The council faces some major pressures on its finances and during 2016 and 17 needed to make extra savings of around £30m to compensate for not making the savings it had previously planned.
Following his election in May 2016, Mayor Marvin Rees commissioned an independent report to understand how the council has arrived at this position and to make recommendations of moving forward.
This report, written by former Chief Executive of the Audit Commission Steve Bundred, was published on Thursday 9 February 2017.
The report finds that the underlying financial pressures were not of the council’s own making. He cites large cuts to government grant income, legislative changes and the increasing cost and unavoidable demand for council services.
The report also says that there has been a collective failure of leadership in achieving past savings and in how the council managed the process. It notes that many improvements have been made in the past six months and that people can be confident in the council’s proposed budget plans for 2017/18, but highlights a number of serious issues.
It acknowledges that the council has more recently taken many steps to put things right, with regular and stronger financial reporting, more involvement of elected members and changes in senior management. This includes recruiting a new permanent Director of Finance and making them a full member of the council’s Senior Leadership Team.
Whilst Mr Bundred gives credit for this, he notes that more improvements will be necessary and that change must be made over the long term under the council’s new Chief Executive, who is due to start in late February 2017.
Mr Bundred’s report concludes with 12 formal recommendations across a broad range of topics. They include strengthening the council’s Finance department, improving the council’s approach to writing reports and business cases, managing documents and making specific departments accountable for savings.
Also listed are the need to improve management culture over the next three to five years, keep backbench and opposition councillors better informed, and maintain more frequent financial reporting to Cabinet, something which has been a regular feature during the past financial year.
The Mayor has welcomed the report and all of its recommendations will be acted upon.