Slough council reserves 'essentially nil' as financial recovery begins

Shay Bottomley
SLOUGH 131895-17

Slough Borough Council’s finances have begun to slowly improve, but significant pressures remain on the authority’s key commitments with reserves described as ‘essentially nil’.

At an overview and scrutiny meeting on Thursday, section 151 officer Steven Mair presented a revenue and capital budget monitoring report for the first three months of the financial year.

The report stated that the council’s general fund is currently forecasting a cumulative deficit of £111million by March 31, 2022, which includes an assumed in-year deficit of £6.9million.

This figure has improved by £1.325million with a forecast overspend of £5.575million for the 2021/22 financial year.

It added that the council has implemented ‘rigorous spend control measures’ to help improve the financial situation which had been introduced in the March budget.

SBC’s Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) is forecasting a cumulative deficit of £23.775million as of the end of March next year, a figure which has ‘improved recently’ by around £3million.

It’s still very early days in the council’s road to financial recovery following July’s section 114 notice, with action plans to be brought to both cabinet and council for approval next week.

At Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Arvind Dhaliwal (Labour, Elliman) asked whether the council had any reserves at present.

“In paragraph 3.2, [it] says that council reserves are nil at present. I think in previous statements were told that there were some reserves, but they were not to the right level which the Government said we were required to have,” said Cllr Dhaliwal.

“Is it that this has recently been investigated and the reserves have gone down to more or less zero?”

In response, Mr Mair said: “As you know, the council has no accounts for 19/20 or 20/21 and we need to do further work on the 18/19 accounts.

“If we assume that there are no changes that will arise in the accounts that are produced for 19/20 and 20/21, the council has around about £550,000 of useable revenue reserves.

“But, given the issues that have come out of what we have investigated so far, it’s not unreasonable to assume that there will be more than another £550,000’s worth of issues, hence we use the phrase ‘effectively no reserves’.”

Mr Mair also confirmed that the government may only consider writing off a portion of the DSG’s historic debt once the annual deficit had been balanced, which, according to the report, is unlikely to take place until 2024/25 at the earliest.

The report will now go to cabinet on Monday.

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