Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (let’s call it FEDex for short) reviewed the Q3 Financial out-turn report for South Kesteven.
Around two years ago, I was arguing at Full Council that the budget proposals being presented by Cllr Adam Stokes (Con) on behalf of the ‘new’ Tory Cabinet led by Cllr Matthew Lee (Con). I stated at the time that they were over-ambitious and unachievable. They included, for example,
Another ‘saving’ of £30,000 was predicted from corporate consultancy. This was not acheived either.
- A forecast of £250,000 additional income from car parks even though a planned increase in tariffs was abandoned. Surprise, surprise, the income never materialised.
- Another ‘saving’ of £30,000 was predicted from corporate consultancy. This was not acheived either.
- Cllr Cooke (Deputy Leader at the time) had his name against a raft of measures including £50,000 anticipated savings in utilties expenditure. The following year’s out-turn report admintted that these savings were never deliverable.
- Cllr Cooke also had responsibility for £150,000 recurrent annual savings from ‘delivery of 3 specific shared service opportunities at £50,000 each. At the end of the year it was admitted that additional opportunities to share had been discounted resulting in the income target not being met.
The list continues of unmet targets for 2018-19 continues but this blogpost is about the unmet targets for 2019-20. Surely this year, some lessons would have been learned?
Sadly, the most recent meeting of the FEDetc Committee received a report showing an awful lot of variance between what was forecast and what has been delivered.
- Corporate/Procurement savings:
Forecast £300,000, Delivered £50,000. Variance £250,000
- Transformation savings:
Forecast £200,000, Delivered £56,000. Variance £144,000.
This was due to longer lead times and lower resource savings than anticipated.
- Workplace efficiency target (forecast underspend on salaries/vacancies)
Forecast £478,000, Delivered £362,000. Variance £121,000
- ‘Channel Shift’ savings (aka removing staff from local offices and forcing people onto the phone and internet).
Forecast £70,000. Delivered £ Nil. Variance £70,000
The ‘Customer Experience Strategy’ has been postponed til next year.
- There has been a ‘saving’ of £348,000 on the Capital Programme under the heading of ‘University Fit out’. This is because the internal works at University Centre in Grantham which were expected to be completed in Summer 2019 were only started last month.
- Forecast savings of £50,000 on ‘Corporate Subscriptions’ have not been achieved which makes you wonder which subscriptions were under review and why? if it was so easy, why didn’t someone just cancel the standing order? I have the same problem with my membership of CAMRA which automatically renews each January (but costs considerably less than £50k).
The FEDetc Committee also expressed concern about the lack of balance of spending across this financial year. In the first 9 months of the financial year, less than half of the Council’s £13.8m budgets for Commercial, Operations and Growth had been spent leaving a forecast that the other 50% (£7m) will be spent in the last quarter. This led Committee members (and me) to express concern about potential ‘panic-buying’ of equipment and services in late March in order to get the budget spent.
So what are the crystal ball gazers on the Conservative benches forecasting for next year?
Firstly, no-one is going to argue with the prediction that money will become more scarce. Despite claims that ‘austerity is over’, the funding for Local Authorities from central government continues to fall and consequently Council Tax will continue to rise. This is shown in a table in the budget report.
The broad brush approach to budgeting for the future has the same familiar nebulous buzzwords:
“In order to meet the financial changes that are predicted, a corporate review of aligning resources to the Council priorities is underway to ensure there is a managed and smooth transition as the Council adjusts to new reduced funding levels from 2021/22.
This comprehensive review programme will also incorporate other initiatives including:
- Redefining the operating model of the Council
- Commercialism opportunities
- Transformation of services
- Exploring other operating models for service delivery
- Rationalisation of assets and operating costs”
In terms of the specifics, there are loads of great ideas. The images below show some of them:
As for the great promises of former Leader Cllr Matthew Lee’s Stoke Rochford declaration of 2017, the picture is still not clear. For example, in relation to the much celebrated forthcoming Leisure Centre programme is referred to cryptically within the text of the main budget report.
“The revenue costs associated with the financing of any borrowing linked to the leisure programme will need to be assessed for affordability based on the business cases“.
“Cabinet will be presented with business cases to support the investment which will be underpinned by affordability and value for money appraisals at that time to ensure the scale of the investment is affordable in the context of competing investment opportunities”.
This language seems to be quite different to the original plan of creating a spin-off company (or special purpose vehicle) under a DeliverSK parent company. Does this mean the aspirations for the leisure centres have changed? I hope the Conservatives have the answer to that question although I suspect they haven’t really thought it through.