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Council scrutiny process set for overhaul after criticism in peer review report

A probe into the inner workings of the Royal Borough has ‘shamed’ the council into changing its scrutiny procedures, an opposition councillor has said.

The report by the Local Government Association (LGA) was praised by Cllr Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents Association, Old Windsor), leader of the opposition, for shining a light on town hall practices.

The peer review, published on Wednesday, October 25, was complimentary in parts, pointing out ‘sound finances and enthusiastic, capable members and officers’.

But it was scathing about the borough’s attitude to scrutiny, claiming ‘the organisational culture does not support or value it’, and even recommended councillors do more to ‘[understand] what your residents value’.

Cllr Jones claimed the paper had shamed leader Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Maidenhead Riverside) into taking action.

She said: “This has highlighted their lack of concern for proper governance.

“And because it’s a public report and not just something the leader of the opposition thinks is a good idea, he has been caught out.

“They thought they had a loophole to have a huge executive function and still keep a foot in overview and scrutiny and that is not the case.

“That is not how it should work. Scrutiny has to be completely separate to the executive.”

High on the LGA’s list of concerns was the presence of several members of the council’s executive also serving on the panels designed to hold decision-makers to account.

On Thursday, October 26, Cllr Dudley tweeted to say six deputy lead councillors and a principal councillor would be removed from the committees.

Cllr Jones added: “Every year membership of the scrutiny panels comes out it’s someone from the executive and I’ve minuted that. I don’t think it’s right.

“I’ve written to Alison Alexander [RBWM chief executive] and Simon Dudley and I was told nothing was going to change. I’m extremely happy that the LGA has said the scrutiny process needs to be more robust.”

Among the suggestions for the borough was a full review of the council’s constitution and a strengthening of scrutiny processes, particularly by ensuring councillors receive reports sufficiently in advance to review them effectively.

It also said it was ‘critical’ that more be done to engage with residents.

In a statement, Cllr Dudley said: “The LGA praised our financial soundness and our striking ambition as a council ahead of the times in delivering services differently, for the benefit of residents.

“I am proud of our staff who are working in the pressure of local government while delivering one of the biggest and fastest transformations in the sector.

“This was recognised in the peer review report which noted many of our external partners are engaging well with us and our ambitions for growth.

“We are now embedding some of the significant transformation work we have delivered while continuing to deliver the best services to our residents.”

Visit rbwm.gov.uk to read the report in full.

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