A CASH-STRAPPED council is set to shake-up its finance department to create a ‘stronger and more sustainable base’.

Ever since Slough Borough Council (SBC) effectively declared bankruptcy in July, the local authority brought in chief finance officer Steven Mair and his ‘A-team’ of finance officers on an interim basis to fix its money woes.

Slough Observer: Steven Mair, chief finance officerSteven Mair, chief finance officer

Due to historic accounting errors, SBC has over-borrowed and overspent massively where it is needing to sell up to £600m-worth of its assets and make £20m savings every year until 2029 to stay afloat.

The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accounting (CIPFA) and external auditors Grant Thornton have reviewed the council’s finance team and recommended it invested more significantly in the department and enhance its capacity.

SBC has a high number of interim senior-level staff within the department, costing the council millions of pounds. Between October and December alone, the council spent nearly £2m on temporary finance officers.

Approximately 50 per cent of staff within the department are permanent employees of SBC, which creates a ‘significant risk’ if kept this way.

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But council bosses now have a plan to invest in the department and add more permanent staff to reduce the reliance on interim workers.

It is proposed to increase the council’s 61 staffed finance team by six more staff members. The restructure also adds more senior posts to bring ‘great leadership, direction, and capability’ as officers work to stabilise the council in the next three to four years.

Compared with local authorities similar in size, the town would have more finance officers working for them.

Alongside this, SBC has ‘ambition’ to have one of the ‘best finance functions in local government’ where staff ‘feel proud’ to work for the council. There’s also ambition to ‘grow their own’ within the department.

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It will also create two deputy director roles covering financial management, and strategic and corporate finance, who could be paid over £100,000.

This includes a deputy to the chief finance officer, known as a section 151 officer, as part of CIPFA's recommendation.

SBC is also eyeing to add 23 more permanent staff within its internal audit, commercial, and anti-fraud department, taking the new finance structure to 90 employees.

The restructure is set to take place this autumn and to conclude in November, which the report says the timeline is ‘challenging but achievable’. Once this reshuffle is complete, it will be reviewed post-2025/26.

The finance department currently costs over £7m but in 2023/24, it could be reduced to £5.5m to cater for the new structure.

This £1.6m drop used for the new structure and transitional costs will be funded by monies from the sold-off assets as agreed by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities.

Senior councillors are to consider the restructure programme at a cabinet meeting on Monday, June 20.