Councillors ‘bombarded’ with items for inclusion in EDDC budget


- Credit: Archant

District councillors caught themselves before they recommended spending nearly £400,000 from an emergency reserve on non-essential projects.

Members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) overview and scrutiny committee were asked to go line-by-line through a list of 26 items not included in the draft budget for 2018/19.

They were told their input could not wait and were urged to make decisions at last week’s meeting, but concerned were voiced they were being ‘bombarded’ and had little information to consider.

Councillors voted to recommend buying a new trailer for £7,000, spending £6,400 to renew beach signage and supporting Action East Devon to the tune of £20,000.

But they were reminded the £389,430 total for the 26 items would have to come from an emergency reserve, which would approach a dangerously low level – although the votes they had already taken were binding.

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The remaining items will still be funded if they become urgent.

Cllr Roger Giles said: “We need to make a decision in time for the budget, just not this afternoon. We should consider them when we have an informed view.”

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Simon Davey, EDDC’s head of finance, said: “This list comes to £389,000 – that significantly affects the general fund balance.

“You won’t have time or opportunity to consider them before the budget is set. I would suggest you make recommendations on those items [you would like to include].”

EDDC currently supports Clyst Honiton Parish Council with £9,000 a year towards a parish clerk, but the latter has asked for this to be upped to £15,000 a year. The parish has just 300 residents but is in the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point and faces a number of large business developments. District councillors said it is important it should have a clerk to advise on such planning issues.

Cllr Tom Wright said Action East Devon needed the £20,000 grant or it would have to make decisions on which vulnerable people it can support. Committee members recommended its inclusion in the draft budget.

Members also voted to recommend buying a new trailer for the countryside team and investing in improved beach signage.

The items were ranked for their priority, from a risk to property or life, to things that would be ‘nice to have’. Top-rated items were already included in the draft budget for 2018/19.

Cllr Rob Longhurst said: “Looking at this list, if you had the money you would do the lot. I don’t think we can improve on what the officers have done. I think the only option is to pass the whole lot to the budget working party. When I look at the list I can’t see anything that’s totally frivolous.”

EDDC chief executive Mark Williams told committee members: “They could go to the budget working party but they won’t be into the 2019/20 budget.”

Cllr Mike Howe said: “We are being bombarded with these items with not a great deal of information. It doesn’t feel a satisfactory process at all.”

Sidmouth’s Cllr Cathy Gardner said: “This might be a good time to introduce the Thelma Hulbert Gallery [which will receive £105,000 from EDDC]. We’re talking about adding money to the budget but we haven’t looked at areas where we could say we don’t want to spend that money. It’s a matter of priorities. We haven’t talked about what we could cut.”

Noting that the council has a reserve of £3.6million, Cllr Dean Barrow said £400,000 was a ‘tiny’ amount of that, but was told the money is an emergency fund.

After this was revealed, Cllr Alan Dent said: “Anything that becomes urgent during the year can be brought forward. We don’t have money to throw away.

“I think we should review our decision blanket say ‘no’, knowing there’s an escape clause.”

Members voted to support his proposal.

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