The Wokingham Paper

TONY JOHNSON: Of masks and meetings

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson at the Number 10 press conference earlier this afternoon Picture: Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Around the world, governments reversed their liftings of lockdown as Coronavirus outbreaks started up again.

When Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a Greater Manchester lockdown, residents in parts of Cheshire with falling Covid infection rates discovered they’d been Greater Mancunians for over 40 years.

In London, Dr Daisy Fancourt published UCL’s study into our understanding of Lockdown rules showing that only 45% of us understood what they are, so take your pick – Boris or Matt ?

In Wokingham last week there were four WBC meetings marking the end of the summer term, while this writer’s commentary on Face Masks and Omnishambles was quarantined – online only.

A J-turn, not a U-turn

In Friday’s Number 10 video conference, a haggard and dishevelled Prime Minister seemed unsure of the time of day and after a complicated briefing on the numbers told everyone that the North had been locked down.

But it was just a warm-up to the announcement that the further lifting planned for Aug 1st was on hold. So the reopening of bowling rinks, skating alleys and indoor performances at wedding receptions were being postponed.

He’d asked the Home Secretary to work with the police (apparently she hadn’t been) to ensure that all the rules were being enforced.

Local Authorities were surprised to discover that they’d be closing events and cancelling premises with greater police coverings to ensure faces were being worn where they’re required by law.

All the words were there, but not necessarily in the right order.

Mask up – things are serious

What he got nearly right was the extended use of face masks.

Nearly, because he claimed it would become law, which is a bit problematic given the dissolution of Parliament last month. 

He skated right over the difference between a proper law (i.e. an Act of Parliament) and a ‘making it up as we go along’ sort of a law (i.e. a StatuTory Instrument). The clue’s in the word though.

And then there was also the small matter of last week’s dissolution honours list and, while The Gazette hasn’t published the list yet, Wokingham.Today can exclusively confirm that 

Meanwhile, ‘dissolute’ is to ‘dissolution’ as Boris is to Emborissing.

But the PM ‘thinks there are too many’ Lords and his policy of reducing the size of the lords now has two meanings. Last week’s national diet announcement was headlined to ‘protect the NHS’ by reducing everyone’s size, including all the Lords and Ladies.

So they’re being ‘led by the science’ then.

A disaster … 

Locally, there was determination to get as much business done at last week’s meeting of WBC’s Executive and we were left in no doubt that progress would be made throughout the meeting.

Omnishambles it wasn’t, as King John kept a firm grip on what was going on. No questions left unanswered, no motions left unmotioned. 

And a member of the public was seeking reassurance that WBC’s rubbish sacks would be made of natural hessian, a recyclable material.

The Exec member for the Environment promptly confirmed that this was Generic (that fellow gets in everywhere) hessian and actually were “in fact made from woven polypropylene fibre with a light plastic coating”. In contrast with the black boxes (many of which have lasted up to 20 years), the new “hessian” sacks “can last up to five years”.

That wasn’t really a good enough answer as political foot wasn’t fully in the partisan mouth. 

So the supplementary question asked about carbon emissions as part of WBC’s declared Climate Emergency, or was the decision “purely about saving money” ?

The supplementary answer promptly gave the word ‘hessian’ the sack and we learned that the bags only use a small amount of plastic on the outside to keep moisture out and they’re “not really plastic, they’re polypropylene” (despite IUPAC‘s defining it as a plastic).

And putting more plastic on it to keep water out probably isn’t going to make it any less plasticky.

Unless of course WBC officers have already bought a job lot on the cheap and are trying to get their decision through Executive by burying the £500,000+ proposal deep in the brown suff of one of the finance reports and not informing back-benchers or opposition members either. If this is the case, things won’t be so much plasticky as very sticky.

As for WBC’s Climate Emergency credentials?

In tatters after this monumental gaffe.

And wet waste always has ‘cost money’, it isn’t a new problem at all.


A Triumph!

Public questions were all asked and answered – at least of the ones who’d managed the great escape and got past the searchlights, barbed wire and machine gun nests to actually emerge into the meeting itself.

‘Member’ questions were underway when King John overturned the Executive’s agenda to allow a former Lib-Dem councillor ask a question on poverty and debt, as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Exec member for Finance (Conservative) announced that WBC would be adopting the CAB’s Council Tax Protocol, which had been proposed at the Omnishambles of July 23rd but not debated because of filibustering with the agenda.

What a triumph!!!

And we should recognise the political jujitsu in getting it passed unchanged, so congratulations to Cllr Rachel Burgess of the Labour Party. 

An oversight?

The Audit meeting earlier in the week perhaps wasn’t quite the stellar success that one might have hoped for.

With the minor exception of a fault in the voting logic, the Audit Committee was well and fairly run by former mayor, Cllr Bill Soane.

But good impressions of the meeting were slightly tarnished by a WBC Officer’s claim during the voting discussion to the effect that “you could help shape it” – but whatever the ‘it’ was got slightly lost in the heat of the chat.

However the real issue was that while the Audit Committee do review Treasury reports, they don’t get Capital, Revenue or Property Investment reports which instead go straight to WBC’s Executive – unaudited. 

Perhaps auditing bears more scrutiny then? (or vice-versa).

And a special mention

The main Exec Meeting was immediately followed by a Special Council Executive Committee for the Borough’s Minerals and Waste Plan.

Running the meeting without the usual ‘help’, the Mayor’s hard-won experience showed through and we saw Malcolm the Steady guide the meeting through to a satisfactory conclusion with support from all parties for a Minerals plan which doesn’t contain any proposals for quarrying next to primary schools in Swallowfield or Shinfield.

Barbecue of the vanities

Following that dreadful letter about BBQ King’s license back in June 2016, a Wokingham Town Councillor took the issue up with the Borough’s political leadership.

Just 38 days later the then Exec Member for Highways (now the Mayor) confirmed that a new 12 month license would be issued, although it “will very likely be the last 12 month licence that he will get at this exact location”.

As the then Leader said “common sense prevailed in the end”.


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