New leader of Central Bedfordshire Council Richard Wenham ready to meet challenges ahead
“I don’t just want good. I want it to be a great council.”
That’s the message from the new Central Bedfordshire Council leader and Conservative Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham.
He delivered that ambition to the local authority’s chief executive Marcel Coiffait.
“It’s quite a humbling experience, as well as very exciting,” said Cllr Wenham.
On the new leadership team, he referred to Mr Coiffait being familiar with the council through his previous role overseeing communities and regeneration.
“That forms a good foundation,” he explained. “There’ll be an input of new ideas to push the council to a fresh stage of development.
“When I look at the challenges now, over and above the day-to-day issues for local authorities, that’s added a whole new dimension to what we need to deal with.
“There’s COVID and the impact that’s having, not just in the short-term but in the longer-term with people’s health and wellbeing.
“And it’s affected the economy across the country and here in Central Bedfordshire. So, yes, it’s going to be quite a big mountain to climb.
“I look forward to the challenge, but I’m completely aware of all that’s going to involve.”
Previously finance portfolio holder, councillor Wenham helped “set the council on a route to sustainable finances“, which is “a real achievement” for a local authority.
“There’s £5m pressure in the adult social care (proposed) budget papers and no pleasure in looking to take the full three per cent for that sector this year,” he said.
“There are many councils around us which are genuinely suffering because of the pandemic, but also the longer-term constant pressures of adult social care and vulnerable children.
“Our revenue plan is sound, without excessive reserves. Our general reserves are towards the lower end of what’s recommended.
“But there are two or three other earmarked reserves, which are accessible to the council,” he added.
“Our budget plan for the coming (financial) year calls on taking several million pounds out of that reserve to help fund transformation work over the following three years, which will then be returned.
“And, as part of that free up of new resources, we’ll be cracking down on internal processes with more digitisation internally to improve efficiencies.
“Those resources aren’t going to lead to the council shrinking in size.
“They can be redeployed to the front line to tackle the big issues we face, not least the pressures in adult social care and special educational needs and disability (SEND).
“So we’re putting in an extra £1m revenue money next year to really address some of the issues Ofsted commented on in its SEND report.
“It’s genuinely an attempt to turn the corner and set out provision on the path to ‘good’ and eventually ‘outstanding’.
“Children’s services have been transformed beyond recognition from what this council inherited.
“It’s unfortunate SEND has come out like this. We have to fix that,” he promised. “We’re going to fix that.”
Asked about concerns of some Independent councillors over openness and transparency, councillor Wenham replied: “It’s their job to oppose.
“But as I said in my acceptance speech I want to be leader of the whole council.
“We’re all there to do the best for our residents. There will be political disagreements, as is the nature of such organisations.”