Slough Borough Council has welcomed the government’s additional support after the authority was hit with a Section 114 notice in July due to errors uncovered in the authority’s governance and poor financial state.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has released two reports concerning the authority’s governance review and overall financial position.
The independent reports by former Salford City Council Chief Executive, Jim Taylor, and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) were both commissioned by DLUHC.
As well as this, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove has announced that he will be appointing Commissioners with the following reserved powers to use if necessary:
- The governance and scrutiny of strategic decision-making by the council.
- The strategic financial management of the council.
- The oversight of collection of revenues and the distribution of benefits by the council.
- Appointment and dismissal of statutory officers.
Slough Borough Council said that they welcome the additional support and that it will allow them to continue to make large strides in righting the wrongs of the past.
As well as this, they said it will allow them to make the right decisions for the residents and town, as well as to assist the council in putting itself back on a sustainable financial footing and improving the governance of the authority.
Commenting, Leader of Slough Borough Council, Councillor James Swindlehurst said:
“We have talked before about the severity of our financial situation and the errors uncovered in our governance arrangements and our finances which led to the Section 114 notice in July.
“We completely accept both reports’ findings, the recommendations and the comments, and are satisfied the work we have been doing since April this year has been very rigorous and comprehensive and has started to instigate positive action in a number of areas to ensure we address as many of the issues identified as are able to.
“In light of the work that has gone since we received our auditors report and the 114 notice was issued, we are fortunate to be in an improved position now than we were before April and our awareness of the issues and our plans and actions are starting to make a difference already, however, we completely accept that we still have a lot to do.
“Councillors and officers are working together to seek to ensure the level of financial savings the council committed to in March 2021 for the current financial year can be delivered and have made significant progress to do the same for next year’s budget.
“We are now starting to work on the subsequent years of the council’s medium term five-year financial strategy as agreed through the council’s Recovery and Renewal Plan and by doing so will be seeking to ensure that the key council services will be sustainable for the future.
“Since receiving our auditors report in mid-May, I have personally taken on the portfolio for finance, a new Cabinet member is now responsible for governance, budget strategy and financial monitoring both sit with me instead of being split across wider Cabinet portfolios and we have improved accountability of senior officers with weekly meetings with Cabinet members to discuss progress on savings.
“In addition, we have started a process of providing a full update to each council meeting.
“The scrutiny of decision-making will be boosted with all savings proposals being taken to scrutiny committees before coming to Cabinet, so all members will have the chance to look at the proposals in detail, question officers and provide feedback before any decisions are made.
“And as it made clear in the reports, we have completely replaced the senior staff in the Finance team and are providing on-going training and support for the whole team to ensure our accounting is greatly improved and operates to the highest standards.
“There are still many difficult decisions ahead of us. We are financially in a very challenging place and we will be asking government for a level of capitalisation direction, which has never before been made by a local authority.
“I accept the government intervention, understand why they feel it is necessary and I look forward to welcoming the Commissioners to Slough and working with them until the issues in the report have been fully resolved by us all.
“Together we can continue to make major strides at pace in righting the wrongs of our past and putting the council on a sustainable financial footing, improving our governance and making the right decisions for our residents and town.”