COUNCILLORS have debated the difficulties in balancing the Authority’s billion pound budget, and taxpayers’ perception of how their money is spent.

Bradford Council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee were given a report into Council spending in the final quarter of the last financial year, which ended at the end of March.

The committee heard that the financial year ended with the Council facing a £1.3 million underspend. This was in stark contrast to mid-way through the financial year, when the annual budget was predicted to see a £6.1 million overspend.

Councillor Robert Hargreaves (Cons, Queensbury) questioned how the budget could fluctuate so much in a single year, and how predictions on the budget could be so wrong.

He said: “It seems like as a Council we set a budget, and it doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong.

“I just don’t understand how over a year we can go from a £6.1 million overspend to a £1.3 million underspend. If we were in the private sector not a single person involved in this budget would still be employed.”

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However, officers and other Councillors pointed out that the Council budget amounted to an eye watering £1.1 billion, and was affected by constantly changing variables like changes to government grants and rises in the numbers of children needing social care.

And the former leader of the Council pointed out that these fluctuations in the budget had happened every year since he became a Councillor.

Councillor David Green (Lab, Wibsey) said: “This has happened every year for the last 28 years I’ve been on the Council.

“A hell of a lot of work goes into these budgets, it is a mixture of art and science.

“A lot of time you won’t hit targets in the first quarter. Sometimes you’ll overspend sometimes you’ll underspend - formulating a budget of this size is not an exact science.

“I understand your frustration, but to quote Tom Jones ‘it’s not unusual.’”

Councillor Simon Cooke (Cons, Bingley Rural) said: “Cllr Hargreaves makes an important point. People looking at this budget as a lay person would say ‘what’s going on here?’

“We need to think about how we talk about finances and how people view these discussions.

“This is how we get into bother with groups like the Taxpayers Alliance, who moan about how we spend a tiny slice of the budget and everyone in the world believes them despite the fact it’s often nonsense.

“Being out by about £6 million part way through the year is not a huge portion of out total budget. However the public don’t think that, a lot of people think that our entire budget will be sorted out if we decide to pay our Chief Executive £90,000 instead of £180,000. We have a lot of work to do to convince them otherwise.”