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Slough: Labour Council’s financial crisis, but Tories don’t count

June 18, 2021 7:20 PM

Slough Council faces a severe crisis.

Sukh Dhillon at one of the parks in UptonIn a letter published in the Slough Express on 28 May, Sukh Dhillon, Lib Dem candidate in Upton Ward in the elections in May, explained the severity of the financial crisis facing Slough's Labour-run Council, and how the irresponsible response of the Tory councillors also failed Slough residents:

"Two damning auditors' reports raise concerns over the Council's "financial sustainability" (Express, 14 May). This could have serious implications for services provided to residents. Labour councillors who have run Slough for many years are mainly to blame, but Tory opposition councillors have also failed Slough residents through their irresponsible behaviour.

As an accountant I was shocked to read the auditors' reports on Slough Council's much delayed accounts for the year 2018/19 that were finally published on Monday 10th May.

The auditors' reports are a devastating indictment of how the Labour-run Council has been mismanaged. The recommendations included statements such as: "In conclusion, there remains significant weaknesses and material misstatements in the preparation of the Council's financial statements which have occurred over a number of years." (Grant Thornton, May, 2021).

This level of financial mismanagement raises major fears about Slough Council's ability to deliver services as effectively as residents deserve. Local electors have told me that had the auditors' reports been published before the election, rather than just 2 working days after the May 6th election, they would have joined the increasing number who voted Lib Dem in my Upton Ward.

So much about the depth of the Council's financial crisis was hidden from the residents that it is absurd for the Labour Leader of the Council, James Swindlehurst, to claim, as he did, that Labour winning 11 out of the 14 seats in the recent elections shows the voters of Slough endorsed Labour. Given that the full facts about the failing governance and financial mismanagement of Slough Council had been hidden from the voters, how could they make a fully informed choice?

What is true, however, is that by the time of Slough Council met to decide on its budget on 8th March 2021, there was enough evidence available to all councillors, Labour and Tory, to know that Slough's Labour-run Council faced major financial problems.

First, nationwide councils faced difficulties resulting from Government underfunding.

Second, the reserves had dropped alarmingly, and Labour councillors would have to force Slough residents to pay for Labour's previous mistakes, including over Children's services. By law, the Council has to produce a balanced budget. Labour councillors, in line with official advice, said this could only be done by major savings (although how was not made clear), raising Council tax by the full amount allowed and then getting the Government's permission to sell some capital assets and use the money to plug the gaps in the revenue account.

So, how did Slough Tory councillors respond to the reduced reserves and the need for savings? In the budget meeting and election leaflets the Tories irresponsibly called for the Council to reduce its income in various ways, and increase its expenditure! This ineffective opposition let Labour off the hook. It meant Labour could, with some justification, say in their leaflets that the Tories were: "either being dishonest, or need help with their basic maths."

Therefore, given Slough's Labour councillors run the town's finances so badly, and Slough Tories don't count, it's no wonder that more and more residents are saying it's time for a change."