“WE NEED to distance ourselves from the old boys network style of the past,” said Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor as she stood down as council leader.
“This is the ‘Me Too’ age and it no longer acceptable to turn a blind eye.”
Making her final speech as council leader before stepping aside after she lost a vote of no confidence last week, she said that under previous leaderships, Wokingham Borough Council had “plodded along a path of just muddling through”.
“We sometimes lacked clarity in decision making and did not always benefit from the professional acumen of our most senior officers or executive members.
“I have looked to establish a more long-term view, with a clear political vision of what Wokingham Borough should be as a council under a Conservative administration.
“This has meant that some of my executive have been challenged to work harder and give clear leadership in their areas of responsibility.”
And Cllr Haitham Taylor expressed her frustration at the manner of her ousting as leader, explaining that the Conservative group on the council had met last week to “discuss issues that had been raised by some of our members”.
“This is not an unusual occurrence for any political group, but on this occasion certain members wanted to challenge my position in order to promote their particular narrative.”
During the subsequent debate, she said, “the alternative narrative prevailed by a narrow margin.
“As a result the Conservative Group now has a new leader and, in due course, this person, Cllr McGhee-Sumner, will need to be nominated for the leadership of Wokingham Borough Council.”
She added: “Improving governance is the one thing that I have started, but unlike in Mastermind, I won’t get to finish. History will not be a kind judge to leaders who turn a blind eye to plausible complaints and whistleblowers.
“It is my sincere hope that in this respect, as in others, this council will not slip back.”
Cllr Haitham Taylor also listed some of her achievements, including “challenging some of the myths long held by my group, especially that the finance brief was insurmountably complex.
“Indeed, the most important achievement is that we are on course to deliver a balanced budget, so I am leaving a sound financial position for the next leader, despite all the unhelpful rumours to the contrary.
“Let me be clear, we are not the new Northamptonshire, as some would have it.”
She also said that she was pleased to be part of a team that would bring a bookshop back to Wokingham’s town centre, with the launch of Waterstones next month.
“I will have many happy times to come in there with my daughter,” she said.
The departing leader also acknowledged the pain that the regeneration is causing.
“My heart has sunk,” she said, “At the pain … for the existing shopkeepers and business owners who have suffered and this I regret.”
She added that “without our actions, the demise of the market square would have been inevitable and permanent”.
Cllr Haitham Taylor also looked to the future and said that she hoped that her vision for the Borough Plan, sounding out residents’ views and holding workshops, would be adopted by the new leadership.
“The resultant borough plan would be aligned for the first time with the budget and with transparent Key Performance Indicators for us to measure our progress openly.
“Here again, I fear, there are some who do not share these aspirations.”
Summing up, she said: “I am striving for a politics where the majority understand and respect our aims, where the resident is at the heart of what we do, and where the citizen feels empowered, not disenfranchised in their dealings with us.”
She also thanked “the many residents who got in touch with me since last week. I have been totally overwhelmed, I wasn’t expecting such a warm response”.
As she stood down, she presented a bouquet to her deputy, and now acting council leader, Cllr Pauline Jorgensen in thanks.
She concluded: “I want to specially applaud those who backed my vision of good governance and transparency, when others dismissed my concerns as unfounded or exaggerated.”
As she sat down she was applauded by some, but not all, of her colleagues.
Cllr Jorgensen then gave a speech praising Cllr Haitham Taylor
She said: “Being leader is not an easy job and Charlotte has been tireless: lobbying Government to improve funding for council services and for local schools, championing our looked-after children, driving forward our local housing companies to deliver much needed affordable housing and, of course, ensuring our residents get an excellent service from the council.”
Cllr Jorgensen also praised Cllr Haitham Taylor’s “energy and dedication” and “grit and determination”.
And Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Lindsay Ferris praised the way in which Cllr Haitham Taylor had fostered a way to work together.
“I wish her well in whatever future role she plays at the council,” he added.