Consideration was given to a report of the Director of Finance which recommended that the Cabinet considered the level of balances necessary to support the 2020/21 budget underpinned by the agreed policy on Earmarked Reserves, setting a properly balanced revenue budget which included the financing of capital investments within the present investment proposals.
Members were informed that, in order to comply with Section 25 of the Local Government Act 2003; the Authority’s Chief Financial Officer (the Director of Finance) was required to report on the robustness of the estimates made for the purposes of the revenue budget calculations and the adequacy of the proposed reserves. This information enabled a longer-term view of the overall financial resilience of the Council to be taken. It also reported on the Director of Finance’s consideration of the affordability and prudence of capital investment proposals. The level of general balances to support the budget and an appropriate level of Earmarked Reserves maintained by the Council in accordance with the agreed Council Policy on Earmarked Reserves, were an integral part of its continued financial resilience supporting the stability of the Council.
Whilst the Council had prepared a detailed revenue budget within a five-year Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), a five year capital programme and continued the closure of accounts within an appropriate timeframe allowing early focus on the upcoming challenges and a robust financial transformation programme, there continued to be a reliance on the use of reserves to balance the revenue budget.
Since 2016/17, reserves of £22.937m had been used to underpin the Council’s revenue budget. For 2020/21, there was a proposed use of reserves of £10.008m combined with a number of one-off measures totalling £5.150m. The continued use of reserves and one-off measures had the impact of deferring the changes that were required to balance the revenue budget by on-going sustainable means. The implementation of the next phase of the transformation programme in 2020/21 was expected to begin to address this challenge. The expected benefits of the transformation programme would be phased over several financial years and it was anticipated that there would continue to be a need to utilise reserves until the programme was complete.
As detailed within the Council’s Audit Completion Report, presented alongside the Statement of Accounts, the External Auditors concluded that for 2018/19 the Council had made proper arrangements to deliver financial sustainability in the medium term. However, it was also pointed out that “the use of reserves to support revenue budgets in the longer term is not sustainable, and the Council will need to ensure that its longer term financial sustainability does not deplete its reserves to unsustainably low levels”.
Members noted that financial resilience depended in part on the Council maintaining an adequate level of reserves. In order to scrutinise the level of reserves held by the Council, the policy on earmarked reserves was considered by the Audit Committee in June 2019 and it was proposed to action the same review again in 2020/21 after the closure of the accounts for 2019/20.
Whilst the Council was utilising a number of reserves to support the 2020/21 revenue budget, Members were assured that the Council currently remained financially resilient and was working hard to address the pressures that had arisen over a number of years and therefore still continued to be well placed to meet the difficult financial challenges that it faced.
RESOLVED - That the following be accepted and commended to Council:
The Cabinet asked that their thanks be recorded to the Director of Finance and all her team for all of their hard work and achievements in the last year.