OPINION PIECE BY JOHN BRACE
Normally the papers for a meeting have to be (it’s a legal requirement) published five days before a meeting on Wirral Council’s website expect in certain exceptional circumstances.
However when your report is the snappily titled Revenue Monitoring 2012/13 Month 4 (July 2012) detailing exactly why Wirral Council has a projected £14.4 million overspend (or at least it did at the end of July 2012, let’s hope it’s not more now two months later), it’s understandable why somebody wouldn’t want this going out with the regular agenda through the post to councillors on the Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee before the next meeting on Monday.
In fact publishing on Friday afternoon is a time-honoured way to “bury bad news”, and believe me the news is bad and explains the matters that led to the spending freeze about three weeks ago. By the time anybody has read it and has any questions, most of the relevant Monday to Friday 9-5 Council officers will be enjoying the weekend.
The advantage of course to the online version is it’s in colour, whereas to save costs the Council prints things in black and white (although obviously the lucky few councillors recently given iPads will be able to view it in colour).
However let’s have a look at the highlights and the slightly strange use of statistics and selective quoting of facts. The overspend for months 1 and 2 of Financial Year 2012/2013 seem to be missing from the graph, with no explanation given in the report as to why. However the projected overspends don’t seem to originate from the Department of Finance (who predict a £2.5 million overspend), but the two “usual subjects” of DASS (Department of Adult Social Services) at over £10 million of overspend and CYPD (Children and Young Peoples Department) at around £5 million.
Even the Department of Law, HR and Asset Management headed during some of this period by Bill Norman is projecting a £2 million overspend.
The report of course mentioned that the Labour Cabinet’s response this year has been to spend a further £677,000.
So how does this breakdown compare to what the Budget should be (according to report anyway)? The answer in the report is £3 million over budget on employee spend, £1.3 million overspend on premises and an £11.5 million overspend on “supplies and services”.
The report explains also why Cabinet had to dip into £7 million of reserves (the Working Neighbourhood Fund). So when will we find out what’s happened in month 5 (August), well that’ll be October 18th…. with the “Executive Team” of Council Officers finding out on 4th October… course if the CYPD had submitted the correct figures to the Department for Education then Wirral Council would have a further £1.6 million to spend on education. Oh well…