Slough Council warned it will 'never get out' of financial mess without 'discipline'

Slough Borough Council aims to home rough sleepers staying in Datchet hotel

The use of external companies to dig Slough Borough Council out of its financial hole were questioned at a meeting on Monday.

Government commissioner Max Caller watched over the authority’s decision making once more, and was critical of the way procurement contracts were being decided, which is the process of acquiring services from external sources.

Earlier this month, the inspector also hit out at the council at an audit and corporate governance committee, claiming it should be more 'challenging' to certain proposals. 

The Government confirmed the appointment of the commissioners to Slough to try and repair the council’s financial crisis after it had to ban all non-essential spending in July by issuing a Section 114 notice.

At Monday's meeting, councillors were asked to extend contracts within its adult social care and voluntary sectors.

The former sought to approve a new six-month contract to 'PeopleToo Limited' to provide support for Slough council’s adult social care transformation programme until March.

This programme aims to deliver £9,121,000 in savings across three years, with the council report claiming that PeopleToo have already helped the council deliver millions in savings. 

This would be at a cost of £215,000, with the possibility of a six-month extension resulting in an expected total of £450,000, which would come out of the council’s own dwindling budget.

However, this contract had already ended in September – with the council working under an ‘implied arrangement’ with PeopleToo since October 1.

The latter attempted to extend an already ongoing contract with Slough Council for Voluntary Services (SCVS) to the value of £473,254 for a period of 12 months.

Councillors were asked to commence this procurement for a maximum cost to the authority of £1.4million.

But panel member Cllr Sabia Akram (Lab, Elliman) was wary of the council ‘procuring for the sake of procuring’, and asked whether cheaper alternatives could be explored.

Alan Sinclair, executive director of people and adults, said that SBC have ‘tried to recruit’ for permanent vacancies, claiming ‘the pool out there is really not very good’.

Mr Caller was blunt in his assessment of the report paper. He said: “You have a contract here [with Peopletoo] which has been extended once already. It expired in September, and you have been under expenditure control.

“The right thing to do would have been to get a report here no matter what. If you don’t have those disciplines in the council, you will never get out of the mess you are in.”

Council directors were also asking councillors to extend the SCVS contract from July this year until July 2022 – leading to Mr Sinclair apologising for its delay in getting to cabinet.

He said: “We had a number of contracts that clearly were coming to an end and we did not bring those to you to say we have got some issues.

“We hold our hands up to that, that should have been the process, but it is good learning for us and we won’t be in that position again.”

Leader of the council Cllr James Swindlehurst (Lab, Cippenham Green) asked that progress reports be brought back to the council in the spring to enable it to review contracts and decide if there are cheaper alternatives.

Monday's meeting also saw the council adopt a key climate change document as it seeks to become carbon neutral by the year 2040. 

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