A new public board has been set up to help make swift and accountable decisions to tackle coronavirus, including introducing ‘lightning lockdowns’.

The Reading Covid-19 Outbreak Engagement Board aims to ensure Reading residents and partners have a voice and the leadership is accountable.

Councils have been given coronavirus powers which include:

  • Forcing owners to shut pubs, cafes, shops, and restaurants in areas hit by coronavirus outbreaks
  • Closing public places, like parks
  • Cancelling events

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has labelled these powers 'lightning lockdowns'.

The board, which is a sub-committee of the Policy committee, will be made up of councillors as well as members of the Berkshire West CCG, Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service, Thames Valley Police, Healthwatch Reading and Reading Voluntary Action.

Councillor Tony Jones, lead member for Adult Social Care, said the board “will meet when necessary, be accountable and avoid being a talking shop”.

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Councillor Graeme Hoskin, lead member for Health, will chair the board and councillor Jason Brock, leader of the council, will be the deputy chairman.

The first public meeting could be held on September 4, according to Cllr Brock.

Lib Dem Councillor Ricky Duveen raised concerns about having ten councillors plus another ten members, saying it would be “unwieldly” in its size.

He said a smaller committee could be better for swifter action but Cllr Brock said it is important that every group on the council has the opportunity to express their views.

The Lib Dems are in fact the main beneficiary of this strategy, with the Labour group giving up one of their seats on the board to allow either Cllr Duveen or fellow Lib Dem councillor Meri O’Connell to be a member.

Cllr Brock said he was happy to give up one further councillor if the Lib Dems wanted to give up their seat but this was a conversation “for another time”.

Only the ten councillors will have voting powers.

The public-facing board is part of the council’s outbreak control plan, which aims to help the council prevent and manage outbreaks

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The board will help the council to refine, adapt and review the plan.

It will be overseen by the Berkshire West Health Protection Board, where partners will work together to control the spread locally.

Additionally, the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum is able to act across a broader geography if needed and the South East Regional Oversight Group will help Reading to learn from other areas.