Cllr Mike Pollard is the ‘Shadow Executive’ Member for Finance and Projects on Bradford Council.
I wrote previously for this site:
“I’m not a trained accountant, but I can read and I can count!”
“As the finance nerd for the Conservative Group on Bradford Council, I have been stressing for some time that the Labour Council has been making huge errors of judgement on the financial front.”
The fact that budgeting for a staff pay rise of four per cent, when as an employer represented on the National Joint Committee which had already offered 6.42 per cent, some £6 million more per annum above the budget set, is a relatively small potato in the scheme of the Bradford Council budgeting comedy, provides an indication of the scale of the complete fictions that have replaced established facts when Bradford’s Labour Council, sets a budget doomed for disaster from day one.
Bradford Council’s financial problems have not hoved into view overnight, the council has had several years to learn from mistakes that a trainee accounting technician could spot. Sadly, I jest not.
Whilst I could list many more historical examples, I am weary of detailing every utterly ridiculous, baseless budget forecast that the council has made in the last few years. I’ve pointed them out to the Labour Group and council officers time and time again and further to the latest meeting of the Executive Committee of Bradford Council, it is now clear to me that this was to no avail, as the learning curve of some of the key decision makers at Bradford MDC is a flatline.
After casting a cursory glance at the projections for the costs of agency staff for the new Children & Families Trust and external residential placements for children in care for 2023/24, I easily identified nearly £35 million of the council’s projected overspend which was wholly foreseeable to me, this despite the aforementioned absence of any accountancy training or qualifications. It is impossible for most people competent in mathematics to even GCSE level and again I exaggerate not, to see the facts. Unless they are deliberately turning a blind eye, that is.
For example, the council’s ‘Contract Model’ for budgeting for the new trust identified a total of 305 agency staff in Children’s Social Care the day before the Trust went ‘live’ on 1 April, at which point the viability of the budget promptly collapsed, as the actual number of such staff was 395 on ‘day one. The annual financial difference between the dreamt-up number of agency workers and the actual, would be a massive £9.5 milion. As the council’s staffing projections have varied from realism yet further, the actual overspend is likely to be somewhere between £15 million and £18 million over the full year.
As the obscenely inflated costs of providing residential care outside the Bradford District is now, on average, just a whisker under £6000 a week or £312,000 per child or young person per annum, one might think it imperative to estimate accurately, how many such children the council is likely to need to care for during the financial year. Seemingly not so in Bradford.
The modelled assumption, within the Council’s chosen budget projection methodology, of an annualised average of 145 such children, is more than 50 short of current reality, a reality that isn’t something that can be put into the random ‘stuff happens’ category of Local Authority bus crash economics, but rather one that hides in plain sight, with the most cursory glance at recent trends in this area of spending. 50+ children at an average of £312,000 each, results in another realistically predictable £15+ million overspend.
All of this seems to be due to the Labour Council deliberately using a Contract Funding Model based on a theoretical academic model, rather than known reality. I am mystified as to how and why anyone would think that a budget based upon an academic theory was more likely to be accurate than one based on actual fact and the application of common sense.
My attempt to get some clarity as to which of the parties involved with setting up the Trust was responsible for the woeful modelling, i.e Council, Trust, or perhaps some myopic Department for Education civil servant, was greeted with the standard, sterile, ‘autopilot’ response from the Leader of Council about a ‘national problem’ which most certainly exists (I would indeed urge Government to do something about capping the outrageous cost of residential care placements sourced in the private sector), but her standard response leads me inevitably to conclude Council must carry the can on this one.
I have said it before and I now say it again, the Labour council (and now also Imran Hussain, the Labour MP) are trying to hide the catastrophic damage that illogical, delusional, utterly inexplicable decisions voted through by Labour politicians have helped to put Bradford Council into a position where a balanced Budget for the next financial year (2024/25) will be impossible to construct, without formal ‘capitalisation’ intervention. This will have currently unknowable implications for Council Taxpayers.
Obfuscation about realistic Children and Families Trust budgeting, has merely put off the evil day about recognising that the Council is operationally bankrupt, that is likely to result in unpleasantly necessary decisions being more rushed and less well considered than might have been the case if realities had been accepted earlier. Quelle surprise.