04:21PM, Monday 09 October 2017
An extra £1.5 million has been allocated for the Maidenhead Waterways scheme
Those who suspect RBWM is run by a bunch of cowboys may feel their fears were confirmed by an unfortunate metaphor used by a senior councillor last week.
Discussing the need to borrow an extra £1.5million to bail out the over-budget and behind-schedule waterways restoration project, the cabinet member for finance told a meeting: ‘We got on the back of this bucking bronco and we tethered it into submission. It’s our project management skills which have kept tight to the reins’.
Tough talk, pardner. But surely ‘keeping tight to the reins’ should have resulted in said bronco coming in on time and on budget? The councillor’s rodeo skills obviously don’t extend as far as riding the elephant in the room.
Leader of the council Simon Dudley justified the extra borrowing on the grounds the taxpayer will benefit from the gold rush sparked by redeveloping the town centre with hundreds of new flats, fuelled by the coming of the iron horse called Crossrail.
Despite the efforts of the opposition to publicly probe where exactly the wheels had come off RBWM’s waterways wagon, the discussion was held in ‘part II’ of the meeting, from which the public and press are excluded. While we can only speculate on the blame game that went on in secret, it is worth pointing out that, despite the waterways restoration starting as a labour of love for a dedicated group of volunteers, the project itself – including appointing and managing the contractor – is run by RBWM. It really makes you wonder where the scrutiny is? But that’s a subject for a musings all of its own.
So much for the council’s much-vaunted transparency then which, of late, has been so transparent as to be invisible.
The behind-closed-doors meeting is just the latest in a string of recent examples.
First there was RBWM’s refusal to publish the legal advice that led it to extending the public consultation on its deeply flawed Borough Local Plan (BLP). Even more disturbing was the council’s handling of a Local Government Association (LGA) peer review. A team appointed by the LGA was invited in to test if RBWM’s ‘governance arrangements support its new operating model to deliver on the council’s ambitions’. Allow me to translate: basically, where does the accountability lie as the council changes from being a service provider to one that outsources services to other providers/companies?
One of the key areas looked at was its interaction with the public. And here all four wheels came off the wagon at once.
The RBWM Action Group, arch critics of the handling of the BLP process, had arranged to meet the peer review group – only to have the council’s MD intervene and cancel the meeting at the last minute. The same happened to a meeting arranged with a couple of councillors ‘at odds’ with the leadership – though I hear this went ahead away from the town hall.
Such controlling conduct undermines the entire purpose of the review. But then, when you hear RBWM can pick and choose which bits to make public – if any – the whole review is revealed as a rather meaningless tick-box exercise anyway.
The gun-toting cowboys at the town hall seem as intent as ever on shooting themselves in the foot.
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