Who is responsible for this shambles?

The title of this item wasn’t written by the Eye. It’s a question that was posed by a councillor at this week’s meeting of the Audit and Standards Committee. They were challenging the explanation given for the delays in completing the audit of the council’s accounts for the year up to March 2020. (No, that’s not a mis-print. The period in question finished over two years ago.)

This wouldn’t normally be a topic for the Eye. But, amongst other things, an audit provides a clear pointer to priorities for attention in subsequent years. Without that pointer, an organisation is – at least partly – ‘flying blind’. Which is no comfort when thinking about the future of Camberley.

The meeting was told that many local authorities are experiencing comparable delays in their audits. In spite or which, one councillor argued (good for them!) that the management of the process in Surrey Heath had been ‘shambolic’. They’d heard the same excuses for the lack of progress more than once.

The meeting discussed at length the ‘missing £millions’. The Eye has no accounting background, but none is needed to spot the difference between these two extracts from recent versions of the council’s draft end March 2020 Financial Statements:

The document containing this text has been removed from the council’s website
This is the current text on the coucil’s website – uploaded a few days’ ago.

You can see that the money available to fund ‘running costs’ has dropped by some £40 million. (We gather that this isn’t an actual loss, but the result of a more ‘appropriate’ assessment of the council’s reserves. It does mean, though, that the council has £40 million less to spend than it claimed – in spite of strong challenge by others – until recently.)

The meeting was told that the change in reserves was not an immediate threat, but neither was the situation sustainable in the longer-term. Or, in our words – the pot would have to be refilled at some point. Services may then be at risk? And we guess that the London Road Block redevelopment will be more of a problem for the council than an opportunity.

Watch a recording of the meeting, and make up your own mind – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlxxiyGhkOg

(If you have a better explanation of the story we’ve just attempted to tell – and you have a simple analysis of the financial position both now and in the future – do put the information in the Comments for this item.)

Four legal wheels

Paul sent us this photo that he took yesterday. He wrote “Two police officers out and about patrolling on micro scooters and warning against the illegal use of motorised ones. Not sure how they would catch one though…”

Given the speed at which some ‘scooterists’ travel on the pavement, we’re not sure what the outcome of such a chase would be. But we suspect that it would be a close contest.

A heart-starting moment

We spotted this defibrillator the other day – it’s hard to miss. It’s outside Carers With Care in the High Street, and we gather that it’s sponsored by Riseden, a local business. Good for them!

The borough council’s and Collectively Camberley’s websites each have a list of defibrillators in the town. Comparing the two suggests that the council’s list isn’t up to date. (But you probably wouldn’t have time to consult either of them in a real emergency…)

What are residents supposed to do or think?

If you look at the council’s ‘News’ webpage for last August, you’ll find: “..improvements are planned for Princess Way and Cambridge Square outside House of Fraser, Obelisk Way by Boots and Bietigheim Way by Primark. [it will] bring these areas into line with the rest of the centre.   The Council is now in the planning stages for these works and we are aiming for work to start in early 2022 after Christmas trading to minimise disruption.”

At the time, we welcomed the news, even though, based on other information, we thought that the timescale was optimistic. As you’ve probably noticed, it was.

However, looking through the current Annual Plan, there’s no mention of the work at all. We’d have expected it to be there, one way or another. Now, we all know that these are uncertain times, and belt-tightening is inevitable. But, if the council announces that it is going to do something, and it doesn’t, should residents forget all about it – or should they wonder what else has gone wrong?