Hart Launches Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Consultation

Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Consultation

Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Consultation

Hart Council has launched a Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Consultation. The survey runs from Monday 23 May to Monday 4 July. They have created a specific page on their website giving more details. It can be found here.

There is a leaflet giving more details about what they are trying to achieve that can be found here. The Council is encouraging residents to read the leaflet before answering the questionnaire that can be found here.

We set out below some more details of the consultation followed by our view.

Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Consultation Details

The questionnaire asks respondents say how important 8 aspects of regeneration are:

  • A dynamic, active town square all year round
  • A better connected town centre
  • Enhancing the cultural scene in Hart
  • Encouraging increased footfall to support the high street
  • An Inclusive space for all generations
  • Creating places to meet, socialise and celebrate
  • Prioritising sustainable, healthy design
  • Upgraded, modernised community facilities

Residents are then asked to choose their top-3 uses to which the Civic Quarter space can be put. The fourth question is a bit fiddly. It asks respondents to rank the relative importance of 10 “critical success factors”. The final two questions are freeform and ask people to set out their hopes and concerns about regeneration of the area.

Our View

It is good to see some progress finally happening on this project which was given the go ahead nearly 3 years ago in August 2019.  However, the focus is very strongly on the Council owned assets including Hart’s offices, The Harlington and Gurkha Square.

Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Map

Fleet Civic Quarter Regeneration Map

We think the Council should think bigger and consider the whole of the area outlined in the map above, together with the Hart Shopping Centre and the area surrounding Church Road car park for a more comprehensive revitalisation on the whole town.  However, we have to start somewhere, so we think this project should be encouraged.

Given the recent controversy surrounding the proposed Gurkha Square redevelopment and other matters, we think they should set some principles for the redevelopment to allay people’s concerns. Examples would include:

  • Promise to not develop Gurkha Square itself – focus on keeping the square for the market, public performances and outdoor restaurant seating
  • Promise to retain the Views and enhance it as a public open space
  • Ensure that a healthcare centre (GP Surgery or Drop-In centre) is included as part of the development
  • Consider providing a gym and even potentially a primary school and/or nursery
  • Constrain any development to a maximum of 5 storeys
  • Utilise the work of groups like Create Streets, to ensure that the built environment is of human scale, the proportions are sensible, adequate green space is provided and the buildings are beautiful.
  • [Update from a user comment] Introduce free parking to encourage more visitors to the town centre and support businesses [/Update]

We encourage readers to have their say and complete the questionnaire using the links above.

Government Drops Shapley Heath Funding

RIP Shapley Heath Again

RIP Shapley Heath Again: Government Drops Shapley Heath Funding

The Government has issued a press release about funding of new Garden Communities. Shapley Heath is conspicuous by its absence from the list of projects.

The release boasts of the £15m funding being made available this round. They expect the programme to deliver 16,000 dwellings per annum from 2025 and almost 200,000 jobs. Here is a quote from the press release:

  • £15 million funding to support delivery of thousands of new homes in beautiful, green garden communities across England.
  • Part of a £69 million programme to deliver up to 16,000 homes per year from 2025, creating almost 200,000 jobs and boosting the economy.
  • Builds on the government’s plans to level up the country, regenerate underused land and bring forward beautiful new developments.

The full list of projects receiving support is shown at the foot of this post.

Impact of Government Dropping Shapley Heath Funding

We now have a situation where the council rejected a new town at Winchfield in 2012. The Inspector threw it out again in 2018/19 saying it wasn’t necessary and citing concerns about viability and deliverability. Since then, the Council have spent over £700K on essentially the same project and delivered nothing of substance. Certainly, they have produced nothing to alleviate the Inspector’s concerns. Now they have been unable to convince the Government to continue supporting the project.

Yet, during the recent election, CCH councillors were proposing to hold another consultation about the same failed project.

Katie Davies Public Consultation on Shapley Heath

Katie Davies Public Consultation including Shapley Heath

Are they mad?

Full list of Garden Communities receiving support

Garden Towns

  • Hemel, Hertfordshire.
  • Otterpool Park, Folkestone and Hythe.
  • Manydown, Basingstoke.
  • Harlow & Gilston, Essex and Hertfordshire.
  • Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
  • Taunton, Somerset.
  • St Cuthbert’s, Carlisle.
  • Greater Exeter, Devon.
  • Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.
  • North Northants, Northamptonshire.

