The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has today (25 May 2023) published the report of its non-statutory review into Woking Borough Council’s finances, investments and related governance.
This report follows the Department’s earlier letter in October 2022 announcing an external review into the council’s finances.
In response to the report, the Minister, Lee Rowley MP, has written to the Leader of the Council to formally announce a series of measures that outline the next steps for Woking Borough Council. This includes confirmation of government-appointed commissioners who will work with the council’s leadership team to address the authority’s ongoing financial challenges.
Responding to the announcement of the report’s publication, Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “I am committed to openness and transparency and will continue to keep residents up to date on progress as we deal with the council’s finances.
“I welcome the letter I have received today from the Minister and the recommendations being proposed by the team that undertook this review.
“I am pleased that there is acknowledgement of the strong collaboration between officers of the council and the review team on the progress that has been made to address the council’s financial resilience.
“My administration is very clear about the huge challenges facing the council due to the legacy of both the extraordinarily high and disproportionate levels of debt that we have inherited from the previous administration. We are also very clear and focused on the significant risks that the council is now facing up to as a result of that debt.
“We also recognise that these challenges are so significant that the council and its officers cannot deal with these on its own. We therefore fully acknowledge and accept the findings of the report and welcome the support set out by the Minister in his letter.
“I know that councillors and officers will work at pace alongside the government-appointed commissioners to address the issues identified in the report and achieve best value for the public purse through the preparation and delivery of an action plan.
“When my administration gained control of the council last May, I pledged to take on the challenge of major change and embed affordable, responsible and sustainable principles into how the council conducts its future business and this remains my priority.
“As part of this pledge, we have taken steps to control borrowing, made changes to the governance of our commercial investments and I have instigated independent reviews of all the council’s borrowing and investments.
“I recognise we need to deliver our plans for recovery of the council’s finances with greater pace and urgency and we face difficult decisions in the months ahead. I will work with my officers to ensure, with the support of the commissioning team, we have the capacity and experience to deliver the improvements needed.
“I remain committed to keeping residents, businesses, and community partners fully informed as we progress through this process and develop the detailed plans for recovery with support and oversight from the commissioning team.”