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Bonkers Blog November 2019

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13 November (Part 2) - Another big black hole looms but avoiding them is what Bexley Council does. Fingers crossed!

I had a long day in North London yesterday, early enough to force me to pay the Grayling Tax (†) but I calculated that I would be back in time to attend the Public Cabinet meeting and I was - just. The problem was that the journey into Liverpool Street was in a rickety old train which had no heating. By the time I was home I was in no mood to go out again and my feet didn’t thaw out until bedtime. Once again I watched the webcast. The Agenda said it was going to be pretty dry stuff and so it was, Financial Plans, but they cannot be lightly dismissed.

As you might expect the meeting started with a statement from the Director of Finance.

At the end of the fifth month of the financial year the forecast was that the Council would overspend by £1·2 million against an approved budget of £175 million. £2·2 million of the year’s contingency reserve will have been used up, all of it.

Children’s Social Care will likely have a £900,000 overspend and Adult’s Social Care will be more like £1·6 million. Work is being done to ensure a balanced budget by March 2020.

The Capital Programme budget is forecast to underspend by nearly £36 million against the approved £148 million. It is caused “by slippage on the various regeneration schemes”.

The forecast for the next financial year is a gap (or black hole as some people like to call it) of £2·7 million increasing to £32 million by 2023/24.

There is talk of the government reducing the rate of Council Tax increase allowed without holding a referendum from 2·99% to 1·99% and it is assumed that Council Tax will not be rising significantly.

Cabinet Member David Leaf in an obvious reference to the forthcoming election said that he and others were working hard to ensure that the country does not become Venezuela MkII. Bexley Council, he said, “cannot deliver effective front line services unless it is solvent and financially resilient and that is a key priority”. One of the current problems is “lack of certainty in national politics” and he went on to blame certain “self righteous MPs” for the dithering and feet dragging that had led to that situation.

Councillor Leaf promised a short speech but still managed to stretch it out to eight minutes.

Labour Leader Daniel Francis said he would “enjoy partaking in the budget process”.

The Cabinet noted the financial plans and the approach adopted to close the projected budget gap and the meeting moved on to the next subject.

† If Failing Grayling had not blocked TfL from taking over Southeastern I could have travelled free early in the morning on my Freedom Pass, as it was I had to pay the standard fare. On the other hand it was a TfL operated train that had no heating and threatened to turn me into a block of ice.

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