GOVERNMENT appointed commissioners could cost the Slough taxpayers up to £1m to oversee the council rectifying its financial woes that have increased to £308m.

The department for levelling up, housing, and communities announced in October they were appointing independent commissioners to supervise Slough Borough Council for three years.

This was prompted after two damning reports heavily panned the council’s finances and governance.

The commissioners have been given reserved powers if the council’s work does not satisfy them. These include:

  • The governance and scrutiny of strategic decision-making by the council.
  • The strategic financial management of the council.
  • The oversight of collection of revenues and the distribution of benefits by the council.
  • Appointment and dismissal of statutory officers

READ MORE: Slough: Who are the government officials overseeing the council?

It is not known when the commissioners will be appointed nor how many, but the council is “assuming” two will come to Slough for three years, which could cost the taxpayers up to £1m.

The lead commissioner could be paid £2,400 and their assistant £2,100 per week.

At a full council on Tuesday, November 23, councillors accepted the two reports’ findings and welcomed the commissioners when they are appointed.

With cuts incoming for the council to get on an even keel, the leader of the opposing Conservatives, Cllr Wayne Strutton (Haymill & Lynch Hill) said it will be vulnerable who will suffer the most from this.

Royal Borough Observer: Cllr Wayne StruttonCllr Wayne Strutton

He said: “We are here to ensure that those most vulnerable in this town get the services and respect and benefits that a good council should provide them with.

“We’ve failed objectively in that, and I apologise for that.”

Council leader James Swindlehurst (Lab: Cippenham Green) said it was “simply not the case” the vulnerable will be most affected.

The borough is facing a massive borrowing bill of £760m that will require the council to sell up to £600m-worth of assets and make about £20m-worth of cuts every year for the next five years.

Councillors heard the estimated £174m financial gap has now increased to £308m over a ten-year period.

The Tories’ deputy leader Paul Kelly (Haymill & Lynch Hill) said it was a “culture of borrow today, ask later” is what led the council in this position.

Royal Borough Observer: Steven Mair, chief finance officerSteven Mair, chief finance officer

Steven Mair, chief finance officer, said they will be submitting a capitalisation directive next week to request permission from government to sell off some of their £1.2bn-worth of assets to fill this gap and reduce borrowing debt.

A recovery and renewal strategy is required to further ease off financial pressures, which sees the council becoming ‘the right size,’ meaning it will have to make several cuts, staff redundancies, and several changes to its governance.

Mr Mair said it will take up to four years for all the changes needed to get the council back on the right footing.

The finance team has designed a new structure for the council, which is yet to be costed and will come to councillors with job descriptions and the recruitment process.

READ MORE: "Significant weaknesses" found in Slough Council's SEND service

Six out of the council’s 11 companies will be closed at some point this year. A corporate oversight board has been set up to oversee Slough Urban Renewal.

The dedicated schools grant deficit could grow to £42m by 2024/25 if no action is taken. A management plan has been submitted to government, stating the council is undergoing a “data cleanse” to ensure funding has ceased for children no longer in education.

The 2019/20 and 2021 accounts are set to be addressed as well as finalising the 2018/19 accounts.

The deadline day for the council’s £230m short-term borrowing from other local authorities is approaching in the next seven months. Mr Mair said most of this will be rolled over.

The council was planning to borrow £65m but “expects” to scrap this. Its capital programme is expected to see a £93.4m reduction over the next three years.