Scilly’s Finance Chief Warns Of ‘Severe Consequences’ Over Financial Position

Director of Finance, Peter Lawrence-Roberts

Director of Finance, Peter Lawrence-Roberts

The Council of the Isles of Scilly’s director of finance has said the Authority is in a, “very difficult” financial position and that, “there will be very severe consequences if swift and decisive corrective action is not taken.”

Peter Lawrence-Roberts made the stark warning in a report that was due to be debated in Full Council last Thursday.

But there’s confusion about why such an important paper, listed as item 6a in the agenda, was not debated publicly by the members present.

Each councillor that Radio Scilly has spoken to has given a different reason.

In the paper, Mr Lawrence-Roberts, who was absent from the meeting on sick leave, warns that the Council is spending in an unsustainable manner, and while many senior council members have been calling for severe cuts to budgets, he says departmental growth bids are being accepted that increase spending rather than reduce it.

Recent finance papers show an overall increase in the budget of £803,000 for 2013/14.

He said this year the Council will overspend by £764,000 over the base budget originally set. And in 2013/14 this figure will increase by a further £682,000, giving a £1.4m increase in two years over the original predicted budget.

“This is a huge figure which needs to be addressed urgently. Council spending at these levels is simply unsustainable,” says Peter.

More worryingly, the council’s reserves, which stood at £2.1m on 1st April 2012 will be in deficit by March 2016. It is illegal for a local authority to set an unbalanced budget.

Mr Lawrence-Roberts gives a number of options to councillors to stem the drain of cash, including a recruitment freeze and examining posts that were previously grant-funded but had now been drawn onto the Authority’s payroll.

He also want’s to review services to make sure they’re sustainable and provided at an appropriate level as well as re-procuring some externally to “release savings.”

He cites the example of the Council’s Sports, Fitness and Leisure services, which are going to add £121,000 to costs over the next two years.

The report states that in the four years to December 2012, headcount increased by 28.3%, at a time when every other council in the country is having to cut costs to ensure financial survival.

“We are in the same position,” he warns.

It is unclear why members did not debate the paper at the Full Council meeting. Radio Scilly contacted several members after the meeting to find out.

Cllr Christine Savill, who was the only councillor to raise the issue of the rapidly diminishing reserves, during a separate item on Council Tax, agreed there was very little debate.

She said members decided to go with the recommendation of the P&R committee, adding, “I certainly do not think that members have tried to “bury bad news” but acknowledge the current economic climate Scilly finds itself in and decided to accept a grant and freeze Council Tax for this year.

“I can assure you there was no item/discussion in closed session on the subject of Council Finances,” said Christine.

However, this conflicts with the view of Cllr Gordon Bilsborough, who said the item was first discussed as an excluded item at the P&R meeting on 21st February.

Gordon says an email was sent to all members on 4th March, following the end of the special meeting of the P&R Committee, advising them that the report was being uploaded the public website.

He says his main concern is why members were not warned about these impending deficits before now. “This is a matter which must be explained by the director of finance himself,” says Gordon.

Cllr Dudley Mumford said his understanding was that the paper was not debated due to procedural issues, including the fact that the director of finance and resources was unavailable that day.

At several points during last Thursday’s meeting, proceedings were halted over confusion about the running order and the availability of associated documents.

6 Responses to Scilly’s Finance Chief Warns Of ‘Severe Consequences’ Over Financial Position

  1. Samual Vimes cmdr March 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    If the council closed down all the off island school bases they would save a fortune, not only in the obvious costs but also in boating costs, try asking the council how much they spend on specials for school staff and then be prepared to be deafened by the silence.

    Come to that how much do the council spend on specials for the officers and councillors?

    The whole council is a waste of money!

  2. Bill Hiner March 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    So, we’ve got highly paid officials who cannot even balance the books!
    It’s about time that the Council remembered its core business, such as drainage, water, waste disposal, roads and police. The rest can wait and be paid for when the books ARE balanced.
    How can highly paid finance “experts” allow this money drain to happen?

  3. pat hicks March 12, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Quite agree with you ritchie.
    Many years of waste, extravigance,greed and bad management
    have brought us to where we are today. and i am sure most of the councilors know they are to blame to, for being complaciant over the years. giving the officers to much power and letting them do what they want.
    it is going to take a few years to sort the mess out.
    but well done to those councilors who have made a start.

  4. Nobby Nobbs March 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    “Mr Lawrence-Roberts gives a number of options to councillors to stem the drain of cash, including a recruitment freeze and examining posts that were previously grant-funded but had now been drawn onto the Authority’s payroll.”

    Could not agree more.
    Considering that the council employ over 300 people, to administer for a population of just 2200, one has to ask the question “How many of these jobs are really necessary?”

    Several other drains on resources are as follows…..
    Subsidised off island boat trips
    Subsidised off island freight
    The sports hall
    Senior officers pay and expenses
    Consultancy fees
    Legal fees for various law suits and reports.

    It would be cheaper to shut the whole IOS council down and give it back to Cornwall.
    And for all those who adore the grant culture, remember grant money, whether it be from Europe or central government ultimately comes out of the tax payers pocket.

    We should live within our means and cut our cloth accordingly

  5. jenny green March 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

    A head count increase of nearly 30% is totally unsustainable. PLR has given the I.O.S Council a wake up call. What other public sector employer have increased their work force by this amount?
    There has been a perception amongst the electorate- almost a standing joke, ‘oh you are new to the Islands, who do you work for? Answer, ‘the Isles of Scilly Council’.
    The Sports facilities could be run by a non for profit community enterprise. There are examples of a lack of employment planning in the I.O.S Council.

  6. ritchie March 12, 2013 at 8:02 am

    a good long look at staffing levels and who is giving value for money for Scilly, will go down well with the electorate before any easy option tax increases on the residents or visitors. Our community is in for a tough year or two (despite superfast broadband), and will not sustain addition costs on falling incomes.
    Many years of waste and extravigance compounded by greed and bad management have landed us here and we cannot keep playing Oliver Twist “can i have some more” !!