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Bankrupt Labour-run council spent £38,000 on dying plants for staff wellbeing

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 26/05/2022 Ewan Somerville
Slough Borough Council - Triangle News © Triangle News Slough Borough Council - Triangle News

A bankrupt council has admitted spending £38,000 on dying office plants.

Slough Borough Council purchased 200 indoor plants for its £41 million new Observatory House office complex, which now faces being sold off to save cash.

Officials said the plants would promote “staff health and wellbeing” and “reduce sick building syndrome”, a condition of headaches and respiratory problems blamed on poor offices.

They claimed buying the plants, set across five floors including plant walls, would create “significant financial savings” by reducing the council’s average sickness rate of 10 days per annum.

Councillors now fear the plants will die and have to go to landfill, after costing thousands - Triangle News © Provided by The Telegraph Councillors now fear the plants will die and have to go to landfill, after costing thousands - Triangle News

But the Labour-run authority in Berkshire declared bankruptcy last year with £760 million of borrowing debt, meaning it was forced to terminate its deal for contractors to water them.

Now James Swindlehurst, the council's leader, has admitted that he, the cleaners and other staff are instead having to water the deteriorating plants in their own time, prompting outcry from councillors who fear they will die and head to landfill.

“[Cllr Swindlehurst] said staff and cleaners are helping, but that's wrong in itself - is that in cleaner and staff time? It's ludicrous,” said Madhuri Bedi, an independent councillor.

“He’s telling me to join him. Well no thank you, I’d like to look after the residents of Slough thanks.”

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Wayne Strutton, a Conservative councillor, told an angry council meeting this week: “We have to worry about how much time the leadership team is using and wasting on watering the plants because he’s [Cllr Swindlehurst] already said how much time he’s dedicating to that.

“He said all the plants are alive. If you walk around the building, the plants are dying and the spaces are empty. Let’s be honest with the truth and not mislead people.”

The council confirmed it spent £28,000 purchasing the plants as part of a decoration budget for its £41 million new offices which opened in 2019.

It signed a £20,000 contract for gardeners to water them, but this was terminated last autumn after £10,000 had been spent, forcing councillors to pick up the watering can.

Offices lying 'totally empty'

The contract was scrapped as part of cost savings required by government-appointed commissioners after the council declared bankruptcy last July.

Cllr Bedi claimed the new offices are lying “totally empty” like a “white elephant” thanks to continued working from home among staff.

The offices are now said to be lying 'totally empty' as staff continue to work from home - Triangle News © Provided by The Telegraph The offices are now said to be lying 'totally empty' as staff continue to work from home - Triangle News

The new headquarters face being sold off, government commissioners have told the council, with its libraries, children’s centres, community hubs and housing stock also at risk.

A Slough Borough Council spokesman said root flies are the next problem, as they have nested in the offices because of all the plants.

The spokesman added: “One brown leaf does not make a dead plant. Our headquarters is certainly not empty – indeed many staff are working from the building in a permanent or hybrid way. As part of our requirement to sell £600million of our assets we are considering all our buildings including our current HQ.”

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