A newly-elected council leader has listed sorting out council finances and restoring trust in local government as being among his top priorities.

Liberal Democrat councillor Simon Werner assumed the leadership of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead following May’s local elections – which saw a decisive swing against the incumbent Conservatives.

He spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service about his goals for the next few years – including improving neighbourhoods in the borough.

“We really want to put that first and foremost,” he said. “We really prioritise keeping the place cleaner, greener and safe.

“That’s very much the approach we want to take. We need to get on top of the potholes. Having the roads in a disgusting state does nothing for the reputation of the area.”

Among the key challenges facing the new administration of Liberal Democrats and The Borough First Independents is expected to be council finances.

A finance update from councillor Lynne Jones in September’s cabinet meeting painted a stark picture, which showed the authority is more than £200m in debt.

She added that the council would do “everything we can” to avoid a Section 114 notice, which would declare the council unable to meet its spending commitments.

Councillor Werner said: “Unless we can get control of the finances, that’s something still dangling over us.

“The thought of handing over the council to people who don’t know the borough fills me with fear. It’s got to be a priority to sort that.

“Unless we sort out the finances, we can do very little.”

The council leader emphasised his commitment to bolstering trust in local government, which he believes has plummeted in recent years.

“Ultimately, I want to see the council at the heart of the community again,” he said. “People don’t have faith in the council anymore.

“It’s going to be a slow process to change that. It’s a cultural change that the council needs to go in – trusting the residents.”

The council’s ongoing community engagement programmes around its Corporate Plan to inform its strategic direction was cited as evidence of this.

Engagement sessions are being held this month, with information packs available for anyone in the community who wishes to hold their own session.

Addressing the climate crisis is also on the council leader’s to-do-list, and he envisages experts within the Royal Borough’s community being key players in that battle.

Emphasising the council’s commitment to Net Zero, he said: “I think a lot of fighting climate change again goes back to getting the community involved.

“There are a lot of people in the borough who have expertise in fighting climate change. If we can build those relationships, we can really achieve great things.”

When asked what his vision for the borough is between now and the next local elections, councillor Werner said: “The borough is an amazing place. I’ve lived here all my life, I couldn’t think of living anywhere else. We have amazing countryside. We have amazing schools. We have the most amazing community.

“If I can nurture that and increase it, as well as fix the mess, then I think it will be a job well done.”