Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Town Council saves £120k

The Town Council has come in under budget for the year 2009/10 by £120,855.  We will hear much about good management and the strong Town Council finances. This is good. What needs to be looked at is how the Town Council has achieved this. A copy of the Accounts is here.

The first problem I come across is the Budget in the 2009/10 Accounts differs from the original Budget passed in January 2009. The budget used in the Annual Accounts must be the revised budget. Two clues to this. Firstly, the original budget didn't have money going to reserves. Secondly, The Eatons Community Centre wasn't in the original budget (though £25k was put aside), but in the revised budget there is a budget for ECC at £11,000.

So I am not comparing the original budget with the outcome but the revised budget (December 2009) which is written a year on. I cannot find a very good reason for using the revised budget rather than the original. 

Whichever budget I use some of the figures are good. The Priory Centre is again the star of the show with a loss of £43,579 against an original budgeted loss of £103,243. Just under £60,000 down. On the revised budget this is shown as £83,415 + £10,000 for loan =  £93,415 or £50k below budget.

Out of a Council Tax amount Band D of £87.55 for 2009/10, The Priory Centre cost just £4.27. 
The budget for 2010/11 is £95,735 without loan repayment.

I wish the Town Council would decide on one set of figures and stick to them! Decide to either include loan repayments + interest or don't. Just don't use both. Or is this just the weird way of doing the accounts so comparisons are hard to do?

So Priory Centre has done well and will hopefully do well this year.

Moving along to Central Administration (£213,103). Whilst this looks like a good saving against the revised budget (£249,092) £35,989, it is a massive saving against the original budget of £288,270. I take this has much to do with not having a proper Town Clerk/Deputy Town Clerk and not filling the positions of Financial Assistant and Town Centre Manager.

I have to question whether just leaving posts open and not having a proper Town Clerk was the best way forward and is good management. I don't feel this is.

Another cut is in Grounds Maintenance which came in at £173,832 against the revised budget of £191,094  or £205,411 on the original budget.

The delay in the construction of the Eatons Community Centre also helped this budget. Because it wasn't built until later in the year and opened in December last year, much of the annual costs weren't taken up. There were also savings as the building contingency wasn't used and there were savings of £32k. This was mainly made up from £16k not fully invoiced and £12k from a penalty for being late. This also delayed the taking up of the loan which saved £17k in the budget.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats may feel this is down to their management of the Town Council finances, many of the savings in the budget were actually because nothing was done. Positions were left unfilled and the Priory Centre did another good job during the year. The lateness of the ECC caused savings in this budget but some costs were pushed into the future.

The Reserves are in a very good state. Some £350,000 in unusable reserves and earmarked reserves stand at £362,192. This allows the Town Council to do a few things without worrying about money.

The Town Council is getting financially stronger. It should be remembered that much of the first Forward Plan was dumped by Cllrs Giles and Thorpe in their panic budget. Dumping things like the Town Plan, new Play Areas and others put the Town Council back on track. What has also helped is the precept has gone up and up and the taxbase has expanded and will continue to expand. This is not good budgeting or financial management because the Town Council is coming out of a crisis. By not doing much and putting up the precept the Town Council has stabilised.

Moving onto Corporate Governance.

This is where the Town Council informs the public what is doing about Corporate Governance or how the Town Council works. I thought I would compare this against the Town Council's website and minutes
But I was told by the Town Mayor that:
So the Town Council is informing everyone the Council publishes Priorities whilst telling everyone it doesn't!? The Town Mayor and Town Council need to make up their minds! Not very good!
When was the last questionnaire? The website is so out of date. The pursuit of information on the website is often left with a blank screen.
What is the Code of Corporate Governance? I thought I would look in the Council's constitution. As ever I found:
So where is the Code of Corporate Governance?
Other policies are that are quoted but cannot be found are:

Code of Conduct for Members
Council's Standing Orders
Financial Regulations
Whistle Blowing Policy
Complaints Policy

All cannot be found on the Council's constitution webpage.

This part of the report also states the Forward Plan was published in March 2010. I didn't see or hear of this. The new Forward Plan is certainly not on the SNTC website. Where was the consultation with residents? This was "published" with the smallest fanfare ever. It is a though the Liberal Democrats are embarrassed by their Forward Plan!

Other information of interest.

Pension costs rose another 1% on 1st April 2010 from 18.2% to 19.3% of pensionable salary. Yes you read this correctly.

The new Town Clerk has finally gotten onto the report as her salary is over £50,000.
In conclusion

The Town Council has got itself back into a good position with the finances. Whilst there is some uncertainty over the ECC and the Toilets, this is now less of a worry about. Don't forget for much of the last three years the Town Council has done little, than what was programmed. In effect it has cleared up the mess and now can look to the future. But that has been 3 wasted years.

It looks to me The Priory Centre should be in the good books. What does need watching are Grounds Maintenance, Central Administration and the ECC. 

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