Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The first Forward Plan explained

As part of ending to the Best Value regime the Town Council introduced "The Forward Plan". Best Value was introduced to the Town Council level to replace Compulsory Competitive Tendering. This proved costly to the 41 Town Councils (known as the 41 Group) which fell under the Best Value Regime. The Government gave each local council a £30,000 pa grant to cover the costs of Best Value. This grant ended when the requirement to do Best Value ended.

As an aside, SNTC had a choice. It had just lost £30,000 of income. Instead of making someone redundant to cut £30,000 of expenditure it was decided to add the £30,000 to the Council Tax bill.

Back to the Forward Plan.

The Forward Plan is the most useful document the Town Council produces. The plan will show the direction the Town Council is going. By quantifying the planned projects this allows the Town Council to plan for the resources that will be needed. This is a very useful tool for residents and local politicians. The plan will show how the projects will effect future budgets and Council Tax. If the local politicians don't like the future they can either balk at the costs and cancel projects or they can stand by the tax increases. That is if the plan is done properly.

The trouble with the first Forward Plan was it wasn't a proper plan. It was a real muck up. Because of this Liberal Democrat (Giles and Thorpe) run Town Council got into a right mess.

To start with The Objectives (pages 6 to 9) numbered 24. The Project details (pages 10 to 18) didn't match the Objectives. So what was missed?

In Objectives and not in Projects:
Allotments, Farmers' Market, Town Centre Events, Grant Aid, Anglia in Bloom, Partnerships, Swimming Pool, Corporate Governance Review, Expansion of Town Boundaries and Support our Staff.

In Projects but not in Objectives:
Love's Farm Community Centre, Play Ground Upgrades, Town Christmas Lights.

This mismatch of Objectives and Projects is at the core of what was wrong. If Giles and Thorpe had got to grips with the core part of the plan the outturn would have been different. Because the resources identified as needed to progress and achieve these Objectives must go into the budget forecasts.

The problem is some of the Objectives and Projects weren't included in projected budgets (forecasts) or the resources needed weren't properly identified. Some of what was missed:

Eatons Community Centre - underfunded by at least £150,000.
Ground Maintenance - Despite a study underfunded by £95,000 pa.
Town Wardens - No resources allocated.
Town Swimming Pool - No resources allocated.
Love's Farm Community Centre - No resources allocated. A loan was alluded to but not how much.

Other problems with the budget forecast was:

Underfunding of Central Costs.
Bank Interest was went up year on year except much of the money was to be spent on the ECC. This meant the was gone but the interest was still added to the forecast as if the money was still these. So this figure was overstated by £30,000 p.a.

The budget forecasts was a load of muck and could never be relied on. I do realise that this is a forecast. A Council cannot just make wild budget forecasts. Changes in the budget forecast and other variations must be able to be identified and reported. This didn't happen.

So who is responsible for this muck up. This is actually rather easier than I thought. Under the Councils' own Standing Orders 65 - 3 -d - The Leader of Council (at the time Cllr Derek Giles) is: to be responsible for the development of the Forward Plan, its review and update

So Cllr Giles is in the frame for this Muck Up. I did notice Cllr Gordon Thorpe did introduce this item to Town Council for adoption. So he must have thoroughly understood what he was presenting! Didn't he?

The forthcoming revision of the Forward Plan needs to address the issue of matching resources to projects. The budget forecasts will need to be robust. I say forthcoming? Cllr Thorpe told residents: "I believe that I have covered the major projects and objectives detailed in the Forward Plan which incidentally will be updated and released soon." That was on 6th May 2009.

Forward Plan Document
Town Council Standing Orders

No comments: