Financial experts issue warning as Hartlepool Borough Council looks at setting next year's budget

Financial experts have warned council chiefs of the importance of the upcoming budget setting process in tackling their ‘difficult financial position’.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 2:08 pm
Updated Friday, 6th December 2019, 1:27 am
Hartlepool Civic Centre

Officers from Mazars, a global audit and accounting group, provided an update to Hartlepool Borough Council Audit and Governance Committee on the authority’s budget position.

It came after councillors on the committee raised concerns over the amount in the council’s unearmarked general reserves fund in case of emergency.

Gavin Barker, from Mazars, said the council is not in a dangerous position at the moment but face ‘difficult choices’ going forward, adding strong action is needed to prevent dangers occurring.

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He added the upcoming budget setting process for 2020/21 was a very important period for the council.

He said: “The council does face a difficult financial position and a difficult set of choices, and managing this next budget round is critical for the council.

“It does need to ensure it has sufficient reserves for things that it plans to do as well as for unforeseen circumstances and reserves have been called upon in recent years and may need to be called upon in the future.

“There are clearly difficult choices to be made going forward.

“I would say you’re not in the danger zone, but you’re heading towards it I suppose if you don’t take strong action to address the financial pressures that you face, but it’s a difficult scenario.

“I think difficult choices will be needed in this budget round, and I think members and officers are aware of that.”

He added the council’s position has been made further difficult as they are likely to receive only a one year financial settlement from government, as opposed to providing security of funding longer term.

He added an update will be given next year after the council has made further plans for how it will balance the budget for 2020/21.

It came after several councillors on the committee raised the question in regards to the position of the council’s reserves.

Coun Marjorie James said: “My cursory look at our uncommitted general fund balance is that it is reaching the point where it would cause concern.

“If there was to be a major incident of any kind in Hartlepool that required immediate funds, which is what the unreserved general fund is for, then we may struggle.”