Painful Decisions Needed To Balance Scilly’s Budget

wesleyan chapel full council meetingThe Council is to consider a recruitment ban and a freeze on budget growth for next year.

The vice chair of Council, Amanda Martin, has said there are “hard, painful decisions” to be made to balance the authority’s budgets.

In a special Full Council meeting on Tuesday, the director of finance, Peter Lawrence-Roberts said the Council was looking at a serious situation and warned that the present level of spending is unsustainable.

In a paper that was tabled at the Full Council on 7th March, but which councillors chose not to debate, he said the Council’s budget has increased by £764,000 this year, and will go up by a further £682,000 in 2013/14, giving a £1.4m increase in two years over the original predicted budget.

And that level of spending will mean the Council going into deficit by March 2016. It is illegal for a local authority to set an unbalanced budget.

But some members felt there had been a lack of information about the scale of the problem. Cllr Gordon Bilsborough said he was worried that the situation only came to light on 21st February and Cllr Molly Peacock wanted councillors to be kept more up-to-date with the budget situation.

Cllr Roy Duncan asked if there were any grants coming in that could help solve the problem. “Is that clutching at straws,” he asked?

But Mr Lawrence-Roberts explained that grants were part of the problem. Staff are taken on using the grant money, he said, but then the Council has to continue the funding when the grant runs out.

However he couldn’t say how many of the extra 58 staff the Council had employed since 2008 had initially been grant funded.

Cllr Richard McCarthy proposed setting up a small task force to come up with a plan, reporting in to the P&R committee, although Cllr Christine Savill was against this. She felt all committee chairs should be involved, saying she didn’t want to “throw her budgets into the arena and have no control over them.”

But a note of caution was sounded by Cllr Fred Ticehurst. He warned members not to panic, saying if the Council makes redundancies then they’d need to make severance payments. And if they outsource services, then the money goes straight out of the islands.

He said every newspaper is reporting a ‘burn out’ of local authority employees because of the burden being placed on them. “Lets not jump into a situation that is worse than at present,” he said.

Cllr Dudley Mumford said he couldn’t see how they could get something up and running before the elections in May, although Amanda argued that the problems will be the same after May and the processes still need to be put in place.

Cllr Marian Bennett agreed and said the new council should start off under no illusions. She wanted to set a “challenging target” of a 12% reduction on all budgets.

In the end, councillors agreed that the P&R committee, which consists of the chairs of most other committees, would make an in depth analysis of the situation, starting before the elections in May.

The finance department will also consider the effect freezing all budgets and blocking recruitment. They’ll also examine those posts that were formerly funded by grants and are now on the Council payroll.

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