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Opposition councillors challenge cabinet on financial update

The leader of the council locked horns with an opposition councillor over finances at last week’s cabinet meeting.

Held at Maidenhead Town Hall on Thursday, the meeting was attended by Conservative cabinet members and five opposition councillors, who sat in the public gallery.

Lead member for finance, David Hilton, presented a financial update at the meeting.

Cllr Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill) said that the report was ‘no different from the paper that came to cabinet in April’ but both Cllr Geoff Hill (The Borough First, Oldfield) and Cllr Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents’ Association, Old Windsor) questioned the figures.

Cllr Hill referred to the 12-month cashflow forecast which predicts how much money the council will need to borrow by the end of the financial year.

Referring to the report he said this figure is predicted ‘to hit £180million’.

Cllr Hill suggested ‘these things can accelerate quite easily’ if the council does not receive cash receipts – income secured through council tax, fees and charges, business rates, and capital receipts – disposal of council land or assets.

He continued: “We could easily get something between £200 and a quarter of a billion pounds by the end of the year.”

Cllr Dudley interjected: “I’m afraid you’re just making those numbers up Cllr Hill.”

Cllr Hill said ‘please let me speak chairman’ before Cllr Dudley added: “I’m afraid they have no basis in reality so you’re just throwing out fictional numbers Cllr Hill, I must restrict you.”

Cllr Hill then interrupted Cllr Dudley and, speaking over him, said: “Don’t talk to me about reality Cllr Dudley or else I’ll start talking to you about the reality of your election campaign.”

Later, Cllr Hill asked: “How exactly is the Royal Borough going to pay back this growing pile of debt? What are the capital receipts? What are the timelines? When are they going to come in exactly?”

Cllr Dudley replied: “The administration has a detailed cashflow for receipts, and, as you are aware, anticipates, over the cycle of regeneration in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, to repay all debts which were incurred during the period of time when we are investing in infrastructure for the benefit of our residents.”

Cllr Hill said the public concern is that ‘you’re going to sell off the family silver to pay off the debt’. He added: “You’re running a lot of debt, if it doesn’t come in, this council will be left with a massive debt burden.”

Cllr Dudley told Cllr Hill he was entitled to his view.

Also at the meeting Cllr Lynne Jones raised concerns that the council spent £8.9million more than the original 2018/19 budget which ‘doesn’t come out in the report at all’.

Cllr Hilton disputed her calculations and said: “That deficit is £5.7million rather than her £8million, but we can talk about that afterwards.”

He added: “We know why that came about.

“There were some significant, unexpected changes in children’s services which we were obligated to, in law, satisfy.”

Cllr Jones also said she was ‘slightly worried about our reserves going forward’.

In response Cllr Hilton said: “In an ideal world reserves could be higher, but they are significantly higher than the £5.86million, which is the minimum which is included in the budget.”

Cllr Dudley said: “Assuming we have a balanced budget during the course of this year, then we assume that reserves will go to £11.5million.”

“So £11.5million is in the region of 200 per cent of our indicated minimum level of reserves and the reserves are at the highest level I can ever remember in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead since I have been councillor.”

Cllr Hilton agreed that this was the case adding that in his experience ‘we’ve rarely gone above £7million’.

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