Ashfield Council praised for its ‘robust’ finances

THE FINANCES of Ashfield District Council are in good health, according to independent inspectors who have trawled through the books.

The Audit Commission says the council has taken necessary action to plan for the medium term, taking steps to offset the impact of cuts in funding from central government.

Praise has come in the form of an annual audit letter, which also says the council has proper arrangements to secure financial resilience by using council tax paid by Hucknall residents efficiently.

Only last month, the Dispatch reported that plans had been put in place by Ashfield to make savings of £5 million in the coming five years.

The council’s delighted leader, Coun John Knight (Lab), formerly of Hucknall, said this was the best independent report the council had received in years.

“It reflects our improvement journey and shows how the council has worked to keep its finances in order,” he said.

“It is pleasing that the district auditor confirms that the council’s financial plans are robust.”

Coun Trevor Locke (Lab), of Hucknall, who is the council’s lead member for finance, added: “The audit is very encouraging and shows that the council is moving in the right direction.

“Currently, the council is facing a challenge of finding £1.9 million in efficiency savings, and I believe we are well on target for achieving this.”

Throughout the year, the district auditor has been monitoring the council’s financial-management arrangements as well as its response to the coalition government’s comprehensive spending review to identify any emerging financial risks that would affect frontline services.

The audit letter says Ashfield Council has demonstrated leadership in a difficult economic climate.

The Audit Commission inspector agreed with the council’s decision to set a distinct timetable of savings until 2015/16.

From April next year through to March 2013, savings are planned of £1.9 million, which represents 10% of the overall 2011/12 budget.

In 2013/14, budget decisions should realise savings of £1.6 million. Savings of £1.3 million are then planned in 2014/15 and £200,000 in 2015/16.

The inspector said that unless the savings were made, the council’s reserves and general fund would be bled dry by March 2014.

Councillors have come up with a package of changes to realise these savings in the hope that frontline services won’t be affected. Plans include improved efficiency, fewer managers and increased charges.