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New access to information allows opposition groups to present alternative budget

OPPOSITION groups will finally be able to access information and receive help to allow then to present an alternative budget.

At Powys County Council’s meeting on Thursday, December 9 councillors voted in favour of the proposal.

Over the last couple of years opposition groups have joined forces to come up with alternative proposal, but have not been allowed to present them as they have been deemed to fail the legal tests,

The council’s head of finance and the council’s section 151 officer, Jane Thomas explained that from the next financial year, she will be publishing a timeline in July of crucial dates to the formation of the following years’ budget.

Ms Thomas said: “Political groups have the opportunity to submit an alternative budget and I would appoint an officer from the finance service to work with members who wish to do that, it would be confidential.”

“Any proposal would need to be reviewed by myself just to ensure that they are legal, robust, deliverable and maintain a balanced budget.”

“In previous years we haven’t had a defined procedure and timetable, this does firm up arrangements.”

After this process is completed Ms Thomas said the proposal could then be submitted “onward” to council.

Ms Thomas said, “It’s also important the group leaders are kept abreast of any changes, additional funding and updates on the budget position and funding settlement, so they have that information to consider when developing their proposals.”

This would give opposition groups the same information and advice on the budget that the cabinet currently receives.

Earlier this year it was revealed at the budget setting meeting in February that late funding allocations of up to £2.6 million coming to Powys from the Welsh Government, had allowed the cabinet to change their budget proposals.

An amendment saw the Independent/Conservative group change their original proposal of a 3.9 per cent increase, to 2.9 per cent

An alternative budget that proposed a 1.9 per cent increase wasn’t allowed to be discussed and furious opposition councillors only knew of the extra funding after the cabinet announced the changes.

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr James Gibson-Watt said: “It’s a relief after the travails of the last few years in trying to create an alternative budget.

“I think it’s important that members have a choice when it come to the budget and don’t have to accept what is given.”

Labour group leader, Cllr Mathew Dorrance added that this was a “step forward” and it was a recognition for the “mistakes made” last year.

The changes were approved by a “silent” vote with one abstention.

A change to the council’s constitution to allow this to happen was also approved later in the meeting.



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