Last Thursday, Hart Council passed the budget. We have two reports on the proceedings. This is Part 1 that focuses on the absurd claims made during the debate. Part 2, tomorrow, will look at the answers to our questions about Shapley Heath.
It’s sad that we first have to set out some basic definitions:
- If Revenue exceeds Expenditure, there’s a surplus
- When Revenue is equal to Expenditure, the budget is balanced
- If Expenditure is more than Revenue, there’s a deficit.
When there’s a deficit, money maybe transferred from reserves to finance the deficit, but there’s still a deficit. If there’s a surplus, money maybe transferred to reserves to fund, for example, investment in social housing. We think these definitions are universally accepted by everyone, except Hart Cabinet.
Hart Council Officers say there’s a deficit
Now we have got everyone on the same page, it is important to show what the budget papers considered by Cabinet in January said:
A combination of reduced income and cost pressures have left the Council with an anticipated budget deficit for 2021/22 of £381K and in 2022/23 a further deficit of £1,081K. The deficit is both structural and significant…
So, it seems the Council Officers agree with our definition of a deficit and are concerned that it is both structural and significant. These are their own words, not ours. This is why we are very concerned about what the Council just passed.
Hart Cabinet Members claim the budget is balanced
But it seems some very senior members of the Cabinet are completely deluded. Three of them claimed during the debate that the budget was balanced. See this short video of their words.
In it you can hear the following:
- James Radley (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance): “…today I am presenting to this Council a balanced budget”
- Stuart Bailey (Community): “It is a balanced budget”
- David Neighbour (Council Leader): “….it’s balanced and it’s not a deficit”
If this is the extent of their financial acumen, they need to consider whether they are fit to hold such positions of power. According to their definition, there wouldn’t be a deficit unless they spent all of the reserves.
Response to Criticism
The Leader criticised We Heart Hart for pointing out that spending on Homelessness and Grants is budgeted to fall next year.
These spending reductions are clearly identifiable in the budget pack as can be seen in the image above. After their explanation, we acknowledge that these budget items represent money from the Government and are spent by Hart Council.
However, we would also note that if they chose not to spend on Shapley Heath and other areas such as the Leadership budget, they could choose not to cut these areas. They might even be able to properly balance the budget too.
Social Media Justification for Hart’s Mad Budget
After the meeting, the CCH councillors were active on social media, again claiming the budget was balanced:
The Lib Dem councillors couldn’t quite agree with their leaders and acknowledged they were transferring money from reserves.
However, their claim of using a “small proportion” of reserves is somewhat dubious. The forecast is for £500-600K to be used from reserves this year. We agree that it was appropriate to utilise reserves this year to help the Covid response. In addition, there’s the budgeted £381K deficit next year and a forecast of £1,018K the year after. That’s a total of nearly a third of reserves over three years. There’s no plan for corrective action. Indeed they made a virtue of sitting on their hands and doing nothing.
Hopefully, the difference in tone on social media reflects tension inside the coalition.
If you want to stop this madness:
Please sign and share the petition you can access from the button below.