Statement by Leader of the Council


Thursday, 30 May, 2024

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, made the following statement to Council during its meeting on Monday 20 May.

“I am going to say some thank you’s and talk about responsibility. I will look back over the last challenging year and look ahead to another challenging year and my Executive.

Welcome and thank you

“Congratulations to our new Mayor, Cllr Louise Morales, and thanks to our past Mayor, Cllr Mohammed Ilyas Raja. Welcome Cllr Amanda Boote to her dual new roles as Deputy Mayor and Leader of the Opposition.

“Welcome to all our new councillors. It is good to have you here and I wish you well in your new roles.

“Huge thank you to the electorate of the borough of Woking who have put their trust in this Liberal Democrat administration. 


“We have a huge responsibility to deliver for this borough. To carry on our work to take Woking from a bank and property developer to a functioning borough council that delivers for its people. A council that does the essentials well, works in partnership with others and seeks to share services to deliver for local people.

“It is very strange to look across this chamber and see not a single Conservative face.

“I never imagined I would see this day. A combination of local and national reputation for the Conservative Party has brought us to this place. A place in which we have a Martian statue, commemorating that HG Wells wrote War of the Worlds whilst living in Woking. We now have more Martians in the borough than Conservative councillors.

“I would like to take a moment to thank the last four Conservatives who were voted out on 2 May for their work as councillors. Politics aside, all took up their role with good intentions, gave up their time and did good work in their communities.

“We do have Independents and a Labour councillor to hold us to account, and we expect them to do just that. We need, and will seek constructive criticism, positive proposals to do things in a different way and solid scrutiny that means we do the best for Woking.

“I encourage local people to engage with us. Do ask questions at an Executive or Council meeting. Set up a petition if you are seeking action on an issue. 

The last year

“The last year has been challenging to say the least. Soon after we met for the first time as a Council in the last municipal year we learnt of government intervention, followed a fortnight later by the Section 114 declaration of effective bankruptcy.

“Since then we have dealt with four different commissioners, three finance directors, two DLUHC [Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities] ministers and one new Managing Director Commissioner as our new Chief Executive. 

“An Improvement and Recovery Plan has been developed, worked through and adapted. The initial focus on the core improvement areas of Finance, Commercial, Governance, and Organisation and Services, was joined by Housing in the autumn.

“As we battled our way through the year we’ve been open and we have listened to you. Listening doesn’t mean we can always do everything that is asked, but we can assure you we have listened.

“Last summer and autumn seems a long way away, so much has happened since then but we did do an initial survey of all residents asking what is of value to them, and then in the autumn, we consulted on potential service changes. We will continue this dialogue in the year ahead.

“We are ever grateful to our residents groups, voluntary and faith groups who do so much day in and day out to contribute to our borough. We will continue to work closely with them and I will look to build new relationships so we can work together even when we are unable to fund them as we were in the past.


“Last year we committed the largest investment in 30 years in the council housing stock. [We] will be investing in safety and external work on properties, initially this will be very necessary fire safety work but in future the objective is to include roofs, guttering and windows.

“We can’t complete all of the Sheerwater project but we secured government support to access funds to complete the phases currently in construction. We will bring homes left empty in advance of demolition back into use giving a much needed boost to our housing stock. Cllr Forster is working to get government support for the planned improvements to health provision in Sheerwater.

“The Marches apartments at Victoria Square continue to be popular and offer homes. Whilst these are more expensive properties to rent, the 98% occupancy shows that the demand is there and it brings life into our town centre. Evidence collected by the operators, Native, show that the great majority of residents come from Woking and surrounding areas, including New Haw, Addlestone [and] Chertsey.

Openness and transparency 

“Openness and transparency has been at the heart of what we have done as a Liberal Democratic administration over the last two years.

“Papers are no longer routinely discussed in private meetings, behind closed doors. We have had papers where commercial confidentiality has been required but the general principal of sales processes has been discussed in public with only the commercially confidential details discussed in private. 

“At an early stage in 2022, we removed the conflict of interest of having councillors as directors of council companies. Over the last year we’ve been removing council officers from those boards as well.

“We have been appointing genuinely independent non-executive directors at a high-level to provide good governance and scrutiny on the Thameswey and Victoria Square boards.

“Council oversight of the companies will be done in future via the Shareholder Executive Committee. Meetings of SEC will be in public, with private items being required and discussed in private as necessary.

“We commissioned a report into what happened in the past from Grant Thornton and we expect that to report this summer. When those findings are published we will release the past Part 2 papers, that were discussed behind closed doors.

“We are putting a greater emphasis on audit and governance with a new committee to reflect this. Good governance is now at the heart of all that we do.


“We achieved a legal budget in March for the year ahead. This covers our day-to-day spending. To achieve that budget we had to make significant savings of £8.4 million - that is half of the core annual income of this council.

“We have proposals. We have to deliver on them. We have been able to mitigate those savings. We can’t run community centres anymore but we can hand them to community groups through community asset transfers. We can’t run public toilets but we want to hand these over to local groups to maintain and operate.

“We found a way keep Pool in the Park open with higher charges and ensuring that the budgets cover only what should be allocated to this important leisure facility. 

“Our economic development function will now be covered by Surrey County Council but we will work closely with them to support new and existing businesses in the borough.

“We have a new Finance Director, who is working hard to get the council’s financial systems in shape.

“We still have the huge debt hanging over us. £2.1 billion, £68 million a year in debt repayments, which aren’t covered by the income from the assets they are paying for.

“In March, the government agrees a package with us that enabled us to set a budget and to be able to pay those debts for the year ahead. This is not the complete solution and work continues to determine how Woking Borough Council and can deal with this unprecedented situation.

“As a local council we are doing all we can to try and live within our means. Because of the historical level of debt Woking remains in a very challenging situation. We cannot forget this and it overlies all that we do as a council.


“We will not forget our environmental commitments. This council has a strong record on the environment and green energy. 

“Last year we agreed our environmental policy and will take the next steps on that next month.

“Next month we are reviewing that policy and we have our local environmental action group, WEAct coming in to our meeting. I’d like to thank them for their patience because this has been delayed given the financial situation of the council.

“We need to act in light of our financial situation. We need to adapt directions to do all that we can within the finances available to us.


“I will close by confirming my Executive for the year ahead.

“Sorry to say we are losing Cllr Graves from the Executive for personal reasons. He made a fantastic contribution to our work on the environment during his 18 months in the role and will forever be remembered as the portfolio holder for acronyms. 

“For the year ahead we will be an Executive of six.

“Cllr Forster, who will continue his great work as my Deputy, will pick up the Greener Woking portfolio.

“I’m delighted that Cllr Roberts will retain responsibility for Finance and Economy, despite the huge challenges that role has brought over the last 12 months.

“Planning and Regulation will stay under Cllr Lyons’ steady hand, Cllr Johnson will continue his good work in the Housing brief and Cllr Nicholson will carry on her amazing work covering the sizeable portfolio of Living Well.

Many challenges face us in the year ahead, but we face those challenges with a strong group of council directors, a highly qualified guiding team of commissioners, council staff who are committed to Woking Borough, an Executive who will continue to drive through improvement and councillors who want the best for their borough.”

Watch the Leader's statement to Council on Monday 20 May