There’s good news, bad news and some downright ugly news in the latest Medium Term Financial Strategy reported to Overview and Scrutiny. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
The projected deficits have risen since last reported in July in the Statement of Accounts. The deficit for FY22/23 has risen from £1,175K to £1,214K. In FY23/24 the deficit is now projected at £1,569K, up from £1,413K.
Analysis of the differences shows some worrying trends.
Commercial income for each of those years has grown by over £700K. In addition, they are also forecasting higher New Homes Bonus receipts and more grants. Income from Council Tax and Business Rates is virtually unchanged. However, the extra income is more than offset by ballooning costs.
Hart Financial Black Hole: Good News
The good news is that the Council are starting to get to grips with the problem and have started to identify savings. So far, they have identified two levels of saving. Level 1 is apparently relatively easy, and if they manage to implement all of their ideas they will save £335K per year. However, we don’t think spending saved grant money or capitalising expenditure are real savings.
If they manage to implement the Level 2 savings, they would achieve a further £467K of savings each year.
This is a welcome first step. However, even if they implement all of the identified savings, they total up to only £802K. This is much less than the deficits in each year. So, there’s still a very long way to go to balance the budget.
Hart Financial Black Hole: Ugly News
The ugly news is that cutting the disastrous Shapley Heath project doesn’t even feature as a potential saving. That’s right, the Council finances are sinking into the abyss, but they still plan to carry on squandering more and more of our money on a totally unnecessary project.
The other ugly news is that they are now projecting a surplus for this financial year of £117K. If that sounds odd, read on. On the face of it, this is a big improvement on the £381K deficit assumed in the original budget. The surplus comes because they are now going to receive extra commercial income from the office block they recently purchased in Basingstoke. This is weird because the projection conveniently ignores the £776K adverse variance they (almost) reported in the Full Year forecast paper presented to the same meeting. They are dressing up a deteriorating deficit as a surplus. It seems they can show only good news in the MTFS and totally ignore the bad news. Another ugly, shambolic financial report.