09:59AM, Friday 14 February 2020
Following Simon Dudley’s shock resignation in October, Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) took on the top job during a tough period.
Maidenhead was (and still is) midway through an enormous redevelopment, the revised Borough Local Plan was soon to be submitted and a damning report from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy stating the council’s finances needed to be resolved ‘urgently’ had been published just weeks earlier.
Speaking to the Advertiser, Cllr Johnson described his time as council leader so far as ‘challenging yet exciting’, outlining some of the things he is most proud of, as well as the biggest challenges.
“I look out of the window and I see real regeneration on the ground in Maidenhead,” he said.
“You look across the borough and you get a real sense that people still, despite some of the recent uncertainty, want to invest in the Royal Borough, which is fantastic news. We have some great businesses already within the borough and some even better businesses I hope wanting to join us here as we look to expand our commercial offer borough-wide.”
Following the resignation of Simon Dudley, who had been accused at one council meeting of ‘spending money like toilet paper’, many Royal Borough residents hoped for a figurehead with a different style of leadership.
Reflecting on his predecessor’s time, Cllr Johnson said: “Every leader is different. I have certainly got a different style to Simon.
“Do I think he got everything right? I’ll let the residents decide that for themselves, but what he has left is a council that has financial challenges but also has great opportunities still waiting to be untapped.”
A new leader is not the only change the local authority has experienced over the last few months.
Council elections last May saw the Royal Borough’s Tory majority significantly reduced, holding on to just 23 of the 41 seats.
With a stronger opposition presence, many on the other side of the council chamber were hopeful that the Conservatives would work more closely with the rest under a new leader.
“Of course, there are always opposition councillors that would like us to perhaps share more with them, and at the appropriate time we certainly will,” he said.
“But the bottom line is obviously, as a Conservative, we as Conservatives were elected to run the borough, and we will look to do that to the best of our ability.”
Going on to the work he is most proud of so far, he said: “Maidenhead was crying out for a little bit of attention and investment.
“We’ve got the potential of the new Nicholsons Centre and the council’s joint venture scheme is starting to come out of the ground and making real progress.
“We won a by-election in Riverside (Simon Dudley’s old seat) against all the odds, we’ve stabilised the senior leadership team, we’ve got a good team around us and were starting to lay the foundations for a successful budget, not only for next year but also the next four years going forward.
“We are starting to look more into the long term.”
The biggest challenge? The budget.
With an overspend of £3.7million projected for this financial year, a draft budget intended to provide nearly £6million in savings has been produced.
The result has been a controversial proposal, with resident parking discounts scrapped, adult and children’s services streamlined, and the number of community wardens reduced.
“At times we started to really think the unthinkable,” he said.
“I don't see that as a bad thing, I see that as a positive because it forces us to think outside the box, forces us to be more creative, more innovative, more radical.”
The jury is still out on the budget and, over the last two weeks, opposition councillors have been questioning many aspects at overview and scrutiny panels.
The papers are due to be put to full council later this month.
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