Proposed budget goes under the microscope
Increased budget contingencies for Children's Services and Adult Social Care, improvements to the way budgets are reported, a county-wide street lighting survey and an annual increase to highways maintenance budgets are just some of the recommendations being made in a report by Buckinghamshire County Council's independent Budget Scrutiny Select Committee, published on Friday.
The report followed a three day inquiry last month during which cabinet members were questioned on their draft revenue and capital budgets for 2019/20 by the cross party group of councillors making up the Select Committee.
The Budget Scrutiny report, which will be presented to Cabinet on Monday 11 February, makes a number of recommendations including:
• Proposed contingency budgets for both Health and Wellbeing and Children's Services should be reviewed once more to fully take into account possible additional demand pressures on services and to reflect the increased level of complexity of cases being dealt with by our social care teams.
• A minimum increase of 5% per year should be added to the Strategic Highways Maintenance capital budget to take into account both the impact of increased traffic on our roads and inflation.
• A county-wide street lighting survey should be carried out to assess the condition of all street lights and £2m should be allocated from Capital funding to speed up the current programme of replacement works. Investigation should also be made into the use of smart technology.
• Additional money should be added to the 2019/20 contingency budget to build up the current reserve allocated for the transformation to a unitary authority. It is proposed that this money comes from the county council's share of additional income expected from the Business Rates Retention Pilot that the county and district councils will be taking part in.
• The Children's Services budget for legal fees should be carefully considered so that the figure allocated is realistic and any unforeseen overspends are avoided.
• The extra funding for gully cleansing and weed management recommended by the committee for the past two years should continue in order to prevent further decline and in the longer term, act as a 'spend to save' measure.
• All service area budgets should be presented in a much clearer way to make it easier to identify the major costs of running the council. This will create greater transparency for both the public and councillors
Chairman of the Budget Scrutiny Select Committee, David Watson said: "As is the case every year, we know the council faces a fine balancing act in continuing to provide the range of services needed under increasing financial pressures. This year is no different with Buckinghamshire mirroring the rest of the country in facing increased strains on its social care services in particular.
"We appreciate the increased level of openness shown by cabinet members when put under the spotlight by the Budget Scrutiny Committee but there is still work to be done to improve the way financial reports are presented and we would be happy to work with colleagues to help this to happen and hope that it can be achieved during the coming year.
"Finally, once again I would like to thank all those members of public who submitted questions for us to consider as part of this year's inquiry."
The budget will be presented to the full County Council on 21 February.
Papers for the Cabinet meeting on 11 February can be viewed online: https://democracy.buckscc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=11075
The three day Budget Scrutiny Committee Inquiry was webcast and can be viewed on the council website: https://buckscc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts