Fringe Box



350 Woking Council Jobs On Notice

Published on: 14 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 16 Jul, 2023

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

Woking Borough Council’s union representative says “people are worried” as 350 people were placed on notice of redundancy.

The council’s draft consultation says this would ultimately lead to the equivalent of 60 full-time jobs lost but the exact number of people made redundant could climb higher when part-time and job-share numbers are taken into account.

The formal process begins on Monday, July 24 as part of the council’s efforts to bridge its £11 million annual budget deficit.

The council remains mired in £1.2 billion total deficit with debts approaching £2.6 billion. The job cuts are required as part of any potential government bailout.

Cllr Ian Johnson said it’s going to be a “very difficult” and “challenging” time for staff.

Jenny Mason, Unison representative in Woking, said the union was doing everything it could for staff – but it was difficult to know the exact depth of the cuts in terms of overall headcount.

She said: “At the moment it’s still a draft consultation and we will have a clearer picture when the final consultation document is sent out.

“As you can expect, people are stressed, people are worried.

“It’s not made any easier by being in a bit of a holding situation.

”Until we get the final documents, nobody knows what their situation is.”

The union is holding regular meetings with staff and running training sessions. It is also providing people with advice on welfare, debt and the financial options available to them.

She said: “It’s difficult, really difficult. We are doing what we can to support them.

“The money the council has got to save makes it so clear cut.

“It wouldn’t be in anybody’s interest to aggravate things and start any industrial action.”

The majority of the job losses are understood to fall on non-statutory services, but she said, they were waiting on the final consultation documents to have a clearer picture of any new proposed council structure.

The scale of the cuts facing the council was discussed at the Thursday, July 14, Executive meeting of Woking Borough Council as it agreed its Mid-term Financial Strategy.

They are part of a package of cuts that will shed about £12 million from its annual budget.

It expects to consult residents on about £8.7 million worth of service cuts with the remainder slashed at what it describes as a “working level”. Investment will also be suspended indefinitely.

Cllr Ian Johnson

The cuts are imposed as the council must make all non-statutory services either pay for themselves, or be lost.

Addressing the cuts Cllr Ian Johnson, (Lib Dem, Mount Hermon) said: “It’s going to be a very difficult time, a challenging time for them, and for us knowing them.

“I want to put on record how concerned I am for their welfare and their future, and hope we can find ways to support staff as best we possibly can as we go through this process.”

Cllr Will Forster

Deputy leader of the council Will Forster said: “It’s heartbreaking, it’s heartbreaking.”

He added: “We’re not picking on staff because we in this room want to pick on staff.”

Resident engagement began in July with a survey on services they value most with formal consultation with staff and trades unions starting July 24.

Auditors to put Woking under microscope

Meanwhile, the leadership and culture at Woking Borough Council, when the key decisions were made that lead to its financial meltdown, will be put under the microscope by auditors.

Independent auditors Grant Thornton LLP has released details of the forensic examination into the council’s debt, in a letter to the borough council’s chief executive Julie Fisher.

It says they will also look into whether the financial control environment led “to increased risks of fraud” and if the council set an unbalanced budget for any of the financial periods since its doomed investment strategy was introduced.

The auditors were brought in to examine how Woking Borough Council ended up in a deficit of £1.2 billion and £2.4 billion in debt.

Their work “we will need to focus on previous audit periods in order to make… findings, conclusions, and recommendations”.

In the letter, the auditors said they would also establish a “clear timeline of the key decisions relating to the council’s investment strategy”, including decisions on its financing, and responsibilities for the decisions and actions taken.

They will also explore the council’s “governance arrangements” and “processes in place for making effective decisions” as well as the “effectiveness of the scrutiny of these decisions.

This, they said, would include whether there was appropriate assessment and management of risk, and how much regard was given to regulations at that time.

The letter, dated July 5, said they would also examine how business cases were developed and approved, as well as the investment structures adopted.

The review will cover Woking Borough Council’s 15 wholly-owned companies and eight joint ventures, including ThamesWey group of companies, Brookwood Cemetery Limited and Victoria Square Woking Limited.

Grant Thornton expects to begin reporting back its findings by August, with deep dives also going into the council’s financial planning assumptions and decisions – including debt repayment and any decisions towards Minimum Revenue Provision policy.

Governance arrangements and how these would be monitored and reported on will also come under the microscope.

Julie Fisher

Responding to the start of the value for money review into the council’s governance arrangements, Woking Borough Council’s chief executive, Julie Fisher, said: “It is important that we understand the decisions and actions of the past that have significantly contributed to the financial challenges we face today.

“Our incoming auditor, Grant Thornton UK LLP, has agreed to conduct a value-for-money review into governance arrangements that relate to our historic investment strategy, which relates to their responsibilities for the 2023/24 audit year.

“The review will consider the council’s governance arrangements and processes in place for making effective decisions in relation to investments made in the past. It will review how risks were assessed and managed and how decisions were scrutinised at the time those decisions were made.

“Senior council officers are already supporting Grant Thornton with their investigative work. It is intended that former officers and former councillors will be contacted for their input into the review.

Cllr Anne-Marie Barker

“The outcomes from the review will be shared to enable the council to learn lessons from the past and the decisions and actions that have contributed to the challenges we now face.”

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “I know residents have been concerned to understand how Woking reached this financial situation and am pleased to be able to share details of how the value for money review will be conducted.”

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