A BUDGETARY report described as a “confusing shambles” came in for heavy criticism at a meeting of Cumbria County Council’s Eden local committee on Monday.
A report on the devolved highways budget for 2011-12 set out to show the provisional spending against the committee’s highways and capital budgets at 31st March, 2012.
However, there were differences amounting to tens of thousands of pounds between the figures and those laid out in the equivalent report to the previous month’s meeting.
Councillors were further confused when a verbal report from a finance officer gave figures that differed widely from those in either report.
While the report to Monday’s meeting noted an overspend on the highways revenue budget of £110,335, a much smaller overspend of £50,685 had been projected at the March meeting of the local committee and finance officer Mike Scott told councillors on Monday that the actual projected overspend now stood at £99,000.
Similar broad variations were in evidence in the highways capital budget. An overspend of £43,555 was projected at the end of the financial year, a report to Monday’s meeting stated while the equivalent report to the previous month’s meeting predicted an overspend of just £9,777 and a verbal report given on Monday suggested an underspend of £36,000.
Apparent swings were also evident in the winter damage budget. A report to Monday’s meeting flagged up a projected overspend of £65,539, while the previous month’s meeting was told that the budget would be underspent by just £2,299 and a verbal report to members said the overspend now stood at £44,000.
Committee vice-chairman Helen Fearon (Con, Penrith West) told officers that the report was “a confusing shambles”. “I am very sorry to have to say that I am disappointed with this report,” she stated.
“I find it very confusing and I cannot see how such large swings of the pendulum can be reported to members with so little explanation.”
Finance officer Mike Scott told the meeting that the wide variations in figures were due in part to “timing issues” including a change in accounting deadlines. Highways manager Rob Lawley added that some of the variation could be accounted for by the recent hike in energy prices.
Peter Thornton (Lib Dem, Kirkby Stephen) said that some variation was understandable as closing accounts was often not straightforward. He said that changes to accounting deadlines had had a “knock- on effect” on these budgets.
Mary Robinson (Ind, Alston and East Fellside) said: “It is time for Cumbria County Council to get itself a proper, committed accounting system. It is not rocket science. If this was a private business it would be out of business.”
Members declined an officer recommendation that they “note” the report and asked for a further report which would clarify the figures for the next local committee meeting.