Tuesday 7 July 2015

Money matters

Friday's meeting of the Council's Audit Committee (agenda here) sees the first outing for the Council's 2014/15 Statement of Accounts, currently unaudited. The figures reveal that over £3.8m was paid out in exit packages for the year, involving 98 compulsory and 110 agreed 'departures'. Nearly £700,000 related to exit packages for seven members of staff earning over £80,000 per year.

Significantly, the accounts show that the council borrowed a further £28m in the 2014/15 financial year. This is a staggering amount bringing the total council borrowing to £280m. A remarkable figure for a county with 180,000 residents. Prior to this new borrowing, the amount required to service the loans in interest and administration stood at around £14m per year, this will now go up, along with your council tax.

Borrowing has increased steadily over the years as the Council has embarked on it's visionary schemes to establish glorified council offices in various stadiums and 'shopping ' complexes around the county. It doesn't look like stopping either, with another £3.5m being borrowed last month for the Carmarthen West link road to facilitate access for wealthy developers.

Compare this to an item on tomorrow's full council agenda (previous post here) to save a relatively paltry £73k per year by charging the elderly and infirm for 'flexi-beds'. These placements in care homes used to be free for the first 42 days and were used if, for instance, there was a breakdown in a care plan, or if minor adaptations were being made to a residents home. Residents will now be means tested and charged from day one, ranging between £17 and £83 per night.

The Audit Committee agenda also includes minutes from the March meeting of the Corporate Governance Group (not to be confused with the Cross Party Constitutional Review Group...). As this blog has reported, there have been issues with grant managements procedures for some time, highlighted by the Wales Audit Office for the past three years.

The WAO will be issuing a one off report later in the year specifically relating to the property grants which were a feature of 'Meryl's meetings' and brought to the attention of the WAO by the departing Director of Resources last year.

The minutes of the CGC record that Plaid Cllr Dai Jenkins, (now Exec Board member for resources in the new administration) put forward the views of the Audit Committee that he should attend meetings of the Grants Panel as an observer due to the 'ongoing concerns about the grants issues reported by WAO'.

The Grants Panel (whose minutes are also on Friday's agenda) consists of officers and their remit appears to be to monitor the overall progress and compliance of the various grants administered by the authority.

The minutes record the rather odd response from the S151 Finance Officer;

'CM stated that whilst comprehensive procedures are in place, the issue is with the lack of implementation of the procedures by officers. CM highlighted that there could be a risk of Officers being less open or defensive in the presence of Elected Members and that it was not necessarily the role of the Chair of Audit Committee to focus on the actions or inactions of individual Officers on individual Grant Schemes.'

Am I missing something here? Isn't it exactly the role of the Audit Committee to concern itself with any 'lack of implementation of procedures'?

Back to the Accounts and again the council are forced to record for posterity the er, misdemeanours of the chief executive and those unlawful payments. The entry states that the Auditor considers the matter closed but will be 'monitoring progress'. Unfortunately for the council, the legality of the libel indemnity is far from closed, an issue which is ongoing and which will become doubly apparent should Mr James attempt further enforcement.

Anyway, on a final note the Statement of Accounts also includes the usual list of responsibilities undertaken by the council. This includes a reference to the Archives which, given the current problems, must have been copied and pasted from previous years as apparently they are still held safely in the three strongrooms in Carmarthen....

Update 8th July
The Labour group put forward an amendment at today's full council meeting that the decision on charging for flexi-beds should be postponed for it go to Scrutiny. It should have gone to scrutiny before full council of course, but it hadn't.
The amendment was accepted unanimously.

Around twenty councillors started the summer break early and didn't turn up today. Meryl Gravell was also absent and had been due to respond to the question regarding Parc Howard. The answer will now be given in writing, so unfortunately a supplementary question cannot be posed...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What was the debt when Mark James arrived at CCC? I believe it was in the region of £100m? Has he nearly tripled our debt in his time (while almost doubling his own excessive salary)?

Regardless of what it was when he arrived, £280m of debt (ie more than £1/4 billion) for a county of this size is shameful and incompetent.

And Meryl has held his hand all the way through it...