce avoidable requirements in the future.

The arrangements to manage and control expenditure in this area is robust and subject to regular review by senior managers, however, occasionally the spend is not always as low as we would all like, but clearly when managers and front line staff move on we will need to have interim arrangements to ensure continuity of service.