It's time to make a choice in Slough - What do you want?
WHO'S AT FAULT FOR THE FINANCIAL CRISIS/CLEARING UP SLOUGH COUNCIL'S MESS: Jo Hanney's letters to the Slough Express and Slough Observer published 23/2/24
Last week, Preston Brooker (Letters, February 16) complained that a previous letter blamed Labour for problems with Slough Council. But, such was the depth of the extreme crisis into which Labour plunged Slough Council during their rule from 2008-May 2023, that, of course, the previous letter was right to blame Labour for continuing problems with Council services.
Progress in clearing up after such a dire crisis depends, in part, on recognising the depth of the crisis, and identifying causes. Here, readers do not have to take my word for it, but can turn to the first formal report from independent Commissioners sent in to sort things out.
Their first published report, dated 9 June 2022, said about the Labour-run Slough Borough Council (SBC): “At present SBC is therefore spending some 78% above its funding ability so significant changes are required to bring this back into balance.” The report emphasised that the Labour-run Council’s problems were so large they could not be fully sorted out even during the 3 years of the Commissioners’ remit: “a much longer period will be required.”
So, whose fault is it? There is increasing recognition that the Tory Government has been under-funding local councils for years: many Tory Councils bitterly complain about their own Government’s failures. But, few other councils got into as big a mess as Labour-run Slough.
The Council astonishingly failed to get the accounts signed-off for years. Commissioners listed other failures, including the interest on Council debts: “In 2020/21, a sum of £34m should have been included in the budget but only £40,000 was provided. In addition, SBC was wrongly charging revenue costs to capital; had not made appropriate provision for items such as bad debts or insurance; had run down its reserves; and had misused capital receipts.”
The Commissions were highly critical of some Council officers, but they said: “What is surprising is that no Councillor seemed to notice.” Under Labour things were made even worse by “a poor leadership culture which made it difficult to speak truth to power at both officer and member level.” This confirms stories about what happened to any brave Labour councillors who did try to highlight problems: the leadership dealt with them severely.
So, where are we now, less than a year after Labour lost power? Some underlying problems are being addressed. Good new senior Council officers seem to have been recruited, along with improvements made to the leadership culture. But, the unfortunate residents of Slough will continue to have to face the consequences of the many failures of former Labour Cllr Brooker’s colleagues for years ahead in terms of reduced services and higher Council Tax.
On 15 Feb, Slough Lib Dems backed a new international call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. This followed our previous strong call at our AGM in November 2023, and the vote by all Lib Dem MPs in favour of a ceasefire in Parliament in November 2023.
Cllr Frank O’Kelly, Chair of Slough Lib Dems said, “With the crisis in Gaza threatening to get even worse, the Slough Lib Dem Executive meeting on Thursday 15th February decided to show support for a new international call for a ceasefire that had been made just that morning. Slough Lib Dems had already passed a strong motion calling for a Gaza ceasefire at our AGM in November 2023 [see below], and all Lib Dem MPs supported a ceasefire in the vote in Parliament in November 2023. The new motion was passed to support international pressure to try to persuade Israel not to launch a full offensive in Rafah."
Motion passed at Executive meeting of Slough Lib Dems on 15 February 2024:
Slough Lib Dems welcome today’s joint statement from the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand calling for Israel not to launch a full offensive in Rafah, but instead for there to be an immediate and sustained ceasefire, the release of hostages and an eventual two-state solution. Slough Lib Dems call on the UK Government and all parties in Parliament to support this statement.
Joint statement by the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand
The Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand today issued the following statement on reports of Israel's planned military operation in Rafah.
We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic. About 1.5 million Palestinians are taking refuge in the area, including many of our citizens and their families. With the humanitarian situation in Gaza already dire, the impacts on Palestinian civilians from an expanded military operation would be devastating. We urge the Israeli government not to go down this path. There is simply nowhere else for civilians to go.
There is growing international consensus. Israel must listen to its friends and it must listen to the international community. The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law. Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas.
An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed. Hostages must be released. The need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza has never been greater. Rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian relief must be provided to civilians. The International Court of Justice has been clear: Israel must ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian assistance and must protect civilians. The Court's decisions on provisional measures are binding.
We are clear that a sustainable ceasefire is necessary to finding a path towards securing lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Any ceasefire cannot be one sided. Hamas must lay down its arms and release all hostages immediately. We again unequivocally condemn Hamas for its terror attacks on Israel on October 7.
Ultimately, a negotiated political solution is needed to achieve lasting peace and security. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remain steadfast in their commitment to a two-state solution, including the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in peace, security, and dignity. THURSDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2024
“Millions of extra pounds could be coming to Slough from developers. This could be the result of Slough Council voting to accept the motion I proposed at the Council meeting on 25 January 2024”, said Lib Dem Councillor Asim Naveed (Elliman Ward) - photo shows Cllr Naveed in his Elliman Ward.
Cllr Asim Naveed continued: “As I explained at the meeting, Slough should investigate the possibility of introducing the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Many other councils have used this levy for years to bring in extra funding. This is a way of ensuring developers make a larger contribution to new schools, health and care facilities and other infrastructure in the communities where they operate. The Community Infrastructure Levy usually runs alongside the older scheme called Section 106 payments.”
Cllr Naveed added; “I was pleased that the Leader of the Council, Conservative Councillor Dexter Smith (Colnbrook Ward) seconded my motion, and it was supported by the entire Conservative group on Slough Council.”
The chair of Slough Lib Dems, Councillor Frank O’Kelly (Cippenham Village Ward), said: “In my speech supporting Cllr Naveed’s motion I drew on expert analysis by Matthew Taylor, my predecessor as chair of Slough Lib Dems. Matthew, an architect, has shown that some councils in Berkshire have raised up to 16 times more than Slough for their communities, per head of population, by using the Community Infrastructure Levy, in conjunction with the Section 106 scheme.”
Cllr O’Kelly continued: “Slough has had a lot of major developments recently, and so as newly elected councillors, the Lib Dems are surprised to learn Slough’s previous Council failed to bring in more money than it did. But, of course, the important thing is to look forward, especially with all the development that’s likely to be happening.”
Cllr O’Kelly added: “Now that our motion has been accepted by the Council, the officers can get on with the detailed work of investigating exactly how a Community Infrastructure Levy might work in Slough.
We shall continue to press for it to be introduced as rapidly as possible. We are confident that, as has happened in many other places, it will bring great benefits to the town by funding the infrastructure and facilities needed to support Slough residents, now and in the future.”
"Liberal Democrats elected to Slough Council will consult, count and cooperate effectively in addressing the unprecedented financial crisis facing Slough Council as a result of the shocking failures of Slough's current Labour and Conservative councillors.
Appalling mismanagement and reckless borrowing by Slough's Labour councillors for many years is the main cause of the perhaps worst financial crisis any UK Council has ever created.
Introducing Slough Lib Dems' team of high quality candidates for the May 2022 elections, Matthew Taylor local party chair and candidate for Cippenham Meadows said:
"The Lib Dems' commitment to a much larger COVID recovery fund for schools than that proposed by the Tory Government will be very much welcomed in Slough, where all local services are facing years of cuts because of the failures of the Labour-run Council" said education researcher and Lib Dem candidate for Haymill and Lynch Hill, Catharine Parkes.