Chief executive admits Slough council facing 'very challenging' financial situation

Slough Borough Council’s chief executive has told staff the local authority is facing ‘very, very challenging times’ regarding its financial position.

In an internal video, seen by the Express, Josie Wragg explained the ‘bleak’ situation the council finds itself in following the release of two heavily critical reports into the handling of its finances.

Last month auditor Grant Thornton LLP published its findings into the council’s 2018/19 accounts which revealed a number of failures.

These included allowing earmarked reserves to dwindle to £4.78 million in 2018/19 from £30.9 million in 2012/13.

The council also over-estimated its profits by £7.5 million from its joint-venture partnership with Slough Urban Renewal, according to Grant Thornton’s report.

Ms Wragg updated staff on the financial situation in a video published on the council’s internal YouTube account on Thursday.

She said: “I really can’t sugar coat the situation we are in, we are in very, very financially challenging times and we are in that territory absolutely.

“Full council considered our audit recommendations last month and the picture was bleak. We knew that the gaps we had to close were significant.”

She said a team of financial experts has been brought in to work alongside the council’s leadership team to review the local authority’s budget for 2021/22 and plan for future years.

She added the council is reviewing its land, assets and buildings as well as the amount of money it is spending on agency staff and the number of vacancies being advertised.

In a cabinet meeting last night, councillors discussed how the local authority plans to draw up a list of assets which could be sold to plug a multi-million pound hole in the 2021/22 budget.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is expected to issue a capitalisation directive for the council.

This would allow it to sell of buildings to fund ‘exceptional’ one-off payments including £5.5 million owed to a Slough-based company over a historic business rates dispute.

Opposition leader Wayne Strutton asked why the council is now seeking a capitalisation directive of up to £15 million compared to the £12.2 million declared during budget discussions earlier this year.

Council leader James Swindlehurst said the council has received ‘in-principle’ consent for up to £15.5 million but the figure was varying as discussions continued with MHCLG.

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