Councillor Howard asked the Finance and Asset Management Portfolio Holder (Councillor Halliday):-
“Please can the Finance and Asset Management Portfolio Holder summarise the following for the benefit of the Council:-
What is the total amount that you, as the Finance and Asset Management Portfolio Holder have vired as a result of your executive decisions in each of the 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12 (to date) years?
Additionally, please can you advise me of the funding source, the destination and the amount of all virements that you have made by an executive decision in the current 2011/12 financial year (to date), where the amount of the virement is for £25,000 or more?”
“Thank you Chairman. Councillor Howard, once again I seem to be supplying answers to questions that are already in the public domain. All Executive Decisions are published and I could and should refer you to Decision numbers 2111, 2160 and 2169 and so on. However, I assume you haven’t had time to do your homework so I’ll inform you the virements I have approved are as follows:- nil in 2009/10, £25,000 in 2010/11, which was money set aside for public conveniences that was underspent and transferred to the Careline relocation project, £50,000 in 2011/12 which come from the Community Cohesion Fund to the Citizens Advice Bureau, £38,000 2011/12 which came from the Asset Refurbishment budget for urgent repair work on the cliff wall on Clacton seafront and a further £50,000 in 2012/13 which will also come from the Community Cohesion Fund to the CAB. Thank you Chairman.”
Councillor Howard then asked the following supplementary question of the Finance and Asset Management Portfolio Holder:-
“Thank you Councillor Halliday. With regard to the older figures, they may be in the public domain but as I wasn’t a Councillor, and I have indeed looked for the 2009/10 they are incredibly hard to find anywhere. If you can direct me later that would be handy, but obviously I have that information now it was indeed nil. What concerns me particularly about that answer was to do with the current year, because there seem to be two payments that were vired for £50,000 in the current year the Executive Decisions were taken, there was, from the Cohesion fund to CAB, one was taken on 26 October last year, which is the one I think you were referring to, and the other was taken on 29 February this year which means it came into action in March which means that it can be vired on the basis that decision was prior to the end of this financial year. So that would mean that if that happens and it can do because the Executive Decision’s been put through and gone through that you could vire £100,000 from the Cohesion Fund to the CAB in one financial year and my concerns around this are a few which I would like you to comment on. Firstly is that I believe that your authority with the financial regulations is to vire £50,000 in a single transaction which I am not suggesting that you did anything other than that because clearly you have, but when there is two from the same source to the same destination being made in the four and a half months in the same financial year it is of concern from a transparency point of view. I know that they are announced but you know it is concerning. Additionally at the Cabinet meeting just after 26 October or on 26 October I believe that you stated that you were trying to find ways to find the funding or additional funding for CAB because you identified that it might be needed in future years, but when we got to the budget on February 7 this year there was no increase in the budget for CAB and yet only three weeks later an Executive Decision was made to move the second £50,000 from the Cohesion Fund to CAB. Now I want to make it very clear that I clearly welcome the funding for CAB that is very good but obviously I am very concerned about the way in which it is done especially against the backdrop of the part of the £4.4 million cuts that you identified in this administration included reducing the CAB budget, so basically what you are starting to do on the face of it is making cuts and then later on you are making an Executive Decision which kind of shuffles the cuts somewhere else without going to Council or Cabinet but only by Executive Decision. I would like your comments on that, thank you.”
“Thank you Councillor Howard for your question. Regarding the process of how and when the transactions are made or changed I’ll ask my Finance Officers to make sure you are fully made aware of the processes to ensure that probity is in fact taking place. I’m guided by my Officers as far as that is concerned and as far as I am concerned there is no issues. I absolutely need to make a point to you though when you say we’ve cut the CAB budget I appreciate that as you pointed out you are a new Councillor we have never ever cut the CAB budget ever. The CAB have been funded year on year with revenue funding of a low amount and then one-off funding from underspends year on year because nobody has addressed that the amount of money in the base budget for the CAB. That has been the case for years, the CAB, alright it is quite interesting because I can’t be wrong for doing right and I can’t be right for doing wrong. We were ridiculed for stopping a payment to the CAB because they were giving poor advice to our residents and I can only imagine the grief we would have gone through of making that decision if it had been any one of your relatives that had been to the CAB and had got poor advice and acted poorly from having that advice from the CAB. We stopped that and we ensured, and I would advise anybody that’s not or doesn’t want to take my word for that, go and have a chat with Alex Stanmore, the Chairman of the CAB, have a discussion with him, have a discussion about the state of the CAB at that time and the advice they were giving out and have a conversation with him now where they have actually got to today and he actually applauds the actions of the Council, not myself, the Council in stopping that money going forward at that time and they now look in a much stronger position to make sure they are able to move forward. We are addressing the base budget, we will address it in next year’s budget, I have made a pledge to do that. We have budgeted carefully this year to ensure that we can deliver a balanced budget and yes we have pots of money that we can make sure that if we need to call upon them we have been able to call upon them. That was the whole idea of putting that money aside to make sure we can react positively not a kneejerk reaction, so yes we were aware of the money in the Cohesion Fund, we could have easily moved £100,000 over in one hit but we chose to move £50,000 to ensure the advice they were giving was stable and sustainable and we are satisfied they are there, we are also satisfied that they have got an extra workload at the moment and they are delivering against the SLA that Councillor Henderson has asked for and will be produced to all Members. So I am more than happy with the decisions we have made and I am very, very happy and very confident that we will assess the issue of the base budget and again if you talk to Alex Stanmore the Chairman he will explain to you, this isn’t just me saying this, this is the Chairman of the Bureau telling me that year on year on year there has been an error on the base budget he believes and nobody has ever addressed that. In my role as Finance Portfolio Holder I believe the base budget should be maintained at a level where they can provide the service that’s agreed in the SLA at all times and we have never, ever cut a budget to the Citizens Advice Bureau. Thank you Chairman.”