Slough Labour’s planned council office move lets residents down again

As the Labour Party nationally fails to distance itself from anti-Semitism, the local Slough Labour Party also is unable to shake of its sleazy image. The broken moral compass of both is clear, unless that is, if you are a Labour member who just dismisses these accusations as opposition smears. However, they become harder to dismiss when the allegations of corruption and anti-Semitism are being made from elected members within the Labour Party.

Over the summer Labour MPs have been lining up to call out and condemn Corbyn’s “kinder and gentler politics” for what it is - a narcissistic cult. Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking doubled down on her comments calling Corbyn “an anti-Semite and a racist”. Luciana Berger attacked Corbyn for his "inexcusable" remarks about British Zionists “needing lessons in history” and "English irony”, and even his own Deputy Leader Tom Watson condemned him for not adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The respected veteran Labour MP Frank Field resigned the Labour Whip over the party’s failings in dealing with anti-Semitism, bullying and intimidation.

Splits & Divisions

Whilst here in Slough the local party is no better. In 2015, when Labour Cllr Anderson was clumsily ousted as Leader of the Council he warned that Slough Council would “return to the dark days” of corruption and sleaze under the new leadership of the then new Leader Cllr Munawar. This was an extraordinary public admission at the time, especially given Cllr Munawar was previously one of his own Cabinet members. It begged the question, if Cllr Anderson had evidence of corruption or wrong-doing then why didn’t he deal with? The simple riposte from a current sitting Labour Councillor is “that they all have dirt on each other”.

Over the last two years, the Slough Labour party have split into two toxic warring factions. 18 months after becoming leader, Cllr Munawar was subject to national humiliation,  when he was ousted after  one of his fellow Labour comrades leaked a private “WhatsApp” message containing sexual content to the national press, eventually leading to his expulsion from the party.

During Munawar’s leadership, Slough Council was close to being taken over by the government as the Slough Labour Party oversaw the resignation of Ruth Bagley, its Chief Executive, and Amardip Healy, its Head of Legal Services, with both accusing the Labour administration of bullying and discrimination.  The Chief Executive was handsomely paid off at taxpayers’ expense, and the  Head of Legal Services is currently taking the Council to Court for racial discrimination. Things got even worse when the Deputy Leader Cllr Hussain accused her leader of rigging the selection for the replacement of Ms Bagley in favour of then interim Chief Executive, Roger Parkin.

U-turns

And I haven’t even mentioned Labour’s U-turn  on trialling voter ID cards ahead of the 2017 general election despite them unanimously voting for it just months earlier. It’s no surprise the U-turn occurred shortly after the arrival of the new Labour MP who had no foot print in town and was selected just weeks before the election, and then won with a whopping 18,000 majority. And to be very clear - it’s not Conservatives who are saying the two are related, but again Labour Councillors themselves who are adamant the newly elected MP benefitted the most from Slough’s withdrawal from of the Voter ID pilot.

Enough of the scene setting. The long and short of all off this is that the Slough Labour group makes Game of Thrones look like a children’s nativity play. Each group is out for and continually plotting its revenge to regain or hold onto power, and it comes at the expense of the residents of Slough.

Lack of Transparency

The current plot twist in this the saga over the estimated £55 million new Council office at 32 Windsor Road, funded by huge capital borrowing which Mr and Mrs Slough council tax payer will at some point have to pay back. The Council’s decision to buy brand new offices has grabbed the interest of the national press after being tipped off by disgruntled local Labour members.

When the issue was debated at full council in June this year, some Labour Councillors were so disgusted by the decision they defied the infamous Labour whip and walked out of the meeting. The most surprising thing about the walk out was not that some Labour Councillors had shown signs of ‘independent thought but actually they chose to voice them publicly. When the ex-leader Cllr Munawar, a former Chair of the Labour Party, and the newly elected Cllr Ali, former Mayor Cllr Rasib and former Cabinet member for Children’s Cllr Bedi vociferously voice their opposition to their own group’s policy then it’s important we all at least listen.  

The decision to suddenly purchase a multi-million-pound prime office during a time of squeezed local authority budgets is a baffling one that the Labour leadership couldn’t even get their whole party to swallow. Just as the majority of local authorities across the UK seek to rebalance their budgets towards front-line services, Slough Council, keeping true to Labour principles of spending other people’s money, continue to splash the cash - from million-pound payoffs to disgruntled employees to multi-million pound superfluous buildings.

The office itself is a stunning 5 floor building comprising of 111000sq that used to affectionately be known by residents as the old Fujitsu building.  The question which some Labour Councillors, council employees, the press and the Conservatives are asking is why? Why did we need to move to new flash offices at the height of the Slough property boom? How much does the move cost and more importantly who benefits? As it’s certainly not the Slough council tax payer.

Wasting Taxpayers Money

In 2013, the Slough Labour Party made the decision to move out of our historical Town Hall and into St Martin’s Place, whilst it was being renovated. They claimed the town hall was too expensive to maintain and it needed millions of pounds of investment to renovate. In 2015, the Council decided not to move back to the town hall, to the dismay of many Labour and Conservative councillors alike. They defeated a Conservative motion demanding we move back to the town hall. They decided to stay in St Martin’s Place and proceeded to spend over £5 million in renovations. Three years after spending £5 million they have now decided to move out

The latest office move decision simply makes no sense regardless of the cost. Most Councils and businesses, including Slough Council, are now encouraging  employees to work from home, to reduce carbon footprint, reduce office costs and encourage flexible working. Bizarrely the new office does not have enough parking spaces for its employees. They also admit that the building is over-sized for the councils requirements, so will have to offer the surplus space at a discounted rate to other business to encourage take-up.

Think it could get worse? Think again. Even more worryingly, the Council is not revealing how much it exactly paid for the office. When asked about the cost, the Council said, “Under the terms of the contract of the sale contract the council has agreed to not disclose the financial terms beyond what is required by law”. So much for transparency. So, I hear you say, maybe the owner of the building will be open and honest and tell us? Well we would ask them of course - however we don’t know who they are, as they are non-domiciled. That’s right - the owners of the building do not pay tax in the UK, so Council tax payer’s money will be sent abroad to an offshore based company in Gibraltar. Labour Councillors are beside themselves, claiming a connection between the unnamed, non-domicile owners and members of the current cabinet. As always however, these Labour Councillors don’t have evidence to back this up or the courage to mention it publicly.

It’s not every day that Slough Conservatives agree with Labour Councillors, but we agree with those who continue to question this deal (though not publicly). The issue here is transparency and accountability, not sleaze, as some Labour Councillors would have residents believe.

It was Atifete Jahjaga, the third president of Kosovo, that hit the nail on the head here - “Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation”. Slough deserves better, and the longer simple questions go answered we will continue to fight to hold Slough Labour to account for ensuring Slough taxpayers are get the answers they deserve.

Councillor Rayman Bains - Deputy Leader, Slough Conservative Group