Bankrupt Labour-run council spent £28k on HQ's plants which 'are now dying'

Labour-led Slough Borough Council bought the large array of indoor plants for its £41million Observatory House headquarters when it moved in 2019. It spent £28,000 on them but they are now “dying” because of a £760m borrowing debt which forced them to terminate a contract for watering them, council leader James Swindlehurst said.

Mr Swindlehurst said he has been watering the plants himself.

In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), a council officer confirmed a one-off payment on the plants from a local business when members moved into the building.

It said the plants were bought to reduce the risk of “sick building syndrome”, which causes headaches and respiratory problems, among staff.

The authority also spent £20,000 for a gardener to water the plants but the contract was cut last September after £10,000 had been spent, the LDRS found.

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Two reports last year unveiled a range of failings at Slough Borough Council, including rising debts at the Berkshire local authority.

The Government then appointed commissioners to oversee the council who eventually took aim at the expensive gardening situation.

Conservative councillor Wayne Strutton told a furious council meeting this week: “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.”

Cllr Strutton added: “We have to worry about how much time the leadership team is using and wasting on watering the plants because he [Cllr Swindlehurst] has already said how much time he’s dedicating to that.”

Cllr Bedi also said the new offices are “totally empty” because of continued work-from-home arrangements since the pandemic – comparing the supposedly green Observatory House HQ with a “white elephant”.

But the council’s million-pound debt means the authority will “almost certainly” move out of the premises, Mr Swindlehurst said.

Its libraries, children’s centres, community hubs and housing stock are also at stake.

Mr Swindlehurst insisted the plants are still alive and will be taken care of whatever decision is made on Observatory House in the future.

A Slough Borough Council spokesman said: “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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