CABINET members pass an action plan to address council’s historic issues – but not without criticisms from opposition councillors.

At a virtual cabinet meeting on July 30 (Thursday), lead members voted for the action plan, and scrutiny recommendations, to tackle the issues from a damning report on the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) Council’s governance, culture, and finance.

The Charted Institute of Public Finance Accountability (CIPFA), a professional body for people in public finance, published a review paper strongly criticising RBWM’s ‘lack of financial transparency’ which ‘masked’ the council’s problems as well as dominant members not recognising challenge is a ‘good thing’.

Some of the action plans includes officer and member training, more detailed reports on RBWM’s finances and monitoring its budget, setting up an officer only board to keep track of capital projects and receipts, etc.

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The ruling Conservatives called it a ‘forward-looking document’ where the problems should be left behind and focus RBWM’s attention on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, councillor Ewan Larcombe (National Flood Prevention Party: Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury) found the CIPFA report ‘unbelievably shocking’ and ‘incomplete’ where he criticised the council’s ‘openness and transparency’.

He said: “I think there’s a really, really big problem and it’s to do with the organisational loss of memory that has happened over the years.

“I do not see the training that is being brought in will actually cure those issues.

“The problems have taken years to evolve and they’ve been hidden, suppressed, and filibustered until we get to state where they can no longer be covered up and somebody says ‘oh, we better get somebody in’.

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“Getting somebody in to at least identify the problems and maybe the ways forward has been very expensive.”

He added that his ward has been ‘forgotten’ as he claims the water drainage infrastructure still hasn’t been fixed and the flood prevention project – the River Thames Scheme – has not been fully funded despite promises three years ago.

In his closing remarks, councillor David Hilton (Conservative: Ascot and Sunninghill) responded saying this a ‘nudge process’ where RBWM has been more transparent in their reporting since CIPFA and added training should be provided as that was an area of concern within the paper.

The lead member for parking and public safety, councillor David Cannon (Conservative: Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury) added flood protection is being progressed – but it not a CIPFA issue.

During the debate, councillor John Baldwin (Liberal Democrats: Belmont) asked the current lead members who were in the previous cabinet at the time of bad governance to be honest to the public when they supported the previous council leader, Simon Dudley, during his vote of no confidence.

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Councillor Ross McWilliams (Conservative: Cox Green), lead member for housing, said: “I think it is attractive for some members to say or use arguments that boil down to ‘I told you so’.

“Sadly, I would say such comments are both in a professional capacity, personal capacity or any capacity are entirely unhelpful and speak to a desire to be right rather than to be constructive.

“We are facing a financial situation across local government that is unprecedented and what need now is not ‘I told you so’ and chapters from history books to come – but ideas on how we tackle the financial problems we are facing.”

Cabinet members unanimously voted for the action plan which includes councillor Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents’ Association: Old Windsor) added recommendation that scrutiny members should have more training on the scrutiny process going forward to enable better ‘friendly critical challenge’.