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Lib Dem council leaders uncover ‘weak’ internal financial controls by previous Tory administration

These are tough times at West Berkshire Council as it introduces strict financial controls to reduce spending.

The council’s budget has been hit hard by a combination of the cost of agency staff, poor staff retention, inflation, Brexit and a shortage of reserves.

It is predicting a £6.3m overspend for the first quarter, having already trimmed that down from £8.7m.

Finance executive member, Councillor Iain Cottingham said that a strict discipline has been introduced into the council’s methods:

We’ve created a financial review panel that meets every Thursday, and we have a very, very close detailed dive into the projected, planned expenditure of the council. We’re having a zero tolerance of any spend without purchase orders. We have discovered previously that the internal control environment was not as strong as we would believe it should be. We’ve had instances where spend has been made without POs (purchase orders). We’ve even had instances where invoices have come out of the woodwork (from) three or four years ago.

Council Leader, Lee Dillon (photo above) was quick to reassure residents:

It’s really important – we deliver over 700 services to residents in West Berkshire and, obviously, we’re going to keep delivering those services by having these plans in place. We now have a transformation programme which will deliver real savings in some of these areas. This is the administration really looking ahead to get the council onto a stronger financial footing than what we were left by our Conservative colleagues. 

You can hear the full interview with Councillors Dillon and Cottingham, conducted by Kennet Radio’s Stella, by clicking on the arrow below: