A FINANCE chief is “confident” that putting money given to Blaenau Gwen County Borough to deal with Covid-19 costs into reserve budgets is “appropriate.”
At a meeting of the Joint Budget scrutiny committee on Monday morning, July 26, councillors looked at the use of General and Earmarked reserves during the 2020/21 financial year.
During that time the money kept in the council’s reserves has nearly doubled, going up from £14.7 million at the end of 2019/20 financial year, to £28.6 million.
The budget for last year had calculated for an extra £1.9 million to be put in the general reserve budget.
Due to receiving £11.892 million from the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Hardship Fund, the council has been able to set aside £9.416 million into four newly created reserve budgets.
Chief officer resources, Rhian Hayden explained that other reasons such as lower than expected expenditure due to closed facilities, reduction of services and even delays in filing vacant jobs, had also contributed to the money that could be added to the reserves.
At the meeting, Cllr Haydn Trollope, said: “Is there a danger that the Welsh Audit Office (now known as Audit Wales) will look to see how we spent the money we’ve had from the Welsh Government?
Cllr Trollope understood that some of the funding came with caveats that the money is for specific expenditure while other grants did not
“But they were given for us to spend on the pandemic and not to put in reserves,” said Cllr Trollope.
Chief officer resources, Rhian Hayden, said “I’m sure that Audit Wales will look at the level of our reserves as part of the end of year review of our accounts.
“I am confident that we have used the funding we have had from the Welsh Government appropriately.
“We are still continuing to respond and incur expenditure on the pandemic and that’s what we’ve set aside these reserves for.”
On Monday, afternoon, Blaenau Gwent Executive Team discussed the same report.
There, Ms Hayden told the Executive committee that it was “prudent” to put money into reserves in case of future funding cuts from the UK Government, as they look to reduce their borrowing debt incurred by pandemic costs.
Council leader, Cllr Nigel Daniels said: “The surprises have been positive on this occasion and are very much to be welcomed.
“Our reserves are good.
“Over the last few years, we have set a trajectory strengthening our financial resilience, because we have been more than aware for a number of years our reserve position is not anywhere near where it should be.
“We’re starting to address that, but there’s still a considerable way to go to get it anywhere near comfort levels.
“It’s incumbent on responsible politicians to do everything we can to make sure any blow that is around the corner is softened.”
The report was approved unanimously by the Executive.