10:52AM, Tuesday 30 June 2020
The leader of the council has admitted a damning report on the borough's financial management record demonstrates a 'cultural failure of epic proportions'.
At a virtual cabinet meeting on Thursday, councillors discussed a heavily-critical Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) report which followed a review of council governance undertaken in 2019 and early 2020.
The report found there had been a lack of financial transparency and financial planning over a number of years, and a ‘poor officer culture and lack of physical capacity and capability coupled with dominant members’.
It also identified a series of issues, including poor standards of financial capacity and capability within financial support services, little differentiation between officer and senior member roles, issues with financial governance and concerns over the council's medium-term financial strategy.
Speaking at the meeting, council leader Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) said: "It is not a legacy I can, nor will defend as leader of this council."
He added: “It was in fact a cultural failure of epic proportions. The allegations of undue pressure, circumvented process, closing down or indeed blocking those that raised genuine concerns created a toxic culture which spread throughout the organisation.”
Cllr Johnson took over leadership of the council following Simon Dudley's sudden resignation in September.
The report indicated that while changes had been made to address some critical issues raised over the course of the review, an action plan should be prepared to address all of the issues.
During an address to the cabinet, Cllr Johnson apologised to councillors who ‘were silenced’ when they attempted to raise concerns in the past.
Cllr Johnson said that he believed in creating governance ‘that delivers for residents, businesses and visitors alike.’
He added: "I believe in creating a culture that is fair, one that is open and one that is transparent."
Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot and Sunninghill) lead member for finance, supported an internal investigation by CIPFA into the council’s financial governance.
Addressing the cabinet he said: “Timely and accurate financial information is essential to enable business to be properly managed and to facilitate appropriate decision making.
“Frustratingly and unacceptably this was not made available to me or cabinet at that time, leaving us exposed.”
He commented that the report has made cabinet ‘face up to a series of uncomfortable truths about how the organisation was previously run'.
Cllr Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton and Castle) said: “We have a serious responsibility as we are governing with resident’s money.”
She added: “This shocking report should allow us to move on.”
Following the meeting, former council leader Simon Dudley declined a request for comment on the report and Cllr Johnson's speech.
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