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Salting It Away

Salting it awayThe Commissar is at it again; salting money away into his reserves, so it's more difficult for us to keep track of what he is doing.

He must love these accounts. They only get reported once a year, and even then he separates the descriptions from the sums, so its difficult to work out what the money is for when  you only see the headings and amounts mixed in with loads of other figures in a 40 page technical finance report.

You can use the reserve accounts to slip great chunks of money into, so the other Councillors are bamboozled by the number of zeros, and they lose all sense of the huge sums that are being switched from the normal spending accounts into these Reserves.

This year, The Commissar has opened three new reserve accounts to hold the money he wants to hide away. The first of these is called the 'Organisational Development' reserve, and he has put 200,000 into it.

To be fair, this isn't strictly a new reserve, it was created last year as something called the 'Finance Reserve'  when he first salted the 200,000 away into it. But it seems he couldn't find anything to spend it on for the whole of last year, and he has now given it a new name so we don't notice he didn't spend it.

We're not quite sure what an 'Organisational Development' reserve might be used for - perhaps developing some organisation? Heaven knows they could do with it, but at least with 200,000 to go at, it ought to be a proper job.

The next new reserve is called the 'Housing Benefit Subsidy' reserve, which was opened with a deposit of 325,000 during the year. The story here, is that because the final closedown date of the accounts has come forward from July to end of June, there might be some extra costs if the accounts aren't properly finalised, and they might need to dip into this to make the sums balance.

What was that about not having enough money to keep the toilets open?

It might only be a one-off for this year of course, but given the spin and deception that the Commissar has introduced into the Council, we can be forgiven for not trusting him on this one, and it wouldn't be the first time an account has been opened on a 'temporary' basis only to become a permanent feature.

The third 'new entry' this year is the 'Business Development Grant' reserve which was opened with 68,000 This seems to exist because the money arrived late last year and they plan to spend it this year.

This could be true of course, but as before, it could be a ruse to keep it out of sight in these reserves that are only formally reported once a year, and even then you have to add together snippets from here and there to see the whole picture.

You can trust counterbalance to keep you up to date as to whether they do spend it or not though. Just as we have our eye on the 'St Anne's Bus Money' reserve (which still holds 21,000 that St Anne's Borough Councillors have authority to spend, but haven't managed to do so since Fylde's Blue Bus Company was sold to Blackpool Transport more than ten years ago).

In addition to creating the new reserves we have just highlighted, he also paid some cash into the 'Blue Peter' reserves he had made earlier. These included 45,000 added to the 'Building Control Regulations' reserve which is supposed to help the Building Control department staff balance out their costs over a three  year rolling accounting period, whatever one of those is.

Then there was another 75,000 paid into the 'Planning Support Grant' reserve  increasing it to 227,000. This reserve has the laudable aim of "improving planning performance" Sadly, although it might help to make things happen faster if any of the money is ever used, whether it improves the responsiveness to local opinion, or the quality of the planning decisions made, is a much more dubious proposition.

The more we see of Fylde's planning department of late, the more it looks to be in meltdown, and you begin to feel sorry for the staff that are trying to keep it together. Perhaps the trouble is that so many were appointments of the former Chief Executive who was so out of tune with the values of our area, and they went as he did. Those that are left are not enough to cope. However, in our experience, rarely does throwing money at a problem provide the best solution, and the Commissar's 227,000 is just sitting there waiting to be thrown.

So apart from a few oddments, that's the money that was paid into the reserves when we weren't looking.

So what did he spend from the hidden reserves this year?

Well, he took 33,000 out of the 'Repairs and Renewals' reserve which had  59,000 in it. According to the Commissar, this reserve is to meet unforeseen emergencies that are not provided for in the budget. Sounds plausible, although historically the process has been to find something in the normal revenue budget that was less important than the emergency, and that would wait another year.

He also spent 31,000 out of the 'Modernisation' reserve which had 149,000 in it. This reserve has the rather grand aim of (and this is the Commissar's quote) "To support the Council as it builds capacity and moves forward"   Dear God, what is he thinking about when he can't even afford to keep the toilets clean? Maybe he should use some of the 118,000 he is still sitting on in this reserve.

Keep in mind all of these are outside, and over an above, the normal spending out of the Council Tax.

Then he spent 21,000 from the 'Replacement Systems' reserve which is to fund 100% of the target for the delivery of electronic services by 2005. Given that there is still 104,000 sitting there and it is now 2006, we guess he hasn't hit the target for replacement and new IT systems.

Perhaps he could re-distribute those laptops previously bought from this fund, which are destined to forever languish in dusty corners after being given to Councillors that were unwilling to use them.

Finally,  he spent 148,000 of the 175,000 'Office Relocation' reserve which was created for "ad hoc costs in the year of relocation."

Where this has gone, heaven only knows (since the staff have not moved to new offices). Perhaps something had to be paid to placate the 'preferred developer' of the Town Hall now it isn't going to be re-developed.

If you'd like to see a full analysis of the reserves, counterbalance has put an Excel 'Reserves Spreadsheet' together for you so you don't need an accounting degree to work out what is going on. Just remember that these figures are NOT in the normal spending accounts, they are outside, and out of sight (in both senses of the word).

Dated: 30 June 2006


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