OPPOSITION councillors blame the ruling Conservative’s past financial mismanagement and poor governance for why the Royal Borough needs to save £18 million over five years.

The medium-term financial strategy, which was debated at an extraordinary full council meeting last night (October 14), outlines the potential for ‘painful’ service cuts and council tax hiked to the maximum allowed over the next five years to meet this saving target by 2026.

Nearly £8.4 million will need to be saved in next year’s budget, with libraries, leisure, culture, braced for cut-backs.

The report states the council “missed out on additional revenue” due its historically low council tax, and its very low levels of reserves are “barely adequate” to fund next year’s projected shortfall.

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The leader of the council, councillor Andrew Johnson (Conservative: Hurley and Walthams) told the Observer last week it “will be a challenge on turbo” to set next year’s budget and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) will also be lobbying government to raise the cap on council tax.

Introducing the strategy, the lead member for finance, councillor David Hilton (Conservative: Ascot and Sunninghill) said the coronavirus pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on the council where this report sets out the framework on setting the 2021/22 budget.

He added the paper sets out the assumptions around the levels of funding RBWM is likely to receive from government, council tax capping levels, interest rates, and the potential ongoing impacts of Covid-19.

Opposition councillors mainly blamed the Conservatives’ past financial mistakes and poor governance as mentioned in the damning CIPFA report – with Covid-19 being a secondary factor on why RBWM is being forced to look at slashing services to make the £18 million savings.

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Councillor Geoff Hill (The Borough First: Oldfield) said: “The reason we are here is because of poor Conservative management of the borough’s finances, an obsession with low tax, an obsession with driving down or portraying the reserves as adequate, and poor culture.”

He called for the paper to include a referendum to be transparent to RBWM residents whether or not they want their council tax increased above the cap or have service cuts with council tax being increased to the maximum allowed.

Cllr Hill added: “After a pandemic and going into it with a poor financial position, we owe it to the public to be honest and frankly I don’t think the Conservative group is up to being honest to the public.”

The leader of the opposing Liberal Democrats, councillor Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green) urged the Tory administration to “stop and think” to sort out the problems caused by past financial mismanagement.

He said: “It’s like you keep building the Titanic over and over again and you keep crashing the Titanic over and over again into yet more icebergs.”

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Conservative councillors argued RBWM is in this position mainly due to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus, with other local authorities in the same position with some needing to save more than the Royal Borough.

Councillor Ross McWilliams (Conservative: Cox Green), lead member for housing, added the actions taken from the CIPFA report has put RBWM in a much stronger position to deal with the problem the council is facing.

Cllr Johnson admitted the financial situation RBWM is “very grave” and there will be “painful” cuts to services made – but said this is a blueprint to get out of the situation caused by Covid-19.

He said: “I can foresee a future where we all of us will have to pay for the costs of Covid. That is planet reality I’m afraid colleagues.”

The leader of the council blasted the opposition saying the Conservative party are the only ones with a plan, saying he has seen “no alternative, no vision, no clue” from them.

The Conservative majority noted the report and voted for the base medium-term financial projections, while opposition councillors either voted against or abstained.