Slough Council’s finance department is set to see major changes

A cash-strapped council is set to overhaul its finance department to create a ‘stronger and more sustainable foundation’.

Since Slough Borough Council (SBC) effectively declared bankruptcy in July, the local authority has brought in acting chief financial officer Steven Mair and his ‘A-team’ of finance officers to solve its money troubles.

Steven Mair, Chief Financial Officer

Due to historical accounting errors, SBC has borrowed too much and overspent as it must sell up to £600m of its assets and save £20m every year until 2029 to stay afloat.

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

SBC has a high number of interim senior staff in the department, costing the board millions of pounds. Between October and December alone, the council spent nearly £2million on temporary financial officers.

About 50% of the department’s staff are permanent SBC employees, creating a “significant risk” if kept that way.

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

It is proposed to augment the 61 member board finance team with six additional staff. The restructuring also adds more senior positions to provide “exceptional leadership, direction and ability” as officers work to stabilize the board over the next three to four years.

Compared to similarly sized local authorities, the city would have more finance officers working for them.

Along with this, SBC has the ‘ambition’ of having one of the ‘best local government finance functions’ where staff ‘feel proud’ to work for the council. There is also the ambition to “develop” within the department.

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It will also create two deputy director positions covering financial management and strategic and corporate finance, which could be paid upwards of £100,000.

This includes an assistant to the chief financial officer, known as a Section 151 officer, as part of CIPFA’s recommendation.

SBC also plans to add 23 additional permanent employees within its internal audit, commercial and anti-fraud department, bringing the new financial structure to 90 employees.

The restructuring is expected to take place this fall and be completed in November, the report of which says the timeline is “challenging but achievable”. Once this reshuffle is completed, it will be reviewed after 2025/26.

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

This reduction of £1.6 million used for new structure and transition costs will be funded by funds from the assets sold, as agreed by the Department for Levelling, Housing and Communities.

Senior advisers are due to discuss the restructuring program at a cabinet meeting on Monday June 20.

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