11 February 2009
The State of Slough Council

I applaud the Slough Observer's editor for publishing in last Friday's Readers' Forum the grave concerns of a loyal long serving Town Hall employee.

The issues are familiar. The seemingly endless epidemic of expensive consultants, the noticeable decline in staff morale, the puzzling reorganisation resulting in confusion and uncertainty and the absence of effective leadership at senior levels in the council.

The present chief executive, Ruth Elizabeth Bagley, was appointed by the Conservative-Liberal alliance during a public meeting on 22 February 2007. Cllr Richard Stokes, the leader of the council, thought the public should not witness the decision so the public were undemocratically excluded from the public meeting. All the Labour councillors then walked out in protest because they mistakenly thought Ruth Bagley was not a Labour Party supporter.

The heavily censored minutes of that meeting show at item 90(b) Conservative-Liberal councillors appointed Cllr Stokes to determine the new chief executive's salary.

The chief executive's pay scale was increased by £30,000 per year to over £150,000 per year. Subsequently other senior staff had their pay scales increased by £25,000 per year. Hard working junior staff did not get any rise at all. All this in a council Conservative and Liberals said was drastically short of money. Meanwhile Ruth Bagley's total salary and perks package was about £185,000 annual.

The chief executive was invited to sign a Langley man's petition on the prime minister's web site which sought more government funding for Slough. On 13 November 2007 the chief executive stated in writing she would neither sign nor promote the petition within the council.

In opposition Labour complained bitterly about the millions of pounds of public money spent on council consultants. Now Labour are in power, despite the claimed chronic shortage of money, consultants and advisers flourish whilst the public suffer from cuts and local staff are about to lose their jobs.

Readers will remember 2002 when Labour almost bankrupted the council, staff were sacked, services were cut and all the borough's 8 children's play centres were closed down despite widespread public uproar.

Incidentally Labour also closed down Slough's only outdoor swimming pool in Baylis Park despite it being heated and having 3,000 lockers for swimmers.

The fundamental problem with local government is none of the top staff are appointed by the public, none are accountable to the public who pay their wages and none can be questioned by the public about their conduct and performance. Only one out of 41 Slough councillors has any power to question top council officials. Councillors can not sack any council employee even for gross misconduct.

The Slough Party would like all senior council staff not to have jobs for life but to have annual contracts and for top officials to be chosen and elected by the public they are supposed to be serving.

Regrettably the employee whose letter was published has no lawful right to complain about the council however serious the concerns.

After spending £20 million on the Landmark Place call centre, on computers which keep breaking down and on more than 40 highly paid consultants, the council still lacks essential integrated computer systems. Councillors were banned from reading the business case for the £20 million spent on the call centre project because the documents were said to be the commercially sensitive property of Unisys.

There is no watchdog councillors or staff can complain to. How undemocratic and unaccountable is that?

It is time for a major change at our Town Hall. Sacking hard working council staff whilst spending millions on consultants is frankly disgusting, inexcusable and unacceptable. Labour please think again.

Paul Janik
Slough Party.