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Slough Council Bankruptcy Update: Thorough Inquiry into Slough’s Financial Crisis needed

July 17, 2021 3:23 PM

Matthew Taylor with results from a Cippenham litter pick led by Lib Dem Focus team"Slough Lib Dems are helping to promote the petition calling for the resignation of Councillor James Swindlehurst, Leader of Slough's Labour-run Council, and for an inquiry into the extremely serious financial mess his mismanagement has got the Council into", said Matthew Taylor, Chair of Slough Lib Dems (see left).

Matthew continued, "The Lib Dems believe a thorough inquiry is essential to identify what went wrong, and how the mistakes can be prevented in future. Two overall areas need examining. First, the many technical failings which involved failure to follow basic good financial practices.

Second, the many political failings including fundamental mismanagement by the Councillors in carrying out their key role of providing leadership for the activities of the Council's officers, and broad oversight of their work. In addition, Slough Council suffered from an extremely poor culture in which an arrogant, often squabbling, Labour Group frequently refused to listen to anyone else, and a Tory Opposition too often put ideologically driven irresponsible sound-bite policies before recognising the need to provide responsible opposition that worked for the good of the whole town."

Matthew Taylor went on to provide more details about each point by stating, "My colleague, Sukh Dhillon, who was the Lib Dem candidate in Upton in May, is an accountant and he thought the many technical faults in Slough Council's financial processes were truly shocking to anyone who knows how these processes should work. The reports from the auditors on the Council's delayed accounts for 2018/19 identified a series of incorrect financial processes in Slough Borough Council. But, bad as they were, they turned out just to be the start of the terrible story.

When the Council's new finance officer and his team revealed the extent of Slough Council's financial problem on 2nd July, he listed an almost unbelievable number of 17 'severe weaknesses or poor practices across the Council.' A thorough inquiry should get to the bottom of how all this happened, and continued over a number of years. The Finance Officer made clear many of the problems were long-standing and did not just arise because of Covid-19."

Matthew further argued that "The political problems also need proper investigation, because the technical problems could not have been so extensive, or prolonged, unless the political culture of Slough Council had not been so rotten.

"Slough councillors each receive a basic allowance of £7,779 (plus various expenses), and Labour Cabinet members or Commissioners get a lot more, right up to an additional £20,224 in the case of James Swindlehurst. Councillors might not understand all the technical issues, but should be sufficiently aware of their responsibilities to ask the relevant questions about the budget and financial processes. Such questions could have ensured the Council did not have to suddenly announce on 2nd July 2021 that unless severe action was taken, it was facing a £96million financial deficit by the end of March 2022.

"This mismanagement by Slough Councillors, therefore, goes deeper than individual councillors lacking adequate skills. Slough Council appears to suffer from a failed political culture arising from the activities and antics of both the Labour administration and the Tory Opposition. It might be difficult for an inquiry to probe too far into political issues, but some questions seem too fundamental to ignore.

"The inquiry should ask several key questions related to the failed political culture of Slough. First, how far did the apparently frequent arrogant refusal by the Labour Councillors to listen to opinions from anyone outside their own party mean that if anyone suggested things might be going wrong, or could be done in a better way, then too often they were ignored, or attacked? A clear example of this was over the way the Labour Council refused to listen to advice about how the failing Children's Services could be better run. As a result, central Government had to step in and take over running the services, and now Slough Council is facing a massive bill related to that which is just part of the financial crisis.

"The second question related to the political culture is that the inquiry should ask why there was such a lack of coherent scrutiny and constructive opposition from the Tory Councillors. The Tory Councillors should face questioning about why they made proposals for the budget in March 2021 that would have reduced the income of Council at a time when it was already clear there were major financial problems ahead, even if the extent of the crisis was not fully known."

Matthew concluded by stating: "Slough residents deserve a thorough inquiry into what has gone so wrong with the finances of the Council, and some analysis of how an improved political culture of cooperation and proper scrutiny would help ensure the problems were not repeated in the future."