Labour's spokesperson on financial issues on South Gloucestershire Council has shared his frustration that budget information he has requested will not be discussed by the council's Scrutiny Commission when it meets next Wednesday. Councillor Adam Monk has asked the authority's senior directors for details of their planning for the coming year's budget, but has been told to expect a composite written response rather than a discussion.
The questions that Councillor Monk tabled to each of the council's three service directors are:
"What challenges and opportunities does the provisional local government finance settlement for our council present to your directorate for the next and future financial years"
"In drafting your next and future financial years' budget for presentation to elected members, what proposals are being considered and what have been rejected for your directorate in relation to:
(a) Service reductions
(b) Staffing and redundancies
(d) Revenue maximisation
(e) Fees and charges"
The council budget that will be set next month is the first since the ruling Conservatives abolished the authority's decision-making committees. These committees considered their service's budgets in detail. Labour has consistently criticised the abolition of the committees and the culture of concealment in the way that the Tory council now operates.
Councillor Adam Monk says:
"South Gloucestershire's new decision-making system is breeding a culture of concealment where information and power sits tightly with a handful of Tory councillors. Most councillors won't have details of the budget that they will be asked to approve next month until the week beforehand, so I do not see how we can make an informed decision.
I have tabled my questions in order to get the maximum amount of information into the public domain, and to interrogate some of the assumptions and rationale being used in budget planning. It seems that even this small attempt to open the council up to scrutiny will be unsuccessful.
It makes me question the point of having this new Scrutiny Commission if it cannot interview our directors in advance of setting a budget that is bound to contain some tough decisions."