Smoking rate decreasing but council still has 'areas of concern', meeting hears

The number of smokers in the Royal Borough has decreased but there are some areas of concern regarding the council’s performance, a meeting learned this week.

A corporate overview and scrutiny panel convened at Maidenhead Town Hall on Monday to discuss the progress being made with the local authority’s corporate plan.

This was adopted in November with the aim of making the borough a place of ‘opportunity and innovation’, and sets out a number of goals the Royal Borough should attempt to reach by 2026.

The meeting heard praise for a citizens’ portal which was launched in April and provides the public with the opportunity to find out how the council is faring in relation to its targets in the plan.

A number of ‘areas of concern’ and ‘progress’ were included in a report presented to panel members.

Regarding the former, the corporate plan goal requires at least 95 per cent of the borough’s education settings to be judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, however this figure had reduced from 94.6 per cent in December to 93 per cent in March.

Other areas of concern included the outcomes for child care leavers and the rate of obese children aged 10-11.

Regarding attendances at leisure centres, whilst this had increased, the borough says that volumes are still ‘substantially lower than pre-pandemic levels’.

On the plus side, some areas of progress included a decrease in the number of adults who are current smokers and who drink more than the recommended amount.

Admission episodes had reduced from 1,320 per 100,000 of the population in March 2020 to 1,065 in March last year.

Meanwhile, employment rates and footfall in both Windsor and Maidenhead have increased, Monday’s meeting heard.

The council officer’s report stated that ‘a strong programme of community events is planned’ in Maidenhead later this year as the town maintains a ‘positive buzz’ owing to the opening of new retailers and food and drink outlets.

However some councillors wanted extra clarity about what has and has not been achieved, and called for the voices of more residents to be heard regarding the borough’s performance.

The panel’s vice-chairman and former mayor, Councillor John Story (Con, Ascot and Sunninghill), said: “I find it very difficult to comment on the performance of a council without knowing what concerns the residents have.

“I would like to see, in the future, this report being more up front about what our residents are actually saying.”

Monitoring officer Emma Duncan agreed and reassured that this was something her team was working on.

“We need to ask people what they think of our council services,” she said. “We know there is an issue and there are steps to try and put this data into place.”

Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor) alluded to the fact that some objectives in the plan had not yet been completed, despite the report stating they had.

This included the Biodiversity Action Plan, which sets out the council’s green goals and is not due to be heard until a cabinet meeting later this year.

“I think there needs to be clarification about what actually ‘complete’ means,” Cllr Jones said.

The borough did receive praise for it’s Citizens’ Portal, which Cllr Story described as a ‘fantastic piece of work’ which has involved ‘thousands of hours and an awful lot of people’.

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