05:28PM, Wednesday 07 July 2021
The Royal Borough is reviewing its financial arrangements with Slough after the neighbouring local authority banned all non-essential spending.
The Labour-run council announced on Friday it has issued a Section 114 Notice which means it does not have enough funds to deliver or balance its budget.
Slough’s new chief finance officer, Steven Mair, revealed in his Section 114 report the council is facing a £159 million deficit by 2024/25 if drastic action is not taken.
The ban on spending could have knock-on effects on shared services between Slough and the Royal Borough and cabinet member for finance, Councillor David Hilton, told the Advertiser a review of the situation is ongoing.
He said: “I’ve been in communication with our own Section 151 officer, Adele Taylor, and the team are reviewing where we are.
“If there are any issues it will be in the detail somewhere rather than the obvious issue which is within the headlines.”
The Royal Borough has faced its own financial pressures with a report from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA) revealing a lack of financial planning and transparency ‘over a number of years’.
Council leader Andrew Johnson, who replaced previous leader Simon Dudley in September 2019, described the findings as a ‘cultural failure of epic proportions’.
He told councillors in June last year he wants to create a culture that is ‘fair, open and transparent’.
Cllr Hilton told the Advertiser the council has now strengthened its finance team and steps have been taken to address concerns raised by the CIPFA report.
But he admitted the local authority still has ‘significant borrowing’ which he would like to see reduced.
He added: “I was really upset when COVID came along because we were in a place where we could start to build reserves with some level of confidence and COVID has damaged this year’s finances and will next no doubt.
“But if we hadn’t gone through the (CIPFA) process we probably wouldn’t have been able to establish a balanced budget this year.”
Slough’s chief executive Josie Wragg and council leader James Swindlehurst have faced calls to resign since the news broke of its ban on non-essential spending.
But Cllr Hilton said he does not think this will help the people of Slough through the financial crisis.
“Resignations doesn’t help the public and the real thing in all of this is what will the implications be on the residents of Slough,” he said.
“If someone gets fired that doesn’t help at all but what does help is finding a way through this with the minimum of pain and learning the lessons.”