Councillor Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for resources, will report to his cabinet colleagues next Wednesday (July 20) setting out how the projected financial challenge is being tackled and will update them on the latest position with the council's medium term financial strategy.

Councillor Johnson will highlight that the council is managing its finances well.

He will reveal that the council beat its budget reduction target by £9.4 million in 2015/2016. This was primarily due to the delivery ahead of schedule of the early intervention programme in children and young people services saving £3.4 million, the receipt of a £3.6 million special dividend from shares in Birmingham Airport and an overall prudent approach to spending adopted by all council budget managers.

Councillor Johnson said: "In the context of the massive cuts the council is having to make, this performance is excellent and is at the top end of expectations. I'd like to pay tribute to those Cabinet colleagues, budget managers and the finance team who have enabled us to achieve this. 

"Whilst this leaves us in a stronger position to deal with the financial challenge facing us, we cannot be complacent. The £9.4 million will be used to fund one off costs for transformational projects that will save money in the future."

Significant progress has already been made towards identifying the measures that will be necessary for City of Wolverhampton Council to once again set a balanced budget for next year.

When the council set its 2016/2017 budget in March, it was agreed that work would immediately start to address a predicted budget deficit of £22.2 million for the following year.

Councillor Johnson said: "We are sticking to our strategy to plan ahead and manage the very difficult financial circumstances we face due to Central Government cuts. When we set a balanced budget in March for the current financial year, we agreed to start work on next year's budget pretty much right away.

"We have already been forced to make cuts of £175 million over the past 6 years and based on current calculations it is projected that we still need to save £54 million, in addition to implementing £37 million of budget cuts that have already been identified, by 2019/2020.

"Next week I will be seeking endorsement from the Cabinet to the approach we are taking towards addressing next year's projected budget deficit. Departments across the council have been given savings targets which they will be working up into detailed proposals over the summer and we will consult with the public before setting the final budget in the Spring.

"It is absolutely vital that we forward plan and give ourselves as much time as possible to develop workable ways of addressing the deficit."

Councillor Johnson said that the council wanted to continue to develop new and innovative ways of working that saved money without necessarily resulting in a loss of service to the public.

He added: "We are not in the business of making knee jerk decisions to simply slash services. We plan ahead to give us time to develop carefully considered ways of addressing the projected budget deficit and I want to see us building on the success we've had in terms of running services more commercially and more efficiently as a way of saving money.

"Take the example of the work we've done to develop our leisure brand - WV Active - which recently won a national award recognising our successful commercial approach.  We have managed to grow our membership by offering an improved service based on what people actually want. More paying members means the service requires more than £1.5 million less subsidy and this is the model we want to see across our cultural offer and other services."

He will also flag up feedback from a recent review by experts from the Local Government Association (LGA) who carried out a health check into the way the council manages its money. The council is awaiting the publication of the final report from the LGA Finance Peer Review, but initial feedback was very positive about the council's financial management.

Councillor Johnson said: "We are keen to demonstrate wherever we can that the way we manage our money is well planned and sound.  The initial feedback from the LGA Finance Peer Review is extremely encouraging and shows that our strategy to manage our finances is working."

  • released: Wednesday 13 July, 2016