11:09AM, Friday 23 July 2021
The leader of Slough Borough Council, James Swindlehurst
A motion to remove the leader of Slough Borough Council was quashed in a meeting on Thursday night.
Opposition councillors said that Councillor James Swindlehurst’s leadership had brought the council to ‘financial ruin’ and displayed either ‘wilful ignorance’ or ‘incompetence.’
At the meeting, the opposition said that Cllr Swindlehurst (Lab, Cippenham Green) had ‘pushed’ the council to undertake projects it did not have the resources to afford.
“He justifies this by calling his recklessness ‘ambition,’” said Cllr Dexter Smith (Con, Colnbrook with Poyle).
“Slough Borough Council’s debt has doubled and doubled again under his leadership.”
Independent Cllr Madhuri Bedi (Foxborough) said the council had spent tens of millions of pounds on ‘unnecessary vanity projects’ it could not afford, including Observatory House, the new council offices.
Cllr Swindlehurst defended his position and said he had previously offered to tender his resignation as leader to the Labour group in reparation.
But the opposition criticised this, saying that he was accountable to the people of Slough more broadly, not just his own group.
Labour councillors supported their leader, saying that he was the right person to lead the council out of its financial crisis.
They added that it would be a mistake to add political uncertainty to the equation.
Cllr Rob Anderson (Lab, Britwell and Northborough) described the motion as ‘pointless’ and said the council should look to work together, rather than fighting ‘phony political wars.’
The motion to oust the leader was rejected, with the lion's share of the votes against.
Cllr Swindlehurst said: “For all the things that have gone wrong, I am profoundly sorry.”
But he added that the opposition had been against him from the start and was ‘baying for blood’.
“Changing my face as leader will not change the administration. We have an obligation to people who did vote for us,” he said.
Later in the meeting, leader of the Conservatives, Cllr Wayne Strutton (Haymill and Lynch Hill), said:
“I think this whole chamber should consider resigning at the end of this political year and giving this town the opportunity to select every single one of us again in May. Not just a third of us – everyone.”
Unusually, the meeting did not contain an exclusion of the public for discussions usually held in private – including those about council officers.
For transparency, the chamber agreed that the public should hear a motion on whether to call for disciplinary action against the chief executive of the council.
Cllr Martin Carter (Lab, Britwell and Northborough) made an amendment which committed to setting out ‘revised expectations’ for the chief executive, but removed the request for investigation by the disciplinary committee.
“Blame on individuals may make a good story, but it does not help us with the immediate financial issues at hand,” said Cllr Carter.
“The original motion loses sight of the work already underway and misses the effort put in by officers and members alike to show that we are taking the necessary steps.”
He added that the original motion could have left the council open to a financial challenge at employment tribunal.
“This amendment will bring stability, not chaos,” he said.
The amended motion was passed with a majority in favour.
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