Cheshire East

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Gove sends commissioners into borough council

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, has sent commissioners into Slough Borough Council “to address serious financial and management failures”.

The move comes after Local Government Minister Kemi Badenoch told Parliament in October that the Government was minded to intervene.

This wasa after an external review by former Salford City Council chief executive Jim Taylor had painted “a deeply concerning picture of mismanagement, of a breakdown in scrutiny and accountability, and of a dysfunctional culture” and found that the council had failed its best value duty.

The commissioners will be led by Max Caller CBE, who led the best value inspections at Northamptonshire and Liverpool Councils and was a commissioner at Tower Hamlets.

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He will be supported by finance commissioner Margaret Lee, former statutory finance officer at Essex County Council and member of the London Borough of Croydon Improvement and Assurance Panel.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said Caller's team would immediately take over several functions associated with financial management and governance.

The commissioners will be expected to provide a first report within the next three months, with initial views and an assessment of whether they require further support. Further reports will be provided every six months.

They have been appointed for three years from 1 December 2021 to 30 November 2024, or such earlier or later time as the Government determines.

Badenoch said: “There is overwhelming evidence that Slough Borough Council has failed its residents and it is necessary for government to intervene.

“I have appointed experienced commissioners who will start the process of rebuilding confidence and trust between the council, councillors and the communities they serve.”

In a written ministerial statement made on 1 December the minister described the council’s financial situation as “unprecedented”.

Slough said it welcomed the appointment of the commissioners.

Cllr James Swindlehurst, leader of the council, said: "The council remains in a very challenging position financially.

“We have worked over the summer to identify savings, reducing large budget gaps in both the current year and for 2022/3.”

He added that the local authority was now addressing the recommendations from the two government-commissioned reports and preparing a new Medium Term Financial Strategy – “which will inevitably involve further difficult decisions”.

Slough is also in discussions with the government to conclude how much of its financial repair can be funded through capitalisation (sales of capital assets), with the council admitting to having requested a “significant sum”.

Cllr Swidlehurst said: “I look forward to welcoming the commissioners to Slough and working with them until the issues in the review reports have been fully resolved by us all.

“Together we can continue to make major strides at pace in righting the wrongs of our past and putting the council on a sustainable financial footing, improving our governance and making the right decisions for our residents and town.”

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