The SKDC Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 25th July will discuss the Council’s financial performance for 2017/18. I would like to say it makes interesting reading but I might be accused of mis-selling. Any report entitled ‘Q4 Financial Outturn 2017/18‘ is not going to reach the Waterstone’s Top 20, take my word for it. However, the report does have snippets of info which might raise eyebrows… well maybe one eyebrow, a bit.
The SKDC budget meeting of March 2017 was quite historic in that it was passed ‘unanimously’ by the Full Council. No-one could remember such a seemingly harmonious decision on the Council’s annual plans. Much later I discovered that at least one Tory, Cllr Adam Stokes, left the room to avoid the recorded vote allegedly because he was firmly opposed to the proposed rise in Council Tax but didn’t want to defy the whip, sorry, spoil the moment.
A few months later and the party was over… not the ‘Conservative Party’, that would be too much to hope for, I mean the general feeling of togetherness and unity across the chamber. The bubble was burst when the disgruntled Tory backbenchers launched another coup attempt and won. The new administration led by Cllr Matthew Lee promised important changes which were ‘long overdue’. I listened carefully to hear what these changes would be and I remember hearing an impassioned plea for new office carpets and whether I had somehow missed the public outrage about the state of SKDC floor coverings.
The very first change was the augmentation of the Council cabinet and committee structure. This immediately meant there were about 7 new posts for former backbench Conservatives which came with responsibility, status and money in the form of Special Responsibility Allowances. ‘What price democracy?’ I hear you ask. Well, the Financial Outturn Statement answers “The restructuring of the democratic arrangements has resulted in an overspend of £24K.”
The next important decision was to change the name of the ‘Executive’ to ‘Cabinet’. This came as a surprise to me because it was only just over a year earlier that the same Tories voted to change the name of the ‘Cabinet’ to ‘Executive’!
As the rubber hit the road, there were some early changes. Firstly, Beverley Agass resigned as Chief Executive (coincidentally I think) to take a job as CEO of South Cambridgeshire Council. A new CEO, Aidan Rave, was appointed along with some other bushy-tailed staff and consultants. Later in the year, one of the Council’s very senior managers left quite suddenly and unexpectedly and the lower ranks asked themselves ‘Did he jump or was he pushed?’. Now that the have Q4 outturn report we can see that ‘one-off costs arising from changes to the Corporate Management Structure’ were £125,000 higher than anticipated. My guess is that there’s a redundancy payment or Compromise Agreement tied up with that somehow (I’ll bring you more on that in a later post)By June 2017, the Councillors who had unanimously approved the budget in March decided to amend the budget to allow over £600K increased spending mainly on the Big Clean project which I was firmly informed was ‘much more than just a litter-pick’ (The budget increase was proposed by the aforementioned Cllr Stokes who had been recently promoted to the position of Cabinet Member responsible for Finance).
But in terms of making a difference to the Council, there was a lot of shuffling of chairs… and tables, desk, computers, peripherals etc. The Leader announced that we were to become a ‘Member-led’ authority which apparently means the Leader has to have a much bigger office. Preferably one with a big screen and a coffee machine. It also means that the Members’ Lounge will also have new coffee machine and new, continental-style, coffee cups.
Now, believe you me, I’m not complaining about the coffee machines. I was surprised to see them and surprised at how long they take to dispense a cup of coffee (think 1990s dial-up internet connection!) but if you had to sit through 8 hour meetings about neighbours’ garden fence disputes you would appreciate a fluffy moccachino, with or without a continental cup.
However, I think most people would be surprised to learn that “additional office relocations within the main Council building has resulted in premises costs of £34K and replacement furniture costs of £25K”.
Finally (for this blogpost at least) is an overspend of £36K on interim staffing arrangements in the Communications team. I don’t think this is the same budget line that was used to pay £88,000 to Emulus Communications Ltd for ‘consultancy’ last year but it might be. Perhaps we will find out at next Wednesday’s meeting. The picture is a snapshot from the Q4 Financial Outturn report.
If I’ve read the paperwork correctly, the overall overspend last financial year was £1.8m against the original budget and £358K against the revised budget. Against an overall budget of £16m that’s not the end of the world but I would argue that some of the overspend could easily have been avoided.
NB. The new administration is now a little over a year old and they have made some positive statements and made some progress. This is to be celebrated and certainly should be bearing in mind how much the Council spends on communications. I am currently an independent opposition councillor so obviously I will tend to pick up on issues that need investigation or improvement. It is not my intention to sound mardy about everything. South Kesteven is a great place to live and I want it to be even better.
I hope you will be highlighting this overspend again just before next years elections. I’m sure the voters would be interested in being reminded.