Town Council Investigation into ‘lost money’ reveals ‘no lost money’

Town Council Leader Brian Smedley reports on Budget investigation

Following Tory inspired press speculation about ‘lost money’ and ‘budget overspends’, an investigation into the facts by Town Council Leader and senior councillors held last Friday showed that there had in fact simply been a data input error by the Town Clerk which he immediately brought to the Council’s attention. Cllr Brian Smedley said “This human error whilst manually converting our old spreadsheets to the new combined system had led to an overestimate of income in figures that we were presented with but with careful financial management and immediate action we have been able to ensure there will be no impact on services. No money has been ‘lost’, a maximum of £10k will be used from our substantial reserves, principally from the figure we have set aside for devolution, and we have simply slowed down the pace of transition and put some projections into next years budget instead. Considering the speed of transition, this is in fact a welcome slow down and has and will cost the taxpayer no extra than planned in the budget.”

Data Input Error

The data input error was raised at the newly established Finance Committee on Monday 3rd June and a statement put out to reassure members and the public “The Council has identified an error in its budget software, and certain costs are projected to exceed budgeted amounts in the 2024/25 financial year. Bridgwater Town Council would like to reassure its residents that the current budget is sustainable and there is no threat to service delivery. This will be managed by using a mixture of reserves, increased income generation and savings within other budget headings.”

Tory election agent, Diogo Rodrigues, not known for keeping the wisest of company, attempts to make political capital.

Tory Output Error

This of course didn’t stop Tory Deputy Leader on Town Council Cllr Diogo Rodrigues, who was at the meeting, immediately throwing the story to the press with his own take on it via a statement from the Tory parliamentary candidate Sir Ashley Fox (who the turncoat Tory is now in fact the agent for) growling in the indignation of the aloof “This is typical of a Labour-run administration. Labour cost (sic) you more and can’t do the job properly! They can’t be trusted!”

Lib Dem Claire gets silly.

Lib Dems Blame the wrong people

The Press followed this up with inaccurate headlines about ‘council overspend’ and ‘lost money’. Whilst ‘out of town’ Lib Dem Candidate Clare Sully, writing from another planet, addedthis sort of financial mismanagement was typical of the county Labour group!”,  “…..which follows the financially reckless decision to vote against the (Lib Dem) Somerset Council budget in February, They simply cannot be trusted.”

A County Labour Group spokesman added “The County Labour Group obviously plays no part in the Town Council budget setting.”

Levelling the playing field

Bridgwater Tories, all sweetness and light at the Mayor Making…

It took the offices of the journalistically reliable Somerset Confidential to add some balance to the story with an article saying The first thing we should note is that the finances and budgets are prepared by the town council officers, not the elected councillors i.e. the politicians. The politicians vote on the budget and the amount of local tax (the precept) to raise from residents. Officers then put into practice the things that have been voted in. The second thing to note is that when the budget was put to the town council in February, the Labour members voted for it. However, the two Conservative members present did not vote against the budget, they abstained. So we are not exactly in moral high ground territory. Even so, residents are entitled to ask what has gone wrong? The way the information has been put into the public domain by the Conservatives suggests that £420,000 has been misspent or over spent. And in just two months. Is that true? How has the council worked up a deficit in such a short time? The simple answer is that no money has been over spent or gone missing. Once a precept has been agreed, a draft budget is set up showing how the money will be spent. When the officers prepared the budget, there was a software error. It meant that the individual amounts budgeted to be spent added up to more than the council thought was the overall total that had been budgeted. It is worth noting again that none of the councillors, Labour or Conservative, spotted the error when the budget was approved by the town council. However, the fact remains that the town council does have a budget that anticipates spending more than the money it has available from the precept.”

BTC Finance Chair Mick Lerry ‘Back on track’

Labour sets the record straight

Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley said “Have we lost 420k of the people’s money?  No, of course not.  The Town Clerk immediately admitted his error to Town Councillors and swiftly presented budget solutions to us. This is just a paper exercise , and we have taken immediate steps to re-jig a well-balanced budget so that it still functions as planned.”

Chair of the new Finance Committee, Cllr Mick Lerry, said after the investigation on Friday “Bridgwater Town Council is back on track. Our scrutiny of the budget shows only a 10k deficit which might need use of reserves. This will be put to an emergency finance meeting -with a one item agenda – on 24th June.”

Labour candidate Leigh Redman “Town council took bold decisions to protect services”

Labour candidate in the General election, Leigh Redman, reflected on the issue saying “I am a little surprised by the comment from the Conservative candidate who has never been to a town council meeting. Typical tory bluster. They create a mess and then blame everyone else for the outcomes! We all know that the Labour run, Bridgwater Town Council (BTC) has taken the bold decision to take on a range of services that impact residents on a day to day basis. Things we all value such as parks and open spaces, play areas, flowerbeds/baskets, street cleaning, road sweeping, drain clearing, fly tipping, litter and dog poo bins. Let’s not forget these services were at risk of stopping and most had been decimated over the last decade due to the Conservative Party’s horrific austerity policies. Local government has had funding reduced by over 30% in that time. Adult social care is unsustainable. Do you remember Boris Johnson at the last election saying he had an oven ready deal to fix adult social care? Where is that deal now?”

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