Garden Villages

  • Longcross, Runnymede, Surrey.
  • Newton Abbot, Teignbridge.
  • Langarth, Cornwall.
  • Burtree, Darlington.
  • Chelmsford, Essex.
  • Dunton Hills, Brentwood.
  • Golden Valley, Cheltenham.
  • South Ashford, Ashford.
  • Tendring – Colchester borders.
  • Skerningham, Darlington.
  • Long Marston, Stratford-on-Avon.
  • East of Biggleswade, Central Bedfordshire.
  • North Dorchester, Dorset.
  • South Seaham, Durham.
  • Whetstone Pastures, Blaby.
  • Uttlesford Park, Uttlesford.
  • West Carclaze, Cornwall.
  • Culm, Mid Devon.
  • Halsnead, Knowsley.
  • West of Elvington, York.
  • Dunsfold Park, Waverley.
  • Welbourne, Fareham.
  • Meecebrook, Stafford.
  • Dalton Barracks, Vale of White Horse.
  • Salt Cross, West Oxfordshire.
  • Infinity, South Derbyshire.
  • Berinsfield, South Oxfordshire.
  • Borough Green Gardens, Tonbridge and Malling.
  • Bailrigg, Lancaster.
  • Spitalgate Heath, South Kevesten.
  • Tresham, East Northamptonshire.
  • Pan-Essex.

Impact of Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on Hart

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - RIP Shapley Heath

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – RIP Shapley Heath

Earlier this week, the Government launched the long awaited Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The full Bill, all 338 pages of it, can be found here. A summary of the proposed measures can be found here. The interviews carried out by Michael Gove and the Bill itself had a number of potential impacts on Hart.

  • National Housing Target
  • Five-Year Land Supply
  • Neighbourhood Plans
  • Duty to Cooperate
  • Enhanced Environment Protection
  • Mandatory Infrastructure Contributions
  • Regeneration

On first examination, these look to be positive proposals for Hart, particularly in that they appear to weaken the case for Shapley Heath. The proposals also strengthen powers to drive regeneration of town centres, which should be good news for Fleet and its businesses.

Let’s go through the detail.

National Housing Target

Michael Gove gave a number of interviews about the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. On BBC Radio 4, he was repeatedly asked about whether the Government was sticking to the national housing target of 300,000 new dwellings per year. He refused to give a clear answer each time he was asked, saying he didn’t want to be “tied to a Procrustean bed”. Yes, we had to look that up too. Essentially, it means an arbitrary target. He also said that that while “arithmetic is important”, he was not “bound by one criterion alone”.

On the face of it, the Government is backing away from this target, which means that Hart’s housing target should fall from the current 286dpa.  However, the Telegraph reported that a Downing Street spokesman stressed the target remained – while saying it was important to build the right sort of houses.

So, this is not something we can bank on yet. However, the current Local Plan calls for 423dpa. We are currently building far more than that. It seems unlikely to us that the current target of 286dpa will rise, so the upcoming Local Plan review ought to relieve pressure into the future. This will make the claims that Shapley Heath is required even more difficult to sustain.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Five-Year Land Supply

Related to the housing target, the new Bill proposes to scrap the requirement for Councils to maintain a five year land supply.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Five-Year Land Supply Requirement scrapped

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Five-Year Land Supply Requirement scrapped

However, this is conditional upon the Local Plan being up to date. By this they mean adopted in the past five years. To benefit from this proposal Hart will have to have an updated Local Plan in place by April 2025. Our current Local Plan is front-loaded, with completions falling below target beyond around 2026/27. This proposal should help with that problem.

At the very least, this Bill should scupper CCH’s “suicidal” plans to build Shapley Heath at a rate of 500dpa.

Neighbourhood Plans

The summary of the proposals says that neighbourhood plans will be strengthened to have equal weight with other planning documents.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Neighbourhood Plans given equal weight

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Neighbourhood Plans given equal weight

On the face of it, this is a positive development because is inconceivable that Winchfield Parish Council would include Shapley Heath in their Neighbourhood Plan. However, this must be tempered by statement in the full Bill that seems to prohibit Neighbourhood Plans reducing the amount of housing a Local Authority can deliver.

