I wonder if my first question at council back in June started the butterfly effect!
Following the Conservative Leader’s resignation on 12th September, this week we heard from RBWM that…
CIPFA were asked by the Managing Director and s151 Officer to review the governance, approval and management processes in relation to a £350k capital scheme (Clewer and Dedworth Neighbourhood Improvements) approved in the 2018/19 budget. The Managing Director was concerned that the scheme did not appear to meet the Council’s overall objectives, that it didn’t go through a proper prioritisation process, no business case or plan had been produced as to what the scheme would deliver, or a plan of how it would be managed prior to approving the spend.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Cllr Lynne Jones from Old Windsor Residents Association (OWRA) has been challenging the budget overspends for years… Cllr Wisdom Da Costa, WWRA, had also been questioning the out of control spending. It was obvious something was very wrong but the future was being ignored by the then huge Conservative majority.
May 2019, everything changed, the huge majority was reduced to a slim margin as 18 Opposition Councillors took their seats with 23 Conservatives! Thank you Theresa 😉
One of my first actions as an Independent Councillor, lucky enough to win one of the seats in the Clewer & Dedworth West Ward, was to look at the budgets and see how money had been spent in my ward, just so I could get a better feel for how capital budgets worked.
It was very clear with my “O” level in Maths that the budget didn’t stack up so I asked my first question at the full council meeting on Tuesday 25th June 2019, Maidenhead Town Hall, see the agenda here.
In last year’s budget there was a line “CC52 Clewer & Dedworth Neighbourhood Improvements £350,000”. On enquiring how this money was invested officers tell me that £386,943 was spent so there appears to have been a £36,943 or 11% overspend. How was this overspend allowed to happen and can you ensure us that you will not overspend again this year?
Cllr Hilton responded and I quote from the minutes… “Councillor Hilton responded that this was the first time in his long experience that a Councillor has raised, as an issue, the spending of more money in their ward rather than less.” And then went on to try and explain… saying he’d write soon…
A letter sent to me dated 16th August, almost 2 months after my question states “There were irregularities in the approval of these projects, in that, the virement should not have taken place and the works on Spencer Denney and Parks, however valuable to the community, should not have been funded from CC52.”
“I thank you again for your question which will lead to tighter control of the capital programme and in a few months, improved reporting.”
So was I right in my observations and therefore right to flag this to council about my ward?
This reinforced in my mind that something was not right but that the fault didn’t lie with the officers but very much with the Conservative Administration’s culture. Stating the above and more, I brought the following motion only this week…
As a new councillor with 30+ years business experience under my belt, I’d like to make the following motion.
i) Should enhance its project management steps, ensuring a more efficient use of council time, officers and Councillors alike.
ii) Ensure appropriate training for all parties.
ii) Agrees that the key decision makers should make their thoughts known within the first few weeks of a project’s planning so that answers can be found to address their concerns before energy is wasted on bringing a plan together.
Accepting that it probably needs refining a tad, the Conservative ruling party were unable to accept this motion, unanimously supported by the opposition, while Cllr Ross McWilliam’s tweaked his motion on the night, about spending money on social media tools, so that it was waved through… says it all…
Underlines the fact that the Conservatives “cannot possibly” accept any responsibility for what is going on… I am reminded of what someone said this week, “The five stages of the grieving process are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.”
I guess we have some way to go!
Things can change, the once mighty great fir tree above, once fallen, has become half a dozen park benches for locals to enjoy on The Byes in Sidmouth, Devon.
Do take time to listen to the recording of this week’s full council meeting, jump through to my motion at (2:42:50) if you like or sit back and enjoy the whole meeting, time permitting.
Mind you, the quality of recording is a little poor with the constant shuffle of papers at the top table as the mic was left open for the Mayor… Cllr McWilliams will be getting this sorted in his new role as Lead on Comms!
The minutes will be up shortly on the agenda page.
Perhaps next months motion will suggest the cancellation of Capital Budgets for individual Councillors so that they can be managed properly by officers without Councillors laying claim.