WOKING has a great opportunity to become a key economic hub in the region when the country can begin to recover from the pandemic, says the borough council’s new chief executive.

Julie Fisher, who was appointed to replace Ray Morgan from 1 April, said her immediate priorities will be to continue to support residents and businesses through the COVID-19 crisis and make sure the council is delivering vital services, especially for vulnerable people across the borough.

“This lockdown is much worse than the previous ones in how it affects people,” she said.

She told the News & Mail that one of the things that attracted her to the new role is the “fantastic staff” at the council.

“They are second to none and have gone the extra mile during coronavirus,” Mrs Fisher said.

“Some staff have volunteered to deliver meals to residents. Almost 45,000 meals have been delivered since March last year and there have been over 20,000 phone calls with vulnerable residents from our helpline.”

Mrs Fisher said that one of her priorities is to help council leader Ayesha Azad and all other councillors to engage with residents, businesses and other groups.

“I enjoy going out to meet residents. Community engagement is important and getting feedback from residents about services and from staff about how they can be improved. That will shape our services in the future in the right way,” she said.

This follows a commitment by Cllr Azad, who replaced David Bittleston as the council leader last October, that she wants more engagement with the people served by the council and a more transparent way of conducting business.

During the current lockdown, as well as the restrictions of last year, meetings have had to be held remotely. Mrs Fisher said this has worked well, especially in her current area of community services.

She said she recognises the constant hard work of voluntary groups and is keen to give them the support they need to help residents, especially families.

Whatever longer-term plans emerge from the council’s interaction with residents and businesses, Mrs Fisher said she sees the success of the town centre redevelopment as vital to Woking’s recovery and growth.

“The opening of Victoria Square is key to that. It’s on track to deliver this year with the new Boots having opened in December being the first key milestone to give a different look to the town centre.

“There is an exciting year ahead. We have huge opportunities with great transport links and businesses can look to relocate here.”

Mrs Fisher is also keen to ensure that the development of Woking is environmentally friendly.

“What will underpin everything is how we tackle climate change. We want to make sure the growth agenda is sustainable. We have committed to reducing the carbon emissions from our estate,” she said.

For more on this story, see the 4 February edition of the News & Mail