Council budget woe as savings fall short of target

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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar could be facing a ‘significant’ financial challenge in the coming year, if greater progress on its ‘service redesign’ process is not achieved.

The warning, given by the Comhairle’s Director of Assets, Finances and Resources, to last week’s meeting of the policy and resources committee, comes in the wake of an Audit Scotland (AS) report which claimed that only 40 per cent of the savings planned for through a ‘service redesign’ process had so far been secured, and stated that the Comhairle will need to look for ‘alternative measures’ to implement ‘where targets are not achieved’.

The AS report confirmed that the Comhairle’s 2018/19 budget gap of £5.5 million was to be met by savings of £3.9 million ‘and the use of £1.6 million of general fund reserves’.

£2m of the savings was to be met from the planned service redesign programme, but, according to AS, only £0.8m of this target has been achieved.

And a Comhairle Budget Strategy report before councillors stated: ‘progress with the Service Redesign Programme has been slower than anticipated with the consequence that balances held have been eroded’.

The same report confirmed that the slower rate of progress on service redesign had ‘increased the financial risk facing the Comhairle’, and made a raft of recommendations - subsequently backed by councillors - for measures to address the shortfall.

These include the setting up of a new Budget Management Group to determine all expenditure not contractually committed, and a review of budgets ‘where there may be an opportunity for short term reduction in spend to help restore balances’.