Manchester City Council to set new budget, spends £322k on IT

Manchester City Council has released two documents about its budget ahead of next Wednesday’s  virtual Executive Meeting. That meeting, on 3rd of June at 2pm will be entirely devoted to the budget implications of the coronavirus outbreak and is the stage on the way to a new budget being presented in July.  You can see the agenda and the links to the webcast here and to the right. More papers for the other agenda items are due to go up over the coming days.

From the “Revenue Outturn 2019-2020 Report we learn that the Council

spent  £322k in ICT to enable staff to work from home

From the “Revenue Budget – Update for COVID-19 Funding 2020/21” we learn that , as alluded to at the last Virtual Exec in early May (see our briefing paper here) that

The impact of COVID-19 will require a fundamental review of the Council’s budget for 2020/21 and this will be reported back to Executive in July

Neither paper has any particular reference to climate change (perhaps understandably, given the enormous uncertainties in, well, everything. Item 9 of the budget is a paper (yet to be released) titled A Housing Delivery Company. Watch this space.

It is still not entirely clear which of the Council’s six scrutiny committees will be meeting later this month, and if/how they will scrutinise the emergency budget. It is likely that the Resources and Governance Committee (chair Sarah Russell, Labour, Northenden)  will want to look at the impact the pandemic is having on the Council’s finances now, and the major impact there will be next year (members of that committee expressed concern, a million years ago [i.e. February] that the Council was quite reliant on the Airport Dividend].  It is likely that the chairs of the scrutiny committees will want to see what happens and what is said at the Executive meeting next week before they decide on the agenda for their first meetings in the 2020/21 municipal year (the May ones are supposed to be taking place now, but have been cancelled).

Climate Emergency Manchester will work with other groups and individuals to produce a fuller analysis/briefing paper on this topic, which will be released early next week, before the virtual Executive.

The Council’s budget will be discussed tonight, as part of the Climate Emergency Manchester online meeting, from 7pm.  The agenda can be found hereIf you want to attend, send us an email to contact@climatemergencymanchester.net and we will send you the zoom link. This meeting will be recorded and posted to Youtube.

 

Budgets

Some basic facts everyone should know about the Council’s budget (as far as we understand them – if we’ve got something wrong, tell us how, and we will flag that up below)

  • Local authorities have no LEGAL obligations to provide libraries, parks etc. The only legal (“statutory”) obligations they have are Adult Social Care (and Public Health?)
  • Over the last ten years central government has cut and cut and cut the funding to local authorities, under the heading of austerity (because, after all, it was careworkers and nurses who caused the 2008 Financial Crisis).
  • Local authorities are not allowed to create budgets which don’t balance. If they do, regulators can swoop in and take over.
  • Some local authorities are talking (and perhaps also thinking seriously) about declaring bankruptcy because of the gap between the money they have coming in and their escalating costs.
  • Manchester City Council owns 35.5 percent of Manchester Airport Group (MAG). MAG owns three airports – Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands. The council has been receiving a 60 million per year dividend from MAG, and had factored this in for the next three years. That dividend ain’t gonna happen
  • Manchester City Council has tried to move towards setting a three-year budget. This 2020-2020  was not possible last year, because Treasury did not tell the Council what money they would get in time (Brexit took up all their time). So the Council set a one-year budget, hoping that they’d be able to do a three year one from next year. That was in February/March. Now they are having to set a new budget, as best they can, because the old one is smashed to pieces – revenues are down, costs are up.  It’s going to be gory. Normally there is a formal consultation process. However, seeing how quickly things are changing, with the government frequently announcing and changing plans and money allocations it is pretty hard to see how formal public consultation could take place.

 

(NB As part of its self-audit using the Active Citizenship Toolkit, Climate Emergency Manchester has decided it needs at least two members of its core group at “expert level” on understanding/being able to explain the City Council’s budget

Local authority – understanding and explaining its budget and budget making processes If you don’t know where the money comes from, where it goes and who decides – and how – you are unlikely to get anywhere with the whole ‘transformation’ thing

 

Novice Practitioner Expert Ninja
You have a basic idea of how much the council spends, on what, where the money comes from and how decisions are made about it. You have a detailed and nuanced view of the current budget processes and priorities, in this confusing CovidWorld, with an understanding of what the options are, which ones are likely to get favoured. You have some understanding of previous budget processes and how other comparable local authorities do things. You can dive into the weeds and go toe-to-toe with the Exec Member for Finance and the City Treasurer on paragraph 6, subsection 4, without losing the bigger picture. You can compare and contrast with other local authorities in fine detail, and make concrete proposals about how things could be much less crap They try to find a pretext to bar you from the Town Hall: your forensic, historically and geographically nuanced view of the mistakes in the current budget proposals and the processes and thinking that led everyone to the Bad Place, are seen as an existential threat to the careers of several (self)Important People.

 

Currently we have a couple of people at ‘novice nudging towards practitioner’ level and nobody at ‘expert’. This, therefore this is an ‘absolute gap’ rather than a ‘single point of failure’. We are trying to close this gap by getting two people up to speed as soon as possible. If you can help us with that, please get in touch on contact@climateemergencymanchester.net with “it’s not rocket science, you muppets” in the subject header.

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