Neighbourhood Plans Cannot Cut Housing for the Authority

Neighbourhood Plans Cannot Cut Housing for the Authority

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Duty to Cooperate

The current duty to cooperate requirement will be repealed and replaced with a more flexible alignment test.

Duty to Cooperate Repealed

Duty to Cooperate Repealed

This is a positive development, because the current Local Plan includes an allowance to build housing for Surrey Heath. This allowance was already under question because the housing target for both Surrey Heath and Rushmoor has been reduced. Rushmoor is building far more than it is now required to do and could easily take any unmet need from Surrey Heath. However, the requirement to build houses for neighbouring authorities appears to fall away. This is good news in that it reduces Hart’s housing target.

Enhanced Environment Protection

The Bill also seeks to enhance environmental protections.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Enhanced Environmental Protection

Enhanced Environmental Protection

We know that parts of the Shapley Heath contain significant areas that are at risk of flooding. On the face of it, these proposals will make it harder to build in such an area. Moreover, the area contains SSSIs, SINCs and other protected areas. Enhanced environmental protections ought to help fend off proposals for Shapley Heath.

Mandatory Infrastructure Contributions

The Bill proposes changes to infrastructure funding. A new mandatory infrastructure levy is proposed to replace S106 contributions and Community Infrastructure Levy.

New Mandatory Infrastructure Charge

New Mandatory Infrastructure Charge

On the face of it, this seems to close the loophole where developers converting office blocks under permitted development rights were able to avoid infrastructure contributions. This should help the council adopt a better attitude to brownfield development.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Regeneration

New compulsory purchase powers are proposed in the Bill. These should help Councils rejuvenate town centres and regenerate brownfield land.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Strong Support for Urban Regeneration

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Strong Support for Urban Regeneration

Taken together, these proposals should finally end the ridiculous proposals for a new town at Shapley Heath. There will no longer be any excuses for Hart not to come up with bold new plans to regenerate Fleet, Blackwater and Yateley. These urban centres should be the focus of the updated Local Plan so we can make Hart an even greater place to live.

CCH Commits “Political Suicide”

CCH Commits Political Suicide

CCH Commits Political Suicide

A CCH Councillor has said that it would be “political suicide” to impose more housing on Hart than is needed.

Political Suicide to Build More than Needed

Political Suicide to Build More than Needed

However, the same Councillor has also outlined her party’s plans for Shapley Heath that amount to the very same “political suicide” she mentions.

Katie Davies 5000 over 10 years

Katie Davies 5000 over 10 years

Let’s go through how CCH commits political suicide:

Shapley Heath Not Required

CCH as a party are still pushing the very same development that was removed from the Local Plan by the Inspector because it was not required to meet our housing targets out to 2032. In their bid for Government funding they even claimed they would deliver Shapley Heath “in addition to” the requirements of the Local Plan.

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

CCH Propose Faster Build Rate than Required

Moreover, Councillor Davies has proposed a far faster rollout for Shapley Heath than was proposed in the Council’s bid for funding. The plan they put forward then ran for 16 years from 2024 to 2040, with a steady state run rate of 360dpa.

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

CCH are now proposing the development takes place over 10 years. Simple arithmetic would indicate an average build rate of 500 dpa. The pace of this single proposed development is nearly twice the latest Government target of 286dpa.

Government Housing target climbdown: New targets Hart Rushmoor and Surrey Heath

New targets for Hart, Rushmoor and Surrey Heath

CCH Not Addressed Inspector Concerns

They have said that they will “explore all options”. However, they have spent over £700K on Shapley Heath since FY19/20 and delivered nothing of substance. They have not formally considered any other option.  This is in direct contravention of the Inspector’s findings:

I am of the view that a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 [Shapley Heath] to be found sound in its current form, which would need to include appropriate and proportionate area/site assessments, infrastructure considerations, viability testing, evidence in support of deliverability and further SA work, which would need to be done in an impartial manner with sufficient evidence to support its findings and comparisons with alternative options

Summary

They are proposing to consult on the same proposal that:

  • Is not required to meet our housing needs
  • Was rejected by the Inspector
  • Will deliver housing at nearly twice the rate required

They will do all this without properly considering any other option. Political suicide indeed.

