A recent investigation into the £2.3 million shortfall in Cambridge City Council’s finances has found an ‘accumulation’ of extensive administrative failures to be at the root of the Council’s financial problems. The results of this investigation were published last week, triggering what one opposition councillor termed a “knee-jerk reaction towards secrecy rather than openness”.
Human error in computing financial data was pinpointed as the fundamental cause of the budget deficit, but widespread incompetencies at various levels within the Council were also highlighted. Amongst the alleged administrative failures is a lack of oversight on the part of superiors in the Council’s financial sector, which has been exacerbated by an absence of clear guidelines and the disproportionate distribution of authority to certain employees.
Against the better judgement of Chief Executive Antoinette Jackson, who called for the public and press to be excluded from talks, proposals for fundamental alterations to the Council’s financial administration were discussed in a largely public meeting last Wednesday. In conjunction with a shake-up of the Council’s financial department, the Executive will look to tighten up day-to-day administrative processes to prevent further shortcomings.
Councillors found widespread support for fundamental reforms to the management of the budget, which may result in the inclusion of back benchers in this process, although the opposition has called for the Council as a whole to ‘pull its socks up’. Although Cllr. Mike Pitt refuted the idea that there is “any complacency” amongst the executive, he admitted that the Council was “lucky” that the shortfall “didn’t happen last year or the year before”. Labour Cllr. Gail Marchant-Daisley echoed his words, criticising the reliance upon “more luck than judgement” in discovering last year’s shortfall.
The monumental miscalculation meant that £7 million had to be found through financial cutbacks, rather than the £4.8 million initially factored into the planned 2013 budget.
With the Council forced to delay the publication of this year’s budget, in order to reduce it by a further £2.3 million, Labour Cllr. Lewis Herbert expressed concerns that hasty alterations might not thoroughly “address all the issues” raised by local residents. This has led to Jackson having to assure residents and opposition councillors alike that members would embark upon a comprehensive investigation into failures in its financial administration.
Megan Hughes – News Reporter
Photo – Jimmy Appleton