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Cabinet report exposes financial muddle

September 13, 2011 8:42 AM
By Trevor Carbin

We'll probably never know exactly what precipitated the sudden decision by WC leader Jane Scott to dispense with the services of the WC Chief Executive, but the latest budget monitoring report exposes the fact that the administration has not got a grip on the council's finances, and would appear to justify the official story of the need to find yet more cuts.

Previous attempts by political leaders to govern without chief executives have ended in costly failure. If the experiment succeeds then Cllr Scott will go down in history as one of the bravest local authority leaders. If it doesn't she'll just go down.

The report to today's Cabinet is at http://cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/ieAgenda.aspx?A=5650

Car parking, children and the undead are blamed for a £5million overspend in the first four months of the financial year. A government grant of £2m cuts the deficit to about £3m. The three main problem areas are:

1. Parking - motorists have deserted WC car parks since charges were doubled, surprising the Conservatives who don't understand that doubling prices doesn't necessarily mean doubling profits. The decision to reintroduce an hourly rate in Salisbury adds to the deficit.

2. The number of children being taken into care has increased, causing a likely overspend of half a million pounds.

3. In the words of the cabinet report: "The death rate during this financial year is ... lower than previous trends." Whilst other local authorities have noticed the upward trend in life expectancy and demand for care home placements, WC still finds it surprising.

Will the bloodstains on the carpets of County Hall show the way to a brighter future? Perhaps, though as the panic at the top is a symptom of an inability to plan ahead, to make realistic forecasts, and to deal with difficulties before they become tragedies, the omens are not good.