THERE was a surprise apology as a council leader said ‘sorry’ to opposition members whose warnings were historically not listened to following a damning report on the authority’s finances.

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council leader, councillor Andrew Johnson (Conservative: Hurley and Walthams), admitted something went ‘badly wrong’ during the last administration after a damning report released by CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountability) – the professional body for people in public finance – heavily criticised the borough’s record of financial management and ‘lack of financial transparency and medium term financial planning over a number of years’ which masked the financial problems the council was facing.

It also stated there was ‘no appropriate challenge or recognition that challenge is a good thing’ from dominant members at that time and that this financial crisis ‘could have been avoided’.

“It was in fact a cultural failure of epic proportions.

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At a virtual cabinet meeting on June 25 (Thursday), Cllr Johnson – who became council leader last September following the resignation of the last leader – issued a statement to all members about CIPFA’s findings.

He said: “To those who have repeatedly raised historic concerns relating to the period in question detailed within that report – genuine concerns – I say to you I am sorry.

“Sorry you weren’t listened to, sorry that you were silenced, and sorry that you were made to feel like you should go away for raising these genuine concerns around governance and culture.”

He added: “There are parts of that report that I find very, very difficult reading.

“It is clear that something went badly wrong during the last two years. However, it was much more than a simple failure of financial process. It was much deeper than that in my view.

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“It was in fact a cultural failure of epic proportions.

“The allegations of undue pressure, circumventing process, closing down or indeed blocking those that raised genuine concerns created a toxic culture which spread throughout the organisation.

“I will not and cannot defend those named in that report if the statements turn out to be an accurate reflection of that period.”

Other Conservative councillors – some who were in cabinet positions during the previous administration – said they were not given the information about the council’s finances and will ‘bare scars’ from that period.

Leader of the Independents, councillor Lynne Jones (Old Windsor Residents’ Association: Old Windsor) – who has warned about the council’s finances for years – asked the council leader, going forward, will he listen to all elected representatives and not dismiss concerns or suggestions just because they are raised by the opposition.

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Cllr Johnson promised he will listen to all legitimate views and concerns from all representatives in the different political groups going forward – but said he can’t say he will always agree.

The leader of the opposing Liberal Democrats, councillor Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green) asked the council leader if he would remove some of his cabinet members who stuck by the previous council leader Simon Dudley.

Councillor Johnson responded saying he will not remove certain members from his cabinet as they have his ‘full confidence’ in delivering their committed agendas and reach his ‘very, very high standards’.

The CIPFA report will go to corporate overview and scrutiny next month where it will be forensically examined and scrutinised by panel members to come back to cabinet for further discussion or agreement.