AN ACTION plan has been devised to address the issues raised from a damning report on the council’s governance, culture, and finance.

CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountability), a professional body for people in public finance, published a report last month heavily criticising the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) Council’s ‘lack of financial transparency’ which masked the problems the council was facing, and dominant members at that time didn’t recognise that challenge is a ‘good thing’.

At a cabinet meeting in June, councillor Andrew Johnson (Conservative: Hurley and Walthams), leader, apologised to opposition members for being historically ignored.

An action plan has been drawn up address the main issues raised by CIPFA to improve and maintain good governance, culture within the council, and financial transparency.

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According to RBWM’s section 151 officer, Adele Taylor, she said some of the issues identified within CIPFA’s report have been addressed and have drafted proposed actions to tackle issues yet to be completed with ‘realistic’ deadlines.

Proposed actions include:

  • Establish an officer only capital programme board to regularly review current schemes and consider new projects to create transparency on the impacts of decisions on the finances.
  • Review budget gaps in the medium-term financial strategy to prepare and set a balanced budget and give council a better understanding of what resources it has to manage in its services.
  • Provide training for budget managers and improve debt management reporting to manage resources more successfully and give officers a ‘sound understanding’ on the council’s financial resources.
  • Create clear understandings by revising the code of conduct for members and officers on their roles and responsibilities and give up-to-date training to them on governance issues which could impact their role and decision-making.

It’s been proposed to split the audit and governance function from the corporate overview and scrutiny – which will go to full council July 28 (Tuesday) – to reduce the workload on the panel and to forensically scrutinise the council’s accounts.

Completed actions includes improving financial transparency and create more detailed reports on monitoring RBWM’s budget as well as reviewing and setting a compliant capital strategy, medium term financial strategy, and treasury management.

A review has been undertaken on the council’s ‘inadequate’ levels of reserves where Adele Taylor said RBWM would’ve had an adequate level of reserves this year – but Covid-19 has caused additional costs to the council which could deplete reserves by the end of the year unless further government funding comes forward.

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She said: “As of today, in terms of could I hand on heart say we have adequate levels of reserves right now, no we don’t – but we do have some reserves and we’re not yet in a position where we will fully deplete our level of reserves by the end of this year.”

An officer only board, called the capital review board, has been set up to make sure officers are applying policies properly as well as looking at strategies, borrowing requirements, funding, and capital receipts, and making sure everyone is up-to-date with new rules and regulations.

The leader of the opposing Independents, councillor Lynne Jones (Old Windsor) asked how will RBWM safeguard this change going forward so a resurgence of bad governance and dominant members not supporting challenges doesn’t come back.

Councillor Johnson said: “Those individuals referred to in that report are long gone, they will not be coming back, nor will their culture.

“I do consider it to be have been a cultural failure of epic proportions – I certainly standby those words.

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He added: “I’m someone who takes a view that if a colleague oversteps the mark, they will be reigned in and if they seriously overstep the mark they will be gone in a fair-minded way within an organisation that is accountable.

“The days of overly dominant members, under my leadership, are long gone.”

The report was heard at a virtual corporate overview and scrutiny meeting on July 27 (Monday) – chaired by councillor Chris Targowski (Conservative: Riverside).

The proposed actions and comments made by panel members will be forwarded to cabinet this Thursday (July 30) for consideration.