The Committee will consider a report on financial sustainability, a comparison to the London Borough of Croydon which was discussed by Cabinet at its meeting on 2 March.
Martin Tett, Leader
Katrina Wood, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources
Richard Ambrose, Service Director for Corporate Finance (Section 151 Officer)
L.B. Croydon Public Interest report
Action plan for improvements
Martin Tett, Leader presented a report which provided a financial comparison to the London Borough of Croydon. Following the issuing of a Section 114 notice by Croydon LBC this report reviewed the findings of the public interest report over Croydon’s financial failures, together with other reported issues around financial sustainability in local government, which has been exacerbated as a result of Covid-19. The Leader was supported by Richard Ambrose, Service Director for Corporate Finance and Section151 Officer. The Leader summarised the report which was appended to the agenda pack and reported that the comparison exercise had highlighted that Buckinghamshire had much stronger governance processes in place than Croydon and other local authorities finding themselves in significant financial difficulties. The following key points were raised during the discussion:
- Few, if any of the failures experienced at Croydon were evident in Buckinghamshire. The Leader highlighted that there was an entirely different culture at Buckinghamshire Council, governance was effective, member involvement was strong, and the level of reserves was healthy.
- A number of recommendations were attached as appendix 2 to the report to highlight where lessons could be learnt from Croydon’s experience. One of these was to increase visibility and ensure there remained good governance of the Council’s subsidiary trusts and property companies. A paper on Farnham Park was presented to the Audit and Governance Committee held on 24 March and there would be an opportunity to bring future papers before members on subsidiary trusts.
- Work on the action plan had commenced, budget boards had been established for the majority of directorates with the remaining few to start in April.
- The difference between directorate budget boards and member priority groups was explained. Budget boards were generally officer boards comprising of the corporate leadership team of a directorate along with senior finance officers to assess the financial position, and identify risks and issues to feed in to the overall budget. Member priority groups were part of the budget setting process and provided further governance support to Cabinet members. These groups were made up of members from the leading administration similar to national Government.
- Members suggested that comparisons should also be made with leading authorities to explore whether there were any opportunities for Buckinghamshire to improve upon its governance and working practices. A member suggested when referring to averages in report there should be further detail on what the average is and how Buckinghamshire’s level differs.
- A member suggested that by having a member on the directorate budget boards this could strengthen the budget scrutiny process. Members also requested that more in depth supporting paperwork be provided to future members of the budget scrutiny inquiry group. The Leader advised that Buckinghamshire was recognised by the LGA as a role model on how to build and scrutinise budgets and explained that the degree of detail members wish to see in the budget scrutiny supporting papers changes over time. The Leader suggested that the Chairman of this Committee and the Leader should discuss the exact detail required in good time ahead of next year’s budget scrutiny.
- The Committee heard that major suppliers contracted by the Council were monitored regularly and appropriate action was taken as necessary.
- The Committee highlighted that reviews of staff turnover were key for members to look at and recommended ad-hoc updates be provided to this committee. Members were advised that staff turnover was monitored regularly by the Corporate Director for Resources and the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources.
- There was concern raised in respect of the Council’s exposure to property and the Committee asked that this stay under close review and concerns looked at early.
- Members were advised that the budget monitoring quarterly report was made available online to all members at the point the Cabinet agenda was published, however the scrutiny officer would look at the 2021/2022 calendar of meeting dates to better tie this committee’s meeting dates in with the reporting cycle.
Action: Scrutiny Officer to look at future dates of meetings
- Report for Financial Sustainability – comparison to London Borough of Croydon, 02/03/2021 Cabinet, item 6. PDF 728 KB
- Appendix 1 for Financial Sustainability – comparison to London Borough of Croydon, 02/03/2021 Cabinet, item 6. PDF 437 KB
- Appendix 2 for Financial Sustainability – comparison to London Borough of Croydon, 02/03/2021 Cabinet, item 6. PDF 340 KB