 

Virtue Signalling Council Refuses Help for Hard Pressed Families

Virtue Signalling Hart Council Refuses Help for Hard Pressed Families

Virtue Signalling Council Refuses Help for Hard Pressed Families

At Council last week, we asked a number of questions to challenge the budget for next year. One of those questions asked what specific deliverables would be produced from the £250K they have set aside to “tackle climate change”. The answer revealed that they didn’t have the faintest clue what they were going to spend it on or what they were going to deliver with the money. The supplementary question asked if they wouldn’t be better to keep the money in reserves to balance future budgets or offer a rebate on council tax to help families struggling with the cost of living rather than signalling their virtue with other people’s money.

The full exchange can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/sa2I5KxdmsM?t=3809

This accusation caused offence to the Leader of the Council. We’re sorry if the truth hurts. Remember, climate change is supposed to be their “top priority”, but they have no plan. During the debate about the budget many of the Councillors got up to virtue signal express their outrage at such a suggestion. As they expelled lots of hot air containing 40,000ppm CO2, not one of them came up with a single idea to reduce emissions or improve the environment. The Conservatives proposed a motion to remove that item from the budget and instead offer a council tax rebate to the poorest households in the district. This amendment was rejected.

Among the critics of the amendment was Saint Councillor Peter Wildsmith, who asked for the £250K annual budget to be extended indefinitely to tackle the problem. Again, he didn’t come up with a single idea on how to use the money effectively. Now he has taken to social media to describe as a “disgrace” anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him.

The budget was eventually passed with a small amendment to offer a welcome £10,000 grant to Fleet Food Bank.

6 Ideas to Improve Hart’s Environment

We are very concerned about waste at Hart Council. Over £700K has been splurged on the doomed Shapley Heath project since FY19/20 and nothing of substance has been produced. They squandered ~£140K on planters and signs for the disastrous Fleet pedestrianisation project. Now it appears they want to create a permanent £250K/yr climate slush fund to parade their virtue and produce nothing but CO2-laden hot air.

We think if we criticise the Council we should offer some alternative ideas.

  1. The Council has substantial capital reserves. They should invest some of this to insulate better the social housing in the district. This would reduce emissions and reduce residents’ soaring energy bills.
  2. They have been talking about the “green grid” for a long time now and delivered nothing. They should accelerate this project to encourage and enable more walking and cycling.
  3. The Council offices are far bigger than they need. They should move to smaller, better insulated premises and reduce their own energy consumption.
  4. Apply for one or more of these grants to support planting trees in the District.
  5. End support for their disastrous plan to build 5-10,000 unnecessary houses at Shapley Heath. Construction alone would emit 1m tonnes of CO2 and destroy valuable habitat and carbon sinks.
  6. Extend the range of items that can be recycled in the blue bins.

Readers should also note that earlier iterations of Shapley Heath pushed the idea of a locally-sourced biomass energy plant. This is essentially chopping down the wonderful trees in the district to produce electricity. Burning wood produces more CO2 per unit of electricity generated than burning coal. At Drax, it also produces more particulate emissions than burning coal.

The Council declared a Climate Emergency last year. Since then the committee has met several times and produced nothing but hot air. None of the ideas above would require a single penny of the £250K they have allocated to be spent, but would help Hart residents directly and improve the environment. It’s time for the Council to stop the hot air and start acting.

 

 

 

Hart Budget Ugly News

Hart Budget Ugly News

Hart Budget Ugly News

This is the third post covering the Good, the Bad and the Ugly news arising from the release of Hart’s latest budget book. This news isn’t strictly about the FY22/23 budget, it’s about how they have changed the past budget and actuals.

  • They have changed the current year budget yet again.
  • The actuals for FY20-21 have been changed.

Hart Budget Ugly News – Another Change to the FY21-22 Budget

We have reported before on the many changes to the FY21-22 budget. The finance department have excelled themselves and made yet another change to the budget. This is best illustrated by looking at the “Appropriations” section.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Ugly News

Changes to Appropriations FY21-22

The slide above shows the Original FY21/22 budget, approved in February 2021. The two extra columns show the “Final V2” budget published in July and the latest version published as part of the FY22/23 budget book. Clearly, even “Final V2”, wasn’t final.

The first row shows the change in reserves transfers from capital. We’re not too concerned about this because to cover depreciation and is a non-cash item. They have previously disclosed that depreciation wasn’t included in the Original Budget.

