10:57AM, Thursday 05 May 2016
Nearly a year to the day since a Conservative landslide was secured in the Royal Borough’s local elections, a call has been made to end the ‘autocratic’ culture within the council.
Members of the opposition say a change in attitude is needed at the top to halt high staff turnover, improve relationships with neighbouring councils and raise the morale of the borough’s officers.
The call follows the decision by Cllr David Burbage (Con, Bray), to step down as leader last week following an allegation of bullying behaviour which he 'categorically denies'.
Cllr Malcolm Beer (Old Windsor Residents Association, Old Windsor) told the Advertiser it was time for the autocratic style of leadership at the council to change.
“It’s so autocratic that it’s verging on dictatorship. The officers and councillors are having to do what they’re told,” he said.
“They’ve adopted this label as the member-led authority. They’re telling the officers what to do rather than allow them to use their professional expertise which is why we’ve seen such a high turnover of staff.”
The past year has seen a number of senior officers leave their roles at the Royal Borough.
And Cllr Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents Association, Old Windsor) added that in order to stop officers heading for the exit door, consultation within the council had to be improved. She said: “Our officers are what makes the council and we can’t afford to lose any more good officers.”
The pair said the Conservatives' huge 54-3 majority meant the ruling administration felt it did not need to consult the public or officers. She quoted the example of plans for a satellite grammar school which she said the Tories were justifying because 'it was in their manifesto'.
Cllr Jones said: “When we’re talking about bringing in selective education, surely we should be asking what our residents think about it?
“But since they’ve got in, they’ve just said ‘that’s what was in our manifesto so that’s what we’re going to do’.
“Is that democracy? I don’t think so.”
Cllr Jones added: “If I was to say anything I’d say remember who you’re representing.
“You’re there for the residents, not the Conservative Group.”
But Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside), the borough’s deputy leader, disagreed with criticisms of the council’s leadership style and said the members would continue to work in unison with officers.
He said: “We’ve got a great relationship with officers and it’s important that we work in collaboration with them because they're working hard to serve our residents.
“Cllr Jones and Cllr Beer are in the opposition so they’re not in the business of saying everything is right.”
The opposition's call for a more collegiate approach to running the council comes as the results of a survey of council staff were due to be discussed yesterday (Wednesday) evening by the borough's employment panel. It found high levels of stress and low morale among council employees.
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