Last week was the meeting of Bury Council’s Cabinet, and earlier this week the meeting of the Council’s Audit Committee. Both meetings considered the mid-year financial report for the Council which raise some very concerning issues. Councillor Tim Pickstone was at the Cabinet, Councillor Steve Wright was at the Audit Committee:
Both meetings heard that the Council is currently estimating a roughly £3.5 million overspend for the current financial year, which would take the Council’s usable reserves down to just £2.5 million.
At both meetings we raised concerns about the significantly more worry size of overspending that is behind this figure:
- The Council is expecting to overspend by £7.8 million on ‘demand pressures’ – mostly additional children with special needs and older people’s increasing care needs, both of which obviously need to be covered.
- The Council is overspending by £11.3 million on savings it has failed to achieve. These are savings that have previously agreed by Councillors, but not delivered. Mostly this is failures to achieve savings in the Council’s Communities and Wellbeing directorate (£9 million) on issues such as older people’s care, leisure services and the council’s civic suites. It also includes a failure to deliver £1.2 million of savings on waste collection which the report says could be achieved by charging residents for garden waste.
- There is then a shortage of income for the Council of £2.9 million – anything from less than expected rental income or less than expected parking income.
In the short term these overspends are mostly being covered by ‘one off’ items:
- Using one-off grants from Government
- Using up some of the Council’s reservers
- Other one-off savings
Our worry is that this is not sustainable into the future. The massive problems that the Council has this year (demand pressures, failure to deliver savings and income shortfall) are not going to magically disappear over the next few months, and in February Councillors will have to, by law, set a balanced budget for 2019-20 in which even more savings will be required.
At the Audit Committee it was revealed that one of the three commercial properties the Council has purchased outside of Bury using taxpayers money – the Prezzo in Lytham St Annes, has now closed as a restaurant, so the the Council is getting no income for this investment.
This is the second year running that the Council’s Labour administration has produced very worrying financial reports at this stage in the year. This is now getting very worrying given the low level of Council reserves.
The full report is here.