The County Council have agreed at this week’s full council meeting to look at whether or not the shuffling of financial funds in council reserves should be approved not just by the Cabinet, but by all members of the Council.
The issue was raised by the Liberal Democrats who expressed deep concern over the Cabinet’s decision on 11 November 2015 to approve a £17million one-off financial contribution to Urbaser Balfour Beatty’s residual waste project at Javelin Park.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (LD: Kingsholm and Wotton) who called for financial regulations to be tightened said:
“There has been a seemingly lack of financial propriety in that substantial sums of money have been moved around in this council’s reserves in order for the Conservative Cabinet to award Urbaser Balfour Beatty a further £17million for the waste incinerator project at Javelin Park that no one apart from them actually wants.
“The minority Conservative administration seems to have forgotten that we are a Council in no overall control. They must consult with all parties when making changes to the agreed budget.
“I was a Cabinet Member from 2001-2005 and I had to seek council’s approval to be awarded less than £1million for the Tri-Service workshop project.
“Awarding large sums of tax-payers money ‘by a nod and a wink’ is unacceptable and changes need to be made to stop this from happening again in the future. I’m concerned that new projects have been deleted and on-going projects will now no longer happen, because of the awarding this extra £17m to UBB.
“I’m pleased that this will be looked at by the council’s Constitution Committee of which I am a member. I hope to see vital changes to our constitution reported back to full council at the earliest opportunity in the new year.”
Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader, Cllr. Iain Dobie (LD: Leckhampton and Warden Hill) who supported calls for such changes to take place also said that:
“I was told, with authority, that an overspend of 1% of budget would be defined as a scrutiny-worthy “significant overspend” – Here, we are considering as exceptional shift of £17million, which is 4% of the county’s overall budget of this year. This is a highly significant budgetary reallocation.
“Early this year the budget for this council was brought for a vote by all councillors. So, surely, any such administration which plans, late in the financial year, to significantly shift county spending is a matter for all members of this council to approve.
“I believe that democracy is undermined if cabinet members are allowed to shift significant sums as they please without respecting what was voted on by all county councillors in the budget debate. If the precedent of £17 million is allowed to stand unchallenged this time then why not £70 million next time?”
The issue will be discussed at the next Constitution Committee meeting on Friday 8th January at 10am.