Saffron Walden Town Council deliver on 5-year plan as finances improve under safe management

The Saffron Walden Town Council’s latest financial projections show that the financial decline left by previous administrations has halted and is steadily improving in line with the 5-year financial plan adopted in early 2016, R4U is pleased to confirm.

Heather Asker (R4U) Heather Asker (R4U)

R4U’s Cllr Heather Asker, chair of the Saffron Walden Town Council Finance and Establishment Committee said “We are really pleased to see that our two years of hard work on improving the Town Council’s financial position is paying off.  When we were elected we found that the Town Council assets had been left in a sorry state and we inherited a nearly £1 million black hole without the necessary reserves for future repairs to community assets and general reserves drained. In the words of our financial officer they were ‘woefully inadequate’. We have focused on balancing the Council’s finances and restoring assets through tight cost control, increased income, and prudent borrowing; it’s sensible long term financial planning.  The latest financial projections indicate that our strategy is sound, effective and working well.”

Outgoing reduced and income increased

Cllr Asker continued “We have taken immediate action on wastage, reducing expensive outgoings such as the Council’s previously large overtime expenses.  At the same time we have tried to maximise the revenue generated by our community facilities, which is ahead of our budget schedule. To give just one example, the Golden Acre Community Centre, which the Conservatives proposed to give away in 2015, is now regularly fully booked, and producing income.”

“We are only part way through rebuilding the Council’s reserves, but the combination of controlling costs and increasing revenue has enabled the Council to make real progress on repairing neglected assets.  The scaffolding is coming off the Town Hall, and the contractors have done an excellent job of making the building safe and usable for generations to come.  We can now concentrate on improving the internal capacity for events.  We are hopeful that work on the Jubilee Gardens Bandstand will start soon, and the Council has just successfully applied for a £17,000 grant from Historic England to plan the long term maintenance and running of Bridge End Gardens. And we have an exciting programme of investment in the community for 2017.”

“We are very lucky that the Council has a good, and relatively new, financial team and I look forward to continuing our progress in the next financial year.”

Inherited £1 million financial hole

Up until 2015 the Saffron Walden Town Council had been controlled by a series of successive Conservative administrations. In 2015 local residents elected R4U to be the largest party, also electing Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative councillors.

In 2015, as part of the budget process for the 2016/17 year, Saffron Walden Town Council officers provided their first preview of the Council’s inherited finances to the new councillors at a meeting of the Full Council. The financial officer’s presentation to councillors and members of the public showed that the General Reserves were less than £60,000, against recommended guidelines of £500,000 and the Reserves were repeatedly described as “woefully inadequate” by officers.

In addition the previous administration had overspent the budget by £140,000, and left an investment deficit in the Council’s assets of £330,000. This left a nearly £1 million financial hole.

Examples of the historic neglect and mismanagement of the town’s finances were very evidence. The Town Hall was in a dilapidated state, and emergency scaffolding was erected to protect the public from falling masonry.  More recently, both the Jubilee Gardens Bandstand and the Ha-Ha wall in Bridge End Gardens were declared unsafe as a result of historic neglect.

Sound 5-year turnaround plan

The new R4U led Town Council quickly put together a 5-year financial plan, intended to restore the Council’s reserves to a responsible level and allow the Council to repair the historic long-term neglect to its assets.  Ongoing programmes are also in place to ensure that assets are properly are maintained so as to avoid expensive costs as neglected assets failed in the future.

The previous administration also had a policy of disposing of community assets rather than running them for the benefit of the community which owned them through the Town Council. For example prior to May 2015, the previous administration had been proposing to transfer the Golden Acre Community Centre to Katherine Semar School on a long lease at a nominal rent. Under the new council the Community Centre has now been refurbished, is well used and is generating revenue for the town.

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