The second row shows that they somehow forgot to budget over £1m of pension contributions in the Original budget. They then added them in Final V2.

The third row shows that they budgeted to transfer £381K to reserves originally. Note that positive numbers are costs in public sector accounts. In Final V2, this had changed to a £639K transfer from reserves. A swing of over £1m. In the latest iteration, they have increased this to a £769K transfer from reserves. We believe this is the same £130K that is replacing the Government grant that has been moved to last year’s accounts.

The level of change in the budget defies belief. How on earth can councillors or members of the public properly judge performance against budget when the budget itself is a movable feast?

Changes to FY20-21 Actuals

Not content with changing the budget during the year, they have now started changing the actuals. This can best be seen in the slide below.

Changes to Actuals FY20-21

Changes to Actuals FY20-21

Back in July 2021, they presented the performance for the year in the draft accounts. The budget they presented was different to all other prior representations of the budget, as we reported here. In the draft accounts, the actual controllable expenditure was recorded as £11,868K. In the latest budget book, that has jumped £1.23m to £13,101K, an increase of £1.23m.

Where on earth has this extra spending come from? How did they miss it when presenting the accounts to the auditor for approval.

 

 

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News

This is the second of our three posts covering the Good, the Bad and the Ugly parts of Hart’s FY22-23 budget announcement. The four main areas of bad news are:

  1. The Health and Wellbeing Service has been cut completely.
  2. The costs of the finance department has gone up dramatically.
  3. Large salary increases for the Leadership Team.
  4. Above inflation increases across several contract areas.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Health and Wellbeing

The Health and Wellbeing service has been cut to zero. As there’s a mental health crisis after the trauma of Covid lockdowns this seems to be a crass decision.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News - Health and Wellbeing Cuts

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News- Health and Wellbeing Cuts

£118K was the budgeted spend for this year. However, next year no funds have been allocated. The have announced this in quite a sneaky way.  They originally published a summary of budget changes and this cut was not flagged up in the summary. Moreover, we could find no reference to this cut in the papers submitted to O&S or Cabinet.

The cut was buried in the bowels of the detailed Budget Book that was published after the deadline for public questions. We only found it because we were checking that budget added up properly, which of course it didn’t last year.

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Cost of Finance

The cost of the finance department has gone up dramatically. The budget for this year is £497,999. Next year the budget soars to £891,958, an increase of 79%.

Hart Budget Changes Corporate Finance

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Budget Changes Corporate Finance

Given the errors identified and the changes made to this year’s budget, perhaps some upgrading of skills in the finance department is justified. But 79% looks like an outrageous increase to us.

Leadership Salaries

Careful examination of the image above will show that the salaries for the Leadership team are going up by £42K. Remember, Hart has two full-time Chief Executives, so any increase awarded to one has to go to the other. Rather than increasing salaries, we should be cutting at least one of the posts. Regular readers may recall that Havant and East Hampshire share just one Chief Executive between them. There is no justification for keeping two JCXs. With yawning deficits as far as the eye can see, it’s time to bite the bullet and restructure the Leadership team.

Contract Inflation

There are worrying increases in the costs of a number of contracts the Council has awarded.

  • IT Contract up 46% (£164.1K/£356.4K)
  • Grounds Maintenance up 24% (£86.3K/£356.7K)
  • Street Cleaning up 23% (£138K/£604.2K)
  • Waste up 10% (£181K/£1,775K)
  • 5 Council Contract up 9% (£219.7K/£2,497K)

The latest figures we can find show the CPI measure of UK inflation went up 5.5% in the year to January 2022. Why is Hart facing such massive increases in the cost of services?

Hart FY22-23 Budget Changes Corporate Services

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Budget Changes Corporate Services

Hart FY22-23 Budget Changes Technical and Environmental

Hart FY22-23 Budget Bad News – Budget Changes Technical and Environmental

 

Hart FY22-23 Budget Good News

Hart FY22-23 Budget: Good News

Hart FY22-23 Budget Good News

This is the first of three posts covering the Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly parts of Hart’s proposed FY22-23 budget.  The really good news is that they are not budgeting to spend anything on the New Settlement. The New Settlement is also known as Shapley Heath or the Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV).

