An eagle-eyed Hove councillor has saved taxpayers almost £250,000 by spotting an error in the council’s proposed budget for the coming financial year.
Ollie Sykes, who represents Brunswick and Adelaide on Brighton and Hove City Council, pointed out the mistake at the council’s Policy and Resources (P&R) Committee meeting yesterday (Thursday 11 February).
The Green councillor said that he been looking for ways to protect services from cuts by combing through the fine detail of the budget papers – and the agenda for the P&R committee included almost 800 pages.
And he had drawn on his experience as a member of the council’s pension panel to spot the error in the contribution budgeted for the pension fund.
The saving will be worth almost £1 million over four years.Councillor Sykes accused council leader and P&R Committee chairman Warren Morgan of belittling what seemed to be a tiny number in the grand scheme of things.
He said: “I was disappointed by the chair’s response – 0.2 per cent! Yeah, what’s that! It’s £200,000.
“It would completely save the rangers. It would completely save the animal welfare service for next year.
“It’s this dismissal of significant sums of money in our council budget which I find deeply disappointing.
“I’ve been desperately looking through our budget papers … is there more money there? Maybe it needs a bit of scrutiny.”
He said that councillors needed to look at the detail more carefully.
Councillor Morgan said that he was sorry if he had seemed dismissive as he hadn’t intended to make a negative comment about the financial value of the mistake spotted by Councillor Sykes.Today (Friday 12 February) the council said that it accepted that a mistake had been made with the sums.
As a result £246,000 could be used for services such as schools and homes in the coming year. Finance officials would allocate £186,000 to the council’s general fund, £50,000 to the budget for schools and £10,000 to the housing budget.
Councillor Sykes said: “Obviously I’m pleased that we’ve got this money to protect a small element of services cut and we’ll be discussing how we think this should be used.”
The final decision will be made at a meeting of the full council on Thursday 25 February at the County Cricket Ground in Hove. The meeting will be open to the public.
Councillor Sykes also criticised Labour for proposing a council tax rise of 3.99 per cent when it had blocked a rise of 3.5 per cent four years ago.
The move had cost the council £4 million in the coming financial year alone, he said.
And changes to the council tax support provided for some of the poorest people in Brighton and Hove exacerbated the impact of Labour’s approach, he added.
Councillor Sykes also criticised the chaotic way that the government had handled the process of telling councils such as Brighton and Hove how much grant they would be given.
He said that it had never been so late and that this was making it hard for officials and councillors to make the right decisions about council services and spending.
He was also unhappy with Labour about the lack of consultation and scrutiny in the budget process, given the scale of the spending cuts being required of the council.
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