Thursday, September 21, 2023

lnitial thoughts on council budgetary crisis.

Given the recent announcement of a £7 million shortfall it is clear that the financial management of the organisation has still not been stabilised. The major financial management issues were flagged from the time the organisation was first brought into being and those raising them, both staff and elected members, were side-lined and ignored. From the big issues of not understanding capital financing nor the revenue tail arising from development to relatively small issues which demonstrate a lack of financial controls significant change was always going to be needed.

One small example is that of oversight of the Mayoral budget. Mid and East Antrim Borough Council makes available a Mayoral allowance of £20000 to cover the costs associated with the Mayors term in office. It’s a significant sum of money and on occasions the use, by some, has led to further and ongoing investigation by outside agencies.

In 2017/2018 Cllr Paul Reid spent £24332.31 an overspend of over 21%, the risk of overspend was highlighted by staff in advance of the end of Cllr Reid’s term yet spending continued well past the amount budgeted.

In 2021/2022 Cllr William McCaughey spent £23276.52, an overspend of over 16%, according to a recent FOI request no one in the organisation raised the potential overspend as an issue. When asked to detail the financial controls put in place after the 2017/2018 overspend the council responded

“The overspend in 2017/2018 would have been absorbed within the overall Corporate Services budget as previously explained with no additional financial controls required.”

The sums involved may be relatively small in terms of a £7 million shortfall but the lackadaisical attitude to a 21% and 16% overspend is illustrative of a general institutional attitude to ratepayer’s money. It is no surprise that both members are representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party, from the creation of the new council there has been a sense from that party that being in power means taking no responsibility and not being accountable. To change that view requires a change in governance, a change in attitude from taking the public for granted to taking responsibility to truly manage the organisation in the best interests of the ratepayer not individual councillors.

A shortfall of this scale did not happen by accident, to determine the cause a proper investigation must take place overseen by an outside body not simply a consultant reporting to the council on findings and if necessary criminal proceedings should follow. But, to be clear, the issue has arisen within a culture and attitude manipulated and encouraged by the Democratic Unionist Party, their hands are not clean in any of this.


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