Last night our questions to Hart’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee were stonewalled by the bureaucracy. We submitted questions on 9 February and received a response on 11 February saying that our questions had been accepted.
A catalogue of excuses were made to ensure that the questions could not be answered. First, the committee services officer had “forgotten” to circulate the questions to Councillors. This meant they couldn’t prepare their answers in advance. Second, apparently, only the portfolio holder for finance (Councillor Radley) can answer questions about the budget outturn report. However, when that item came up on the agenda, the S151 officer answered all of the other questions and Councillor Radley said virtually nothing.
Their solution is to bundle up the questions and get them answered at Full Council next week. However, that meeting will likely cover next year’s budget. We wanted to focus our questions on that agenda item, not this year’s outturn.
This is frankly pathetic. But as they say, you get most flak when you’re over the target. For the record, our questions to O&S are reproduced below. It remains to be seen whether they will appear in the minutes of the meeting.
Overview and Scrutiny Stonewalled Questions
The outturn report refers to the original budget of £10,794K approved in February 2021. However, the budget approval included a contingency of £610K for “pressures” (see below):
To what extent has this contingency been utilised and how will the use of the contingency impact the forecast full year deficit of £488K?
The August O&S was told there was £6.8m of reserves in the General Fund at the end of FY20/21. The same paper recommended a minimum level of reserves of £5.3m, leaving a headroom of ~£1.5m.
With the current forecast deficit and the reserve transfer to cover the Leisure Centre shortfall, what is the current expectation of the reserve level, the minimum reserve and therefore the anticipated headroom at year end?
Moreover, with the current level of forecast deficits into the future, can officers explain when they anticipate reserves falling below the recommended minimum level?
What would be the consequences if that should occur and what further actions might be required to avoid reserves falling below the minimum level?
The video of the exchange is below: