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Concerns over Royal Borough 'spiral of decline' raised at scrutiny panel

Questions were raised over the council’s draft budget and medium-term financial plan by councillors and the public this week.

At a corporate overview and scrutiny panel on Tuesday night, members analysed more elements of the draft budget as well as the medium-term financial plan, which sets out how savings will be made over the next five years.

Andrew Hill, a member of the public, questioned the council on why certain cuts were being made. He said: “You are slashing the audit budget, you apparently want less financial scrutiny at a time when you are perilously close to bankruptcy.

“I believe the council should be asking for more auditing not less, who do you think is going to spot the next financial scandal if you’re tying the auditor’s hands behind their backs?”

In the budget draft, a saving of £50,000 is projected by reducing the number of audits in the ‘short term’ to enhance them in the long run.

Mr Hill went on to point out that the council currently spends £224,000 on allowances for councillors. £24,000 is cut from this total in the draft for next year.

He added: “Last week you announced the arts grants for Norden Farm and the Old Court was being cut, so do you agree with me councillors that you should now decide to waive these special perks for chairing meetings to ensure the long-term survival of Norden Farm and The Old Court? I would say the choice is yours, save the perks or save the arts.”

On the funding for arts in the Royal Borough, Councillor David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill), lead member for finance, said: “We recognise that as we move though this year it’s going to be more challenging for the art centres because they, like others, are not going to get the revenue this year that they hoped for.

“We will be coming to an accommodation with them, meetings have been held, it’s not finalised but there will be more money than is in the budget in order to support the arts, which we hold in high regard.

“I’ll leave it there but what you see is not quite the way it’s going to be.”

Councillors also raised concerns with the medium-term financial plan, with cuts projected every year up until 2025/26.

Councillor Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green), Liberal Democrat leader for the Royal Borough, said: “The medium-term financial plan really shows a spiral of decline for the borough caused by these year-on-year cuts you can see.

“We’re just seeing slowly eaten up slice by slice all the services provided by the council. Without some kind of alternative strategy, it will just lead the council effectively to bankruptcy.”

But Councillor Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton and Castle), deputy leader of the council, took issue with Cllr Werner’s negative outlook.

She said: “I really believe we are not in a spiral of decline, we are an incredible borough of transformation and innovation and I think our council is showing how agile it is and how green we’re going to become.”

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