The Cabinet Meeting began as it always does, with the Director of Finance
presenting his report; this time on the 2020/21 outcome.
It was “a challenge caused by the pandemic [that is not what the auditor said before Covid was a factor] but we didn’t use the capitalisation order and the General Fund reserve was increased. Helped by a near £60 million increase in unpaid bills presumably.
“Enhanced financial controls which targetted reducing in year expenditure and increasing income levels. We were forecasting increased expenditure and loss of income as a result of the pandemic and we assumed it would be met by grants and recovery funds. This continued and materialised as expected.”
£61 million of Government grants were passed on to local businesses.
“We also forecast an overspend of £1·5 million which was not Covid related but due to the enhanced controls we were able to achieve a break even position.” This was achieved by reducing spending on agency staff in Children’s Services and clawing back overpaid housing benefit.
Capital spending was reduced by £5·2 million and it was mainly schools, replacing vehicles, delaying the imposition of bus lanes (no subsidy from TfL) and deferring building maintenance which bore the brunt.
Council Tax and Business Rate receipts were both down. 1·23% and 7·75% respectively.
“The Council continues to face considerable financial risk.”
Cabinet Member David Leaf did the usual follow up speech complete with the mandatory political spin. Excuses first; “the impact of Covid on service delivery were unpredictable and unprecedented” but the Council successfully delivered a large number of new Covid related requirements. He said that the General Fund Reserve had been boosted to £13·255 million and that is two and a half times the level inherited from Labour in 2006. 9% of expenditure against Labour’s 2%.
There followed a long list of recent “reckless and irresponsible” Labour policies which he indicated would have bankrupted the borough.
“it would be tempting to take aim at the naysayers who acted like vultures hoping and perhaps praying for a financial calamity to befall this local authority, it would be tempting to to highlight the misleading information pumped out by the likes of the BBC and The Guardian and Labour Members opposite and it would be tempting to call upon them to apologise for frightening and scaremongering our residents time after time but frankly it would be a waste of time as they never learn, they never see the error of their ways and they will never stop looking for any excuse and any opportunity to spin themselves into a dizzying mess of smears. But while they talk down our borough and besmirch Bexley we will continue to show the fortitude and resolve necessary to deliver key front line services, get our borough through this pandemic and To Build Back Better.”
Just over six minutes; around 30 seconds given over to information omitted by the Finance Director, just over two minutes to repeat what he said and the remaining three the usual “dizzying mess of smears” aimed at Labour.