Supporting our economy and safeguarding services

This morning I was down at the Amex Stadium, helping to host one of a sequence of events in connection to the annual Gatwick Diamond Meet the Buyers event, which Crawley Borough Council helps to sponsor. The goal of the annual event is to connect local buyers with local suppliers, in the process keeping more money floating around the local economy, hopefully reducing the environmental impact of long supply chains and promoting economic opportunities for local residents.

This seminar was designed to help people make the most of the connections they had made at the annual event, using some of the latest thinking around negotiation, and really highlighted the range of opportunities which exist in our area if we can get just find a way to get organisations to work more effectively together.

From the private sector to the public sector, this evening marks the first meeting of the council’s Budget Advisory Group (BAG). The budget itself, along with council tax, requires the approval of a majority of councillors at the February meeting of the Full Council, having first been approved at a meeting of the Cabinet. As Leader, I am responsible for appointing the Cabinet and delegating powers to them for running services, but responsibility for council finance and putting the budget together is a power I have chosen to retain due to its overarching implications for the organisation.

The budget is important, it explains how all the financial resources of the organisation (both Crawley Borough Council and Crawley Homes) will be deployed over the following twelve months, determining the services people are going to receive. If the financial commitments outlined in the budget cannot be met by the organisation, then the council’s 151 officer (our top financial officer) is required to inform the Government, who will appoint commissioners to force expenditure into line with income. Furthermore, so long as the decisions they take are in-line with the budget and other major policy documents, members of the Cabinet and senior officers have significant discretion over the work the council.

That’s why we have the BAG. The role of BAG is to open things up by ensuring cross-party, non-Cabinet input into the budget: reviewing the proposed capital expenditure, assessing revenue bids, and setting a recommendation on Crawley Borough Council’s proportion of council tax. It’s a working group I sat on for several years before becoming Leader and while their recommendations aren’t always accepted, they are considered carefully. Due to commercial sensitivities, only the group’s final report is made public, but the first stage will be a briefing tonight for all members, setting out the current financial circumstances of the council and reminding members of the 2018/19 Budget Strategy which I put forward to Full Council and which members accepted. Unfortunately, other than that, you’ll just have to wait for their report in the new year.

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