Friday, 9 September 2011

Council's 32% budget problem

Cornwall Council cabinet papers for next week's meeting have revealed that the authority's transportation department is a massive 32% over-budget so far this financial year. The extra spending is down to bus passes (£2.6m) and car parks (£2m).

In an organisation with a budget as big as ours there will always be variances. The most common over-spend comes in adult care which is almost entirely demand led. But even there the difference from the projected spending is usually less than a couple of percentage points. That service is currently 0.7% over budget.

And at a time of massive structural change there will be some projects which run behind the original timescale. Take, for example, the decision to move the council's leisure services to a trust. The implementation of this is being delayed by 6 months and so the savings won't be made until a bit later, but that is a price worth paying in order to make sure the solution is right for the long-term future.

But the transportation budget is different.

The first shortfall is in the income from the council's car parks which is currently running about £2 million short of target. At the time that the prices were set, I and my Lib Dem colleagues argued that they were totally unrealistic and that the council would never achieve the income they wanted. Parking isn't a cash cow and if you put prices up too high then people will stay away. Not only does the council lose money but local shops and businesses do as well.

The second overspend is in bus pass reimbursement, a subject I have blogged about frequently in recent weeks. That is a budget shortfall that was known about back in February but the Council did nothing about until July.

I would suggest that before Cornwall Council thinks about any more whiz bang projects they concentrate on getting their own buses in order.

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