We can see this from the proposed budget for the service area. The full document can be found on Hart’s website. However, there is a history of these documents changing, so we have also uploaded it to this website, here.

Hart FY22-23 Budget: Good News

Hart FY22-23 Budget: Good – No funds allocated to Shapley Heath

As you can see, no funds at all are allocated to FY22-23. The bad part of this is that we can now calculate the full costs of this disastrous project since FY19-20.

  • Net actual and budgeted spending: FY19/20-FY21/22: -£30,361 + £186,126 + £149,167 = £304,932
  • Add grant funding and transfers from reserves: £150,000 + £130,000 + £130,000 = £410,000
  • Total Actual and Budgeted spend: £714,932.

Aside from some pretty inconclusive reports (which were funded by developers), nothing of any substance has been delivered for this eye-watering sum.

Changes to the FY21-22 Budget

There is also some ugliness contained in this report. They have changed the budget for the current year yet again. The original budget for FY21-22 was published in February last year. The part related to SHGV is re-produced below. This shows a total budget of £279K, with no contribution from Government grants.

HASETT - Shapley Heath New Settlement Budget Original FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath New Settlement Budget Original FY21-22

In July, the budget had been changed in the Final V2 version of the budget. A £130K Government grant had been added.

HASETT - Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath Final V2 Budget FY21-22

As you can see in the image above, that same £130K Government Grant has been moved to FY20-21. This is the year the money was received. Now for FY21-22 the grant has been replaced by a £130K transfer from reserves. We should add that we are unaware of any public process that has authorised either of these changes to the budget.

Call us old fashioned, but once a budget is set, we believe it should remain fixed and any variances reported against the budget.  The budget should not be changed during the year.

 

 

Overview and Scrutiny Stonewalls Budget Questions

Hart Overview and Scrutiny Stonewalls Questions

Hart Overview and Scrutiny Stonewalls Questions

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

Outturn Report

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):

Hart Overview and Scrutiny Stonewalls Budget Questions

Hart FY20-21 Budget Pressures £610K

To what extent has this contingency been utilised and how will the use of the contingency impact the forecast full year deficit of £488K?

Minimum Reserve

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.

Hart Overview and Scrutiny Stonewalls Budget Questions

Hart Council Minimum Level of Reserves

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:

hTtps://youtu.be/OVRmY8emf1s?t=3094

 

 

Hart’s Long Term Finances Spiral Out of Control

Hart's Long Term Finances Spiral Out of Control

Hart’s Long Term Finances Spiral Out of Control

At Cabinet on Thursday, they discussed the draft budget for next year and the medium term financial outlook. We will publish a post on next year’s budget soon. Today’s post focuses on the medium term financial strategy.

Unfortunately, the situation is dire. Despite the savings they have identified, they go into deficit again in FY23/24. The deficit continues to grow wider and wider to over £1.7m in FY26/27.

MTFS shows Hart's Finances Spiral Out of Control

MTFS shows Hart’s long term finances spiral out of control

Even these projections may be flattering, because they rely upon a replacement for the New Homes Bonus delivering £1.2m per year from FY23/24 onwards. As the report itself says, “there is absolutely no certainty” this will happen.

Hart's Long Term Finances Spiral Out of Control - New Homes Bonus Replacement

No certainty on New Homes Bonus Replacement

As can be seen, funding increases in each year. The problem is that costs rise by £600-700K every year. The explanation for these massive increases is sketchy at best.

Overall, they are projecting a cumulative deficit of over £3.8m from FY23/24 onwards. That doesn’t include the loss they will make this year. They budgeted for a £381K deficit and have already raided £1.4m from reserves to cover the loss of income from the Leisure Centres.

Impact on Reserves

The Council have said that the minimum reserves they require is £5.3m. At the beginning of this year they had £6.8m of reserves. Therefore, they only have headroom of £1.5m.

Hart Reserves at Risk - Finances Spiral Out of Control

Hart Reserves at Risk

Depending upon how bad the outturn is for this financial year, there is a high risk that they deplete their reserves below the minimum requirement in the coming years.

We can only hope that the secret meeting next week to discuss restructuring of senior management will deliver further savings.

Hart Council Senior Management Restructure

Hart Council Senior Management Restructure

Perhaps it is time they looked at more radical ideas such as joining forces with a neighbouring council as we outlined here.