03:04PM, Friday 08 June 2018
Concerns over an ‘offshore company’ and ‘dodgy people’ were raised at a Slough Borough Council (SBC) meeting last night (Thursday), as councillors discussed plans to move to a town centre headquarters.
Councillors were asked to approve an increase of SBC’s capital programme for 2018/19 to 2023/24 in order to reflect an upcoming purchase of a new town centre site, which was decided on by cabinet on Tuesday, May 29.
The council will not reveal the site’s owner or price until the purchase is completed due to commercial sensitivity.
SBC plans to convert its current office at St Martins Place, Bath Road, into social housing after moving.
At an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, June 7 at Chalvey Community Centre, in Chalvey Road, Cllr Sohail Munawar (Independent, Elliman) raised concerns about an ‘offshore company’ owning the building.
Cllr Munawar, who was suspended from the Labour Party in November following complaints about him said: “It’s a Labour Party policy that we will not deal with offshore companies.”
“I want assurances that we are not dealing with offshore companies and we are not dealing with dodgy people,” he added.
He also questioned whether the council had done appropriate due diligence on whether it could finance the required borrowing.
Raising concerns about ‘money laundering’ and ‘tax avoidance’, Cllr Safdar Ali (Lab, Central) said: “Who owns this company? No individual who owns the company should partly or whole be involved in any fraud.”
Opponents of the plans questioned the council’s timing, having moved to St Martins Place in about 2007 and having spent £3.7m on a refurbishment in 2012.
However, deputy leader Cllr Sabia Hussain (Lab, Central) said this refurbishment was for necessary works to make the office fit for purpose, such as fixing the leaking roof and heating and air conditioning.
Cllr Rob Anderson (Lab, Britwell and Northborough) cabinet member for environment and leisure said the purchase and required borrowing had been deemed affordable by officers and asset management experts and that the site would be ‘revenue neutral’ within three years of moving in.
A council spokeswoman said this is because the council would generate revenue from renting office space to other parties and would make other efficiency savings.
Cllr Anderson added that the new site will be more environmentally friendly.
Cllr Amarpreet Dhaliwal (Con, Langley St Marys) dismissed claims the new site would boost footfall in the High Street ‘considering there’s not much left there’.
He questioned the need for a bigger venue, asking why technology could not reduce the need for staff needed in a physical office space.
Councillors voted to amend the capital programme to account for the new headquarters.
Cllr Bedi, Cllr Mohammed Rasib (Lab, Farnham), Cllr Munawar and Cllr Ali walked out the room and did not vote.
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