This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Henley, Corporate Resources
Report Author: Emily Collacott (Lead Finance Business Partner and Deputy s151 Officer)
The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources introduced the report:
· The General Fund was forecasting an underspend of £620,000 after taking into account the total amount of proposed carry forwards which was just over £2m and a transfer of £570,000 to capital financing. Full Council approved the £570,000 transfer to capital financing last week.
· Covid-19 and the pace of economic recovery had continued to significantly impact the Council. Car parking income still remained significantly decreased. Nationally there have been similar reductions in car parking income as behaviours had changed.
· The Council remained in a strong financial position and continued to have General Fund reserves above the minimum required. Significant financial risks, including the transition to a new unitary authority, remained so holding reserves above minimum remained prudent.
· The current forecast for the financial year was an underspend of £1.7m and slippage of £8.3m.
During the debate the following points were raised:
· It was raised that parking income was being lost as a result of barriers failing to work, meaning that they had to be left open. The portfolio holder agreed that barriers malfunctioning was not good and noted that any malfunctions should be reported to the responsible officer.
· It was asked how much the Council had received in grants from the government over the past two years. Officers responded that they would provide a written answer.
· It was raised that there was not sufficient car parking in Watchet and that the car parks there were often full in Watchet.
· It was raised that within Taunton it was possible more people were using the park and ride at present as it was free.
· It was raised that the Community Scrutiny Committee had requested a report on car parking but had not received it yet.
· It was raised that Somerset West and Taunton Council had acted rightly in saving the park and ride for Taunton.
· It was suggested that it should be shown transparently what car parking income was used for.
· It was raised that there was a shortfall on expenditure at the end of the quarter as not as much money had been spent as expected. This appeared to happen every year. Allocation of budgets needed to be managed better so that there would be more certainty and less volatility in figures particularly given local government reorganisation and how the Council’s budgeting would feed into the budgeting for the new unitary authority. The Section 151 Officer responded that it was not possible to always predict the future with complete accuracy, but finance officers and budget holders worked closely together and met monthly to review forecasts and update assumptions in order to identify changes against budget as soon as possible so early reporting was enabled.
· Thanks were given to officers for their hard work.
· It was raised that there was complex spend across the Council meaning it was more difficult to accurate predict spend. It was asked what the average variation from planned budget was at the end of each financial year. The Chief Executive responded that there had been volatility in the first few years of the Council for example as a result of the pandemic and the Council had not had a line-by-line finance system when it was first created but this had now been built meaning that the 2022-23 should be more accurate. Work had already begun to ensure that the actual figures, not assumptions, would be ready for the draft budget process for the new authority. There had been changes to the budget in the current financial year but that had been for specific reasons in each case which would be documented.
· It was requested that any underspends for the next financial year would be identified as early as possible.
· Congratulations were given to the Section 151 officer and his team.
The Committee resolved to note the recommendations in the report;
2.1 This report is to be noted as the Council’s forecast financial performance and projected reserves position for 2021/22 financial year as at 31 December 2021.