'Radical solutions' required to address council's 'fundamental failings', Minister says

Shay Bottomley

shayb@baylismedia.co.uk
'Radical solutions' required to address council's 'fundamental failings', Minister says

‘Radical solutions’ may be required to address Slough Borough Council’s ‘severe and fundamental failings’, according to a Government Minister.

It comes after commissioners reported the ‘magnitude of the scale of financial disaster’ to the Government in their first update since their appointments at the end of last year.

In the report, commissioners highlighted decision-making, poor leadership and failure to retain staff as some of the many reasons for SBC’s financial woes.

Furthermore, they were required ‘to take a more hands-on role than would be normal’.

Lead commissioner Max Caller CBE told the Express that the ‘magnitude of the scale of the financial disaster’ was not clear on the commissioners’ arrival, and that they now have a ‘much better understanding of the scale of the problems’ after more than half a year at the council.

“No one [council] has managed to run up this level of debt,” he told reporters at Observatory House on Thursday, describing the situation as ‘unprecedented’.

The commissioners were appointed to the council as a result of Directions from the Government for an initial period of three years.

However, with two-and-a-half years of the Directions still remaining, it is now looking likely that commissioners could be given more powers over the struggling council.

In response to the report, Paul Scully MP, Minister of State for Local Government, Faith and Communities, said ‘it is clear that the task in Slough is unparalleled, and that radical solutions may be required’.

He added: “Your report sets out the unprecedented scale of financial challenge in Slough resulting from severe and fundamental failings, linked to excessive borrowing and a lack of proper financial management or adherence to core accounting principles.”

A separate letter on behalf of the Secretary of State added that he would be inviting representations on a new Direction to give commissioners more power at the struggling council.

“The commissioners’ report lays bare the scale of the challenges in Slough, which are unparalleled and are likely to require radical long-term solutions,” said the letter in response to the commissioners’ report.

“Despite the diligent work of the commissioners since their appointment in December 2021 and January 2022, it is apparent that the pace of change in Slough is not sufficient.

“This is in no small part due to the absence of capability and capacity within the Council to deliver the wholesale transformation needed.

“Having carefully considered the Commissioners’ report the Secretary of State has concluded that Slough is still failing in its best value duty.”

It added that the Secretary of State was considering ‘to issue a further Direction to permit the commissioners to define the structure for and to recruit staff to senior positions for the period of the Directions’.

To read a detailed breakdown of the commissioners’ findings, click here.

To see the response from the leader of the council, click here.

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