Last night, Cabinet members discussed a report that presented some interesting statistics about the 2016-17 financial year.
Previous releases have covered the details of the budget and progress of the council’s finances during the 2016-17 financial year. However, we felt it may be beneficial to outline the key points contained in the financial outturn report.
Spending was undertaken during a period that broadly speaking saw a recovering economic climate. However, following the outcome of the referendum and the decision taken to leave the European Union, the financial year was not without complex pressures and uncertainty.
On a budget of £15.6m, the council reported a small overspend of £38,000, which is a relatively modest amount in context and illustrates that the council is managing itself well as an organisation.
The council’s departments anticipate and plan their spending requirements at the start of each year. Obviously though there are unforeseen pressures or matters that arise during the financial year that do require additional spending or a revision of priorities.
Some of the significant changes saw the council:
- Take an opportunity to support the arts in Ashford by making a three-year contribution to the St Mary’s Arts Trust (Revelation Ashford)
- Make a grant payment to the Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB). The CAB works closely with the council offering independent support and advice, often acting as the first point of contact for those who may not feel confident in approaching the council direct with queries around homelessness or debt advice
- Manage the pressures of placing those to whom it accepts a homelessness duty in bed and breakfast accommodation. This situation is managed to a degree by the council’s short-stay accommodation facility at Christchurch House – which saves the taxpayer in excess of £75,000 per year. The council continues to look for another property that can be turned into a short-stay accommodation facility. This will both reduce its dependency on B&Bs at great cost to the taxpayer and also improve the situation for those who are homeless
- Investing grant money to enhance the existing units and creation of new units at Ellingham Industrial Estate, which is an asset owned by the council that produces a significant return on investment
- Invest in external legal advice for the unique agreement that the council has struck with Stanhope plc that will see the council fund the construction of Elwick Place – enabling Ashford town centre to have the long-awaited cinema, hotel and leisure complex which will boost the night-time economy
It is also worth pointing out that:
- The astuteness of Ashford’s investments is shown in the fact that International House produced a significant return on investment in the 2016-17 financial year, indeed £110,000 more than anticipated – in addition to maintenance of the building, this revenue goes into the council’s ‘general fund’ to support service delivery across the breadth of services the council provides
- The Property Company (A Better Choice for Property Limited) set up by Ashford Borough Council in 2013 returned a profit of £197,000 in the 2016-17 financial year
- The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) is a separate account into which rent paid by tenants in the council’s housing stock is saved. The money in this account is exclusively for the use of management, maintenance and repairs of these properties. We achieved increased income levels due to the number of additional new properties being built – even though we actually reduced rents by 1% – and the department’s restructure has also contributed to the overall underspend of £2m
- Ashford Borough Council continues to set the lowest council tax in Kent
Cllr Neil Shorter, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Finance, Budget and Resource Management, said: “This report is released as part of the transparent way in which we conduct ourselves as an authority. This is something we remain absolutely committed to even though to some degree it declares our hand when acting commercially.
“I am satisfied that the report illustrates clearly to residents that we continue to manage ourselves effectively as an organisation. Such a modest overspend on a budget of over £15m, given the variances described within the report, is a credit to all concerned.”
“Our commercial approach rather than placing an increased burden on our residents can be seen to be bearing substantial fruit already. The assets we have acquired and the decisions we have taken are increasing the resilience of our balance sheet and enabling us to continue to deliver quality, cost-effective services across the whole of the borough.”