William Eichler 18 August 2016

Welsh councils must ‘improve’ financial arrangements, auditors say

The financial planning of Welsh councils is ‘strengthening’, but there is still scope to improve the way savings are identified and delivered, auditors say.

The Wales Audit Office has published a report looking at the quality and effectiveness of current financial planning, control and governance arrangements of the 22 councils in Wales.

It found financial planning processes are ‘strengthening’ and that there are good systems in place that help ‘manage and control’ finances despite financial pressures.

The report also said local authority governance arrangements were ‘mostly sound’.

However, auditors highlighted a number of areas of concern. They revealed there is room for improvement in how savings are identified and delivered, and noted spending within budgets is proving to be a ‘challenge’ for some authorities.

They also warned the engagement of councillors and the effectiveness of decision making in respect of savings was ‘inconsistent’.

The Auditors’ report makes a number of recommendations. Councils, it said, should strengthen their financial-planning and performance management arrangements.

They should also develop corporate wide income generation and charging policies and ensure they have a comprehensive reserves strategy.

The 2015-16 Wales Audit Office report reflects the 2014-15 report where auditors raised the same concerns.

Welsh councils have faced dramatic cuts in recent years. The Welsh government announced a £175m reduction in core funding for 2014-15 and a further £65m in 2015-16.

The Welsh Local Government Association predicts financial pressures will mean the local shortfall will be around £460m by the end of this financial year.

‘Councils in Wales are facing significant financial challenges,’ said the Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas.

‘The continued impact of austerity and reductions in public monies, coupled with the unclear implications of ‘Brexit’, require councils to continue to cope with uncertainties.

‘Whilst I am pleased to see councils making progress in strengthening their financial planning, they need to do more in response to the challenging environment and our recommendations to both authorities and Welsh government will help councils move forward and ensure that services are run as efficiently as possible.’

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