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Bonkers Blog January 2020

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10 January - Calling all accountants

Not fully reporting on an important Council meeting has a habit of coming back to bite you and so it is with last July’s Cabinet meeting. The debate on Connected Communities and the state of Welling was reported but the budget report was given a miss, judged to be pretty much business as usual.

Tom Bull the Local Democracy Reporter found something to say about it before the Cabinet discussed the issues. In particular he said “Finance officers are predicting a cumulative budget gap of more than £38m by 2023/24”. Bexley Times
A reader asks where that “more than £38 million by 2023/24” comes from. The figures in the Agenda (see below) only go up to 2022/23 and a later document reports £31·884 million for the following year. There was no alternative but to listen to my recording of the Cabinet meeting held on 9th July 2019. 50 odd minutes into it the Finance Director says “going into 2023/24 we have an anticipated budget gap over that period of thirty eight million, so that’s increasing by seven million from the thirty one million that we had previously”.
The reader’s question is that while the Finance Officer has admitted to a £38 million black hole by 2023/24 the cumulative figure by then is more like £116 million than the £38 miliion reported in the newspaper. He says that he has asked his Councillors for an explanation but there has been no reply.

This is a question that used to intrigue me too. The first example was when Councillor Craske destroyed Bexleyheath’s William Morris water fountain and said it would save taxpayers £20,000 a year. And maybe it did but fountain closure didn’t appear in the accounts for later years. If the accounts worked that way Bexley Council would still be claiming to be saving due to its decision to sell off the municipal tramways or whatever in nineteen dot.

My guess is that most of the savings and cuts introduced this year will have an ongoing effect on the numbers for future years. To invent a silly example, if the Council decides that the Mayor should travel by bus in future it might save £40,000 on the car lease and the chauffeur’s salary and the size of the black hole would reduce by a cumulative £200,000 over the next five years.

If Bexley Council has saved £100 million over the past eight or nine years (see Bexley Times report) it will likely be a dozen or so million which was reflected into each year. If they went back far enough and added all the savings together they could claim to be saving more than their total annual expenditure. I suspect Bexley Council plays whichever financial game makes them look best but I am relieved to discover that two Councillors don’t seem to have a straight answer to the question either.


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