A former Mayor, and senior Conservative member of Penarth Town Council, has accused the council’s ruling Labour Party of “taking fright” when the council’s true financial position was publicly revealed in last week’s chaotic meeting of its ‘spending’ committees.
Until they received the financial reports last week , most councillors appeared to be unaware that for the first time in its history Penarth Town Council is on track to spend well over a £1million pounds (£1,114,112 to be precise ) in the current financial year (2016/17).
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) says that “it was blatantly obvious that the Labour Group (or at least individuals within that group) had taken fright at the size of the proposed Budget.”
He says that in a period of just 45 minutes before the full committees began their deliberations last week, the Labour Group had met in a closed session [which is not open to the press], and had decided “to slash a number of items”
As these cuts were made at the very last moment, there was no updated financial information available on paper for the Opposition Group councillors, or for the press .
Cllr Ernest says “What should have happened, in my opinion, was for a revised paper to be placed in front of every member indicating the changes, so that we had at least a window in which we could discuss the proposals before the meeting started. The other alternative would have been to delay the meeting for say 30 minutes, so as to achieve the above position.”
Cllr Ernest goes on to say “Quite frankly, I am stunned at the original figures presented for the total expenditure of the Council for 2017/18 – some £1,114,112 for Revised Budget 2016/17 against a Projection for 2017/18 of £618,031.
On the current year’s million-plus spend Cllr Ernest says ” I do not think that any of us on the Council, was aware that so much will have been spent in a 12 month period. The actual level of spend is a big surprise”.
Cllr Ernest makes no bones about laying the blame for the unexpectedly large spend at the door of Cllr Mike Cuddy, Leader of the Labour Group, who is the current Mayor of Penarth and also Chairman of Finance, who, he says “ should have ensured that Elected Members had accurate costings in front of them before the actual works proceeded. That has not happened.”
In last week budget meeting not all the members of the Conservative Group on the council opposed the Labour budget. Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) was seen to vote with the ruling Labour group.
It’s also now emerged that later – on the last working day before the Christmas break – Penarth town councillors were provided with rather more holiday reading than they may have bargained for. A further document – called “Approved Estimates” – was emailed-out to all councillors .
However Cllr Ernest says these “Approved Estimates” only showed the basic costs of the council services for 2017/18, but didn’t include overheads like staff salaries, National Insurance and Pensions – an omission which makes it impossible to compare next year’s budget with this year’s