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Work with opposition on council budget, insist Royal Borough councillors

Pleas for the Royal Borough’s Conservative administration to ensure future budgets are put together with the help of opposition councillors were aired on Tuesday night.

Opposition leaders told the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Panel that a more ‘collegiate’ approach was needed and more information about finances should be provided to non-Tory members.

It came as they looked through a report by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), which found a series of problems, ranging from the council’s ‘limited’ medium-term financial planning to the council having low financial reserves compared to other unitary authorities.

CIPFA was called in by Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot and Sunninghill), the cabinet member for finance, and managing director Duncan Sharkey.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green) said at Tuesday’s town hall meeting: “What I’m talking about is working in a more collegiate way with the opposition so we can come up with solutions between us.”

He told Cllr Hilton the borough needed ‘all hands on deck’ to ‘get that ship from hitting the iceberg’.

“Do you want to work in a collegiate way with the opposition? Work together on this,” he added.

Cllr Hilton said the council’s approach to financial updates had been insufficient and it will ensure in future that information provided to councillors is clear so the panel can properly scrutinise it.

“It is not right for all the councillors to just put up their hands and support the budget each year without having any understanding of what that budget is about, how it’s made up, what’s gone into it, and I think for too long that’s what’s happened,” Cllr Werner said.

Local Independents leader Cllr Lynne Jones (Ind, Old Windsor) said she was told ‘everything was fine and there was not an issue’ with the budget by Conservatives, and claimed she had been ‘refused access to information’ about the council’s medium-term financial planning.

“Now if you are really going to be transparent going forward, this needs to be addressed,” she said.

Mr Sharkey said that, while it would be inappropriate for the council to publish certain information as policy develops and numbers change, the council is aiming to provide high-quality information to help councillors with making their decisions.

“We will make sure, as officers, we give you the appropriate information in public so you can do your job,” he said.

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