BOROUGH council bosses have been slammed for failing to have a clear plan on how to balance the books in future years.
Auditor Grant Thornton has warned Redditch Borough Council faces a ‘big test’ to plug the gap in its finances in 2015/16 and states it has ‘some considerable concern around the financial resilience of the council in the medium term’.
It criticises the lack of a three to five-year financial plan, the authority’s reliance on short-term financial measures as well as the use of unfilled vacancies to make savings – suggesting budgets are being deliberately set too high to include posts departments have little intention of filling.
A total of £600,000 of unidentified savings were included in the 2014/15 budget which was only balanced with the use of £1.2million from money put aside for specific purposes and cannot be used again.
The council is forecasting a budget gap of about £1.7million in 2015/16, of which £1.2million will need to be found in cost improvements or extra income.
In the past council chiefs have pointed to its shared services programme with Bromsgrove District Council and its transformation project as the way they will reduce costs. But auditors say further significant savings are not expected from shared services while the council has struggled to demonstrate the level of savings transformation has and can achieve.
But the report notes the council does have a track record of delivering balanced budgets with large amounts of unidentified savings, while the sale of assets such as Threadneedle House could generate one-off money to help balance the books.
Coun Juliet Brunner, leader of the Conservative group on the council, branded the controlling Labour group as ‘a man without a plan’ and expressed concern residents would pay the price if services were affected.
“We were criticised by Labour for making savings and building up our reserves but we saw times were going to be tough and when we left office we had a three-year plan, we didn’t max out the credit card.”
But Coun John Fisher, responsible for corporate management, said they had made large savings in recent years which had allowed them to put money in the bank in 2013/14.
He insisted they were ‘totally focused on the job in hand’ and officers were working on a new three-year financial plan.
“But rather than make hasty and damaging cuts to the services Redditch people rely on, we wanted a more systemic approach to the delivery of savings for 2015/16.
“That means continuing to find better ways of working in every part of the council and implementing them as quickly as possible.”