Fringe Box



GBC Struggling to Control Spending

Published on: 26 Aug, 2023
Updated on: 28 Aug, 2023

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Overspending at cash-strapped Guildford Borough Council is continuing into the current financial year and could increase its deficit, a council meeting will hear next week.

The authority flagged in July it may be in the territory of having to issue a section 114 notice, effectively declaring itself bankrupt, following accounting errors being uncovered.

A full council meeting to be held on Wednesday (August 30) will look at several recommendations as officers try to shore up the financial situation, for the immediate future and beyond.

July’s meeting heard the council was looking at a remaining in-year deficit of £1.6 million and a budget gap of £18.3 million over the time of its medium-term financial plan, which runs to 2027.

Officers have set a deadline of October to set the finances right, it is a legal requirement that councils set a balanced budget each year, at which time the council will look again at issuing the same bankruptcy notice as neighbouring Woking.

Since the July meeting, officers have been working on a review of the 2022-23 out-turn position, which showed that “a number of the key areas of overspend in 2022-23 are continuing in the current financial year” with the potential of “a far greater in-year deficit than the £1.64 million set out in the July 2023 report”.

If spending continues at the current rate, there could be a further £1 million of overspend and £1.6 million known risks within the current year.

Officers will recommend a two-month immediate halt on external recruitment, except where health and safety or the delivery of essential services would be put at risk.

Councillors will also be asked to approve a review of all existing staff not on the payroll, such as agency and interim staff.

Documents for Wednesday’s meeting said: “In addition to the work required corporately, significant work is required to improve the financial governance within the council.”

Key areas to be looked at were listed in the document including budget monitoring, review of financial procedure rules, approval processes and delegations, audit interaction and audit plan, and balance sheet management, reconciliations, and key controls.

The meeting will also be asked to approve a new interim head of finance at the council.

Peter Vickers, interim chief finance officer, is to leave this month.

Guildford shares some senior staff with Waverley Borough Council, including its executive head of finance, who carries out the role of section 151 officer.

Richard Bates was appointed as interim executive head of finance on July 17, but in order to be appointed to the section 151 role, a legal requirement, he needed to be approved at the authorities’ Joint Appointments Committee.

The current section 151 Officer, Peter Vickers, leaves on September 3, and Guildford and Waverley councils will need to approve the interim appointment at formal council meetings.

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Responses to GBC Struggling to Control Spending

  1. Frank Emery Reply

    August 30, 2023 at 4:37 pm

    I’m not surprised when they engage a “financial guru” at over £300k per year to look at the way they waste money!

  2. Frank Emery Reply

    August 30, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    What benefits did we see from the last section 151 officer, Mr Vickers and why do we need to replace him?

    How much did he cost us?

    If this position is of such great importance, why not have a permanent 151 officer and pay him a proper salary of say £95k? Or is that ridiculously overpriced?

    Editor’s note: Mr Vickers left to take another appointment at the end of his contracted term.

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