Understanding Council budgets

A very wise senior officer once told me that politics is really about the discussion of priorities and that regardless of the spin and speeches of politicians, it is actually decided by how councils (or Govt) spend their money.

So how does Surrey Heath spend the money that it receives through Govt grant, business rates, car parking fees and other charges and of course, the dreaded Council Tax?

Now helpfully to the public, Councils generally publish their budgets so that the public can see for themselves and Surrey Heath have just done the same. The problem is that they are not the easiest reading and not overly publicised on the web which makes difficult for most residents to understand.

However, you can find them here on the link below and clicking on revenue estimates for 2013/14. This shows what the Council is currently intending to spend over the next year and spent on previous years.

http://www.surreyheath.gov.uk/council/financialreports/default.htm

Surrey Heath will be setting our annual Council Tax figure in a fortnight on 28th Feb and it’s a chance for the politicians to have a discussion about financial priorities over the year ahead.

So for all of the local budding accountants, politicians, financial anoraks, bloggers or anyone else who feels that the Council wastes their money in some areas whilst not doing enough in others, here is your chance! Eric Pickles came up with his own list of 50 areas of Council waste in an attempt to encourage armchair critics and there are certainly many areas in Surrey Heath that can be challenged.

To put in context, the Council’s supposed “self funding” scheme on Council Tax benefits is actually costing £38 000 on their own figures compared to the £82 000 to the alternative scheme supported by the Council’s officers, opposition and 2 Con Cllrs. Leaving aside whether the Council’s estimated £38k is in fact realistic at all (expecting 90% of claimants to pay an average of £380 when they currently pay nothing due to recognised poverty), the political decision made was not to spend £44k for 1872 of the poorest and most vulnerable households in the borough.

Instead, £44k is being spent on….well, lots of things. My own list of areas that I consider are less important will be given at the meeting on 28th Feb and then blogged afterwards…

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Council budgets

  1. Matt

    I find it hard to understand where some of these numbers comes from.

    Camberley Theatre – operational management direct salaries: £357k, corporate services including strategic management £99k, operational management overheads and support £123k. So that is just under 600 thousand pounds on the management of a small provincial theatre. And yet the management costs of the Arena are only £122k. Why is the Arena so much cheaper to staff and manage?

    Parks and open spaces – £1.2M a year in costs. That includes £200k in direct salaries, £170k for equipment, materials and services/security. And yet there is then another £466k paid to contractors.

    Parking enforcement: £47k for strategic management. Really? For that much money it had better be a very good strategy. £170k in direct salaries. Either people are being paid for something that isn’t clear or there are a lot more traffic wardens around than I see every day.

    Centres for old people: energy £13k. Gypsy sites: energy £34k. Why do gypsy sites use so much more energy than centres for old people?

    Highway and public toilet cleaning. We pay Biffa/contractors £1.2M for the cleaning and yet there is another £196k of management costs. Why is there so much management if it is all contracted out? Its a similar story with refuse and recycling: £3.2M to contractors and then another £300k in management costs.

    I could go on but I despair. The figures manage to appear to be both hugely wasteful and lacking enough details to understand where the money really goes.

    Reply
  2. rodneybates Post author

    Yes I agree – they are not exactly easy to understand which is why of course some councillors claim that it is just not possible to make savings. The reality is very different though as you have rightly highlighted in just one day! They just can’t be bothered to look properly..

    For example, you are quite correct to say that the subsidy for Camberley Theatre is almost £600k a year (£561k to be exact) or put another way, the average Council taxpayer contributes around £16 a year just to subsidise the theatre. A simple 10% reduction in this subsidy (far less than Eric Pickles is forcing on Surrey Heath) would save Surrey Heath over £56 000 – much more than the £44k needed for the Council Tax claimants that we allegedly cannot afford.

    Some of the overall management costs in the Council are allocated to each service so for example, senior officers come under this category and their time/expenses are then basically allocated to each budget heading under corporate management. This whole system of recharging is quite complex and certainly doesn’t help.

    One difference between the theatre and Arena is that we directly employ the Theatre staff but the Arena staff are done under the management contract.

    The energy prices are a good point which I will definitely take up as are some of the other points which were not on my hit list but are now..

    Reply

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