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Weekly updates from Lynne Doherty (Leader of the Council) and Susan Halliwell (Acting Chief Executive) on the work of West Berkshire Council.

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West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #68

Written on: 10-9-2021

The first topic for this fortnight’s week note did not take much consideration. The words extraordinary and unprecedented have been used so often in the context of the pandemic that they have begun to lose their meaning; however they perfectly capture what this week has been for us in West Berkshire.

When we found out from the Home Office last Thursday that the district would be home to two temporary hotels for Afghan refugees with less than 24 hours’ notice, we couldn’t have possibly imagined just how much could change within the space of just a few days.

Since last Friday, officers from the Council have welcomed men, women and children to the hotels, quickly assessing their needs and putting plans in place to make them safe and comfortable. Whether this has been by providing essential supplies, healthcare or befriending, we have been working to ensure that each of them is cared for and supported while they are with us.

Over the course of the week we have both visited the hotels where we have met our guests, spoken to them about their experiences and helped to get them settled. This has been both humbling and rewarding as both the unimaginable hardship they have faced and the impact of the safety we have been able to offer are clear to see.

We have also been overwhelmed by the generosity shown already by residents and businesses and the warm welcome being afforded to those who have served alongside British Forces at great personal risk. We have been working in partnership with the Community Furniture Project to receive donations of goods from local people and are also grateful to Greenham Trust, who will be match funding financial donations £ for £ up to a value of £25,000. You can read more about how you can help at westberks.gov.uk/afghanaid

Eventually, we will host three families in the district long term and we know that they will quickly become part of the community. We very much looking to supporting them, too, as we have those who are with us for a short time.

Another key issue in the news for us this week has been adult social care. A national conversation on the future of funding for social care has been mooted by successive governments over the course of a quarter of a decade but this week it began in earnest in Westminster. As a unitary authority, we are responsible for meeting the social care needs of residents, which is done in a combination of residents’ own homes, supported accommodation, care homes managed by us as the local authority and others managed by private providers.

Providing care of a high standard is one of our key priorities, with almost 40% of our annual budget being spent on adult social care. For this reason, we feel that the voice of local government must be central to this conversation, for it is councils who deliver this vital service on the ground.  We welcome the Government’s renewed focus on this issue as the increased demand we are seeing set against workforce challenges mean that the need to address funding levels becomes more pressing as time goes on. Additional investment is vital and we will continue to lobby ministers for this, as we have done over the past few years. We will wait to see the form that these new proposals take and look forward to participating in the debate, making the strong case for a sustainable long term solution that meets the needs of those to which we have a duty of care in West Berkshire.

Of course, although these two topics have been setting the agenda both locally and nationally this week, we cannot forget that local Covid cases continue to rise. The return of large events, such as the nearby Reading Festival over the August Bank Holiday, have had quite clear impacts on our numbers so we must, as we have so often done, remind residents to remain vigilant and to do what they can to minimise the spread of the virus.

We wish you and your families a healthy and happy fortnight.

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